All the food, fiber, and gardening of summer

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This summer I had my head in the game but not my butt in the chair when it comes to writing (to steal a phrase from the #AmWriting podcast). I missed blogging but let myself be swept up in the moment. They won’t be teens at home forever and, despite what one often hears, these are great parenting years.

Lots happening around the Yarnstead with the basement finally getting spruced up and the tree that’s too close to the wires coming down. There was gardening, cooking, going to the farmers market, learning lots about food photography (a great day of learning and sisterhood plus my debut as a hand model;), making of yarn, making of things with yarn, and going to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Many but not all of these photos will be familiar if you follow me on Instagram. Off blog topics, there were visits to both of our amazing Great Lakes and many hours of teaching my eldest to drive (gulp).

Memorial Day garden gallery

Left column (top to bottom): herb garden, walking onions, tomato and ground cherry bed, kale that resprouted from last year, pollinator garden in dire need of weeding

Middle column (top to bottom): Also in dire need of weeding, the top two are views of the   big mixed garden bed (perennials, rhubarb, blackberries, new asparagus, some dye plants); bottom image are the raised beds close to the house with veggies and flowers

Right column (top to bottom): Blueberries, raspberries, front corner so we don’t have to mow there garden bed, 3 new Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, edible berries and a dye plant)

The yard is always a work in progress! The weeds thrive in all kinds of growing conditions, which can be frustrating in the spring, but getting my hands in the dirt to weed can be a meditation.

The light and the dark

IMG_4074.JPGThe first time I got interested in making yarn was in my tween years. I was already doing some crocheting and knitting when my family adopted a Samoyed puppy from the local shelter. Some months after, I saw a newspaper article about a woman who was spinning her Samoyed’s fluffy undercoat into very warm yarn. This may sound strange if you are a fiber arts muggle, but many animals adapted to harsh climates have very warm fiber undercoats that can be combed out or gathered in some way. IMG_0297Think of those musk ox I am so enamored with, but also bison, yak, and a dog breed from Siberia. The article promised the Samoyed fiber would not have that “doggy” smell even when wet. I made a very basic spindle and consulted a spinning book. I had exactly zero luck teaching myself to spin our dog’s hair, probably to the relief of everyone around me who thought it was just a bit too weird. I put the book and spindle away, and that was that.

Until the late 1990’s anyway. I don’t recall what, if anything, in particular made me suddenly interested in spinning. I had my job, home life, and some engrossing hobbies (horseback riding, cooking, knitting) so it wasn’t like I needed something to do. Maybe it was my enjoyment of knitting with wool. One day I found myself at a local shop buying a spinning magazine. I did some reading, played around with a homemade spindle again, and eventually got myself a “learn to spin” kit with two colors of wool fiber and a hand spindle.

After more trial and error, I made a lumpy but continuous strand of yarn, and I felt like I could do magic. I went to a workshop on using hand spindles, and that helped so much! More spindles, a wheel, lots of spinning books, and a few wheel spinning workshops followed over the next years. I’ve never had a lot of time to devote to it but treasured it all the same.

Spinning takes my mind to a peaceful and quiet place. I won’t say that it’s meditative because I’m not trying to clear my mind. Maybe stilling or freeing are better words. It’s handwork that lets the mind go, allows effortless reflection, and sometimes leads to surprising understanding. For me, that’s as great as making yarn from scratch. It’s probably why years later, I have yet to follow yarn recipes and instead dabble in different techniques and mostly make come-as-you-are yarn.

Almost seven years ago, we lost a close family member. Shortly after learning illness would take our special person, I remember having the fleeting thought as I walked past my spinning wheel that I would really need inner stillness in the months to come. But instead my spinning left me.

I would see my wheel in the corner of my bedroom and think that I could get up in the night and soothe myself enough to sleep. But in 8 months or so of terrible sleeping, I never once did. Maybe I had no energy to move from my bed, so very tired in every way.

Mostly though, I think I was afraid to be too still, to open myself to whatever feelings would be waiting in that inner quiet. If I didn’t go there, maybe the messiness of adjusting to my new day-to-day would shield me from some of my pain. I kept knitting and discovered my bereaved brain couldn’t grasp complex patterns. When I commented on this perceived failing to friend and knitter/dyer Jaala, she gently pointed out that I didn’t need to be challenged in all areas of my life at the same time.

Good point. I rediscovered the simple pleasure of knitting square and rectangular things like scarves and dishcloths. When I felt like I couldn’t do anything else, I looked at pictures in fiber arts books and magazines over and over. I read a lot more than I had for years: cookbooks, garden books, Jane Austen, Harry Potter, science, science fiction, historical fiction.

I tried to spark my interest by selling my wheel and buying a different type. It still mostly gathered dust. I sold that wheel and tried to just stick with spindles; that might have worked if I’d understood then why my spinning had left. Eventually I bought another wheel that I love. By that point, I had figured out that I wasn’t having an equipment problem.

My dear friend Alene, who knows me very well, never seemed to lose the faith: she kept me supplied with a steady stream of spinning fiber at birthdays and Christmas, usually mixed in with things related to food, Doctor Who, or both. After a very long time, I found myself spinning occasionally. I moved my wheel and kate back upstairs, unearthed my spindles, and bought some fiber. Healing comes so very slowly and with the help of so many, but I let it come. With it, to my very great surprise, came my spinning.IMG_1043

Chex mix and podcasts: fuel for a creative holiday season 

 Snow is falling again right now, and I’m grateful for a chance to regroup and recharge indoors after a busy summer and fall. For starters, homemade Chex mix is WAY better than store-bought, especially if made from this recipe and using Cheez-its Duos (sharp cheddar and parmesan mixed together) for the cheesy crackers. Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce is vegan, so my vegetarian family member dug right in too.

For company on your snowy commute or as you busily prepare holiday treats or even just do your housecleaning, may I suggest some podcasts? They spice up even ordinary activities and give listeners all kinds of creative ideas. I listen on my phone using the Downcast app, but you can listen straight from your browser too. Here are a few of my current favorites:

The Feed with hosts Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky

5 Minutes on the Farm, a local food podcast featuring a different southern Wisconsin food producer each week (monthly over the winter)

Prairie Girls Knit & Spin. “May your drafting be consistent and your gauge never lie.” If only.

Woolful, interviews from the fiber world

The SweetGeorgia Show, color, craft, and creativity

and always, Science Friday! Because science. Love it.

I’d love to hear what your favorites are. Please share them in the comments.

Five years of blogging!

On October 21, 2011, I pressed “Publish” on my first post, Adventures in wool dyeing.pablo-2A lot has happened in five years!

90 posts, the most popular of which was my May 2014 review of the stash2go app for iPhone and iPad

4 recipes: ground cherry salsa, savory potato, easy sauce from roasted tomatoes, and improvised cream cheese pockets (chicken & vegetarian versions)

1 free knitting pattern

A fair number of garden layouts that didn’t last

A lot of experimenting to find the right balance of gardening/CSA/farmers’ market as sources for produce

A three-year old picture of creeping bellflower in my yard three years ago with the caption “volunteer bellflower” with no irony at all (it is pretty-but ah, such naiveté … followed by the devastating discovery that is a really, really invasive species)

An easy way to dry herbs

Tips for success with your CSA box

A lot of happiness from growing and cooking with local food (especially my homegrown herbs and berries), talking blogging with friends, and building my cookbook collection

Recurring struggles with making creative space, finding family balance, setting goals that are challenging but not crazy-making, and getting spinning back into my life

A pattern of circling back to natural dye plant gardening and yarn dyeing

65 finished fiber arts projects of various sizes (no clue I was that productive, absolutely no clue. Ha, just said that to my daughter, who said it sounded about right and lovingly mocked me bringing my knitting everywhere. Ahem, anyway, thanks to Ravelry for making it easy to keep tabs)

9 frogged fiber arts projects (plus some that never got far enough to get on Ravelry in the first place)

Guest appearances on the blog by crochet, weaving, felt making, and needlepoint. In an ideal world, I’d be good at sewing, have time for it, and use Grandma’s sewing machine for more than mending!

And just in the last year or so, some developments that help me look forward to the next five years: Wisconsin Whisk welcomed me to their blogging collective, my blog got a new look and domain name, and thanks to a Whisk blogging workshop, I’ve gotten lots of advice and encouragement for additional improvements.

Thank you, readers, for your support! Stay tuned for my new challenges: whole grain baking, more food preserving, my fiber arts activities as part of slow fashion, and a deeper dive into how gardening, food, and fiber arts interconnect.

Garden to Table August 2016: tech support for food & yarn lovers

IMG_0120The long days of summer with a chaotic mix of heat and rain make everything grow like crazy! August is a time of great abundance in the Midwestern garden, and the farmers’ market tables are loaded with so many choices that we forget how hard it was to wait for tomatoes. Maybe you’ve picked up some yarn at the farmers’ market too…after all, fall is coming in a couple months.

Some times you might want a little help figuring out what to do with all that goodness. Here are a few of my favorites that you can use for free on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (or some combo of those):

Evernote – Great for saving online articles, blog posts, and recipes. Free to join on up to two platforms. Syncs between platforms so your notes are always read t0 go. Also great for writing draft blog posts and note taking!

Google Keep – While I can keep lists in Evernote, I like to use Google Keep for lists instead. This no-frills and easy-to-use app loads quickly, syncs between platforms, and allows quick and easy sharing of lists and notes with others.

feedly – Great for reading blog posts. Subscribe to your favorite blogs. feedly checks them regularly and compiles the new posts in your account. You can organize them by category (I have Assorted, Food, Fiber Arts, Gardening, Science) or just enjoy them any which way.

Ravelry – Love yarn? Then super-fun and useful Ravelry is for you. So easy to use, it has a database of yarns and patterns (so helpful to see what that pattern you’re considering looks like in different colors and yarns), online forums for many topics, online pattern shop, and sections to keep track of your projects, yarns, needles/hooks, and library! I love using Ravelry to search through my library from the comfort of the living room (“Hmm, I know I have a pattern somewhere in the house for a worsted weight scarf. Which book is it in?”). Want to access Ravelry on your phone or tablet? Try Stash2go for iOS or Android, or use the Ravelry mobile site.

E-books – Not everyone loves to read or work this way, but I’ve been able to get a lot of books for very little money this way! E-book publishers have short-term sales (and you can always check the Kindle bestsellers list in categories of interest on Amazon), so follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their lists (Storey Fresh Picks is one of my favorites for cooking, gardening and craft books) to find out about them. The picture above shows some of my favorite Kindle books and PDFs.

NYTimes recipes – A good iOS app and a really good website to get you access to the many recipes the Times has published over the years.

PDF reader – Really handy to be able to “mark up” a PDF of a recipe or pattern. I like GoodReader (iOS) and save a copy of both the original and my marked-up PDF knitting patterns that way.

Craftsy has online classes for crafts but also cooking and gardening! They have a number of free ones to get you started, and if you sign up to watch some, you can get notifications of sales on classes.
What did I miss? I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments.

Garden to Table July 2016: the Speed of Summer

Every year I think I know what’s coming, and every year it takes me by surprise. Yes, I remember that the berries in the garden will come one on the heels of the next, with cherries and currants overlapping the end of the strawberries and the beginning of the summer raspberries. About that time, the blueberries start to gradually turn from green to deep blue. Although summer break means some school-age helpers available to help pick, those big kids come to summer with their own plans. Frequently those plans require a chauffeur.

I feel so clever remembering to have extra sugar on hand to make jam, but then I find I am out of pectin. And…so are all the stores in my area, and for a few days, I look forlornly at the prepared fruit in the refrigerator and even more forlornly at the weeds. Every year they get ahead of me for some reason or another, and I wonder if I’m still doing too much. I was sure I would not have time to pick the white currants (a bush that appeared in my front flower bed a few years back as a volunteer) as well as the red. An unexpected free evening and a lingonberry rake (a.k.a. Swedish berry rake) made it quick work to do both bushes. The currants went into the freezer to be made later into some sort of sauce or chutney. The small cherry harvest made three delicious mini-pies. The strawberries from the market went into freezer jam! The ones from our patch got eaten fresh. The best ways I’ve found to cut down on weeding are mulching and gardening in raised beds and containers. I was relieved to find that the weeding went much faster than usual. It’s not realistic to think there will ever be a moment without them somewhere, so I “power weed” by taking the biggest out and working toward the smaller ones as time allows. This is surprisingly effective at clearing out and improving the look of the garden, helping the plants I intend to grow, and boosting the mood of the gardener. Once the first burst of growth is past, there is usually time for weeding to become more zen. A few moments here and there stolen during mornings and evenings means the weeds and I start to balance each other’s efforts.

In the fiber world, this is also the time for the much-anticipated Tour de Fleece. It’s a handspinning event that is organized on Ravelry and follows the schedule of the Tour de France. I’ve only done it three times but am always envious of the amazing yarn created in the years I haven’t participated. It’s the perfect social media event, with loads of eye candy on Ravelry and Instagram and online teams for support and trouble-shooting.

The Tour, like the berries and the weeds, arrives at the speed of summer. The creative life so often offers lessons on letting go, being patient, sticking with things, but apparently the lesson summer has for me is all about being in the moment before it rushes on.