Friday, February 8, 2008

Turn of the Wheel

Here’s the tool that has turned my life upside down in the past few months. It’s a Robin Wheel, by Gil Gonsalves of Maine. My amazingly dear mother gave it to me last summer, knowing I would tumble easily into the world of fiber obsession.

When I was a kid, I crocheted a bit. I learned to knit when I was in college, but it never “stuck.” I knitted most of a Noro yarn vest, and a good part of a black mohair sweater, but when it came to doing the parts where I had to concentrate, I lost interest.

Mom knows best. She’s a master knitter who easily creates the most extraordinarily fabulous sweaters—the kinds I might see in the window of a zillionare’s store in the Hamptons. Mom laughs and says she’s been knitting since she was tiny; it’s easy for her. She also understands her daughter well enough to anticipate just how intrigued I’d be by this wheel. It sat in my room for a month, waiting patiently for me to unlock the mysteries of its workings. I asked around, but none of my local friends were able to help me turn flax into gold overnight.

Then I attended a local meeting of my spinning guild, and took the Robin. With the kind help of the friendly people there, I actually made yarn! Yes, it was lumpy and pitiful … but it was recognizably twisted fiber, and that was good enough for me. For the next seven months, I have devoted at least a half hour every day to spinning. My work has improved rather a bit. I’ve made baby-soft merino fingering yarn and coarse Lincoln chunky yarn, yarn with Romney, Corriedale, and alpaca. And I’ve spent a fortune on the loveliest rovings I could find.

But … just as with soapmaking and candlemaking, I’m insatiably curious about how things are created. And, as with the other crafts, I began to research everything from the best way to buy a fleece to the most effective tools to prepare it with, and how to dye it. After receiving my {mumble-th} package purchased from some other fiber artists, I carefully unwrapped it, analyzed how the colors were divided into sections of different lengths, consulted my book by Deb Menz, and decided, Enough! I took out my tiny stash of acid dyes for wool, prepared the materials, and … created my first handpainted roving. I was pleased!

And it didn’t stop there. My guild is amazing because it lends out spinning wheels and fiber prep tools for a very small fee per month. I begged the woman in charge for their drum carder, not sure whether I would love it, hate it, or be mangled by it. The carder turned out to be a Pat Green model, which blew me away; that’s a top-of-the-line manufacturer. This week, I fed the hungry carder all sorts of lovely fibers. First, I timidly gave it some Cotswold locks that I had flick-carded. Ooooo! It gave me back fluffy pink and burgundy batts with sparkly angelica. Nice! So I decided to test the thing. Today I gave the carder a meal of some dyed superwash wool, to see if I could turn an interesting result into something great. I was hooked! The batts are blended shades of amber, russet, mahogany, oak, and all sorts of woodsy tones in between.

I started working with the carder in the morning and almost forgot about eating breakfast. Then I wanted to do … just a little more … afterward, and skipped lunch. Then I decided to put my results up for sale in my store, New York Attitude ( Forget dinner, kiddies! Mom’s a fiberholic who can’t stop when she gets cranking. I wonder if I can convince my guild that the drum carder goes beautifully with my decor, and I just won’t be able to return it. Thanks, Mom!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Up There

This is one of my favorite trees. I think we should all have at least one tree to love in our lifetime, one tall, strong presence to be there for us on good days and bad. This grand oak is right in the middle of my lawn. He’s visible from every front-facing window.

In the summer, my boys and I picnic under our oak, spreading an old flannel sheet out beneath him. On nights of the full moon, we spill a few drops of maple syrup on the roots in gratitude for the shade and beauty he’s given us. When the boys and I are angry or upset, we tend to burst out of the house and plunk down under the tree until we remember the lessons from the living wood: patience, quiet, resilience. The gnarled roots reach out through the soil and create a cozy seat that invites busy people to rest against the trunk for a while.

What you don’t see in this photo is the dangerous herd of squirrels lurking overhead. They have nested in the branches of all the trees in the neighborhood, squeezed out of their calmer habitats from constant ripping and roaring over at the giganto-condominiums springing up nearby. The gray squirrels have become strange and scary. They chew Halloween pumpkins to bits and gnaw through industrial garbage cans. Weirdest of all, they have a vendetta against tulips. Every spring, they eye the growing flowers, poised to attack at the moment of tulip blossoming. With uncanny timing, they shear off the heads of the brilliant crimson and yellow bowl-shaped flowers and leave the decapitated remains to spoil on the battlefield. I wonder if they stamp little tulip-shaped X’s on the treetops, to signify their victories.

When we walk beneath the oaks in the fall, the squirrels aim their sights on us and release a vicious battery of acorns at our heads. They chase us across lawns and down the street, our hands flailing uselessly over our heads to ward off the missiles. At night the squirrels delight in denting the cars with the acorns. You can hear THUNK! THWOMP! until dawn. I have no love of squirrels.

I am happy to report that I took this photo unscathed. If I don’t report back soon, however, please send a few large, vicious cats and dogs to search for me. I might be held prisoner of the squirrels, bound and gagged, on some lofty branch high up in the old oak.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Bloody, Nearly Tragic History of 80 Heads of Garlic

... At least, there used to be 80. I ate many of 'em already. And despite their terrible history, they're really quite delicious.

Our story begins on July 4, when I picked up a brochure about eating local foods, while whooping it up at the annual parade in Saxton's River, Vermont. I love Saxton's River (the town, that is). They sell a T-shirt in the little grocery store that advertises a town population of approximately 800.

Anyway, one of the articles ( was about a farm right on the road where our cabin is located. I like Livewater Farm, especially because for years they altered the cattle crossing road sign to have a picture of a cow with a head on both of its ends, right over a "No Nukes" sticker. The owners, Muffin and Bill Acquaviva, are famous for their garlic, which intrigued me. The only garlic I had ever bought was the nasty supermarket stuff, probably from China, which was always at least a year old before it got to the produce aisle. So I wanted to bang on the Livewater Farm door and beg them for the fresh stuff. We were on vacation, every day was filled with things to do, and I never got the chance.

Finally, on the last day at the cabin, we stuffed the ol' SUV to the gills and got ready to head back to New Yawk. While my husband was busy shutting down, locking up, etc., I let the kids play near the brook that runs along the driveway. I was just musing on how peaceful life could be, when I heard the unearthly screech of a wounded 6-year-old and the cries of his 9-year-old brother. Scotty came running inside, covered with blood and dripping it from his hand. I got him to assume the "Statue of Liberty" pose while I quickly assessed the damage and determined that a Bandaid simply would not do the trick. Ryan, my older child, told me in a voice filled with horror and fascination about what had happened: The children were cutting up horsetail reeds to make beads for a necklace, when Scotty accidentally inserted the top joint of his index finger between the blades of the scissors.

Not long after I got the kids to calm down, and Scotty's finger wadded with tissues (still in statue pose), we bade farewell to July 4 and the cabin, and I drove to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. Well, almost. I mean, the farm WAS on the way, and it WAS during the hours when the Acquavivas would be at home ... You understand, don't you?

Unfortunately, Muffin told me the garlic wouldn't be ready for another week or two. So we went on to the hospital, where Scotty's wound was dressed and he was proclaimed a hero. The finger is perfectly fine now, by the way.

And the garlic ...

Well, my husband had to go back to Vermont for some house maintenance, and I put in a simple request. A few days later, he called me to tell me he had boarded the ferry for home, and that he had cursed me for about three hours. It seems that 80 heads of garlic have a rather powerful odor in an enclosed car ...

And I plan to eat all of it!