Home Sweet Home

So what’s been going on since my last post, that seems like ages ago?

Puppy training, lots of puppy training.

fullsizeoutput_118This pup, named Sandor, took has taken up quite a bit of my time since I adopted him as a tiny little guy in December.  He was labeled a lab/chihuahua mix but the humane society missed the boat on that one.  All I know for certain is he’s a lab/something mix.  He’s five months old now, and we’ve finished obedience school and finally have a fairly steady routine set up.  I’ve missed having a dog and even though adopting Sandor was on impulse during a moment of weakness, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my cats, Severus and Lucious, but having a dog is a very different experience.  He’s a goofy pup that’s guaranteed to make me laugh at least once a day.  If I’m off to a place where dogs are welcome he loads up in the car and goes with me, so if you’re ever passing through Gainesville, GA and think you recognize him, say hi, he loves the attention.

So what else?

Plotting and planting!

After an unseasonably warm day in February the spring is coming switch turned over in my brain.  I’ve always been a plant person, and no matter where I have lived,  I’ve always tried to plant something be it in pots or if the landlord was okay with it a small garden or flowers here and there.  It finally registered that since I purchased my first house in August that I can do whatever I would like to the yard.   Over the past month, enough loropetalum, holly, burning bush, and cedar has been planted to begin a privacy hedge across the front yard.  I’m a territorial introvert, it may take a few years for everything to fill in enough, but that wall is the beginning of a giant privacy bubble.  Jasmine, sweet broom, rug juniper and about 100 iris bulbs have made an appearance too.  I’ve got quite a few annual seeds to start but I’m waiting for another week or so before I really get those going.  Give me time, and I’ll have the entire yard planted to the point that mowing the grass will only take ten minutes.

So what’s going on, crafting wise?

There’s not been as much going on there as I would like, but as my yard shenanigans slow down over the next couple of weeks, yarn and needles will wander out to the porch in the evenings to unwind.

All in all, I’m a happy camper, settling into a new life as a homeowner and dog mom.

Stitching for Sanity

Knitting is good for you. No, really, it is I swear! There’s science proving it.

And there we go, end of this post….

Okay, maybe not, I should probably elaborate a bit more. This is one of the more serious posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and it felt like time to get it done.

If you belong to any online knitting group you’ve seen the shared posts with a few bullet points with the benefits to knitting complied from a few recent studies. Even though these posts seem to be limited specifically to knitting, my gut hunch that the benefits spread across multiple crafting genres that require fine movement and concentration, like crochet, cross stitch, embroidery, on and on and on. These benefits have been listed as …

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced depression and anxiety
  • Slowed onset of dementia
  • Distraction from chronic pain
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Reduced loneliness and isolation

Great, right?!?

This is where things get a little more personal. I’ve had my own battle with general anxiety disorder and moderate depression issues since my late high school – early college years, and being a mere 20 years ago, in southern West Virginia, we still didn’t really talk about mental health issues that much. The family doc would occasionally prescribe something to help me sleep or I would be on and off a low dose anti-depressant now and then but little was done beyond that. Almost nothing beyond a script was mentioned, no therapy, no mention of ways to manage stress, just pop a pill, get some sleep, and all will be fine. I even had a doctor tell me once that I would grow out of it, that these issues were normal for most people my age. Instead, it has intensified over the years, but I still manage at a level that leaves me able to do my job, and interact with friends and family on a regular basis with little notice that I may or may not be struggling at times. Is there a day every once in a while where I need to get away from work and people and just breathe? Absolutely. Do I still take medication? Yep. Have I learned to recognize I’m struggling and act accordingly? Yes, with time and maturity. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of us paddling in this same boat. I truly believe that our constant connection to others and the world through technology, social networking and the media we are more anxious and stressed than ever. We’ve made it hard to “unplug” and have the quiet time we need to manage ourselves and our own wellbeing.

Since my own issues began, the world has gotten a little better about addressing mental health issues, but we are still coming up dramatically short on effectively helping those that have them. I’ve seen the medical community fail close friends and even family, time and time again by insisting on medicating them into oblivion with little to no therapy, or education on tools that could help one manage more efficiently with the help of medication, others have coped well with the help of medical intervention. Then there is a fair share of people that thought they could self-medicate through legal or illegal means and do a better job than modern medicine. It’s a multi-faceted debate on mental health treatment and this could be a very long conversation on its own but let’s move on.

I’ve been a crocheter since I was a little kid, and started knitting in my 20s, and would just work on a project here and there to battle boredom or simply because I enjoyed it. I didn’t realize these hobbies could be a therapeutic tool for myself until after the sudden death of my brother in 2014. It was then that I began knitting on an almost daily basis because it helped me clear my mind, and work through the grieving process. Time has helped heal that wound to the extent that it can be, but even with the recent loss of others or at times of high stress, my now casual (because I truly enjoy it) knitting will evolve back into a form of therapy, usually done in the evening to help process the day and how I feel about it. I find myself more stressed at times when I’m too busy to sit down with yarn and needles. For me, yarn work has been as effective if not more so than medication for coping with anxiety, stress, and depression, it’s just a part of how I stay “sane”. It’s an outlet that has the benefit of a finished product at the end. However, it is not the only means of managing my own issues, I still see my doctor on a regular basis to determine medication needs.

Now that all said…this is my experience with knitting as a form of self therapy. Even if all you can do is knit garter stitch or crochet granny squares one after another these acts have value. Am I saying jump off your prescribed treatment by your medical professional, ABSOLUTELY NOT. Crafting is a compliment to your treatment plan whatever that may be.

If you feel like you’ve been struggling with anxiety, depression, or any issue that could be impacting your own wellbeing, I can not more strongly recommend trying a fiber craft as a form of self-therapy, but first, see a medical professional, and then find your local yarn store.

Knitting Goodies – Namaste Train Case

I’m a huge fan of buying a gift for myself sometime during my birthday month.  It may seem a wee bit selfish, but I chalk it up to a self-care.

Being the knitting junky that I am, I saw the Namaste Knitter’s Train Case and my reaction was an instant ooooooooohhhhhhhh pretty, it may have been the dark teal that caught my eye.  I’ve seen Namaste’s products throughout the years and considered them a little too girly for my taste.  I’m more utilitarian than I am “fancy”.  This particular case came out last October, so it has been on the market for a little while and in general has had good reviews.  My case arrived this afternoon, and I’m glad I gifted this to myself. My initial impressions are it’s well designed, beautiful,  well made, and a good choice for a knitting tool.

This case will be great for long-term projects that require the entire arsenal of tools it would take to complete it…think sweaters, multi-color work, or intricate lace work.  The train case is designed for knitters on the move.  I may be traveling less this year (I hope) but this case is designed with travelers in mind.  The size will easily fit under the airplane seat (honestly, it’ll fit under most seats or floorboards in typical travel situations) in front of you, or on the tray table when you are allowed to have it down. It will also travel well to your local coffee shop, knit shop, or pub for those knitting sessions with friends.  The magnetic closure on the front is solid, and it holds a surprising amount of yarn and goodies. Currently, I’ve loaded up the 2nd sleeve of a sweater I’m working on, tools in the included mesh bag, a Namste Buddy Case (more info below) and 5 caked skeins of yarn, and a ChiaoGoo needle set. I could cram more in, but didn’t feel the urge to stuff it full. As soon as that second sleeve is finished, I’ll be able to roll right into the body of the sweater without having to hunt for anything.  When opened, the lid easily accommodates holding a pattern with a few included magnets for easy access on the go, or you can work with the case lid closed and feed yarn through a U-shaped hole on the side, perfect for those long periods of mindless stockinette or garter stitch knitting. I can see this as a solution to the crazy bag lady problem a lot of us knitters have, just load everything you need for your WIP into this case and go, leave the bag for the tools, the bag for the extra yarn, and the bag for the project itself at home.

As far as pricing, it’s not the cheapest knitting case, but it’s the most reasonably priced online, as far as reputable sellers go, over at Jimmy Beans.  If your local yarn shop has a few of these on hand, please consider buying from them instead of online.  The case is constructed of vegan leather, which looks better than I imaged it would after it arrived, and includes the magnets to hold a pattern to the lid, a darning needle, and a button closed pouch for all the little things that you wouldn’t want running wild.  I ordered the matching  Namaste Buddy Case as well.  I’ve had a little tin case that I put stitch markers, and tools in for a while, but it always seemed small and for lack of a better phrase, a complete clusterfuck on the inside.  Once again, this case includes magnets to hold finishing needles, a small tin for markers, and other goodies.  Both pieces seem to be constructed to handle regular use and abuse.

So what is the first project to be worked out of this Train Case? I just finished the Mitali Shawl referenced in a previous post with the exception of blocking….a blocking day is in the near future….so it was time to kick back into the sweater I promised to make for a friend.  She bought the yarn and I’m doing the work, and yes, she is absolutely knit worthy.  The pattern is called Seachange by Jennifer Steingass and I’m working it up in Berroco Quechua (yak, alpaca, and wool blend).  The pattern called for a DK weight but I dropped down to a sport weight and made a few minor adjustments to the pattern.  I want the recipient to be able to wear this sweater more than the one freakishly cold day we get a year in Georgia, and even though the difference between DK and sport weight yarns are minor there’s just enough difference in weight it can make a considerable difference in how warm this sweater will be.  So far, so good, I’ve finished sleeve one, and well into sleeve two after having to pull out a few times and adjust needle size for not only gauge but color work.  Stranded knitting hasn’t always been my strongest point.

I’ve included a few photos of the Namaste Train Case and Buddy Case with tools and yarn included so there’s an idea about how much these two goodies hold, as well as the organization it can provide.  I hope this Train Case and Buddy Case will be part of my knitting tool arsenal for quite a while.

 

Disclamer: I am not compensated for my brief review of this product or seller. This is an unbiased opinion of a knitting/yarn product. If you have a knit related product that you would like for me to try, please feel free to reach out anytime. 

Last but not least, the coffeeandwool.com domain name will continue to remain active instead of this blog reverting to it’s original WordPress address for another year, an anonymous donor insisted on paying the renewal fees for WordPress as well as the domain name, with the condition that I update more often, so that those that enjoy this blog will continue to have easy access.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

I saw this video yesterday and it hit a nerve, especially when a significant portion of the country is in the grip of a deadly polar vortex with record smashing lows.  Living in Georgia I cannot even begin to fathom how cold stepping outside with a -50 degree windchill is.

I remember some very cold days during my school years in West Virginia, but nothing like the temps we’re seeing this week.  I was fortunate to have the coat, gloves and hat as I needed them.  I’m fortunate to have those items now, and even have the ability to make my own.

I’ve heard of programs where crafters are making items to give to children at their local schools to help keep children warm, but in my initial searches I’m not finding any locally in Northeast Georgia or in my home state.  Just putting the bug out there, do any of you know of such programs, or have participated in them?

Mitali: When a Project Idea Turns Into a Brain Worm

Did I really need to cast on another project with the handful of unfinished works (some of which are now very late Christmas presents for very understanding people), yeah, I did.  Why? Soul therapy.

I’ve not mentioned it here before but the local knitting community took a real punch in the gut in early November.  Claudia Purgason, owner of Yarn Rhapsody, knitting goddess, wife, mother, and cherished friend passed.  Her cancer returned.  So many of us who knew her could speak for hours about her kindness and generosity.  For me, she was part of my adopted family, and a mentor in so many ways. As far as knitting goes, she pushed me to try harder and harder patterns, learn new skills, and encouraged me to begin teaching.  The attitude of “it’s just yarn” came from her, she taught me how to be fearless when it came to trying something over my head or skill level.  The it’s just yarn philosophy is simple, try it, if a project isn’t working just rip it out and try again, or try something else, don’t get hung up over thinking it.

Claudia and I had a handful of projects where we would start on the same day, sometime at the exact same time and race.  It was just one of the goofy things we would do.  I think there is hope for a competitive speed knitting league.  Sometimes I would win, usually she would, other times we called a draw for one reason or another.  One of the last times we talked about racing it was going to be on a the Mitali Shawl. We had both chosen Berroco Ultra Alpaca and then I went into a very busy summer with work, and then found a house and dived into the home purchase and moving process.  By the time things began to settle, Claudia was beginning to have health issues, the race would never start.  I pushed the pattern to the very back of my mind.

1huugg8mrwa66unqhlqlqgEarlier this month, the knitting community took another hit.  We lost Tom Britton too.  What time I was able to spend with Tom, was spent laughing.  He always had a quick remark or a story that could bring even the grumpiest of people to tears of laughter.  He too was a master knitter, always encouraging, and you could not have met him and not considered him a friend before you left his company.  I wish I had gotten to know him better.

This week, the Mitali Shawl began to haunt me. It kept popping into my mind at the oddest of times.  With so many other projects on needles, half done, I swore I wasn’t going to start anything else.  The yarn came out of the storage bin Monday.  The ball winder made it onto the kitchen table yesterday, the yarn was caked, there was no stopping now, out came the needles and 321 stitches cast on later I started.

Oddly enough, the word Mitali means friend.  Maybe that’s why the pattern began to haunt me.  This one is for the friends lost too soon, to be completed as quickly as I can.  I’m racing myself, my thoughts, and as the yarn flies wishes of hope for all those left behind that called these two friends.

Double, Double Toil and Trouble -Two at a Time Socks

I definitely didn’t win the lottery last night, so I’m on the road again and stashed in the travel gear is a sock project, my ever faithful travel partner…well…as long as the pattern is simple enough.

There’s a set at home that are in the UFO (unfinished object) cabinet that requires 6 pages of cable charts.  Those are NOT good travel partners.  Having neglected knitting virtually all summer I got a wild hair to work up a quick, simple pair based on the Time Traveler Socks (simple toe up – Fleegle heel) , before jumping back into Area 51 – the unfinished object cabinet – to finish a sweater, two tops, multiple shawls, the complicated socks, a blanket, and a few stuffed animals.  Yeah, I know, I might have a problem.  A lot of those projects were left over from when I was teaching on a more regular basis and as the class ended they went on the back burner to finish at a later date as time allowed.  My gut hunch…this winter is actually going to feel like winter with appropriate weather to stay home on cold days and catch all this stuff up.

So….those socks.

I had kidnaped a friend from a car dealership while her car was in for a bunch of regular maintenance and we just played the day by ear until the car was ready to go. Both of us being craft nerds found ourselves in Yarn Junkies in Hoschton, GA. We didn’t plan on going to a yarn shop…it just happened…money was spent, it happens, despite swearing I wouldn’t buy any more for at least a year.   Yarn Junkies is a well stocked shop with a good selection, and on the new arrivals wall, I saw a box with two balls of yarn.  Attention grabbed!  It was Uneek Sock hand-dyed self-striping sock kit by URTH designed to make two matching socks.  I’m lazy when it comes to matching stripes, if the yarn doesn’t do this magic trick on it’s own I’m not bothered with it.  The shop only had two boxes left in two different color ways.  I did notice something immediately though, the sample photo on the boxes does not seem to remotely match actual colors of the yarn.  I picked up sock kit 59 which shows yellow, black, purple, red, grey and maroon striping on both the packaging and the URTH website.  The colors actually in the box were purple, black, mustard, lilac, rust, and green.  My friend, purchased the second kit, and it had very different colors than the indicated photo as well.  From a review standpoint, this would be a huge turnoff if I had ordered yarn offline and received colors so vastly different, but coming straight from a shop and seeing what I was actually purchasing didn’t cause a bother.  The yarn itself is soft enough to be comfortable on one’s feet, but has enough nylon included that it should wear well for quite a while.  The quality of the Uneek lines have improved under the URTH brand name, but I’m still curious about the link between URTH and Feza, but that’s some research for another day.

pCaxb63hRN6uKjaNol96PASince these kits were split into two even balls of yarn, I thought it would be a good time to try knitting two socks at a time using the magic loop technique.  I’ve seen it done a few times, and get the logic, but oddly enough have never tried it, which is a little surprising since I have experienced Second Sock Syndrome on a few patterns.  There’s quite a few videos out there explaining the technique and how to start, this is one of the few times I’m going to let you find a video instructor that works best for you (until I get around to making a video – wink wink).

My friend and I both picked up Size 1, 40″ circular needles and headed off to go cast-on until the car was ready.

So how’s it going?

So far, so good.  Cast-on, and the first two or three rows were a little odd getting started with a toe up pattern. I would imagine this would be an issue with any experienced knitter but one that can be worked through with a little patience and practice.   Let’s be honest, the beginning of a single sock, on either circulars or double pointed needles can be a bit fiddly.  I used Judy’s Magic Cast-On.  I set up sock one, and then tied a very simple knot with the working yarn and the tail to keep sock one from running away while I set up sock two.

Eventually, you’ll fall into a rhythm with managing two separate balls of yarn and having two separate parts going at the same time.  I thought a 40″ cable would be overkill, but it does allow ample room to manage both socks without risk of sliding your project to the very end of the cable loop and loosing that divide between the front half and back half of the sock.

Even the most simple of sock pattern will require just a touch more attention, once you accidentally forget to drop the yarn from the first sock, and knit it into the second sock and realize you’ve begun to knit the crotch of tights instead of separate socks, you probably won’t make that mistake again.  The technique will begin to feel like you’ve done it a thousand times after you get a an inch or so into it.

For the heel in this case, I will have to work one heel completely and then slide over to sock two and complete that heal, I don’t see a logical way to work my favorite heel without having to move unworked stitches around from one side to another on every pass.  I could, it would insure 100% consistency in this case, but personally, I’m not sweating it.  As long as the the foot, and leg are even, I’m happy.

At least there are a few obvious benefits to taking the wee bit more effort to manage two socks at a time.

  • No Second Sock Syndrome! You’ll either have a pair at the end of this process, or you just won’t.  LOL
  • Row counts and measurements will be consistent between both socks, which should eliminate a lot of time measuring or counting between the traditional one at a time process.
  • Did I mention no Second Sock Syndrome?
  • Gauge will be more consistent between the two – there’s been an odd occasion or two that a second sock has been a half to full stitch off on gauge no matter what I do.  Same needles, same yarn, just slightly different.  It’s not greatly impacted fit for me, but it can be frustrating when you can see a slight size difference, especially if you’re gifting a pair.
  • If you make a change in a pattern you can carry it right over to the second sock then – you know – just in case you forget to write it onto your pattern (cough, cough, guilty, cough)
  • And again, no Second Sock Syndrome

If you’ve not given two socks at a time a shot, get experimental on your next pair.  If the magic looping two socks at a time doesn’t work for you, throw one sock on a stitch holder and work one at a time.  No harm done.

.

Unapologetically Busy

When was the last time I wrote anything?
May?
I’m just a little behind on updates and my knitting.

I haven’t finished anything significant in a little while.

No, I’ve not fallen out of love with knitting, life has been a little busy lately.  It happens to even the most dedicated of knit junkies.  There’s a few unfinished projects laying around and there’s a sweater to knit for a good friend of mine that I would like to finish before the coldest part of winter arrives in Georgia.  So deadlines….

What’s been going on?

Well there’s always work shenanigans.  It’s been a very busy summer.

Then there’s the big change.  I moved.  This wasn’t entirely planned but when the opportunity to purchase a home that had a mortgage that could fit my budget, fit my needs, and had also been recently remodeled, I jumped on it.  I moved into the new place in early August and still have a room full of boxes to unpack.  Most of my knitting goodies are behind the wall of boxes on purpose, if there were easily accessible, those last boxes may never get unpacked.

That’s part of the plans for my weekend though, unpacking, and organizing it into a functional space.

There it is, it’s short, but it’s an update.  Things will settle down before long, and things will get back to normal.

Travel Season is Here. What Are You Taking With You?

Long car rides and flights, days on the beach, evenings on campsites, summer vacation season is days away.  What are you taking with you to work on?

If you’ve never taken a project on the road, give it a shot on your next trip!

So what makes a good travel project?

I’ve traveled with everything from socks to sweaters, it really depends on the type of trip, but I’ve found that there are few guidelines to making travel crafting pleasurable.

  • Think small. I know summer seems like a the wrong time of year to be thinking about hats, socks and scarves, but these are great small projects to bring along.  They take up just a little space and in most cases don’t require more than yarn, needles/hook, and maybe a pair of scissors.
  • Think simple.  If your project requires multiple charts or a novel of directions, it can get fidgety when confined to a small work space like a plane or car.  There are plenty of one page projects or one page, easy to remember charts out there to pick from.
  • Think color.  One color is your friend!  Trying to manage multiple colors can be light fighting an octopus when you’re on the move.

Here are a few ideas for projects to throw into a project bag and carry along on your next adventure….

Lataa can be made with a single skein of sock yarn and has a small repeating chart.

The Vortex Shawl can get a little large but is still manageable on the road. Once you’ve completed a few repeats of the pattern, it’ll stick with you until it’s done.

These Poseidon Socks pack a lot of punch without a lot of fiddling around.

Coraline in Wine Country has an easy to memorize pattern and it’s a crochet piece so it’ll move along fast.

Vanilla Latte Socks are a quick work up, and would work with virtually any colorway.

With a linen based yarn the Clapotis Cowl would be a great summer piece for those chilly office spaces you’ll have to return to after your vacation.

There it is…just a handful ideas to pack up and take with you on the road this summer.  Give it a try! Want to share your favorite travel projects? Post them up in the comments.

Yarn Snobbery: Justified?

Yarn-Snob-Pin-IvoryIf I’ve learned anything hanging out with knitting types is that there are varying levels of yarn snobbery.

I’ve met them before: the true, honest-to-god-, in the wild, classic yarn snob.  These are the people who only knit 100% natural fibers, usually with the highest price tag, and shrivel at the notion of touching any man-made fiber.   I’ve actually had a classic yarn snob say to me with a straight face that they were allergic to acrylic yarns and meant it. I’m not saying that an acrylic allergy is impossible but the gut hunch in this situation was this person felt the need to justify their fiber extravagance with a statement that many wouldn’t go out of the way to question.

There’s another classification of yarn snob; the acrylic snob.  Yes, they actually exist, and usually stand aghast in a local yarn store when they see the price of high-end yarns.  These folks love their yarn work, but they can’t justify the cost of pricier yarns for a myriad of reasons.

Both sides of the snobbery fence can make beautiful knitted or crocheted projects out of their materials of choice; and often stand in judgement on one side of the fence or the other.  The classic snobs are seen as pretentous the acrylic snobs are accused of beign cheap. Is it really worth it to park firmly in one camp or the other?

That answer is NAH!

I’ll admit that I’ve railed against certain brands of mass-produced commercial yarns (cough cough Red Heart cough cough) but even it has its purpose in the crafting world.  Most beginning knitters and crocheters begin with these types of yarns.  I fall into that category, dozens of projects were hooked in my childhood and teenage years.  Honestly, chain craft store yarn was really the only thing available to me for a very long time, and I really didn’t know any better.  I learned to knit in my 20s on the same yarns, and then I eventually wandered into local yarn shop and my knitwork began to change dramatically, and went through a few solid years of classic yarn snobbery.  It was lacework that forced me down the classic snob path, and I still won’t use a anything but a natural fiber for the thinnest of yarns, personally, I think it’s a risk to do fine lace work and then not have it block out correctly because of a too high man-made fiber content.

Being a classic yarn snob is expensive as hell though, and I evolved into a yarn connoisseur by necessity and a great deal of crafters fall into the connoisseur category.

Connoisseurs have learned the pros and cons to different fiber types and blends of those types.  An 100% acrylic yarn can’t be traditionally blocked and may not be the best for a garment, but an acrylic yarn with a 20-30% natural fiber content will block beautifully most of the time instead of dropping $150+ for higher end natural yarns for a sweater.  We’ve learned that there are some projects that an inexpensive acrylic yarn can really be the best choice, especially for items that could really end up taking a beating like toys and some afghans.  We’ve learned that the super squishy soft cashmere and wool blend would be gorgeous for that baby sweater for a friend but know that it would realistically be a burden on a new parent to have to hand wash it so it’ll end up worn once and put in a drawer, so we find a soft, washer and dryer friendly yarn instead. We all know that one craft-worthy friend that simply can’t wear animal fiber due to allergy or lifestyle choices, blends of cottons, bamboo, viscose, or other materials are acquired. Knowing fiber types and how they function and are made go a long way, and is absolutely worth taking the time to learn, and help others learn that walking down the middle path of yarn acquisition isn’t a bad idea.

While introducing crafty types to different yarns and manufacturing processes – they learn how to make an educated decision for their individual project needs.  But, what one ultimately chooses is entirely personal choice. Yep, totally personal choice.  Curling your nose and someone’s choice of yarn isn’t polite.

I personally prefer animal fiber or mostly animal fiber blends for myself.  I will admit that this preference isn’t the most budget friendly at times, but it helps if you have a talent for catching a good sale here and there.  If you take a good look at my horde though, you’ll find a pretty fair split between high-end animal fibers, and animal fiber and man-made fiber blends.  There’s even a fair amount of acrylics for oddball needs here and there.  It’s a balanced horde, and one I’ve sworn to work from for quite a while (well, unless someone asks me to knit them something specific as a commissioned project).

 

All in all, to each their own, it all really boils down to we’re making stuff for ourselves, and for others, and are having a great time doing it.

Avocados and Wool?

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Freshly Picked Hass Avocados

I have family that left Georgia and moved to Southern California and began rehabilitating and building up an existing avocado grove roughly 5 years ago. Within the past two years they’ve begun to incorporate coffee into the groves too. Coffee is a post for another day, most of the coffee is still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things and such a rarity in this region it deserves special attention.  Trust me here, Southern California as a coffee region is fascinating…but today…avocados.

 

Like all agricultural adventures there’s a lot more to it than sticking it in the ground and waiting for harvest. Avocados seem to be a special brand of pain in the ass. They aren’t ideally suited for the region. They require quite a lot of water, human intervention to keep from being sun burnt, protection from high winds, and extremes in temperature. California seems to be the epitome of where avocados, citrus, berries, and other amazing food crops shouldn’t be growing, but mankind has found a way and there is an enormous amount of produce that comes out of that state. The family works this magic and keeps these trees alive and producing.  I’ve heard the worry in my Aunt’s voice when winter days are predicted to be colder than they should be, and summer days scorching new growth. I’ve been in the grove myself hours after a driving rain and hurricane force winds to help cut away snapped branches heavy with fruit and seen pounds of it on the ground, now destroyed. Let’s add to it that this farm is also organic which is its own set of special rules and care  Every tree requires maintenance, and problems that may pop up need to be discovered and handled early before they affect greater portions of a tree or God forbid other trees.  On top of that, young trees may take 5 or more years before they start producing fruit.  Farming on a commercial-scale is by no means easy, especially when it’s on a small family ran farm.  A lot of man hours by only a tiny handful people keep the show going.

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Avocado Blossom

There’s a reason I don’t flinch much at the pricing when I see quality avocados.

 

I got the opportunity to pick for the first time this weekend.  The farm had an order for 600 pounds due for pickup Saturday morning, so I got the crash course in picking, sorting, and boxing.

There’s a lot to take away from this experience. First thing, I really need to mail an old pair of hiking boots to the farm for my future grove adventures when I drop in. This farm like many others in the region are on hillsides, some so steep pickers need climbing gear for safety reasons. Thankfully, the family farm is no where that steep, but these trees require mulching and it’s not hard to slip navigating around trees. The slip on, virtually no tread, shoes I brought with me just didn’t cut it, but the job needed done, so a baby stepped down the hillside and around the trees.

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The Damned Picking Basket

Picking ain’t easy. Low hanging fruit is plucked pretty quickly but you have to find it first.  I easily missed a few at knee height that my Aunt swooped in and harvested. The avocados themselves do not vary much in color from the leaves around them, I’m also somewhat convinced they have mini-invisibility cloaks they toss on when they sense their impending doom. Getting higher in the branches takes a bit more skill. Picking baskets are put on poles and you’re expected to maneuver this thing through the branches, position the fruit between some prongs, give a tug and hope to hell you don’t drop the damn thing. If the fruit hits the ground it’s toast, and not hipster toast, it can’t be sold.  Unless I wanted to eat all my dropped avocados as punishment (after a third avocado in a row, they lose their novelty) this skill had to be learned quickly.  I fought for five minutes to get my first basket picked avocado.  I was informed that cussing at avocados stuck in the tree is the first sign that my mind is going.  If that’s true, I’m in trouble.

 

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675 Pounds of Potential Guacamole

Bucket after bucket is filled and loaded on the farm utility vehicle to be transported back up the hill to the sorting space.  Walking into this space, there are mountains of boxes pre-made and ready to be filled in 25 pound increments.  Being on an organic farm, and following FDA guidelines, hands get washed, everything gets properly wiped down, and then the sorting begins.  Every single avocado gets weighed and sorted into a box based on its size.  Avocados are a little sneaky, and it’s ill-advised to sort them by eye.  It was surprising to see how many times I would think one these things would be a medium would actually be considered a large.  I’m using small, medium, and large loosely here.  These boxes are filled with sizes based on how many fruits should be in a 25 pound box. Oh and guess what?  If you drop it inside, it’s a dead avocado…again.  Sorting goes pretty quickly when you get into a rhythm, after a box is filled, weighed, and if need be adjusted by pound or so, it’s dated, labeled, and stacked on the pile for pickup.  Then shortly thereafter, because avocados begin ripening pretty quickly once picked, they are purchased, loaded onto the truck and on the way to the local restaurants this particular client owns.

 

That’s avocados in a nutshell.  Well, that’s more like avocados over simplified, and as I’ve said before, if it is an option in your area, shop small, shop local.  Local farmers depend on us too!