Totally About to Go All Marie Kondo Up in Here

Do you ever feel like you are a master imitation of a broken record? I finally realized that’s exactly how I sounded when, for the 1000th time, I remarked to a friend this that it’s been a tough year. Scratch that, a tough four-plus years. After losing Dad last year, we went on to lose both our neighbor and good friend, followed shortly thereafter by my uncle. Considering that I already win the award for “Most Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Grief,” I’m not at all surprised that I’ve been operating on semi-toxic fumes for far too long.

But this last week, we took a long-planned family vacation, which was amazing, exhausting, and magical. When we came back to Louisiana, spring was in the air, with the wisteria in full bloom and the grass already filling in the winter-brown lawn. I know the hellfire summer is just around the corner, but something about coming home to a landscape transformed on the tails of a truly epic vacation gave me the kick in the ass I sorely needed. I spent the past couple of days thinking about what needs to change, and as the title suggests, I’m about to go Marie Kondo both literally and figuratively on myself, and my environment. It’s time for some physical, emotional, and spiritual spring cleaning, and part of that is returning to this space and getting back to the things that spark joy, as cheesy as that sounds.

So before I get back to it, let’s take the 50-cent recap of the past months, shall we?

First, I invested in an amazing smoker and subsequently smoked allllll the things, including all my neighbors’ Thanksgiving turkeys, lots of pork butts, bratwurst, and so on. One day, I want to volunteer with Operation BBQ, and help those suffering from disaster or displacement.

Bean joined the Cub Scouts!

She’s having a blast.

I knit a blanket for a special baby and won second place at the State Fair:

We did a winter garden of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and carrots. (We also planted strawberries in the fall for a late spring/early summer harvest):

And finally, I finished all of the Knitterati 2018 blocks (though I have yet to assemble the blanket and add the border):

Oh, and one more project. Dad’s wife asked me to make pillows from some of his dress shirts:

So, even if I was not at my best this past year, I can say that I kept making. However, I think it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and realize that maybe there’s a bit more nuance between seemingly normal and truly healthy. If anything, at least my house will be cleaner…maybe. Probably.

Definitely maybe.

Finished Knits

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 5 which is part of the ongoing Cascade Yarns Knitterati 2018 KAL. It’s available for purchase on Ravelry.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Merino in Pale Lilac colorway.

Needle: US 7

Notes and Mods: No real notes on this one. It was easy and straightforward.

Pattern: Protest is Patriotic Shawl by Nycraft Craftivist, available for free on Ravelry

Yarn: Loops & Threads Woolike in Red, White, and Navy

Needles: US 4

Notes and Mods: I knit this as written, but carried the red and white yarns up the side rather than weave in 1000 ends. If I were to make it again, I would follow what others did and use white beads for the stars rather than the white yarn. The stitches are too small to really pop against the blue. Otherwise, I love it. Also, I was pleased with the yarn in general, and it’s a good option for projects on a budget.

 

Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.¬† This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!

Friday Eating and Reading (As I Army-Crawl Across the School Year Finish Line)

It’s Friday, and I am still in the trenches of what we call the May Gauntlet around here. This month consists of three of my family of five’s birthdays, Mother’s Day, another trip to Science Olympiad Nationals for the Hubs and Bear after winning State, Confirmations, graduations, finals for G-Man, driving test for G-man, and yet another week-long business trip for the Hubs. I am, in a word, overdone.

Meanwhile, I’ve been sneaking in crafting, reading, and knitting time in at every possible moment, lest I allow my “End-of-the-year-and-I’m-over-it attitude” to spew out all over innocent bystanders. While I know I will probably want to let my kids run away and join a circus within two weeks of summer vacation, the prospect of a break from carpool lines, packing lunches, the daily uniform search/6 a.m. emergency washing panic, and unplanned trips to the school because I forgot it was our snack day (again), is the only thing separating me from insanity.

Anyway, here’s a few things I have been really into this week:

I just finished¬†The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen. Magic realism and knitting? Sign me up. I am a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, so this seemed right up my alley. Overall, it’s a cute book, and one that I enjoyed. The narrative of the family ties, local lore, the subtle magic, and hope all made this a nice, pleasant read. If you just want a light, feel-good read similar to Addison Allen’s works, this is a good option.

I love Rick Bragg, who, among his numerous writing accolades, also has his essays featured in Southern Living every month. I’m only about a quarter of the way through this, but I am so totally in love with it. His writing brings to life the essence of the times and influences that defined my grandparents and parents (both good and bad). I started this on Mother’s Day morning, and it felt like a bittersweet balm on my soul. It reminds me of cooking with my mom, and all the stories she would tell of our grandparents and cousins, and the recipes that were simply learned by doing. I still suck at this whole grief thing, especially since I got the grief sandwich going on, but this book reminds me that the stories and traditions mean they will always be with me.

This orzo salad from Food Network definitely wins our dang tasty seal of approval. While I skip the red onion because picky eaters gonna pick, the recipe is perfect for a cool summer side dish (very important when we will reach nearly 100 degrees next week). A couple of notes on this one–I just mix the whole shebang together rather than this pointless staging. You would have to mix it before serving anyway, and artistic efforts are lost on The Heathens. Also, I have a possibly controversial view on pasta salad recipes. I always make 1.5 times of the dressing that any pasta salad recipe calls for, if not 2 times because they always end up drier than I want if I follow the recipe. Thus far, my over-doing-it on pasta salad sauce (for creamy-type sauces) hasn’t steered me wrong. You could also add rotisserie chicken to this for a complete meal, but if so, I would definitely double the sauce just to be safe. No one ever said “My Pasta Salad is too creamy.”¬† If they did, you should seriously side-eye them.

Time to fortify myself for the last week of school. That means whiskey, in case you didn’t know.

A Couple More Finished Knits

The past couple of weeks have been a flurry of activity. Two of the Heathens had birthdays, we celebrated Easter with family and friends, and spent time constructing new raised beds for the garden. Meanwhile, despite my vow to never join another mystery knit-along again, I fell down the fiber rabbit hole of temptation when I heard about Cascade’s 2018 Knitterati Knit-Along. Besides loving the color palates in the kit, the prospect of adding in some quick knits between my bigger projects, ones that would add up to a blanket at the end of a year, seemed like my kind of project. I got the kit from Jimmy Beans Wool just in time for the first square’s pattern release:

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 1 (pattern available for purchase on Ravelry, and each new square will be released every three weeks. Block 2 is already up. However, if you sign up for Cascade’s newsletter, you can get the patterns for free with coupon codes they send).

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Sweet Pea Colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: This block was a learning curve as far as gauge and most people were having issues getting the dimensions. This wanted to block way larger than specified. After watching the Ravelry group, Cascade advised that wet blocking is not ideal, and that the squares will go best if pinned, then lightly sprayed. I should have remembered that superwash wool can be a bit finicky. Overall, it’s a good pattern but row gauge could be an issue for some people. I like the yarn texture, and am definitely more of a fan than the traditional Cascade 220 Superwash.

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After I finished the block, I did a deep stash dive and pulled out a UFO that has been lingering there for years. I started these mittens at least four years ago, but kept getting discouraged on the cuffs and their time-consuming pattern. I vowed at New Years that I would finally finish them. I may not be skinny or able to run a 5k yet, but dang it, this UFO is finally a FO! How’s that for a resolution win?

Pattern: Grove (available for purchase on Ravelry).

Yarn: Berroco Comfort in Filbert Colorway

Needles: US 6 DPNs

Notes and Mods: The pattern has been updated since I purchased it, which is good because my copy had a couple of errors. This pattern is almost 100 percent charted, so if you can’t do charts, it might not be for you. Additionally, something about my copy made it impossible for my Knit Companion software to magic mark the charts, which slowed down my progress. Rather than removing the needles to turn these inside out for the three-needle bind-off, I just grafted the tops closed. As for sizing, my hands are on the smaller side, and these fit me perfectly. I noticed on Ravelry that others had to make modifications for sizing, and some changed the YO increases because they did not like the spaces they created. Overall, I love the stitch pattern, but if I make them again, I may modify the tops to be more rounded and even.

Finished Knit–Voyager MKAL

I ordered the kit for the Voyager Mystery Knit-a-Long last year, and it subsequently languished in my stash. After feeling guilty, I used the Ravellenics as an excuse to finally tackle it, and though I did not make my deadline, I’m glad this yarn kit did not get swallowed up into my stash black hole.

Pattern: Voyager MKAL (inspired by Season 3 of Outlander). Available for purchase on Ravelry.

Yarn: Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock and String Quintet in the exclusive Voyager colorway kit. I’m not sure if the kits is still available, or of Lorna’s Laces can hook you up with the colors.

Needles: US 4

Notes and Mods: No mods on this one, though I’m on the fence about a-symmetrical shawls, but that’s just personal preference. The slipped stitch techniques made for an interesting fabric, and the lace offered a nice break. But dang if weaving in the ends didn’t take foooor-evvvvv-errrr. Good project, but I’m ready to take a break from fingering weight shawls for a while.

**Knitting readers, just as an FYI, I updated this post about Yarnbox versus Knitcrate. While I may give Knitcrate another try after having to break up with Yarnbox, I’m interested to hear any recommendations on other yarn subscriptions, so drop a comment if you have one**

A Couple of Finished Knits

I finished up a couple of knits, just in time to cast on my project for the Ravellenics, which is plodding along:

Pattern: Copycat C.C. Beanie (pattern available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Berroco Vintage in Paprika colorway

Needles: US 8

Notes/Mods: Knitted as written, and it was my first time doing a provisional cast on. Pattern is super-easy. Many people add a faux fur pompom on top, but I decided to pass on that.

Pattern: The PussyHat Project (Also free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Brown Sheep Natures Spun Worsted in Cherry Delight Colorway

Needles: US 7 and 8

Notes and Mods: I had no desire to seam a hat, so I stalked other projects on Ravelry and adapted the pattern to knit in the round with a three-needle bind off. I made the brim too long, but doubled over, it fits Bean perfectly. If I make another for myself, I’ll shorten the brim a little to ensure the hat fits as intended.