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Posts by jackie

A Little Bit of Life

It is a strange relationship I have with you blog. I’ve never pretended to tell you everything, nor treated you as a tell-all confessional. (I have The Rules, after all.)

And yet, when things are afoot that are not bloggable, I completely shut down and hide out, as if blogging something else would be a lie of omission.

I am crippled by my honest, yet private, nature.

I’m not being a tease, whetting you up for some big juicy reveal in a few weeks. There isn’t one. Life in the New Year simply took a sharp turn on many fronts, and I’m now working on things, waiting on things, and watching things that came quite out of left field. And are not bloggable.

What is bloggable is my frustration over the other stuff being not bloggable. Does that make sense?

Pop Quiz!

Q: How many swatches are in the picture below?

A: One.

In a (mostly futile) attempt to capture the accurate color of a swatch the other day, I started fiddling around with the white balance settings on my camera. I had no idea what I was doing, but obviously I was doing something, because that is the same swatch (a gorgeous tweedy moss green in real life) taken over and over with different settings.

I am easily amused, and also, not very good with my camera.


The Land of Always Winter

Eric and I once read a series of books in which, on the northenmost reaches of the map, beyond the known world, was a place called The Land of Always Winter.

Which is, evidently, where we live now. We live north of a remote area of MA, in a tiny town most people (even around here) have never heard of, perched high on a ridge leading to the highest point in the state. It has snowed almost every day for the past 7 weeks. Not always a lot, but some, almost every day.

It is otherworldly and almost magical. Especially in the moonlight, here, where there is little light pollution the moonlight is full and bright, and during the new moon, the stars shine bright and deep in the sky, you can easily imagine fairies or monsters creeping through the woods, silently stalking the snow.

Moonshadows exist here.

This is our yard.

This is our street, plowed.

It is strangely beautiful and peaceful, but I am also glad I have gallons of water stockpiled in the pantry, and also that we have two 4WD SUVs. All guilt over efficiency is gone, it is only mid-January and the weather and terrain have proven their necessity time and time again.

Do you remember when you were little, and snow didn’t mean shoveling and frozen hands on steering wheels and frozen locks and oil bills?

We brought EJ out in the snow one day, and he just laughed in delight at all the snow falling.

That was its own kind of magic.

Cooking, an understatement

And in classic Jackie fashion, I haven’t blogged once in 6 weeks (despite immense crafty productivity in that time) leaving the present of our poor dead dog for any unfortunate soul who happened to stumble over here in the misguided search for knitting.

Merry Christmas y’all.

In this post, I shall attempt to catch you up on aforementioned 6 weeks, mostly in relation to crafty pursuits. In doing so, I hope to clear the plate for 2010, and all the crafty goodness planned therein.

Item the First: Cooking

Imagine for a second these three meager cookies multiplied by 80. Because last week we baked 20 dozen of them. (Yup. 20 dozen. 240 cookies. That is a crapload of cookies, as my kitchen slaves cookie helpers Eric and his sister Dena will tell you in hushed whispers when I am safely out of earshot.)

The ones pictured above are Peppermint Bark, and they were my favorite of the bunch. I am a sucker for the chocolate/peppermint combo. We also made Heath Bar Walnut Chocolate Chip cookies (everyone else’s favorite), and Peanut Butter cookies (Eric’s favorite) baked at a lower temperature to ensure maximum chewiness. All recipes were doubled for my holiday baking frenzy.

But it wasn’t just cookies. We made Mark Bittman’s quick coffee cake for breakfast one morning (easy and perfect), Alton Brown’s eggnog (transcendent), and Ina Garten’s Bloody Marys (strictly necessary, as I was hosting both of our families for Christmas this year. Also, add extra horseradish. Trust me.)

I was especially pleased with these simple yet impressive cream biscuits from Deb at Smitten Kitchen… I made the biscuits the day before and flash froze the formed, uncooked biscuits so that they were ready to bake just as we were carving the ham. It couldn’t have been easier, and they couldn’t have been more delicious.

Oh crap. I almost forgot.

We also made another treat from Smitten Kitchen – Sugar & Spice Candied Nuts. Perfect for packaging into mason jars and giving as a gift (which we did). (Yes, I put my sister-in-law to work on a project that was ultimately going to end up as an element to her Christmas gift. We already know that I am a bad person.)

The piece de resistance however, was the homemade caramel corn from Orangette. Mein Gott. How many foreign languages do I need to destroy to convey how amazing this was, and how proud I was of us for making it? Let’s leave it at two.

Wow, that was a crapload of cooking. I didn’t really expect that section to be so long, so I will leave it there for now, and regale you with my knitting tomorrow. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

And a sincere hope that your holidays are filled with the people you love, good food, and cozy environs.

The Story of Max

In the spring of 2001, when my youngest brother Jimmy was 9 years old, he asked my parents for a dog. They were unsure (our track history with dogs was not good – one was returned to the kennel, one was returned to the farm – but those are other stories).

Jimmy asked some more.

My parents considered that our house once filled to the brim with kids, between the 4 of us and all the neighborhood kids running in and out, was soon going to be more of an only child house. Jeff and I had long since moved out, and Tommy was on the brink of getting his license.

Jimmy asked them again.

They thought about it. We watched My Dog Skip one Friday night, and all fell in love with the little boy and his dog. My parents asked Jimmy if he was sure.

He swore he was.

On a piece of lined paper torn from a notebook, in the clumsy handwriting of a young boy, Jimmy wrote his promise to always feed and walk his dog, even if he didn’t feel like it, even if it were cold and snowy. For years it hung on the wall above my father’s desk upstairs.

They said, if you want a dog, you need to find the dog… my parents decided that a beagle would be a good fit for our family and Jimmy called up breeders and asked them if their dogs would be good for a 9 year old boy.

And one day they drove an hour west of Worcester, to a breeder of beagles. The breeder opened the kennel and out came all the puppies running everywhere pell mell. Except for the runt, who ran right up into Jimmy’s lap.

That puppy was Max.

In his puppy years we loved to feed him Cheeze Balls, the neon orange puffs of deliciousness… Max loved Cheeze Balls. As we realized how terrible they were for him, we switched to Rice Cakes, which he loved even more. You could get Max to do anything for the promise of “Rice Cakes”.

He was a sweet dog, who loved most to snuggle and be loved. He slept in Jimmy’s bed, and loved to curl up under the covers behind his knees. He delighted in being scratched behind the ears, and when you stopped, he would gently nudge you with his paw to ask for more. At the sight of another dog would scrunch down on his belly and frantically wag his tail, letting out whimpers of uncontained excitement. He fought the good fight against the wild turkeys in the woods behind my parents house – barking at them as if sheer force of will would transport him beyond the fence and into their domain.

When we brought our diva shih tzu George into the fold, Max is the one who patiently taught him his dog manners. How to stand still to be sniffed. How to play nice. How to not be an ear biting pest of a puppy.

They were best buddies.

We had always felt like we were one kid short, like our family would have easily fit a 5th child in… and Max had come to fill that place.

After EJ was born, Max solidly performed uncle duties – watchfully minding the tiny baby on the floor, gently eating the Cheerios offered by EJ’s baby fingers, his back and ears happily offering a sturdy handhold as EJ learned to walk these past 2 months.

Over the past few weeks Max started having accidents around the house. Last week his belly swelled and he stopped eating. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and not eggs, cucumbers (his FAVORITE), or hamburger could entice him to eat… and with it the heart medicine needed to relieve and prevent the fluid build-up.

On Thanksgiving, we all spent our time giving him our love, and saying our good-byes.

After improbably making it through two horrible nights, and one day of relief after my mother literally force-fed him the medicine, my mother brought him to the animal hospital, in a hopeful and desperate attempt to do something, anything, to help him.

His heart was failing, his kidneys were failing, and his liver had shut down. There was nothing the doctors could do, and he was suffering greatly.

And so, with profound grief, my mother had him put down.

We miss him terribly.

Bye buddy.

Thankful

An unexpected topic indeed.

1) Coffee.

Iced, hot, lukewarm, hours old…. I don’t care, these days, I drink whatever is close at hand and already brewed.

What would I do without this magic elixir of energy and sanity? I would probably cry several times a day and also probably spend way more time drooling and staring at a wall than I already do. With it, most days I reach the level of a normal functioning human. And usually even get a little knitting done.

Which brings me to…

2) Knitting.

There are several things that disappear, by circumstance and necessity, when one becomes the mother of a baby/small children and ones’ means are not limitless. (I mean, if I were a stay at home mom, and also had access to a full time nanny — ooooh, and a cleaning person, I would definitely have a cleaning person too — let me tell you, I would be doing more than knitting. But I would also be knitting more.)

Things that include needing a babysitter on a regular basis, say for adult classes on any subject; regular social outings that include cocktails; movie theaters in which you don’t want an angry mob shooting daggers at you and in which you actually want to see the movie; restaurants that don’t have pictures on the menu…. you get the drift.

Well, knitting is still allowed. I can do it wherever. I can do it a little bit at a time. I can do it while still interacting with EJ. (Guess how many times I’ve sung “Old MacDonald” in order to get another row finished.) It’s practical, and so I usually don’t feel guilty about it – even though there are so many other things that need to get done – because it’s a sweater for EJ! Winter is coming! It’s cold here! Except, oh yeah, everything I’ve been knitting lately is for me. Whoops!

3) The Internet.

See above. The Internet allows me to be part of the outside world, even when I’m holed up in my living room, in our little country town.

4) Our Public Library.

Our local public library allows me to be part of the Real outside world. Just 5 minutes up the road, it hosts a weekly baby & toddler storytime, which morphs into a playgroup once the story hour is up. And unlike most things like this offered by mommy boutiques, or even the Y, the public library is free and I meet the other moms and babies who live in our tiny country town.

Also, our public library is in a gorgeous stone Victorian, on the town green, at one of the highest elevations in the state, from which you can see the skyline of Boston 50 miles away.

Breathtaking.

5) Being at home.

Despite my constant griping, I am truly grateful that I can be home with EJ. It’s not easy, the work never ends, I rarely leave the house alone and if it weren’t for knit night I would rarely talk to other adults that I’m not related to. (See #2) There is constant stress about relying on only one salary, a constant struggle with guilt about not working for a paycheck (something that until a year ago I had done, often juggling several jobs, since I was 14), a constant search for balance between Eric and I…

But.

I realize how fortunate we are, and I realize how fortunate I am that EJ is nuzzling his head into my waist right now and babbling to me about his teddy bear Curly. When he talks to Curly he uses a tender, high-pitched babble. It’s beyond adorable.

Oh, wait, he might be babbling about breakfast. It’s 8:30, and instead of feeding him, I’ve been on the computer all morning. Mother of the Year! Gotta go!

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.

Sock Talk

Progress continues apace on the February Fitted Pullover (the pattern is wonderfully compelling to knit) but not enough to warrant another post. To keep you knitting hounds at bay, I’d like to show you my on-the-go project:

Pomatomus (Rav link), knit in Maple Tree Sock Yarn, colorway “Bootcamp”.

I am, at heart, an extremely practical person. Almost to a fault. I can shut off my emotions and coolly analyze a situation with cutting logic faster than you can say “that hurt my feelings”, and for 5 years I wondered what the hell was the point of handknit socks that incorporated anything but stockinette or ribbing. I had a short-lived dalliance with the Jaywalker pattern, while not exactly practical, it did transform many ugly variegated yarns into an ordered structure that is pleasing to the eye. And making ugly yarns usable is, in its way, practical.

Theoretically I understand that there are many knitters that enjoy knitting patterns for the sake of the knitting, the technical challenge, or the art of the finished project. Me? I am all about the finished project, and its usefulness. It may be a feat of knitting, but what’s the point if I don’t want to wear it?

Anyway. I was like that with socks, until one day, I wasn’t. I have a drawer full of beautiful sock yarn (um, Sundara much?) and stockinette anklets just aren’t going to cut it. This sock yarn is meant for patterns that do it justice.

But, that means if I’m going to wear these socks outside of my living room, I need shoes that will make it possible. I simply won’t wear handknit socks with my Merrill sneakers.

And so, I made a deal with myself. If I knit 5 pairs of worthwhile socks, I will buy myself a pair of shoes to showcase them.

Worthwhile is defined as follows:

1) They must fit perfectly. (I WILL perfect the art of negative ease.)
2) They must be visually attractive (cool patterns, no pooling)
3) They must not itch, not even a tiny bit. (Mohair, I’m looking at you.)

In the meantime, I’m enjoying window shopping for shoes. Suggestions are welcome :)

Random, Kind of

1) Although it’s been well over a week, it would be remiss of me to just pick up blogging and completely ignore the elephant in the blogosphere, Rhinebeck. It was, as you either experienced or have read, wonderful, in a crowded, chaotic sort of way. For me in particular, the old friends, new friends, parties, dinner, late night gabbing, gorgeous yarn buying, etc. was seasoned with a certain elusive spice known to some as “Hey-Someone-Else-Is-Watching-My-Kid!”, others know it simply as “Freedom!”.

It was heady indeed.

2) Old sweaters, new sweaters. I am steadily churning out sleeves, a task that pre-baby I found to be tedious and annoying, but now find manageable and satisfying.

See sleeve #2 on gathered pullover, and completed sleeve #1 on February Fitted Pullover:

Finding yarn for the February Fitted Pullover was my main objective at Rhinebeck, and she did not disappoint. What you see above is Barneswallow Farm’s Blue Faced Leicester in the “Portsmouth” colorway. Everything about the yarn is lovely, from its sheen to its soft sturdiness. I was also thrilled to find a commercially spun yarn in BFL rather than the albeit great, but ubiquitous, merino.

3) A few weeks ago, EJ and I trekked to Franklin Mill in search of fabric for a quilt project. With the gracious and expert help of the woman I assume to be the owner, I bought some fabric that is destined to be our new bedspread:

The colors are not quite what I had in mind going in, but they feel right. I don’t think it’s any surprise why:

Ahem.

4) I love where we live. This month has been one glorious showcase of the area, nature’s final gift before we descend into 8 months of bitter cold and bleakness. Even the tail end of the fall scenery has been beautiful.

That is all.

A Glimpse

I’ve been trying to compose a post in my head all week, but I haven’t been able to get it together this week. My head is full of the crazy. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quick glimpse:

…groceries-what-do-we-need-for-this-weekend-next-week-what-does-he-have-in-his-mouth!!-ohcraphepoopedagain-if-i-just-finish-this-sleeve-nope-that-won’t-work-ohcrapdinner-whatarewehavingfordinner-look-at-the-new-kitchenaid!-i-bet-i-can-make-cookies-in-time-for-dessert!-SNOW?!?!?!?!?!?-laundryneedstobefolded-domain-expired-you-have-to-be-kidding-me-sigh-it’sbathtime!-bedtime!-georgeleaveit!-ejwhat’sinyourmouth-cmonshowmama-will-never-get-that-sweater-finished-maybe-owls-instead-laundrystillnotfolded!-39buttons-ugh-what-are-you-chewing-on-ewwthat’s-not-food-icky,yuck,icky-GeorgeLEAVEIT!…

I will spare you a long drawn-out prose version of it.

1 sleep until Rhinebeck.

A Glorious Morning

I’ve never been so delighted by a gloomy day. It’s the perfect drizzly and dreary autumn morning, with the wind shaking leftover rain out of the trees, and adding another coat of leaves to the ground. I am sitting here watching glowing, silver-lined clouds blowing across the sky like (forgive the clumsy metaphor simile) a herd of ghost buffalo gliding across a slate blue prairie. (clumsy, but reasonably accurate) It’s deliciously eerie.

It is particularly wonderful because EJ and I have no need to leave the house. (We were going to make an inaugural appearance at our town library’s baby/toddler storytime hour, but there’s no reason that can’t wait until next week.)(Remind me to tell you about our town library sometime.)

Today is the sort of day to curl up in your favorite sweater, sip a cup of tea, and knit.

And in honor of that, I’d like to share with you a few things that make me warm and fuzzy.

Firstly. This is a picture of the fireplace in our family room, and the first fire we ever blazed in it (a few weeks ago). Truly, our family room is the glory of this house, and this is just one of the reasons why:

Secondly. Baby sweaters, specifically this one that I knit for Baby Sam:

There is something about seeing a little one all bundled up in handknit wool that makes me immeasurably happy. Also making me immeasurably happy? That I was able to give it to him in person a few weeks ago, when EJ and I trekked out to Rochester to hang with the girls for a long weekend.

He took a shining to Melanie. And thank god for that, because Melanie’s willing arms let me do things like: eat, use the bathroom, and load the car.

Thirdly. EJ:

He has transformed these past few weeks from a crawler to a stander (the look ma, no hands! kind of stander), from a silent baby to a babbler (he prefers his babbling in the strain of high pitched squeal, which is kind of hilarious coming out of his extremely durable and bulky boy-ness), and from a non-sleeper to a some-sleeper (I now get, on occasion, 5 HOUR STRETCHES of sleep. It has been, quite frankly, freaking awesome.)

This windfall of sleep has allowed me to rediscover just how much I enjoy him.

I am smitten.

Coffee and Cozy

I started drinking coffee when I was 14, and I remember the first cup of coffee I ever had with surprising clarity, especially considering that it was at about 4:30am on a Saturday.

Like a lot things in my life, it was my father who introduced me to coffee. Incidentally, it was also his influence that created the circumstances in which I needed the coffee in the first place.

It all goes back to freshman year in high school, at my small and poor Catholic high school in rural Pennsylvania. It was the sort of school where half the teachers didn’t have proper certification, there were only 4 girls’ sports the entire year but football reigned supreme, and sadly the one black kid who started freshman year with us left mid-year because the environment wasn’t exactly welcoming. (Sounds awesome, yes? It was an hour away, and it was still a better alternative than the heroin riddled public high school where I lived in Maryland.)

But, there were a few great teachers and one who stood out from all the rest. She ran an outstanding and challenging Social Studies program, including International Relations and Contemporary History honors classes for upperclassmen. She taught 1 of the 4 AP classes offered by the school. She ran a state- and national-championship winning forensics program. (That’s debate and speech, not crime scene stuff, for those of you scratching your heads right now.) She was also a single woman who adopted 2 black children from St. Lucia in the 70s, in rural PA. The woman has conviction AND guts. For the past 7 years, in her retirement, she’s been doing AIDS education in Zimbabwe. For reals. She still sends her former students clippings of news articles she thinks we should be aware of.

And I had her for freshman year Western Civilization. Evidently, a week into classes, she called my father and told him she wanted me on the debate team. He broached the subject to me and I said no way in hell, characteristic of any 14-year-old girl conscious of her burgeoning social life at a new school.

He said, oh really? You can’t play field hockey if you don’t at least try debate. (Your move Mr. Bond.)

I was indignant, but I considered his terms. It was a threat, but a fairly reasonable one. At the thought of losing my one social outlet (see above: lived super far away from classmates) I quickly caved.

And that’s how I found myself leaving the house at 4:30 on one dark Saturday in November when I was 14, heading for a weekend long competition at UPenn. My father handed me the steaming cup of coffee in a regular old mug, told me I was going to need it, and then taught me how to hold it in the car so it didn’t spill.

Almost every time I brew coffee at home, I think of it. The dim light in the kitchen, and the steam rising from the mug. Of all the times I’ve balanced coffee in the car with one hand, steering the car and shifting gears with the other. Of the ways that being on the debate team shaped my life. On how my father is almost always right. (Yup, that’s an ‘almost’ Dad.)

These days, I brew a LOT of coffee. Check out my new cozy (Raveled here), so that when baby wrangling gets in the way of drinking it fresh, I don’t necessarily have to nuke it. It adds a nice touch to my so-hard-to-get-up mornings.

And one of the reason my mornings are so-hard-to-get-up, for my father:

Mojolicious

Oh knitting. You and I are having a second fifth another honeymoon, a rebirth of our love. Sometimes you just need to take a little time alone together to rekindle the spark, and I’m sure glad we did.

I remember all the reasons that I love you. Mostly it’s the wonderful purpose and distraction you offer from the slog of daily life, like a hot and secret affair you light up the corners of my mind during the dingy tasks of diaper changing or dish washing, both seemingly endless, yet you are my reward to finish the cleaning, the folding, the chores… you are waiting for me in the quiet moments of the day, offering the promise of something beautiful all to myself.

Let me introduce you to my first Rhinebeck sweater (not for my first Rhinebeck, just the first time I’ve ever been able to knit a sweater for it).

Knit from the gorgeous and luxurious Sundara Sport Merino, in the limited edition colorway Bold Intentions:

She is raveled here.

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