Saturday, December 12, 2009

Your Local Food Bank Needs You!

You've probably made some special purchases to donate to a local food bank for the holidays ... many school projects, libraries, service clubs and others organize a special display asking for "holiday dinner" items. If you've made a holiday donation already, thank you. Whether your donation is for a large holiday dinner at the community center or for baskets donated to individuals and families, all gifts are needed and appreciated.
As our community is digging out from the first big storm of the winter (and two snow days this week) as well as preparing for Christmas break, try to remember what happens at your house when the kids are home from school: they snack all day long, sometimes quite late into the evening. For the clients of the local food bank, this "growing kid with the hollow leg" syndrome can be a major source of stress.
So, if you have time, pick up a few "doubles" of whatever your kids munch on all day long, and drop it off at the food bank. The need is there, in every community across the country, and your contributions at this time of the year are especially appreciated.
Every community has different needs, so a phone call might be in order to determine the greatest needs in your community. Some food banks welcome pet food and other pet supplies like kitty litter; other food banks do not. As a rule, personal care items are very welcome: shampoo & conditioner, bath soap and hand soap, deodorant, shaving cream and razors, feminine hygiene supplies, hand and body lotion, as well as dental care items (toothpaste, denture cleaner, toothbrushes).
If you have the spare cash and time, laundry and cleaning supplies, paper goods like bathroom tissue and facial tissue, etc., are generally welcomed at most food banks. Again, if you are in doubt, a phone call to confirm specific needs only takes a minute.
Of course, a good deed is its own reward, but there may be tax benefits to you for your donations to food banks. Be sure to check with a tax professional, but charitable donations are "deductible" whether or not you itemize on your personal tax return; many states have extra state income tax considerations for food bank donations.
Besides, you're helping people in your community, children at your child's school, working families, out-of-work families, people who were donors last year who now line up for food assistance. It only takes a few minutes of your time, and a couple of dollars can go a long way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Historic Michigan Farm

Too many people around here act as if the economy imploded suddenly just before last year's election, or they seem to believe that the meltdown was caused by/is exacerbated by the current crop of elected officials in our Nation's or our State's capitals. And they want instant fixes of problems that have been building up for years. As a news junky, I've been watching the crisis as it was born, incubated and then erupted, and I understand there are no instant fixes.
I've recently learned about one family that has been in the midst of the fray for a long time. Jim Crosby and his sister Linette Crosby were gobsmacked two years ago by an unregulated and out-of-control huge financial corporation. Follow the link above to read about the historic Crosby Mint Farm's two-year struggle to keep history alive, bring a valuable product (the finest, pure peppermint oil and spearmint oil, not to mention pure mint honey) to a market which is growing, and keep the family farm alive and growing for the current and future generations. encapsulates a story heard at farms across the nation; Peppermint Jim can tell his story better than I can. But the purpose of this post is not only to urge all of my readers to Get Mint, but also to remind you to think about the wonders of a family farm, or almost 100 years of history that might be connected to it. If you are in a spending mood, take a minute to think about family businesses ... from the local auto dealer to the third generation farm family to the mother-daughter hairdressing team downtown ... in your neighborhood or community.
So, take a minute ... if there is an orchard or produce farm a mile from your regular supermarket, drive out of your way for once and buy the peaches fresh from the trees. Take your kids to the neighborhood salon for back-to-school cuts, rather than a mad dash at the chain salon in the malls. You can believe that if you've experienced a drop in income (or increase in your ARM mortgage payments), your local business person (and local farm business) has been hit twice as hard.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Knitmeter ...

I really really like to count how many miles of yarn I have used; I wish it would add a feature that would allow me to count the six ends of yarn I had to weave in for each of eight mug rugs; or maybe a time tracker that would show that it took me more than two hours to get a decent cable cast-on and joined first round of a particular hat. That is, for some reason a particular yarn and a particular circular needle conspired to drain my brain of all remnants of knitting mojo, after two hours I had completed only three rounds of k1p1 ribbing. Surely, I deserve some credit for sticking with it to the bitter end (the rest of the hat only took two or three hours: go figure).

So although I track my knitting yardage fairly regularly, there is no way to show the rest of the world how much time it took (of course, considering some of my simple projects that become overly-complex in my hands, that is probably a good thing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I missed it again ...

The second occasion of World Wide Knit In Public Day ( that is. Well, I sort of KIP'd as we were house guests at a friend's home. Next year, I'll be more out there with my KIP as it will be the third weekend in June, a date that works better for our family.

For some reason my tweenage daughter has become enamored of llamas, and since she was so patient all weekend with grownups ignoring her, I rewarded her with a side trip to an Alpaca Ranch at Mesick, Michigan. Actually, it was a totally unplanned detour: when I saw a small roadside sign indicating the alpaca ranch was just .7 miles off to the left, I made the turn. Oh, my goodness! Big Willows Alpaca Ranch ( is beautifully situated in the rolling hills of Wexford County, a lovely century-old farm (the house is new but appropriate for the setting). As we drove in the driveway trying to determine if visitors are welcome on a weekday, our new friend Mary Jane Wieber came out to greet us. I explained that we were curious about Alpacas as well as llamas, and she gave us the grand tour. What a delightful experience!

As she explained to us about the family relationships of the young alpacas and their moms, and showed us around the small barn and the alpacas little meadow, I could tell my daughter was falling in love. We went to a second barn to meet the patriarchs of the herd, and they are just as docile as their female counterparts. There is one llama in the herd, and I have to agree with daughter that he is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Of course, as a knitter, no trip is complete without one stop at a yarn store ... little did I expect to find a new favorite LYS in the middle of nowhere. Mary Jane admitted that she is not a knitter, although she does do the loom knitting. But her small shop is full of the most luscious yarn I've ever laid hands on. As she explained the process to me, the fleeces are sent to a processor on the east side of the state, then to a spinner in northern Michigan to create a variety of yarns. In an undyed state, the yarn from her lovely flock is almost a rainbow of its own ... she names each yarn for the animal that produced the fleece, and sorts her yarn by family: that is, one rack will hold the yarn produced by mother and her several offspring, or by sire and his offspring. I finally settled on three 250-yard hanks of handspun sportweight yarn that was spun using fleece from Carmichael, Diego, and Frenchee. Two of these guys are lighter color, the third guy produces black fleece, and the yarn is a beautifully heathered light grey. I can't wait to get it wound and on the needles.

In addition to finished yarns, the Weibers also sell bats, rovings, and handknit goods from craft cooperatives in Peru.

All in all, we had a lovely visit with the Wiebers and their herd. I have a feeling we'll be stopping there often on our frequent trips north.

A recent Detroit News feature article highlighted Michigan farms that have tried to survive the new world and local economy by diversifying their businesses. Of course, the article explored fruit farmers and mint farmers (two of our traditional crops); but it did mention "agri-tourism." If you and your family are looking for a close-to-home summer vacation, take the time to check with your state's department of tourism to find "apple house" or "herb farm" or "alpaca ranch." Farm families around the country are working hard to keep their traditions alive, and what an educational and fun opportunity for the family!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Did you KIP yesterday?

In case you hadn't heard of 'Knit in Public Day', follow the link at the title to learn more about it. Personally, I love to KIP, but have not had the opportunity to participate in an organized KIP event. The second weekend in June, when most of us in the northern hemisphere have the potential for pleasant weather, would seem ideal for a knit-in at the park, on the town square, at a sidewalk cafe ... but the second weekend in June also comes at the end of our first week of summer vacation. In our family, we have a very hectic schedule from the middle of April through and beyond the last day of school. We found that we need at least one week to really wind down and recover from the busy-ness, so I am not ready to schedule another activity.

On the other hand, I do KIP frequently, as I accompany the kids to extra dance rehearsals and competition, bowling tournaments, class day in the park, etc. My closest LYS had a KIP event, but the only notice for its event was a hand-written note taped to the front door, which I didn't find until after the store closed.

Quite by accident, our family stumbled into a local "Summer Fest" featuring arts and crafts sales, so I did run into a few crafters selling handmade goods; one vendor was even actually knitting between customers. So I did have an opportunity to honor the spirit of KIP, even if I didn't participate.

This year, there is an additional date for KIP, namely, next weekend; in the future, world wide KIP Day will be the third weekend in June, because of conflict with the original second weekend in June. I like this date; it more closely jives with the way our family slowly immerses itself in summer.

In the meantime, I'll continue to KIP through the summer ... during kids' playtimes at the park, waiting for the girls at dance class, on the beach during vacation, any other chance I get. If you have a craft that is portable (knit, crochet, various needle arts of any sort, whittling, caligraphy, macrame, weaving or spinning), I encourage you to do it in public, also. Public crafting is a great ice breaker and conversation starter, your craft might be the one to inspire a would-be artist to learn a new skill and the satisfaction that comes with creating something useful or something beautiful.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My pattern is live on Ravelry

... and at least one other Raveler has knitted my pattern for Soda Can Sox! Of course, I'm not quite famous, but at least I know that someone else out there in the knitting world knows I'm here!

Truly an eventful year for me ... at least in the internet department of knitting.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Soda Can Sox -- It's almost a pattern

I wanted to make can cozies using a particular yarn that I adore: Peaches & Creme worsted weight cotton in the Pink Lemonade colorway. To match the cocktail cozies I remember from the 1950s, the new cozy has to fit snugly on the can and absorb condensation from an ice-cold beverage; it also has to protect the coffee table from wet rings, and has to move from place to place as folks mingle. I had several false starts with the "soda can sox" using patterns created by others; nothing was working with the yarn that I insisted upon using. Finally, I discarded the patterns and worked out the following:

One 70 yd skein of dishcloth cotton will make two; use knitting worsted weight cotton yarn such as Peaches & Crème, Sugar and Cream, Bernat Handicrafter, Lion Brand Cotton, etc.

  • Size 3 double point needles

  • Size 6 double point needles

  • Yarn needle for weaving in ends

NOTE: I did try to work this with a circular needle using the magic loop method ... the extra needle length was a bother with a project of this size. But if you are one of those clever folks who can do two socks on circular needles, this project would work just as well as socks (or mittens).

With size 3 needles cast on 36 stitches and join to knit in round.

Knit 1, purl 1 ribbing for 1”

Change to size US 6 needles and knit in stockinette (knit each round) until total length from cast on is 3”.

Purl one round to form a ridge.

Decrease round 1: *Knit 4 stitches, k2tog* repeat to end of round – 30 stitches
Round 2: Knit around
Round 3: *Knit 3 stitches, k2tog* repeat to end of round – 24 stitches
Round 4: Knit
Round 5: *Knit 2 stitches, k2tog* to end of round – 18 stitches
Round 6: *Knit 1 stitch, k2tog* to end of round – 12 stitches
Round 7: Knit 2 together around – 6 stitches.

Leaving about a 4” tail, cut yarn, thread through loops and draw up to close circle. Weave in ends. Damp block over full or empty soda can.

Optional: work in stripes to reflect your favorite school colors or colors of your favorite canned beverage.

Use duplicate stitch to create initials to personalize each cozy

Use solid colors then brighten up with simple embroidery to complement dinnerware or favorite placemats.

Most importantly, have fun!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pictures to follow soon (or not so soon)

I've been knitting kitchen goodies all winter long ... no-brainer, self-styled patterns and color combinations because I spend a lot of time waiting in the car, waiting at dance class, waiting for the phone to ring. Although most of these little knits are based on the principal of grandma's favorite dishcloth, I basically make them up as I go along. For those who have been asking, here is a general guideline on how to make the coasters and potholders:

  • Using the equivalent of three (yes, three) strands of worsted weight cotton (I prefer Peaches 'n Creme, no affiliation, I just really like the product) and size 8 or 9 needles, cast on three stitches.

  • Row 1: bring the yarn to the front, slip 1 stitch purlwise (you will be making a twisted chain stitch selvedge). Knit in front and back of second stitch (sometimes written as kfb), knit to end of row. You have increased one stitch (inc 1 st ) There will be four stitches on your needle.

  • Repeat row 1 until one side of your potholder or coaster is as long as you like (about 4 inches for a coaster, 6 or more inches for a potholder).

  • Next row: repeat selvedge stitch, knit next two stitches together (k2tog), knit to end of row. You have decreased one stitch (dec 1) on this row.

  • Repeat the decrease row until three stitches remain on needle. Bind off, weave in ends, and you are done.

This little bit of knitting, done all in garter stitch, creates a thick and cushy coaster or hot pad. Using three strands of worsted weight cotton creates enough thickness to protect your table from oven-hot casserole dishes or the heat from a piping hot mug of cocoa. The coasters are excellent at absorbing the condensation on the outside of the tall tumbler of iced tea or other cold beverages.

Each coaster will use approximately 20 yards of each strand of yarn you use; potholders will require about 50 yards of each.

Just to minimize the number of items in my knitting bag and keep yarn tangles to a minimum, I generally use one strand of double weight worsted and one strand of regular worsted.

Although I haven't done it, some people swear by wool for potholders and coasters. Some precautionary notes: acrylics melt, so the synthetic yarn would probably be okay for coasters; I would hesitate to use it near the stove. If you do use wool, look for washable wool; otherwise, use 100% wool, make your coasters extra humungo, and felt them to size in the washing machine. Again, I'm not a felter, but a google search of "felted wool potholder pattern" will turn up virtually dozens of free patterns.

I get a kick out of creating and gifting these projects. People will actually use these handknitted gifts ... even if you get the colors wrong, every kitchen can use an extra "utilitarian" potholder, and the coasters are handy when extra people show up at the cocktail hour.

Some ideas for the knitted kitchen gift:

  • add a matching dishcloth and scrubby for a shower or housewarming gift basket.
  • Choose yarn colors that match or complement a special coffee mug, knit one coaster and add a package of gourmet chocolate, sample size of special coffee or tea. Voila! you have created a one-of-a-kind gift for teachers or other special helpers.
  • Four coasters, a small package of gourmet cookies, a small package of specialty coffee or cocoa ... another seasonal gift basket

Saturday, February 28, 2009

I have an identity ... at last!

When I was invited to become a member of Ravelry (, I chose the user name "cedarstrings", to describe my location and my new fascination with the pointy-stick thing. Since then, I've been seeking a way to identify myself, without resorting to cutesie stock clip art, and I've wanted the guitar and violin people who stumble across my blog to know right away that I'm not talking about musical instruments (or model railroad parts).

I've been fascinated with the work of Cindy Moore (Fitter Knitter), who is painstakingly rewriting and charting the lace patterns found in The Art of Knitting 1897. When I landed at her website,, I found the answer to my identity problem. Not only is Ms. Moore a busy aerobics instructor, a gifted and dedicated knitter and designer, she is a technical illustrator/graphic designer! Cindy's expressive interpretation of my name could only be created by a knitter: only a knitter would know how to convey to the world that Cedar Strings is a knitter, not a luthier, nor do I traipse the cedar swamps to harvest the bark to create strings for crafting with other kinds of barks and deer hide.

I know this post is rather disjointed, but I am eager to proclaim to the world how happy I am with my new look. I urge any and all who read these words to check out the wonderful creativity Cindy displays on her website; in her knitting work, and in her technical and graphic illustrations. I sincerely appreciate her time, skill and talent in creating my new look, and heartily recommend her services ... whether you need a touch-up or an extreme makeover, this is the artist who can do it!