Halloween is a tough one. It’s the only holiday I can think of that is so utterly centered on the joyful celebration of cheap candy. I mean, total junk. Every year my kids come home with an incredible assortment of not just the classics- Tootsie Rolls and Hershey bars, but some truly weird stuff: eyeball gumballs encircled by bulging veins, gummy cheeseburgers, packages of barbeque chips and unlabeled “mystery taffy.” The Halloween candy bag is the graveyard where crappy candy goes to die.
Even after a hefty parental culling and sorting process, it takes us months to get through so much as a small portion of their gargantuan haul, mostly because we adhere to a strict one-piece-per-night-and-maybe-not-even-then policy. It doesn’t help that I fully resent the role I am pulled into of being a spokesperson for the candy companies: I explain what each one is, impatient for them to choose so we can move on to our bedtime routine. “Snickers? well that has caramel and nuts inside. Three Musketeers? Well, it has this mush inside… I don’t know how to describe it. You just have to try it. Skittles? Well they’re like fruity M&Ms. Yes, they’re good! They’re all good! It’s candy for crying out loud!” How did I get roped into this, anyway?
Three days before Halloween this year I realized we still had half-full bags of last year’s candy in the back of our top pantry shelf and I, heaving a huge sigh of relief, finally pitched them into the trash without remorse. I have several friends who would likewise pitch the entire trick-or-treat business with similar enthusiasm. One family we know avoids the whole business altogether and just stays home, while others go out grudgingly, knowing full-well most of the evening’s proceeds will have a date with the garbage can before Thanksgiving rears its equally gluttonous head.
Me- I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, I have memories of trick-or-treating being one of the high-points of my childhood years, to the point that when my friends started deciding we were “too old” to go I was genuinely mystified and definitely disappointed. Why couldn’t we still go? Who doesn’t like to dress up in costumes? And get free candy? Instead we got cheap cans of shaving cream and— being too timid to assault any actual property— started spraying each other in the street. The cops showed up in about four seconds. Welcome to the suburbs. Continue reading The Very Best Milky Way→
It all seemed so harmless, a few years ago, when my cousin Gretchen was given a few sheep for free. She then proceeded to cultivate what she describes as a most decidedly un-free hobby, and began writing a blog about her experiences. We would visit, the kids would pet the sheep, the sheep would look at us with dewy eyes- and then we would leave. No big deal.
Then, last year, my dear friends Katrina, Sue and Dan collectively purchased a small flock of Icelandic sheep with fleeces so gorgeous they verged on the obscene. (Note: being an obsessive knitter and fledgling spinner myself, I am helplessly drawn to fiber like a moth to flame.) Katrina began emailing me pictures of adorable furry sheep faces and talking about her favorite ewes in the rapturous tones usually reserved for newborn babies and kittens.
Then, this past September, I made a fateful trip to the Shetland Islands. Owning sheep in the Shetlands is kind of like having oatmeal in your cupboard- it’s really, you know, not such a big deal. And because Shetland sheep are ridiculously hearty and have no natural predators on the islands, not to mention the fact that farmers are given a subsidy from the government for every sheep they own, the darn things are everywhere, dotting the verdant landscape like so many grains of rice on an endless perfect putting green.
So increasingly I feel like I’ve been on a crash course in the ovine arts. My love for animals and knitting, coupled with the fact that we just happen to have a couple dozen unused pasture acres surrounding our house… (Did I mention that our property used to be a sheep farm many moons ago? No?) Well, let’s just say I’ve been having… thoughts. Continue reading The Perils of Sheep Fever→
There are few things more abjectly humbling for a knitter, I think, than one’s first gaze upon a Shetlander knitting Fair Isle. And if that knitter is me, then figure in being just-off-the-plane jet lagged and staggering around with an “I got forty-five minutes of sleep last night” look on my face. I was, in short, agape.
It was the beginning of September and I was lucky enough to be attending a knitting conference (!) in the Shetland Islands (!!). Carol, a good friend, fellow writer and obsessed knitter whose ancestors are from the Shetland islands, (and who, it turns out, is related to a good third of the population of the town of Lerwick,) was going and she invited me to tag along.
Before I left, everyone I spoke with was extremely curious: what could a “knitting conference” possibly entail? And where the heck are the Shetland Islands? I, personally, had no idea. Being a big fan of both knitting and going new places, however, I was absolutely convinced I was going to like the answers. It was on that basis alone that I rearranged my life, forked over a truckload of moolah to the good people at Continental Airlines, and agreed to miss my children’s first week of school. (Gasp! Crappy mother alert!)
But back to me being agape. “Fair Isle” is a much-abused term which describes patterned knitting using multiple colors. You see the term bandied about with carefree abandon, used to describe everything from J. Crew pullovers to dog booties, but seeing the real thing in action is another matter altogether. Fingers fly. Incredibly intricate patterns emerge as if by magic. Often, there are no patterns in sight, because the knitter has all the relevant information… in her head. Continue reading Why Buy, When You Can Knit?→