Beguiling Gold Finches

I have a series of bird feeders that I can see from my kitchen window. This year, I am concentrating on luring Goldfinches to these feeders. I have, according to the FAQ I recently read about attracting them, done everything right: I have a feeder specifically for Goldfinches that has a bright yellow top and is full of nyjer, a feeder of black sunflower seeds, a feeder of “Finch Supreme” mix, a water source that I keep free of ice . . . but no Goldfinches.

likely-Goldfinch-AmericanThere was one the other morning and I was so excited, creeping toward the kitchen window to get a better look, no sudden moves to catch its attention and scare it away. It ignored the Nyjer (is the seed too old?). It lept from the fence to the big hook that holds the feeder. It tested the Finch Supreme mix but seemed unimpressed. It lept back to the fence and hopped down to the hardy Jasmine vine, worked its way along the vine toward the big ceramic pot that holds my mosquito fish and is heated to the point that it steams like a dragon’s nostril on cold mornings. There is even a water lily sending up leaves to the surface. Earlier in the season it held two frogs that would cool their backs in the frigid air. I hope they left for their soil cocoons when we turned off the heater during cool days that stayed above freezing.

The Goldfinch lept to the lip of the pot and looked down at the water as if to say, “How am I going to manage to drink from this?!” but it quickly figured things out and It worked its way around the lip of the pot to the place where the black cord goes into the pot and down into the water to the pond heater. It hopped to the cord and inched its way down to the surface of the water, took a drink. A second drink. Then off it flew with a thrum of its wings.

I whisper, “Bring your friends . . .”

But the feeders are lonely of Goldfinches. Throngs of sparrows fight over the Finch mix, Cardinals and Jays like the sunflower seeds. My Nyjer must be past its day. How do they know without tasting? “At least taste,” I think to myself. Maybe they do when I’m not looking.

My friend Beth say she has “mobs” of Goldfinches. Never has the word mob sounded so lovely to me. I want mobs of Goldfinches, too.

I think of those stacks of knitted yellow sunflowers I’ve got from the days of working on the book of knitted flowers, Noni Flowers.

I get to thinking. Would a Goldfinch be beguiled by a knitted sunflower? And in the middle of Winter?

Let’s see. . .

I’ve got my plan. Join me here next week for a plan update.

Best Apple Pie Ever, if I do say so myself . . .

Best-Pie-Donei don’t know what the weather is like where you live. . . but where I live it’s COOOOOLD! And when the weather gets cold, I make apple pie. The pie above is a picture of the Christmas apple pie I made with my Dad in Maine. It was . . . delicious!

You see, old fashioned apple pie has a rather legendary status in my family. And I have been perfecting my version for a long time now. In the last few years I’ve hit upon a pie everyone who tastes it loves, every-single-time.

If you want a step by step with precise measurements, I’m sorry I can’t do that, because, simply, that’s not how I make pie. What I can say is that I started with recipes (I have a whole shelf of books on pie) and then started to play around. My apple pie is never exactly the same and that’s what makes it an adventure. Here’s what I do:

 

Prepare the Pie Dough

I confess that I got my secret ingredient from a recipe in Cooks Illustrated. I won’t include their recipe here as I’m a great lover and ardent respecter of copyright law.  But their basic recipe is pretty much the same as every basic crust recipe I’ve ever made.

So, follow your favorite pie crust recipe to the letter and make it a double so you can make both the bottom crust and either a lattice or full top. I personally prefer an all butter crust, so I don’t mess around with lard or oil: only 100% sweet cream butter for me. Once you’ve got the butter cut until the flower and butter mixture resembles course corn meal, you can add the cold cold water like you always do and then, here’s the secret, add the same amount of vodka. It does not activate the gluten in the flour so you get the most amazing flake, almost like puff pastry. The extra liquid makes the dough more workable without over-activating the mechanism that holds the crust together. Too much water and crust is too tough, too little and the crust will shatter.

I put half the dough in one piece of plastic wrap and the other half in a second piece of plastic wrap. I shape the dough quickly into a rough ball and then flatten to a thick disc almost a personal pan pizza dough shape. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and put in the freezer to store for a while, or, at the very least, put in the fridge for a couple of hours before rolling out.

 

Prepare the Oven

Preheat the Oven to 425 degrees.

Put a metal cookie sheet in the oven with a big piece of parchment paper on it. I put the cookie sheet in at the start of the pre-heating process so the sheet will be really hot when the pie pan goes on it. The function here is to get the crust cooking from the bottom up so that the crust is beautifully crisp even on the bottom.

 

Prepare the Filling

While the oven is heating up, start preparing the filling.

What Kind of Apples?

I like sweet crispy apples. My favorites:  Honey Crisp. Pink Ladies are in close second.

How Many Apples?

I get out my pie pan. Fill the pie pan with Honey Crisp or Pink Ladies apples in a single layer for big apples and add just one extra apple if you want a really big pie. This plan works no matter how big or small the pie pan is.

Apples-in-pie-pansPeel and core. I use a peeler that also cores and slices the apple. I cut each slice into thirds. If you don’t have such a gadget, peel by hand, cut the entire apple into thirds or quarters (and core at the same time) and then cut each section into pieces that are about a quarter of an inch thick or slightly thinner. Next, I put a little citric acid over my cut apples to keep them looking pretty and fresh. A little lemon juice or Fruit Fresh does the trick.

And now the fun starts. Here’s my basic philosophy: If it tastes good in the bowl, it will taste good in the pie. Go for fabulous but a little less sweet than you want the finished product to be. Never fails.

What to Add to the Apples?

Sugar. I use a cup measure and start with about a cup and a half rough. Then I sweeten to taste (but not yet).

Mix-in-the-sugar-etcSpices. A shake or two of Cinnamon, a pinch of dried Ginger, Clove. A scrape of Nutmeg. I use a fresh Nutmeg with a tiny little scrapper. A generous splash of good, real Vanilla.

Fresh-Nutmeg-2Spirits. And now, drum roll please, add a shot or two of excellent Bourbon. I have been known to use delicious brandy or even just good ole Maker’s Mark Whiskey (welll, like the very last time I made pie).

MakersmarkMix until the sugar starts to pull the juice from the apples. Now taste and taste often! Not sweet enough? Add a bit more sugar a bit at a time until it is almost, but not quite, sweet enough . . . That means it’s perfect. Dust with a bit of flour or corn starch to thicken the juice during cooking. Maybe 3 or so tablespoons, roughly. Taste again. If you are smiling, and love it, it’s going to be amazing. Stir thoroughly and set aside with the big spoon just sitting there loving where it is because you’ll mix it one more time before pouring into the pie shell (don’t forget).

 

Prepare the Crust

If frozen, the dough will need to rest on the counter for a while until it is workable.
If in the fridge, it might still need a few minutes on the counter. I have hit upon the method of starting the rolling out process by rolling around the edge first–this works well to keep the edges from splitting too much.

If a full top crust, cut some slits to let the steam escape. I prefer a lattice top most of the time, so I score with the top side of a regular kitchen knife and then put together while it is on top of the pie. I then sprinkle the top with water and then drizzle granulated sugar all over the top – don’t go wild, of course. Just enough to make it glisten and add a bit more sweetness to the top crust.

Then the crimp. I have to say, this is possibly my favorite part. If you have not already done so, study crimps, pick one, and then make it your own. Here are some ideas from simple to fancy:

piecrusts

I am teaching my son to make pie (he is 7 right now) and he has not yet developed his own crimp, but definitely his own “look.” The little pie here is one he made all by himself! And it was delicious!

Crimp

More crimp ideas:

101144029.jpg.rendition.p rope-pie-crust-s3-medium_new BraidWhat you want is everyone who sees your pie to say is, “O, this must be one of your pies! I can tell from the crimp!”

Best-Pie-Before-PictureStart in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or more depending on the size of the pie and the amount of apples:  bigger pie full of apples, better make it 30 minutes.

Baking-in-a-325-ovenAfter that, turn the temperature down to 325 and bake the rest of the way. If the crust starts getting too brown, just put a piece of aluminum foil on top or just where it is getting too dark (sometimes on the outer crust/crimp) – this will protect the crust while it finishes cooking. The pie is done when a nice golden brown and the juices are thick, a bit darker, and at a slow bubble. This means the juice has boiled and activated that thickener you put in.

Almost-DoneRemove and let it cool on a rack.

Then, have at it!

Best-Pie-DoneHmmm. Delicious!

Studio Transformation (still in process) Update in Talking Across the Pond . .

Hi Nora,

Don’t worry about being quiet. Sometimes life gets in the way of things and takes on a path of its own making. New bags and an expansion to your workshop are both huge undertakings. We’re merely building a shed at the bottom of the garden and thats taking far far more time and energy than I’d anticipated. Just as I think we’re almost done something else crops up and the finish line moves that little bit further away. I can see progress every day whether its the re-appearance of another bit of floor or a bootload more junk to the tip.

I’ve listed loads of the unwanted and outgrown stuff on E-bay so I won’t feel quite as bad about splurging at AndyFest which has the potential to be an awesome knittery day out as well as raising money for a a local hospital which specialises in the treatment of brain tumours. Rather looking forward to this and am hoping to get a chance to try a few spinning wheels out whilst I’m there. The girls are more excited about the hog roast and giant picnic and D is glad hes working because there are only so many hen wragedd a ffyn (old women with pointy sticks) in once place that he can cope with without the constant clickity clack driving him round the bend.

We’ve finally collected the last of D’s toys from the store and bunged it in the shed. It sounds simple enough but had the added complication of  weighing almost 200kg. This meant borrowing a trailer, loading it on a fork lift, craning it out when we got home and then the arduous task of loading it onto a trolley and winching it slowly down the steps to the shed before finally craning it into position. Means the rest of the stuff can now be positioned round it and work surfaces can go in along with all the storage units. Hoping to move the last of the boxes from the dining room and the family room and the breakfast room (my soon to be craft room) in the very near future.

Like Soma (glad he liked his hat), the girls stayed up incredibly late to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony and have stayed up late to watch the games most nights since. The events so far have been spectacular. Just watched Michael Phelps win his 19th Olympic medal. What a guy! So modest and good humoured too.

The school holidays seem to be whooshing by in a whirlwind of activities. The girls spent a day at the local sports centre trying out waterpolo and a few other team sports. B. is currently camping at her riding school and will be there for another few days. In the rain. Rather glad she over-packed. I suspect she’ll need rather more dry changes of clothes than were on her packing list.

F. is spending the week at football school which she was quite excited about but after two days its dawned on her that they do nothing but play football and talk about football and footballers. It’s not something she’ll be in a hurry to repeat next year. She likes a little more variety in her day. Still her football has improved quite noticeably, as has her ability to boss her team mates around.

Other highlights of the week included the retrieval of a fledgling sparrow from the cat, much to his disgust, and a manic week at work where I had a visit from the bouncy castle inspector who might have the worlds greatest ever job title but doesn’t actually get paid to bounce up and down on bouncy castles all day long. I have school to myself the rest of the time which means I get loads done but tend to loose track of time in the process. Some days its because I get a bit too engrossed in whatever I’m painting and forget about lunch until my tummy growls, other days its because I realize I’ve managed to read 130 pages of a novel in what should have been a 30 minute lunch break.

Looking forward to seeing the new bags and reading whatever you choose to blog about as and when you choose to blog. Its always interesting to read about other peoples lives, especially when they’re very different to my own. I doubt you ever find yourself having to retrieve a banana from a toilet U-bend for the third day in a row thanks to some delightful child deciding to flush his break-time fruit rather than eat it.

Amanda

 

Dear Amanda,

No, indeed, I have not had the banana adventures you describe! But I have to say they made me laugh out loud when I read those lines! There is always something you don’t expect, isn’t there?

I’ve been spending my time working on the studio. If I’m not filling an order for the new bags, I’m arranging something, adding to the recycle pile, working on labeling and organization, thinking about how I want the final retail/gallery space to look. It is still going to take some time to get things where I want them, but the whole plan is coming together.

Last Saturday, my husband, Soma, and I spent the day at the studio. Soma did a few jobs for me (he’s a great purse chain inspector) and was quite lovely (most of the time) about finding activities with which to occupy himself. He had fun playing with a pile of magnets and purse chains with lobster claws that were not attached correctly.

Here is a picture of the new shipping space in its “before” state:

The new shipping space has a bit of an L shape, so I am taking this photograph from the hallway door . . . I had a doorway cut from my office space into the shipping room, so each room (retail/gallery, office/creative, and shipping/receiving) now have their own spaces.

Here is a picture of my office in a very chaotic state. Since I have had this studio, the office has always had to share space with something else. In the beginning, it shared space with shipping, but as my hardware offerings have increased, the shipping area has needed more space. I moved office and shipping into the gallery and the gallery into the red room. . . but that didn’t work for long because I didn’t like being out of the red room for creative work.

I moved my office back into the red room, but was so busy that things never got organized (as you can see).

Here are before pictures of the shipping wall and the “gallery/workshop table” while I was putting W and 6-8-10 kits together. Talk about chaos!  Yikes. It always gets worse before it gets better.

So, after two weeks of almost constant work. . . you know how it is with the work on the shed! You inspired me not simply to move piles but to go through each pile and make decisions about all the things that have been hanging around. I have a few more piles to go through, but for the most part, I’ve done some sending this and that hither and thither, yarn to charities, pitching paper and useless things. My spaces are more stream-lined, clean, refined. Everything I could label is labeled.

Here is my new beautiful office space–my dream of what I’ve always wanted my office to be like. Of course I spend more time in here, can sit and have a fabulous espresso (really! If you every happen to come over here and drop by the studio, I’ll make you one so delicious and chocolatey).

And part of the new shipping space . . . after much thought and planning.

So, this is what I’ve been up to lately. This and getting Soma ready for this first day of First Grade.  I’ve been watching the last lotus bud unfurl, watching the ruby throated hummingbirds battle as they fatten up for their journey down to Central America. Soma and I had a cucumber stand with our last big harvest of cucumbers for the season. We had nine to sell and sold out in 20 minutes. The best thing was the repeat business from last year. Our once-a-year stand has a reputation!  I got to explain to Soma how important it is to develop a good reputation–worth it’s weight in gold.

This weekend I travel to California to teach a couple of workshops–one an Art of Knitting Noni Flowers at Nine Rubies. The other workshop is in Auburn California in a shop called Auburn Needleworks. There I’m teaching a bag finishing workshop followed by an introduction to flower knitting. I’m not only looking forward to the workshops themselves but also the long flights and some uninterrupted knitting time.

More soon about the studio and other adventures!

I’m keen to hear (and see) your update!

N

 

Talking Across the Pond: Not Enough Water on This Side, Too Much on That. . .

July 7th

Dear Nora,

Happy belated 4th of July!

Soma’s fish look amazing and sound really tasty and the Lake House looks peaceful and astonishingly sunny, I’ve almost forgotten what the sun looks like. We’ve had torrential rain, followed by more torrential rain, with and without thunderstorms and for a bit of variation gale force winds and horizontal rain. It seems like every time we attempt to put the finishing touches to the shed it rains. The sheer force of the deluge just after the roof felt went on compressed the still squishy tar leaving giant runs over the top surface of the roof. Its not pretty but it is watertight.

It’s not been dry enough to connect the electrics so we can’t do much on the interior until that’s done but its still progressing albeit a lot slower than I would have liked. The pile of timber still to attach is slowly reducing. Hopefully it will be finished in another week and then the great tidy up of the house can begin.

Last weekend I sat on a giant plastic barrel in the middle of a field in glorious sunshine and knitted whilst watching the DDs riding lesson. This week, because of the weather, they went out for a hack, like an eejit I went along for the walk, I’m not entirely sure what, or even if, I was thinking at the time. I was presented with a novice rider on a lead rein and spent an hour and a half alternating between a fast walk and a slow jog. I spent the afternoon recuperating in front of the telly box with the girls. Much knitting was achieved and so the shawl is now a mere eight rows from completion which is jolly good because the rows are sooooo long I’m finding my mind wandering off mid row, rather optimistically I’m hoping to get it finished tonight so that I can finally cast on for Anouk tomorrow. Really really looking forward to that, it will be great to knit with thick yarn on chunky needles and see instant progress, especially after seeing the tutorial on fixing the bag feet which made so much sense and made it look so easy. Its like having you there to hold my hand every step of the way. Perhaps a post on the making of vodka pastry is in order.

My trip to Stash was both successful and unsuccessful. The yarn I’d decided on for the Noni ribbed sweater was a fantastic colour but rather itchy and although there were a few other things I liked nothing screamed buy me… not for that anyway although a dozen sale skeins did leap into my shopping basket. So much for being restrained. My yarn cupboard is now bursting at the seams.

The rest of the week seems to have flown by.

On Monday I got to hold a 2012 Olympic Torch.This is a picture of daughter F holding the torch.

Tuesday was spent roofing the shed.

Wednesday was spent  rummaging around in the school loft in search of 30 specific nativity play costumes. The school loft is much like a domestic loft but with attitude in bucket loads. Everything that needs keeping, but which doesn’t have a home, gets crammed up there and has done since roughly 1950, at least that’s the oldest date on anything I’ve found so far but I’ve yet to venture into its deepest darkest corners. Its full of exciting discoveries, I’ve come across everything from a handmade 5′ high rocking horse to an assortment of used toilets which I can only guess that one of my predecessors kept on the off chance spare parts were ever needed. In and amongst are well over a thousand costumes for a variety of school productions. Trying to find a grey donkey outfit to fit a tall 10 year old is much like hunting the needle in the proverbial haystack. I came across cows and sheep and camels, dogs, ducks, and chickens, but have yet to find a single donkey. Fortunately, I have another week to track one down.

On Thursday I tried a Zumba class, I haven’t laughed that much in ages, I obviously don’t have the co-ordination for fast paced choreographed dance routines, especially not when some equally unco-ordinated sweaty person is hurtling towards me oblivious as to what the instructor and the rest of the class are doing.

Friday was spent catching up on the girls’ homework and attempting to figure out a summer schedule which allows them to do all the activities they want to do whilst D and I attempt to work full time around them. Fortunately, my boss is incredibly flexible which is just as well really.

We spent today at a giant sports warehouse to get a few last minute things for pony camp. We got a little sidetracked and taught the girls to play table tennis in the demonstration area. It all got a little competitive and we were playing for a little over an hour. More than one innocent bystander was assaulted by a stray ball followed up with a rugby tackle to the ankles as a flying child followed in hot pursuit.

For once the house is relatively peaceful.  D is asleep after a 4am start, F is cooking pancakes in the kitchen and B is attempting to sew a name label into her new dressage jacket. I’m hoping once shes managed that she can be persuaded to sew labels into a dozen pairs of jodphurs too.

Amanda

ps. and you’ll probably laugh….. What is a Bean Queen? Wikipedia seems to think its an effeminate gay man and the Urban Dictionary comes up with something even more bizarre. I somehow doubt that small town America hosts a Gay Pride march on the 4th of July.

pps. here is the finished shawl pre-blocking 🙂 I cast off with 0.25g to spare. I never knew knitting could be so nail-bitingly exciting. This means I can finally cast on for Anouk 🙂 which is precisely what I intend to do before work this morning.

July 11, 2012

Dear Amanda,

I do believe that the Bean Queen is a pretty girl (or a popular, somewhat pretty girl) who has been chosen to represent the bean farmers. The Sugar Queen, for example, is the pretty or popular girl who is advertising the local sugar brand made from sugar beets or what have you. I think for the 4-H program had a 4-H Queen and King.

While you have been having too much rain in your part of the world, we have been having much much too little. Whole neighborhoods in Colorado have been burned to the ground. And closer to home, there have been record high temperatures on the East Coast and through the mid-West. I think the heat is expected to break a bit this weekend but we desperately need rain.

When Soma and Misha got home on Sunday night from our short vacation (I am still in Michigan teaching a workshop and return home mid-morning Thursday), they found our plants gasping for water. The large ceramic pots that we have fish in were way low. . . I’ve decided to let a row of hydrangeas that I planted in a bad spot die (on the low side of a hill but in too much sun and the soil too sandy to hold much water) rather than keep watering them with little or no effect. Lawns everywhere look brittle and parched. Formerly soft blades of grass poke the bottoms of your feet should you go without shoes.

(Later the same day. . . after great workshop and long drive): More letter shortly after a full night’s sleep.

 

The Fish Pond Summer Saga begins . . .

IT’S TUESDAY! You might have noticed my silence yesterday. . . I was in a quandary. About what to blog?  I wanted to tell you about my fish. . . but felt compelling to write about knitting. Knitting writers block. My friend Beth suggested I write what I want, without worry about Noni or knitting or some notion the readers of this blog only want to hear about knitting, so please forgive me if you have no interest in goldfish. . .but indulge me anyway. I like them. And I like them in big ceramic pots in my garden. They ground me. I go out every morning and afternoon and check on them. I train them to nibble at my fingers. I even dream about them sometimes.

I spent my Sunday in my garden.

I even got a little sunburned on my shoulders, which, if you know me, is positively scandalous. I am quite fair and burn easily. Ever since I read about the benefits of Vitamin D straight from the sun herself, I have stopped wearing sunscreen (the sciency man who wrote the article about such benefits said, might as well drink it! So much ends up in your blood stream doing who knows what to you). But I’m not nutty about a tan, so I just take my chances, go about my business, wear long sleeved linen shirts I’ve stolen from my husband’s closet and rolled up the sleeves. You get the idea. But Sunday, I was in garden bliss. It was hot. I had a tall glass of iced water. A little sundress. . .

I planted things, pulled dead leaves off the iris, used my kitchen scissors to cut all the spent buds off the Dianthus by the path. I watered the front garden, planted geraniums amongst my happy yellow pansies by the front door, pulled out plants that were diseased so they don’t spread their scourge to others. I found some beautiful exotic petunias that Soma and I both loved, so we found a place for them by the back door.

There was work everywhere and that was wonderful. I was no end of busy.

And Soma wanted to get some fish. Goldfish. I had promised this. We have three little water features. . .

One is a lotus pond and home to a full sized Lotus–a birthday gift from my sister. I can’t wait. She says the blossoms are hot pink! This pot does not have fish inhabitants. . .

The next pot we’ve had since Austin, Texas days. In other words, it is nearly 8 years old! It houses mosquito fish–hearty little fellas! and it also houses the few surviving tadpoles that Soma and I collected from a nearby pond. Nature creates multitudes because so few survive. . . But there are about 4 or 5 that look really great, so I hope to see frogs crawling out of the pot sometime later in the summer.

The final pot (the biggest) is a bit further down the path and has a little fountain in it. We did have one goldfish in it who had survived through such trials last summer. We grew her from tiny to healthy fish. She was about 5 inches long. But I oversalted the water (some pond salt is beneficial for keeping baddy micro-organisms to a minimum) but I overdid it and realized my fault too late.  The Ph spiked to around 8 or so. She tried to bear it but must have jumped out. We never found her. . .

So, I promised Soma we would get three 27cent fish. We went to the pet store. We looked at the fish and I was tempted by pretty tails and red and white markings. We came home with 4 fish: 3 that are white and red, and one classic gold fish with a beautiful tail. The longest in the tank. We were super selective!

They say–I know you’ve heard this–that you must acclimate the fish to the temperature of the water. To do this, you are advised to float the bag in the water until they are the same temperature. . . we floated the bag.

I tested the water in my pond. I was shocked (you see, this is how I figured out the cause of death for poor little red & white!): Ph way too high!

I began remedial measures: flooding the pond with new water. Water poured over the side and into the garden. This didn’t bother me as it was a hot day and the garden was suffering anyway, so the water was welcome by the plants all around. Tested the water.  Still too high.

I asked my husband to get something called Ph-Down. I thought later this was probably just distilled vinegar, but at the time I was worried. It was almost dusk and the poor fish had been in the bag for a long time now.

Ph-Down recommends you put a dose in and then wait for 20 minutes. Test the water again. We went through this process several times on our quest for the perfect goldfish Ph of 7.0 . . . but bringing down the Ph has side effects, like lowering the Kh [baking soda fixes the problem readily, so don’t go purchasing some $24 dollar container of Kh stuff (as I did) because you will probably just be purchasing the most expensive baking soda you ever have in your life!]. I added some baking soda and started seeing test results I liked better and better.

And then I wondered. . . and I had never ever wondered this before: WHAT is the water like inside that bag??

I tested the water and I was (again!) shocked! The water was way too acidic, high levels (even unsafe levels–why should this be a surprise with all the poor dying fish inside the tanks of 27cent goldfish in the pet store??) of nitrites and nitrates. . . No wonder the poor things don’t make it. The difference between my closer and closer to test-perfect water was SO DIFFERENT from the water in the bag, how could any fish not be physically challenged if not simply over come by the difference?

The remedy: pour a little bit of our pond water into the bag and wait 20 minutes. Then repeat. This would allow the Ph to rise within the bag and the dangerous levels of nitrites and nitrates to go down slowly. The fish would become more acclimated to the water they would enter. We did this, waited, repeated, waited, repeated. . .

But we literally ran out of time. It was dark, the poor fish had been in the bag for HOURS. we had been adding about a quarter cup of good water to bad every 20 minutes for some time.

Finally, we poured the 4 fish and their little frog friend into the pond (a tadpole/new frog still with gills was in the fish tank at the store. The store girl gave it to us when we asked–we were delighted!) Then we went to bed.

I can report, as the image here only partly attests, that all 4 fish and small, every-day-more-frog-like-frog survived! See the little orange sideways exclamation point in the upper left bit of the pond!?

If you liked this entry and would enjoy hearing more about the garden, it would be great to hear that from you. How many of you have fish? or fish in the past and wondered why the poor things seemed so fragile and died without seeming provocation? Tell me your story in the comments.

More garden stories to come if you’ll tolerate them. . . I’d love to tell you about the rusty foxglove I mistook for a weed, for example . . . and the lesson about faith from a Stephanotis vine and about perseverance from the ruby-throated hummingbirds. . .

 

Live Podcast TODAY, the next Noni KAL, and All Around Update

 

First, some exciting news that I should have been leading up to for weeks! I am appearing on Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinski TODAY at 3:30. The show airs on Wednesdays at 3:00 pm EST and runs LIVE, with listeners invited to call in for 2 hours! (3 – 5 EST). I’ll be “on” from about 3:35 – 4:00 as the schedule appears. How to listen?  Go to toginet.com and click on the button at the top of the page to “listen to the show live”. If you don’t make it to hear the show, it will be available a couple of hours afterwards HERE. Come & Listen Today!

 

The Fuchsia Gossamer Wrap Kits Are READY!

Now that your copy of Noni Flowers is nestled cozily in your knitting bag or, perhaps  it is sitting in a special place on the coffee table (I would be so happy), or it might yet be speeding toward you through the mail system, I have finished preparing kits for The Gossamer Fuchsia Wrap contained in the book so that we might do a little more knitting along with each other: This wrap (a perfect compliment to your summer wardrobe! and a most delicious thing to wear over bare shoulders on a cool summer night.

If you would like to order your kit from Noni, you can do so on Ravelry. I’ve got 2 colorways:  the pictured Peony & Blossom colorway (only 3 currently available)

And my new personal favorite, the fabulous Mulberry & Blush colorway (many in stock) that I love so much I am making it for myself.

The kit includes 3 skeins of the silk cloud wrap color, 1 skein each of the silk cloud green and lighter inner petal color, and, as my gift to you, a lovely organza project bag & free shipping.

 

What I’ve been up to . . .  and later this week . . .

Book activities are getting exciting! I spent last weekend in Sarasota Florida at A Good Yarn. Recently voted “BEST SHOP” in Sarasota, (not best yarn shop. . . but Best Shop) It is a fabulous store, one that inspires ideas just by glancing around.

I taught my first Art of Knitting Flowers class there and it was absolutely wonderful. What a great bunch of ladies!

More to come: Book signing & one-day Noni Flowers trunk show at The Yarn Spot here in Maryland on Thursday from 5 – 8. Come join us!

And Friday, another signing & flowers trunk show at The Old Town Yarnery in Fredericksburg VA. Saturday, I will be teaching a shortened version of my Art of Knitting Flowers workshop. There may still be space, so call to sign up.

 

Thank you note to those who have ordered Noni Flowers

It is less than a full day until the release of Noni Flowers.

The book has been getting some great press. We are collecting all of the reviews and other Noni Flowers news on the website News & Events page. The reviews have been more than I could have hoped for . . . in a word: raves! And I hear there are more to come, so please keep checking the page or look for updates on the Noni Designs Facebook page.

Nearly 1000 lbs of books (an entire palette with 60 cartons on it) arrived at my studio on Thursday morning early . . . so early that I was brushing my teeth at home when the call came that they were already at the studio (a full hour before the agreed to scheduled time!). You might be interested to see a video I took of the books arriving.

I was signing and shipping books until midnight on Thursday, back at it on Friday from 10 am until 7 pm.

And as I sat and signed the copies for shops and then signed and wrote personal notes in the copies for those of you who purchased copies of the books directly from me, I found myself very moved. A heartfelt thank you to all of you who have pre-ordered the book from whatever source. Your purchase will help make the book a success. Please share notices of the book with your knitting friends . . . and consider the book as a gift perfect for spring giving, a mother’s day present, a lovely and unusual gift for the avid gardener knitter, or perhaps for the avid gardener who just loves flowers enough to want to see pictures of them knitted.

My very special thank you to all of you who have ordered (and will order) from me directly through the Noni Flowers website. In this still difficult economy when every book is discounted by just about everyone even before it is published, you paid full price in order to support me directly. I hope all of you who ordered love my little thank you note Hibiscus Flower Pattern (available exclusively to those who purchase the book through the Noni Flowers site or from me at the Noni Studio, the MD Sheep & Wool Fest in May, and Rhinebeck in the Fall).

Thank you. Thank you.

How I wrote Noni Flowers and Why I Love Daffodils

My book, Noni Flowers, contains 40 knitted flowers (every one of them can be a felted flower or simply a knitted flower) and 6 projects that use knitted flowers as a focal point–that’s a lot of patterns, and not a knitted ring or 6-row bracelet among them. When I started the Noni Flowers book project, I was a bit unrealistic about how long it would take. Somehow I extrapolated how long it took to write one small (not very detailed) flower pattern (that I’ve not published in the book or in my own pattern line . . . and never will) to be how long it would take to write every flower pattern. 2 hours x 40 flowers = 80 Nora hours of design work. I’d be done in 2 hours a day for 40 days subtracting weekends . . .

Somehow those 2 hours never materialized in my day. I would take a pattern order or two or five, ship out some orders, order some inventory that was getting low, do a little packaging of bits and pieces, and pretty soon it’s late. It’s dinner time. It’s time to tuck Soma in. Another day without a flower designed.

Finally, after a long string of such days my husband said, “You’ve got to go away.” We agreed on two weeks.

I made a stack of 50 8 1/2 x 11 pictures of blossoms I had chosen for the book (50 just in case. . . 10 back ups) in full color, alternate views, color palettes. I went to stay in my in-laws lake cottage (during hunting season . . . not a stitch of bright orange in the house!) and my wonderful mother-in-law had stocked the fridge with my favorites. Enough food, just about, for 2 weeks and no serious cooking. I would be home in time for Thanksgiving.

My days were pretty much all the same: wake up and have coffee, my typical breakfast of 1 fried egg and a piece of toast. I would sit down at the dining room table piled with yarn, a suitcase full of yarn to my right, a ball winder and swift attached to a narrow bench behind me. All the lights in the house trained on my work. To my right was the lake, moody and grey, speckled with geese in the early part of the day, frosted with white caps by evening.

I began with the knitted flowers I had worked on before: tulips, pansies, forget-me-nots, but soon realized I wanted to push past what I had already done. Most of the flowers, even if I had worked on them before, were radically revised or completely rewritten, no longer the same flowers.

As I completed each knitted flower, I would take a picture of it on the concrete patio outside (the light inside too dim for good photography) and send it to my tech editor. I would lay the completed, or at times half completed, sample on its picture and put it on the living room floor. As the days waxed and waned, the rows of knitted flowers grew. Some days I could design 3 flowers in one day, sometimes it took 3 days to design one flower. Sometimes I gave up on a flower, vowing to do it justice at a later date. My table of contents changed and changed. My breaks were working on projects, knitting late into the night on easy knitting and watching the sorts of TV I never otherwise watch. Cake Boss. Say Yes to the Dress.

I was not finished in two weeks. I missed Thanksgiving with my family. My mother-in-law had to rent a car because I had her car. I went grocery shopping and made a big pot of soup. I bought a bright orange wind-breaker and acrylic knitted hat and went for walks.

It took two more weeks to be 2 flowers shy of my total. I think I designed, in the end, nearly 60 flowers, but I rejected some along the way as not being as botanical as I wanted them to be. One flower, a Tiger Lily was nearly there but needed more work on the width of the petals to be right. I ran out of time. Some flower I cut because they were too long. Just wait . . . they are spectacular and you’ll see them sometime soon.

What I learned during those weeks of solitude, without even the company of a clock ticking through the house, was that only within such intense solitude, such intentional work, could I have reached the sort of critical mass of detail, time, that allowed me to, for example, render an Oriental Lily in worsted weight merino, a lily that would fool the eye.

Writing the patterns, as Cat Bordhi once told me (and I have never forgotten), is just the beginning. You are only half done. I know this from pattern writing. But a 4 page pattern booklet, 2 or 3 pages of which are pattern and instruction, are nothing compared to 175 pages or more of narrative, knitted flower patterns, project patterns, instruction, knitting how-to for flowers, photographs [all of which my photographer Sully (RA Sullivan) and I painstakingly styled and shot together with one mind and his flawless skill for lighting and commercial photography.

And then there is the testing . . .

And more tech-editing.

And testing.

And reading and re-reading by me, Mary Elliott, Kellie Nuss, Charlotte Tribble, Monica Beard, my editor at Potter Craft, Betty Wong, the Random House tech-editor, the proof-reader, the executive editor at Potter Craft. And then by me, again, and Mary Elliott, again. And Kellie Nuss, again.

Kellie took some amazing pictures on short notice as we prayed for sunlight on a day that seemed bound to offer but a wan sunlight, flirting with bursts of brilliance only to hide again behind a fan of clouds.

Then there were days I almost forgot I had written a book . . . then the mail would come.

I read the express mailed proof, commented on it at a busy time when the time could not be spared, of course, and Soma was out of school but I somehow finished, drove to a Kinkos only minutes before closing (why are such things always so quietly dramatic?!) and prayed their machine was big enough to copy the massive spread (it was, only just, with margins and words cut off), and sent it express, back to New York for a deadline I nearly missed.

And then I proofed what they call “the dummy,” a pdf of how the book will look, layout complete. More comments. More changes.

And then the round where all is complete. A sort of signing off.

And then it is gone. It is at the printer. It is done. A day strangely quiet, strangely unmarked.

Until the box of books arrived in February and Mary Elliott was with me–remarkably and fittingly–and I opened it with her there. She, who had knit every flower twice as though they were her own botanical children. How can love be so big and so wonderful as that sort of devotion? I am blessed by her and by Kellie and by my husband who sent me away and put Soma to bed so many nights when I was at the studio until the time in the morning when you can hear coyotes if you are up to listen. Without such devotion, a book, a funny dumb thing that speaks so much in the right hands, cannot be completed.

It is now, nearly a year and a half after missing that Thanksgiving with my family (and being taken in by Sharon Rutz and her family on that day) and a year since I turned in the manuscript for the first round of edits, that I am starting to see in greater depth and detail the flowers not primarily as botanical specimens but as flowers I live with, flowers that can decorate my table centerpiece, the hair of a bride, the love letters of those separated by long distances.

Today the Daffodils are blooming in my backyard. I will forever associate them with my Soma, because they were blooming in my garden when I brought him home for the first time.

It is the Daffodils that I have yet in the vase in which they were photographed. They greet me each day in the studio. And I still wonder how it is they look so real.

How I learned to ski and why talking (back) to yourself is a good trick to know

I recently learned to downhill ski. I am even respectable on blue slopes at this point and can’t wait to get on a pair of skis again. It was, however, not easy to get to this moment.

For some, such a milestone would be just another pebble along a path of athletic success: there was a 15 year old girl in my skiing class, for example, who began the class because her mother made her and after 3 days of instruction was always the first one down the slope, waiting for everyone else to catch up and join her. She got to like it. Through chatting on lifts at various points, I learned she was a cheerleader, a member of the school soccer team, lacrosse team, field hockey team. Simply, by the age of 15 she already had a long history with learning and mastering such things. With such experience comes a certain physical confidence. She knows what she can do. She knows how to do it. And she said when she is afraid of something she does it anyway and doesn’t think too much about it.

But what do you do if you don’t have such a resume? While I liked to run for my own purposes when I was a teenager, spent years working out at the gym in my 20s, learned to Lindy Hop in my 30s (and loved it), have enjoyed hiking up mountains since I was a child–so, not a couch potato but not a tremendous athlete–I was, nevertheless, not ever really pushed to participate in and master anything sport-like. I was not part of any sports team as a child, was always one of the smallest children on the elementary school playground, picked last for the team . . . I didn’t have the best experiences with learning new things in the physical world. Most of my physical activity, aside from the dancing and to some degree the mountain hiking, has been solitary, self-taught, self-motivated. There is a certain amount of avoidance in these scenarios.

I had known for a year that we were going skiing in Vail. And every time I thought about it I felt some trepidation, an irrational fear, my heart pounding against my ribs at the thought (truly). I would console myself with the idea that I would be in a class; I would tell my self, I can do this. But evoking The Little Engine That Could, as I confess I have done many times in my life, only goes so far and then you need actually to chug up and down the mountain as the Little Engine does.

It was my turn to do something.

Whenever we learn new things we carry with us the freight of all that has come before, especially as it relates to learning new things. For me, as I have said, my experience and confidence is in the mountains, but at my own speed. I love to hike, to scrabble over boulders, to run down the trail skipping from rock to rock. I mastered this quick balancing act as a child and it feels comforting, comfortable, fabulous.

To move so quickly on fiber glass sticks down a steep mountain has no precedent in my life. This lack of experience and knowledge is like a dark cave. It can be filled with anything. So, what do you do when the cavern of unknowing becomes filled with fear, so much so that your heart starts beating hard in your chest just thinking about it?

The projection of what is unknown and most feared, or known but not helpful or comforting onto the unknown can happen with anything, with knitting, with the idea of holding a baby, with the idea (even for some) of leaving the house. . . I have taught people to knit for whom just the process of making the stitches was so filled with stress that the knitting itself became wet with anxiety, harder to slip from one place to another on the needles. I have heard some of my (now long ago) English students tell me they are lazy, selfish, can’t write, were never good students, could never write, are not creative . . . their own voices echoing the words of their parents? former teachers? siblings?

For those students, I wanted to supply them with new narratives about writing. Something more along the lines of the Little Engine’s script: “I think I can. . . I know I can.” I might even have mentioned her since she has helped me out so many times, and recommended her autobiography–it’s still in print, you see. And I often recalled for those students the time before language when they were learning to walk and no one would have dared say, when they fell down, that they were lazy or quitters or not creative enough to learn such a difficult thing (for it is, you know. . . a difficult thing to walk, really complicated and miraculous as anyone who has tried to learn it again as an adult will tell you. It is a precious precious thing). I might say, “What do you like to do in your spare time–one thing?” One boy loved basket ball and played often for his own pleasure. He was good at it. Confident. I could see him square his shoulders, straighten his body. I watched him gain more than an inch in stature, smile a little. “Were you always good at basketball?” I said and he laughed and tipped his body gracefully to the side as though there were a ball there that had just been bounced toward him and he would catch it. “No!” he said unabashed and it was plain that the memory of that early awkwardness was a wonder to him, as though he almost couldn’t believe the time before mastery. “Did you just instantly become good at it?” I asked him. “Of course not,” Looking straight into my eyes as though now he was having trouble believing I wouldn’t understand how much work it took. . . Maybe when he saw my own small smile he knows what I have been doing but he presses on. “No, I was terrible in the beginning. My brother wouldn’t let me play with him and his friends even, because no one wanted me on their team.” I could see him, small, his brother’s too-big, handed-down clothes getting in his way, leaping to make a basket on the big-boy basketball court. How many times he missed and raced after the ball. The excitement when the ball dropped in through the hoop, cradled by the net. Again. Again. Again he shoots. He looks a little too casual as he finishes his last sentence: “So I would play by myself,” his palms briefly forward in a gesture of, what? of the truth of hard work?

“Writing is like basketball,” I told him. “You have to practice to be good. You have to practice and practice to see how good you are, and be able to do with words what you can with that ball.” He was thoughtful and quiet. He took it in. He smiled a little as he looked down, inward. When he looked up, he says “Yeah, I see what you mean.” And he does better after that. He seems to have a different relationship to words, to writing. He’s in the shoot and miss, shoot and score, chugging up the mountain stage. He’s not the least bit scared or lazy and he seems to know he may not always shine . . . not yet.

I am standing at the top of Lost Boy, a middling to harder green slope and it looks so steep to me. As steep and daunting and terrifying as a blank page must be to a new writer but with physical consequences. The sky is huge, the land falls away to my left (this is the less steep part of the slope, too, which is counter-intuitive and unnerving). I am afraid I will tumble down the mountain. The earth ends there and I will fall forever if I get too close. I feel this in my bones. It feels like physical knowledge. Though I realize now it was all thinking and the thinking is paralyzing. My muscles are exhausted. The thinking is so terrible, because it is filled with such terrible things. My instructor is watching and says simply, “follow me. . .” And I can do that.

Everyone wants to ski Lost Boy again but I am so drained and suddenly so tired that I can’t even feel a sense of accomplishment. I just can’t go again. There is so much anxiety wrapped up in skiing at this point that I am drenched in it and I wake up at night to my very stomach clenching and unclenching. I take a day off. But then I try again.

And there I am standing at the top of Lost Boy. My instructor skies half way down the steepest part there at the top and looks up at us. With my heart pounding I am first and start down. I know how to go slowly even on a steep slope and I am employing this knowledge to the point that, again, I am frozen. . . when the instructor starts yelling at me “Down!” and I go down. “Turn!” and I turn. “Down!” I go down. “Turn!” I turn. She keeps yelling until I am through what has frozen me and I can ski again.

The next time I am standing at the top of Lost Boy I hear Joanne’s voice even though I am with a different instructor: Down! Turn! Down! Turn! and I listen, whispering commands to myself until I am skiing. It is quicker this time, and feels better.

We do Lost Boy again. This time, as Joanne speaks to me, as I speak to myself with her voice, she is just reminding me. . .

And the next time I just ski.

It is then that I see why people love it. I am flying, I don’t exist. It is just this moment and this one, the shush of the skis, white, sky, wind, silence.

There was only one path to the place of flight and dancing. Maybe it is always this way with things that we fear, with the unknown. We must go through that dark cave, made passable by our own voices in our ears, or the voices of those who have gone before us and know the way.

It is fear that says turn back. You can’t. You’re not good enough. You’re not creative. You never will. You’ll die. And this voice can sound in our ears at any time and for the slightest of reasons, reasons that may be buried in our past, or even deeper, in the histories of our parents and grandparents.

But like that young man who replaced the narrative of laziness with the narrative of dribble, shoot, try again, we can talk back to worry, fear, defeat, grief. My mother told me about a book she read that states we have some number of seconds (and it’s enough seconds, truly, to do this) to replace our buried and default speeches to ourselves with new ones. Replace I can’t do it, with I can. I’m terrified, with I know how.

And if we persist, we learn to knit, to write, to walk again, to ski, to dance.

Introducing Melissa, Marketing Godess and Self-proclaimed Mrs. BossyPants

You might have noticed that lately the Noni Designs Facebook page has been a lot of fun. I wish I could take all the credit, but I have to say that I have been watching, delighted, from across the room as I sit here and knit furiously, design new bags, write blog entries, read your comments. Occasionally I will stretch my legs, pop in, and be part of the fun. The lion’s share of the credit for our new fun Noni Facebook, Twitter, and soon to some degree a bit of my Ravelry presence, goes to Melissa Schoenwether, one of the smartest, most upbeat, funny, and loyal people I know.

You might have noticed Melissa already. She has been posting comments to my blog entries and cheer leading on my Facebook page.

Melissa and I met a little over a year ago when I was on a teaching trip to Hawaii. Melissa lives on Kauai and I met her at the workshop hosted by Hanalei Strings N Things, a sweet little shop on the North Shore that has started their own line of hand-dyed yarns since I was there. We immediately became friends. Her three beautiful children got on well with my son, her husband taught my husband to surf . . . how often do you find a whole family with which you have that kind of feeling of sympatico?

Melissa called me with encouragement just about every day when I cloistered myself in my in-laws summer cottage on Lake Huron (in winter!) in order to write the Noni Flowers book (40 flower patterns in 30 days! It was intense!).

The circumstances of our lives took us away from each other for a while and it was, strangely, my phone that got us back in touch. That sounds silly: of course it was the phone. . . we talk on the phone a lot. But it was my phone dialing Melissa out of nowhere, truly, out of nowhere. I remember hearing the sound of a woman’s voice on the other side of the room in my studio (it was late and quiet, everyone in the offices and studios around already gone for the day) Melissa’s phone message sounded tiny and far away. She called right back and time closed. It was as though we had just said goodbye to each other in front of her house on the garden island.

I hesitate to offer a biography or resume for Melissa as it is much too tiny to capture her properly, except to say that she is truly one of the most energetic, smartest people I have ever met. She is teaching her children Latin, Hebrew, Greek, French. She reads marketing textbooks as bedtime reading. She has been a ballerina, owned a successful dance studio, is a masterful knitter (she said, when prompted as to her favorite Noni pattern she said this:  “I love ALL noni patterns! What are you trying to get me canned? Jk…. I love your sweaters, and Groveralls….I find it funny we are doing Ella as she has been my favorite since you sent me my pattern book.  Love flowers and purses too, but just was really taken by the sweaters—and how many looks you could get from one!!

She is a devoted wife, mother, friend.

Beautiful Day Knitting at the Beach: Melissa with her family on our last day on Kauai. This is one of my most favorite pictures from our trip. As soon as I look at it I am taken back to that day.

Melissa is one of those rare people who does nothing with a sense of lethargy–I marvel at what she has done in her life and she is yet young (and also beautiful!). She gives herself to her tasks. And I am so so lucky that she has given herself to the task of Noni’s social media face in order that I might devote myself more fully to this and the other blog postings, to my designs, to more book ideas, to sourcing and designing hardware and other products for your delight.

So, to clarify my world and hers: it is always always my voice you will hear in this blog. if you see a Facebook post from Nora Bellows, it will 99.8% of the time be me personally. Melissa might jump in if I am on a remote mountain with no internet and someone has a question that can’t wait for my return. Both of us will post on the Noni Designs wall, though it will mostly likely be Melissa as she is organizing promotions, give-aways, exciting events I hope you will all take part in. . . there is much more fun to come! If you want to talk to me, or hear from me, just ask. Just write to me. Just call. That’s me over there sitting on a boulder knitting flowers, and listening, and watching, and smiling at how lucky I am to have Melissa’s extraordinary help.