Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Those of you who live in the north-east (especially those of you in State College, PA!) know that we've had a week or so of unusually cold weather for October. When Steve and I moved to Massachusetts along with a larger monthly rent bill we also inherited a utility bill we've had nothing to do with for the past three years: heat. Had we been in our old apartment in State College for this recent wave of cold weather, I imagine we wouldn't have hesitated to turn on our heat. Now that we're footing the bill, however, we're doing all that we can to hold off turning on the heat as long as possible.

For me the fun thing about cold weather and feeling cold is it puts me in the mood to knit, so this past week my knitting needles have been going like crazy. To start I whipped up a pair of fingerless gloves to wear around the house. I'm sure this sounds a little crazy, but it really helps; especially when I have to type papers, use my hands to turn pages while reading or, and this one in particular is key, when I use my hands to knit! The gloves are super cozy and definitely made braving the cold weather without heat more tolerable.

Once my hands were warm enough to continue knitting I worked on a project I started in March: a seamless yoke sweater. For those of you who aren't knitters and are unfamiliar with this particular sweater pattern it was designed by a famous knitter (yes, there are famous knitters, and yes I realize that admitting I know of famous knitters shows just how into knitting I am), Elizabeth Zimmerman. The amazing thing about this sweater is that it has no seams; if this doesn't seem amazing to you, take out any sweater from your closet and count the number of seams it has - now imagine trying to figure out how to construct a sweater without any seams - crazy, right?

Being someone who always has to do things the hard way I decided that I didn't just want a seamless sweater, I wanted a seamless cardigan. This meant that I was going to cut my knitting. Again, those of you who aren't knitters don't understand the seriousness of this task. Knitting is based off of a ton of string that is looped together in a way that if one portion of that string is cut the entire sweater would likely unravel. In order to prevent this from happening when I cut my knitting I created two very strong seams and then cut in between them. I then added a button band and a collar and voilá: seamless yoke cardigan!

This is the first official sweater I've knit so I'm very excited its complete. The yarn for my second and third sweaters has already been purchased. Thus continues my obsession with knitting.

Friday, September 18, 2009

sand animation

Classes have started and I'm officially loaded down with work! The immense amounts of reading I have prevents me from taking the time to write a long blog entry right now, so I thought I would share this cool video with you instead. My sister sent it to me a couple weeks ago and I was amazed at how talented this woman is. She does sand animation; this video is of her on "Ukraine's Got Talent". Enjoy!

Sand Animationn - Kseniya Simonova

Sorry the link isn't fancy and embedded - I do know how to embed YouTube videos, but have my reasons for not doing so.

Friday, September 4, 2009

turning lemons into lemonade

or pricey tomatoes into tomato soup!

I was pretty frustrated after my last post and, at first, didn't really want much to do with my pricey tomatoes. However, after spending so much on them I had to do something with them, so I started hauling out my canning equipment and went to work making tomato soup. After canning this soup last year I don't think I'll ever buy Campbell's again; we ran out toward the end of winter so we've been missing it for a while and were very excited to have a fresh batch to devour. As I worked away, preparing the soup for preserving, my anger at the woman who doesn't know a bushel from a half-bushel subsided, as it was overtaken by excitement and anticipation for more delicious tomato soup.

Since then I've made a lot of progress with the whole localvore in MA idea. I went back to localharvest.org (a great resource for anyone trying to buy local produce, by the way) and started calling farms again - this time extending the radius a bit. After a comment my brother-in-law made on my last post about traveling a bit for cheaper produce, I realized that one of my biggest problems was that I was trying to find cheap produce 15 minutes or less from home. In State College I traveled 30-40 minutes to Belleville for cheap prices; if it's necessary, why not do that here as well? As I made my way through the farms, checking out their websites and calling, when necessary, to check prices or amounts they sell their produce in, I started to find some really cool sources for local produce in the area. Here are just a few:

Connors Farm: This farm has a really cool CSA you can sign up for and is actually really close to us. They provide all the vegetables a typical CSA would, but, being primarily a fruit farm, they also provide a lot of berries. As a CSA member you also get to pick a bouquet of fresh flowers from their gardens each week and you get 2 free passes to their corn maize in the fall. As you can imagine I'm already on their waiting list for 2010. :) For those not interested in being a part of a CSA: they also have a lot of fruit you can pick yourself, which helps to keep the cost down. I'll definitely be checking them out when I'm ready to make applesauce.

Brooksby Farm: I actually found out about this farm when I called Connors Farm to get a price for peaches - Connor's peaches froze earlier this year, but the guy I talked to said he thought Brooksby still had some peaches. This farm also has a lot of fruit you can pick and they sell their peaches in 20 lb. boxes at a discounted rate (though you do have to order them ahead of time). So you get them fairly cheap and you don't even have to pick them yourself! Canned peaches were our lifesaver when we were craving fruit last winter; needless to say I'm picking up a box tomorrow morning.

Wilson Farm: This was a very exciting find; its a huge farm that has an equally large farmstand that is open year round. They're two time winners of the "Best of Boston" award and...they sell tomatoes...in bulk...at a very reasonable rate! We checked them out yesterday - the farmstand really is huge and has a lot of cool things. They do import some of their produce, but from what I could tell they were very good about marking where things were from, so you knew if it wasn't local. When we did find things without labels the workers were able to tell us, without any trouble, where the items were from. They also sell meat and cheese: other than the beef, their meat is all from local farms and I believe most of their cheese is local as well. Though this place ended up being about 30 minutes away from us it was definitely worth the trip! In addition to my tomatoes, meat and cheese, we found some hot peppers to spice up some salsa for Steve and a fairly large, really healthy basil plant that I plan to re-pot and eventually use to make pesto.

Since my last post I also found a Boston Localvores website which has a ton of great resources for people trying to eat locally in this area. They even had a fun blog about canning together which reminded me of canning together with my friends in State College....good times! Also I found this blog which explains that the northeast area of the US got hit with late tomato blight this year which destroyed a hefty portion of their tomato crop; this definitely explains the strange looks when I ask for large quantities of tomatoes.

So for now I'm celebrating 13 jars of tomato soup, our first batch of salsa with our garden tomatoes, the 50 lbs of tomatoes I have to can this weekend and the 20 lbs of peaches I'll have to can tomorrow! Major progress from my last post...very, very exciting!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

the trials of a localvore in massachusetts

So my experience buying local produce in Massachusetts has been quite a disappointment so far. I started with the local farmer's market, fairly certain that I wouldn't find anything in bulk, but still slightly hopeful for a half-bushel of something. I found that the prices there were not just a little higher than what I'm used to in Belleville - they were double what I used to pay! Corn, for the most part, isn't really sold by the dozen - its sold by the ear at the high cost of $.50/ear. Most things are priced by the pound so, though they might agree to sell you a bushel of tomatoes no one would ever ask for such a thing because the cost would be outrageous. I asked a couple of the stands if they sold the same produce at their farm and if you could get it in larger amounts - at the mention of a bushel of tomatoes most of them looked at me like I was insane and responded that they had no idea what the cost would be and I would probably have to pre-order such a large amount. After this I spent a few weeks dejected, convinced that no where in New England was going to sell me a bushel of tomatoes at a decent price.

Finally this week I decided that I need to call around and at least ask some of the farms before I give up entirely (after all - winter is coming and without shelves full of canned goods I have no idea what we would eat!) So I started dialing - the first farm acted like I was insane to ask for a bushel of tomatoes, the second didn't answer, but the third completely understood what I was asking for and priced a bushel of tomatoes at $25. In Belleville a half-bushel of tomatoes was usually around $8 so this was only $9 more which wasn't too bad considering some of the other prices of local produce here. Their farm had a stand every day from 9-7 that I could pick them up from (without pre-ordering!). So excited that I finally found something that would work I planned for a Saturday morning outing to get the tomatoes and then planned what all I was going to can all day once they were in my possession.

This morning I woke up excitedly and headed to the farm stand - I was briefly worried when the girl at the stand had no idea what I was talking about, but then she called someone and the next thing I knew she was leading me to the "bushels" of tomatoes. The box she said was a bushel looked more like a half-bushel, but since she hadn't really known what she was doing to begin with, I figured I would just go along with it and then call the woman I talked to the other day when I got home. Surely she would correct the problem and I could just pick up the rest of the tomatoes another day. Unfortunately when I called the lady informed me that one box is 25 lbs which is a bushel of tomatoes. Basically I'm the victim of false advertising. A bushel of something usually isn't based on weight, but on volume, but an estimated weight for a bushel of tomatoes is 53 lbs, putting the weight for a half-bushel around 25-26 lbs. So this annoying lady sold me a half-bushel of tomatoes - trying to convince me it was a full bushel. In addition to only being a half bushel of tomatoes the box wasn't even that full (see picture below). Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll find anything better so I'm left paying more than double what I'm used to or just giving up canning which, nerdy though it may sound, I love. So far life as a localvore in Massachusetts is way more difficult than I expected. Signing off feeling ripped off, frustrated and more than a little angry...

my "bushel" of tomatoes...what a joke:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

fear, harry potter and 3D

NOTE: I just realized that though I wrote this at the beginning of the month and never remembered to post it! Just imagine that its Aug. 7th!

Steve and I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie last night as part of our anniversary celebration. One of the new fun things about the area we just moved to is that the local movie theater has an imax theater in it. Since Steve had never seen a regular movie on an imax screen we figured we'd splurge for the extra $4 tickets and check it out. In addition to being an imax movie it ended up being in 3D...actually I should say the first 15 minutes of it were in 3D - at least those 15 minutes were cool though!

As we sat watching in 3D I was lucky enough to witness one of the high school girls in front of me reaching out to touch the images in front of her. Suddenly I was reminded of my last 3D experience - sitting in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids show (I think!) at Disney world. I specifically remember putting my hand out at several points in awe of the fact that I couldn't actually touch the images that were appearing before me. Unfortunately I soon afterward became freaked out by the characters rushing toward my face and spent the rest of the show either with my eyes shut or my 3D glasses off.

It was such a refreshing reminder of how easily I'm overtaken by irrational fear. I'm proud to say that at least this fear was one I overcame: I was able to sit through the whole film - 3D glasses on - eyes open!

Some shots of our anniversary celebrations:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

writer's block

So I haven’t blogged in a while because I’m up to my ears in boxes trying to get everything packed for our big move to Massachusetts next week and have just felt so overwhelmed with the details of this move that I’ve found myself with writer’s block. All my ideas for posts just seem stupid or when I sit down to actually write them don’t come together as I envisioned. I think this is because I’ve hit what I’ll call the “quitting time” phase. A lot of people who start a blog write like crazy for a few weeks and then sort of drop off suddenly. It’s like they no longer have anything interesting to write about. It happened to me on my last blog and seems to be striking again.

Which made me think – why do we find ourselves so uninteresting that we can’t even come up with four weeks of material to write about? Are our lives that boring? Or have we become that uncreative? Or maybe a more positive way to think about it is that we crave person-to-person interaction and community and therefore resist opening our lives up to an online community?

For now I find myself without answers, but relieved that at least a blog about having nothing to write about may help me push through my writer's block and hopeful for comments that provide some insight. Successful bloggers – share your secrets!

Monday, July 6, 2009

incentive to buy local

The above picture is of the demolition of O.W. Houts and Sons, a locally owned, old fashioned department store. One of the coolest places in town "Houts" contained a hardware store, a butcher, a grocery store, household items, a furniture store, a garden center and a lumber yard. The business was started 80 years ago by O.W. Houts and was being run by his grandson and great grandson, Larry and David Houts when the decision was made to close its doors.

We have a special connection to Houts because the Houts family owns the apartment we rent which also means we live right down the street from the building. Larry Houts is our landlord and David Houts is our matience guy. One of Steve's favorite things about Houts being down the street from us was that he could stop on the way home, buy a couple of fresh steaks from their butcher, come home and slap them on the grill for dinner - delicious! The hardware store in Houts was also the place where you could find the random things that no other hardware store would have. Our friend that has a DeLorean (yes like in Back to the Future and no I'm not kidding!) told us that Houts was the only place in town that had a machine that could make copies of the key for his car - random stuff like that was what you could discover in this cool old building.

When we ran into David Houts after the decision was made for the business to close you could see he was overwhelmed with grief for the business his great-grandfather had built. He explained to us that they crunched the numbers at the end of the year and just found that it didn't make sense to keep it open any longer. Many employees lost their jobs, some, like the butcher, who had worked at Houts practically their whole lives.

In a few weeks all the rubble will be cleared away, the old Houts sign will be taken down and there will be no evidence that this neat store ever existed. Things like this - the disappearance of what in some ways was a historic store - are what motivate me to buy local. Often this means that I pay more for the items that I buy, but I really don't mind that because I can see the face that the extra money is going to. I know what and who my money is supporting and to me that's worth spending more money on less things.

Some of our favorite local places to shop in State College:
Appalacian Outdoors: Outdoors store in downtown State College located on S. Allen Street. A few years ago EMS tried to come into down and the "App House" put them out of business!

Comic Swap: Comic book store located in downtown State College on S. Frasier Street. Being the wife of a comic book lover I have to mention our local comic book shop. I've been in a few comic shops with my husband over the years and I have to say that this is by far the coolest I've seen.

Myer's Dairy: Dairy, ice cream shop and restaurant located in Boalsburg, just outside of State College. Their milk made a milk lover out of me (who never liked milk before) and their ice cream is by far the best in town.

The Nittany Quill: Stationary store located in downtown State College on S. Frasier Street. For Christmas Steve got me a giraffe ornament from here that was made out of leaves, seeds and fibers from palm trees. It looks like it was made out of bristles from a brush - very cool!

Ottos Pub & Brewery: Restaurant/Brewary located on N. Atherton Street. This is our favorite restaurant in town! They serve local food and beer brewed onsite. They also make the most delicious root beer. All their beef is from cows they raise themselves; they even supplement their feed with the spent barley from their brewery.

Stitch Your Art Out: Local knit/quilt shop located just outside State College in Pine Grove Mills. Being a knitter I have to mention the local knit shop!

Webster's Bookstore Cafe: Used bookstore and coffee shop located in downtown State College on S. Allen Street. This is my favorite "hangout" in State College. They serve delicious, fair trade, shade grown coffee along with a lot of delicious local foods for lunch or breakfast. They also have a huge selection of used books at very reasonable prices. Also every winter they have a half price used books sale which makes some of the books as cheap as $2 or $3!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

feast and famine

Because I try to only eat local foods I spend most of the year without fresh strawberries. With the convenience of local grocery stores most people don't realize that in this area the strawberry season is actually really short. If I buy early and late strawberries (that are very expensive and not very good) I could probably stretch the season out for maybe a month and a half. Unfortunately I'm too cheap for that so I only buy strawberries in the peak of their season which means I'm lucky if I have fresh strawberries for 3 weeks. Yes, that means that I only eat fresh strawberries for 3 weeks out of the year and no, I'm not crazy.

One of the things I value about eating locally is that it forces me to feast and fast. I really think creation was designed to force us to feast on delicious food when it's in season and then have what I would call a time of "fasting" when that food is out of season. Instead of following this pattern it often seems that Americans feast every day which causes us to appreciate the goodness of our food less. A feast doesn't seem quite as special when you spend every day feasting.

My husband and I have been anticipating strawberry season for months now. Last year was the first year that we ate only local strawberries and so we hadn't been ready for the short season. I honestly expected local strawberry season to go along with the amount of time strawberries are super cheap at the grocery store (which is practically all summer). We didn't feast as we should have during our two weeks of fresh strawberries to hold us off for an entire year without them.

So this year we feasted properly! The first day I came back with strawberries from the farmer's market we each had a bag with lunch and then I made strawberry shortcake for after dinner. The next day I had strawberries and yogurt for breakfast, plain strawberries with my lunch and leftover strawberry shortcake after dinner. In two days we ate 3 quarts of strawberries! Since then I've made all my favorite things to have with strawberries: ribbon of chocolate pie (pie crust with chocolate chips on the bottom, then a custard filling and strawberries on top), chocolate fondu, ect. And let me tell you it is good!! Eating strawberries non-stop for two weeks really forces me to focus on them and appreciate just how delicious they are. So even though its no fun to be salivating over grocery store strawberries in mid-December the time of feasting that I await makes it all worthwhile!

Strawberry Shortcake:

Ribbon of Chocolate Pie:

You may have noticed I threw in the word "fresh" a lot. I do cheat a little - I freeze strawberries every summer so that we can have some for the long winter months. I assure you though - it is not the same as eating them fresh! It does help when you're really craving them though. Here's some strawberries all vacuum sealed and ready to go in the freezer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

the quest for the perfect fair isle pattern

I've been working on this fair isle hat for over a month now and just couldn't put together a pattern I liked. I'm making the hat to test out the fair isle pattern I'll be using for a sweater I'm making (that's taken a lot of time and money) so I wanted to get it just perfect. I finished the hat tonight with a pattern I really like (YAY!) so I figured in celebration I would share some photos of the process:

This was the beginning of the first pattern I tried. It started out OK, but as I got into the section after this part I realized that it was going to be way too big of a pattern for the front of a sweater.

This is the second pattern I tried - I think I just wasn't paying attention when I designed it because I made the first and third fair isle rows basically the same thing and the second one was extremely similar to them so it was a little boring.

And the winner is....

I guess the third time really is the charm!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

the beginnings of jalapeno peppers

I tried planting a container garden for the first time this year (see photo below) and so far its been going really well. I planted some tomato plants at a friends house last year so I knew what to expect with them, but for the first time I planted a jalapeño pepper plant and a pickling cucumber plant. Since I haven't planted them before I was a little concerned about them surviving especially since I'm trying out the whole container garden thing.

So the other day I go to check on my plants and the blooms on my jalapeño plant are dying! I was so upset and certain that something was wrong until I realized...the blooms were dying to make way for some beautiful peppers! Next time I'll have to examine the cause of the dead flower more extensively before freaking out! I thought I would share some pictures of the blooms and the peppers poking through since its bringing me such excitement!

my container garden:
my jalapeño plant:

a close up of a healthy bloom:

a close up of an emerging pepper:
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