Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A bag for Mimi

This is my Mama, Mimi. I've mentioned at least a couple times on this blog that Mimi is quite the prolific knitter. (Though the name "Grammy" was quickly relinquished when Ava first pronounced her "Mimi", yes, I am referring to the same woman in those old posts.) I am certain, however, the word 'prolific' does not adequately communicate how productive and generous Mimi really is with her knitting. 

I searched through my photos and gathered the small collection of images above of all that Mimi has accomplished in the 3 1/2 years since Ava was born. And friends, I do not exaggerate when I say "small collection". You can't even imagine how many beautiful sweaters, hats, mittens, booties and blankets Mimi has knit for these (and other) little ones. Let's just say they are in absolutely no danger of ever being cold. 

I was very happy to hear that Mimi has finally started knitting for herself, as she should be able to enjoy her beautiful work too. And I am looking forward to seeing her sweaters in person as I know they will be exquisite. Often when I make a small mistake in one of my own projects I just push forward thinking no one will notice it in the end - and most of the time I am right. But Mimi is exacting and will tear out rows and rows that may have taken her hours to complete just so that her sweaters are *perfect*. 

Given this keen attention to detail, you may be surprised to learn that Mimi totes her creations-in-progress around in plastic bags. Scroll up to that first picture of the lovely Mimi and you'll see the evidence resting in her lap. Now it's no secret that Mimi is a lover of ziplock baggies. (She may even love them as much as Poppy loves Lysol.) If you ever receive a package from her you'll be fully stocked with ziplock bags for the entire next year. And I'm not talking your run-of-the-mill sandwich bag variety. Somehow Mimi finds the most ginormous ziplock bags possible - they're practically large enough to crawl inside of (not that I am recommending you try it). While these baggies are no doubt impressive in stature and most certainly squall-proof, I've been thinking for a while that Mimi should have something a bit nicer and more earth-friendly to carry her projects along in as she knits her way from home to knitting store to Minnesota to everywhere in between.

So for Mimi's birthday in September I decided to make her a Super Tote knitting bag. I got the idea from Ashley's blog a while back. I felt the pattern would work perfectly for a knitting bag with it's large size and numerous pockets - not to mention it's so much more appealing than a ziplock. The pattern was extremely thorough and well made, and I am very happy with how the bag turned out.

The poppy print is a home dec weight fabric I found at Crafty Planet. Unfortunately the selvage is not labeled, so I don't know who the designer is. It struck me as being playful yet sophisticate and I hoped Mimi would like it (it's covered in Poppy's - how could she not!). The contrast fabric is home dec weight glimma by Lotta Jansdotter. The lining is a Kona cotton solid. I lined all exterior pieces with interfacing as recommended, so the bag is solid and structured.

I included pockets on the inside of the bag for stitch counters, scissors, measuring tapes, tapestry needles and any other knickknacks Mimi may tote along with her. After much consideration I omitted the zipper, as I couldn't get the thought of a knitting meets zipper catastrophe out of my mind - and I certainly didn't want to be responsible for such a disaster.

The large external pocket on the super tote seemed perfect for storing knitting patterns. I made and inserted my first piping ever on this pocket and am so proud of how it turned out.

We love you Mimi and hope your birthday celebration with us made you feel as loved as you are. We appreciate the warmth you send us with all of your beautiful knits and hope your new knitting bag serves well for toting your future projects wherever you may wish to take them. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

While Ava's away...

Ava starting preschool this month means Eli is finally getting a small glimpse of what it's like to be an only child - undivided parental attention, free reign of toys to play with (without the jarring interruption of a sister screaming "NOOO!" at him intermittently), and time to do whatever he pleases, however he pleases. Sometimes I marvel at how smoothly the morning goes when there is just one. Though I admit there are times I miss Ava's tendency to be a watch dog - like when things got a little too quiet in the living room and I peeked around from the kitchen to see Eli halfway out the open front door.

On this morning we both took advantage of the warmth we know is fleeting this time of year and headed up to the garden. When Eli is in charge of the watering, his waters his way.

You and I may not have realized it, but Eli knows the chicken is thirsty.

The rocks are too, of course.

The sunflowers that are as big as his head and the bunny tails that never quite sprouted their tails, well of course those are as well.

Maybe a little sip for the kale.

His clothes are always very thirsty.

Oh, and while we're out here on our walk, have we showed you our new garden bed? Will moved her from the other (shady) side of the yard. She is much happier in the sun. She needs more soil and compost, then we will plant her with garlic, garlic and more garlic in a couple weeks. I am enjoying the promise of an expanded garden next year and look forward to implementing the many ideas that one season almost under our belt has given us.

This boy of ours - yes, he really is transforming into a boy as the baby in him gradually fades - he enjoys his time alone with mama and all of the important work he does while Ava is in preschool. Tomorrow he starts down his own path to preschool with the beginning of Little Sprouts. It resonates as a significant shift to me - I remember Ava starting Little Sprouts back when we had just moved here from Michigan. I am happy he will finally do something that is all his own. That he will have the opportunity to make his own friends rather than always hanging out with Ava's buddies.  Our little man is growing up. 

As much as Eli is loving his alone time, at the end of the morning his smile never fails to burst forth when I ask him if he's ready to pick up his sister from school. sigh. These are precious times my friends.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Outside In

Continuing the (prolonged) tour of our home renovations I thought it appropriate this time of year to move from the outside in. So next let's talk about our porch. As I mentioned in my post from when we bought our house, some of the 'before' pictures were just too scary to look at without 'after' pictures alongside to buffer them. And while I won't say that the 'after' pictures in this post are final - there is still much to do before we declare the porch 'finished' - Will has certainly accomplished major improvements. Here is the three-season porch that sits off the side of the dining room as it looked on closing day:

The most egregious aspect of the porch was the vinyl asbestos floor tiling. None of it was friable, so the danger of exposure to asbestos was low; but Will felt the extreme heat and cold of Minnesota seasons could eventually loosen and crack the tiles. We certainly didn't want kids or animals spending time out there until the floor was replaced. And, of course, the floor was hideous. So it had to go. After taking down the once-upon-a-time-white curtains - which were probably original to this 1950s house and looked as if they harbored dirt from all six of the past decades - Will set to work.

The kids enjoyed their front row view of Dada's labor...

...until he sealed up the doorway with a large plastic sheet to keep any dust from entering our house.

After researching proper procedures for safe removal, Will donned his hazmat suit and respirator and set to the dirty work of removing the old tiles and glue from the floor. Once things were properly cleaned up, he primed the walls and ceiling of the porch to seal in any dust he might have missed when wiping the area clean. Then it was time to lay down the radiant floor warming mats that we hope will extend the use time of our porch, making the tile more comfy on bare feet as the weather cools. We used these. We haven't had a chance to test them out during the summer months, but will let you know how they work once fall is upon us.

We chose slate tile for the new flooring. Will had laid down ceramic tile in a small bathroom years ago, so figured he knew what was in store for him. He did not anticipate how much more challenging slate would be. For one thing, the slate tiles are all slightly different, both in terms of shape and thickness. They are also very irregular, sometimes being quite thick on one end and thin on the other. Then, of course, they are all naturally different colors. This all adds to the character of the finished floor, but turns laying down the tile into much more of an 'art'.

Laying down the tiles took several weekends of during-naptime work, but we were so excited with how the floor looked when they were all finally down.

Once all the tiles were laid Will used a pre-sealer which was supposed to make the grout easier to lift off the tiles. In hindsight, Will is so glad he did this as the grout was much more difficult to get off the slate than he remembered it to be with the ceramic tile.

Don't let his smile fool you, the grouting was HARD work. At some point Will enlisted my help in wiping the grout off the tile once his hands were beginning to give out. He may or may not have then proceeded to criticize my method of wiping the tiles *ahem*, but we'll pass that one off as fatigue and let it slide. After days, yes literally days, of scrubbing the tiles and then using some grout remover to help the process along, we were satisfied with how it all looked. Will applied the final sealant to the whole floor and we waited impatiently until it dried the next morning.

The kiddos were ecstatic to finally get out and dance around on the porch. To fully appreciate how excited they were about this, you must understand that they had been staring through the window of the dining room door out onto this porch for weeks and weeks calling, "Dada!" repeatedly while he worked on it. The porch had been pretty much off-limits since we'd moved in, so it was like a very special treat to finally set foot out there. And the new floor looked and felt so beautiful! In this moment, the first time we were all able to run around out there together, the weeks of hard work and missing Dada felt so worth it.

Even Lola had to check it out. 

Then we all set to work building furniture. At this point I was well versed in the art of Ikea assembly, as I had put together all our Ikea kitchen cabinetry (but that's a story for another post). Ava and Eli loved this process and actually helped screw the bolts in. Well, Ava helped screw them in; Eli mostly went around trying to stick bolts into any hole he could find (apparently the urge starts very early in life). Once the furniture was built Will replaced all the glass panes with the screens that are also original to the house. Happily, unlike most of the rest of the house, the screens are in excellent condition as they probably haven't been installed in the last 40 years. 

And now we have a porch we can use:

There is still more work to be done in the future - painting, new curtains, new pillows, base moulding, ceiling fan, etc. But at this point in our home renovations we are so so happy to achieve 'usable'. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blue Jade

We grew corn! Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Yet, it seems every time I grow something I have never grown before there is some element, however indiscernible, of disbelief that resides in the back of my mind. Perhaps this is my defense mechanism against disappointment - if I don't really believe it will grow then I won't be disappointed when it doesn't. I felt similarly when we grew garlic last year. And yet, there we were last night grilling chicken, shucking some corn from the farmer's market when I thought I might run up to the garden and shuck one of our own ears, just to see how they were coming along. The silks are beginning to brown and dry up - a sign, I've read, that the corn is just about ripe. 

I plucked the biggest ear (which is still a cute little thing since this heirloom sweet corn is a dwarf variety) pulled back the husk and revealed a perfect - really, perfect - ear of Blue Jade corn. Nary a kernel underdeveloped or marred by the nibbles of bird or worm. Truly a most perfect little ear. 

I threw this first little ear in with the rest of our corn so we could see how it tastes. Again, I wasn't overly hopeful - I've heard that those of us who are used to contemporary sweet corns are not as fond of the heirloom sweet corn varieties, as they are simply not as sweet as we've selected them to be these days. But disappointed we certainly were not. Sweet, juicy, crisp and just the right size for little hands to grasp. 

I was intrigued by Blue Jade with its promise of sweet steel blue kernels that turn jade blue upon boiling. At only three to four feet high, it seemed the perfect corn to grow in Ava's fairy garden - I've aimed to plant varieties that she and Eli can easily appreciate at or near eye level. And being a fast grower, Blue Jade seemed a good choice for our short Minnesota growing season (my little euphemism for 'you call this summer?').

The kernels were not as blue as I expected them to be, though I have read of others having the same experience with Blue Jade corn. Apparently they become bluer as the corn continues to ripen; though some say the corn grows less sweet as it completes its journey to bluedom. So now we have a bit of a dilemma: which do we value more, sweetness or the novelty of blueness? I suspect as we gradually pick and eat the corn over the next week or so, we will get our share of both. 

We look forward to the feast of corn ahead of us! And I'll try to snap some photos if those kernels do indeed turn blue as promised.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Our Garden

After promising to keep you abreast of our work on the house, my little ol' blog fell seriously by the wayside while renovations continued to monopolize our time. Progress inside the house gradually shifted to progress outside the house as Minnesota finally turned warm and sunny (yes, spring and summer did eventually arrive). I intend to post on all the work we've done so far, but I'll refrain from making promises lest I end up breaking them. 

It seems sensible to begin with the area that has been most active lately - our garden. You may remember this:

I was so excited to watch as the snow finally melted and revealed what lay underneath. It was like a giant present gradually unwrapping itself with the thaw. As little shoots popped out of the ground  here and there I wondered what they would grow up to be. Turned out many of them were weeds, of course; but there were some lovely surprises like peonies, lots and lots of hosta and various types of day lillies. Here is that same area in the late spring:

We quickly realized that the two raised beds closest to you in the top picture do not get enough sunlight to grow most vegetables (what exactly were the previous owners thinking?). So we focused on planting the two sunniest beds and chopping down a douglas fir and spruce tree to create more sun space for gardening and other future yard additions (some are still in the dreaming phase, but my fingers are crossed for next spring!). I felt a little sad to watch the fir tree go down. She was a beauty. But Will felt no ambivalence and prided himself on his manliness as he chopped it down with an axe. Sometimes I am grateful that my husband lacks the feelings of guilt over such things that keep me paralyzed, considering consequences indefinitely. In the time it took me to ruminate over all the pros and cons of keeping the trees versus taking them down, my dear husband was already teaching our children to yell, "Timber!" as the tree fell. 

In the picture above you see the stump from where Will chopped down the fir tree. It forms the center of what is becoming Ava's fairy garden. You can also see one of the three apple trees planted between the raised beds by the former owner. This tree is doing the best of the three - one of them perished over the winter and the other is hanging on by a thread - but despite lots of blossoming in the spring we have no apples to look forward to this fall. I had hoped our neighbor's apple trees would be close enough to pollinate our tree, but perhaps no such luck. I'll wait another year and summon my inner honey bee in the spring - I hear you can pollinate by hand with a bit of patience and a q-tip.

This year I planted the beds denser than I would have in years past. I did a bit of reading on intensive gardening in Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre and realized that the spacings recommended on seed packets take into account the space to walk in between rows. Perhaps this is not news to most of you, but to me it was quite enlightening as I am often that gardener who plants exactly 'three seeds every two inches' just as instructed. I didn't go crazy with soil testing or anything like that - there's only so much you can do when gardening with the kiddos in tow. But I did try to optimize production from our little beds. Unfortunately it seems there was an oversight when the previous owners built the raised beds in that they are just a bit too wide for easy access to the middle of the beds - the lack of foresight is not surprising considering two of the beds were installed in almost total shade. In the less sunny bed I planted arugula, mesclun greens, pole beans, lacinato kale, rainbow chard, peppers of various sorts, eggplants, broccoli and nasturtium seeds. When the arugula started to bolt I replaced them with yellow wax beans and dragon tongue beans. In the sunnier bed I planted 11 tomato plants of various types (some of which we'd received as gift starters and some I had started myself, including my absolute favorite, green zebras), basil and marigolds. In Ava's fairy garden I planted an heirloom blue sweet corn called "blue jade", along with sunflowers, mint, poppies, bunny tails, cosmos, foxglove, globe amaranth, zinnias and marigolds.

Farther along in the season, things looked like this:

And most recently, this:

This past weekend I weeded out Ava's fairy garden and laid down a layer of newspaper and a few inches of mulch. (Minneapolis lost many trees in recent storms and is offering free mulch at several sites around the city. The mulch is piled high for the taking. I hope to gather as many trunk loads as we can, as there is so much mulching that needs to be done in our previously neglected yard.) The mulching has transformed the space and is finally starting to look a bit more like I envision it. I suspect not much more planting will get done this year, but I hope to finish creating the beds to surround the garden so that we can get an early start with planting next year  - a bean teepee or sugar-snap pea teepee for hiding in, perhaps a little patch of pumpkins, some butterfly bushes and lots of flowers to create a special place to escape, play and imagine in. Will intends to transform that stump into some kind of fairy house so that our resident fairies will have a comfortable place to rest.

And here's a closer look at some of what's been coming out of our garden these days...

This season of warmth and sunshine, when the garden is bursting forth and fresh veggies are finding their way down the hill from our garden into our kitchen, is such a joyous time for me. I hope you are cultivating your own joy this summer in whatever way makes you the happiest.