1. Seed starting, maple sugaring, and hope for the end of the season of slush

    March 11, 2013 by Carol

    We tapped out maple tree a week ago.




    It cost us $4 for the tap; the jar and spare wire were found around the house.  Talk about Yankee frugality!  I have done a bit of reading and talked to people who do this more seriously and I know my one little tap is not going to give me much, no matter how much sap this tree pumps out.  In the first four days we collected about 2 gallons, boiled it down to 1/2 quart of complexly flavored, delicious sweet water — it needs to be cooked down further but I have to collect more sap first.  Since Thursday, I’ve collected another 2+ gallons and it’s time for another boil.  It took some 10 hours of hard boiling last time, oy.  If you’ve ever been to a real, outdoor maple syrup-making event, you know how very small scale my venture is.  Nonetheless, we are having fun!

    We are considering a second or third tap.  An experienced maple sugarer assures me that more taps is fine and the sugaring season in Michigan will last for at least another month (nights below freezing, days above freezing).


    I’ll share more of what I’ve learned as we progress with the collection and boiling over the next month.  My best source of info — enough to get going and not so much that you’ll be stalled — comes from this University of Maine agricultural extension pamphlet.

    While I am new to maple sugaring, I am old hand at seed starting.  This is my favorite part of gardening and a great relief from winter!

    I began by disinfecting all my pots and trays in bleach water solution in the bath tub (I decided against sharing that grotesque picture!).  I didn’t measure anything – just filled the tub with enough hot water to submerge the trays and dumped in a large glug of bleach (1 cup or less), swirled the bleach into the water and made sure it didn’t have that slimy feeling you get with too much bleach and let the dunking begin.  I did not clean the containers, mind you, just disinfected them.  I have a large collection of pots and trays and — life’s too short.  Mind you, this is the first time in all my years of gardening that I have bothered with disinfecting and that’s because I got these supplies from another gardener.  I’ve never had fungal problems with my seed starting so I never feel the need to disinfect.


    Air dry is best when disinfecting, but I rinsed my first set so I could get going right away.  The kids and I filled the first tray of 18 pots with a commercial soil-less seed starting mixture that we had around the house from some other project.

    We planted — about 4 seeds per 3″ pot:

    • Tomatillos (2012) — they are rather carefree in form and easy easy easy; we are going to roast them and make salsa
    • Black Plum tomatoes (2010) — black tomatoes have a nice smokey flavor
    • Oxheart Pink tomatoes (2010) — I am searching for an elusive orange oxheart I grew many years ago and this was the closest I could find last time I ordered online
    • Tiger-like tomatoes (2009) — the earliest maturing variety I’ve ever grown, and they’re cute
    • San Marzano Lampadina plum tomato (2010) — The year I had a newborn and every other gardener got late blight on their tomatoes, these plants pumped out tomatoes under some serious neglect
    • Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry (2007) — The only cherry tomato in my stash, but I also prefer yellow tomatoes for their lower acid content
    • Ground cherry (2009) — a garden curiosity!  The grow in a husk like a tomatillo and taste a bit like pineapple.  They also like to wander all over the garden so I am replanting them this year.  My mother-in-law, who comes from farming stock, told me that this old-fashioned fruit will flourish in a wild patch once it finds the right spot; and that it makes great pie.
    • mini sweet peppers (2012) — seed saving adventure from the grocery store.  I struggle to get sweet peppers to set fruit and to have those fruit mature so I hope a mini variety will help make those problems easier.  And the kids love sweet peppers (and hate tomatoes).
    • Early Jalapeno (2007) — I find hot peppers easier to grow than sweet peppers.  And jalepenos are a crucial ingredient in my homemade refried black beans.
    • Ancho hot pepper (2010) — It’s not always easy to find a good variety of hot peppers where I live so why not grow my own and preserve them!
    • Cayenne pepper (2010) — They’re beautiful and useful in sparing amounts
    • Garden sage (2008) — I need more of this good stuff to tuck around the vegetable garden.  It attracts pollinators and repels pests.
    • Hyssop (2007) — Attracts bees and butterflies
    • Cumin (2008) — I love this spice and cannot resist trying to grow it, again!


    Yes I am using “old” seed and yes, I plant sparingly.  It works for me.  If germination rates are too low to be useful, I will know in the next 10 days and can replant with new seed, skip it for this year, or buy a plant at the nursery.  I know the paper towel germination check trick, but I cannot be bothered to do it because I have SO MANY packages of seeds.  How many, you’re wondering?  My spreadsheet shows around 230.  Some are being tossed today as things I refuse to ever grow again (shasta daisy, wormwood), or failed experiments (gerber daisy), or used up (Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry).  I hope to whittle this number down significantly this year and have many new plants growing in the garden instead.

    Today is the new moon and we are trying out some biodynamic gardening methods this year.  The new moon is a good time to plant seeds because it promotes root growth (think tidal pulls, not magic).  Although Jeavons’s tome, How to Grow More Vegetables… is a great source of biodynamic gardening information, for an easy beginning I recommend the seed starting tool at Almanac.com, which gives best planting dates for several popular vegetables, including moon-favorable dates.  That link is set to Detroit, MI; put in your city or zip code to get the dates for your part of the US (sorry Canada!  And everybody else in the world!) .

    Once my seeds are planted, they go on a wire shelf in front of the south-east facing window in my dining room.  It is the perfect plant nursery.  Plenty of sunlight and warmth and air movement (I do use domes until seedlings emerge to make them a littler warmer and moister) without the expense of grow lights or heat mats.  Yes, it makes my husband a little crazy to have this in my dining room but not so much that he wants to invest in a mini greenhouse.  Yet.

    How are you breaking out of winter’s doldrums?  Having any dreams of green things?

  2. “The Weed” by Elizabeth Bishop

    February 2, 2013 by Carol

    It’s Imbolc or Brigid’s Day and Brigid was, among so many other things–saint or goddess, depending on who you ask–a patron of poets.  I love poetry so very much!  My future sister-in-law just finished a master’s degree in English Lit and for her thesis studied Elizabeth Bishop.  So I have been reading Bishop of late.  I am tickled that Bishop translated a bunch of Octavio Paz, of whom I am a big fan.  In fact, last year at this time I posted an excerpt from his seminal work, “Sunstone.”


    “The Weed”

    by Elizabeth Bishop


    I dreamed that dead, and meditating,

    I lay upon a grave, or bed,

    (at least, some cold and close-built bower).

    In the cold heart, its final thought

    stood frozen, drawn immense and clear,

    stiff and idle as I was there;

    and we remained unchanged together

    for a year, a minute, an hour.

    Suddenly there was a motion,

    as startling, there, to every sense

    as an explosion. Then it dropped

    to insistent, cautious creeping

    in the region of the heart,

    prodding me from desperate sleep.

    I raised my head. A slight young weed

    had pushed up through the heart and its

    green head was nodding on the breast.

    (All this was in the dark.)

    It grew an inch like a blade of grass;

    next, one leaf shot out of its side

    a twisting, waving flag, and then

    two leaves moved like a semaphore.

    The stem grew thick.  The nervous roots

    reached to each side; the graceful head

    changed its position mysteriously,

    since there was neither sun nor moon

    to catch its young attention.

    The rooted heart began to change

    (not beat) and then it split apart

    and from it broke a flood of water.

    Two rivers glanced off from the sides,

    one to the right, one to the left,

    two rushing, half-clear streams,

    (the ribs made of them two cascades)

    which assuredly, smooth as glass,

    went off through the fine black grains of earth.

    The weed was almost swept away;

    it struggled with its leaves,

    lifting them fringed with heavy drops.

    A few drops fell upon my face

    and in my eyes, so I could see

    (or, in that black place, thought I saw)

    that each drop contained a light,

    a small, illuminated scene;

    the weed-deflected stream was made

    itself of racing images.

    (As if a river should carry all

    the scenes that it had once reflected

    shut in its waters, and not floating

    on momentary surfaces.)

    The weed stood in the severed heart.

    “What are you doing there?” I asked.

    It lifted its head all dripping wet

    (with my own thoughts?)

    and answered then: “I grow,” it said,

    “but to divide your heart again.”


    From Poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011, p. 22-23.  Originally published in Bishop’s first collection, North & South, 1946.

  3. Proof that Dr. G’s Memory Vest Makes People Happy

    January 21, 2013 by Carol

    Mission accomplished!

    Being a goal-oriented person, I am pleased to have not only finished my husband’s Dr G’s Memory Vest (pattern by Kirsten Kapur of Through the Loops), but also to have accomplished my goal of knitting a sweater for each person in my immediate family this season.

    Except myself.  I am not neglecting myself.  I do not buy into the Martyr Mother role!  And winter is not over yet.  I will cast on for my new sweater any day now.  I just have to make a decision on which pattern…  Isn’t sifting Ravelry for a pattern the best part anyway?

    Back to the vest.  On a friend’s suggestion, I went with Aslan Trends Del Cerro yarn.  It was one of those yarns that seemed like it would work, but so did not – at first.  I wanted to make a medium, which would have given Matt some negative ease in the fit, but after casting on and knitting for a few inches, it was clear that it was coming out way too small.  So I threw my naughty knitting into the corner for a few days ripped it out and knit the vest in the extra-large size.


    Well hallelujah and all that jazz because it ended being a great fit!  It’s approximately 43” around the chest, which is about what size the medium was supposed to be.  I’d like to claim awesome knitting ninja powers, but I suspect I just got lucky.  The false start made for a good gauge swatch as well.  The one tricky spot was the v-neck; I had to rewrite the decreases because of the difference in my row gauge.  Row gauge didn’t give me a problem in the other parts of the sweater.

    Don’t get me wrong about the Del Cerro, either.  It’s a great yarn.  It is comprised of many small plies and it is very bouncy and squishy.  It was just a bit splitty in the knitting up, but not so much that I am put off using it in the future.  The important feature of this yarn: It has GREAT stitch definition for all those cables.  I hope down the road that it doesn’t fuzz over so much that the cables become blurred, but if it does, oh well – there are more vests to be knit and there is a life-cycle to all these knitted goods.

    Coincidentally, Matt’s first opportunity to wear this was on his birthday last week.  We had to go out and get a new white button down and everything.


    Donut Mondae at Zingerman’s Roadhouse ~ what more could a person ask for?!

    Dah-ling, you look mah-velous!  Happy Birthday!

  4. Well, well, well…

    November 15, 2012 by Carol

    It has been a quiet year (here, anyway) with a beautiful, but hard-to-read theme.

    How about we change things up?

    A new theme and renewed purpose.

    After thirteen years–lucky, lucky thirteen–working in traditional publishing, I am stretching my wings to encompass the online realm.  Right now, let us simply enjoy each other’s company, shall we?  In two years’ time, my little people will all be in school and I will be able to devote myself to my freelance career fulltime.  Yikes!  So this is the time to enjoy.  The time when my seven-year-old son still says “I love you, Mom,” while we’re walking home from school (as he did today).

    What have you been enjoying lately?

    I’ve been sinking deeper and deeper into the soft abyss of spinning.  I have been blessed to borrow two spinning wheels and be given another–simultaneously–this past year.  Talk about wow.  So it is time to give back before there’s some sort of karmic backlash, like a rubberband snapping back into my face.

    The borrowed wheels are an Ashford Traveller (very easy to spin on!) and a Majacraft Suzie Pro (the Cadillac of spinning wheels, as one friend put it).  Then someone was cleaning her house and gifted me with a Louet S15 that she had bought second-hand and never used.  It needed love and repairs but–OMG!  It was mine!

    Through my local fiber guild, Spinner’s Flock, I got in touch with Linda of Cape House Farms, a local Louet dealer.  She fixed my baby up right and told me it was more than 30 years old.  I went straight from Linda’s beautiful property to Knit Night, my heart so light and bubbly with excitement, my arms full of combed Border Leicester that she gave me to play with–and I discovered that I couldn’t spin on this wheel to save my life!

    Cue violins.  Pass the antacids.

    Luckily there is always knitting to get my back (love you BFF!) so I wasn’t empty-handed that evening.  But after closing down the coffeeshop, I stayed up late doing research.  I learned that most Louets, the S15 included, are bobbin-led wheels.  The other two I’ve been using are flyer-led.  I made a few small adjustments to my drafting and treadeling and–behold!–Rapunzel is back in the house.

    Rapunzel reference aside, I make no great claims to my spinning quality.  I am simply enjoying the process.  First question out of everyone’s mouth when I show them my spinning is “what are you going to make?”  Fair enough.  If you asked me about the angle of twist or Z/S spin, I would just look at you cross-eyed anyway.  But I have no answer to this popular question.  I left the last guild meeting wearing my latest skeins of yarn like a cowl and that worked well enough.

    Until I got too warm.

  5. Stripe it like there’s no tomorrow

    April 30, 2012 by Carol

    You can't knit just two!

    In my experience, creation falls into two categories: quick and slow.  Whether one is writing a story or building a piece of furniture, some things come together in a flash of frenzied inspiration, while others must cook for a long, long time.  This sock pattern falls into the latter category.  I have noodled out and knit up versions of it since December 2008 when it made it’s debut as a multicolor striped slipper sock for my brother’s girlfriend.

    The organizing principle: what tiny balls of leftover yarn are in the bottom of my Wool-Ease basket?

    Although I love the funky multicolor stripey-ness, this early sock needed to be knit at a tighter gauge to be more durable.

    First I had a detour into some Harry Potter themed House Socks, which gave me the name, but were still too loose.

    Slytherin or Gryffindor?


    A few years later, I got around to reworking the numbers and quickly had these!

    This combo of green and blue makes my eyes happy.


    Before giving them over to the whole wide world, I had some friends test it out.  Thank you, friends!

    Alison Denomme


    Allison Phelps


    Casey Braun -- her first socks ever! Wow!


    Melissa White


    Heidi Lemon


    Abbey Buckley

    More views and more socks are available on the pattern’s Ravelry page!  It is with great pleasure that I give you House Socks!  Enjoy! Please be in touch if you have any questions.  Via Ravelry is best way to contact me.

  6. When Life Gives You Lemons…

    February 3, 2012 by Carol

    …you knit a doll blanket with ridiculously cutesy yarn!


    Today I went to the yarn shop — with my preschooler — thinking to indulge myself in a single beautiful skein of something to make something with.  (I was deliberately keeping my options open.)  And there she was, being such a good girl in such a grown up store, skipping down all the aisles, pointing out every single pink skein and squealing with delight over them all.

    The conclusion was obvious and I am really enjoying this diversion knit.  I thought I was busy last year, with a husband in grad school, both of us working, a kid at home, and a kid in school, but we have managed to take it up a notch this year.  Oy.

    I have been reduced to hiding in my bedroom on a Friday afternoon, knitting pink yarn, and watching Downton Abbey.

    Of course when I write it down it doesn’t sound bad at all.  Perhaps I do have a sense of self preservation.

    The yarn is Plymouth Encore Colorspun in the poetically named color #7722.  Now, if you don’t mind, the blue stripe is waiting…

  7. Piedra Del Sol / Sunstone

    February 2, 2012 by Carol

    In observance of Brigit, a poem (actually, part of a poem because this is a very long poem):

    Piedra del sol (Sunstone) by Octavio Paz

    I want to go on, to go further, and cannot:

    as each moment was dropping into another

    I dreamt the dreams of dreamless stones,

    and there at the end of the years like stones

    I heard my blood, singing in its prison,

    and the sea sang with a murmur of light,

    one by one the walls gave way,

    all of the doors were broken down,

    and the sun came bursting through my forehead,

    it tore apart my closed lids,

    cut loose my being from its wrappers,

    and pulled me out of myself to wake me

    from this animal sleep and its centuries of stone,

    and the sun’s magic of mirrors revived

    a crystal willow, a poplar of water,

    a tall fountain the wind arches over,

    a tree deep-rooted yet dancing still,

    a course of a river that turns, moves on,

    doubles back, and comes full circle,

    forever arriving:

    New sweater just in time for spring!

  8. Mental Note: Remember this Forever

    January 21, 2012 by Carol

    This morning my almost-three-year-old daughter climbed into our bed, vaulting herself into that much coveted nook between mom and dad.  As she snuggled in deeper, she beamed at both of us and said: “You guys are my BEST FRIENDS … ever!”

    Goooooood morning!

    What a nice way to wake up in the morning!

    If you’re here for the knitting, rest assured I have good news.  Spiral Yoke is DONE, has been donned and found worthy, and took a trip to the spa.  After a lavender-scented bubble bath, she is now resting (and drying) on the dining room table.  Photos to follow.

  9. Review: The Native Star

    January 5, 2012 by Carol

    I like weird books.  Not necessarily weird for weird sake but mainstream fiction about sad people having sad sex and going to fourteen funerals is kinda why I couldn’t stomach the thought of an English degree.  The world is a crazy place!  The glass is half full!  And reading is for entertainment.  The first thing the Sumerians wrote about was beer and folk tales so c’mon people!  Let’s have fun with it.

    The cover art does not suck, eh?

    The Native Star is M.K. Hobson‘s debut novel, published by Ballantine Spectra in August 2010.  I know Hobson’s name from my volunteer work with BroadUniverse, an organization that promotes women writers & editors within the field of science fiction, fantasy, and horror publishing.  (Is that a disclosure?  I do not know the author at all.)  So when I saw this book on the shelf at my local indy bookshop, I read the blurb and said, “Heck yeah! This sounds like fun.”

    Set in an alternate 1880s United States, Hobson’s novel follows a backwoods witch and an urbane warlock who must race across the country just ahead of government-funded, ultra-menacing blood sorcerers.  The action is exciting, the magic has meaning, the romance is not sappy or heavy-handed, and Hobson’s language is precise.  She also sets us up for a sequel (The Hidden Goddess, released eight months ago) that did not leave me feeling irritated and oversold.  Instead, I was running to my computer to look up the deets.

    My one beef — because no review is complete unless the reviewer complains about something, right? — is that the subplot about Dag was kind of left hanging.  Maybe Hobson covers this in the second book, but that seems unlikely.

    Not a fan of fantasy?  I promise you, if you can manage the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Harry Potter heptalogy (the books, NOT the movies!) then this will not be too weird.  And it would make a good film.



  10. Vegetal Dreams

    January 4, 2012 by Carol

    To the uninitiated, this would seem an odd time to talk about the garden, but for those with the itch, this is our hidden season.  The one full of seed catalogs and vegetal dreams and grandiose plans.

    First of all: this balmy “winter” made it possible for me to finish bagging my 58th through 65th bags of leaves in mid-December, long after the yard waste truck stopped trundling through on trash day.  (I dumped them on the sleeping vegetable garden.  The worms will thank me later.)  The unseasonably warm weather makes me think I should get a jump on the spring cleaning.  For example, herding the pots of probably-dead plants tucked throughout the garden, terminally waiting to be planted.  Or picking toys out of the sandbox.  The ones that haven’t filled with water, frozen, and burst, that is.  Those can stay and provide some color to our brown winter.

    Second of all: I received my first SERIOUS garden tool as a gift from my husband this year: Felco hand pruners.  This is the kind of tool you wipe clean after every use and even oil and sharpen occasionally.  I got a cool leather sheath for it and even a tiny tool that is supposed to help take it apart (it’s rather wee; I am in doubt).  Monster thistle, you watch out!  Now I’m cooking with gas!

    Speaking of gas, my husband got a flame-thrower thingy from a friend who understands his manly need to torch offending vegetation.  Why bend over and pull a weed when one can simply push a button…?  No I am not sneering.  My inner villan is rubbing her hands together with glee!

    Thirdly: I renewed my Mother Earth News subscription today.  I freakin’ love that magazine.  When I discovered it several years ago, I was floored.  Here it was, the magazine of my people!  I didn’t realize so many other people thought like me — all DIY and loving the planet and homesteading and more liberal than the liberals — and I live in a college town.

    Just goes to show… we aren’t alone.  Ever.  We aren’t even all that unique (having kids made this really clear).  If you have a thought, someone somewhere is thinking the same thing.  And we haven’t even touched on the multiverse.

    It is amazing to realize how many friends are out there that you haven’t met yet.