Monthly Archives: June 2011

Beach or Bust

Spoiler alert – it was a bust.

My friend and I drove miles of the Massachusetts shoreline today, but all we found was $20 parking and “NO DOGS ALLOWED.” We got so desperate that we called a local doggy daycare to see if they’d take Sam for the afternoon, but they wanted to see his immunization records. Then we hid Sam in the trunk (don’t worry, just for like 30 seconds) in order to sneak by a park ranger and see if we could covertly park in a shady place, tie him by a tree, and sit by the water. No dice. Not even close.

Taking Sam along to the beach was always a given…I didn’t even think to check before leaving the house today, or think that we’d need so much cash to park. I miss good ol’ Oregon and it’s free beaches for everyone.

So we drove back to the city, dropped Sam at home, and went to the public pool in Allston Brighton. I loved it. Free parking, free admission, and hardly anyone there. Plus the sound of traffic on Rte 20 kind of sounded like waves on a beach, and the unheated water gave us a rush of goosebumps just like the ocean. Ahhhhhh

Allston Brighton city pool

Handspun Legwarmers

Only two weeks until Read comes back. I’m looking forward to it – the Netflix is losing its luster and I can’t eat through our CSA share fast enough and I just all around miss him. Yesterday on Skype, he alleged he found a “baby Samson” at a pet store in Mexico (photo forthcoming). I thought I’d be the only one who’d want to bring him home, but Read does too. Sam would grumble but I think it’d keep him young.

While Edith enjoys a Boston sunset, I watched Friday Night Lights and cast off my latest project. Yayayarn’s cowl got a lot of love when I asked what to do with my newest handspun. I agreed. That pattern is sweet. But when I did a swatch the handspun was too thick, so on to the legwarmers by Jane Richmond! (cowl, i’m comin back for you)

Barefootrooster suggested that 250 yards of handspun might not be enough, so I added in some creamy stripes. The pattern reminds me of those tall striped tube socks my dad wore to church league basketball games in the 80’s (which I’ve seen sold again in American Apparel, more evidence that dads are the original hipsters).

I wanted to cut down on their bulk and make sure that they stayed up, so I worked the first 15 rows and the last 50 rows in 2×2 ribbing with sz 6 needles (instead of 8). I bound off using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off, which is SO SIMPLE and SO STRETCHY! The legwarmers will double as bootliners…now I just need some knee-length skirts to go with these boots.

Ten Mile Tamales

Chocolate tamales, ready to steam

Tamales are the quintessential community project. The production is well suited for an assembly line, there are periods of sitting and waiting (i.e. drinking and gossiping), and the final products come pre-wrapped in little distributable packages. I’ve been wanting to make them since returning from Tulum with Tami.

Only problem is, not only have I never made them, but nobody in my family ever has either. The same was true for the crew that assembled last weekend for a tamale making party of my own organization. Heck, most of us had never even eaten that many tamales.

In an attempt to make up for a collective inexperience, I read Tamales 101 by Alice Guadalupe Tapp pretty much cover to cover (thanks for lending it Sally!). I love Alice. I want to hang out with her – she explains it all simply and uses little hand drawn illustrations. I also recommend this video tutorial from Carmen…it reminds me of a Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow segment. Carmen’s enthusiasm is catchy.

Tamales 101

On Wednesday we agreed to tackle two recipes: Chicken Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa and Chocolate Tamales. On Thursday and Friday we searched our respective neighborhoods for ingredients like corn husks, tomatillos, and fresh masa. Market Basket and Whole Foods had everything except the fresh masa. The owner of a Hispanic grocery in Waltham told me I wouldn’t find any in Boston. Anywhere. Community boards around the intranet – here and here - suggest directly approaching tortillarias. Gillian sighed, “I bet I’ve walked ten miles looking for this stuff.”

We gave up and bought a bag of masa harina.

Saturday afternoon we fixed up a pitcher of margaritas and started doling out jobs: Salsa-maker, husk-soaker, masa-mixer, chicken-cooker. It was cooking by committee. Everyone was called in for consultations – too hot? too thick? more broth? – and gathered around to witness the first tamales going through the assembly line. Here’s what that looked like:

Mixing masa
Homemade tomatillo salsa
Chicken tomatillo tamale, ready to wrap
Chocolate tamale, ready to wrap
Little baby chocolate tamale

Tamale assembly line

Everyone got their hands dirty...

And the final product? I guess I’d set the bar low, seeing as how we walked into it blind, because after taking one bite I announced, “Wow – they don’t suck!” Two or three tamales into our little feast everyone agreed that not only did the tamales not suck, they were pretty freakin good. I think Alice would be proud.

Chicken tomatillo tamales
Chocolate tamale with strawberry sauce
Sweet tamale remains

the North Shore yarn

Remember the merino fiber I bought on our trip to the North Shore

Frabjous Fibers merino roving

It’s about 250(ish) yards of double-ply, and it’s time to sort out its fate. It needs anywhere from sz. 7 needles (hearty and strong) to sz. 10 (pliable and drapey). The overall hue reminds me of a cenote in Tulum, or like a photo of the Atlantic seashore with the saturation turned way up. It’s pleasant pizazz.

Boathouse yarn
North Shore yarn

Here are my top contenders after a hunt through ravelry. Votes? Other ideas?

1. yayayarn’s take on the Chickadee Cowl (i have some plain cream wool in stash)

2. a linen stitch scarf

3. Leg Warmers by Jane Richmond

Teeny but tasty


Pea pods! They’re itty bitty and they might stay that way, but they win the prize for first edibles to come out of the balcony gardening experiment (high five).


I’m gradually learning about the camera the best way I know how – by taking pictures of one distinguished dog and two good-for-nothing cats. Take a cue from Teddy…kick back, stretch your limbs, and wear a big smile. It’s FRIDAY!


Modern updates for a vintage 1940s dress pattern

Butterick 4838 - 1940s

The camera arrived! I haven’t figured out all the bells and whistles, but managed to shoot some photos of the dress I finished on Monday. I started with Butterick 4838 from the 1940s and made some modern edits: shorter hem, lower neckline, and no collar. Plus, because I dislike sewing buttonholes, a back zipper instead of front buttons.

Butterick 4838 from the 1940s
Butterick 4838 from the 1940s

Like a lot of midwesterners I belonged to a 4-H club as a tween. My first 4-H project was called “Joyful Jumper”. It was the early 90’s okay? I promise jumpers were sorta cool. Anyway, I don’t recall it being an entirely joy-filled experience (temperamental sewing machine, stuffy upstairs bedroom, confusing pattern directions) but the one good thing I took away from it was learning how to sew a blind hem. That jumper had crooked seams and wonky armholes, but the hem was beauuuutiful.

I busted out my old 4-H skills and blind hemmed this dress while watching a movie.

Handsewn blind hem

If my hemming is reliable, my zipper installation is not. Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they’re awful. Pardon my boasting, but this was one of my Top 3 Zipper Installations EVer. Here’s my new and improved set of steps:

1. Using the largest machine stitch size, sew garment together as if there’s no zipper. Press seam open.

2. With a seam ripper to (carefully!) open the seam where the zipper will go.

3. Place the zipper behind the seam. Don’t spread the seam open- keep it lying flat. Using a contrasting color of thread, hand-baste both sides in place (this worked better than pinning it, so it’s worth the extra time).

4. Using a zipper foot on your machine, stitch the zipper in place.

Butterick 4838 from the 1940s
Butterick 4838 from the 1940s

My new shoes came too! They’re keepers.

Kickoff to the Summer Schedule

Yesterday kicked off the start of my summer work schedule – longer hours but only 4 days a week. I’ve never had this setup before, and I want to make the most of a summer full of Mondays.

I think they’ll be perfect for tackling that elusive middle range of the to-do list continuum (see below). This portion of the continuum, located somewhere between “feed pets” and “take a ride on a hot air balloon,” is made of adventures and projects that have been waiting on the back burner. What’s hanging out there on your continuum?

First I took Sam on a rainy walk through Middlesex Fells, a huge swath of previously unexplored green on our Boston city map. It was beautiful and peaceful. Now that Sam’s getting on in years he doesn’t run off long animal-tracking detours anymore; just trots behind me on the path, sniffing.

We met an older gentleman and his golden retriever Cider, and they escorted us down their favorite path to the prettiest pond. The man – I never did get his name – wanted to talk about 3 things: Cider; hiking; and his very favorite movie, Anne of Green Gables. That VHS tape got a lot of play in our house growing up, so I quoted him my favorite lines which went over really well. Haha.


Middlesex Falls (c) MaryMactavish

After lunch I started pinning and cutting out pieces for a vintage dress pattern. I can’t remember if this one came from Gramma or an antique store, but according to this pattern cheat sheet it’s from the 1940s. It illustrates how far vanity sizing has come…Size 12 for a 30 inch bust?? I had to beef up the size of the pieces.

Once my camera gets here I’ll take photos of the finished dress. I shortened the hem, lowered the neckline, made the front one solid piece (I hate sewing buttonholes), and added a zipper to the back.

Butterick 4838 - 1940s

And finally, I pledged a small monthly donation to our local public radio station, WGBH…something I’ve wanted to do for a long while. I mean, how great is public radio? Every week when they play the latest StoryCorps on my drive to work I’m guaranteed to cry (try listening to this one…but watch out, I warned you).

It was just the right timing, because among the many gifts new donors could select, I saw Markets of New England! I’ve been coveting this book since it came by Whipup on its blog tour. Now it looks like I’ll be visiting some markets on my Mondays.

My order’s been placed

I’m calling it quits on the research. The credit card came out this afternoon and I took the plunge with the Lumix LX-5. For extra credit, a pair of leather and cork wedges. I could’ve been stuck in deliberation for weeks longer if not for everyone’s input and encouragement…thank you for the suggestions blog friends!

Now for knitting and Netflix on this rain-filled summer day in Boston. When Read’s gone on these extended research trips, part of my coping strategy involves binging on a television series. It’s not pretty, but it works.

I already watched both seasons of Sons of Anarchy. Not that it was a struggle…motorcycle bad boy with blue eyes, shaggy hair, and a conflicted conscience?…FX knows what they’re doing. I’ve mentioned the series to several female coworkers, which always goes like this:

Coworker: So how are you doing with Read being gone?

Me: Oh it’s alright. I’ve been watching Sons of Anarchy every night.

Coworker: OHHHH!!! Jax Teller! Don’t you love (insert one of many physical or emotional traits)?

Me: I hear ya. I’ve watched about 21 episodes in less than two weeks. 

Now I’m in need of a new series. Bonus points for something that I can watch instantly on Netflix. Any suggestions?

Initial results from the balcony garden innovations

Still no camera, but I’m getting closer to making a selection. My friend Rachel in Chicago (whose tutorial on reverse-painting garments with bleach is a lifesaver for those of us who’ve ruined a shirt with bleach spots) is also a kickass photographer. She pointed me to Snapsort which is a delightfully user-friendly camera comparison site.

After spending the morning drinking coffee, reviewing lists like Best Entry-Level DLSRs, and playing around with my own selection criteria, I’m close to picking the Panasonic Lumix LX5.

I know that there are people (Rachel?) who might think I’m crazy for paying this much for a digicam when I could almost get a DLSR for the same amount. The top DSLR for the same price is the Nikon D3000, and it doesn’t have any video capability, image stabilization, or live image view. We’ll see. I like to sleep on these decisions…

Snapsort is super awesome though. Bookmark it. Before you forget.

Here are some grainy photos of what the balcony garden is doing, courtesy of my little macbook’s photobooth. The neighbors must wonder what I’m doing out on my balcony all the time…if it isn’t holding a laptop up to a tomato plant, it’s taking a bunch of self-portraits while wearing a sweater.

In this next photo some whisps of hair snuck into the shot:

The peas are heartily and happily growing. The strawberries are multiplying and thinking about ripening. The African basil is the saddest – I may try repotting it in different soil and see if that helps. I picked four black milk crates out of a curbside junk pile this afternoon, because the higher the plants are the more sun they’re able to catch throughout the day.

The real winner has been the potatoes. Here’s a reminder of where the potato box started:

Growing potatoes in a box

And here’s where it is today. In one month the plants have rocketed out of the box. I’ve added several bucketfuls of dirt already and soon I’ll need more wood to increase the height of the box.

While the potato box has been (so far) a successful experiment, I’ve unfortunately not been as enthused with the incredibly-promising pallet-turned-planter. When the pallet is stood on end against a wall it’s tricky to water. Do I just water through the top and let it work its way down? Watering from the front causes too much erosion. The message boards on the tutorial site suggest automated watering, but there’s no water spigot near my balcony so I have to cart it in by hand.

Since the soil isn’t very deep it dries out quickly and I worry that the plant roots don’t have enough room. Perhaps it was my mistake to try and use the method for primarily vegetables. Decorative flowers and succulents, as shown in the tutorial, are probably a better fit.