Monday, March 31, 2014

Inspiration strikes from the strangest places

Once upon a time, in Helena, Montana, a physician named Stephen Nagy took microscopic photographs of various cells and tiny life forms and entered them in a photography contest sponsored by Nikon. And a friend showed me this entry, a photograph of the tip of a butterfly's tongue, and jokingly suggested I knit it.
And so I bought yarn
Left side yarns are Pixie in Rose Bud and Djinni Sock in Ode to Sock Summit, both by Dragonfly Yarns

and size 6 and 8 glass seed beads in blue base with metallic multicolored finishes, and purple blue beads in an elongated shape.

Because that's the kind of knitter I am.

Stay tuned.

Incidentally I think a few of the other photographs Dr. Nagy submitted will require knitted versions as well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When You Lose General Functionality

…naturally the best thing to do is to try to recreate recipes for breads you just bought in NYC, right?
So my mother was willing to drive us (me, one of my daughters, and my sister who happened to be up in the area) up to Riverdale to see our grandmother briefly; then we had to grab lunch and dinner.  We found a nice little upscale kosher grocery where we were able to get some fresh sushi, fish, salads, and a fresh loaf of seeded bread to go.  

As you may or may not know, right now I'm really on the verge of losing control.  So naturally this afternoon when I heard that my daughter who has been bounced back and forth between inpatient and partial outpatient hospitalization was being re-admitted to an inpatient bread, my mind turned to baking chocolate chip muffins, and making up a bread recipe to produce a loaf similar to what we had on Sunday (which of course was finished by Monday evening).

1 1/2 C water
1 tsp salt
4 C flour (use a mix of a variety; I used one cup each of plain unbleached, bread, white whole wheat, and stone ground whole wheat pastry flours)
2 1/2 tsp yeast (regular or bread machine/rapid rise; see notes below)
1 C seeds or chopped nuts, any varieties (I used 1/2 C each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds plus about 2 T each of sesame and poppy seeds)

If you're using a bread machine and bread machine/rapid rise yeast:
Put the water, salt, flour, and yeast in your bread machine on the quick dough cycle; add the seeds/nuts when the machine beeps or 5 minutes before the mixing is going to end if your machine doesn't give you a signal for that.

If you're using a bread machine or mixer and regular yeast:
Put the water, salt, flour, and yeast in your bread machine on the regular dough cycle; add the seeds/nuts when the machine beeps or 5 minutes before the mixing is going to end if your machine doesn't give you a signal for that.

If you're mixing by hand:
Use water between 115-120F.  Put the water in your mixing bowl, add the yeast and let it sit about 5 minutes to dissolve. Add about half the flour, then mix in the salt, then the rest of the flour.  This will be a pretty heavy dry dough compared to silky egg doughs, so it will take a good 10 minutes of heavy kneading, but it's worth it.  Then put a little vegetable oil at the bottom of your mixing bowl, put the dough in and roll it around to coat it, flip the dough over so that the coated side is up and the bottom which didn't get oiled is oiled, cover the whole bowl with plastic wrap, a cutting board, or a dish towel, and let it rise about 75-90 minutes. 

For all methods now continue here:
Take your heavy but happy dough, and shape it into a loaf.  You can put it in an oiled 9x5" loaf pan, on parchment paper on a baking sheet, or you can shape it into a baguette and put in a baguette loaf pan if you prefer.  Let it rise, covered, for 45-50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Brush with warm or room temperature water just before baking for a crisper crust.

Bake for 45 minutes for a regular loaf, 35 for a baguette.

Cool on a rack completely before slicing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Boiling day, take 1

I have a few gallons of maple sap gathered, so it's time to have a boiling day.
With so little sap, boiling down goes much faster than the looong days they talk about in books; they're talking about dozens to hundreds of gallons.  So I've added the couple of gallons I had into a pot and boiled it down a few inches and added more…
Thanks to Sara and Miles for use of their pot!
And added more and more and more bit by bit.  Then I went outside and got what had dripped into the bags between early yesterday afternoon when I'd last gone out and this morning.  Of course it was all frozen so I have sap-sicles:
Frozen sap seems like it should be invoked in a Shakespearian insult.
But now I'll add these one or two at a time and keep boiling down.  By then maybe it will have warmed up enough for more sap to be in the bags, but I doubt I'm getting anything much today; at almost 10 AM it's only 20F, so chances of getting above freezing are slim.  The next few days are predicted to be in the 50's to 60's so if I want the sap then I'll have to be getting it every few hours to keep it from spoiling.  Out of the frying pan into the fire.  Who knows what next week will bring?

Anyhow by the afternoon I should have one pint of maple syrup I wouldn't have had before.  And a pint of syrup is nothing to sneeze at.  Hopefully I'll get a few more over the next few weeks before I put the equipment away.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Never underestimate the power of...

a crazy woman with tools.
One tree, two collection bags.  I have two large trees which each have two bags, plus one smaller tree with only one.

I'd thought for about the last 4 years about tapping the sugar maples in our back yard.  For the first few years though first of all the weather was never right--it really didn't get cold enough at night, it stayed above freezing.  Last year had good weather, but I wasn't ready to take advantage of it.

This year I jumped!  We're having just the right weather at just the right time of year (we're at the south-easternmost point where collecting sap and making maple syrup is really feasible so we're the earliest season collectors).  I put in an order for a beginner's kit at Andersen's and they shipped it out immediately and voila!  My attempt has begun.

Not that things went smoothly of course.  The drill bit didn't fit my drill so I had to just do my best to make it work.  The wood this morning at 10 AM (supposedly the best hour of the day for this) is still somewhat frozen making it that much harder to drill through the bark and wood especially with an ill-fitting drill bit.  Since the bit didn't fit I had to use a wrench to unscrew it each time to remove it from the tree trunks.  And yes, the first spile I did indeed hammer in backwards the first time.

Now it just has to hit the magic temperatures and if I've done it right we'll have sap running for the next few weeks.  The kids are excited about the idea of saving half the syrup in that form and then boiling down half to make maple sugar candy plus the hard ice-pan candy mentioned in "Little House in the Big Woods."  Thanks to Ohio State Extension services, I have recipes for both.

I just hope we get anything.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Enough is enough

There's an old Jewish folktale that goes like this:
A poor man goes to the town rabbi, and says, "Rabbi, oy, enough is enough.  I have a tiny hovel we live in, and when I'm inside I am tripping over my wife, my in-laws, and my small children.  Please help us!"
The rabbi says, "Bring the plow into the house."
A week later the poor man returns and says, "Rabbi, oy, enough is enough, now I'm tripping over the people and the plow in my tiny hovel.  I need more room!"
The rabbi says, "Bring your chickens into the house."
Five days later the poor man returns and says, "Rabbi, enough is enough, now I'm tripping over the people, the plow, the chickens and the eggs!"
The rabbi says, "Bring your goats into the house."
Three days later the poor man returns and says, "Rabbi, nu, I'm not joking, I can't take any more, enough is enough!"
The rabbi says, "Put the plow, the chickens, and the goats back out in the yard."
A few days later the rabbi visits the hovel and asks the poor man how he feels.  The poor man answers, "Rabbi, now that I don't have to trip over the plow, the chickens, the eggs, the goats, and the animal feed, it's great in here!"

The message is that it can always be worse and you might as well count your blessings.  The problem is that when the bar just keeps being raised on the trouble level, you are just forced to adapt, and adapt, and adapt again, but there comes a point where you really can't adapt any more…and sometimes the trouble level just keeps rising.

So what's going on here? The child who had been hospitalized is still in day hospitalization and seems sicker again, so no real end in sight.  The snow means public school hasn't been in session for Feivel since last Wednesday (yes, a full week ago).  No progress on any other fronts either.  I've had a couple of doctor's appointments with a couple of different areas of practice, and a few little changes but the doctors basically agree that yes, stress is killing me and no, they don't have any real ideas for how to improve things realistically.

There's about 6-8" of snow on the ground and now at 11 AM it's warmed up to a toasty 4F.

At least I've been productive.  The Yarn Spot, where I work, has begun bringing in needlepoint goods so I worked up one kit sample quickly:

I've spun some:
Merino and cashmere blended, spun to a 2 ply lace weight yarn
Wool with mix-ins spun as a DK weight singles
Wool dyed in cochineal, madder, and avocado hulls, spun to a lace weight singles yarn
Oh, and I baked biscotti.  I'm running low on sugar though so I don't want to do too much snow baking.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Exceeding my limitations

Pretty isn't it?  I'm quite happy with it.  It's singles, wool, and dyed in avocado.

The problem is that I don't remember what wool (probably Dorset or Shetland); I don't remember at all how I prepared or spun it; I don't remember if it was dyed in avocado hulls or pits (they give slightly different colors); and I lost the rest of the fiber (probably at least 3 times more than this).

So I do have 257 yards of nice lace weight singles in a pretty color to use as an accent at some time; it would be nice knit or used as weaving weft.  The color is very stable and pleasing.  But I have completely lost my mind.

I've never been this inattentive before.  I guess at some point I'll find the rest of the wool.  I won't be able to reproduce the exact yarn because as I said I have no idea how it was made even though it was done in the last 6 months.  I vaguely remember spinning it at some point.  I should have enough of the wool unspun to spin a useful amount of yarn just not identical to this skein.  I'm happy to have this.  I'm just so beyond frustrated with my depression and anxiety.

I want my brain back.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tonight as I'm feeling nasty, brutish, and unfortunately not short

I think I'm angry.  I'm not even sure what I feel any more but this might be somewhat angry.

SO many people have done so much for our whole family in the last few weeks.  I can't describe the degree to which I'm grateful to everyone for all of it (well, I don't seem to be able to describe much emotionally right now, do I?).  People have sent huge, delicious meals for the whole family; people have organized all of that; people out of town have sent meals.  It's so very much appreciated and so needed and I cry every time I think about it and how many incredible people have helped.

Why am I angry?  Because even with all this giving, which has done so much to fill our hearts and our stomachs, there's still emptiness in me.  Everyone around me is doing so much good, going so far out of their way to help and support us.  Yet still things are in turmoil.  The two more disabled and difficult kids are still home and still have nothing and we still have to deal with them minute-by-minute.  The other older daughter is still hospitalized indefinitely based on her needs and there's no real sign of medical improvement.  And yes, I'm still so very deeply depressed.

Just to be clear, I'M NOT ANGRY AT THE WONDERFUL PEOPLE AROUND ME!  Every thing everyone has done is, so appreciated by me.  I really didn't ever imagine so much help could come to us, and I appreciate every single thing.  It's this anger at the universe that remains.  Why?  Why? Why? With so many people trying to right wrongs and trying to help, why is there this pain, this depth of need not met, this lack of social services, these needs?  If it's me, why am I so very needy?  If it's not me, I don't even know what questions to ask.
I messed up on keeping track of my medications, and have to go two nights without the prescription medicine I usually take nightly to help me calm my thoughts.  This probably wouldn't have been too bad except that two nights before I ran out I already started having insomnia, keeping me awake until about 4 AM.  I really am trying not to self-medicate with alcohol or anything like that.  So I'm angry, and depressed, and stressed, and under-medicated (entirely my own fault, it's just that in all the chaos and with the effects of depression making me even more disorganized than usual, I forgot that last weekend I saw I would run out during the week).   But I'm that much MORE agitated given this.

Poor kids are feeling the effects of all the stress.  I've really, really, really made what feels like a super-human effort to not show my stress in front of them as much as possible (yeah, I'm not so good at that). But in the last 3 days, poor little 6 year old has dissolved 3 times into sobbing over nothings.  She's closest to her sister who's in the hospital 90 minutes away, and I know it's really hurting her.  Hopefully tomorrow she is going to go visit at the hospital, but I don't know if that's really going to make things better or worse.  And F is definitely in a really bad place now, he's very angry at the world.

I just read a very good book about the need for collaboration between human medicine and veterinary research (not animal research for the purpose of human medicine, but the body of existing veterinary knowledge and research).  Veterinarians have always known of the existence of "capture myopathy," especially cardiomyopathy.  In essence, situational circumstances which cause emotional stress cause critical physical damage, especially to the muscles, and particularly to heart muscles.  The simple act of fearing capture (imminent or imagined) is enough to cause animals to simply die of heart attack.  The mechanisms of how this works on a cellular level are pretty well understood.  But human cardiologists never consulted their veterinary equivalents, and so psychological-stress-induced illness research in humans is in its infancy.  We all know sudden surprise or stress can cause human medical disruption from fainting to heart attack, but no one bothered to acknowledge and research the pathways, the risks, and the ubiquity of the problem.  In reality, it's very clear.  Constant stress causes constant body damage, both chronic and acute; stress is perceived by the mind without conscious choice by the individual (it's not a personal failing to feel stressed); and stress can kill either indirectly or directly.  Yet the treatment for humans sick with stress is to tell them to be more mindful (as if stress is under personal control), that it's their cognitive choice to respond negatively.  Worse yet, when an individual or a family group is in overwhelmingly stressful circumstances, neither medical practitioners to whom this is explained nor social agencies supposedly charged with helping this act to remediate the stress.

As usual, I've been knitting compulsively through all of this.  I can't figure out if I like or hate this.  The problem is I love the dark yarn, but don't feel much affection for the light one. I think in the long run, the effect will be good, but it's this lingering dislike of a yarn that's skewing my feeling for the piece.  But I'm so brain-disturbed that I can't knit anything except this pattern right now.  This I can work zombie-style, relentlessly, thoughtlessly, emotion-free, without effort.  That's all I can manage.