Saturday, October 14, 2017

CATastrophe Averted

Deep into family history research last night, I was only dimly aware of thumping sounds from the other room. When I finally surfaced from the 18th century, I found Henry the kitten tearing around the living room wrapped in yarn and dragging my almost fully knit sweater behind him. It was an exciting and stimulating discovery for me, and quite an embarrassment for Henry.
All is well once again. Henry was extricated from behind the sofa and the yarn unwound from his back foot. The sweater was fished out from behind the TV, somewhat dusty but miraculously still on the needles. My skein of yarn will never look the same. The knitting bag was locked in the closet for the night and tired little Henry went to sleep with a dreamy little smile on his face.

No photos were taken during all the excitement, but here is the untangling process well underway this morning. 



A colorful project unharmed and just a few more inches to go.
Note: Also makes a good dust cloth. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hello, Henry!


This is how we feed them here at the Zee house. Please welcome young Henry (aka Hank, aka Handkerchief), shown here eating on the lower deck. He is an older kitten rescue from the local shelter. 

From the ASPCA Pet Statistics page: Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.

Our local shelter has worked hard to lower the rate of euthanization and to place their homeless animals into caring homes. They bring dogs available for adoption to many community events, and they have satellite operations around town where cats can be seen up close. It's much more relaxing to look at just a few cats in cages at a pet food store or, in our case, the "Kitty Condo" at our county building, than to go to the shelter. Visiting the shelter is an overwhelmingly emotional experience for me--so many animals, such great need!

Bill became acquainted with Henry because he (Bill, not Henry) attends a lot of meetings at the County Building and stopped by the Kitty Condo each time to visit a little kitten called Jupiter (now Henry). Once they were bonded, there was little I could do. Now we are a much livelier household!

Plus, we get to live another 18-22 years, the possible life expectancy for a cat. I'm absolutely sure it works that way.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Taking on a Complex Project: Inspiration and Interpretation




I found this photo of the Nepalese Haley Jacket on Ravelry. If you've never heard of it, Ravelry tells us it "is a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration."  

I am fascinated by this garment and have spent a lot of time staring at the photo. The colors! The designs! The techniques! 

The person who created it, whose Ravelry username is "Rishi," didn't include a pattern but did mention elsewhere that she loves a jacket called Kestrels Alight Kimono, designed by Sarah Swett, and published in the book Knitting in America by Melanie Falick.

Our library didn't have the book, but I was lucky enough to find a used copy online for only five dollars. It's a beautiful book, originally sold for $35, but now somewhat out of date. Of course, "out of date" is very subjective, and most of the things in the book appeal to me. Most importantly, I now have some directions for shaping the garment. 

The technique for knitting this jacket is one I've always wanted to try. This is Fair Isle knitting that has two or more colors per row with strands carried across the back, and it is most efficiently done in the round, rather than as flat shaped pieces that are sewn together . That much I've done before, but here is the technique that is new to me: The sweater is made as a tube and then the front is cut open, as are the armholes. These cuts are called steeks. For my knitting friends, there is an excellent online tutorial by Kay Davies on steeking. See the first part here: https://katedaviesdesigns.com/2012/04/29/steeks-1-introduction/

Phew! Scary stuff, to take a pair of scissors to knitting you have worked on for such a long time! They tell me it works, and I'm going to find out. 

And from what I can tell by enlarging the photo, I think that the front band was knit separately as another tube, short and wide, then cut apart and connected to the jacket body. Another fun steek! Later note: I've found that this band is knitted by picking up stitches from the front, then knit as a tube, etc., instead of being knit separately then attached.

I've enjoyed looking through my knitting books for Fair Isle designs to use. The next section of my sweater will have a flower design that I found online. My printer is disappointing me these days, so I will be spending some time transferring and color coding the blurry online photo to graph paper this afternoon.

This is where interpretation of the original inspiration garment comes in. Nothing about my project will look like Rishi's beautiful jacket: My stitches will be much bigger, my colors and designs different, and the finished product will probably be a light sleeveless cardigan vest instead of a warm jacket with sleeves.

I've got about six inches knit so far. To get to this point, I needed to knit several swatches so I could determine my gauge and find out how many stitches to put on what size needles. Rishi knitted a dense fabric with tiny No. 2 knitting needles for her jacket; I wanted an airier, thinner fabric (winter in the desert is cold, but not that cold), so I am using much larger No. 8 needles. 

After figuring out the gauge I began the actual garment, found an error, tore it out. Began again, tore it out again. And again. I'm on my fourth try now and all is going well. Even though it has taken a couple of weeks, I've learned a lot along the way!

The jacket at the top of the page took Rishi "about a year to complete." This project is going to be all about the journey, not the destination. 

Doesn't look much like the inspiration jacket, does it? Funny how that happens.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Still There

Giant storms and earthquakes and volcanoes spewing ash. Schoolyard bully-style name calling, missiles flying and jets swooping, hydrogen bomb threats... it's a wonder we can sleep at all.

When I woke today from a restless night, the world was still there, so I took a walk in it.


It was pretty cloudy when I started out, but the sunlight slid right through the mist covering the mountains.





My phone camera did its best to capture the emerging light.



Beany, dirty face and all, kept a careful eye on me, 


while Weetzie watched the great blue heron that accompanied us, up ahead and just out of camera range. 


Farm workers have picked truckload after truckload of green chiles from these fields. Now they wait for the last ones to turn red for the red chile harvest.



I know the farmers rightly dislike the field bindweed, but its flowers are beautiful among the red chiles. I saw some tomatillos growing in among the plants, too. 


I need to stop watching the news and take my cues from nature. 

Here is Arthur Symons' poem, In the Wood of Finvara, first published in 1896. Although my heron is no fairy bird, and Symons speaks of "sea and sea" and fairy woods and not of the desert and its irrigated valleys, he knows my heart.


I have grown tired of sorrow and human tears;

Life is a dream in the night, a fear among fears,

A naked runner lost in a storm of spears.

I have grown tired of rapture and love's desire;

Love is a flaming heart, and its flames aspire
         
Till they cloud the soul in the smoke of a windy fire.

  
I would wash the dust of the world in a soft green flood;

Here between sea and sea, in the fairy wood,

I have found a delicate, wave-green solitude.

  
Here, in the fairy wood, between sea and sea,
  
I have heard the song of a fairy bird in a tree,

And the peace that is not in the world has flown to me.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Love Story (Again)

I wrote this back in 2013. I think that it's appropriate to repost it today on our 36th anniversary. 

Way back when Beez and I first got married in 1981, we bought our first new furniture. My favorite piece was a small-scale wing chair with red Colonial plaid upholstery. It was the perfect size for me because I am short and the chair allowed my feet to reach the floor.

I sat in my comfy chair to read and to think. When we moved from Washington state to New Hampshire, the little chair came along and fit right into our 1770 Colonial home (see The House on High Street for more about that historic house).

Through the years, sitting in my little wing chair, I read about raising children, adoption issues, and going back to college as an adult. I studied for my classes in that chair; classes that helped me earn first a Bachelor's degree and then a Master's. I learned to knit there and made a lot of sweaters.

As I grew older, I also learned to take a quick nap while sitting bolt upright in that chair. Of course as I aged, so did the chair. An overenthusiastic puppy chewed the chair's legs and ate the upholstery right off one of the arms, so I learned to make slipcovers. Then I learned that slipcovers made out of thin fabric don't last. When the first yellow gingham slipcover got worn out too quickly, I made another slipcover out of a sturdy flowered fabric that I didn't like much. From that I learned that stuff you don't like just never gets any more attractive.

The third slipcover was made of plain and sturdy white canvas that I really liked. It lasted a very long time and went with everything, even this red room I painted in New Hampshire.

Red living room with dog basket and white wing chair

We moved to New Mexico and retired. By and by the white slipcover wore out, too, and the poor little chair looked so shabby. I threw a quilt over it but eventually decided, not too long ago, that it was time to say goodbye to my loyal and comfy companion. I asked Beez to please take it to the dump, right away before I changed my mind. He loaded it up and drove away.  

It was like deciding to put down a beloved old dog. I had really thought that it was the right time and just didn't have it in me to make another set of slipcovers, but I was haunted by the thought of my good little chair down in the pit at the dump, lying there at the mercy of the big bulldozer. 

That was almost a month ago. Today I came home from a morning at my knitting group and walked into my special little reading room. There, standing once again in its usual corner, was my beloved little chair--all reupholstered in fine new fabric, with its formerly scratched-up wooden legs refinished and gleaming.

And there was dear smiling Beez, who (after 30-some years) knows me better than I know myself. 






Thursday, August 17, 2017

This Time of Year: Rain and Terror and Grief and Small Joys

Me to feed store guy this morning: "Got a bit chilly last night, right?"
Feed story guy to me: "Sure did! Almost had to turn off the air conditioning!"

We grinned at each other and had one of those moments where you share nice feelings with someone you hardly know. In this case the feelings were because 1) we've just about made it through another sizzling summer and 2) we're heading into months and months of pleasant weather.

Unlike the guy who runs his a/c all night, I just sleep close to an open window and around 3AM had to get up and rummage around for the light cotton blanket I'd put away last spring. Nice chilly sleeping weather.

We're still making our way through the monsoon season, which means (at least this year) that we have lots of rainfall and everything here in the Mesilla Valley is nice and green. The weeds are outrageous, of course, but I just try to think of them as fresh salad greens for the chickens.

The garden is out of control; all planting plans have been lost in the mists of last spring. It was way too hot all summer to venture out to do any weeding, since there was never a morning early enough to beat the sun. The plants that couldn't stand the heat frizzled up and the plants that made it through to this rainy time of year are romping all over the place.

Take a look at these morning glories--they love everything about this time of year. However, they have embraced and dragged down my poor sunflowers; and I'll bet no one can see the tomato plant that has been completely overtaken. It's somewhere under there on the left, but I lost sight of it last month. No matter--it was my first time to plant a Sweet 100 cherry tomato and it was a whole lot less than successful. Tiny nasty-tasting tomatoes that even the chickens didn't want.



The four o'clocks are still happy, although their brief daily blooming time is more like six o'clock (AM), so for most of the day they are closed up.  All through the garden are the volunteers--giant clumps of marigolds and columbine that just appeared, and a small field of self-seeded zinnias out in front of the house. 


Forgive me. All the babbling about this and that is really my way of whistling in the darkness of a very scary world, full of cruel tragedies--Barcelona terror attack today, Charlottesville Nazi marchers and the death of a young woman a few days ago. The specter of white nationalism in my own country is a nightmare. 

So, I've chosen to talk about flowers and weather and the small joys to be found in my own backyard, where hidden seeds spring up into something beautiful. I really don't know what else to do at this moment. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Zees Go a Little Farther West

We live down in the unseen valley between this mesa and those mountains


The irrigated valley where we live in southern New Mexico is surrounded by mountains. Between the valley and the mountains are flat-topped mesas. The other day we traveled west out of town and up onto the West Mesa to see what we could see. 

We traveled west until we came to the Corralitos Road, a place we had never explored. It was pretty wild west-y out there. The range was open, meaning fences like this one are relatively rare, so the grazing cattle can wander where they will.






The road was silent and empty, like so many roads in New Mexico. But, wait... What are those black spots up ahead?


Look out commuters, there's a bit of a traffic jam and a possible slowdown in the right lane.  No, the left lane.


No, the right lane...


After the traffic cleared we had the road to ourselves again. No sounds but the tires on the dirt, the crickets and the birds. 

The geology was fascinating...



... and so was the botany.



There was even a little astronomy going on, off in the distance. What wonderfully dark skies they must have.




While heading back down to our own peaceful homestead, we paused at the Corralitos Ranch to admire this rustic building...

Just behind that barn are the little corrals that give the road its name


... and to give some thought to the sign we'll remember for the next time the grandchildren visit.





Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pecans, Chiles, and Mountains All Around

On my pre-sunrise walk this morning, I saw pecan orchards to the right of me with the Organ Mountains in the distance...


 ...and chiles to the left of me with the Dona Ana Mountains in the distance.


The chile plants are almost ready for harvest, and they smelled so good.


There are even a few red chiles peeking out. I'm guessing that this field will be picked for green chiles soon. As my Bill will tell you, there is nothing in the world like a green chile cheeseburger. Other folks will take a green chile right out of the roaster (where the outer skin is burned off), stuff it with some cheese, and eat it out of hand. Mmm, that first green chile of the season!

In some cases, the farmer will wait for all the chiles to turn red. Red chiles can be eaten fresh or dried for future use.



That sky!



Heading home again, this time with a view of the Robledo Mountains.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Airborne


This is the sort of rustic scene I see on my morning walk. A chicken getting ready to fly the coop. A rusty old truck in the background--so New Mexico. A dead tree. And...wait, a goat? A goat in the tree?




This is the goat who entertained us by teetering on the top of the fence the other day (Morning Glories). I've been waiting for a chance to catch him/her resting in the tree. Forgive the blur--Beany was trying to help me focus by pulling on his leash. 



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mushroom Hunters, What Do You Think?

Because this is the fourth wettest rainy season on record here, we are seeing things we've never seen before. Weeds are leaping up to the size of small trees within weeks. Our desert world is green--not just in the irrigated valley, but up on the dry mesas as well. 

And we are seeing these fungi all over the place. Can anyone tell me what they are? I don't have any photos to show what they look like one day before these pictures were taken, but the smaller version has a pointier cap shape. The second day they spread out like this. 







Our suspicious-looking chickens can provide some sense of scale in this last photo. Mushroom hunters, what do you think we have growing here?


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Morning Glories

This is the sky that greeted me this morning. 


It's monsoon season here in the desert. This is the fourth wettest year on record, so far. That means lots of clouds, which make for interesting photos. 

Yesterday, the sun was just breaking through some gloomy morning clouds. As long as those clouds bring rain, we are happy to have them here. 


The day before that, the morning clouds were echoing the shapes of the mountains again


And this is the friend I see on my morning walks, the little goat who lives on the other side of the orchard from us and who likes to climb trees. I was ready to get a photo of him doing just that, but this time he decided to teeter on top of his fence instead. 

If you peer through the pecan orchard, you can make out a part of our garage roof on the left. Whenever I go out to see the chickens or to tend to the garden, this little goat calls to me and I say hello back to him. 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

10th Anniversary

I almost always miss anniversaries, and this one was no different. I still want to celebrate it, though. 

The first post on The Zees Go West appeared 10 years ago this month on July 5, 2007. It was called Aux Arcs and Beyond and was about our trip by car when we moved from New Hampshire to New Mexico.


We traveled 2000 miles through 14 states in four days; used 11 tanks of gas; and saw license plates from every state but Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii. We traveled in three time zones, saw the World's Largest Cross, and lots of kudzu. We saw signs for parks named Hungry Mother, Frozen Head, and Toad Suck; we passed by Pickles Gap Village and Dollywood; and we drove by exits for Little Skin Bayou and Mount Magazine.

We traveled with two dogs (one of whom is still living) and three cats (one still with us; the others are buried out back in the pet graveyard) and lots of houseplants.

Gracie loves chicken TV


I wondered at the time what I would write about next. It turns out that wasn't such a problem after all, as there have been 1135 posts since then. Good grief, 1135! And 381,695 page views...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

When the Clouds Echo the Shape of the Mountains


This is what I saw from my front porch last night. Too bad about that pole, but I can't complain about the view. 

After dark there was lightning aplenty, then a wonderful drenching rain. We got an inch of rainfall--big excitement in desert country. That's maybe a tenth of what rain we'll get all year. I'm sure there were dangerous flash floods somewhere, but here our scraggly back lawn will turn green in a few days. The pecan orchard manager won't have to worry about irrigation for a while. All our flowers in the raised beds will perk up because there is a huge difference for them between the rare rainwater and the usual groundwater from the hose. 

If children still played outside they'd be dancing in the puddles.

As for us, we are grateful that it is well and truly monsoon season. Oh, we'll complain about the 40% humidity. But we know that, once again, we have lived through the hardest season of the year--the days and days of triple digit temperatures. From here on out the weather will be just fine. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

¡Fiesta! Or, How We Know We're Not in New Hampshire Any More

We love our grocery store--Lowe's Fiesta Foods--here in Las Cruces. It has a special section for religious candles.



 The spices come in bags like this, and they have Spanish names: Canela (cinnamon) and comino (cumin) are ones I use a lot.



The chile section is mas grande. These are just a few of the dried ones. Over in the fresh vegetables you'll find the long green chiles that are such a big part of New Mexican cooking, and there are also fresh pequins, poblanos, cascabeles, jalapeños, and guajillos. The dried chiles, some shown below, include pasillas, serranos, anaheims, habaneros, poblanos, chipotles, mulatos, and the list goes on and on...


There is an aisle devoted to cooking utensils, including stone molcajetes, which are the Mexican version of the mortar and pestle for grinding food and spices, and are traditionally made of basalt. Friends up on the west mesa of Las Cruces say folks in their neighborhood occasionally dig up old ones in their gardens. 

Over in the meat department, packaged beef tripe for menudo, a classic tripe soup/hangover cure, takes up a lot of space; as does buche (cooked pork stomach), and pigs' feet. You can buy prepared barbacoa beef, carne adovada, and other marinated meats ready for cooking. 

There are very large 5-10 pound packages of prepared masa, which get made into tamales. Of course, you can also buy bags of masa harina and make your own dough, and there are always large packages of corn husks, also used for making tamales.

One of our favorite parts of the store is the big open tortilleria, where you can watch fresh corn or wheat flour tortillas roll out of the huge machines and get bagged up for you, still warm. 

It seems that every southern New Mexico food market features at least a few piñatas for kids' parties. 


Today I noticed some beer bottle piñatas for more adult gatherings. 


Even on a blazing hot summer day like today, the atmosphere in this store is always friendly and pretty darned festive. People move slowly, stop and chat with neighbors and friends, and smile at each other in two languages.