Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Free Hat Pattern

I have been teaching knitting to a group of 5th and 6th graders at Mark's school since just after Christmas break. We have had a slow start and there were a few weeks this past month when I could not make it because of colds, a car in disrepair, etc. The students come into the school library for their 20 minute recess. There are two sessions. During that time I have had them share their work from the the other session. At first I have had the students just practice the knit stitch on squares. I will sew all the squares together to make a blanket when they are completed and we will donate the blanket to someone.

We have been blessed with some donations from friends on Ravelry and my family ( Thanks Tauntie!). A few of the students are doing really well. This week I plan to graduate a couple of the students on to a larger project with their own needles and yarn that they can take home.

But here was my conundrum. I have straight knitting needles, mostly size 7. I have some bulky yarn and some worsted weight yarn. My students only know the knit stitch right now. AND as part of the class we are knitting hats for Nest Maine. So I created a little hat pattern for their first project. They will learn how to read a pattern. They will have the chance to play with color. It is small enough that they will work through the project quickly. When they are done with this project I will teach them the purl stitch. I plan to poll them on what they would like to make when they are done with their hats.

Here is the pattern. It will fit a baby up to 12 months. This is a pattern for a very beginning knitter. So I will explain a lot of what happens to the hat as it is knitted.

Garter Baby Beanie

Garter Stitch is simply knitting every row. It is easy to count rows in garter stitch because every 2 stitches make a ridge bump. There is a right side, or front, and a back side. When you add another color the front will have a solid color when two rows are knitted. The back side will have 2 broken lines of contrasting color.


1 skein Woolease Bulky Yarn and some other bulky colored yarn as a contrast.
1 pair size seven needles

Gauge: 4 stitches to one inch

CO 60 stitches in Main Color(MC).

knit 8 rows ( this will look like 4 garter ridges)

Add 2 rows of contrasting color (CC). You may add as many rows of of CC. Just make sure that add even number rows. This is where you get to play with design.

Knit in garter stitch till your piece measure 4 and1/2 inches. End at the end of a back side row.

Now we will decrease the top of the hat.

Row 1: *knit 4 stitches, Knit 2 stitches together (k2tog)*Repeat to the end.
Row 2 and all numbered rows ( backside rows): knit
Row 3:Knit 2 k2tog
Row 5: knit 1 k2tog
Row 7,9,11: k2tog

There should be 4 stitches remaining. Break yarn, leaving a 12 inch length of yarn. Thread yarn through remaining stitches. To seam, sew two edges together using the back stitch. Weave in ends. To make braid hat topper, cut three lengths of yarn approximately 10 inches long. Thread the yarn through the top of the hat. Braid. Knot and trim.

If any of my readers are experienced knitters I would love some feed back on this pattern so that I can make it easy for the students to follow.

I am hoping to teach knitting again next fall. It is my hope to get an earlier start in the school year. I think we also need a little more time and I hope to work it out so that the students can meet for their lunch and recess. It is so much fun watching these kids knit. We sit in the library and they share with me what they are doing in school. The habits and community of a knitting group are all right there with these kids. Did I tell you how much fun I am having with them??

Here are some helpful links:

Decreases especially K2tog
Casting on stitches

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Are we there yet?

This is a question I have been asking myself this week. Life has been busy. Sometimes too busy. So when I log on to this blog and I see my little tag up above "in pursuit of a simple life" I really have to ask myself ...are we there yet? If pursuing a simple life is an active exercise, have I reached it yet?

This week did not feel very true to those words. Last week was busy but in a home bound way. Seeds were started. I started sewing a new pair of pj's for the little guy. Sap was running. We spent a good three days sharing shifts feeding the fire to boil down the sap. Last weekend we spent some time improving our system so that it was more efficient. More sap storage containers, better fire pit. The weather was supposed to be bad on Monday so I thought I would take a "day off". Ha! When I realized that I was going to have a busy week I decided to put the house in order, knowing full well that it would soon be disordered by our hectic schedule. Tuesday, I had to run into Augusta to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Wednesday was a usual day in town for Tristan's Class and Evan's homeschooling gym time. Later in the day we met up with Mark to go to a school concert in the evening. Thursday I went to Mark's school to teach knitting and grocery shopping. Friday is Tristan's class, Evan's story time and laundry at the laundry mat. Today I am at the library writing this because I brought Tristan in for a metalsmithing lesson he has with a jeweler. This afternoon I will take my shift with the sugaring fire.

This is only half of the story.

The other half, my other half, worked all five days. He teaches guitar lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday he does not get home for dinner. Wednesday night he had a concert. Thursday there was another concert but usually he has a rehearsal for a men's chorus he has started at the highschool. He is not home for dinner on Thursdays either. Friday afternoon we began boiling sap down.

This just does not sound all that simple to me.

Some of this will become easier soon. Tristan is going for his drivers license and should have it by summer. The road will be dry soon and we will not have to give ourselves extra time to leave the house. Mark is working on hooking up the washing machine soon so I will no longer have to go the laundry mat. Mark found out this week that our other car; which we thought had met it's demise, may still have some life left in her. So we will have two cars again which will save me from driving Mark back and forth to work when I need a car.

But in the meanwhile this is what I have noticed. It seems uncomfortable to say. But when life gets this busy, those things that make up our homesteading life, begin to feel like burdens. Sugaring is one example. This year we put in 25 taps. More than in the past but not much more. We have so much more sap than we have had in years past; partly, because we tapped much more mature trees. There are days when we have exceeded our storage for the sap and I can see sap overflowing the buckets, literally. But I notice this overflow as I am walking past the trees on the way to the car to get somewhere. I think about all the waste. I begin to feel pressured to get a fire started, on a windy day, because this is the spare time we have to do this and there is about 80 gallons of sap sitting in reserve and the buckets on the trees need to be emptied again. But...I also think, gosh, if we can get 4 or more gallons of sap this year we will be saving ourselves almost 250 dollars. Maple syrup goes for about 65.00 a gallon. This is not chump change. It is truly a local sweetener. If money gets tighter then the syrup will truly be something we will be glad we did. We could realistically be self-sufficient for sweeteners this year. And isn't this the point of this lifestyle?

This is a wake up call to me, I think. I don't think, as a family, we have had a reckoning of what is really important to us. At least not for a while. The hamster wheel is getting a little squeaky these days. I think that maybe we need to sit down as a family and figure out how to streamline some things, restore some balance to some areas and learn to let somethings go.

When I began on this journey I was inspired to do so because my life had become insanely busy. I was a single mother working two jobs, taking college classes. Life put me squarely in a sitting position with a diagnosis of MS. At that time I was not necessarily thinking of homesteading but of simplifying life. I learned at that time to slow down and find pleasure in the small things: buds appearing in spring, the feel of a small body snuggled next to you as you read a picture book, the sound of sap dripping into a metal bucket. It is so easy to let the flow of life divert you from the course you want to take.

Perhaps the first step to take begins with a good deep breath. It is time to breathe.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Plant-A-Row Challenge. March Update

Welcome Spring! Well, sorta...we are supposed to get 6 inches of snow today. Oh fickle weather!

Anyway, we are at the middle, or just past the middle, of March. Time to check in with our progress with the Plant-A-Row Challenge. A month ago when I started this challenge, I was pushed to action by the increasing news about the food crisis. In the month since the challenge began food prices has climbed even further. With the recent tragedy in Japan, the continuing turmoil in the Middle East pushing on oil prices and the draconian cuts proposed to the safety net to the poor in our own country, the idea of NEED is not just something we can watch from far away on a television screen. NEED is great in our own communities.

In our own small ways we can make a difference.

This past month I asked participants to connect with organizations in their community that would benefit from either a surplus of their produce or a surplus of their time.

After a bit of phone tag I was able to connect with someone from my local cooperative extension. I found out that the program is no longer called Plant-A-Row. Instead it is called Harvest for Hunger. The reason for the change is that the new name better encompasses the mission of the program. I also learned that the best crops to plant are crops that will not be perishable; keepers such as onions, potatoes and winter squashes. I also found out that there is a gleaning network in my community. When a farmer has harvested all it needs from his field then a call goes out to folks who can harvest from the field so that the food can be donated to a local food pantry. I also got the contact information for a person who coordinates volunteers for a local community garden. Not only will my participation in these programs contribute to fulfilling a need but I also think it will be a great way to meet some new folks.

For next month I think it would be great to share what sort of crops we plan to grow in our rows. It is never too late to join the challenge.

So how was your month? What did you find out?

Friday, March 18, 2011

On mud season...

I was downtown this morning, wearing only a sweater and feeling ....warm? The temperature on the clock read 59 glorious degrees.

Evan and I have had this ongoing discussion about the change of the seasons. He has been lamenting that the snow disappears in the spring and he does not want to see the snow disappear. I have been trying to convince him that each season offers some new pleasure. Winter is snow, Spring is planting, summer is swimming and bike riding, fall is apple picking and playing in big piles of leaves.

He is not quite convinced yet. However, today as he was tagging along with me, while we ran errands, he commented, " Today is a good day to play outside."

It is indeed.

In years past the notion of mud season carried this quaint impatience to see the ground dry so that work in the garden could begin. The switch from winter boots to mud boots seemed like this seasonal transition for my feet that might be shocked by wearing actual shoes too early in the season. Inevitably one pair of shoes might get a little slop on the sole, a seasonal christening of mud, as a rite of spring. This year mud season has taken on a new meaning as the 2 and 1/2miles to the pavement challenges the all-wheel drive of our low riding subaru. Later today, when I leave to pick up Mark, we will more than likely have to walk in from the end of the road as the warm weather has made our road nearly impassable.

This too shall pass. In a couple of weeks the frost will leave the ground, the town will rake the road and we will be driving all the way to our front door for the first time since last December.
For now I will relish the smell of fresh air as I open the windows for the first time this spring. I will mark the retreat of snow as bare patches of ground are revealed. I will toss aside my wool sweater and feel the warmth on my skin.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Preserving 2011


  • Apple Dehydrated 2 quarts
  • Apple sauce 10 quarts
  • Beans frozen, 9 quarts
  • Beans, Dilly 14 quarts 2 pints
  • Blackberries, wild, frozen 1 quart
  • Blueberries frozen 7 quarts
  • Blueberry syrup 6 half pints
  • Broccoli frozen 36 quarts
  • Carrots Pickled 4 quarts
  • chive blossom vinegar 4 pint
  • Corn frozen 3 quarts
  • Dandelion greens dehydrated 1 pint
  • Dandelion/Peach wine 1 gallon
  • Garlic Heads 84
  • Garlic Scapes dehydrated 1 pint
  • Maple Syrup 1 gallon, 3 quart, 3 pints
  • onions, dehydrated, 2 quarts
  • Oregano dehydrated 1 quart 1 pint
  • Peach Salsa 9 pints
  • Peas, shelled, frozen 19 quarts
  • Raspberries cultivated, frozen 4 quarts
  • Raspberries wild, frozen 1 quart
  • Raspberry jam 3 pints 1 half pint
  • Raspberry wine 1 gallon
  • Rhubarb salsa 6 pints
  • Rhubarb Syrup 5 half pints
  • Spinach dehydrated 2 quart
  • Spinach frozen 13 quarts
  • Strawberries, frozen, 4 quarts
  • Strawberry jam 6 pints
  • strawberry wine 1 gallon
  • Tomato puree 9 quarts
  • Tomato Salsa 13 pints
  • Tomatoes, roasted,5 pints
  • yarrow tincture 1 quart

I am taking care of a little blog house work today. This is last years preserve tally. With the sugaring season in full swing it is time to keep a record of this years preserving efforts.

We interrupt this program....

I am posting an a repeat post today. We are inundated with maple sap today, apple trees need to be pruned and there are more seeds to be potted. Once I get some of this sap boiled down I will share with you our rather primitive sapping set up. Enjoy the day!

Traveling Through Space and Time

Some days I feel like a visitor from another planet.

I come to this strange place from the planet Frugalturnia. I traveled to this place in my second hand space suit found at the planet of Goodwill. My mode of transportation was in a spaceship pool and we all traveled in the slow lane. Our spaceship gets 40,ooo light years to one ounce of renewable shoe leather.

Where I come from we speak in a language of use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. It is a hard language to translate in this place of APR financing, plastic money and robotic hamsters.

My home planet is verdant with gardens and everyone has enough and no more than that. So you can imagine my surprise ,as I coasted over your planet, to see hunger, strife, great abundance and gluttony. This is not to say that we don't struggle with our own challenges. Sometimes we can't always have what we want, sometimes we have desires that can not be met immediately or if ever. But when we have this itch, we scratch it with a walk through our gardens or gather with friends and family and share a meal.

We have no gods such as your Credit Card , no temples such as your malls, no priests such as your Bankers. We have our spades and hoes, we have our rich soil, we have our family, we have music.

When I landed on this planet and shared stories of my home, I received many strange looks, like I had a third eye on my forehead. Few, tried to understand the allure of fresh food grown with your own hand, when there was so many boxes, and jars filled with GMO foods and this odd additive high fructose corn syrup. Some how the joy of making something with your own lands was lost in translation and folks thought I was asking where the nearest big box store was.

I am homesick and will wait at this spaceship stop for the next commuter rocket; grateful to be home in my house in the woods, where I will run straight to my garden and watch a ladybug climb a sunflower petal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Radical Sharing

Mark and I celebrated the meeting of a goal yesterday. For about, just under a year we have been purchasing many of our hardware needs from The Farmington Farmers Union. It is a local hardware, farm supply store. Each time we made a purchase we diligently saved our receipts. Small purchases, like the denatured alcohol for a our little camp stove when we first moved in, and larger purchases, like the new pressure tank we needed back in October, accounted for some of the 500.00 we needed to spend in a year to purchase a share at the Farmers Union.

Our local Farmers Union is a non- profit cooperative. Each year the board of directors gets together to see how much money the Union made. Then they determine a percentage that each member will receive. Last year each member received a check that was 10% of the total amount of money they spent at the Union.

In this "capitalist" economic system the idea of a cooperative system seems like a pretty radical idea. Almost, dare I say, socialist. The very idea that members and not a lone entity should share in the profit sorta dispels the idea that a business is only in business for one reason , the bottom line. As a member if the company does not do well, my share will be less. So it serves my own interests, my own bottom line, to spend my dollars as the Farmer's Union than the local big box hardware store that "might" have a lower price.

My own bottom line may include the check that I will receive at the reckoning every year. But my bottom line also includes the social capital of a healthy downtown, the money spent staying in my own community. Because the Farmers Union is located downtown it contributes to the vitality of the downtown. Whereas the large retail hardware store is along a highway. Not an easy location to walk to if you only need a handful of nails. My bottom line includes the better quality of tools and service that I find at the Farmers Union.

We belong to another cooperative already. It is our credit union. I have belonged to buying clubs for food and yarn as well, these are other forms of coops. Some of these coops have storefronts and some extend no further than a friend's kitchen table and a catalog. But both weave a fabric of interdependence that creates community, financial savings and community resilience.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Self-sufficient syrup

I am a bit of an autodidact. I think if I was not one, I probably would not be living the lifestyle that I live. I have taught myself to use my treadle sewing machine, knit, preserve food, garden, make sourdough, make yogurt. Each year I learn something new.

Not always intentionally.

There was the year when the lamb came head first when it should have come out hooves first. Mark's hand would not fit to pull it out. My hands would fit. So it was up to me. In matters of birth and death on a farm this was a big lesson. We have not tried for farm babies since. But we do hope to join a friend when their sheep lamb this year and learn a bit more about this.

More often or not the lessons come out of necessity or a sense that with a little problem solving I can find a better solution. I learned this lesson recently when I wanted to make something that needed mayonaise. But we didn't have any. More often than not I ask myself what did folks do before there were grocery stores? I was able to find a recipe in a couple of my cookbooks. Egg, vinegar, oil and a little mustard powder. The texture is not the same as store bought mayo but for what I needed that day it was just right.

Often the lessons end up saving me money in the long run. Organic store bought yogurt costs about 4.00 a quart. If I make the yogurt myself it costs about 1.75 a quart including cultures. And I can be assured that the milk is from a local farm.

The recent cold that has resided in our home presented a chance to learn something new. Last year we started using elderberry syrup. I was able to buy it through Associated Buyers last year. It was about 7.00 a bottle and a little more affordable than at the local healthfoods store. I was not able to take it because it had echinacea in it. MS does not react well to echinacea. I have a couple of elderberry plants but they are not mature enough to produce enough berries to do much with. Well, when we started getting sick I went to the healthfood store to find some syrup for my guys. They did not have any syrup but they did have lozenges. Pricey. 15.00. But they also had dehydrated elderberries for 3.43.

Why couldn't I make my own syrup? I found this recipe for elderberry syrup. So instead of 7.00 or 15.00 I spent 4.00 and the quantity was much greater than the amount of syrup that was in the purchased bottle. Also, because I can make it without echinacea, I can take it too. Hopefully I will have some elderberry from my plants this year. If I do then I will only have to buy the honey.

For me, this is what being self-sufficient means. I will never be able to provide everything for my family. But in large ways, like my garden, and small ways, like with mayonaise, I provide better quality than store bought. I am saving my family money. And I am learning something new.

Pretty cool.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Slow Living

Life has put the brakes on our family. My recent injury is just one of the few things that has had us rearrange schedules. Mark, who never admits to being sick enough to stay home from work. came home early last Thursday with a nasty bug. I was next inline to share this wonder of biology. Tristan seems to be a little under the weather today. More than likely Evan's immune system will benefit from the virtues of this virus as well.

Speaking of weather, Mark has another snow day this Monday. It is the second Monday in a row.

It would be easy to grouse about all this; you know, places to go, people to see. But really, I am sorta reveling in it. Oh sure a little pain is not pleasant and no one wants to feel sick. But today, for now, at least, everyone is okay and we are enjoying a quiet day at home.

It has been nice to just lay about and read. I am reading the Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkein again.The copy of this book has been read many times by Mark, Tristan and myself and is beginning to show its wear. But a good tale of the hero's journey. Evan and I are enjoying a little Matilda by Roald Dahl. We have read most of his books that have been illustrated by Quentin Blake. Evan and Mark are enjoying Roverandom by Tolkein and Tristan has been studying for his driver's permit.

I do not have a knitting project right now. When I find myself in between projects I pick up a garter stitch scrap blanket. I love to play with the color. Each row brings back a memory of the initial project the yarn belonged to. It is an easy no thinking kinda project. It is meditation. Mark has learned how to knit and I have seen him working on his "ice fishing scarf". A garter stitch scarf knit from a few odd balls of yarn I had around. It is his first project.

Meals have been simple and we have all taken our turns at making sure that we are fed. A favorite snack, popcorn with nutritional yeast, has been a staple during these past few days. And our cups are never empty of herbal teas.

Mark and I joked that a snow day means that we are not using gas; which last I knew was 3.51 when I was in town on Saturday; it is probably higher today. Sure he will have to make up the day at the end of the school year. But he is planning to ride his bike to school once Spring arrives and the roads are in better shape.

Evan, my almost 5 year old, really needs a day outside. But today it rains so he has played with playdough we made yesterday. A box and some of his smaller baby blankets have become a "house". He patiently waits for the paint to dry on an oatmeal box that he plans to make into a "truck".

Life is going to get busy again. Tristan starts his welding class again. Mark's concert season begins soon. Sugaring season is slow to start but we will be busy with it soon. And the garden will have to planted soon enough. Adaptations to our schedule; because we have one car and gas is getting expensive, means that we will spend a little more time away from home to minimize the trips we make in and out of town.

So for today, I sit with a cuppa tea enjoying the rhythm of my home and celebrate the small sprout of swiss chard that has poked through the soil.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On the disabled list

I am sitting in a comfortable chair and enjoying a warm cuppa mint tea. I need a quiet moment with my feet up. Today is the first day that I have been out of the house this week and I am pooped.

Last week I slipped on the ice, landed on the edge of a step. The result was a pulled muscle in my lower back that pulled a small piece of bone from a lumbar vertebrae. Ouch.

Most of the inflammation of the area has diminished. For now it is just a matter of rest and healing. Unfortunately, we also had a big snow storm and the trail to the car is not yet packed down and easy to walk on. We drive a standard car and this is not very comfortable either. Sugaring season is starting slowly so I will not have to worry too much about hauling sap out of the woods. There is a teenager that will have to take on that job this year. A good month of so and my back should be ready for gardening season. But I am a pretty active person and anything that takes me off my feet makes me grumpy.

This makes me think about this lifestyle for the long term.

I know a woman who has lived off-grid for well over 30 years. She has a mile hike into her home. Each spring she plants her garden. Her husband is in his early 60's and he still puts up the many cords of wood they use every year for cooking and heating. Recently, one of their children gave them a cell phone, just in case. My friend has had some hip issues as a result of the hard physical work that her homesteading life has wrought on her body. A couple of years ago friends gathered to help her plant her garden. The garden is really their grocery store so not being able to plant a garden is not an option.

I have another friend whose parents have lived in the country since the early 70's. When I met her parents 20 years ago they planted a large garden every year. Her dad would ride his bike 20+ miles, up and down some very big hills, to run errands in the nearest large town. About 10 years ago they sold their old farm house and some land they owned. The built a new smaller house that would be easier to care for. It was just up the road from their old home. My friend just shared that her parents, now 70 and 82, had a hard winter. Plowing and snow removal are difficult. The isolation is hard too. Most of their kids live a fair distance away so it is hard for them to come over when the weather is bad and give their parents help. So they have decided that they need to find a different situation.

Old New England farmhouses, known as capes, were built with big houses, middle houses and small houses. As the aging parents grew older, they moved into the smaller parts of the home allowing the younger and growing family to live in the larger part of the home. This allowed the whole family to live and work the farm. Each member of the family was valued and their presence helped in the general economy of the home.

I will be back on my feet pretty soon and able to get to the work of our home again. But I better start thinking about an earth-bermed little house.