Thursday, June 28, 2012

Crap. Crap, Crap, Crappity Crap.

My Foot

See that?  That fashion-forward surgical shoe?  The one on the right?  The one that's on MY right foot?  Yeah, that.  That shoe.

I have a stress fracture.  I have no idea how I did it, other than I was on my feet a lot on hard concrete during the month of June - but there's nothing to pinpoint, and it's not bruised and it's not swollen, so who the hell knows how I did it.


Two weeks in The Shoe.  Rest . . . no walking for cardio.  No elliptical.  No sit/stands, no lunges, no squats, nothing that puts any additional pressure on it.

It's like I'm in a timewarp - an effing nightmare - here we go again . . . but the Dr. assures me that it will not be anything like - nor anywhere near as long a recovery as - plantar fasciitis was.  One can only hope . . .  I mean, it cannot take two years for a stress fracture to heal.  I know it can't.

But really?   REALLY?  WTH?!  I'm on this great roll - down another 2.4 pounds this week, and it's another fricken' injury.  It's not like I was overdoing it - 4 or 5 days week, 45-60 minutes, and I don't even walk fast.  Sonofabitch.

I've spent the afternoon and evening feeling sorry for myself, but the good news is that the doctor said I can wear my Dansko's around the house - as long as they don't hurt - because they don't bend. And at least it's The Shoe and not The Boot. But that's about it for good news.  To walk to and from the train and the office, and at the club working out, I have to wear The Shoe.

The doctor says it was good that I came in early instead of walking on it forever.  Two weeks in The Shoe, ice (which hurts like hell) a couple times a day, the anti-inflammatory that I'm already (still) taking, and then another x-ray.  No lower body work that puts any pressure on it.  Swimming's OK if it doesn't hurt to kick. Recumbent bike is OK (as long as my tailbone cooperates. yeah, right:  Get The Butt Pillow . . .) as long as it doesn't hurt.  If something hurts, I have to stop immediately.

The doc says to consider this two weeks of cross-training.  I'm trying.  I'm really trying . . .

And yes, my orthotic is taped into The Shoe.

And no, I probably won't be spinning anything for Tour de Fleece now.

And geez, it's like a 100 degrees here, it's so frickin' hot.

Man, am I cranky.  :-S

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Gift and Some Fun

It's been a very busy June here, Chez A :-)    I've been going every weekend with fun stuff - last weekend was the Highland Games, and this weekend, it was the Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair.

A Gift

But first,  I want to show you the little box of awesomeness that my friend, Michelle from Boulderneigh sent me a few weeks ago.  I've been remiss in not posting about it sooner.

Box from Michelle

I tossed my name in the hat for a drawing on her blog, and this box of treats arrived in early May!  There is some green tea hard candy, some of Michelle's note cards (she's a fabulous photographer!), two mini raglan sweaters that she knit that are going to look pretty cute on my Christmas tree, a bump of wool fiber for me to spin, and TWO jars of her jam and butter.  I finished the jam (strawberry/rhubarb/pineapple - YUM!!) in pretty short order, and the apple butter will be adorning my toast in the mornings going forward  :-)

Michelle, thank you so much!!!!  :-)

Some Fun

On Friday, I made my way up to the Lake County Fairgrounds for the Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair.  I'm very proud to tell you that I was the very first Founding Charter Member of the Fair.  :-)  This year, I finally got to meet fair organizer, Carol Cassidy-Fayer in person!

Linda the Chicken Lady, and my friend M and I met up at the Fair on Friday for a day of shopping and fun.  The Fair seemed smaller to me this year, but no less fabulous.  I love that there are vendors of all kinds there - it's not just yarn and fiber (although I could have done with a little more fiber  :-D), other fiber arts such as weaving and rug hooking are represented, as well as other "work of our hands," which is what the Fair focuses on.

I want you to know that I didn't buy any yarn . . . this is not to say that I didn't come home with yarn, but I didn't buy any  :-D

Midwest 2012

The only things missing from this photo are some blue ceramic buttons I bought.  They are worth knitting a sweater around  :-D

Yes, there's yarn in that photo - I was gifted a hat kit on my way out the door (thank you Carol  :-) ) and I think it's going to make a pretty cute winter hat.  There are four bumps of fiber - two from Kimber at Fiber Optics.  I was very disappointed to only be able to get one in her pencil roving in the 80/20 superwash merino/nylon blend (the yellows).  The red/black is 80/20 merino/silk.  I also picked up  Miram Felton's Twist & Knit from her shop.  Up top, is a sort of a batt from Hands and Notions - my colors but not my usual fiber choices or preferred prep (merino/bamboo/kid mohair/BFL/baby alpaca/soysilk/sparkle.  I'm challenging myself  :-) )  Below that, is a braid of 100% mixed BFL from Tucker Woods Yarns

There is an amazing bar of Lavender Buds soap from Lost City Knits.  OMG it is REALLY fragrant and I can't wait to jump in the shower and try it out  :-D  I don't know that the soap is on their website, but Denise (who I believe is a member of the Year of Stash Socks Group (YOSS) on Ravelry) has some stunning designs and beautiful yarns (Linda got a gorgeous skein of silk lace from her).

The rest is bits of fabric and silk ribbon - you'll remember I learned to do Silk Ribbon Embroidery at Fiber Retreat this year - I've been looking for supplies and although they were a bit spendy, I loved the colors I could get; and, since it's been hard to find, I decided I was "in for a penny, in for a pound."

I did come home with other yarn, though.  Linda brought me a shopping bag full of cotton for weaving.  I have no idea what I'm going to do with it - do I keep it and weave with it?  Do I donate it?  Whatever I decide, it all has to be accounted for and go into my stash, because this month is an accounting month for the Slash & Smash Your Stash Challenge in the YOSS group.  Poor me - my totals are going to go WAY up . . .

Friday I spent the night at M's and had a fab Greek dinner and got to watch one of my favorite Bollywood films, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, on her big movie screen in the basement!  What fun!!

Then, Saturday, I headed back to the Fair for a class in Beaded Embroidery - taught by Marianne Biagi.  If you have any interest in this art, look for any class that Marianne teaches.  She is amazing and I learned SO much.  I have done some bead embroidery in the past, but nothing like this - and it's been something I really wanted to take up again.  Here's my messy space :-D

Beading Class_2012

There were four students (I love a small class like that!)  And it's so amazing to see how each of us interpreted Marianne's instructions:

Beading Class_2012_03

Here is a close up of my day's work:

Beading Class_2012_02

Obviously not done yet - but I like how it's progressing so far.  I love doing this work - it's certainly time-consuming, but the results are really expressive.  I see a LOT more of this in my future.

And now, today - I'm looking at the mess of my bags exploding all over my kitchen . . . and thinking I had better get cracking here  :-)  There is laundry to do, and a variety of things to accomplish to get ready for the week to come.

p.s.   I lost 5.0 pounds this past week.  Yay Me!  I know it's unrealistic to think that I could do that every week, but I shoot for the stars and take what I can get  :-)  Things are going well this week, too, so - barring any unforeseen weirdness - I hope to show another good loss on the scale on Thursday.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I Want to Talk About Piping :-)

You've heard me mention my bagpipes a whole lot more lately.  That's because last month I started piping again. 

I had always wanted to learn to play the bagpipes - and, as I have mentioned here before, I learned at a relatively young age that life is short.  One day, I decided that it was time to start doing all the things I'd always wanted to do.  So, at the age of 40, I found a teacher and started to learn how to play.  I had a great teacher here in Chicagoland, Ritch Sims of Chicago Caledonian.  When I was ready to move from the practice chanter to the pipes, he even loaned me a set of pipes that his great-uncle had made.  They were not the easiest to play, and they would only take Shepherd reeds but I learned on them, and he even let me take them on loan to Southern California when I moved there, so I could keep playing. 

When I moved to SoCal in 1999, I had already signed up for "bagpipe camp," in Oberlin, Ohio, so came back to the Midwest the last week of June that year, and went to camp.  I was afraid I was going to be the oldest person there.  Well, I was not the oldest person there, but pretty close.  :-) Most pipers start when they are kids.  Young kids.  It was intimidating, but it was one of the best experiences I could have had at that time.  My piping took a quantum leap that week.  Amazing what playing for hours every day will do for you  :-D 

I'm writing about this today because I was just at the Highland Games over the weekend, and it's sort of like being at an African violet convention - I always come home from any African violet event amped up about my plants.  And after hearing so many pipers and bands over the weekend, I am more excited than ever about playing again.

Anyway - I was going through a bunch of my music, looking for a Piobaireachd (classical pipe music - it's kinda pronounced pee-brook) piece, and I found my student evaluation form from bagpipe camp.  I had the great good fortune to have the late Lindsay Kirkwood as my instructor that week.  He was just wonderful and I learned SO much from him.  Plus, he put me in touch with my teacher in SoCal, Ian Whitelaw

Here's what Lindsay said about/to me:

- very sociable, easy going
- have more faith in yourself
- you proved this past week you can do it
- remember to beat your foot (& identify beats)
- real joy to teach you
- easy to teach
- think about new pipes?
      All the best,  Yo A!,     Lindsay Kirkwood

It's so fun to read that now, looking back so many years ago.   I am sociable and easy going  :-)  I did gain much more faith in myself as a piper.  I do keep time with my foot, and I do figure out the beats  :-D  I loved learning from Lindsay, so I'm glad he enjoyed teaching me, and I certainly did give Ian a call - and was very happy to become his student. I was very lucky that he would take me, an adult beginner, as a student.  I did, eventually, get new pipes - well, used pipes :-) and I became an adequate piper. 

As I have mentioned here before, when I came back to the Midwest nine years ago, I had a teacher for awhile, but we never really clicked into a good teacher/student pattern, and he moved, which made it difficult to figure out a lesson time - I think he just wasn't that interested in teaching me any longer. I don't blame him - I know now that I was not a great student at that time. 

I kept playing off and on on my own - and Ian used to come in from the coast from time to time to work with a couple of bands here, so I got occasional lessons when he was in town.  And then, in 2007, I got my first spinning wheel and began to learn to spin.  I realized that I couldn't do both, so I took a sabbatical from my pipes.  It turned into five years. 

Piping again now is a whole new experience.  I see it from a different place, and with the new hide bag and the synthetic reeds, I have an instrument that I can actually play instead of fight with.  And even though it was hotter than blazes on Saturday, I had a wonderful (albeit sweaty) time at the Highland Games!  I really wanted to hear some of the solo competition, which I did in the morning, and I got to hear some of the Grade 4 bands in the afternoon. 

I always feel that I know that I am on the right path when things just fall into place.  That's where I am now.  I retained more muscle memory in my hands than I had any right to after five years (that's a serious gift  :-) ).  I have a great new teacher here, Scott McCawley, a Grade 1 piper from Midlothian Scottish who so far has the patience of a saint with me and with the condition my pipes were in.  I now have pipes that I can play, and I have a great desire to be more than an "adequate" piper.  Time to make the next leap.  Maybe there's a bagpipe camp in my future again next year - Maybe Ian's, out on the coast, or maybe Oberlin again - I guess we'll wait and see.  And in the meantime, if you're in the area in the early afternoon and you hear strains of pipe music coming from somewhere along the Chicago River downtown, it's probably me practicing at lunch time  :-D

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's Astounding . . .

Time is fleeting.

Madness takes its toll.

Just a little memory trip back to college days and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show  :-D

Time has certainly been fleeting, however.  Let's see, when last we left our intrepid heroine (that's me :-D), she was standing in front of a plant stand with a black plastic garbage bag in hand . . .

Yup, everything did go out, and I left the next morning for Detroit and the National African violet Convention.  There's a convention for everything  :-D

I didn't remain plantless for long - I really tried to not get too much, but I was left unsupervised in the commercial sales room quite regularly . . . and I came home with 56 varieties - both plantlets . . .

. . . and leaves


The vast majority of the plantlets didn't stay plantlets - pretty much only the ones on the left side of the photo stayed in plantlet form.


I worked on Sunday afternoon when I got home, washing leaves (I use Dawn Dishwashing soap) and putting them down.  I filled this tray:


And then I worked most of the day on Monday (a recovery day  :-) ), to fill this tray,


Which, incidentally, is my brand new swanky tray that I won in one of the Ways & Means raffles!  Yay Me!  It's hard plastic and has air vents and everything (you do have to remember to check the vents, though - I left one open the first night by mistake).  The leaves are down in the basement, where I've found they seem to sprout better than anywhere else in the house.


I kept nine plantlets in plantlet form (putting down leaves of each for insurance  :-) ).  Here they are, isolated in my guest room.  Not hard to isolate anything right now - because there wasn't anything in the house  :-D   I kept these nine because there is a "definish" chance (got Wicked on the brain, too!) that I will be able to take seven of them to show in October.  Two are standards, so they won't be ready, but the other seven are semiminiatures, and it's my hope to take them to Tulsa in October to the Missouri Valley African Violet Council convention and show, and get the three blue ribbons I need for my Senior Judges' card.


I have good news on that score - I spoke with the Chair of Shows and Judges, and he advised that I should take my third test now, and he would hold my card until I have my ribbons.  This is great and it means that I don't lose a year in the process to Master Judge.  I'm very happy about that  :-)

So, I'm starting over and it's pretty exciting stuff  :-)  I don't expect all of those leaves to make it - well, I take that back.  It was a "fruitful" day when I was working - both days, actually, so they will likely all make it.  I did choose carefully.  I picked up some old favorites, but I also got a lot that are new to me, so it will be a waiting game as to what blooms true and what I want to keep in the long run.  I won't remain much over 50 plants for too long - and I don't have to think about much except these nine for quite awhile  :-)

In other news of the day/week/month, I haven't spoken much about healthy pursuits since early May, and that's because I wasn't being very healthy.  I avoided WW because I just didn't want to know about it.  ::::::: fingers in ears::::::::   :::::::::::I can't hear you!!! la la la la la la la lal la la la la la I'm not listening!!!  If I don't get on the scale this isn't really happening!! ls la la la la la la la ::::::::::


This is a pattern for me - to be going along, doing great, and then BAM! I fall down, and I fall down hard.  It doesn't help that my body does do these huge jumps up/down, but I did go back to WW this past Wednesday and I was up 10.4 pounds from where I was in early May.  So, I'm back on track, and working hard - although this weekend was challenging - I was at the Highland Games with a couple of friends.  Holy crap it was hot.  In the 90's.  The food choices were not great (fish & chips, sausage rolls, and meat pies), and the beer was plentiful - there's nothing quite as good as a very cold beer on a very hot day.  But all points were accounted for, and I keep moving forward.

That's City of Chicago pipe band.  They are a Grade 1 band (that's the best). 


There aren't very many Grade 1 bands here, so I was really happy to hear them - it's pretty amazing to hear all those pipers sound like ONE. They are really good and I'm so glad I got to hear them.

But man - it was hot!  Sometimes I really don't like my Irish skin, and my head sweats - always has . . . so on a very hot day after a couple of beers . . .   I look like this:


Yikes!  Actually - I don't even need to have a couple of beers to look like this on a very hot day.  Oh well.  I was, however, covered in sunscreen, so other than a few new freckles, I'm none the worse for wear (thank goodness), and I did have a hat - hence the smushed hairdo.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Finnegan Begin Again

It's been an interesting couple of days, the upshot of which is that for the first time since since the mid 90's, I am gesneriad-free. 

Yes, that's right - there are no African violets in my house.  No streps.  No columneas.  No petrocosmeas.  Everything is gone.

After additional research, I began to believe that the problems my plants were experiencing were not only based in nutrient toxicity, but that there was a possibility of mites.  Even though the plants that I was considering taking to show looked OK, there was no way to be sure, and you just can't take a plant to show that might have a bug issue. 

How did this happen?  Kind of a perfect storm . . . I got an awful lot of plants from many different sources last year - no one ever intentionally sells a plant with bugs, but stuff happens; I cut a few corners and did not isolate as stringently nor for as long as I have in the past; I was trying to grow far more plants than I'm capable of caring for adequately; I was trying to cope with a substantial amount of work stress in the past few months which has been leaving me exhausted and depleted; and I just wasn't paying good enough attention.

I've dealt with mites one other time - nearly all growers do at some point - but I'm not willing to spray for them again.   It's a toxic, time-consuming process that I don't care to repeat.  The expert I consulted really felt it was the nutrient issue, and I wanted it to be that.  I really wanted it to be that - but I just wasn't sure any more, and since I didn't have anything exotic or super-hard to replace, I took the advice I've given to many:  When in Doubt, Throw it Out.

I think this was the Universe's way to get me to pay better attention to how I live my life.  I believe that everything happens for a reason, and - given the events of the past few months - it's quite obvious that I need to slow down and reevaluate my participation level in a number of things.  It is sometimes easier to let something go and begin again rather than attempting to fix something that's ready to be over.  Sort of like throwing good money after bad  :-)

There will be leaves to buy and plants to grow, just not as many.  There will be more posts about violets, never fear.  And there will be more violets in my home - and pretty quickly.  But the landscape for me as a judge has changed dramatically, because I was set to take my third Senior Judges' exam this summer.  The first three Senior Judges' tests are annual, and upon completion of the third, a judge receives their "permanent gold card" and then only has to test again every three years (for 15 years!) until they are eligible for Master Judge.

Taking and passing my third annual test would mean that I would have earned my "permanent gold card."  However, I needed three blue ribbons to be able to take my third test, and I was hoping to get them at National.  Shows are few and far between anymore, so it will be at least a year before I have any show quality plants, and it could be longer before there is a show nearby that I am eligible to enter.  It also means that when my current judging card expires in October, I will not be permitted to judge again until I have met the requirements and taken another test.  It's an enforced break - and I'm sorry I won't be able to judge after this fall for awhile, but all will be well, and I'm not in a hurry.

And in the meantime, the summer is stretching out before me - I'm sure there are some adventures waiting  :-)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Emergency Maintenance

I wasn't quite sure what to call this post.  It's not really a continuation of the "Will They Shape up For Show" series that met its untimely end this week, but on one of the Ravelry groups that I moderate, African Violets Anonymous or Year of Stash Socks, I mentioned that I was going to do some emergency maintenance on the plants, and one of the group members asked me what that is.

I thought you guys might find it interesting, but first, here was one of my kitchen counters yesterday morning:


Yes, I really did wash all those plant saucers.  I didn't want to have any of the old fertilizer salts left in them.  The other counter was full of drying pots.

The first bit of emergency maintenance I performed (on Thursday nght) was leaching all the plants with distilled water.  Leaching is watering from the top (under the leaves) and flooding the plant so that the water rushes out the bottom of the pot.  This helps to flush out fertilizer salts buildup, and distilled water helps suck minerals, etc. out of the soil.  I leached the show hopefuls upstairs again this morning. 

Then, I spent my Saturday night in the basement, repotting what was left down there, and putting down a few leaves.  (And I wonder why I don't meet anyone to date . . .  ;-D) 

I have more plants this morning to repot - ones that had no possible chance to go to National.  I also have leaves to put down:


Don't worry, I won't be putting all these leaves down.  Each cup holds leaves from one plant and I will pick the best two to propagate.  These are leaves that I groomed off of the possible show plants this morning. 

I talk alot about about grooming plants for show - here are some very good examples of what I mean.  Take a look:

compare_Fresh Air

This is Fresh Air. It's a standard, hybridized by Kent Stork.  I love to grow his plants!  On the left is how it looked on Thursday night.  On the right is how it looks this morning after I removed two entire rows of leaves.  All of sudden, it's looking a lot better.  Yes, a few more blossoms have opened,  but only two or three (and I have hopes for many of the rest to open by the show).  I hope you can see the difference grooming makes.  Sometimes growers go for size and they don't remove the leaves that really do need to come off.  With the removal of all those unneeded leaves, this plant now has potential.  It's a blue ribbon plant.  Probably not a Best in Class, but a blue nonetheless.

Here's another example:

compare_Allegro Cupid Pink

This is Allegro's Cupid Pink, hybridized by J. Stromborg.  It's a semiminiature.  Same thing here, but this time I removed only the bottom row.  There are a few more blossoms open this morning than there were on Thursday, but once again, this looks like a different plant. 

There is something else you might not notice until I point it out to you - look at the difference in the leaves in each set of photos and notice how the ones on the left look duller than the ones on the right.  Notice too, that in the photos on the right, the leaves are deeper/darker in color.  I don't know for sure, but I believe both of these positive changes are the result of the leaching .

Live and learn . . .  :-)

And now, it's back to the basement for me.  Those leaves won't wait forever!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Will They Shape Up for Show, Part IV

We last saw the two plants in January.  I'm sorry to report that there has been a plant disaster here, Chez A.  :-(

Last fall, I switched to a different potting mix - and unfortunately, I didn't realize that in addition to micronutrients, it also had a hefty shot of nitrogen in it . . . those of you who grow violets might already see where this is going.

Because I have been following my normal watering/fertilizing schedule, all my show plants - hell, ALL my violets - have been getting double doses of fertilizer.  This is bad.

Really bad.  So bad that many of the plants will not recover.  Others who have fallen down this rabbit hole have advised that even taking a leaf that looks good from an affected plant will about 80% of the time produce a plant that has the center go whack.  There's no point in spending all the time time propagate a plant that likely won't make it anyway.

So - the short answer to my year-long question, is no.  They will not shape up for show this year.  Neither Rainbow's Limelight nor Decelle's Triomphe will be going to National.  In fact, I will be lucky to have maybe two or three plants to take.  This makes me sad.

And you're probably asking what I've been asking myself:  "A, you're an AVSA Senior Judge.  How come you didn't figure out what was going on???"  

Well, it's true, I am a Senior Judge.  It's also true that in the United States it is now very difficult to find any sort of potting mix without added fertilizer.  After talking to a few people who swore by ProMixBX, and said that no, it didn't have fertilizer, I found a source and got a bale.  This is not to say that this mix wouldn't work for others, it just didn't work for me. 

"But how come you couldn't see what was going on?"  There's no easy answer for that one.  I have been very, very lucky in my violet career.  I have had very few disasters, and so I didn't know what to look for.  I knew that the plants weren't coming along as I had hoped (I mentioned this a couple of months ago), but I didn't know what the problem was.  I was really just thinking that I must have lost my touch - that my normally exceptionally green thumb had taken a powder.  (And isn't that just like me, to think I was failing . . . )

It was kind of a perfect storm.  I ramped up and had MANY more plants that I can comfortably grow.  I changed my potting mix last fall, and it seemed to be doing well (in th beginning) so I repotted everything into it.  And I didn't do enough reseach.

So - take a look - and just so you know, these are NOT the two plants in the other posts in this series:

Stunted centers
IMG_8334 IMG_8356

Demolished centers and pronounced hairiness on the leaves


Altered blossoms, dull leaves, yellowing and the beginning of the stunted center.


Here's what one of my friends who is much more experienced than I am, said: 

"I just found out that ProMixBX has a nutrient charge with micronutrients as well as nitrogen. If you were fertilizing plants that were planted in it, they were getting a double dose and that could definitely explain the wonked centers and the exaggerated hairy leaves."

I leached everything with distilled water on Thursday night, and will leach again today or tomorrow on the show hopefuls, but other than putting leaves down from the plants that do not look affected, there's just not much I can do.

So, live and learn, I guess.  I'm going back to the mix I used in the past, and I'll repot what I can downstairs.  And at least there will be good shopping at National  :-)