Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.4: Oh So Close!

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along on this beautiful sunny Wednesday.

I've been speeding right along on my Forest Glade cowl, and had hoped I might finish it last night.  I almost did finish it, except I only got about 20% into the bind off row when I discovered I definitely did not have enough yarn to make it.  Oh so close! I had all ready modified the last few rows of the pattern--remember I am using needles one size up from what the designer calls for--but cutting out one entire row did not leave me enough yarn for the bind off.

So, I had to unknit my bind off (I'm happy to report that it was not as difficult to put those bound off stitches back on as I had thought it would be), take out a second row, and then begin the bind off again.  I got about 40% bound off the second time, and was so tired I just could not stay up to finish (it was all ready 1/2 hr past my bedtime).

What I present for your viewing pleasure today is a picture of my mostly bound off cowl, plus the yarn I have chosen for my next project, which will be a Multnomah shawl in Wisdom Yarn's Saki Silk colorway 302.

The cowl, I am determined to finish this afternoon. I'll cast on the shawl tomorrow after work; if I can wait that long. ;0)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pruning Time

Today, being a bright, sunny, not terribly cold day--highs around twenty degrees with a mild wind making it feel like the teens--was a perfect day for getting one of my late January/early February chores crossed off the list:

Pruning the orchard.

I equip myself with a pair of loppers and a pair of anvil trimmers, and out to the orchard I go. I start at the far end, and work my way back to the house, trimming and pruning the fruit trees.  First off come the suckers sprouting near the base of the cherry and apple trees.  The pears never have any, and the peach trees don't usually either.  Next is anything growing lower on the trunk than I want.  After that, it's time to step back, examine each tree, and get artsy.  Or skillful. Take your pick.

I need to see any dead, damaged, or diseased branches.  They need to go, for the health of the tree.

After that, I need to find any branches that are growing in a direction that will interfere with more useful (ie fruit-bearing) branches.  Such as those that grow toward the center of the tree.  The center needs good airflow and sunlight, so I don't want branches that point inward.  Also any branches growing straight up or straight down that will end up rubbing on laterals above or below them.

Once those have been taken care of, I step back yet again, and take a good look at each tree from all sides.  Are the branches too dense anywhere?  If so, I need to thin a few, choosing which ones are better fruiting than others and cutting off the ones that will be less productive.  I also need to consider which branches are fine now, but with another year's growth might become problems. It's easier to cut them now when they are smaller, than next year.

Most importantly, though, I don't want to cut off more than a third of any one tree in a year.  Taking off more wood than that is stressful for the tree and might make it more prone to disease than if I'd left it alone.

The one exception to that rule though, is a peach tree that in 2013 had such a heavy fruit load two of it's main branches cracked under the weight of the ripening peaches.  At the time it happened, I splinted the branches, coated the wounds in beeswax, and staked them up.  Then in January 2014 I did not prune that tree at all, unsure if the two split branches (incidentally, the best thickest branches on the entire tree) would heal or die.  Turned out that the winter was so harsh, one of my other peach trees did die, and the wounded one had a lot of damage to it's healthy branches.  Because of the very cold winter, none of my peach trees even set blossoms in 2014 (here in the northern end of Zone 5, I'm kind of pushing the envelope with growing peaches--they aren't fond of really cold weather).

So, today, when I was pruning, I cut off all dead wood from the 'wounded' peach tree, no matter how big or small.  One of the split branches had died, and I took it off entirely.  The other one was forked, with one half being dead and the other having beautiful healthy wood at the end. I think I ended up cutting off about 60% of the tree, but since it was all wood that was all ready dead, I think it will be okay.

healthy new growth on the 'wounded' peach tree

buds--will I get peaches this year?

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Recently, DD2 was asked by her FFA advisor if she was interested in a part-time job taking care of a small flock of sheep.  A local family is in need of someone to care for their sheep for an undetermined amount of time due to the wife/mother of the family being hospitalized for a serious health issue.

DD2 accepted the opportunity, and for the past week has been tending sheep every evening when she is done with school and extra-curriculars.

The other day, she asked if I wanted to go along with her and 'meet the sheep'.  I did go along, and took a few pictures of her charges.  Unfortunately, all I had was my cell phone, and because of the snow outside, the lighting in the pictures leaves much to be desired.

the flock of 8

graining the sheep

haying the sheep

chow time

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.3: Finished Socks

A snowy Wednesday here. Joining Ginny for the Yarn Along again this week.

I finished the birthday socks for my Mom.  They need to be blocked yet, but there is still time before her birthday in early February to do that.  I'm really pleased with how well the stripes matched up, except for down on the toes.  Somehow the very tip of the toe is different on the second sock even though I kept a count of how many rows for each portion of the sock (cuff, leg, heel, foot) on the first one and did exactly the same number of rows on the second sock.  I guess maybe I was off a hair in where in the color pattern on the yarn I started sock #2.  Oh well.  Mom is going to love them, regardless.

I started a new project over the weekend, a Forest Glade cowl in a lovely shade of blue green worsted weight. Knitting on a #9 circ instead of the #8 the pattern calls for, because apparently I do not own #8 tips.  Just 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 9s, 10s, 11s. . . (Come to think of it, I didn't buy myself a set of 8s because DD1 has a pair that size.  Hers just happen to be 90 miles away at her apartment right now.)

I'm just eight rows in so far, so it doesn't look like much yet.  I expect it will look more interesting for next week's yarn along.

I also finished reading A Quilt For Christmas over the weekend.  The plot was a little rushed (ie. simplistic) in places, but overall I enjoyed the story. Now I am reading Wildly Affordable Organic.  Haven't learned anything so far I didn't all ready know (but then again, I've been cooking from scratch and growing organic veggies for nearly two decades now); although in fairness I have to say I'm only on chapter two.  The writing style is enjoyable, so I will probably read the entire book even if it does turn out to be non-educational for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That's Why They're Called Widowmakers

A tree that falls (usually blown over in a storm, or on a windy day if the top breaks off or after it's been dead long enough to rot off at the stump) and gets hung up in one or more nearby trees before reaching the ground is known as a 'widowmaker'.  It is known as such because removing a tree in that predicament is dangerous, and is often the cause of fatal wood cutting accidents.

Unfortunately, due to the high number of ash trees in our woods, all of whom succumbed to the emerald ash borer in the last 12-15 years, we have found in the last 2-3 years that every wind storm brings us an increase in widowmakers to deal with.  Sometimes they are hanging across an often used section of the woods, and the chance of them falling on one of us as we are walking/working/hunting that area is too great for us to just leave them where they hang.  Sometimes they lean across the road in the woods, making it impassable until they are cut up.  Sometimes they are damaging the trees they are leaning on or otherwise hung up in, and must be removed in order to save the other trees.  Whatever the reason, in the last few years, DH has put himself in harms way increasingly frequently when out in the woods with the chainsaw, because of widowmakers.

And, until yesterday, he has dislodged, pulled down, and cut them up without incident.  He has many years of working with timber under his belt, and knows how to analyze each and every widowmaker before cutting it at the best angle or point for safe removal.

But, you can only deal with them so much before even a careful woodsman runs out of luck.

Yesterday morning (being Martin Luther King, Jr Day, DH had the day off from work), he was in the woods, cleaning up widowmakers on the south end.  Unfortunately, the one he was working on was a blow-over, still attached at the roots even thought it's top was hung up about thirty feet away and twelve feet above the ground.  When he went to cut it off near the ground, making a stump, and intending the weight of the widowmaker to cause it to slide free of the other trees, the tree trunk swung toward him instead of straight down, making the chainsaw kickback onto DH's foot.

Faster than DH could process what was happening, that chainsaw chewed through his boot near his ankle.  Thankfully, he hit the kill switch right then, because the chain had all ready sliced a gash 1/4" deep into the top of his foot.  Much deeper, and there would have been some serious damage.  He could have easily sliced his foot clean through.

He was able to make it back to the house, where DD2 (also home because of no school on MLK Day) washed and bandaged the wound.  Then, like the hard headed person he is, DH put on a different pair of boots, and took his chainsaw back out to the woods where he proceeded to cut up widowmakers until I got home from work two hours later.

Being the honorary doctor/veterinarian of this little place here, I got to thoroughly examine the wound (not for the squeamish--a few layers of flesh were visible, plus the dermis and fat layer), give it a good cleaning out (love me some Betadine, cleans animal and human wounds alike, and the veterinary bottle is cheaper to buy than the 'human' bottle), pack it, and redress it since DH refused to go for stitches.  It will heal just fine without them, as long as it is kept clean; it will just heal with a large scar.

It's not the wound that scared us both.  It's the knowledge that DH was very, very lucky he did not cut off his foot.  If so, he could have easily bled out in the woods, working alone as he was, and not made it back to the house for treatment.

That's why they are called widowmakers.  If they don't fall on you and kill you, you might get killed cutting them up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.2: Frozen Nose Hairs Edition

Joining with Ginny today for the weekly Yarn Along.

It was very cold here this morning-- negative ten Fahrenheit, with no wind (thank goodness!  wind would have made it really cold), and a frozen fog hanging in the air until about two hours after I got to work.  Which meant my nose hairs froze every time I went out of the barn.  I'll kindly spare you pictures of my frozen nostrils, and instead share a picture of the end of my braid, all frosted up where it stuck out from under my coat.

Apparently taking selfies of my frozen braid gives me a triple chin.
Yuck!  Should have taken a picture of the frozen nose hairs.

feeding hay in the fog

fog hovering about 10 feet off the ground as it begins to lift

But, enough about the weather and frozen body parts.  I'm back indoors now, defrosted, and ready to talk about knitting!

I've made a lot of progress on Mom's Birthday Socks in the past six days.  Sock #1 is finished and sock #2 is done all the way through the heel turn.  I'm really happy with how quickly these socks are knitting up.

And coolest of all (I hope I don't run out of yarn; according to yardage on pattern, I should have plenty), I was able to make the socks match! Woo hoo!

 Being my very first pair of striped socks, I wasn't sure if I could do it--figure out where in the skein to start the cast on for the second pair so that the stripes would line up.  Beginner's luck, or lucky guess, or maybe I sorta do understand how to do this, whichever it is, Mom will be getting matching striped socks for her birthday in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, I finished the Miss Julia book I was reading last week-- oh so fun-- and have started a new book for this week.  A Quilt for Christmas is set in Civil War era Kansas.

How about you? What are you knitting and reading this week?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hey Baby, Let's Go To Vegas

Actually, DH and I went to Vegas last month. Part of the time I was not blogging in December, I was out of state for 5 glorious days.

Now, for years and years Las Vegas has been my list of Places I Don't Care If I Ever Go Before I Die.  I mean, Vegas--glitz, crowds, lights, noise, gambling, shows, lounge singers. . . not exactly this shy homesteading mama's style.  My dream vacation destination is more like miles and miles of wilderness, hardly any people, and the people you do run into are of the quiet keep to themself kind. No neon, nothing blinking except stars, and not much money outlaid.  Lots of physical activity--that's what I do for fun.  Sitting for long periods of time drives me nuts (one of the reasons I have so many hobbies that involve handwork: knitting, sewing, quilting, counted cross stitch, blogging, writing stories, drawing. . .if my hands are busy I can sit still longer with more contentment).

So, how in the world did I find myself in Vegas, and why am I referring to my 5 days there as glorious?

Because DH finally talked me into going.  He's been there several times for work trips; all of which have him sleeping in a hotel room in Vegas, but spending his days driving around.  It was the around Vegas part that he knew I would like.  Within a few hours drive of the glitzy Sin City are numerous wilderness, quiet, sparsely populated type places where you can hike or otherwise look at scenery.

Plus, we had some hotel points kind of things expiring at the end of 2014, and shortly after moving DS1, K2 and family in with us, DH wisely predicted that he and I both would be in need of a break before the end of the year arrived.  With both of our birthdays in December, he suggested that we take a short trip in the week between my birthday and his, and use up those hotel points while escaping from the stress that our larger household has brought.  We looked at what our options were of places to go, and Vegas came out the winner. Guess I have to amend my list.

Here are some photos I took while there.  Or, mostly, while I was not there.  Meaning not in Vegas proper (except to sleep; our room was located 1 block off the Strip), but rather out in all those cool wilderness, quiet, sparsely populated hiking type places.

The city at night:
picture taken out window of our 16th floor room

The city at dawn (my body stayed on Michigan time the entire five days, which meant I saw every sunrise and I was ready for bed by 8 p.m.):

First day trip:  Hoover Dam; which we toured, and it was totally cool, from a nerdy construction/architecture/engineering-type of standpoint

view of bridge from inside ventilation duct in wall of dam

turbines in the dam

Second day trip:  hiking in Red Rock Canyon (including spotting numerous cougar tracks that couldn't have been more than 18 hrs old--it had poured rain the afternoon before)

oh my, it's a big feline!

followed by a drive up Mt. Charleston

yes, it snows in Nevada

Third day trip:  Death Valley!  I took soooooo  many pictures that day, it was really hard to choose just a handful (well, maybe two handfuls) to share here.

looking for water in the desert (near Panamint)

I would have never expected to see a water lily growing wild in Death Valley

coyote standing near the edge of the road
(pic is taken out open driver's side window!)

DH walking a ridge;
can't tell in the photo, but that is about a 40' drop off the sides of the path
(and yes, I walked it too, I'm right behind him with the camera)

at a lower elevation

end of the day

Fourth day trip:  Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire.

northern end of Lake Mead

Photo in which the low water level of the lake is exemplified by DH's GPS.  Blue triangle is how far off the main road we drove the car, and were still at least a hundred feet (mostly down) from the real edge of the water. However, GPS thought we were scuba diving, or something.

Valley of Fire was awesome.  We spent so much time hiking, and looking at petroglyphs in several different areas.

wish I could read this; 
something about goats and people dancing?

trail with high walls

laying on my back on the trail, 
looking up for perspective of wall height

A lot of the trails had very steep parts; like grades of 25-45%, which required a bit of rock climbing/scrambling.  I loved it!

at the top of one trail

heading back down the way we got up

DH's little buddy (have I ever said that DH is afraid of spiders?) that he spotted on the road on our way out of Valley of Fire, and stopped so I could get a look at it. He stayed right by the door of the car--20+ feet away-- while I got my face right down a few feet from this native fauna in order to get a good view.  (Have I ever said that I am not afraid of spiders?)

The fifth day was really the day we flew home, which, with the 3 hr time difference between NV and MI, meant we arrived at the airport in Las Vegas before 8 a.m., and didn't step off the plane in Detroit until almost 5 p.m.  No pictures of that.  

But as you can see, I had a fabulous time in Vegas.  Or, rather, a fabulous time not in Vegas.  I saw lots of cool scenery, hiked 5-10 miles every day, and got to speed across the desert in a pretty sweet rental car.  

Funny story, that.  

When we got off the plane at the airport, and went to get our rental car, we were told to pick anything from a particular row.  The vast majority of which were not domestic.  Honestly, I saw one that was a US auto company (and, since DH works for one of the Big Three, it is important to us to drive domestic).  He'd been hoping for a Jeep Wrangler, to accommodate some of the rougher driving conditions we had in mind, but the rental company didn't have one.  The attendant on duty, when I expressed my displeasure at so many 'imports', said "You know what, why don't you take that black Challenger in that other row?"

Sure, I'd take that black Challenger!!

Hauling ass  Driving 90 mph Touring the desert at an enjoyable rate of speed in a muscle car; yep, I'd do that.  And it handled pretty well on those tight curves of the mountain roads too.

I also learned that the desert floor is not flat, it undulates.  Which made hauling ass  driving through the desert in the Challenger quite fun.

The next time DH looks at me and says "Hey Baby, let's go to Vegas", I won't put him off for years. I'll jump at the chance.  And I'll bring my hiking clothes.  :0)