Learning to Unlearn

Posted in spinning, toddler by tchemgrrl on January 29, 2013

There’s this concept in educational psychology that sometimes an apparent backsliding of abilities is actually linked to having taken a big step forward in understanding the conceptual framework behind the thing you’ve been doing. (There’s even a word for it, which I wish I could fish out of my head.)

Over the weekend, Toddler apparently figured out a general rule of plurals–that you can add an S to the word and then it means more than one. (I even tried the Wug Test, which he passed after a few minutes of thinking about it.)

If English wasn’t so darn complicated, he’d be done with plurals.

The only reason I noticed this developmental leap is that last night, while brushing his teeth, he looked in the mirror and pointed into his mouth. “One, two, three, foh tooth-es. Five tooths. Teeth-es. Mommy, five tooth-es?”

My brain just about imploded with developmental geekdom.

The most interesting thing, to me, was that he tried not only “tooths” but “teeths”. Which means that he already knows the correct plural of “tooth”. A week ago, he would have used the word “teeth” grammatically. This week, teeth-es. A mistake, but a mistake that lays out the workings in his head really clearly, and shows that he just learned a rule that will apply to about 95% of the nouns he’ll use. Before, he had separately memorized tooth/teeth and cup/cups and dog/dogs and deer/deer and box/boxes and spoon/spoons and all of the other nouns he knows. Knowing that there’s one rule and a few exceptions is easier to remember in the long run, but now he’s got to learn the exceptions all over again.


This being, in theory, a fiber-arts blog, I’m thinking about the ways this hooks into things I’ve seen from folks learning to spin. I think the important takeaway is this: Our brains love rules, but rules often fail us in unexpected ways.

For example: a person learns one way of putting twist into fiber to make yarn and posts a video that only demonstrates that way of doing it. Beginning spinners get that far, try it, get the idea, but then come up against various limitations of that technique (a few examples: denseness of final yarn, inability to spin thinner, being comparatively slow and unwieldy, and the fact that the technique only works for top or batts, not any carded preps like roving or rolags that can’t be stripped in the same way.)

In order to get over those obstacles, the beginning spinner needs to develop the ability to draft while there’s already twist coming at them, which is a hugely more flexible technique. Getting the hang of dealing with active twist is related to figuring out a whole bunch of spinning things–it’s the equivalent of figuring out that most plurals consist of the base word with an “s” on the end. But the first attempts, like “teeth-es”, are probably going to be more wobbly than keeping drafting and twist insertion as totally separate entities.

Grownups don’t get to spend as much time in the “beginner’s mind”, and often have a really hard time trusting in the fact that the short-term setback in quality will lead to a longer-term gain in overall ability.

Another example: The last time I remember hitting on a fiber-related stumbling block like this was when I got my charkha and started spinning cotton. The leap to one-handed double-drafting was pretty ugly, but it meant that I could spin cotton WAY faster, and led to being able to draft wool faster on a flyer wheel, in spite of the fact that I still can’t reliably do one-handed double-drafting with wool on the flyer wheel. But my brain and hands somehow translated SOMETHING from one to the other.

Anything that you’re unlearning in your life now?

Apple Butter

Posted in food, toddler, Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on October 12, 2012

A few weekends ago, we stopped at the Cornell orchard store after deciding that the weather was too poor to apple picking but *perfect* for apple cooking. So we skipped the picking entirely, picked up three big bags of early apples, and spent the weekend surrounded by the smell of cinnamon, making double batches of apple muffins and cake and apple butter (apparently I’m not the only local thinking of apple butter right now!)

Everyone pitched in:

Don't ask me.

(Putting apples in a cat bed is an Absolutely Necessary step in cooking them, right?)

I got one of those old fashioned apple peelers last year for just this purpose, and prepping apples has never been so easy and fun. Even the toddler peeled a few, when he wasn’t doing his darnedest to eat the apples faster than I could cut them.

The muffins were a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook we have, the apple cake was the standard Better Homes and Gardens recipe (actually it was the “apple bread” recipe, but I sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on top and come on. It’s cake. It’s not fooling anyone.) I made the apple butter in my usual slapdash way–calling it a recipe seems silly, but here’s my general technique.

Peel and core a truckload of apples, about half again what would fit into your crock pot. Two of those paper sacks they sell in the grocery store or farmer’s markets this time of year should be enough with extras. (We bought three big bags and had about half a bag left over after the weekend was through.) My peeler slices the apples into these amazing spirals, but before I had the fancy peeler, I’d quarter the apples. Doesn’t need to be too precise, as they’re all getting cooked to a fare-thee-well.

Into your crock pot, put as many apples as will fit, about a cup of water, cider, orange juice, or watered down lemon juice, a thumb-sized knob of ginger, and maybe a teaspoon of cinnamon. (I usually add more cinnamon or other spices to taste later on when I have a better sense of how a particular batch tastes, so for now it’s just there to make the house smell amazing.) Put the extra apples in the fridge. Turn the crock pot on to low, if you have that option, and go do something else for a few hours. Stir it once in a while if you’re nearby to help smoosh the cooking apple pieces. After a few hours, you’ll have applesauce that takes up about 3/4 of the pot. (If you wanted applesauce you could stop here. I have pulled some out and made potato pancakes some years.) When there’s space, add some of those extra chopped apples until it’s full again.

Leave it overnight. If you wake up at some point in the night, stop downstairs to peek.

In the morning, add the rest of the apples. Let everything cook, stirring every so often, until it’s got a smooth dark unwatery look.

Taste. Add citrus or sweetener or spice as needed. This time around I used a little nutmeg and about a quarter cup of local maple syrup, and it had over-evaporated so I added a little water.

Can or freeze or eat in one sitting. Wait, not that last one; I’m not sure I want to be responsible for someone eating 30 apples in a go.


We ended up with about 12 jars. Mostly 8 ounce, a couple of 4’s. Two of them will be “extra spicy” variants, I put all the ginger chunks into them, and I’m really curious how they’ll come out. As always happens while canning, I burned the ever-loving craparoonie out of my hand, but I’m pleased with how much we got this year. In previous years, the number of apples used has largely depended on how many apples I could chop and peel before my hands got tired, and the new peeler got rid of that problem.