November 2005

This fruitcake and another like it are now swadled in brandy-laden cloth, wrapped tightly and tucked away in a cupboard. The other day, it took Jordan and me more than two hour to assemble, weigh, measure and prepare all the ingredients for these cakes. As usual, I used a family recipe that my great grandmother brought with her from England. The cakes will spend the next weeks soaking up the brandy and be ready and perfect for Christmas.
I’ve said it before… if you don’t like fruitcake, then you are eating crappy fruitcake. Don’t eat the stuff from the grocery store, and don’t eat “fruitcake” with maraschino cherries in it. Like, ever. It’s true, trust me. My husband, totally lacking a British gene in his body, the man who apparently collected fruitcake jokes, who didn’t like fruitcake, will now, without a second thought, wrestle me for the last piece. And every year when I lament the cost of making fruitcake and maybe I won’t make any this year, he says, “What?! We need fruitcake! I love fruitcake!” Bwhahahaha. :D

A few weeks ago I told Jordan that since I don’t have any daughters, he is it; he must learn my recipes and make them for his children. I said, usually, those traditions are passed down by daughters. But I don’t have any, so it is up to him. He is taking this very seriously and worked hard making the fruitcakes. He liked that the “recipe” is actually just a list of ingredients (by weight), because everybody knows how to make a cake, right? We talked about why fruitcake might have been important 150 years ago in Britain, about how special some of the ingredients were. This morning, as we were wrapping the brandy-soaked cloth around the cakes, he told me that he’ll need a copy of my recipes for his own records. He also plans, he told me, to help me with all the Christmas baking, so that we can do it together, and so he learns how. Very cool :)

Earlier this year, Ulrika set up a knit-gift-exchange. It has been a lot of fun. This week, I got my first gift from Eva. oooooooh!

First of all, look at that envelope! All those stamps! More than 70. My fil collects stamps, so he’ll be getting those. But you should have seen the staff at the store where I rent my PO box. lol. They were all excited and wanted to know what in the package. It was funny.

I’ll show you what was in the package…

Two balls of beautiful SOFT thick and thin wool. I’m going to knit something for ME! That empty chocolate wrapper may or may not have contained actual chocolate :P A card, and some beautiful polished stones for making stitch markers. I’ve already dug out my pliers and rings :)
Thank you Eva! I love all of it.

The other morning, after getting the fruit cakes in the oven, Jordan and I made beeswax candles. He is concerned that we don’t have enough “to last all winter”. I reminded him that we do have electricity, so we don’t *need* a lot of candles. No, he said, he wants to use only candles, all winter. uhhh… don’t think so ;)
Of course, when our candles were assembled, we broke out the glitter. Let me tell you how I feel about glitter.
Glitter is inherently good. Like babies and homemade vegetable stew. Glitter is happiness in little flashes of coloured light. I don’t care about the “mess”, how it gets stuck in the grout between the tiles on the kitchen floor. Or how, months later, you are still vacuuming up the occasional piece. It is all worth it to me. Glitter is that good.
I remember once, talking to a neighbour who was shocked that I’d let my toddler use glitter in his crafts. “You never get that stuff up. Ever! You can sweep and vacuum and wash, but you’ll still have glitter on your kitchen floor.” I grinned. “I know. I like that. Glitter on the kitchen floor. It’s like diamonds on the soles of your shoes.”
We never really connected, she and I….

Edited April 1, 2007:
I’ve disabled comments on this post because for some reason it is a magnet for sp*m. If you have smething to say about this post, then please email me at the address listed on the contact page. Thanks!

These are the results of my dyeing experiments. I’m pretty happy with them. I used a good lopi wool and mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.

Clockwise from bottom right:

Undyed wool. That is the natural shade the wool came in.

Next to that is one skein in a pale yellow – I dyed that skein using calendula blossoms. While a very pretty colour, the dye was weak simply because I didn’t have enough flowers. We removed all green parts from the flowers before putting them in the dye pot. Because the dye was so weak, that skein sat in the dye bath on low heat for over an hour, and then sat, with heat off, for at least an hour more. The colour actually deepend slightly as it dried.

Beside that, are four skeins dyed all at once in dye made from curly dock (aka yellow dock) root. I used a 1:2 ratio by weight of root:wool and was careful to keep the heat very low at all stages of the process. The root had been cut and washed a couple of days before I used it, and had been stored in plastic in the refridgerator.

One the top left are two skeins of the same wool, but in bulky weight, also dyed with yellow dock root. The ratio for this batch was 1.15:2. As well, the roots were used the same day I dug them, and I used higher heat during the dying process. I didn’t get the yellow or orange I had been hoping for, but this is still a beautiful shade.

Next, are four skeins, dyed in succession with mint leaves. The first is on the left, last on the right. I used a combination of peppermint and spearmint leaves and used only the leaves (no stems). Ratio was roughly 1:1. The colour is a very cheery yellow-green. The colour did not noticeably change with each skein.

It is interesting to me how different the two batches of wool dyed with yellow dock are. All the root came from the same plant. And since the the root had been stored before use for one of them, I expected a browner shade for that batch, but the opposite was true. In both cases, the dye bath stained a white plastic bucket a very pretty bright yellow, but dyed the wook in shades of mostly-brown with sort of honey-coloured overtones. Maybe. Depends on the light ;)

And I present to you Booga Bag Number 1. Before-felting info and pictures here. I have a high efficiency front loading wasing machine – which means that sometimes, I have trouble getting stuff to felt. This stuff felted beautifully, but it took three full cycles through the “heavy-duty” hot-cold cycle with two pairs of jeans to do it. I used three balls of Alafoss lopi, dyed with Kool-Aid. I began with the first ball for the bottom, then as I got to the sides of the bag, I alternated every two or three rows between two balls of wool until I had used all the wool (I made the handles first to make sure I’d have enough). The only change I made to the pattern was to make two handles and make them a little longer – about 50″ before felting.

And Booga Bag Number Two. It doesn’t actually glow like that. The sun was very bright and low, so yeah… There is also a stripe that is more visible in person than in the photo.
This bag has basically the same m.o. as the first one. I used three balls, dyed in Kool Aid, but when dying one of the balls, I also added a few drops of blue food colouring, making that one ball a wee bit darker than the other two. I made the handles (even longer this time) with the darker wool. Using the first light blue ball, I knitted the bottom and the sides until I had used almost all of that ball. Then I alternated every other row with the darker ball for 4 rows, then I used just the dark wool until it was almost gone, alternated with the dark and the last ball of light blue wool for 4 rows, then knitted with the light blue until I was out of wool.

I felted the blue bag through four cycles in my machine – one more than for the purple bag. As a result, the blue bag is a little smaller, is much thicker and more sturdy. It holds its shape very, very well.

I’m really happy with all parts of this process. The dyeing went really well and I got exactly the results I wanted. The wool felted beautifully, creating a fabric that is beautiful and sturdy and really fuzzy. And of course, the pattern is wonderful. My thanks and worship to the designer.

First snow on the herb garden.

We did indeed go out for garland last night and we stumbled upon something unexpected. I buy west coast cedar garland and decorate both the inside and outside of my house with it. West coast cedar is long and lacey – very full. You can’t get it everywhere, but one local garden centre that I frequent carries it, so every year I buy it there.
Jordan and I went on Wednesday evening to get some, but the garden centre was closed. There was a sign that said they would be open evenings beginning the next night. So we went the next night. It was a party! The place was beautifully decorated and when we walked in I got that first wiff of christmas greenery. There were carolers and pointsettias and garland and wreaths oh my! And and AND!!! There was food. Waitresses with trays of warm snacks. Trays and trays of cheese and fruit and vegetables and dip. There was punch and hot apple cider. And, there was a chocolate fountain. Jordan dubbed it Lord Stanely’s Chocolate Cup and pretty much parked himself in front of it for quite a while. Mark pointed out, “At least he’s eating fruit!”
So, we hung around and enjoyed the party. The cider was delicious. And eventually, we got a cart and I started choosing my garland, Jordan got an ornament for his tree and we headed for the checkout where I discovered everything was 15% off. :D

Jordan gets a new wardrobe.

From the time Jordan was an infant he hated stores. HATED. At 10 months old in the grocery store he looked like he was being electrocuted as he grunted and screamed and writhed and arched his back trying to fling himself our of his car seat. And it only got worse. So, traditionally, with each new season, I’d find a couple of hours to shop without him and I’d bring home whatever he needed and that worked out best for everyone.
But this year, as Jordan is getting older and is managing his own money, I changed things up a little. I took the money I would have spent on fall and winter clothes for him and put it on a Sears gift card and over the last 8 weeks or so, he has been refining his shopping list.
The list started out as, “Spider-Man pyjamas, Toronto Maple Leafs jacket, Toronto Maple Leafs shirts…” uh-huh. But more recently, the list was in better shape:

  • socks
  • 1 pr sweat pants
  • 1 or more long sleeve tshirts
  • one dress shirt that isn’t so dressy it needs a tie
  • 2 prs pyjammas
  • long johns for hockey
  • 1 pr water proof extra warm gloves/mitts for playing outside
  • 1 pr not-so warm mitts for in the car…

His list finally in good shape, we headed out to the store this morning. When we got there, we discovered there was a surprise 1-day sale at Sears. Yay!! He carefully picked out as much stuff as he could afford, making sure to get everything on his list. He chose a snow suit too (he wore the jacket home), which I paid for. He got a lot of orange stuff. He did a great job, I was really happy with his choices. When we got to the checkout, he saved a lot of money what with the regular sales and the surprise sales… so now he still has $60 on the card. He thinks he might need a few more long-sleeve tshirts and “maybe a pair of nice soft pants”.

First snow on the herb garden: thyme and sweet alyssum.
First snow on the herb garden: thyme and sweet alyssum.

It has been snowing all day. There has been no great accumulation, but the little bit is the first of the year and I am happy to see it.

First snow on the herb garden: calendula.
First snow on the herb garden: Calendula.

Last night, Jordan and I went to Canadian Tire to look at Christmas tree stands.
Tree stands are like purses – I search and search for just the right one and never find one that does the job in just the way I want. Anyway, it was our first foray into the stores in weeks and so our first shopping in the christmas shopping season.
We looked at decorations and lights. And sang with the music coming over the speakers. In the end, I bought a new tree stand and we got a tin of mixed nuts and we headed back outside. When we got outside, we could see in the street lamps, snow falling lightly.

Jordan: Whoa… Did we do that?
Me: Do what?
Jordan: Make it snow.
Me: Yup. We sure did.
Jordan: We played Christmas music today and then we looked at Christmas stuff tonight… so, if you make Christmas in your mind, you can make it snow outside…
Me: uh-huh.
Jordan: Wow… it is an amazing feeling to be so powerful.
Me: Never underestimate your influence on the Universe, Honey.

Today, as the wind blew bitterly and little bits of granular snow fell, collecting in the gardens and on the balcony floor boards, Jordan and I used the last of our plants from our gardens to dye wool. He worked on a bowl of calendula blossoms, stripping them from their stems, while I pulled mint leaves off their stalks. He had helped me wind and mordant the wool last night and before bed, we put yellow dock root in to soak.
It has taken most of the day to dye the wool. It is 5PM as I write this, and there is still wool in the dye bath on the stove. The results are surprising, but pretty, and I wonder how much difference the late date makes in the colours we’re getting. Jordan has already picked out the skeins he wants me to use to make him some Fuzzyfeet.

Mark should be home from Cleveland, where they are apparently getting quite a lot of snow, in the next hour or two and tonight we’re going to head out into that cold wind and see about some garland. But right now, I need some tea and to tend to my wool.

Oy. I’m so sleep-deprived my head feels all floaty. And my hands feel just like two BAlloooons! Well, not really. But that may be the best lyric ever. Once, as I was being administered general anesthetic, I got that floaty feeling and my last thought before going under was, “Wow, my hands really do feel like two balloons!” And since I nearly died in that surgery, that very well could have been my last conscious thought on this earth. Since then, I have chosen a better, more fitting last thought to use should I ever need such anesthetic again. I won’t be caught unprepared!

I had a point, a reason to open up a page and start writing but I’ve lost it now. I do know that I didn’t sit down here to write about balloon hands.

On Thursday, we went to the Royal Winter Fair. Luckily, there were no princesses there to trample on me, and I made it through the day unscathed. As vegetarians at an agricultural fair, we were deep in enemy territory, trying to blend in and willing our knees not to buckle when the sign above a beautiful sow suckling her babes read, “Put pork on your fork!” Sheesh. We smiled and nodded when farmers explained the ‘life cycle’ of various animals ending “… naturally at slaughter.” I willed my face to carry a pleasant expression and said, “Oh yes, naturally!” while keeping a grip on Jordan that was code for “Shush, not here.” After thanking another farmer for the tip when he told us where to get the free samples of Ontario beef, we moved with much relief to the giant pumpkins and prize-winning onion ropes.

Pressing canola seeds to get the oil out. Jordan asked if the seeds were genetically modified.

It is an odd line we walk at an event like that. We want to see the animals and be close to them and touch them and smell them and hear them. But we know why they are there and the purpose of it all. Emotions are mixed, but each of us comes out with our commitment to vegetarianism stronger than before.

The petting zoo was a hit because is there anything cuter than baby animals? Well, maybe baby animals who are fearless and seem to love you if you have food. I think Jordan was ready to pack up his stuff and move in there. There was a tiny kid (goat-kid, not child-kid) with heart-shaped spots on his legs. awww! And lambs. And a donkey that was a cuddle monster. And a yak. And an alpaca, that some woman with a measure of hostility insisted was an emu. But an emu is a bird, I say, and this guy clearly has fur. I know an emu is a bird, she snapped, and this is an emu. uhhh… ok?

Not an emu. Not.

Jordan tried candy floss (that’s cotton candy to youse Americans). He hated it. That’s a blessing. He still loves fudge though. Oh, and we saw a horse jumping competition. Very cool. All in all, it was a great day and Jordan is already making plans for next year.

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