Thursday, April 26, 2007

Detroit, Here I Come!

I feel like a hypocrite after yesterday's post. I am off to Detroit to do three segments on Shay Pendray's Needlearts Studio PBS t.v. Show. I fly today and return Friday night. I am totally ill-prepared but since I'm talking about what I know, I think I can pull it together okay. I have quite a few hours in the hotel for swatching and with the illustration deadline, I haven't had time to do anything but draw and paint. Our sweet little farmhouse looks like a bomb hit it, but I'm leaving and don't have to look at it. It doesn't seem to bother any of the inhabitants.

Last night, I picked up the Kristin Knits projects at a girl's track meet in Buckland, Massachusetts so that I would be able to bring them with me and show them on the t.v. segments (along with the Julia yarn). While there, I spoke with the COO of Storey Publishing (the publisher of CS and the new KK) and he gave me great news - Michael's (the giant craft chain) has been re-ordering Colorful Stitchery like crazy and it's going to re-print.

Although in my personal life, I prefer frequenting and supporting small businesses who are independently owned, this hasn't help my bottom line with Colorful Stitchery. It seems there are very few independents left who sell stitchery items (correct me if I am wrong, you shop-owners out there who sell stitchery, read my blog, and who bought the stitchery kits from JCA). It seems the best dollar (and maybe only) is with stores like Michael's, JoAnn's, and Hobby Lobby for this book.

I am so proud of what I have done with
CS and it seems a shame that knitters who perhaps know my work haven't embraced it and crossed over the stitchery void - or maybe they just aren't interested. The folks at Storey think it's too "early." Whatever it is, I hope it catches on more sometime because it is such a beautiful piece of work (in my humble, or not so humble, opinion).

I honestly can't wait to get back to "Farm, Sweet Farm" on Friday night and see what else is blooming. The flowers shown here popped up overnight on Wednesday - they are such a vivid shade of blue. The kittens are growing too! Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Deadlines looming

April 30th (next Monday) is my illustration deadline for Kristin Knits. I wasn’t going to illustrate this book but then somehow decided I couldn’t pass up the money. I’ve got dreams of a new IBook. I haven’t had a laptop since the first Power Macs came out. It wasn’t mine – it was the company’s I worked for but I loved that thing – all 23 lbs of it or whatever it was. It was heavy and gave off a lot of heat. I used to sit on my porch and work on knitting charts and typesetting and be able to look at the birds and my flowers.

I used to work a lot – a real lot – probably what most single people do now without a lot of family obligations. Weekends away at trade shows. Travel to NYC for a day. Saturdays at the office working on stuff. There was never enough time to get everything done. I was committed to helping the company grow and making beautiful products.

One Friday night after telling The Farmer, I had to work the next day, he said to me, “What do you want them to put on your headstone? That you worked every Saturday?” I sat up and took notice. I still went to work the next day but I started to think about my life a little closer.

The Farmer is a lot smarter than I am in many ways. He had what I would call an difficult childhood. He doesn’t think so but when you compare it to my family life growing up in a two parent many child home where my mom never worked outside the home, it sure was different. His mother was a nurse and she worked all the time. His father was a dairy farmer and we all know how much work that is – more than all the time. He and his two brothers were raised by an elderly aunt when one parent wasn’t around. It doesn’t sound much different than how kids are raised today. When he was eight, his father Norman (The First Farmer or “The Farmer’s Father”) died suddenly of a brain tumour. His grandmother moved in and helped out and Betty, his mom, tried to keep it all together. All the cows were sold and the three boys muddled through. Somehow, Betty was able to hold onto their farm. She eventually ended up getting a real estate liscense and sold houses for the rest of her life. (She was and still is my hero.) She died the year after we got married and we still miss her desperately 22 years later.

The Farmer’s life has been shaped by his upbringing, as all children’s lives are. When I first met him – and we are talking almost thirty years ago - I remember his shy manner particularly. But I also remember his total love for his family’s farmland and western Massachusetts. He told me he came from the “Most Beautiful Place in the World.” I was impressed that someone, so young, could know this. I couldn’t believe that someone who grew up so monetarily poor (although not hungry), could be so well-adjusted and positive in their outlook on life.

Now that I have been living here for several years, in His Most Beautiful Place in the World, I completely agree. I thank my lucky stars I found such a great partner in life and that we can enjoy so many things together – the land, plants, animals, our families, and our daughter. I thank him for telling me it was okay to not work on Saturdays and to enjoy life a little more.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Julia Hits the Road - The Yarn, that is - Not the Child

Last week, I went to the Westminster Sales Meeting to do what I always refer to as a "dog and pony" show but in this case it was "yarn and book" show. I was invited by the Marketing Department headed by Linda Pratt. The attendees were several staff members from Westminster and the entire sales rep force for the United States. There were yarn company representatives from Germany, Australia, and Great Britain all presenting their products. I only saw the Nashua Handknits presentation done by Susan Mills. The mohair sweater shown at the right as seen in the dark in the hotel setting is one I did for their new Mohair Collection.

I stayed up extremely late one night putting together a lifestyle presentation. I have been out of the "yarn loop" for so long that I didn't know half the sales reps and they didn't know me. This is rather frightening because I used to be well-known and an industry design leader when I was at Classic Elite. It's amazing how fast you can become an unknown. I've been watching a lot of old movies lately (not exactly Audrey Hepburn old but not current) and have been thinking about the actors that were featured then (back in the early 90's) and remarking to myself - "Gee, I wonder where they are now... they were so talented... and now they are gone.... kind of like my career now that I am freelance and choosing to do other things and living my life differently outside the corporate/tradeshow/marketing world...."

Back to the sales meeting. I put together about 50 photos from our life and farm here. Some were personal about my family and Julia - there was a tie-in there because my yarn is named after her. Some were about the sheep - it was a wool talk after all. Some were about my garden where I get color ideas. Some were just plain fluff. Last year when I went to the meeting, I didn't know you could project a computer screen onto the wall and so I was ill-prepared (I brought little snapshots and the room was a mini-ballroom). This year, because I don't have PowerPoint, I did the next best thing. I built pages in a book in Adobe InDesign and then turned it into a PDF file. It worked like a charm and I learned a little InDesign which I have been shying away from. I'm a whiz at Quark but don't have a current program on my computer. I bought Adobe CS2 and it has everything I need if I could just sit down and learn it all.

Next I did a slide show on my book Kristin Knits which the Westminster reps will be selling. It was nice to look at all the photos of the projects and hear the response from the reps. It was positive and I hope that they place the Julia Yarn and Kristin Knits into a lot of stores. My professional life is in their hands right now. To say I'm worried about the outcome is an understatement. These reps are now booking appointments at your local yarn store. They will sit down with a shopowner within the next 2 to 3 months and try to sell them lots of yarn. Julia is just one of the yarns they are presenting - in fact, the yarn presentation they make will probably include in excess of 150 yarns. They are representing not only the recented formed Nashua Handknits but also Rowan, Jaeger, Gedifra, Regia, Schachenmayr, Anchor, Glorafilia, and Susan Bates. That's a lot of yarn to look at for a shopowner and decide upon.

So dear blog readers, here's your job, if you will..... If you want Julia in your LYS, now is the time to talk it up to the owner. Ask them to carry it in a nice color range. And then buy it from them next fall when it comes in. You'll love the yarn - it knits beautifully and the color range is fabulous. The new book Kristin Knits has got 27 wonderful projects of varying skill levels, nice photography and clear illustrations. My family and I will thank you for this.

Please excuse the sales bit here. I try to keep it out of my blog but sometimes I just think all the back story in the yarn business is just too interesting to leave out and that someone will be interested.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Additions

Last week - one week old. First photo. Julia is in love. Eyes shut and we're just trying to stay away and let them grow. They were born in Julia's sweater closet. The momma, Lilly Pons, pushed the sweaters away and delivered four healthy babies.

Yesterday - busy momma with four little babies. Two orange striped, one black and white, and one black.

Tonight - their first official photo with their eyes open.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Margot Apple's The Name Quilt

More to add about the Margot Apple visit at the Eric Carle Museum on Saturday. Margot read her most recent book The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root which is a lovely story about a grandmother and her granddaughter Sadie’s summer vacation on a farm. The grandmother has a quilt which is made of scraps of fabric from various handmade clothing from family members. Each square is embroidered wth a family member’s name. Grandma and Sadie spend a lot of time talking about different humorous family lore all brought on by this wonderful textile. The quilt blows away in a storm and Sadie is devastated. They make a new quilt together.

I love the message in this book. I also saw such a nice connection with what I do - sewing and stitching embroidered names on things. The book has a 1930's feel to the clothing and the fabrics. Maybe I'm just living in days gone by - loving all these old-fashioned activities. It's nice to see publishers still bringing out books like these that show children the value of handmade things. It's not the type of book that will get on the NYT Children's Best Seller list unfortunately.

I first found out about The Name Quilt when Margot came to Julia's classroom and did a special program. The visit was funded by the local library and cultural council. I went to listen because I knew Margot and Julia was dying for me to come. Julia's teacher was doing a quilt unit for the month of February and I was very impressed with the things she was bringing home - how she was tying in math and English with quilts.

After Margot read The Name Quilt, the kids each made their own quilt square out of construction paper. I stayed and helped Julia and generally watched the dynamics of the classroom. Almost all the boys made Jolly Rogers. I didn't know what a Jolly Roger was - it's a skull and crossbones. Evidently I've been hiding under my own little rock. The girls made ballerinas and hearts. The kids had to make the paper quilt square for someone they loved and then they presented the idea to the class. Here's the heart square Julia made for me. They taped their own squares to the wall and made a paper quilt. The local paper sent a photographer and they got a half page the next day! It's a nice activity if you are home schooling or a librarian looking for a story-hour idea.

Thanks to Margot Apple for passing on the quilting and stitching tradition to children.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Margot Apple at Eric Carle

It’s school vacation week here in western Massachusetts. I always try to do some cultural visits with Julia to help me keep my sanity and educate and have fun with Julia. Saturday, we went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in South Amherst. We bought a membership there this year and I have vowed to get my money’s worth. Too bad it is an hour away but I’ll try. The place is not big by regular museum standards but it has a lot to offer children and others interested in children’s literature and picture book art. Here Julia stands in front of one of the four humongous murals Eric Carle painted on Tyvek for the lobby. They are so colorful and evocative of his collage papers. There's a wonderful art room for kids to make art each visit. We made some printed quilt squares with linoleum blocks and colored pencils.

The event we were attending was a reading and talk by local illustrator Margot Apple. If you are a knitter and have ever had small children, chances are you know Margot’s work. She is the illustrator for the popular Sheep in a Jeep, Sheep in a Shop (page here from this book), Sheep Out to Eat and a few more all written by Nancy Shaw. They are fun books to read to kids – the rhyming and clever use of words make them favorites with children and parents. There's another in the works on sheep in outerspace.

I first met Margot at a book signing in Shelburne Falls at the small Textile Arts a few years ago. I was signing Knitting for Baby, she her own Brave Martha. It was spring, it poured, and noone came but Margot and I talked and talked sharing war stories of book publishing. Margot is also a knitter and handknit sweaters often appear in her books.

Margot has illustrated over forty books for children. She began her career in the early 70’s. Margot is down to earth and honest and has a great way with children. The reading room at the Museum was crammed with people – kids, parents, and grandparents. She works in watercolor, pastels and pencil. When asked her favorite medium, she said pencil because she can erase – how honest. Her favorite book project is Brave Martha which I love. It's a story about a cat and a little girl and the dark. The illustrations are done in pencil with watercolor added on top. They have a lovely sepia quality and I think they are her strongest work.

Margot is still illustrating but said it is difficult to find work now as her style isn’t what editors are looking for. This made me sad to hear because she is definitely talented and loves what she does. Her comments made me think about my own career and how long I will be wanted. My style definitely isn’t what the younger knitters begin with. I’m interested to see if anyone in their 20’s will buy my new book Kristin Knits. I find it hard to deviate from my particular style in knitwear. I’ve been asked by editors to do ballet tops, ponchos, and more. I always politely decline – I really have no interest in creating things I wouldn’t like nor wear. I’ve never been one to wear a bustier and I stopped wearing halter tops back in the 70’s (thank goodness). All something to think about……. Maybe I should start a new career.

More tomorrow on Margot.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Winter that Won't Quit

Winter got a slow start here in western Massachusetts but now it just won't leave. We had another couple of inches of snow yesterday and there is more predicted for Sunday. The Farmer was counting his remaining bales of hay and he's getting seriously low in his supply. He hays all summer and fall so he can feed the sheep. Some winters we run out, some we have lots leftover. It's the perils of farming. If we do run out, we'll have to purchase hay from a local farmer who has some to spare.

Most years by mid-April, the sheep are beginning to graze the fields of freshly grown grass. It looks like it will be awhile until they'll be able to do that this year.

The other night, Julia and I stopped by to see the new crop of baby lambs and to visit Cora, our now, rather huge bottle lamb. No matter how many times I see this sight, it always makes me laugh - one and sometimes two of the fully grown sheep will be perched atop a bale munching away. I think it must make them feel like they're on top of a mountain - and we all know how great that makes anyone feel!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hot Stuff

A few days ago, I wrote about the maple sap that was being collected on our dirt road and throughout New England, New York and Canada. Here in western Massachusetts, the sap season is about over. Usually, the season ends when the trees start to bud but so far this year, it hasn't been warm enough to make that happen. I'm not sure why, and maybe someone out there can tell us all, why the sap has slowed down but it has.

When Mom was here this weekend, we took her to Williams' Sugar House in South Deerfield. Our neighbors sell their sap to the Williams Family - I thought we should be authentic and watch it be professionally boiled. Besides being a right of spring, sugaring is just plain fascinating. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. It's an exacting, pain-staking process for someone with lots of patience. Throughout New England, big and little sugarhouses abound. Guys (mostly) hang out near the evaporators for hours, feeding the fire with wood and watching the sap boil. There's a fine point between finished and burnt - I know because I've burned a batch or two much to The Farmer's utter dismay. You can learn more about maple syrup and sugaring here.

This is the "evaporator" at William's. The wood goes in down below. The smoke goes out the long pipe on the right and the steam from the sap exits the short pipe. At the front of the evaporator, the sap is finished.

Lots of old-fashioned sugar houses also offer old-fashioned breakfasts with pancakes, waffles, and sugar-on-snow. The sugar houses are only open during sugar season. It's worth planning a trip to experience the entire tradition.

Real maple syrup is unbelievably sweet and flavorful. Make sure you have experienced it at least once in your life. We don't eat much of it around here because of Julia's diabetes. I tend to use it in cooking as a marinade. I slathered our Easter ham with a mix of maple syrup and mustard and it was delicious.

Here's a recipe for a mud rub that I use in the summer on pork on the grill. It's also good on chicken.

Kristin's Maple Spice Mud Rub

5 cloves garlic mashed with a little olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. I like this best on pork or chicken. Before grilling outside, rub the mud all over the meat and then grill as usual.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Hatchlings

The Nicholas clan gathered in New Hampshire for a fun Easter celebration. Julia loves to visit with her cousins - she saw all six girl cousins and had a great time. Me, I just love catching up with my sisters and Mom and brother-in-laws.

Our family supplied the ham from last year's pig and a leg of lamb from one of last year's lambs. Bringing our home grown products to share with our family is a great feeling. We're the only farmers in the bunch (although most of my family does a lot of gardening). We take a lot of ribbing about our "Green Acres" existence on this here plot of land. I would say we are definitely the odd ones out in that pack. Noone complained about the wonderful meat we brought. There was just a ham bone left for some soup and a few scraps of ham to throw into a frittata. It used to be that when we brought some of our home grown protein to the table, they would all wince and moan - my family is quite suburban. But now they go with it.

We had a totally inconvenient flu thing last week. It gave me a bit of time to work on these nutty Easter placecards. I got the idea here from the wonderful Kids Craft Weekly. I used some leftover wool yarn for the pom poms, and some wool felt for the eyes and beaks. Talk about tedious work - I don't know how they expect kids to do some of this stuff. I know my child doesn't have the manual dexterity for such fussiness - maybe one day. Julia made the grass with a marker on some cardboard for the stand which worked great glue gunned to the cracked egg to hold the little thing up. We ate so many eggs last week so I could get the perfect half cracked shell for these little things.

I had enough leftover yarn to make a batch of chicklets for the nieces. For these I used the Susan Bates pom pom maker in the smallest and next to largest size. A little glue, felt, pipe cleaners for feet and scraps of rick-rack and ribbon and voila. I must say they are quite adorable and pretty life-like.

Now what did I get that Master's Degree in Textiles for? To make wool chicks? Oh my. Isn't it amazing how life leads us in strange circles.

The sheep are hatching again! The yearlings are starting to lamb. Isn't this a nice set of twins. Had a couple more yesterday too.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs

Aqua, Olive, and Blue Eggs by my Aracauna chickens

Buff, Apricot, and Tan Eggs from my chickens

Brightly colored eggs by Julia (purchased white from the market)

Overdyed brown eggs by Julia

Yarn Eggs (Julia Yarn) by Kristin Nicholas

Wherever you are this weekend, celebrate the rebirth that spring is.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Surprises

You've probably heard that the weather in New England is unpredictable. This is not an April Fool's joke. Look what we woke up to! It certainly looks beautiful, doesn't it? And we know it won't last for very long.

After all the gloom and doom on this hear old farm blog the past week, it's time for a little cheering up. We've had six new lambs born this week. These adorable sleeping twins were actually from a set of triplets but one didn't make it. The Farmer says it is for the better. The mom wouldn't have had enough milk for three.

This bright-eyed little lamb was born this morning to a yearling ewe (that means the mom was last year's lamb). We'll probably have a few more lambs this spring since the yearlings will be lambing.

As for the laurel fiasco from the beginning of the week, only one ewe died after all. We are counting ourselves lucky - it could have been much worse. One kind reader let me know that she grew up in Canada calling laurel Lamb's Kill and she never knew why. Isn't it amazing what you can learn reading blogs?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mary Azarian, Children's Book Illustrator and More!

Mary Azarian is an artist whose work I have admired for over twenty years. I first stumbled upon it in Middlebury, Vermont at a small American handcrafts gallery in the early 1980's. I purchased a few of her beautiful woodcut cards, intending to send them on to friends. They are still in my notecard drawer - I could never part with them. Since then, I have found Mary's work featured in many children's books including Barn Cat, A Farmer's Alphabet (her first book which has been continuously in print since 1980), The Man Who Lived Alone, Symphony for the Sheep, Here Comes Darrell, and the Caldecott Winner Snowflake Bentley. Her work has been featured in over 40 books! What a career! The photos here are from our copy of Symphony for the Sheep written by C. M. Millen (Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

On Sunday, Julia, The Farmer and I went to hear Mary speak at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. She did a quick demonstration of her carving and printing process of the wood blocks. She shared her book making process - from book dummy to finished wood-cut for her most recent book From Dawn to Dusk. She showed her printer's proof of her upcoming book due this fall - Tuttle's Red Barn and told us that the book went through over 40 re-writes and almost as many tweeks to her illustrations before she could actually carve her blocks. After she carves and prints the woodblocks, she then paints on the colors with acrylics. What she ends up with is an illustration which is a combination of both techniques which is very distintive and perfect for children's book art.

Mary was very funny and down to earth, telling various tales of disaster and how she developed her work and business after moving to northern Vermont with her husband and three children in the early 1960's. She went to Smith College in Northampton, studied with Leonard Baskin there, and fell in love with printmaking. She's been at it for over forty years and just keeps on carving and printing. I liked the advice she gave - just sit down and do it. The more you do, the better you will get at something - whether it be drawing, painting, carving, stitching, or knitting.

I found Mary's no nonsense attitude refreshing in our world today of everyone wanting to be successful immediately. She confirmed my belief that it takes time, practice, and plain hard work to build any artist's or business' reputation. The lonely toiling-on develops style, techniques, talent, and skills which sometimes (but not always) turns into success on a commercial level. Love what you do and keep doing it, having faith that someone, somewhere will recognize your talent. Try not to get discouraged if success takes longer to obtain than you would ever have thought it would.

If you are interested in other recent writings on this subject, see Greta's recent post (March 20, 2007) on Middle of Nowhere and this article about Harry Bernstein becoming a published author at the age of 96. One of my favorite books to re-read is Donald Hall's Life Work - it always reminds me how much work there is to becoming successful. The Farmer calls it "stick-to-it-ive-ness" and he has more than me - I tend to go floating off to other subjects and genres at the beat of a hat (but I eventually return to what I know best).

If you have the opportunity to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, take it. It's only about 10 minutes off of Route 91. The exhibits change frequently. There is an art making room for kids which is open all day to visitors. There always seems to be some kind of interesting event going on.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Colorful Things

Thanks to Amy at the Flickr Embroidery Blog for the nice review of Colorful Stitchery! I hope this brings some new stitchers to the Colorful Stitchery Stitchalong blog too! Here's her nice blog which is also worth a look!

Here's a colorful detail of an Indian embroidered cloth from my collection to brighten your day. We're in for a week of rain but we all know what April Showers bring.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Laurel isn’t so pretty

Last night, the farmer mentioned to me just before heading off to read his book “I’ve got a situation at the farm.” Okay now – what would you say?

Me, being the ever supportive wife, sensing his call for concern, said, “What’s the matter?”

His answer was “The sheep got into the laurel.”

Most people don’t have a clue what this means. Laurel is that pretty plant “mountain laurel” that grows in many suburban yards. In my mom and dad's yard in NJ, there were a few beautiful shrubs which we girls loved to hide in. In the spring when they were blooming, we would pick the individual blossoms and stick them to our ears – just hoping that one day, Mom would let us pierce our ears so we wouldn’t be stuck with the fading blossoms as earrings just once or twice a year.

Now, I know better. Mountain laurel is bad news for sheep. We have it in many places on our land – it grows wildly and beautifully. In the woods, away from the pastures.

But, then yesterday, the sheep had spring fever. They broke through the fences and started looking for green grass and anything else green. Some of them headed into the woods and started eating the laurel – unbeknownst to us.

By this morning when we went to check on them, one ewe had died and tonight it isn’t looking good for a few more. There are eleven that are visibly sickened. Their symptons are foaming at the mouth and vomiting. Luckily, they aren't pregnant and so their bodies may not be under too much stress. Luckily none of the lambs decided to take the woodland adventure.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Monday Morning Update: This morning we’ve got six sick ewes – the others seem to have recovered, thank goodness. I'll post more updates here tomorrow.

Tuesday Morning Update: This morning there are three ewes who are still feeling quite poorly. The fact that they are alive is a good sign. One of them is eating and all of them are on their feet. All three still look very ill.

Yola's Lamb and Zucchini Koftas (Meatballs) with Za'atar Yogurt Sauce

It's been a while since I've shared any new lamb recipes. A couple of weeks ago, our friends Yola and George visited and she shared ...