Catching up

So, I failed to write anything since the first week or so of April. Which is surprising because it’s not like I wasn’t busy! And while I did take pictures, I don’t remember all the details, but let me just give you some pictures anyway as highlights of what I’ve been up to! I will post additional catching-up entries as well.

My bread has been improving steadily. I would say that it is bakery-quality now, which pleases me very much. The favourite in the house is cinnamon raisin, though I do make a plain one, adding a bit of coarse rye for added flavour, that I like to eat. Since I don’t eat a ton of bread all the time, I slice that one and keep it in the freezer, then when I want some, I take out a slice and pop it in the toaster. The results of that keep reminding me that I have got to make grilled cheese with it at some point because I think it would be so, so good. (I have got to learn to make cheese, too.)

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April 18th. Out of nowhere came snow. Kinda pretty though, eh?

Snow just means either “time to go skiing” or “yay! indoor projects!” Skiing was still out of the question. Drat?

See what I mean? They look really good! I’m pretty happy with my bread progress. So happy that I ended up wanting to eat quite a bit of it. With butter. That is spreadable. Which meant finding my butter keeper. But alas! It is so well packed away that I couldn’t find it without completely unpacking all my kitchen stuff, which would be…a whole other project I don’t yet need to get into.

So I did the next best thing: I bought one. When I finally find a place of my own, I will either donate it to someone who needs one, or I will keep it and use both that I now own.

It was still at the beginning of the pandemic restrictions (no, they haven’t really changed at the writing of this entry…states are trying to ‘reopen’ but then they’re finding that outbreaks are occurring, so they’re closing again…), but a local shop was doing curbside service, so I ordered one sort of via email and the phone and picked it up literally on the curb outside the shop. I really like this shop – the service is great and they have a good variety of kitchen tools. (Plus, I worked there a lifetime ago.) Yay for soft, spreadable butter!

I’d been practicing gamba regularly:

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Six strings! Gut strings! So many strings!

But I’m sorry to admit that after a few weeks, I stopped again. Practicing two instruments while working a full time job and having other very time-consuming hobbies made it slip off my daily list. Also, I no longer had a class to go to. When I started cello, I knew I was going to need lessons, both for instruction (which is, yes, super important) but also for a person to be answerable and accountable to. I had tried to teach myself to play the harp a billion years ago, and practice was…irregular. I did try, but since there was no one to be accountable to, it didn’t stick. On top of that, there was no one to play with, which is what I think I was aiming for without knowing it.

I still have the gamba in my possession for the moment. When the university figures out what it’s doing, I’ll give it back. Or maybe start another class. We’ll see. I still want to learn to play it. I just need to figure out a practice schedule. Maybe.

One of the best parts of living where I do right now:

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Someone decided to hang out with me while I was practicing. Awwww!

Definitely not bored.

So the seams of the world are starting to come apart. Things are weird, everyone agrees. We’re all living in a dystopian science fiction novel, and very probably, nothing will ever be the same. I am hoping there will be a silver lining for the United States when the worst is over: universal healthcare, better welfare, less emphasis on capitalism, more emphasis on helping everyone. We are all human and we are all in this together; this life on this planet.

But. That is not the topic for right now. Right now, I want to blather on about all the things I am doooooing! (Or trying to do.)

When it looked like the proverbial sh*t was going to hit the fan and the BossMan declared we should all work from home for the foreseeable future, I drove over to my friendly baker and asked for a cup of sourdough starter. The bakery is LOVELY and they want to encourage people to bake bread, because they’re makers and makers want to encourage other people to make. I also got 12 pounds of bread flour. I figured while I was working from home, I could also wait for bread dough to rise, and learn the ways of baking sourdough bread. (The crew at the bakery agreed this was a most noble cause.)

I’ve been eating a LOT of bread.

Behold the leaven made from the starter!

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This sat on the counter all night – 100g of it will be used to make the bread dough. IT’S ALIVE!!

My first loaf looked so promising right up until it came out of the oven…

So weirdly crooked. I have no idea why it does that – I’m still learning how to do this and what it all means.

Loaf #1 compared with loaf #2. The second loaf was baked at a slightly cooler temperature. I cut the first loaf right open as soon as it was cool. Lots of holes!

But, as oddly as I thought this bread looked, it tasted WONDERFUL. So, success! Of course, I kept going:

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Loaf #3. So. Tasty. And slightly denser, which holds in the Nutella more easily.

Today’s bread:

Which I had high hopes for! But, the oven was slightly too high, and it’s a lot darker than I wanted, and very tall. (No picture yet…) I’m positive it will taste wonderful. Positive.

I’m going to need more flour soon. This is very compatible with working from home. The schedule isn’t strict – I can get up and have a five minute break to go stretch and fold or shape a loaf.

So, a friend gave me the basic recipe, but she got it from the book Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, which was recommended to me by the baker at Henion Bakery in Amherst, MA. (Where you should totally go for all your bread and pastry needs!) I failed to get the book, and up until now, didn’t have the time/circumstance to learn about baking bread. My friend did – she was frustrated, so amassed knowledge and then practiced for a year. I will totally buy that book when I have the opportunity!

A few weeks ago, I was working on another project. It was cold, still below freezing at night and above freezing in the day. I have a bucket and spile, and there is a line of totally tappable maple trees in the front yard. Of course I tapped one. Of course, I totally forgot to take pictures of the bucket on the tree – it’s a big bucket.

It was bit complicated. For a week, I got a lot of sap – about 5 gallons – which I did not expect, and at the weekend, I started boiling. Twelve hours of boiling later, it was almost there, and I sat down to supper. Unfortunately, I should have stayed by the pot because I missed it by about 3 minutes. Smoke rose from the pot, it had cooked to just about the hard crack stage. People, if you’re boiling sap and you get down the the end, for goodness’ sake, stay by the pot and watch it. I had to throw it all out. But! I left the spile and bucket on the tree for another week, and amazingly got another two and a half gallons of sap. At the weekend, I boiled again.

I did stop short of actual syrup. It’s more like maple juice, and still in the fridge. I think this weekend, I’ll pour it back in a (smaller) pot and cook it down some more. Watching it very closely.

I also had supper with my dear neighbours from when I lived in Hatfield!! I miss them so, they are such kind people. And they have the most beautiful fish!! I got to see them in their huge tanks – they’re so beautiful, I’m awfully tempted to plan my own tank one day.

They’re discus fish, about 4″ across. Sooo beautiful.

Aaand, on with projects.

It’s spring, and my spinning guild has plans to visit at least two farms this year for fleeces. I still don’t have a single whole fleece spun up. So I’m determined to try to get as much of the two Shetland fleeces spun up as I can. The tendonitis is so much better and I can wield the combs again and spin.

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Lovely hand-combed Shetland top! Sooo soft!

Combing is slow because this fleece has some dandruff, and I’m having to brush it out first. Some bits are faster than others, but it’s mostly slow. However, the results are so wonderful to spin.

This is as of this morning! I’m planning on plying this weekend. Other crafty friends of mine and I were planning another Crafternoon – people show up at one of our houses, sit around with crafty projects to work on, eat snacks, and chat. Or just work on projects, sitting quietly working and not talking like a room full of cats. Well, in light of the corona virus, we can’t do that. But we can get together virtually, so a bunch of us are going to try it out with video chatting and see how that goes. I’m really looking forward to it.

I have been in the house for two weeks – my brother came down with something that was suspiciously like the symptoms of the corona virus about a week ago, and I had hung out with him a week before that, so I stayed home. It turned out that his oldest daughter had been sick with a different virus at college a couple of weeks before, but hadn’t said anything until just recently. So. I’m safe. And today was the last day of the two week quarantine anyway. Tomorrow, I am going to venture out for a few groceries and maybe try to get some stamps at the post office. Maybe not. Things are weird out there.

And finally, I realized that my ‘home office’ right now is pretty great. Here’s the view:

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Yep, it’s messy. But it’s full of sunlight and craftiness! The only thing that’s missing is the pot of tea. I had drunk that earlier.

I have heard many people say that they are bored in their self-isolation at home. This is not a thing I can relate to. If anything, I no longer have to commute anywhere, so I have nearly a whole extra two hours in the day that I can devote to practicing cello or gamba, or I can work on weaving, spinning, drawing, baking, sewing, etc etc. It’s wonderful!

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Part of this month’s practicing for cello!

I hope you all are well and that you stay well.

Stay home! Knitting/spinning/weaving/baking/reading can help save lives.

 

Experiments: success and failure

The month of November has been tumultuous. Some projects were ongoing, some were started and came to a screeching halt. As with all projects, and in my case, experiments, there were successes and failures.

I started and made a bit of headway on a weaving project.

Warp measured and wound. Currently, I have about 1/3 of the heddles threaded, but had to stop due to a very unexpected injury. And actually, I’m not at all sure if I’m happy with the pattern I’ve threading. It’s currently a bird’s eye twill, but something tells me I might be happier with a simple herringbone. I could do this with the current threading by just altering the treadling, but, oh, I’m waffling. Waffle, waffle. In any case, I can’t actually continue threading, so I’m just letting threading ideas waft around in my head for a bit. I have time.

The sucky part of not being able to act on this project right now is that I have nothing to sell, and no gifts made for winter gift-giving holidays. Argh.

I did attempt to do some spinning, but that didn’t work out so well either. There was a bit of a tangle.

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Argh. Argh, argh, argh.

I did eventually get this sorted, and spun the rest of the little wool nest, but had to stop.

Quite a few of my friends have birthdays in October, so around the end of the month, I attempted tempering chocolate for to make presents!

The chocolates on the left are solid. The chocolates on the right are squares of dipped squares of ganache. They look so good, don’t they?

Unfortunately, this was not well-tempered chocolate – a week later, I discovered it had bloomed. Which was super embarrassing because I’d already given some away. When chocolate blooms, it’s completely edible, but the texture is a bit different as some fats come the the surface and it looks ugly. Back to the drawing board. But not for a bit yet.

I did sell two dish towels! The last two green ones that I was thinking about keeping got snapped up.

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On the way to the post office!

About 20ish years ago, I planted some seeds from a lemon I bought at the grocery store. They took ages, and I nearly gave up, but eventually, after some weeks, they germinated. I only have one left, and that one grew and grew into a fine tree. It comes inside in the winter, and goes outside in the summer. About two years ago, I found a couple of blossoms on it, which was very unexpected. I’d read up on growing lemons from seed, and they often result in a tree that never blooms. This one did, but since the blossoms ended up growing at the end of the year, they’d fall off when the tree was brought in – there is no sunny place in the house, so it spends the winter under (mostly inadequate) lights and in a dry environment.

This year, it bloomed while outside when no one was looking, and the bees did their thing! I also have a couple of Key lime trees I grew from seed, and they bloom every year prolifically, so I imagine the lemon got help from the limes and the bees. Suddenly, there fruit on the lemon tree. Just one. And it stayed there. And it grew!

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A lemon-sized lemon! Organically grown in Western Massachusetts!

It fell off the tree a few days ago, so now it’s in the fridge while I decide what to do with it. Candy the peel? Dry the peel? Freeze the juice? Make lemonade? I suspect it’s not quite ripe, but close enough.

(For anyone wondering, the variety is likely a Lisbon. It’s one of the most widely grown commercial lemons and has truly mighty thorns.)

Of course, I want a greenhouse someday to grow my orchids, lemon tree and lime trees.

So. On to the injury. And my Sekrit Experiment.

On September 1, 2017, I started cello lessons. This has been a dream since I was about 9, but I’d never before been in a position where I could 1. afford it, 2. where I had space, and 3. where I wasn’t going to bother the neighbours. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake, but it occurred to me around August this year that I had all these conditions where I live now, and I might not by the spring when I have to move again. So, I thought I’d try it for three months to see if I really liked it.

I have never tried to play a stringed instrument before, and haven’t played any musical instruments regularly since I was about 18. I thought that part of my life was done. But I found a place to rent a cello and found a teacher. Three months. That was it. Then at least I could say I tried it.

What happened next was completely unexpected.

I set a goal of practicing one hour every day. Instead, I got lost in practicing and often went over one hour. On the weekends, it wasn’t unusual to practice for a couple of hours. Once I accidentally practiced for three hours – not all at once – but still. Oh, I’d set timers, and I’d blow right through them. The joy at working at this was (is) tremendous.

Was there progress? I think so. I can tell when I hit the right notes more often now. I hit that magical 100 hours of learning a new thing. I started learning a couple of very, very easy Baroque/Classical pieces.

I also acquired a shiny, new case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome/one hell of a repetitive stress injury in my bow hand due to a too tight hold on the bow and not taking enough breaks.

This means that for the last three weeks, I’ve been sleeping with a brace, I have appointments with an occupational therapist, I am typing and mousing mostly with my left hand at work, and I am completely unable to do any of my other hobbies. I carry heating pads with me. There are ice packs at home at at work. Bowing has come to nearly a screeching halt. There has been crying and sadness. There was a period last week where I was sure I’d have to just give it up because this kind of injury seems to not completely disappear in most other people. I steeled myself. Moar sad.

Which is ridiculous! It’s just a cello! I don’t need it more than food and shelter!

Sigh.

So, experiment successful. And a catastrophe. Right now, I’m hoping I will be able to wield a shovel when the snow comes. And then maybe weave again. And practice cello. I am plucking now instead of bowing, and setting a goal of bowing in two to three 5 minute chunks with 20-30 minutes rest for the next week, and will go from there. Maybe I can weave again in a month or so. And shovel snow.