Happy anniversary, Lily!

Posted on August 7, 2017

Not long after we got married, Seth found Lily on Petfinder and sent me her picture. He sent it six times that day. "How about this one?" He kept saying, showing me that same photo over and over. Any self-respecting dog lover couldn't resist.

Lily, the laziest, hard working dog there is. Sometimes she loves accompanying me to the farm. Sometimes it's a battle of wills to get her in the car. We've been through a lot as the three musketeers: moves, mold, career changes, cancer, the tiny house, and now the baby.

We're not the type to celebrate dog birthdays, but I did want to give a shout out to the sweetest dog on the block, eight years almost to the day we brought her home. She has matured into a lovable beast, smart as a whip, with eyes that seem human. Especially when she gives the baby side-eye! Lily runs to the baby now when she starts crying so she can lick her face, and will allow Addie to mess with her back legs and paws, but not her front. She seems resigned to sharing us with this puppy-like human.

Eight is a lot in dog years for a dog her size. And yet I can't start thinking about her leaving us, not yet. It hasn't been enough time together. But I feel pretty confident in her staying with us a while longer. After all, the oldest dog who lived was an Australian Cattle Dog, and he achieved the age of almost 30.

Do you hear that, Lily-bil? We have another 22 years before us. Party on, my sweet puppy girl.


Plant-dyed yarn

Posted on August 3, 2017

It started with an impulse purchase of some beautiful Cestari yarn one day at my local yarn store. I needed a few more dollars to get my total up to the minimum for a credit card purchase (oh darn, what a travesty!), and I spotted a few skeins of Cestari worsted yarn. I knew the Cestari story from some article I read months ago. Was it in Knitter's Review? Woolful? Ravelry? Well, I don't remember, but it seems that the universe was giving me a nudge. Here's this yarn you've been itching to try. Who am I to resist?

Of the three colorways the store carried, I picked the undyed cream yarn with vague thoughts of dyeing it in the future, a sort of "maybe someday I'll try dyeing with plants," dream. I think I even said that to the store clerk. I had no plans, no idea of casting on with it until I finished the two adult-sized sweaters in my queue. But all that changed when I held the yarn up to my nose, inhaled deep… and got a noseful of mildewy basement.

Something must have gone awry in the chain of processing to store, because normally a farm yarn smells pleasantly sheepy. Not these skeins. They were basement all the way, and my sensitive schnoz told me to wash wash wash before use.

And since they'd be immersed in water anyway…

…I used carrot tops to dye the yarns from cream to a buttery yellow. It's a subtle shift. Maybe they would have turned out more vibrant if I had left them in the dyebath longer than overnight, or gotten the temperature up past 190 degrees. Maybe I should have used more than a pound of tops for 7 oz. of yarn. Maybe our water has too many minerals in it. I don't know! The internet tells me that plant dyeing yarn is imprecise, so it could be my beginner's skills or it could be some factor that is beyond my control.

Even though the color isn't as vibrant as I'd hoped, you can be sure this yarn isn't going to sit around unused. It's cushy and lanolin-y and promises to knit up like a dream. I've never met a yarn that brings back so precisely those early knitting feelings of realizing that I could make beautiful things, and I haven't even gotten it on the needles yet. But I am making plans. Mittens? With a pretty stitch detail? For me? Why yes, of course!

Garden update, end of July

Posted on July 31, 2017

The garden doubled in size last week, seemingly overnight. Seedlings that were mid-calf are now almost waist high, and the toothache plants are creeping over the garden path. The earth sure works her magic, given a bit of sun and rain. It still feels like a miracle every year I watch it happen. This is my fourth year — will it ever get old? Probably not! Not if I'm anything like my Memere (and let's face it, I've definitely got some of her qualities).

There are a mix of things in this little garden of mine. Some are for tea, like the purply anise hyssop in the second photo down, and the catnip that's going gangbusters. Some are for essences, like the yarrow in the fifth photo. There are the ever present calendulas, which are growing from the last of my stock of Apricot Surprise seeds from years past and which I had given up hope of ever sprouting at home. They are my favorites! Then there are the plants like marshmallow (third photo), clary sage, and echinacea which probably won't be ready until next year. I have kitchen herbs with thyme and rosemary and oregano tucked wherever I had a spare bit of ground. And because I can't stop tinkering, I put some bee balm seedlings in today where a few calendula seeds had failed to thrive. It's a bit late for planting, but bee balm is in the mint family and I'm hoping its good genes will kick in and give the plants solid footing before winter.

It must be time to harvest some of these herbs. The blue vervain, maybe? The holy basil and catnip and hyssop for sure. And what do you do with oodles of toothache plant flowers? I sprung them on my mom the other day when she visited and we enjoyed numb tongues and cheeks for about ten minutes (by enjoyed, I mean we ran around with our tongues out, drooling and wishing desperately for water). They might go well in a version of fire cider. I know they have antibacterial properties. The horseradish might disguise the tingling. Hm….

What do you do with all of your garden bounty? Where do you store it? Do you share with friends?

A list of half-finished things

Posted on July 27, 2017

A sewing pattern and fabric cut and waiting.

A pot of soaked yarn to be dyed at some point.

A wooden card holder in need of finish.

Another sweater in the works.

A tiny house.

It's such a process. A messy, beautiful, ongoing process in the bits and pieces of free time we share. A few stitches here, a few boards there. Some frustration, a lot of enjoyment. And really, that list of half-finished things should include me and Seth, and the baby too. In Addie's case, her learning is exponential. Eating! Crawling (well, trying)! But Seth and I are pricking our ears forward as well, like the dog on the scent of something particularly good. Before I mix metaphors, I'll just say we've got a lot going on in our work basket. And if all my to do lists included pretty pictures, I would be a happy camper.

Rainy day at home

Posted on July 24, 2017

It's raining again today, another wet day in a wet summer. Addie and I were at the farm earlier, walking through the chill damp to get the babies to sleep, and although we were well wrapped I was still wet from the knees down at the end of the morning.

The unseasonable rain throws it into relief; I am grateful for this good roof over our heads. The roof was one of the last bits of work Seth and I built together last year before I fell pregnant and we curtailed my workload. But I am still in awe of this shelter we created. How much I used to take for granted! I never thought about what goes into a roof until we built one and it was watertight.

We met up with an architect recently. a friend of a friend (hi Richard!), who wanted to chat tiny houses. He assuaged some of my concerns about our roof. Because although it doesn't leak, we do have condensation on hot days that drips occasionally from our strong ties. We talked about insulation and whether or not to fill the roof joist cavities or to leave an air gap (we filled ours completely). My research points in either direction, and he laughed and said the same, that it's a contentious issue with some architects. He thinks our bathroom fan will probably alleviate the problem once it's installed. That is indeed some good news.

This was in my head today as I was thinking about the roof that doesn't leak. Drips but not leaks. Addie and I watched the rain come down through the window and we let the dog out and then in. We have some more work to do on the house, I guess. There will always be work as part of home-ownership. But in the meantime, there is the sweet sound of droplets marching as they meet our metal roof, reminding me of where we started and how far we've come.

Baby baby baby

Posted on July 20, 2017

Sewing baby things is satisfying. I can go from fabric pile to finished dress in about two hours, including time for ripping out mistakes (twice! Ok, it was three times).  I whipped up this little dress this morning out of a roll of fabric I found at a rummage sale, clearly left over from the 80s. It looks like toweling, but it’s a nice, sheer weave that feels like a poly/cotton. 

I used the same basic pattern as the last dress: four rectangles sewn together into a gathered skirt, folded bodice, and straps. For this one I added cloth tape, in part to increase the size of the bodice, in part to provide reinforcement to the front snaps. I didn’t bother ironing it before I popped it on the baby. Because it’s hot! And wearing homemades shouldn’t have to wait. 

This one is too big, so we’ll get plenty of wear out of it this summer. And now I think I’m ready for another dress pattern with more variety. I have an Oliver + S pattern that I’ve been wanting to try out, I just haven’t had the energy or the space to trace the pattern (so I can make it in different sizes) and cut it out. So this dress will suffice for now. 

A new baby changing mat appeared too while I had the sewing machine out, this one from a Joann’s Fabric remnant with an old towel doubled up for stuffing. Looks like my tastes run to bright colors.  I can’t say I mind, it just leaves me a little concerned for the future of our tiny house, where I’m sure there will be rainbows every which way we look. Color everywhere! 

CSA pickup

Posted on July 13, 2017

The last few weeks have been quieter than usual, with migraines keeping me in bed a bit more than normal. Then the migraine-free days come, and when they coincide with comfortable weather it makes for one happy family.

Like today. It was a CSA share pickup day at one of Seth’s farms. We like to make an outing of it, so even though Seth could have gotten the share himself after work, Addie and I stopped in for lunch with him and some time on the farm. 

Blueberries are in season now, which we picked together in the cool mist. Green beans too, although the first tomatoes are still just around the corner. There are lots of greens thanks to all this rain of course. I like to play with these fresh vegetables. With so many coming in from our different farms, we have a lot of options, and Seth and I tell each other at night over a big salad or crisp zucchini or tangy fridge pickles, “good ingredients make for good food.” Simple meals, cooked and eaten with minimal fanfare and happy bellies. Yes please. 

We are a salve-y house

Posted on July 10, 2017

There’s herbalism in every corner of this house of ours. We are running low on jars but high on homemade salves and essences and all the things that make this mama feel just a wee bit more connected. And that is a very good thing. 

I’ve been using The Nerdy Farm Wife’s calendula salve recipe as my leaping off point for years. Calendula is a gateway herb, I tell ya. And now with my big garden and my newly-tamed food sensitivities, I’ll be expanding out to infused vinegars and more internal medicines this year. More herbs! Where will we store them? 

Growing medicine

Posted on July 6, 2017

It feels like the universe, in all its goodness, has given me a garden this year wrapped with a ribbon and bow. How else could I explain that our friends Brittany and Kevin just happened to have a spare corner of land on their farm? And that it included a hundred medicinal plant seedlings, gifted from one of their friends from her own medicinal herb farm after she finished her spring planting?

Generous. That’s what the universe is, working through friends and friends of friends. 

As Seth and I wrote out our goals and plans earlier this year, with the snow knee high and a baby sleeping in my arms, I placed gardening high on my list of priorities. It may have been a bit of cabin fever. I didn’t get to work in a garden last year with the morning sickness and drought. The necessary, long recuperation from giving birth this winter made me wild for getting my hands in the dirt.  My schemes weren’t too grand; I thought I’d be ok with a few calendula plants and some herbs and wildflowers. 

But now I have about 200 square feet studded with all manner of plants, most that I’ve never grown and a couple I can’t identify. It’s slow growing.  I got the plants in the ground halfway through June instead of halfway through May. The frequent rainy days have delayed things a bit too. But oh, to be growing again!

I’ve been chewing on this blog post for a while, trying to think of how to introduce this unexpected garden, and even now I pause a minute. But the truth is that I’m growing again: medicine, yes, but also myself. Learning how to care for new plants, expanding the medicines I’ve been making. Squeezing in work between looking after not one but two babies. Oh goodness. These are things I never thought I’d be doing. 

The list of plants is extensive. Vervain, marshmallow, motherwort, oregano, valerian, St. John’s wort, bittersweet nightshade, echinacea, milky oats, borage, thyme, rosemary, calendula, yarrow, lemon balm, California poppy, catnip, anise hyssop, common and clary sages. Enough plants to heal your skin and help you sleep, soothe your muscles and lift your spirits. And a few things that I don’t know yet. What are these two plants? Time will tell (but I wouldn’t say no to a little friendly internet help either). 

Meantime, I’ll be out there hoeing and trying not to hoe my seedlings that look like weeds. The flea beetles have gotten to my bittersweet nightshades but we’re not down for the count yet. I planted the marshmallow and valerian on opposite ends of the garden so I wouldn’t get them confused (their leaves look alike at this size). And I got the last of my very favorite calendula seeds to sprout. Small steps in the right direction, as always. 

You can’t go wrong 

Posted on July 3, 2017

My dear Memere passed away eight years ago this January. She was a lovely soul, stubborn and pragmatic and with a sense of humor that I never expected but would catch in the twinkle of her eyes when she gave me a sidelong look. She taught me to knit and to use a sewing machine (although garment construction was beyond me and I had to wait until college to figure it out). We had many adventures together, traveling down to Virginia each summer to stay with her youngest daughter Danielle for weeks at a time. 

Once per summer, Memere, Tante Danielle, and I would head to the mall for a day of unabashed retail therapy. Memere loved to dote on her family — presents, cooking, cleaning — any way she could be of service. And practical lady that she was, she did all this as economically as possible. She and Danielle would pick out clothes for me to model, most just for the fun of seeing pretty things, but if the clothing was on sale, the bargaining would begin. “Don’t you like this?” Memere would ask me, rubbing the fabric between her arthritic fingers, “It’s pretty, and only $6. You can’t go wrong! Want me to buy this for you?” It wasn’t just me; she did this with Tante Danielle too, and I learned a few lessons about making family happy watching Memere coax Danielle into letting her buy a few dresses, and Danielle negotiating Memere down but still letting her mom spoil her a little.

You can’t go wrong. It was like a refrain weaving through my childhood, punctuating back-to-school shopping, Christmas buying season, grocery runs. It lives on in Memere’s other daughter, my mom (hi Mom!). And now Seth and I have picked up the habit. Seth, though, uses it differently than I do. He says it most often in the thrift store when I come up to him with my hands full of yards of some beautiful fabric or a hand-knit wool sweater that is now being sold for a song. “Would you look at this? Shetland wool! And only $5!” I’ll say, frenzied with excitement. 

“You can’t go wrong,” he’ll reply gravely, like a call and response. Despite the serious tone he has a twinkle in his eye similar to Memere’s, and I know he’s teasing me.

I guess I do love a good deal. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary until recently when I told Seth about an antique baby dress that I didn’t buy at a rummage sale earlier in the day. I had second-guessed myself because I was hungry and wasn’t sure it was worth the price, and so I came home empty-handed. 

“You’re so cheap,” Seth said, holding the baby after a long day working in the fields during that heat wave. 

“Excuse me?!” I was indignant. 

Seth thought a moment. “Not like that,” he amended, and smiled at me and the baby both. “You like quality. You just don’t like paying full price for it.”

Truth! I like to think of it as a genetic thing. It runs in my blood. 

This conversation flashed before my eyes recently when I was at the thrift store again  trying to avoid a hot little house with my hot little baby. We were about to leave when I spied a few skeins of yarn in the craft section. Now, the yarn that people donate to the thrift store is typically scratchy acrylic. But this had the look of wool, and what’s more, it had the rustic appearance of small-scale processing. A little investigating revealed skeins from Maine and New England, and I could feel that wild expression creeping onto my face as I snapped up the yarn and scurried to the cash register. 

A little embarrassed at myself, I showed Seth the yarn when he got home that evening. He smiled when I told him the price and I knew what he was thinking. What we were both thinking. And it called to mind all the rest, the memories of those summers, the cool air-conditioning in the quiet mall with Tante Danielle gently laughing, the train rides down to Virginia, and Memere with her pink shorts and curled hair teaching me to knit, knit, knit one stitch at a time.