Saturday, April 27, 2013

What Did You Put In This Salad?!?

That is what I heard from DH at dinner tonight.  He was out in the woods bringing in a bunch of those blown down trees he'd cut up a few weeks ago when I was making the salad.  So he didn't see what all I found to put into it tonight.

Winter salads are fairly safe, I mean, tame, at this little place here.  They come from the store:  lettuce, spinach, carrots, celery, onions, sometimes green peppers if I find them on sale. . .

But when the growing season gets here, you never know what I'll throw in there!  Today's salad started in the usual way:  spinach and green leaf lettuce from the grocery store.  Then I got a wild hare and took my kitchen shears outside to see what I could see.

What did I see?


Chives seem to be easy to grow; I got mine a few years ago as a fifty-cent size clump from a generous acquaintance.  I stuck them in the ground, and they grew.  They've come back every year.  All I have to do is cut the green shoots and eat them!  If I don't cut and eat them fast enough, once hot weather gets here they send up pretty little purple flowers, which are also edible or make a nice small bouquet in a bud vase.

They are alliums, meaning they are part of the onion family, and they taste slightly onion-y.  Being part of the allium family means they are also good at boosting your immune system.  At this little place here, we eat lots of alliums, especially if one of us is coming down with a cold.  Usually this nips things in the bud and no one else gets ill, plus the ill person heals faster.


Yes, dandelion.  Edible, especially in the spring before they flower.  They have a slightly peppery taste, and as the leaves get larger they get more bitter.  So nice, young, tender ones are best for hiding, I mean, putting in, your salad.  They are super nutritious, especially high in Vitamins A, C and K, as well as being a good source of Calcium and Iron.  And if you cut them up small enough and toss them into the salad well, your husband and kids might not notice what you snuck into their salad. ;0)

garlic shoots

I have a small patch of garlic that got away from me years ago, when I first tried growing garlic by putting a sprouting head of garlic from the store into the ground in the spring.  Which is the wrong time to plant garlic in Michigan.  It did grow, but didn't form anything but tiny heads that were too small to do much with.  Evidently when I dug them up to harvest, I didn't get them all, because they grew back the next year, not getting any bigger.  Then the mint I'd planted nearby got crazy and took over the entire bed, making it next to impossible to find and dig up the garlic at harvest time.

Last fall, however, I tore out a bunch of the mint that was beyond it's rightful space, and now I'm seeing green clumps of garlic shoots coming up.  Knowing that garlic scapes (the curling stem of the seed head) are edible and yummy, I figured that the shoots (where the seed head stems eventually will come from as the weather warms) would be too.  Just in case my theory was wrong, I ate a piece right there outside with my kitchen shears in my hand.  Yum, garlicky!  So I cut off a fistful to add to the salad.

Garlic shoots/scapes are, like dandelion greens, high in Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron, although apparently they have no notable amount of Vitamin A.

lemon balm

A member of the mint family, lemon balm is easy to grow.  It has a mildly lemon flavor, which is a nice addition to a green salad.  Or just to chew a few leaves raw when you're working outside and have a craving for a snack.  Nice flavor, no calories!  At least, I can't find any nutritional data anywhere for lemon balm, so I'm going to claim it has no calories.  

It was the lemon balm that DH found in the salad tonight.  Guess I left a few of those leaves a little too big to go unnoticed. . . 

So that was the greenery in tonight's salad.  Other times, especially in late June, I have had salads composed of things like 5 different lettuces, chard, beet greens, peppermint and/or spearmint leaves, dill fronds, arugula, radish leaves, young kale leaves,  as well as the ingredients I used today.  It's fun to go out and see what edibles there are around and throw them together for an interesting, tasty and nutritious mixture of greens.

This spring and summer, I challenge you to get out of the plain lettuce salad rut and throw in some less conventional goodies.  You'll be amazed at the delicious combinations you can come up with.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Giving Of Herself

This is DD2's hair.  Nearly a foot of it, that she had cut off this week.  It is all braided up and saved so that she can donate it to Locks of Love.  The donation form has been printed out, she just has to put the braid into a baggie and a padded envelope, then mail it off.

She does this of her own volition.  This is the third time she has donated.  The first time, she was just entering the fifth grade, and she'd never had short hair in her life.  It went nearly to her waist when she decided to cut and donate it (DD1 had heard of Locks of Love and wanted to donate her own hair at that time).  After the donation, DD2's hair was in a chin-length bob.

The second time she donated, was near the end of seventh grade.  Again, hair to her lower back became a donation and she walked away with a short 'do that barely brushed her shoulders.

This time, she is mostly done with her sophomore year of high school, and has gone from hair her girlfriends loved to curl, braid, straighten, or do up for her, to a sassy swingy bob.  Her girlfriends mourn, yet she cheerfully tells them she gave up her beloved locks so that some child might have them.  Some child who, through illness such as cancer or diseases like alopecia, is unable to have hair of their own to style or have their friends admire and play with.

She also tells anyone who asks about her newly shorn hair that she hopes she will be able to grow it out fast enough to donate one more time before she goes to college.  Ten more inches in two years, that's her goal.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Enjoying Every Little Bit of Dry Weather

Between rains, I've been outdoors as much as possible lately. With the warmer weather, there is much to do!  Things are waking up and growing again, but unfortunately most of those are things I would rather not have growing!  Like weeds in my flowerbeds and between the paving stones of the front walkway and the patio.  Slowly and steadily, I've been working on pulling those after each rain spell.  At least the soft, soggy ground makes weed removal a bit easier.

It hasn't, however, made it very easy to plant the additional fruit trees I ordered to expand my little orchard with this year.  Both my online nursery order, and my order from the local soil conservation district came in last week.  I've been anxiously checking the soil in the orchard daily, watching it go from saturated sponge-like, to standing water eight inches down a hole, to 'yay!  I think I can plant these trees today!!'

It has been ten years since most of the trees in my orchard went in.  I had intended to add a little more to it every few years, but, well, the economy got in the way and finances didn't allow for such trivial things as more trees.  This year, however, things are looking well (at least, not death-grip on every penny anymore), so I went ahead and ordered some trees.

What I had all ready:

  • Apples
  1. Granny Smith
  2. Cortland
  3. Red Delicious
  4. Macintosh
  • Peaches
  1. Elberta
  2. Reliance
  3. Red Haven
  • Pears
  1. Maxine
  2. Bartlett
  • Cherries
  1. Montmorency
  2. Black Tartarian or Bing (planted both, don't remember which was which and one died)
What I added this year:
  • Apples
  1. Honeycrisp
  2. Fameuse (aka Snow apple)
  • Plums
  1. Alderman
  2. Superior
  • Cherries
  1. North Star
  2. Stella

 After transplanting all my new young fruit trees, I gave the entire orchard a dose of fertilizer, aka composted horse manure, applied from the base to the drip line of each tree (the root zone).

As the wind (some really windy days this month; I'm tempted to dig out the kids' old kites and just play. . . ) has permitted, I've been laying old newspapers down as weed barrier between the rows of my strawberry patch.  This is slow going, as I keep having to dig last year's strawberry runners up from where they rooted between rows and transplant them into thin spots in the strawberry rows.  Not to mention weight the newspapers down so they don't blow away before I can get some mulch tossed on top of them.

Another non-rainy day outdoor task has been recovering the old trampoline that has been recycled into a chicken pen.  The stitching finally rotted out on the cover that came with it, and chickens don't stay penned up too well if there is a humongous gaping hole just a few feet above their heads.

This is the time of year when my chickens aren't allowed to free range because they do too darn much damage!! They love to dust bathe in the freshly mulched flowerbeds, tearing up my perennials as the shoots come up, and eating the seeds of the annuals I plant.  They also wreak havoc on the garden as it gets planted, scratching for worms and bugs--tossing my freshly planted seed potatoes and onion starts willy nilly in the process!  Not to mention also eating up all the veggie seeds I so carefully lay out in April and May.  No, those chickens are menaces to a freshly planted garden, so they get sentenced to chicken jail in the spring and get penned up during their outdoor hours.  They will get paroled once the garden is well established for the season.

Now that the chickens are corralled, I can also plant the red raspberry canes I ordered from the soil conservation district.  Raspberries, tame ones that is, will be a new crop for this little place here.  We have wild blackberries, dewberries and black raspberries galore, but no red raspberries.  So, since I'm splurging on improvements this year, I decided to order several Latham red raspberries to start my raspberry patch with.  Perhaps in a few years I can add raspberry jam to my list of offerings at the farmers market.

Which brings to mind a point.  Or, rather, something I often fail to think about until someone else points it out to me.  I don't have a lot of fancy landscaping.  Most of what I have invested money into has a function other than beauty.  The vast majority of my plants fall into the edible category.  Not only do my trees and shrubs look nice, they provide shade and habitat for wildlife as well as food for my table.  And, as they get larger and bear bigger crops, I can take that extra my family doesn't need for our own bellies and make money from it at the farmers market.  My flower beds contain not just pretty blooms, but things that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects and birds to this little place here.  Mint and rhubarb fill one of the terraces in our retaining wall behind the house.  Chives, oregano, basil, thyme, chamomile and dill reside in another.  I have also, some years, planted garlic beds and salad gardens in one or more of the retaining wall terraces.

Functional, not just aesthetically pleasing.  Investing money, not just spending it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hey, Sugar Sugar!

Sugar is the name of the pattern of the very first sweater I have knitted.  I found the pattern on Ravelry, and decided to make it for K3's birthday.  Since she has a ton of pink clothes, I didn't want to make the sweater in pink.  I was thinking a sea green, perhaps, or a blue to go with her eyes.  The yarn shop didn't have a green in the hue and type of yarn I needed, so I went with the blue.  Kind of a cornflower color.

This sweater was super easy for a beginning knitter like me.  (I'm pretty sure I'm still a beginner; it has only been a little over three months since my first knitting lesson).  It knits from the top down, all one piece, so there wasn't much to mess up, LOL.  It does require an i-cord cast on and bind off, which were totally new to me; however those were easy to learn and video tutorials of this technique are simple to find online.

It only took me a week to knit this sweater!  I told you it was easy!  In fairness, I should disclose that during that week I took a 500 mile car trip (the drive to the U.P.), so had many many hours of knitting in the car.  Still, if you sat and knit for an hour a night while watching TV, I bet you could do this sweater in two weeks or so.

I wanted to find daisy buttons to put on the sweater to make it more feminine, and so people wouldn't think my little blondie who is just starting to grow much hair is a boy when they see her in blue.

Finding daisy buttons just 1/2" in size proved to be difficult, so I ended up going with white flowers and using yellow thread to sew them on with.  Viola!  Daisies!

I loved this sweater so much, that when we were in the store looking for daisy buttons, and DH saw some camo patterned yarn and suggested that I make K3 a second sweater in camo, I decided to do just that!  Besides, I still had a couple of days of traveling left, and was out of yarn to knit with.  ;0)

The second sweater came out a hair larger than the first, even though I followed the same pattern and used the same size needles.  I contribute it to the yarn being a different brand and slightly fatter, although the labels of the two yarns said they were the same weight.  Anyway, this one, knit mostly on the return trip from the U.P., also took about a week to make.

Now I just have to get them blocked, and wrapped up for gift-giving at the end of the month.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Couple Turkey Pictures

Guess what!  The local turkeys are no longer practicing gender segregation.  Love is in the air.  :0)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pretending It's June

Today is very warm, for a mid-April day in Michigan.  The thermometer on my deck reads 70 degrees, and this is with overcast conditions.

I couldn't help myself.  I took off my barn clothes once morning chores were done, put on something more sun-bathing like, and pretended it was June.  Lunch was eaten laying on a blanket on the deck, mp3 player providing tunes, and a book in front of me.

Tomorrow will be back to April, though.  Severe storms to roll through this afternoon and all night long.  Tomorrow's high temperature will only be in the fifties (probably around midnight), and Saturday is looking down right chilly with a high of 44 predicted.

But for lunch, today, it's June.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Break in the Rain

It's been raining most of the past eight days.  Maybe more.  Nine days ago I was in the U.P., so I don't know for sure what the weather was at this little place here on that date.  Nice to get a normal April rain, especially since last year was so very dry.  Yet, all the cloudy days one after another do tend to be a downer.  And there is a ton of outdoor stuff to do, ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of which can't be done in the rain or on waterlogged ground.

Yesterday we did get a brief break between showers.  Well, okay, probably six or seven whole hours without rain!  And today, too, has been mostly dry (as I type this, thunderstorms are moving in and rumbling off to the south).

However, while the sun was out, and I was working outside on various tasks, I took some pictures.

blue sky!

leaves beginning to open on a lilac bush

daffodils in bloom on the south side of the house

bird footprints in mud puddle

raccoon and bird prints in mud puddle


Thursday, April 11, 2013

You Race a What?!?

Concrete Canoe.  A boat made of cement.  An engineering feat.

That is what DS2 does for fun.  He joined his college's concrete canoe team at the beginning of his freshman year.  He was quickly hooked.  It's right up his alley: doing the impossible (well, on first thought most people believe it's impossible to make a boat of of concrete and then race it) as well as being in the great outdoors.  He's been canoeing most of his life.  He was soloing in a canoe long before he was out of middle school.  I think he has paddles for arms.

This year, his sophomore year, he was excited to be chosen as one of the paddlers for the competition.  It's an honor, and a great responsibility.  It means dedication, and lots of hours of practice.  Recently, he told me he'd been spending six hours a week in paddling practice, and needed to find time to do more hours. This is while going to college full time and holding down two part-time jobs.  Plus he has other responsibilities on the canoe team (he was one of four team members chosen to do the oral presentation part of the competition).

DH, DD2 and I went to watch the Regional competition.  There were nine colleges competing.  It was held way up north at Michigan Technological University.  Since I've gone ahead and given the name of the school, I may as well show you a few pictures of the boat they made this year.

Looks like a canoe, right?  That's the idea.  It is a canoe.  It just happens to be a canoe made out of  concrete.  A big part of the competition is designing the shape of the canoe hull, the height of the sides, and coming up with the mix of concrete that is light, yet durable.  This boat is about 1/2" thick of that specialized concrete and weighs roughly 200 pounds.

So how does it float?

That's the point.  This is an engineering competition, put on by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The type of engineers that make roads and skyscrapers and bridges and things. (Although membership in the team is not limited to civils; DS2 and several other members of the team are studying to be mechanical engineers).

It's what they put into the concrete, the different components of the mix, that make it float.  There's a lot of tiny air spaces in that concrete, along with other things. Think pumice, how it is a rock, yet it is light weight and floats.  Same concept.

In fact, one of the things each team has to do is sink (swamp) their boat, then stand back and the judges have to see that it floats, not continuing to sink all the way to the bottom of the lake or pond the competition is being held in.  Below are some pictures I took of the swamp testing.  Which was not up at Michigan Tech, being as they were still under snow and ice (see yesterday's post Take Off To The Great White North).  The races were held down state near Traverse City, in the first reliably open water than could be reserved.  Lake Michigan rather than Lake Superior.

taking the canoe out just over knee deep
(and yes, that is snow on the shore in the background.
 This water was none too warm. 
Less than an hour north all the bays were still frozen)

using buckets to put water into the boat, swamping it

going down

almost all the way swamped

stepped away, 
you can see the gunwales of the boat coming level with the surface of the water

So, it floats.  Now you bail it out, sponge it dry on the inside, put people in it and race it.

one heat of the women's sprint race just after the start
(boat in the lead is from DS2's team)

approaching the buoy, getting ready to turn

rounding the buoy for the final sprint

men's sprint, way ahead of the other teams 
(DS2's team is the rear boat, racing right toward the finish line)

co-ed sprint,
DS2's team ready at the start--
DS2 in the bow

co-ed sprint preparing to round first buoy (of four)

men's endurance rounding a buoy on the far end of the course,
after completing the slalom portion
(DS2 in the bow)

So, you design a boat, you build the boat, you practice paddling for hours every week all year long--they paddle outside until the water freezes, then they paddle in the college's pool practicing turns all winter, then they find open water (this year, traveling to WI over Easter) to make sure they are outside paddling again at least a week before the competition.  

And what does that get you?  

A Regional championship!  And a ticket to the National Competition this summer.  Yes, I'm a proud mama!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Take Off To The Great White North

Okay, who now has that song running through their head?

No?  Not yet?

All right.  Maybe this will do it:  Take off! To the great white north.  Take off! It's the beauty way to go. Take off. . .

How about now?  If not, you must be too young.  Were you alive and coherent in the early 1980's?  Ever heard of the Mackenzie brothers?  Bob and Doug?  The movie Strangebrew?

Actually, this post is not about Canada.  It is, vaguely, about beer because wherever we go, DH likes to sample the local micro brews.  (If you get up to the Keweenaw, which is where we went, you have to check out Keweenaw Brewing Company, otherwise known as KBC.)

Mostly, though, it's about going to the Upper Peninsula, which, even though temps are in the fifties at home and the snow melted weeks ago, in the U.P. there is still over a foot of snow cover on the ground.

DH, DD2 and I took off for the great white north for a few days of R&R, and also to see DS2 compete in the concrete canoe regionals again this year.  His college is the host of the competition this year, hence going to the great white north.  Ironically, they still do not have open water in which to race the canoes, so race day itself was held down south in the Lower Peninsula, in Sutton's Bay.  It was still cold, though, with race day dawning cloudy and only topping off in the lower forties for a high temperature.

The canoe stuff, though, I think I'll talk about in another post.  This one is about taking off to the Upper Peninsula in early April, a time of year where at home the temperatures were in the fifties and sap season was over.  In the Keweenaw Peninsula, however, early April is still a long, long way from spring.

They had gotten about a foot of new snow the weekend before.  Add that to what was all ready on the ground, and most places had about two feet of snow where it wasn't piled up from plowing and shoveling all winter.  The road sides had good snowbanks on them still, and most houses were flanked by snowbanks half-way to the roof.

Here's a picture of the cabin we rented for our stay; to give you an idea of the height of the snowbanks.

It was 45 degrees and sunny the day we arrived, so the roads and driveways themselves were bare; the snow pack having melted away.  DS2 informed us, when we saw him shortly after our arrival on the afternoon of the 4th, that "most of the snow has melted the last couple days".

The Keweenaw Peninsula, not for the faint of heart or those afraid of long winters.

The temperature fell that night and highs were expected on be right around freezing for the next several days.  The second morning we woke to three inches of fresh snow, with a weather forecast that predicted up to five more inches by nightfall.  

What do you do in such a situation?

We rented snowmobiles and spent all day April 6th snowmobiling the Keweenaw Peninsula!

The trail groomers stopped running on April 1st, the official end of snowmobiling season, but who could resist a fresh snow on trails that still had a base of one to four feet in most places?  It was great snowmobiling, with the exception that getting to the gas stations in towns were a bit rough as you can't steer a snowmobile too well on asphalt (remember the snow pack--the accumulation of snow that covers the asphalt all winter since there is no salting, just plowing and adding a layer of sand for traction--had melted away).

On Sunday, April 7th, we woke to a several more inches of snow.  And again Monday morning, fresh snow!  In fact, Monday morning dawned with five more inches having accumulated overnight, and it was still snowing like crazy!  Monday was our departure day, needing to get downstate for the concrete canoe races being held in open water (the Keweenaw and most of the U.P. still being iced over, complete with ice fishing shanties still in place!).

Here are a couple of pictures I took through the windshield of the car on our way out of town.  April 8th!

Looks like January, but it's April!

Meanwhile, back at home, DD1 informed us it was a balmy 55 degrees.

Was I upset about the snow?  No, not really.  You see, we lived up there for two school years ('91 through '93 when DH was finishing his engineering degree), and have lived downstate ever since.  I haven't seen snow like that in twenty years.  I miss snow like that.  So it was really nice to "go back" and experience snow that isn't a source of panic.  In fact, the school buses were running on time Monday morning as we were heading out of town.  Just another day in the Keweenaw.  Downstate, if we get that five inches of snow over night the news stations tell everyone to stay home, stay off the roads, and all the schools are closed.  It was nice to experience sanity again.

Of course, I guess the definition of sanity varies depending on who you talk to.  DD2 was on Spring Break during this trip.  All her school mates who traveled went south, several to sunny beaches.  DD2 went to beaches.  They were snow covered.  She did wear her bathing suit, though.  In the sauna.  A real sauna, a wooden box with heated rocks and steam.  And when you are done you run through the snow with just your bathing suit on, and it feels wonderful.

Okay, I better shut up before someone really questions my sanity.  ;0)

Oh, I do need to say that DH and I did have beer.  Not only went to the brewpub in downtown Houghton, but we also stopped by the brewery (located a small town over, just down the block from the cabin we stayed in) and were able to have a tour (and a free beer) by the owner himself.  Awesome tour--us and the owner and an hour of time filled with detailed conversation.  Great guy.  Great beer.  Take off, eh?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pulling Taps

This has been an interesting, as well as frustrating, syrup season.  Started with a decent spell of sap running weather, then froze up solid for most of a week, then back to sap weather, then a warm spell that really made the buds on the maples swell (not good), currently back to good sap weather. But looking ahead at the extended forecast for the next ten days, well, I've decided it's time to pull taps.

You see, you can only make syrup out of sap until the buds on the trees get so developed.  After that, changes in the make-up of the sap cause it to be what syrup makers call "buddy".  Instead of being clear like water, it becomes progressively more yellow tinted.  It also loses it's sweetness.  Syrup made from buddy sap is supposedly bitter.  Nobody wants to go to the trouble of collecting and boiling down sap that makes bitter syrup.

With the weather forecast predicting daytime highs in the mid-fifties to even low-sixties (!!) and night time high above freezing to nearly fifty, those buds are going to develop at a rapid rate.  I predict by the end of seven days they will be nearly open.

Time to pull taps.

So, this afternoon, when it was still early enough I felt I'd have enough time to boil down today's sap into finished syrup before I wanted to go to bed tonight, I went out to the woods to collect sap and pull taps.

A buzzard, aka turkey vulture was flying above the field.  They migrate for the winter, and in the last two weeks have come back; the aerial carcass clean-up squad.  During the cold months, it's the coyotes that clean up road kill.  But in the warm months, the buzzards do a good job of it.

I watched him fly for a few minutes, but the wind in the field was brisk, and despite the sunny blue skies the air temperature was still only around forty degrees.  Enough bird watching, time to get to the woods and out of the wind!

At each tapped tree, I removed the jug, emptied its contents into the 5 gallon buckets I had brought for carrying the sap, then pulled the spile from the tree.  Some trees gave them up easily.  Others had all ready healed around them quite a bit and required more muscle to get the tap out.  Once the spile was removed, all that was left to show I'd tapped the tree was a small hole, about 1/2" in diameter.  By fall it will be completely grown over--healed.

A few of the trees are really getting buddy.  I feel confident that I made the right decision in pulling my taps now.

Looking waaaaayyyy up into the maples

zoomed in to the very top branches, you can see how big the buds are getting

It has been an up and down syrup season this year.  That cold week really put a crimp in things, and now the weather seems to want to warm up quickly.  I had my trees tapped for exactly 30 days.  A bit short of the 6-week average that is sap run.  In that 30 days, it was too cold for sap to run for about 6 days. Not in a row, but scattered a few here, a few there.  It was too warm for sap to run for about three days.  I'm estimating that I will end up with not quite two gallons of syrup from my 10 taps this year.  Not great, but not too bad considering they only were active about 21 days.  Some trees gave readily, a steady gallon a day in good weather.  Other trees were stingy, giving only half gallon in an excellent day and a dribble in a bad day.

Two gallons of syrup in the cellar is nothing to complain about, though.  It's a year's worth of syrup for us, plus some to give as gifts.  At a current local market price of $10-15 a pint (depending on if you get it from the sugar bush, the farm store, or the organic foods store) and $30 or more a half-gallon, I feel like I have gold in my cellar!

Thank you, trees, for giving me your sap.  Thank you, God, for giving me maple trees.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Still Knitting

I haven't posted about knitting in a while.  We're still doing it.  DD2 not so much; it took her all of March to make her first pot holder, but I have to give her credit for even attempting it. It turned out well, especially being a basket weave pattern.  You see, in February DD2 had informed  the knitting instructor and I that she had absolutely no desire to do anything that required purling.  Then  in early March she found this pot holder in a 30 minute knits type of book, loved the design, and told the instructor that was what she wanted to make next!  So it was cast on, then knit four and purl four, reversing the pattern after every fourth row, all month for her.  She is proud of her new skill, and intends to make several more.  She gifted me with the first one.

DD1 has been slowly working on a pair of legwarmers.  She has one done, and is about to start the second one.

I, being an overachiever and a perfectionist, chose a much more ambitious project.  I decided that I wanted to make myself a wrap.  90 stitches wide and 64" long was the pattern I chose (saw it on Ravelry).  I learned to yarn over and to slip stitch while making this wrap.  It took many hours--just about every evening in the month of March--but I finished it up on Saturday.

It still needs to be blocked, and the shirt I wore while modeling the wrap really doesn't do it justice.

I used 2 skeins (437 yards each) of Cascade Heritage Paints yarn.  It is fingering weight, and 75% merino wool, knit on size 7 16" circular needles.  Not only was this a project I intended to increase my knitting skills, but it also an experiment.

You see, I have eczema, and I've always been told I cannot wear wool because it will aggravate my skin. The few times I have tried on wool socks, or shirts, or a wool blanket from the store, yes, it was irritating.  I was itching within minutes, and my skin showed red rashy spots.

Knowing what I know about conventionally grown foods versus homegrown foods, how the former can cause irritations in the body that the latter doesn't, I've wondered for over a decade now if it might be the same story for wool.  If it's conventionally made wool clothing I can't wear; if I could maybe wear wool clothing that was handmade/homemade.  If it might be the manufacturing process and it's chemicals, treatments, etc that were the irritants more than the actual wool fibers.  So I chose wool to make this wrap out of instead of cotton or acrylic.

What have I learned from this experiment?  Well, after a month of having my hands in this wool yarn for at least an hour nearly every day, and up to three hours on some days, my skin doesn't look any different.  It is not irritated, my eczema has not flared up.  It hasn't itched at all.  And the few times I've put on my wrap (while making it to check for length, and when it was done to show it off), the yarn has not irritated my bare arms either.  Only time and use will tell for sure, but at this point I'm thinking my hypothesis about the processing of the wool item being the determiner of how much the wool bothers my eczema is fairly accurate.