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Under Construction

under construction

I have largely stopped doing things that scare me, and over the last few months I have found that (irony alert!) quietly terrifying. I realize that this is, by its very nature, a problem of a privileged person, so there is definitely an important element of perspective and awareness that needs to be ** here. Still, after living in an environment of non-challenge and change, I am way past due to actually take responsibility for the situation. Now, there will probably be some closer-to-home solutions to this that will ultimately carry more weight and meaning in the long run, but as a personal jump start (think Cher slapping some sense into Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck) I am off on a little travel adventure for the next couple of weeks: to chat with and learn from people I’ve known for ages, people I have only known on the internet, and people I just haven’t met quite yet. I’m going to spend a lot of time on Amtrak trains. I’m going to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before and learn something about public transportation in four new-to-me metropolitan areas. I’m going to get terrifically lost. I’m going to try not to cry in any public restrooms, but no promises!

horoscope 2014

The 2014 tarot cards suggested a challenging year ahead. Guess this is my
way of going out on the field to meet it.

Meanwhile, I have been running some small-scale, totally safe experiments here at home that I thought I might share as a “getting off on the right foot” send off. First up, this terrific stitch from the Purl Soho blog. (I want to cast on pretty much every pattern they post, and have even picked out a new project to take along on my trip.) The finished look of this slip-stitch pattern is almost a kind of woven material, at least more than any traditional knitting I have ever seen. It’s not terribly complicated once you get the rhythm down, but will take a bit of time to complete—a.k.a. consider starting next year’s xmas scarf gifts now!

woven knits

I have no actual expertise in natural remedies, but I sure do love reading about the possibilities. When the husband was feeling flu-ish and asked if I had any “potions” to help him out, my research led me to elderberry syrup. Considering there were even some studies/scientific evidence for its usefulness posted on WebMD, I decided to try it out. Not being a controlled experiment, I can’t say it worked…but with both of us nearly down for the count and then quickly back on our feet, it didn’t not work.

elderberry syrup

And finally, the polar vortex and the general unrelenting darkness of this time of the season weighing hard, something bright and healthy to eat seemed to be called for. Cauliflower is one of the only banned vegetables around this homestead but, as a result, those alterna-pizza crusts fare poorly in these parts. However, this butternut squash version (with a kale pesto instead of spinach and whatever toppings I can dig out of the fridge) is sure to be a repeat order.

Cable Me: Quick Knit Winter Hat and Fingerless Glove Patterns

Cabled Winter Hat and Fingerless Gloves

I cut off all my hair a few weeks ago. Four days later, Jennifer Lawrence did the same, saving me from some measure of social scrutiny (well, almost). However, I had not accounted for the fact that it was winter and my ears felt like they were about to freeze right off my head whenever I left the house.

Being me, rather than just going to the store and purchasing some ear muffs, I found some awesome yarn and a pattern and began knitting with a vengeance. When I was done with a hat large enough to fit my admittedly plus-sized brain pan, I clearly had enough yardage left over for my favorite style gloves. So I found a second pattern and just kept going…and going…and going until I realized I actually only almost had enough yardage for gloves. In reality, I was short a thumb. Five measly ten-stitch rows.

Chunky Cabled Fingerless Gloves

If you, too, are looking for a nifty hat-and-fingerless-glove winter warmer set, I love how these came out. I used a very bulky Berroco Borealis in Vik (108 yards to the hank), which resulted in a cap that might be a little loose on my more delicately headed sisters, but worked out quite well for me.

If you’ve never done any cabling before, fear not: this was my first time and possibly the easiest new stitch I’ve learned. It made the project look more sophisticated than many of my previous DIY efforts but I didn’t have to sweat the process. The gloves are done on the same size double points as the hat, so if you’re buying supplies, that will keep the project budget at least moderately in check. The gloves have a cable pattern up the back that’s a close match to the hat and makes it all feel like family.

Cabled Winter Hat and Fingerless Gloves

Chunky Cabled Fingerless Gloves

If I had known in advance that I’d have such a small yardage issue, I could have easily dropped a row or two from the hat pattern to make up for it, but alas. My awesome local yarn shop sympathetically offered me a surprise discount on my 3rd hank and now I have enough for a couple of extra gift glove pairs. This is the first knitting project I’ve ever finished and been anxious to cast on another right away. So if you need me I’ll be spending the rest of the holiday weekend with warm ears and a fully belly of leftovers, counting stitches and watching bad TV.


Before It Was Yarn: Cuddling the Animals at the Maryland Alpaca Festival

Alpacas at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

A damp and foggy morning could not dissuade my neighbor and I from heading to the Howard County Fairgrounds to check out the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival. While I was successful in not drooling (too much!) on the amazing fibers for sale, it was impossible not to fall in love with the adorable alpacas penned in between many of the vendors. One owner very generously spent time chatting with us about the growth of his business. If I was still a kid, I would definitely be pulling on your sleeve and telling you all about how I wanted to raise alpacas when I grew up; being an adult, I’m having some trouble not doing the same thing.

I mean, can you resist these eyes?

Alpacas at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Alpacas at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Alpaca with baby at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Alpacas at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Vendors at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Fleece for sale.

Vendors at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Vendors at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Angora rabbit demonstration at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Angora rabbit demonstration

Flax spinning at the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival

Flax spinning demonstration

Pumpkin Carving in Wonderland: The Cheshire Cat

Pumpkin Carving in Wonderland: The Cheshire Cat

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”

To be clear, this bit of on-brand pumpkin carving is not a design of my own invention, but I liked how it came out so much I wanted to share the results. If you, too, are a fan of Lewis Carroll and would like a mischievous kitten of your own to keep you company during this spooky season, the pattern is here. For those who lack the patience to actually cut out and trace the design onto the squash of their choosing (stares at shoes), it’s also very friendly to freehand sketchers.

The Cheshire Cat-Lit Up

Now, when I was a kid my dad would make me an ingenious pumpkin carving tool of his own invention out of a piece of saw blade screwed into a stump of dowel rod. (Well, I think it was his own invention. My dad and I “invented” a lot of things it turned out later others were already on to, but that never let the air out of our tires!) Anyway, this petite saw-knife was a brilliant way to slice out detailed designs with minimal blood, sweat, and tears. The cheap plastic Pumpkin Masters Pumpkin Carving Kit I spotted on sale at Rite Aid for $2 made it through the job this year (though barely) but I do recommend sourcing a blade with a little more nuance than a steak knife (my otherwise normal default). I don’t know what they are feeding the pumpkins in the patch this year, but they are beasts–thick walled and not messing around.

The neighborhood pumpkin carving contest broke up before all the monsters were complete, but I think Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat is at least still a contender. Now, when is It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown going to be broadcast this year?

UPDATE!: Dad has unearthed our original, ground-breaking precision pumpkin carving tool!

pumpkin carving precision tool

On Goat Mountain: Maryland State Fair 2013

Midway rides at the Maryland State Fair 2013

As a child, Labor Day was synonymous in my mind with the day before I was launched into another school year. Usually, wandering through the animal barns and staring wide-eyed at the midway attractions of the county fair provided a welcome distraction. (I still haven’t been able to get that mermaid in a jar out of my mind.) Now the date carries less stress-induced fanfare, but the nearby Maryland State Fair scratches my itchy nostalgic bent.

The only thing missing is the cafeteria with its rows of sliced lemon meringue pie and fresh-cut tomatoes stuffed with cottage cheese. These whippersnappers with their deep-fried Twinkies. Why, in my day…

Anyway, with the sun beating down hot enough to melt us all into the asphalt, I grabbed my camera and tried to capture a little piece of another summer closing up shop.

Prize-winning tomatoes at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Sheep having a rest at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Shearing sheep at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Cow having a rest at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Midway at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Bingo at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Midway rides at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Terrifying prizes

The duck game at the Maryland State Fair 2013

My favorite midway game of all time! (I was not a very competitive child.)

Killer quilts at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Canned goods in competition at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Honey display at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Wool on display at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Ducks having a look at the Maryland State Fair 2013

Food, Wonderful Food: Youngstown’s Brier Hill and Greek Festivals

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

I made a pilgrimage back to Ohio last weekend. Ostensibly it was to catch up with the folks and perhaps check out the Brier Hill Italian Festival. I’ve long loved local festivals of all sorts in any community, but I knew there would be bonus points if I stumbled on the making secrets of Youngstown’s famed contribution to the pizza dialectic. (I would share them with you here, of course.)

When all was eaten and gone, however, I flew away with something quite unexpected, if not as neatly original (and admittedly quite solipsistic). At one point in the weekend, my dad mused aloud how different things might have been if I had never left suburban Ohio–if, well, New York, and then later Brian Sacawa had never happened to me. It was a startling thing to consider after experiencing so much Youngstown community in the form of local Italian and Greek food festivals and making nostalgic explorations of now-abandoned or much-altered local landmarks. I came home to Baltimore slightly disoriented, as if I had stepped a little too far through an alternate doorway and failed to return at the appointed hour. I did, however, remember to take a few photos. It was all exceedingly tasty.

Things started out well enough with some dedicated sweets-eating at St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church.

Youngstown's Greek Festival 2013

Sample box of famed pastries at St. John’s Greek Festival.

Loukoumades: the delicious danger of fried dough bathed in warm honey syrup.

Loukoumades: the delicious danger of fried dough bathed in warm honey syrup.

Youngstown's Greek Festival 2013

It’s hard not to be joyful in a room filled with phyllo dough pastries and powdered sugar.

Later on, it was admittedly the pizza not the moon that hit us in the eye. What can I say? It was hard to look away and leave the last piece for midnight snacks. The sauce staining our fingers, we left Brier Hill feeling a little more Italian than when we had arrived.

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Fantastic greens and beans gave the pizza a run for it, and that’s saying
quite a bit.

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Campobasso Wine: $3. Raise a glass to Dee Dee!

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

Youngstown's Brier Hill Festival 2013

All of this eating resonated as a fairly powerful statement about the links between food and personal history. And so in my case, when all was said and done of course, it was the shared tea and biscuits with mom, and coffee and donuts with dad, that meant the most. (Awww….)

Columbiana's Barley Twist Tea Room

Columbiana’s Barley Twist Tea Room

Youngstown's Plaza Donuts and Coffee

Youngstown’s Plaza Donuts and Coffee

UPDATE: Dad throws down a challenge:

Dad's Brier Hill Pizza Pies

Dad’s Brier Hill Pizza Pies