Even Sharks Don’t Celebrate Shark Week


So, like three years ago, I got a great idea for a halloween costume- a surfer being eaten by a shark, head first. I had seen a shark hat on the internet, but it was ridiculously expensive, and I thought, I could make that. Then, the boy wanted to be a praying mantis that year, and wanted me to be a venus flytrap…so I put it off. Then last year, I thought of it again, and googled instuctions, or patterns, whether knit or sewn, and preferably, free, of course. Nothing.

 Now, I am a pretty good knitter, good enough to follow patterns, and good enough to figure things out on the back of an envelope. So, I bought some Cascade 220 at the local yarn store, now sadly out of business (moment of silence, please) and examined an extrememely realistic plastic shark out of the boy’s toybox. I started knitting. Like, almost a year ago. What slowed me down was uncertainty about the fins. I wanted to felt the hat, shrinking it on purpose in the washing machine, and I know that I can expect about a 25% decrease in length, but less than that in width, so knowing that, how long do I make the dorsal fins? And the pectoral fins are smaller, but by how much? And the tail, it’s crooked, but is it crooked enough to rip out and try again, or is that the kind of thing felting will hide?

Before felting the shark is floppy and flaccid.

The thing with felting is, there is no going back, so the hat sat in a tote bag for almost a year, not because of a failure of knitting, but a failure of nerve…of will… Anyway, with Halloween coming up again, I figured it was time to do or die, so I took a few photos and threw it in the washing machine. I checked it once in the middle, decided it could go a little longer, then left it in slightly too long. I got distracted. It is really cute, but it isn’t as long as I’d like. Some might say my head is too big. They might be right…

Felted stuff shrinks a mysterious amount- it is hard to predict how it will fit.

Knitting patterns, I have discovered, are hard to write, so if I get organized between now and the rapture, I’ll write it up- this has really great possibilities, of course, thing about the variations of “being eaten by something” costumes. I long for a little blond girl I can dress up as the Princess Bride being eaten by a screaming eel…what about a worm, or a goldfish? Squeeee! Someone needs to have a baby so I can make a goldfish hat!!!!

Oh, wait, someone did have a baby. Excuse me. I have to go buy goldfish colored yarn.

Eyeballs, gills and gums (do sharks even have gums?) then I added lacy picot stitched teeth. I might redo the teeth, except it's kind of a pain.

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Hillbilly Goldfish Pond


I keep upgrading my water gardens- I started with a galvanized washtub, which held pretty much 1 fish and some floating plants, then I got a plastic liner for a whiskey barrel, which had space for 2 fish and some floating plants. 

This year, I invested my fortune in a horse trough, which holds about 130 gallons of water, lots of plants and 10 goldfish. At least at the beginning of the year it had 10 goldfish. There’s been some attrition.  oooh, shiny.

Birds love any water feature, no matter what size, and in the years since I have been putting in container ponds, more and more birds have come to the yard.

I have made a concious decision not to have a pond in the ground- for one thing, I think it shrinks the pond.  My tank takes up a good amount of space in the landscape- it provides a structure, a shiny backdrop, a formal oval of water reflecting the sky.  Most naturalistic ponds don’tlook very natural to me, unless they are a lot huger than I have space for.  I think A 130 gallon in-ground pond would look puny and insecure in my garden. When I chose the galvanized metal tank, I decided that I wanted it to not look naturalistic- I wanted the informal formality of an above ground pond. When we had a party this summer, we put in floating candles. It looked magical.

Intalling was easy- I leveled out the place I wanted it to go, digging out the weedy grass next to the patio, and stretching space out- there is a foot wide tulip bed to the west of it, where tulips and irises will help conceal the metal. 

Maintainance is easy, too, maybe too easy, considering how many fish have died this summer.  I dip my watering can in every few days to water tomatoes and potted plants, then top the tank up with a hose. Water hyacinth and a papyrus provide filtration and ogygenation for the fish, and mosquito larvae provide a food source. I don’t have a fountain, because I haven’t wanted to deal with the hassle of electricity. In the future, maybe solar fountain technology will improve, but for now, it is a still water pond.

Fall is here, and the weather is too cold for the water hyacinth and I have moved the papyrus in for the winter.

Homemade Pizza


Mini pizza with salami, onions and artichoke hearts.

When I was a kid, my dad would make homemade pizza when my mom went out of town. We would get mix from the grocery, Appian Way brand, which if they still make it, is not available in my local megamart. It was quite the production, making enough pizza for 8 people, which is probably why my dad did it when my mom was out of town.  It was always one of my favorite meals.

Now that I am a grown-up, homemade pizza is still one of my favorite meals.  I don’t use a kit, I use a dough recipe that I think originally came from Better Homes and Gardens. I haven’t altered it beyond adding 1 cup of whole wheat flour, but I have lost the original clipping, so that’s why I don’t know the source.  What I usually do is make the dough, and shape about half of it into rounds and bake them for 5 minutes, then we can top them with whatever we like, then bake again.  What I love about minis is that everyone can have the toppings that make them happy, and we don’t have to pick peppers off mine, or meat off the boy’s.  We’re picky.

Pizza or Calzone or Breadstick Dough

1 Tablespoon Dry Yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups warm tap water

1 Tablespoon olive oil

5-5 1/2 cups flour (I usually put in at least 1 cup of whole wheat)

2 teaspoons salt (don’t forget this- I have sometimes, and it is disappointing.)

Pour water over yeast and sugar, let sit a minute while you get the other stuff ready. Add 2 cups of the flour, olive oil, and salt, and mix with dough hook (or by hand if you don’t have a mixer:(. Gradually add remaining flour, and knead about 10 minutes total. Let rest- you can let rise about 40 minutes, and punch down, but I often just let them rest while I get the oven preheated, and work on the garlic butter or pizza toppings.

With the other half of the dough, I have started making garlic twists, according to the directions from the Frugal girl blog. http://www.thefrugalgirl.com/2010/06/wednesday-baking-italian-cheese-twists/ The first time I used the recipe, we ate up a dozen of them before DH got home from work.  He came home to a house smelling like garlic bread, and only had one measly stick left… If I am planning far enough in advance, I’ll do the garlic sticks and spaghetti on a non-activity night, and prebake the pizza rounds while the oven is on. Then I bag up the pizza rounds, and we can decorate them a day or two later, when we are getting home from soccer and starving.

One last note- what makes this recipe, and most of my bread projects, possible, is that DH got me a Kitchenaid stand mixer a few years ago for Christmas. One of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten.

Rustic Apple Tart and Hand Pies


Hand pie- it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

These could have stayed in the oven for another five minutes for that golden brown deliciousness.

Worlds collided today when the girl brought home My First Cookbook, which  has a pastry recipe, and I picked a zillion apples from our tree. A surprising number of them weren’t wormy.

Look how many of them don't have worm holes! We don't spray or anything, so worms are the rule rather than the exception.

I chopped enough for a crockpot full of apple sauce, and a pie. Then the girl’s recipe turned out to be for tarts, and I said, what about hand pies? Hand pies, she asked, did you just make that up? Ummmm, no. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere.  So, we’ll cut circles, put in apples, then fold them over.  The circle we chose to use was the ring from a half gallon sized canning jar, which made lilliputian sized pies…They’re very cute.  The girl made pie crust for the first time, and we actually should have asked Grandma or Great-grandma for lessons, because I think I’ve only made pie crust twice before in my life.  The girl did a good job, though, it’s nice and flaky.

Baked them for a surprisingly long time- I guess I’ve learned something with this project, because I keep saying how surprised I am. It took about 25 minutes at 350, which was enough to brown the bottoms and lightly brown the tops. The apples are still a touch crisp, so it could have gone even longer. We had enough for 6 half moon shaped pies, and I rolled the scraps into a freeform circle, dumped the rest of the seasoned apples into the center, then folded the edges up over it, into a rustic apple tart.  “Rustic?” she says, as if that isn’t a real word. Rustic is totally a word! The rusitc tart held together beautifully when cooled and sliced.

Promise me you'll eat this with ice cream.

Rustic apple Tart

3 cups sour apples, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon flour

your favorite pie crust recipe, or whatever instant pie dough solution you like best.

Toss the apples, sugar cinnamon and flour together in a bowl. Roll out the crust and cut reasonable-sized circles. On reflection, the canning lids, about 3 inch diameter, made very small pies. Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet, fill with the apple mixture, fold over and bake for 25 or more minutes. For once, we forgot to put sprinkles on top, but sprinkles would have been good.

For the rustic tart, I was recalling something I read in Cook’s Illustrated a year ago, so there are probably better sources of instructions. Roll out the dough, place apple mix in the middle, with a good 2 inches of border. Fold up the edges and crimp it, then bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  Because the top is open, it is easier to test these for doneness- just stab an apple with a paring knife to see if they are soft enough.

Finally, rain.


When I got up to let the cat out before dawn the other morning, I heard the rain on the roof. It soaked the soil and chilled the air, knocked some leaves off the trees.  There isn’t enough moisture yet to catch us up from a month of drought, to expand the soil and fill in the cracks, but there is enough moisture to rinse the dust off the leaves and curl the girl’s hair. 

Water is important. What if there wasn’t enough snow in the winter to melt off and fill the chain of resevoirs that loops through town? I have worked to make my garden drought tolerant with mulch and rich soil, but I have to count on resevoir water to keep it alive when the rain doesn’t come. 9,000 gallons during the month of August, according to my water bill.

The girl’s class just raised money to send to charity: water www.charity:water.org  to dig wells in Africa. Each kid in the class brought in a dollar or two, and it will make such a difference for people far away. I’m sad that we complain about brown lawns, when there are people in the world that walk miles to fill jugs, and we use thousands of gallons every month, for showers, laundry, toilets. To water my trees and grass and fill my hillbilly goldfish pond.

There's been some attrition in the goldfish community- the only survivor is a good hider.

I’m thankful for the rain.

Puddles in the leaves.

First grader’s reading goals


I joke that we home school in our family, and then in August we send our kids to the neighborhood public school. Truth comes out in a joke- I am a teacher and general know-it-all, DH is a journalist and general know-it-all. Our kids are becoming know-it-alls. It is nice that we have separate but overlapping fields of knowledge. Actually, you could draw a Venn diagram

Plants, food, language, linguistics, literature, mythology, show tunes, food, plots of old movies, history of Tudor and Stuart dynasties

Weird pop culture references, 80’s sitcoms, the time travel paradox, Star Trek

Astronomy, geology, geography, physics, music, pop hits of the 80’s, obscure college bands of the 90’s, Star Wars, AP style, computers

 

This shows precisely how nerdy I am, that I would draw a Venn diagram about my nerdiness, but not know how to make the Venn diagram show up on the web.  It looked okay on Word.  I’ll have to figure out how to do it in an illustration….

            Our kids have interests and knowledge areas of their own, including Legos, art, dinosaurs, insects, zoology, the Littlest Pet Shop ‘verse, but I don’t know how to make a Venn diagram for the 4 of us, even in Word, much less make it show up on the web. 

            All summer we read, talk, go to museums. There is a lot of lying around, playing with Legos and riding bikes, too, but just by the nature of who we are, there is a lot of learning going on.

            The girl started reading before kindergarten, and hasn’t stopped. She reads, and re-reads, she complains about movies that get the book wrong. She cruised through the Harry Potter series in about 6 weeks, came up for air, then started at the beginning again.

            For a while, the boy seemed to think that reading meant sounding words out, and he hated it.  Last summer, he was recognizing words on packages or on signs, and I would compliment him. I would say, “Good job reading!” and he would say, “I wasn’t reading, I just saw the word and I knew it.” He sounded so disgusted with me, but it was just that he didn’t know that is the definition of reading- seeing the word, and knowing it.

            Going into first grade, he thought he was a bad reader, because his sister is so good, and the books that he is most interested in, like “The Dinosaur Encyclopedia” are too hard for him to read on his own (I have learned a ton about dinos, because I have read the stupid thing aloud to him so much, but it doesn’t really stay with me, so I didn’t put it in the diagram as an area of expertise)

On the first day of first grade, when they were testing him in reading, the tester had to go find more books to get one at a challenging enough level.  He is mostly bored by the books at his level- he wants me to read the dang dinosaur encyclopedia again. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_19?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=dk+eyewitness+books&sprefix=dk+eyewitness+books or lately books on Greek myths that I have brought home from my middle school.  He thinks he can’t read because he can’t read those, and he already knows everything in the first grade books.

9 weeks into the year, we have our first conferences this week. I wonder what we’ll learn. What are your thoughts about homeschool, public school, unschool?

Knitting socks and lessons learned


The yarn harlot  www.yarnharlot.ca/blog has written about a self imposed sock club( for those who don’t know, a sock knitting club is where you sign up and buy a pattern per month and the yarn to complete it.) Anyway, the yarn harlot had a closet full of sock yarn, and a stack of books with patterns bookmarked, so she created her own sock club, putting copies of patterns she wanted to try into Ziploc bags and choosing sock yarn to go with them. Every month she pulls out a bag and blogs about the results.  I was inspired to do kind of the same thing, although without the Ziploc bags.

Oooh la la, look at those socks.

For the month of June, I chose a wavy lace pattern called Old Shale, from the Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=twisted+sister+sock+workbook and some great kettle-dyed hot pink sock yarn from Knit Picks www.knitpicks.com   

            June was vacation month- I got out of school, spent a couple of days cleaning and packing, and then got on a plane to Boston.  I started the first pink sock on the way to the airport, worked on it at DIA after we checked in. I checked my toolkit with my luggage, so I didn’t have a measuring tape.  I used a 4×6 index card that I had copied the pattern on to measure my progress, and when I had a 4 inch cuff, I started the heel.  This detail is important.  I turned the heel as we flew over the great lakes, and cruised down the instep.  How far is it from Denver to Boston? Slightly less than 1 sock.

            I knit more as we wandered around Massachusetts. We found the hotel, got pizza, went to the science museum, rode the T, walked the freedom trail. My production slowed considerably, until we drove to Mount Washington and I finished the toe.

            I started sock number two. We assume that socks will be twins. Commercial socks are usually identical, handmades are sometimes fraternal.  I worked on the ankle of of pink sock number 2 as we drove down the coast to Providence- we started at Salisbury, which is near Cape Anne, and drove down and through Gloucester, Salem, Boston. At rush hour it began raining, and we struggled with reading road signs through trees in the rain. Quincy, Braintree- ooh, John Adams was from there!  Bad signage made the drive stressy- DH drove, the kids slept, and I kept knitting. Knitting is good for stress.  I kept thinking “one more repeat, and I’ll measure.”  I fished the index card out of the bag…4 or 6?  Which edge had I measured with? I somehow remembered 6, but when I compared it to sock number 1, it was 4. So my second sock was about an inch and a half longer than my first. Drat.

Choices:

  1. a pair of unmatched socks.
  2. make a third sock to match the second, then hope there was enough yarn for a fourth to match the second.
  3. rip out one and a half inches of lace.

 

Great color, too bad they aren't the same length.

I chose option C- I took a photo first, there in the twilit car, in the rain, in Rhode Island. Then I figured out where to rip back to and unraveled- 2 hours of knitting gone in 30 seconds. Then I carefully picked up the stitches, counted them twice and made the heel and kept going. It’s a great pair of socks. And maybe I learned something from making it.

I’m an English teacher, and a writer, so a big part of me wants this to be a metaphor. Wouldn’t it be great to get a do-over in life- rip out and pick up…it’s painful to admit a mistake, but freeing to fix it. Another part of me says, “it’s just a sock.” So it is just as likely I didn’t learn anything.