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Lambs!

All pictures taken by my father. Thanks, Daddy!

Three weeks ago we started gearing up for our first lambing season on the farm. Vet supplies were cross checked, ordered, loaded (by my good-hearted mother while we were out of town) into a big tub and stashed in the feed room. A local shepherd friend came out to crutch the ewes for us, shaving their nethers for easy viewing and clean access to milk for the lambs. He and Megan (above), who used to work with this same flock, reckoned two of them were about a week from delivery, so we piled on extra monitoring and raced up from Portland as soon as Spring Break began for the children, thinking we’d be lucky not to miss the first births.

We checked them day and night for two weeks… and nothing happened. It was a pleasant ritual to tramp down to the barn under a spangled sky, with a full-throated frog chorus from the pond, but there were never any lambs. We peered at their bottoms on Saturday, and although Artemis and Aphrodite were both sporting udders the size of regulation soccer balls, nobody skipped breakfast or showed any intention of going into labor. We glumly concluded we’d better go back for the reopening of school and plan to return on short notice as soon as the girl who feeds them when we’re away reported some action.

It turned out to be a blessing that Manrico the wether had come down with conjunctivitis and an abscess during our stay. We’d pressed friends into service knocking together a pen of wood palettes and old gates lashed to the boys’ open-sided shelter and logged some practice runs for Lark in herding them into our makeshift paddock. (She turned out to be indispensible — nine years of city life doesn’t cancel out a thousand years of breeding, thank goodness.) Talking it over, Adam and I decided we didn’t think it was feasible for anyone without a dog to pen and doctor Manzy, and it didn’t feel right to leave him in need of another day of antibiotic ointment and the abscess incompletely healed. So on Sunday Adam stayed behind with the dog and I drove the kids back to Portland.

We were getting bagels at the local coffee shop on Monday morning when the texts started coming in.

LAMBS!

Two

One was stuck in the trough and is very very weak

And neither can find their mom. Hera is trying but she doesn’t have any milk

One is dying on me.

(This is not what you want to glimpse flashing across your screen as you’re driving down the highway in a minivan with five elementary schoolers.) Luckily, Adam’s quick work with a towel and some Nutri-drench and warm molasses solution was enough to keep the little ewe lamb alive, and Megan swiftly arrived to help both babies get reconnected with their mother and begin to nurse. By the time I’d seen the children off to their classrooms, another ewe was in labor. Ada stopped by my desk to check for news at every opportunity, and just before lunch I was able to report that Artemis had delivered a very large ram lamb and that Athena had turned out to be the mother of the twins.

Adam improvised some sweaters for the babies by cutting off the sleeves of his sweatshirt, as the temperature had dipped back down below forty degrees during the night and the little girl needed help keeping her core body heat up. And after some time Artemis delivered a second lamb, so we’ve got two sets of boy-girl twins!

Actually my mum took this one. Thanks, Mum!

Artemis took to motherhood immediately and washed those babies with a will. Both of hers were soon up and nursing, too.

All this was too good to miss. As soon as school was finished and I’d returned all the children that don’t belong to me and cut deals for drive swaps to clear the rest of the week, I tossed my two back in the car and we hurtled north again through the night. We slept in a motel near the ferry dock and came across this morning under a majestic sunrise. By breakfast time we were cuddling lambs and taking turns to spy on Aphrodite, who’s surely got to knuckle under and produce her lambs soon. Lambwatch 2017 is in full swing! Time to get cracking on some better sweaters.

Playful

Don’t keel over from the shock, but it’s another pattern launch day chez WGK: introducing the Lalita pullover! Lalita is a Hindi girls’ name that means “playful,” because everyday play is what this sweater’s made for. This design began as Ada’s beloved Rainbow Sweatshirt… almost half her lifetime ago. Remember this wee muffin?

Rainbow Sweatshirt is still in her sweater drawer, looking rather more ragged after several years’ use and rather shorter in the sleeves, but I deployed all my cunning mom-savvy in this design to make it fit as long as possible.

  • A-line shaping means it can evolve from a swingy tunic to a more standard-length pullover.
  • Exaggerated drop shoulders and a sneaky wee gusset at the underarm give extra ease through the chest. Kids tend to grow longer faster than they grow wider anyway, but this means you can start with 4.5″ ease, as Ada’s wearing it in these photos, and still have plenty of room a couple of years later.
  • Rolled cuffs may seem like an insignificant detail, but I find they transition gracefully to bracelet length without ever shouting “I’m growing out of this sweater!” the way ribbed cuffs might.

Lalita is knit in the round, so the only seams to sew are at the shoulders, where you want the stability of a seam to bear the hanging weight of the sweater. Stitches for the sleeves are picked up around the armscye after the shoulders are joined, and I’ve given directions to work them flat or in the round, just as you like. (I knit the Rainbow Sweatshirt sleeves in the round, but I worked these flat because it stopped my marled yarn from pooling. I was holding together a strand of plain white Cascade 220 with some crazy space-dyed Cascade Alpaca Lace Paints in white-black-grey, and I didn’t like all the black parts hanging together in large splotches. Some folks also hate having to flop the whole body of a sweater over and over while they’re knitting around on a tiny sleeve, and I get that. Other folks would rather visit the town library naked than sew a seam. I get that, too.)

You can also see in this photo that there’s a difference in gauge between the body and the sleeves. That’s intentional. I wanted drape in the garment, but didn’t think the elbows would wear well in a loose fabric. So the sleeves are worked on a smaller needle for a subtle change in fabric structure.

There are phoney seams of slipped stitches at the sides that disguise the shaping decreases and also help the tunic hang straight to show its A-line. The hem is lowered at the back with German short rows (I’ve described how to do them in the pattern, but also pointed to a helpful tutorial online).

For those of you reading here or on Instagram, I’ve provided a coupon code that will get you the pattern at half price during its launch weekend (until midnight Sunday Pacific time): enter PLAYFUL at checkout in my Ravelry shop. I do hope you enjoy this knit — and yes, there are plans for a grown-up version in the works!

To the lighthouse

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As I’m writing today, we’re in Portland watching the clouds lower and waiting for the cold sizzle of freezing rain. My daughter has seen the inside of a school building exactly once this year and has logged a total of nine days of education since December 1. Our world has been snow and ice and sledding and baking and free play and Swallow and Amazons for so long I can hardly remember the shape of our standard routines. This wintry dreamtime has been such a complete holiday from real life that I dread the return of early rising, school lunches, and long commutes in dreary weather. If our thaw works quickly and we aren’t glazed in a fresh layer of ice, that day might be tomorrow, so I’m looking backward instead.

At the turn of the year, natured graced us with a golden day. I swept the children out of the farmhouse and into the car for a quick walk before the sun set. The wind had calmed; Mr. G stayed behind to enjoy the respite from its teeth as he set new fence in our most exposed corner, where the breeze comes in boorish from its romp across the Pacific. At the southeast tip of the island is the little Cattle Point lighthouse, built in 1935. The surrounding land is part of a conservation area crisscrossed with pleasant walking trails—as long as you’re not nervous about the rather abrupt plunge down to South Beach.

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A fellow walker watched my children and dog pelting ahead up the path and kindly asked if I was familiar with the lay of the land. Indeed, there’s been enough erosion here that the trails we walk today are not the trails of my childhood, and in some places they wind very near the edge of the cliff. As tempting as it might be to climb atop that stone the boy is passing above, the sandy soil is scooped out beneath it and I wouldn’t care to test whether an extra forty or fifty pounds might be enough to send it on its inevitable tumble to the sea. The kids stay clear. But I believe the only way to grow agile and surefooted and canny in risk assessment is to test yourself on trails such as this one from an early age, so I let them run.

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A gentler slope here

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Darn, I wish this hat were something I needed to photograph for a pattern release!

The lighthouse isn’t grand or terribly iconic, but its stout little octagonal tower and drum lens go on keeping the shipping off the rocks of Cattle Pass. The Coast Guard allegedly intends to do some restoration work here to shore up the building before it slithers seaward.

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Two bald eagles reign over this territory and we crept near their tree to watch them awhile, because that was the sort of magic on offer this day. The sea was full of splashy ducks and cormorants. The homeward trail got a wee bit tiring…

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…but the beauty and the docile weather made a rather dribbling pace no hardship. All the mountains were out—Mount Rainier, about 120 miles away, is just visible on the horizon at the right edge of the frame in the photo above—and the road home provided a close look at this handsome fellow in the twilight:

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My parents chose this home, crossing the continent years before I was born and setting down new roots. I had the freedom to leave; I’ve visited many beautiful places and I hope to see a great many more, and I could have stayed for good in a few of them, but this island has always called me back. On days like this, I think the greatest gift I can give my little ones is to infuse their growing and becoming with this same landscape. Who knows where they’ll fly? But if they carry this place in their hearts, they’ll know what they’re looking for when they find it.