Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Yarn

I’m pulling apart an old afghan I found by the side of the road—to be more specific, at the same apartment house where I found The Beloved Crockpot-- and making new things out of it. It is a distinctive acrylic yarn, made in the late 1970s that changes color through the rainbow. If you were alive then, you know it. You probably had an afghan or pillow in your house made out of it. So far, I have made two pairs of children’s mittens (very cute) and I’m working on an Ironic Vest. There has been a suggestion that I make leg warmers from some of it, to be worn on the Day of Salience or any other time a rainbow is needed. I’m all over the idea.
Some people have been giving the yarn puzzled looks—why are you messing around with that stuff? It is ugly! It may be, but, as Julia observed in the car yesterday, while watching me pull out and rewind three big balls of the stuff, I have a mystical connection to it. I’ve been pondering that connection all morning…

My first project with this yarn was in seventh grade. All the girls were required to take Home Economics (taught in my old second grade classroom with two sewing machines, a couple of tables, and nothing else. This was NOT a hands on experience !) while the boys had Industrial Arts in our math teachers classroom. (He had cancer and a long-term sub, so he clearly had no pushback rights to sawdust all over his space.) I DID NOT want to take Home Ick. I did not want to spend my time contemplating my wardrobe, filling out a worksheet on how many skirts and sweaters I had, what needed mending (everything) and what had to be replaced, taking into account color-coordination, because, as we were taught, you should have one main color and two accents in your wardrobe so that everything could mix and match. My mother did that; for years, everything she owned was red, navy blue, or white, usually one of each. She did it to me and my father as well. I did not like looking like the American flag all summer, but…she bought the clothes. My big rebellion was wearing poka dots with plaid, until she was onto that and bought only solids—so slimming, you know.
I glared at the teacher for several weeks, and then went to the Higher Ups, supported by my entire extended family of carpenters. I wanted out of Home Ick and into Industrial Arts. I wanted my chance at the power tools. “We can’t do that,” they replied. “Why not?” “Because then all of the girls would want to do it” was the logical reply. “Exactly,” I thought. “We all hate sewing.” So, they compromised. I could take Industrial Arts for two weeks, then I had to go back. For two sessions, I ran the power tools with the boys. Then I left, Debbie Fifick took my place for her two weeks, and we were done.
By then, I had another weapon—the yarn. My mother had taught me how to crochet and make granny squares, and I was obsessed. Rather than reading under the table—my usual way of avoiding schoolwork I did not like (perfected, I might add, it the same classroom where I was now tortured with clothing worksheets rather than seatwork math problems) – I crocheted madly around my giant square. For two weeks, the teacher was delighted. I was participating! I was sharing my knowledge of crochet with my neighbor! I was constructive! By the third week, as the square grew larger and larger, she had her doubts. I was not learning anything new. I was subverting the system in a new, and more devious, way. I was still a problem.
I finished the afghan a few months later, and spread it on my bed. I was proud. I learned a lot from the project. First, I had to think about how to turn the square into a rectangle, so that it was shaped to the bed. I learned how to apply knowledge and wing a new idea. Then, I ran out of yarn and could only find it in a tangled mass in the back room of a yarn shop—so I learned patience in detangling yarn—and other things. There’s a skill there. I learned persistence. I discovered the lovely addictive meditative state your brain slips into when you do any repetitive task for a long while.
I made many other things from that yarn. I made long knitted tubes that I sewed into mats and doilies and headbands. I made sweaters for the dolls sitting on my shelf. I made a trellis for my green beans. I made bookmarks. I made an octopus. I probably made a few dishcloths. It worked its way into two more granny square afghans. By the time I left high school, I was done with that yarn.

But then, there it was, sitting by the side of the dumpster. I picked it up, took it home, threw it in the wash and hung it in the sun, and started ripping. Who knows where it will take me this time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer in Jars

The canning season is here. The shelves have been cleared and surveyed, the jars sorted—pint and quart, large and small mouthed—new lids purchased, canning dishcloths, stained with last year’s blackberries and beets, found, and foraging has begun. A few weeks ago, Mark and I clambered about on a friend’s roof, picking cherries and watching a cold front blow in from the west. The next day, I pitted cherries until my hands were deep purple, choosing some for a pie, packing most into the dehydrator and the rest into jars for the winter’s granola and yogurt. Then rather than hauling everything back downstairs to the far corners, I transformed The Larder (a space half way down to the cellar) into the canning storage unit.

Today I pickled beets from Sunbow. It is cool and clear out with a nice breeze, perfect canning weather. Two loads of laundry are flapping on the line—t shirts, underwear, jeans and a lovely flowered tablecloth. The chickens are cheerfully fussing over whose turn it is to sit in the nest area; Agnes is turning into the yard’s labor coach and the entire neighborhood knows it. The house smells of vinegar and sugar and allspice simmering on the stove while I peel and chop the beets—once again, it looks like a massacree has taken place on the counters. Clean jars wait for the vegetables and brine; my steam canner—a wonderful invention!—waits for the filled jars. Old music plays in the radio. It is a perfect morning and this energy will go into the pickles and waft out again this winter, when I go looking for something with color to add to a pale dinner. Summer in a jar, as Greg Brown sang years ago.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Outdoor Shower

Greywater is illegal in the state of Oregon. I just have to put that out there because anyone who cared to track the amount of water coming into the house and leaving the house during July, August, and September might have a few concerns that we are breaking the law. Years ago, I hitched up the washing machine and bathtub to 55 gallon barrels and pumped the water into the gardens. I also established a dish-washing chart in a place of honor on the side of the fridge, with a legless flamingo magnet tracking the next herb barrel to be watered. I like hauling buckets of water out to the herb barrels and raspberry plants. I like pumping the laundry water from an old 55 gallon blue plastic barrel into the flower garden and how the entire backyard feels humid on laundry days—but my favorite system right now is the outdoor shower.

When we first moved into our house, I used a solar shower bag from Campmor. It worked pretty well—you really don’t need that much water to get clean—but it just splashed around the old wooden pallet and didn’t water anything but some weeds. It was also really heavy, when full, to heave up onto the nail on the fence. When it died after three or four years, I gave up on outdoor showers—until I spotted an old tub—FREE—by the side of the road. Someone was remodeling their bathroom. I hauled it home. Mark and I used it as a wading pool, full of cool water, during the next heat wave. Pretty nice. That fall, I rearranged the flower garden bed so that I could tuck it into the back and we built a frame out of wood recycled from habitat for Humanity and hung fabric around it. Cool water tub…we bailed the water out.

The next summer, I hooked up a hose between the basement sink and the outdoor tub. Hot water. You had to run downstairs and turn it on and it could be a little tricky getting the temperature right, but it was hot water. A trip to Habitat produced a showerhead. Hot showers. But, bailing the water onto plants afterwards took away some of its charms. It became very problematic when I hung boards on the frame rather than fabric, so this spring I made a trip to the plumbing store. Half an hour later, I had all I needed to run the water from the tub, through a hose (purchased at Habitat), and into the garden beds. A few days later, I had the tub raised enough so that the water would flow out AND not wobble. That night, after a good hike, I tried it out. A quartermoon was rising in the sky when I slipped out. The water temp was perfect. The towel was still sunwarmed from hanging in the frame all day. The water drained out onto the mint. It was amazing. I’ve even convinced Mark to use it; he was about to grumble about pumping shower water out of the basement like we always have when I pointed out that, if he showered outside, the water would flow directly onto the plants, saving the electricity. Now, he’s considering the final touch, a cool showerhead. He may be visiting Habitat this weekend.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I love watering the garden early in the morning—it comes alive and I am drawn to it, standing and staring for hours while the rest of the world floats on. I have rigged up a series of soaker hoses into all of the vegetable beds; one long tube branches off for each bed so that I can control how long each is watered. It is a good system, held together by beloved hose clamps, although it does explode with a geyser several times during the season and I always rush in for repairs without turning the water off beforehand. You would think that I would learn after the first experience of a faceful of water, but…This morning, the hoses hummed softly to themselves, millions of fine sprays soaking into the earth. Occasionally one shoots higher into the air, watering the grass, but a shift in the straw mulch that is now covering all of the beds redirects the stream back into the soil.

Drawn by the sound of water, all of the living creatures are out today. The honeybees are loving the Shirley poppy stand—it hums when I walk by. Each flower has a bee in the center, working away. Flies investigate the buckwheat back by the blueberries. A dragon fly comes into the shallow blue bowl for a drink, then perches on the chicken fence, out of reach of the cat. A bumblebee stumbles along in the white clover between two beds. A young jay fussed that this is HIS yard, not some other birds. The larger creatures are here as well. Kayli lounges under the garden bench in the shade, considering a fly hunt. Lucy washes, perched on the top of the ladder that I had out to string up a trellis. The chickens are all lurking by the gate, hoping that I will toss them an overgrown radish or a sorrel leaf. I hunt among the plants, looking for overnight changes. Yesterday, I discovered a cauliflower, ready to eat, in the Spring Bed. Today, I check the peas and broccoli, strawberries and blueberries. Margi already has a zucchini—are mine even blooming yet? No. I make a list in my mind of chores that still need doing—plants that need to be tied up, trimming around the beds, some fall seeds to start—but there is no rush. Sufficient order prevails for right now. The water wishes on through the hoses and the world pauses—at least for an hour or so on a summer morning.