Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sinkland Farms Pumpkin Festival 2010

The Pumpkin Festival at Sinkland Farms opened last Saturday, and of course we were there.

We sat on big pumpkins.


We petted the spotted miniature donkeys.


We ran through the hay bale maze,


We chased each other through the hay bale maze.


We climbed up on the big round hay bales.


We jumped off the big hay bales.


We "milked" the artificial cow.


We looked at all the pumpkins for sale.


We looked at the itty bitty pumpkin gourds.


We picked out some gourds to buy.


We thought some of the pumpkins looked pretty weird.


We ran around the piles of pumpkins.


And we thought the white pumpkins were pretty cool.


Then we went home and had a nap.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Life with Ally, late September 2010

Ally had a good day yesterday. We've been working on our listening skills and following directions. She had a couple of rough weeks back in August when she didn't listen to her teachers at the preschool very well and even wound up in the director's office once or twice for disrupting nap time. But lately we've been emphasizing how we can't do "fun things" when we spend so much time in time out, and that seems to be making a difference in her behavior. Also, we changed her bedtime to 7:30 pm and I think the extra sleep has helped too.

So I was pleased when I picked Ally up from school and found her wearing a humungous sticker in the shape of a blue ribbon with the words "Good rester" handwritten on it, which meant she'd actually taken a nap and let the other children sleep too. All the children are sent home with a daily report sheet that tells the parents how their kids did at school that day and Ally's had nothing but smiley faces on it, another indicator that she'd had a great day. I told Ally that since she'd been so good for the past two days, we'd go to the Sinkland Farms Pumpkin Festival on Saturday. Ally was thrilled and began talking nonstop about feeding the farm animals, especially the ponies.

Then, after dinner, something changed. I'll just blame it on the full moon. Ally got upset that the dress from one doll didn't fit on her other doll. She threw a fit when I told her we didn't have any M&Ms left over because she'd already eaten them. She didn't want to use the potty before bed time. And these were not little sniffley crying bouts...I'm talking prostrate on the floor, kicking her feet around, screaming until her face turned red fits. It took a long time to calm her down enough to go to bed.

Then the real fun started. Ally called out that she wanted to go the bathroom. I told her fine, go ahead, I'd be up in a minute. She exploded as only a three year old can because she wanted Daddy, not Mommy. I tried to explain to her that Daddy was working in his office and couldn't come right then, but I'd be up in a second. Clearly Ally felt this just would not do and only Daddy could provide the potty assistance that she required right then. I went up and tried to get her to use the potty but she insisted that she had to go back to sleep right now. Fine, I thought, and left the room, only to be called back two minutes later because Ally need to go pee pee. I got her into the bathroom, where she had another meltdown because I wasn't Daddy, then she peed and went back to bed. That's when she began complaining that she wanted her fuzzy fleece blanket and not the lightweight sheet we put on her when she first goes to bed. The fuzzy blanket is a twin-sized, heavy plush blanket that's just too hot until later at night, when it cools off some. I tried to tell Ally that she'd be too hot, but she wouldn't listen and kept wailing that she wanted it. I think I finally told her it was the sheet or nothing at all, which merely goaded Ally into another bout of screaming and I walked out of the room. She called me back again and submitted to the misery of the light weight sheet and I went back downstairs. By then the commotion had pulled Steve out of his office and he looked at me questioningly as I walked past him, but I was too aggravated to say anything as I stalked off to take a shower.

By the time I got out of the shower I could hear more wailing and crying upstairs, so I knew Steve was getting his full share of Ally's tantrum. Apparently she wanted to go to the bathroom again and Steve had taken her twice, but she didn't do anything when she sat on the toilet. Steve was angry with Ally for her behavior, Ally was still wailing, and I knew we needed to defuse the situation before thermonuclear war broke out. I got Steve to come back downstairs and I went up to try to calm her down. I did get her to use the potty but then she wouldn't listen to me about going back to bed. Finally I snapped and told her that she couldn't watch any TV the next night because she'd been so bad that evening. This only caused Ally to gulp in panic and start a new wave of tears while she protested that she had been good, she wanted to watch TV, that she was listening to us, etc. She got herself so worked up that I finally resorted to my last weapon: threatening to not take her to the Pumpkin Festival if she didn't calm down that instant.

Big mistake. I might as well have tossed a few more logs onto a raging inferno for all the good that did me. More tears, more kicking, more screaming, more tantruming. "But I want to go! I want to go to the festival!" Finally I got her to take some deep breaths to calm down enough to get her in the bed. I'd like to think I was able to talk her into calming down, but in reality she was probably so exhausted at the point that she would have done it on her own if I had just left. She was still pleading about going to the festival when she fell asleep.

The rules of conflict resolution for either parenting or combat only work if the offending party has a belief system similar to the defending party. This does not apply to a toddler. I recognize the mistake of trying to explain to Ally why her behavior was so bad, which seems like an intuitive step in conflict resolution but instead it just prolonged the entire episode. She's not interested in logic, she just wants immediate gratification. Instead I should have just waited until breakfast this morning to talk to Ally about her behavior. Suggesting that she had lost her TV and post-dinner snack privileges due to her prolonged, horrendous temper tantrum merely amped up her crying, and throwing out the big guns of "We're not going to the Pumpkin Festival!" just threw more fuel on the fire.

Thankfully Ally got a good night's sleep and seemed perfectly okay when she got up this morning. While we ate breakfast I told her that Mommy and Daddy had talked things over and we had decided that we could still go to the Pumpkin Festival if Ally was really good today. I showed her yesterday's report sheet with all the smiley faces and asked Ally if she could do that again. She nodded cheerfully and said she'd listen to her teachers. I thanked her and reminded her that if she behaved like she did last night, then we couldn't go. She looked at me with big eyes and said, "Last night I didn't behave because I didn't want the pancake syrup on my pancake."

I was astounded that Ally referenced her episode with the pancake syrup and the blueberries, which has got to be one of the top contenders for Ally's Temper Tantrum Hall of Fame, but at least she seems to have some general idea of the degree to which she was misbehaving. I tried not to laugh out loud and told her, "Yes, exactly like that."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Projects

I'm trying a few new projects based on the idea of the patchwork wool blanket that I wrote about last week.

One of the great surprises of felting wool sweaters is that you never quite know how the wool will felt up in the end. Sometimes it's supple and drapes well, while other times you get a thick, woolly piece that's as stiff as a board. Thick, board-ey material isn't good for a blanket or my usual projects, but it does make a good rug.


I used a cream Irish fisherman sweater and a nubby gray silk and wool sweater to make a patchwork rug. The pieces are butt seamed together using a zigzag stitch that I stitched over a second time for reinforcement and durability. It's a good size for a bath mat, or maybe a cozy winter nap mat for a dog or cat. A small project like this goes together very quickly with nearly instant gratification, except for the d@mn cables. The zigzag stitch grabbed the top of the cables just fine, but when I turned the rug over to inspect the underside I realized that I would have to go back over and stitch it again to make sure the needle went all the way through the cable part. Lesson learned: I won't be using wool with very thick patterns like large cabling in projects like this again.

I also put together a similar project using wool squares in various shades of gray, black, and red. Some of these squares have a floral pattern embroidered on them, while others are argyle and Fair Isle.


Initially I thought this might be another wool rug, but the weight of the felt simply isn't thick enough to go on the floor. Instead, it's become a lap blanket or perhaps a security blanket for a very sophisticated toddler living in a big city somewheres.

And last, I have a pile of chubby pumpkins for the arts and craft show in Floyd next weekend. Or at least I do if Ally doesn't claim them all for her own.



One of the plants I moved here from the old house is a toad lily that I've had for years. It was in part shade at the old house and while it was pretty when it bloomed, it never really stood out. It gets far more sun here at the new house and has been blooming its little heart out this September.


We also have a resident toad or two in the flower beds immediately in front of the house. I've named the larger one Mr. Lumpy. He's the shy, retiring type but will puff up in self importance if Oscar gets a little too close to him.


Years ago I ran across a picture of a young witchy woman picking up toads and putting them into a basket. The caption was "Gather ye toads while ye may." That's a reference to the poem by the 17th century poet Robert Herrick entitled "To the Virgins, Make Much of Time", which begins with "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." Mr. Herrick's poetry belongs to the carpe diem school of thought, where time is brief, lives are short, and we damn well better enjoy the world while we're still in it.

Not a bad sentiment as we move into what's shaping up to be a beautiful fall, toads and all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

And now for something different....

I've got a huge stash of felted wool sweaters that I use for various projects. I ran across a picture of a throw blanket made from wool pieces and decided to make one myself. Then I promptly lost the directions for how to make one, so I winged it. This is made from four sweaters and one cream wool blanket.


I used a featherstitch to butt seam the pieces together.


I randomly appliqued some smaller pieces on the cream squares.


Overall I like the way it turned out, but it's not perfect.


I didn't take into consideration how difficult it is to join ribbed knits this way....they're very stretchy and the squares get distorted if you're not very careful. Also, I managed to join two cream colored squares side by side, even though I took a lot of time to lay the quilt out before sewing it together. I must have turned one of the columns the wrong way when I joined them together.

I'm sure I'll make another one, but in the end making this blanket didn't give me the same kind of thrill that the quilts do. However, I think this technique will make some gorgeous scarves for winter.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Pumpkin for Ally

While I purposely planted Jarrahdale pumpkins in the vegetable garden this year, one volunteer vine came up in the flower bed out front. One of the seeds from last years' pumpkin survived the winter and wound up in the flower bed when I transferred the compost into the new bed this spring. At first I wasn't sure what kind of curcubit it might be, but it had a little green pumpkin on it before too long. I scratched the initial "A" on it for Ally to find later, who was thrilled by "her" pumpkin when she saw it among the leaves.

A for Ally

Of course, those of you who remember English literature in high school may be reminded of Nathan Hawthorne's Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter now. Born out of last year's compost with no hand to guide its growth, who knows what this pumpkin got up to before it was harvested?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Whys of Fish Sticks

Ally has finally entered the developmental stage of "But why?"

Me: Wash your hands, please.

Ally: Why?

Me: Because they're dirty.

Ally: But why? Why are they dirty?

Me: Probably because you've been picking up acorns, petting the dog, playing in the mulch at school, eaten spaghetti with your fingers, and you just went to the potty.

Ally: Why?

Me (pausing to consider any number of explanations I could use here to explain why we wash our hands when they're dirty, but then I cop out with the eternal answer): Because I said so, that's why.

The "Why?" questions are perfectly normal for a bright toddler who is 1) inquisitive about her world, and 2) always on the lookout for a new stalling technique. Unfortunately, Ally would rather ask someone else "Why?" than have someone ask her the same question. Last week I packed a couple of frozen fish sticks in her lunch, thinking it would be a change of pace from the repetitive cycle of frozen chicken nuggets/cheese sticks/hard boiled eggs/yogurt that we seem to have locked ourselves into lately. (Ally will not eat a sandwich for lunch at her daycare center, but I'll save this topic for another post at another time.) That night I noticed that her teacher wrote "Would not eat fish sticks" on Ally's daily report sheet.

Me: Ally, I thought you liked the fish sticks.

Ally (cheerfully): I do. I do like fish sticks!

Me: Why didn't you eat them at lunch today?

Ally: I did eat them.

Me: You ate the fish sticks at lunch today? Your report sheet says you didn't eat them.

Ally (looking at her shoes): Uh huh.

Me: Do you like the fish sticks?

Ally: Yes!

Me: But why didn't you eat them at lunch today?

Ally: But I didn't eat them today.

Me: I know you didn't. Why don't you like them?

Ally: But I didn't eat them.

Me: Yes, honey, I know you didn't eat them. Why didn't you eat them?

Ally (looking at me innocently): Because I didn't eat them!

I gave up on the conversation as soon as I realized we'd gone into some sort of "Yes, we have no bananas today" routine. In college I had an instructor who went off on a 30 minute rant about the evils of circular logic in lecture one day. Apparently our class did not do as well on his midterm as he had expected and by the end of the class period he was nearly pleading us to use our brain cells in a linear, logical manner. Now, thanks to Ally and the fish sticks, I truly recognize the frustration he must have felt while grading those exams. I could have told Ally "Not eating the fish sticks is not an answer, you're just repeating my question!", but I simply didn't want to hear her ask "Why?" in return.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dutch Baby Pancakes

I recently mentioned Dutch baby pancakes in a previous post. One friend wanted the recipe for the "fancy pancakes," which is kinda funny as Dutch babies are neither terribly fancy or very complicated. Basically a big popover, these are easy to make and delicious.

Dutch Baby Pancake

1 tablespoon butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place butter in a 10 inch ovenproof skillet and put in a 400 degree oven for 3-5 minutes or until the butter melts. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs until combined. Add flour, milk, and salt to the eggs and beat until smooth. Pour mixture into the hot skillet. Bake 25 minutes or until puffed and well browned. Top with sliced fresh fruit, jelly or preserves, maple syrup and butter, or powdered sugar and whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Diamond Hodgepodge

Mom gave me an old quilt top to finish. She couldn't remember when or where she bought it, but we both think it probably dates to the 1930s or 1940s based on the fabrics in it. The quilter painstakingly sewed numerous triangles into rows of diamonds by hand. I've been amazed at how evenly the pieces were cut and how precisely the points match up. Some of the individual triangles are made from two pieces of material stitched together, evidently to use as much fabric as was available, and some of the rows contain a mix of different fabrics. At first I didn't care for this top with its jumble of flannel, homespun, stripes, and prints, but after working with it for several days I began to appreciate what the original quilter had done.


There's a subtle arrangement of dark fabrics against light colors within rows. Some of my favorite fabrics are these indigo cottons with a tiny geometric print in a natural color. The pattern reminds me of something Asian on a tiny scale.


This blue triangle has my favorite piece of fabric, but it's the only triangle like it in the quilt. You can see in the lilac and white checked triangle above it how the original quilter pieced fabric together to have enough to cut a triangle from it. The skinny dark brown calico strip is the binding, and the yellow-brown calico to the left is part of the backing.


At first I wasn't sure how to finish the quilt given the mix of colors, prints, and even materials. Then I realized, as I was poking through my fabric stash, that a mix of small print calicos and graphic patterns would be perfect for the backing and binding. (Yep, I said binding. I finally taught myself how to bind a quilt.)

I used a flannel sheet as batting, pieced several large rectangles of fabric together for the back, and then quilted it together using parallel lines across the bases of each horizontal row of triangles. I was tempted to quilt parallel lines along the slanted angles made by the diamond pattern, but I didn't want anything too distracting and I felt simple horizontal lines "fit" the original quilter's intentions a little better. Afterwards I used a brown and gray flowered calico to bind the quilt. I did machine stitch the binding to attach and close the binding, instead of hand stitching the binding closed. It's a big quilt and I was happy enough to conquer my fear of binding, but not so much that I wanted to hand stitch all that binding to finish it. Overall I'm very pleased with the final results.





I've decided to name this one, "Diamond Hodgepodge." I know the word "hodgepodge" might have a negative connotation, but that's what this quilt top is, a jumbled mix of colors, textures, and materials. The original quilter took this mix and made something more refined out of it, these rows of precise diamonds.

Originally the quilt top was hand-tied to the backing. I found several pieces of dark blue yarn still in the fabric, even though there was no backing or batting with the top when Mom acquired it. I would love to see what the original backing looked like to compare it to the one I made. Of course I'll never know who made the quilt top and what meaning these fabrics held for the quilter, but I'd like to think she'd be pleased with what I made from her original work.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day 2010

It's been unexpectedly chilly at night for the past couple of nights. Mornings around 7:30 am have been no more than 48-50 degrees, requiring at least a fleece or a light jacket for coffee on the porch.

Ally decided to join me on the back deck this morning. Notice the tres chic ensemble she's wearing....a red LL Bean rain jacket over last year's Halloween pajamas and with a pair of white deck boots.

Yes, I said deck boots. They may look like rain boots but they are assuredly not rain boots. Those are the type of boots worn by fishermen (and women and kids) in Poquoson. They're white, to avoid marking up the boat decks, and they're referred to as "Poquoson bedroom slippers."

8am, Labor Day 2010

Oscar joined us a few minutes later to give Ally a big kiss. Not a bad way to start off the holiday.

8:05am, Labor Day 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Garden Review

I thought I'd show people today what my garden looked like in August. I should admit that it's not so nice looking anymore. Plants are beginning to die back and I can't keep up with the tomato harvest. There are some ferocious weeds out there that got a stronghold while I wasn't looking. I figure there's maybe a month and a half before the first frost, anyways, so there isn't much point in putting a lot of effort in cleaning it up right now. It'll be easier just to till it under in early November. I need to till the mammoth pile of compost that has been cooking all summer on the other side of the yard into the garden anyways. Needless to say, who knows where we're going to find volunteer tomatoes coming up next June?

Anyway, on to the garden in review!


How thrilled I was with this first harvest of a zucchini and two cucumbers in July! No matter that these and all the other cucumbers I grew this year were the bitterest I've ever tasted.


The produce seemed to get off to a slow start, but it wasn't long before I got a bucket like this one every couple of days. There's an assortment of Roma and cherry tomatoes, burgandy okra, super bitter cucumbers, and an 8-ball zucchini in there.

A veritable feast, given than at one point I thought I might only have a bucket of these for all my efforts.

Bucket 'o Hornworms

It wasn't until later that I found out how much Oscar relishes a tomato hornworm. I could toss her one and she'd torment it by flinging it around the yard. At some point she'd get down to business and start licking it, at which point I'd distract her away from the caterpillar with a treat. It's not that I worried that eating a hornworm would hurt my dog, I just didn't want to clean up regurgitated hornworm in the house. All that chlorophyll would be hard to get out of the rug.

The garden looked really good in mid July. I had rows of tomatoes.


I put in several 8-ball zucchini plants this year. These were great bushy plants that did very well for me, and this variety has more flavor that the typical cylindrical ones you buy at the grocery store. I will definitely grow these again next year. Today I noticed that the vines have finally succumbed to powdery mildew so I pulled most of them up. Steve and Ally may be relieved by this news. I think they've about reached their zucchini saturation point.


More tomatoes....


Even more tomatoes... The cherry-type tomatoes (tommy toes, as they're called around here) were very prolific and sweet. While I know what varieties I planted, I'm not sure exactly what any given plant is out there. I was late in getting the plants in the ground and in my rush they all got mixed up together. Regardless, Ally has had a great time picking them and eating them out of hand. I let her pick all that she wants. I'm happy that she can relate the little seedlings we had on the dining room table back in March to these plants out in the garden. It's never too early to teach your kid that food does not grow in the grocery store.


Okay, so I had an excessive number of tomatoes. I planted over 30 tomato plants this year. I wanted to use up some older seed that I'd had for several years and I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of tomatoes in case I lost some of the plants to blight, like last year. In the end I might have lost 1-2 plants, and the rest have been producing fruit like crazy. Unfortunately none of my slicing tomatoes have done very well as they seem to crack and rot before I can pick them. We had a week or two with frequent thunderstorms in late August that resulted in most of the tomatoes splitting their skins, much to the delight of the fruit flies and mold. Nonetheless, Ally seems to be delighted in watching me pick squishy rotten tomatoes off the vine and pitching them over the garden fence.

They do make a satisfying splat when they hit the ground.


These are scarlet runner beans that I planted these as ornamentals. The hummingbirds love the orange-red flowers. I'll be saving some of the beans to plant again next year. While the young pods and the beans inside are edible, anyone eating them should be aware that raw scarlet runner beans contain a toxic protein that can make you quite sick. Other beans, such as kidney beans, also contain this toxin. Proper cooking reduces the toxin to safe levels.


I also have a row of burgundy okra. I love okra, but I never get enough pods at any one time to make a decent sized batch of fried okra. Typically I get 2-3 pods a day, which I normally just eat raw while working in the garden. One day Oscar begged for a piece of raw okra, and now I share them with her. Okra plants are easy to grow and produce hibiscus-like yellow blossoms (indeed, they're in the same family of plants). Harvesting okra is a little tricky. You want the pods to grow big, but pick them too late and they're all stringy tough. Sometimes the difference between a good pod and a tough one is just a day. I've learned to test the pods by bending the very tips....if the pod doesn't flex at all and feels stiff, then it's too old to eat and I just leave it on the plant. Later I'll go back and harvest all these old pods to use in fall decorations.