Friday, June 29, 2007

Knitting into the Mystery


No, not the book by that name. Instead: Mystery Stole 3!

Having just finished my second Adamas (which will blocked and unveiled by early next week), I was all set for the release of the first clue this morning.

What fun! The knitting begins at a point, although the final product will be a stole. While some have suggested it could be knit on the bias, I and many others are pretty sure it is simply a pointed-ended straight-knit rectangle. And what a relief! My cast-on edges are either tight or very uneven, so starting with a cast-on of two stitches is very much to my liking.



The pattern is lots of fun to knit, at least so far. And the beading is, after a couple of tries at the very beginning, starting to seem easy-peasy. As a matte gray-and-tan kind of person, I was a little nervous about trying the beads. The beads I chose are extremely subtle--perhaps so subtle as to make the beading a time-consuming waste of time. But I like learning the new skill and I like the weight the beads will add to the shawl.



On to the next chart!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Visiting an Amish Farm

For several months, my family has gotten our milk via a buying cooperative that purchases and has delivered dairy from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. Annually, Farmer Dan and his wife Rachel have a picnic for the cooperative. We were very pleased to be able to attend this year and get a chance to see their beautiful farm as well as meet some of the other folks in the cooperative.





After a wonderful picnic of everything from Farmer Dan's own hamburgers and ice-cream to Rachel's delicious beet salad to yummy extras brought by all the guests, we were off to see the animals.

The 16yo "hired boy" (who will be married and running his own farm before too long) hitched up the horses. How enormous!





They walked majestically in front of our little Honda Civic, absolutely dwarfing it. Each one was almost twice its height and just about as long.

We hopped on the long cart in back...



...and rode out to see the cows in the pasture.







There were many other animals around the farm, including several dogs, a pig...



...barn swallows (including baby ones)...





...and a family of very young kittens.







I especially liked chatting with their adorable miniature horse:



A few things really surprised me. I was not expecting to see two trailer vehicles on the property. Surely this was not where the hired boy lived, I thought. But on closer inspection, I discovered that they were housing for chickens!





Check out this chicken sliding out of the trailer!



The chickens existed uneasily with a family of ducks, quite shy of my camera:



Another surprise were these great scooters. Although I did not take this picture, we saw boys and girls zipping around on them just like this--as well as a father and child riding a scooter downtown. Apparently they are widely used in the Amish community (although bicycles are not)--as are in-line skates!



My very favorite moment was looking across the side yard at the laundry on the line and seeing two young children walking underneath--a girl in the same blue dress and black apron as her mother and a boy carrying a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Moons of Jupiter

Oh my goodness! We've spent the evening star watching--and saw three of the moons of Jupiter from our front yard.

A year or two ago, we went to a star party in the wilds of northern Virginia and were amazed by all we saw in the incredible darkness with all the amateur-but-incredible telescopes that people brought there.

Here we are, looking through the tiny telescope friends loaned us for the season while they are away. Now we are in our seriously-light-polluted front yard in the inside-the-beltway this-is-barely-the-suburbs neighborhood of Takoma Park--



--here there is this reminder that our world is tiny, that our world is magnificently blessed, that our world is real. At this moment when I've been calling out for a life more authentic and immediate, THIS appears on our doorstep--a sight as far from immediate and real as possible, and all the more authentic for its miraculousness.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Returning--to Knitting

Between the heat and a busy period, I've neither knit nor posted as much as usual. But since the heat has broken, the needles are flying again.

I'm on the 15th repeat of Miriam Felton's Adamas (a 14-repeat pattern that I'm knitting on smaller needles and therefore making with 15 or perhaps 16 repeats). I love the "Ink" colored yarn, hand-dyed by Claudia.



I'm also working on a small project for a friend's upcoming book. While the yarn is beautiful and the stitch pattern a lot of fun to knit, even looking at the mohairy fuzz makes my hands sweat....


Friday, June 15, 2007

Cars

Thanks for your patience with this blog's week-long break. Now, in with the magic of blogosphere time, we return to where we were when we left off...


Issue Six of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week



Son and I regularly take the bus. We are a one-car family, not for environmental reasons, but because I feel uncomfortable driving because of personal medical issues. (Here it is a benefit. It is also a negative: I can no longer ride a bike.)



Luckily, our area has terrific public transportation, both by bus and by subway. Rail service will improve when the area builds the Purple Line, opposed by one of my favorite local knitters because it may destroy a beautiful bike path. What irony!

* * *

Our car is a decade-plus-old Honda Civic hatchback. It gets more than 35 miles per gallon on the highway (40 on a recent trip!) and somewhere around 30 or so in the city. We are hoping our car will last until the 2009 3rd generation Prius comes out....

* * *

In addition to taking public transportation and driving a fuel-efficient car, we know that reducing the miles driven on our car is a way we can make a huge difference in our impact on the environment.

The problem is...

...it is not so easy to reduce our miles.

We bought our house near where David used to work. We love our neighborhood--but David's new job is further away. Although it is technically accessible by public transportation, the wildly-out-of-the way public transportation routes mean p.t. takes significantly longer. Given that David wants to get home quickly in order to be as much of an equal parent as possible, prolonging his commute is troubling both for him and for me.

He's been playing with ways to make it work. Could he find people in the large organization who live around here and would like to carpool, at least occasionally? Could he telecommute one day a month (and perhaps take the subway on another day) to save gas AND have a little extra time for family? Telecommuting works perfectly for a few work chores he has, but not most--but saving them up for one or two days a month might work beautifully. Condensing the work week by working longer days 9 out of every 10 days is another possibility.

Although these changes might seem minuscule, realizing that they could easily lead to a 10% drop in driving made us feel great!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Hold

The Purloined Letter will return on Friday.


Coming Up:

Finishing Low Impact Week
Knitting from yarn dyed locally
Spinning at the Mannings
and a little mystery, thanks to a knit-night pal...!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Trash

Issue Five of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week

After reading a great book about trash, we've been talking recently about ways to reduce what goes in our garbage can:

1. Reuse it yourself. Put dried beans or nuts in old spaghetti jars, dried fruit in jelly jars. Store knitting sundries in an old chocolate tin. You can even knit with old t-shirts.
And try making soup stock from your vegetable trimmings, cheese rinds, and chicken carcasses. Just simmer them in water for an hour or so. You thought those things were trash? Just wait till you taste it!

2. Let someone else reuse it: donate it or sell it. You can share with your friends or take your stuff to the thrift store (ideally one that gives profits to a charity you support). Try Freecycle, or Craig's List or even eBay. Have a yard sale. Even if you can't use it, someone else may be able to.

3. Recycle--and not just the cans and bottles and newspaper. Aluminum foil is recyclable, but we didn't realize it for years. Don't know if you can throw your newspaper bags in the bag recylcing container at the grocery store? Look it up. (We just did--and we can!)
We also think about what can be reused and recycled when we buy our products, too. Try to avoid the overpackaged items and buy in bulk with reusable containers. Likewise, if we are on the road and choose to buy a drink at a gas station, I often buy something stored in aluminum or glass. Although plastic is recyclable, it is not an especially efficient process and recycled plastic is not widely used.

4. Compost. Everything from coffee grounds and egg shells to dead leaves or seedless weeds can turn from trash to gold for the garden with a little stirring and a little time. Keep your organic matter out of the trashcan in a little container until you have enough to take outside. You can even compost your already-made-into-soup-stock vegetable clippings. Meat and dairy should probably not be put in your compost pile--but if you are lucky enough to have your own pigs, you can even take care of that.

5. Reduce. As the old saying goes, "If it's broke, just fix it." OK--that isn't what the saying says, but the original saying comes from an era when where was an assumption that you fixed broken things. Now it is often cheaper (or at least it seems cheaper when we're paying) to replace a computer, a stereo, a toaster, a sewing machine, etc. than get an old one fixed. Try to consider the larger costs. And when you can afford it, buy high-quality items to begin with--ones that won't need replacing in no time.

6. Perhaps the hardest for middle-income Americans is to go against the lessons we get everyday telling us to consume more. Instead of buying every new thing you hear about, try borrowing, buying used, sharing with neighbors, etc. For inspiration, check out Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. (And, um, check them out of your library or try to buy them used....) Do you really need another "collectible" (that everyone else is probably collecting too) that will just clutter up your house? Although I grew up calling these things "gee-jaws," I have now learned that the proper term is kitsch. Will filling your house with future junk really make you happier?

* * *

Well, my house if full of junk (mostly books, yarn, and spinning fiber). Luckily, there are many great options here. One in the DC area is a great place to donate time, yarn, and knitted items!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Paper

Issue Four of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week

Just file this post under "TOO MUCH INFORMATION," please.

* * *

We've used kitchen towels forever, cloth napkins everyday for many years, and cloth hankies occasionally. When we realized how much we loved using cloth diapers for our son when he was a baby, I decided to try cloth pads for myself. Some people make their own, and there are many different companies from whom you can purchase pre-sewn pads. I bought Glad Rags and absolutely love them, but I think if I had it to do over, I'd buy from a WAHM.

My pads are now about seven years old and in wonderful shape. After use, I put them in a small water-proof bag without rinsing, then wash whenever it is convenient. They don't smell, and because I have dark jewel-toned colors, there are no visible stains. Folks who prefer tampons might like a menstrual cup such as the Keeper or the Diva Cup.

With both cloth diapers and cloth pads, I have felt incredibly pampered. Instead of having to touch icky cheap plastic or deal with itchiness and odd chemical smells, I now have gloriously soft cotton next to me.

Almost on a dare, I decided to see if I would be as pleased with cotton for our other big use of a disposable paper product. I intended to use them myself only during the week of my period and wash them with my cloth pads. We had an old navy-blue flannel sheet that had shrunk in the wash enough that it would not fit our mattress--and I cut it up in strips. Wonderful! And not at all disturbing or smelly. The family surprised me a bit by wanting to participate as well.

Although we still use the flannel strips, I augmented our stack with some cloths from Stork Savers. We chose some bug patterns from her marvelous collection of fabrics.



One thing that concerned us was that washing the wipes weekly in hot water would und0 any environmental benefit of not using disposables. But after reading about the incredible amount of water as well as other stuff used in making disposable toilet paper, the water issue seemed to be, well, at least a wash.

* * *

Back to your regularly-scheduled
hesitant-to-say-anything-too-personal
blog....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Food

Issue Three of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week

I used to laugh at the yuppies ordering their Starbucks half-caf triple-shot double-foam non-fat short caramel lattes.

Now I'm picking out my beans the same way. Make mine shade-grown, organic, fair trade, and locally roasted, please.



You can find this cool rising-sea-level mug (that we do not own but always laugh at) here.

* * *

I talk a lot on this blog about eating locally-grown food, but recently we've been eating even more locally than usual, as my fortune cookie commands:



Our garden broccoli, still small, looked like it might be about to bolt in the heat we've had recently. We harvested it...



...served it steamed in a whole-wheat tortilla with mozzarella cheese...



...and packed it in David's nifty lunch pail:




* * *

Another way to change your food habits in order to lesson your ecological footprint is to answer the "Paper or plastic?" question with, "No thanks; I brought my own bag." In a pinch, I've even used a shawl in progress:



(No knitting was harmed in the taking of this picture.)

* * *

Our goal for the future? To make sure we have some old reusable containers with us for restaurant leftovers when we go out to dinner. (Yep--the backpack-slash-car kit is getting larger: string bags and washed-out produce bags, metal coffee mug, cloth napkins and handkerchiefs, etc. along with the requisite books and knitting for all of us. When will this start to seem ridiculous?)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Water

Issue Two of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week

Many ways of saving water are simple: take shorter showers, use a water-saving sink attachment, turn off the water while you brush your teeth or shave or wash dishes, only run the dishwasher when it is full, and (even though you may think this is disturbing) use the Ed Koch flush.



We're thinking about constructing a rain barrel in our garden so we can put some of that lovely rain on the garden even when it is bone-dry outside.

Another way to cut down on water use is to xeriscape your yard--that is, use locality-appropriate plantings that do not require additional water and also avoid run-off. Much of our back yard is devoted to growing produce--and while vegetable gardening answers other environmental concerns, it is certainly not a water-saving measure.

Some people even have a greywater system that collects domestic waste water such as that from washing dishes, doing laundry, and showering to recycle for flushing toilets and for irrigation. Very cool!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Energy

Issue One of Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week



For many years we've tried to keep our energy consumption low--partly for the sake of the environment and party because we are cheap. We've keep our heat at slightly less than 60 degrees during the winter. (Being a knitter and wanting to wear all those heavy wool sweaters certainly helps--as does a delicious pair of silk long underwear.) We air dry in the dishwasher, use cold water in the washing machine, don't have television in our lives, etc.

This week we've been talking about a couple of additional steps we could take. One is a longer-term project--and one we've made a commitment to do regularly.

Amy's example convinced us to try to hang our laundry out rather than use the dryer as much as we do. Hanging a line in our tiny yard was a bit complicated, but we found an alternative line dryer that is like a cross between an indoor rack and a regular outdoor clothesline.



Of course, right after we we found it, the heavens opened and it has been pouring rain since.

* * *

David and I started a much larger conversation--actually, we took an old conversation to a more intense level--about how to green up our house in more substantial ways. Recently we switched to wind power, partly as a result of Lolly's inspirational prodding. But now, even though our electric comes from a clean source, we'd like to reduce our usage further. Should we replace our beautiful but terribly-inefficient ancient windows? During the winter you can hear arctic winds whistling through the house--which is awful for energy efficiency. (On the other hand, we might worry less about VOCs etc. because of our excellent ventilation....)

And then there is the question of a solar water heater. Can we afford it? Do we have the right exposure and the right kind of roof?

We're started our quest for more information. Have any of you had any experience with either solar water heaters or window replacement? I'd love to hear!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Low Impact Week

There have been many calls to consider our impact on the earth and challenge ourselves to be more careful of our planet: No Impact Man (and the conservative parody/cheapskate blog Low Impact Man), Judith Levine's Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, EnviroWoman's plastic-free pledge, 90% Reduction, The Compact, and even the blog with my favorite non-knitting title: Little Blog in the Big Woods with Greenpa's "Earth Lent".

One challenge I am interested in participating in myself is Crunchy Chicken's Low Impact Week. The founder suggests seven areas to work on.

1. Reduce energy consumption
2. Reduce water usage
3. Change your food habits
4. Reduce your dependence on paper products
5. Reduce your garbage output
6. Reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle usage
7. Do something that lasts more than a week

Under each category, she gives us a list of possibilities for changes in our lives.

My goal for the week is not necessarily to make tremendous changes right now. This is simply a week for contemplating and planning changes that we might be able either to incorporate into our daily lives or try to do occasionally. I hope you'll all join me in a conversation about how and what you've tried to do, how it has worked out, and what you want to change next.

Making Mysost

Mysost is a Norwegian cheese made from caramelized cow's milk whey, often the whey left over after making traditional curd cheese. When made with goat's whey, the cheese is called gjetost. They are unusual--not what you'd necessarily expect when someone tells you they are serving you cheese. Both cheeses are smooth, sweet, sour, salty, slightly brown--and deliciously different.



The recipe calls for only two ingredients. We purchased a couple of quarts of whey from our dairy farmer, combined it with a little cream, and put it on to heat. (If you prefer, you can make it with only whey, although your cheese will be slightly grainier.) You can certainly use your own whey--that made after draining yogurt to make yogurt cheese will even work. I don't think it is particularly easy to find commercial whey, however.



We brought the whey up to a full boil then turned down the heat a bit. After several hours (4 for us, but sometimes as much as 12 hours) at a gentle boil, the whey had reduced to a fudge-like consistency. After beating it severely, we cooled it in its pan over a bowl of iced water and poured it into a little buttered glass bowl.

Mellowing in the refrigerator for 24 hours helps the flavor of mysost. But I couldn't wait:



Excellent instructions can be found in Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making.

What fun!

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