Saturday, April 17, 2010

Maybe next month

Many years ago, before I had children, I was an active member of a local spinning guild. It was a lot of fun and enjoyed interacting with other spinners. The guild meets at a local history museum and as long as the weather is nice (which is true about 9 months of the year) the meetings are outside in a little meadow.

I haven't been in a long time, since before the kids were born. With my recent resumption of spinning activities I've been wanting to go, but it hasn't happened yet.

The chances are good I'll need to take both kids, so I've been waiting until the weather warmed up so the kids could run around outside.

Last month was a possibility, except I had to work that day.

This month's meeting is today, but we've spent the morning getting ready for my 9 year old's slumber party, whose guests are due to start arriving in 15 minutes. So it's not going to happen this month.

Maybe next month! In the meantime I'll keep spinning. I finishes the Lisa Souza BFL 3 ply for socks and it is fabulous, I think I'll make some socks for myself. I've been sampling some hand-dyed merino, trying to make a lace weight singles, and I'm having fun. I haven't come up with a yarn I'm satisfied with yet, but I'm learning while I figure it out.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Another conversation with my son

Yet another installment in my ongoing series "Conversations with my son" (my children talk a lot, so there's plenty of source material for this).

My 5 year old son is very verbal, although not always easy to understand. He is missing his two front teeth, and his grammar is peculiar (though his vocabulary is large).

One tricky thing is that he tends to omit query words and rely on intonation to convey that he's asking a question. I usually know what he means, but I'm aware that he's starting kindergarten in the not too distant future so I've been working on getting him to be more clear.

Last week, when my mother in law was visiting, we were all in the kitchen. Buddy and Punkin were doing something at the kitchen table, I was at the sink.

Buddy: Momma, I have something to drink?

Me: Sure, Buddy, but you have to ask properly first.

Buddy: Mother dear, I have something to drink?

I thought my MIL was going to snort coffee out of her nose.

When I was a kid my father spent a fair amount of effort trying to get my brother and me to say "mother dear" and "father dear". I never knew quite how much he was kidding and how much he was serious; my father is from the South, and Southerners of his generation are serious about manners.

I called him in the hospital (he had a total knee replacement this week) and told him this story and he got a good laugh out of it.

Here's a fairly recent picture of my boy. He turned 5 last week - I love him so!

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Further hospital updates

So my mother is home and getting better. The docs still don't know what made her sick but she's on the mend, at least physically.

My father had his third of three scheduled joint replacement surgeries today. Surgery went well and he expects a good recovery. My brother is with him in the hospital, other folks are taking care of my mother.

I spent the day with my visiting MIL at the local ER. She's home and well and should be fine, but it was a long, strange day.

I've had it with hospital updates, how about you?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spinning for Sanity

Sounds like a fiber fundraiser, doesn't it? Get your friends to pledge money for every yard spun, then sit down and spin until you drop? Hmm, not a bad idea.

That is not, in fact, what I meant though.

It's been a long week and the sanity I'm spinning for is my own.

My mother is in the hospital, three thousand miles away, and short of getting on a plane to go see her there is not much I can do other than provide moral support to my dad over the phone.

This has left me feeling very stressed and anxious.

I have been spinning. It helps, but not enough.

Edited to add: my mother had a better night last night, encouraging news.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Not Striving for Perfection

I wouldn't say that I'm a perfectionist, but I do have strong tendencies in that direction.

This has its ups and downs.

When I was in graduate school it meant that I never stopped revising and editing my papers until the moment I turned them in, because I always felt they could be just a little bit better. I did very well in school but I didn't sleep much those years.

My perfectionist tendencies serve me fairly well in my knitting; I am technically proficient enough to be able to solve most knitting problems and turn out projects that are generally mistake free. The Italian occasionally chides me for not "letting things go" more, but if I see a mistake I can fix without too much trouble I will do so. I like to do it right.

Where it hasn't served me well is with my spinning. I have much too much spinning fiber in the house that I haven't tried working with because it's "too nice" for me to use until I know how to spin better. I don't have any target for when I would be "good enough" as a spinner to spin any of these lovely fibers, but I've decided that enough is enough.

It's time to start spinning. For real.

I'm not going to jump right into the quiviut that's lurking somewhere in a bin - it's so incredibly soft, and so incredibly expensive, that I will wait a little longer to attempt that, thank you very much.

But I have lots of lovely wool and small amounts of all sorts of other things and there's no reason not to do something with it all. I think the only thing I will require of myself is that I be mindful about it: I'll try to pay attention, take notes, keep track of what I do so in the future I'll be able to remember what I liked, what I didn't, and what fibers I still haven't tried!

This is what I'm working on now:

Lisa Souza Blue Faced Leicester. I bought 4 oz. at Stitches and it is wonderful to work with. I had made note of some green Socks that Rock yarn earlier in the day, but when I spotted this top I just had to have it. Lisa Souza's prices are very reasonable and the quality of the product is fabulous!

I'm spinning with a true worsted draft and it is so different from any spinning I've done before. I can't do it solely by feel yet so I really have to watch what I'm doing, but it is mesmerizing.

The plan is to make a three ply sock yarn which will be lustrous, durable and very, very green!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spin, Span, Spun

There has been a lot of spinning, and spinning-related activities going on around here lately, and I've been having a blast!

First, actual spinning content:
Back when I first learned to spin I acquired several fleeces at the Monterey County Fair fleece auction over the course of several years. One of them, a tan 1/4 blood merino, I sent out to be carded.

For some reason I decided to spindle spin this fleece into lace weight yarn. I worked at it off and on for years, not making much progress (it was about 3 lbs of fiber). Plus, the spindle was probably too heavy for the yarn I wanted to make, and my results were a bit wiry at times.

Fast forward to last fall when I took a spinning class with Stephenie Gaustad. I came home full of excitement over the soft and fluffy yarns I now knew how to spin. I finished up the project that was on my wheel at the time and looked around for what to spin next. I thought of the carded tan fleece, and decided to experiment. I spun different weights with different amounts of twist, plied doubled and tripled, and paid attention to what the fleece seemed suited to.

In the end I decided to spin a lofty three ply. I spun and spun, not worrying about the occasional slub or thin spot. This was a real change for me - I have tended to be a very controlled spinner in the past, but I liked this style. I filled bobbin after bobbin, understanding for the first time why a Woolee Winder would be an appealing accessory. I spun for months, borrowing storage bobbins from my friend Sylvia, keeping track of what I was doing so I could ply with a plan.

Finally, about a month ago I finished the singles, all 3 lbs. or so. Then I began plying, which took about a week, and now it is all done.

I wish you could feel this yarn - it is soft and light, and I just want to cuddle it. It's not next to the skin soft, but it is the opposite of wiry and I am thrilled.

I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with it, but that's a question for another day. It's washed and stored and in my mind I'm contemplating options!

In other spinning news, I spent an hour last Friday afternoon with my daughter's third grade class, demoing carding, spindle spinning, and wheel spinning. I opened by reading the book "Woolbur" which was a great way to introduce the subject, then talked about all the steps in the process, showing them the tools and how they worked as I talked. I gave each kid samples of different kinds of wool prepared different ways, and then when I was done with the demo I gave each kid a straw loom I'd prepared, so everybody got a chance to weave and something to take home.

It was so much fun. The kids were really interested and asked lots of great questions. A couple of boys got antsy at one point, but I was amazed at how much they followed, and stayed on track. One boy told the teacher that it was the best Fun Friday ever!

And my last bit of spinning news for the day is that I have applied for a scholarship to attend SOAR, the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat. I don't know how many scholarships they award and how many people apply, but I am really hoping for the best! I think about how much I could learn in a week at SOAR and my fingers get all tingly - wish me luck!

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Monday, February 01, 2010

My Other Mother

I grew up in a traditional family: one mother, one father, one sibling. My parents are still married after almost 47 years. I have no step-parents or half sibling or anything like that.

But I did have an "other mother" as a kid: a woman whose house I was in almost as much as my own, whose kids were like siblings to me, who was a close friend to my mother, who looked out for me and was a big part of my upbringing.

When my parents finished graduate school they moved to New England, leaving all of their family behind in the south. My father worked incredibly long hours and my mother had two children and knew almost nobody. It was a lonely time for her, a woman who needs the company of friends as much as food and drink.

On one of my grandmother's visits, when I was about two years old, she told my mother that she had a cousin in the next town over, one she had never met. My grandmother, who valued family connections, called her up, arranged a get together, and laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship between our families.

Several years later we bought land and built a house next door to the Jones's house (yes, we lived next door to the Joneses!) They had three daughters, and the younger two were the same ages as my brother and me. The town we lived in was very spread out and there were only a few other kids within biking distance, so we spent much of our time together (plus they had a pool!) The four of us grew up like siblings - playing, bickering, shifting allegiances, growing closer and sometimes farther apart. The youngest daughter became my best friend (or sometimes best frenemy) and still is to this day. (See my earlier blog post about her).

JJ (as we called my other mother because she and my mother had the same first name) was one of those women who did it all without seeming to ever lose her cool. Gardening, cooking, sewing, parenting, Girl Scouts, town events. She had a hand in most everything that went on in our small town, and we were the better for it. She was a nurse who later went back to school to become of the first certified nurse practitioners in the country. She patched us up when we fell and saved my brother's life (at least once). She was a New Englander through and through - practical, hardworking, kind, caring but not sentimental, and eminently resourceful.

We lost my other mother over the holidays after a four year battle with Lewy Body Disease. It was hard to watch her struggle to continue to lead her life on her own terms as her body failed her. I saw her the day before she died and was astonished at how small and frail she looked, this woman who was always larger than life to me.

I came back to New England this weekend with my daughter for her memorial and to be with the family. It was a lovely service and a fitting tribute. We will miss her.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Best Laid Plans

I had my morning all planned out.

Yesterday I made bread. This morning I was going to get up before the kids and make French Toast (with the homemade bread). The get the girl to school, get the car to the service appointment, etc. all in a calm, orderly fashion.

Then the boy woke at 5, and by the time I got him settled and myself back in bed I was tired enough to sleep through the alarm. Woke up almost an hour and a half late, had to dash around to get the girl to school (late), got the car in (late), ate granola at 10:00 and had to shelve the French Toast until tomorrow. (That's okay, it's better with slightly stale bread anyway).

So now at 10:30 I am attempting to get on with what I wanted to be doing hours ago. I'm trying to take it in stride and just move on, roll with it you know?

Lately I've been feeling that way about my life: where I am now is good, but it's way different than where I thought I would be. Most of the time I roll with that (my MIL is fond of saying that Life is What Happens When You're Busy Making Other Plans) but sometimes I fret.

The upcoming trip back East for a memorial service probably has as much to do with the fretting as anything else.

So, I think instead of fretting I shall think about what knitting to take - there are so many possibilities, so many projects in progress.

Does anybody have any post-Christmas flying experience with knitting and TSA? I'm trying to take only carry-on baggage but I don't want to have my knitting needles confiscated, so if anyone has recent info on how stringent security is at the airports I would appreciate it.

ETA - on re-reading this post I decided there were way too many exclamation points, so I have removed them. That is all.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stealth Deadline Knitting

A while back I agreed to be part of a project that Kathy had cooked up.

Of course it promptly slipped my mind for some time, until I checked in and discovered that the deadline was approaching, and fast.

So last Saturday I sat down with several Barbara Walker books and looked for a stitch pattern that was interesting and not too challenging, and then I got to work.

I have been working on no other projects for the past 8 days, and I'm happy to report that I have finished my part of the project with several days to spare.

Project: Stealth Orange Strip
Yarn: Red Heart Soft
5 oz/140g 256 yds/ball

Amt yarn used: 7.125 oz (can you tell I got a new kitchen scale for the Italian for Christmas?!)

Needles: size 8 Boye interchangeable

Dimensions: approx 6" wide (it was supposed to be 7" but I didn't allow enough extra for the intake of the rib" by 50" long

Stitch: Crenellated Pattern, pg 184 of one of Barbara Walker's books (I think volume 3)

Of course, when Punkin saw it she asked if I would make her a scarf in this stitch! I can't blame her - the fabric is amazing - it's so squishy, and it moves so much!

I have been knitting one orange project or another since August of 2009 and I'm not done yet - it's back to the Italian's orange sweater now, trying to get it done this winter!

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

WTF? The Air Travel Edition

So I have a question for any and all of you that travel on planes:

When you board an airplane where you stow your carryon baggage? Do you proceed to your row and stow your baggage in the overhead bin directly above your seat (assuming there is room)? Or do you stick your bags in any old overhead bin, regardless of where your seat is?

Before you answer, let me tell you that I have a strong opinion on The Right Way this should be done. I think your bags should go over your seat, or as close as you can get to it.

We traveled during the holidays. Normally I don't like to travel at the holidays - we used to do it every year but there's a reason I put my foot down about four years ago and said "I'm done". I like to be with my immediate family in my own house, with our rules, our food, our pajamas, etc. on Christmas day. Traveling in and out of the Northeast in the winter is a crap shoot and doing it with small children can be awful.

But things are complicated at "home", and I told my father we would come. So we went East on the 27th for a week.

Travel wasn't too bad on the way there: sure the line to get through security was long, but our plane wasn't full (when was the last time that happened) and we had six seats for the four of us - it was great.

The way home was another story. We had a 6:17 am departure so we left the house at 4:00. It was snowing, and had been for days, but the plows were out so it wasn't too bad. We got to the terminal and found a long line in front of the Air Tran terminal, but we were taking United so we kept on walking past the line. And walking, until we found that the line in front of the Air Tran counter was the United line which went across the terminal and had already doubled back on itself (the fact that it was 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside was the only reason the line wasn't going out the door.)

One thing we noticed on all parts of our journey was the increasingly strident tone the airline staff was taking in regards to carryon baggage. We were "advised" over and over that we could only take two bags, that any wheeled bag had to go in the overhead, that purses and coats were not allowed in the overhead, etc. etc.

On our flight out of Boston we were among the first in our seating area to board. We were about halfway down the plane, and we stowed one bag for each of us in the overhead, and put our other belongings under the seat in front of us. Safely seated, we were free to watch other passengers and how they dealt with their baggage.

The Italian and I both watched one group of four people stop at our row and enthusiastically stow all of their carryon baggage in the overhead compartment, filling two bins with their bags, purses, wheelies, coats, etc. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, they then proceeded to the last row of the plane, ten rows farther back, and took their seats.

Come on, that's just rude. I can understand if the compartments in the neighborhood of your seats are full needing to put your things somewhere else, but to just randomly stop and fill up a bin? Of course, when the other people who were sitting in our row, and the rows in front and behind, came to take their seats there was no place for their bags and they had to scramble to find space for it all.

The Italian and I were both amused and incensed, and it was a poor way to start the trip.

And I'm flying back at the end of the month. Let's see what travel conditions are like then!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009


I think I may have outsmarted myself (I don't think it's that hard to do).

We have, historically, done things up for the holidays. We've baked and crafted and sent out packages to friends and family far and wide. One year we made cold pour soaps with items inside the soap chosen for each recipient (a small turtle figurine for my mother, a jumbo sized "diamond" ring for our friend who is a jewelry designer, etc.) I've also always scrambled to make something for each member of my immediate family, not to mention at least some of the extended family.

This is not to mention the huge meal we make for Christmas Eve.

This year's holiday is going to be a busy one, and I decided a while ago to pare way back on what I tried to do so I wouldn't feel strung out and exhausted by the time the holidays descended. No goody packages to send, and no new projects - just chugging away on the sweater for the Italian, and maybe try to finish a pair of socks for my mom.

I think it has backfired. I have no sense of how close the holidays are because I'm not frantically knitting and baking. I keep thinking Christmas is weeks away because I haven't started to "get ready" and I find myself very surprised to realize it is in a week. Its disorienting to say the least.

So much so I'm contemplating knitting some slippers for Punkin, just to give myself that proper "last-minute" feel to the holidays!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Advice needed

I have a situation I need some advice with, so I am appealing to the fiber community at large (all four of you who read this blog).

I recently made a purchase from a small indie dyer. I had been admiring her work for some time, she was having a sale, and I had some money in my PayPal account.

I received the order and the product is nice, but there were some problems with the order. I composed a friendly email and submitted it via the contact us form on her website, and have heard nothing back after several days.

I am deeply frustrated. I like this woman's work and want to support her, but the product I received wasn't as advertised and I don't like that she didn't reply to my message.

What to do? I feel like I ought to try one more time to get some response from her, but as it stands now I wouldn't buy from her again.

And does anybody have any favorite indie dyers who do good work, don't charge an arm and a leg, and conduct their business in a professional manner? I'm open to suggestions.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Knitting for my Guys

Pattern: River Forest Gansey (Ravelry link) by JoLene Treace

I have a confession to make - I love knitting books. I own a lot of them, but as a librarian I look at even more of them. (I don't actually order the materials for that part of my library's collection, but the librarian who does welcomes my suggestions, so I consider it my professional responsibility to take a look at any new knitting books I come across!)

I have a mental knitting queue that is four times as long as my expected life span, but it doesn't stop me from looking. I can tell when I'm really stuck on a pattern based on how many times I check the book out of the library.

River Forest Gansey is one of those that stuck in my brain for a long time. The photo in the book is of a little boy wearing the sweater held in the air by a grown man, also wearing the sweater. I knew when I looked at that photo that my boy would look adorable in that sweater.

So earlier this year when my favorite LYS had a sale I took my 4 year old and we picked out a rich pumpkin orange shade of Cascade 220 to make a sweater for him. Little kid's sweaters don't use a lot of yarn and the yarn was on sale so I didn't feel too extravagant.

I took the project with me when we went away this summer but got off to a slow start. The cast-on described in the instructions baffled me, and I can figure out most knitting instructions. I tried several different times to figure it out, even went through a bunch of knitting books in my mother-in-law's house for clues, with no luck. Finally I chose a different cast on from June Hiatt's book and moved on. (I did finally decipher the original cast-on instructions with the help of Beth Brown-Reinsel's excellent book Knitting Ganseys and used that on the sleeves).

I am normally a very careful knitter - I swatch, I think, I move forward only when I know what I want to do. This time I decided to just wing it on needle size - I started the sleeve on size 8 needles and knit about five inches before stopping to check gauge. Completely off. I normally knit fairly tight so I had gone with a larger needle size, but this is a gansey and the fabric needs to be firm. So I ripped and started over.

Overall it was a pretty easy knit. There were some technical mistakes in the pattern which were annoying but not insurmountable. I made a few changes - making a cardigan with a zipper instead of a pullover being the main change. (Funny story - I struggled for days figuring out how to put a button placket on the front without completely screwing up the motif placement. I took it to Friday knitting to pick Sylvia's brain, and she and I both brainstormed trying to come up with a solution - button loops, asymmetrical closure, henley, none of them made sense. After ten minutes of this with no satisfactory solution, she suddenly looked at me and said "or you could put a zipper in". Of course!)

My boy is still a pretty small guy, all things considered, so there wasn't a lot of square footage to churn out. I was able to knit the pieces for this in a couple of months. Then of course I stalled out while I contemplated putting in the zipper, but the weather turned colder and I wanted him to be able to wear it, so I buckled down and finished it.

I am pleased with the results. He loves wearing it and tells people that his mama made it - way to make a mama proud!

However, there is a postscript to this story.

My husband and I have known each other for a long time. We have been a couple for a long time - approximately 18 years. In that time I have knit him one sweater, which he never wore because it was too small for him (don't get me started on this - I made it the size he asked for!)

In any case, every couple of years I offer to make him a sweater and he declines. He loves the hand-knit socks I have made for him and accepts any and all socks I offer to make, but not sweaters.

Until now. As I was making this sweater for the boy I was mentally making a queue of what to make next. My list was heavily influenced by what yarn I already owned, since I own a bunch and wasn't in the mood to spend more money on yarn right now. So I'm happily knitting along one day when the Italian stops and looks over my shoulder and admires the knitting and how much progress I have made. I said thank you and went back to my own thoughts. At which point he said to me "you know, I'd wear a sweater like that."

I almost dropped my knitting, at the same time that I didn't really take him seriously. I said something non-descript and didn't think of it again. Until I was ordering the custom length zipper for the boy's sweater when the Italian said "make sure to make note of the color in case you need to order another one".

This time I looked at him and said "you really want a sweater just like this one? In the same color?"

Yup. That's what he wants. Not only that, but he said it would be really cute if he and Buddy could wear their sweaters at the same time. And Buddy's sweater is only going to fit him this winter, not next, so I have a deadline.

So once again I went to the yarn shop who special ordered more of the same yarn (same color, different dye lot) and now I am flying my way through the Italian's sweater. The back is done, I'm six inches up the fronts, and I can't believe I'm making this sweater again!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

Inspired by Knot Much of a Knitter I'm trying my hand at at Ten for Tuesday list:

Ten Things You Wish You Knew How to Do:

1. Change the oil on my car. I know how to check the oil and put air in the tires, and that's about it.

2. Cook by the seat of my pants. I'm great at following recipes, not so much on following my gut.

3. Make beer. It seems like it would be fun.

4. Read poetry and enjoy it. I get too wrapped up in the rhythm of the words and forget to pay attention to the meaning.

5. Ride a motorcycle. Vroom vroom. Enough said.

6. Code html. I'm sure I could learn it but I don't think I have the patience.

7. Play the guitar. I can strum a few chords but I'd love to be able to play well.

8. Speak Mandarin. My kids and husband are all learning it but not me and I don't have a clue.

9. Take better photographs. I look at Jared Flood's photos and think that man could make a brillo pad look beautiful!

10. Draw. I can sketch clothing and draw precise technical specs for clothes but I can't drawing life-like pictures of much of anything. And I went to art school!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deep Color Merino - Spinning!

I have resumed my acquaintance with my spinning wheel again lately and I am thrilled to discover that I love spinning just as much as I ever did, if not more.

I am a self-taught spinner. My spinning journey started with a single class on spindle spinning, and I took a couple of lessons on spinning cotton a few years after that, and everything else I know about spinning is from reading. As I started spinning again a little bit in the past year I found myself seriously lacking in confidence about my abilities. I thought I might either know a lot more than I thought, or almost nothing. But I wasn't sure.

The in October I took two classes with Stephenie Gaustad at Lambtown. If you ever have an opportunity to take a class with Stephenie I highly recommend her as a teacher - she's extremely knowledgeable, patient, kind and with a lovely sense of humour.

I took a class on spinning worsted style and a class on spinning fast, soft yarn in a long draw style. I was excited to both learn a lot of new information and also discover that I was a decent spinner to start with.

I came home from the class fired up to spin. I had some merino fiber from Deep Color that I purchased at Stitches (either 2008 or 2007). I had started spinning it in May of 2008 using a modified worsted style and it was kind of slow going. I decided to finish spinning this fiber before moving on to something else, which might have been a mistake because I couldn't use either of my new techniques because I wanted to finish this spinning in the same bastard style I had started it.

In any case I finished this yarn quickly and was thrilled with how it turned out. I would call it a fingering weight, it's two ply, and though it's the finest yarn I've ever spun it is soft and has a lovely drape.

I have moved on to another spinning project in the long draw that I learned from Stephenie and it is going well - but it's almost three pounds of fiber!

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

More conversations with my son

As part of an ongoing series, here's yet another conversation with my 4 1/2 year old son.

Yesterday we had some friends over for a visit. We hadn't seen these friends in a while and Buddy didn't remember them, so he was asking about them.

Buddy: are they a man and a woman or both womens (in fairness, one of them has an androgynous nickname).

Me: they are both women.

Buddy: they are married?

Me: yes.

Buddy: them must be from another state.

Me: no, they got married here in California while it was still legal, but it's not legal now.

Buddy: when I get big, my am going to be politics, so my can make it okay for mens to marry mens, and women to marry womens.

I'm astonished at the things he has put together from conversations had and overheard, little bits of News Hour, and osmosis. And I'm thrilled with his politics!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Socks of Love

I have been knitting socks for a long time. I put off making my first sock for an even longer time before that.

As an experienced knitter I spent a couple of years (off and on) reading a sock knitting pattern and wondering "what the hell?" There just didn't seem to be any way that it would work! I don't have a good visual/spacial mental imagery ability, so as I read the instructions I would get to a point where I just couldn't picture how the next step would work, and I wasn't going to start the pattern if I couldn't understand it.

That went on for some time, until I got fed up and just started knitting. I got to the confusing point and kept on going, trusting the pattern writer (and technical editor) that it would work.

And it did. It was magic, pure effing magic.

I don't know how many years ago I knit that first sock, but I think it was before we moved to the west coast so that's been at least twelve years. I have knit lots of socks since then, and have for the last five years or so always had a sock in progress. I've knit them for myself, for two different friends, for my husband, for my MIL, my FIL, but for the longest time I didn't knit any for my mother.

She didn't want any.

This was strange for so many reasons:
-my mom was a knitter. A fabulous knitter who appreciated handknits.
-my mom is from the South but lives in the Northeast, and she is always cold. Always.
-she wears wool socks much of the year (again, always cold).

I asked her once why she didn't like hand knit wool socks, and she said they would be too scratchy, too rough, not washable, she liked the store bought ones, etc.

Finally I got tired of asking for explanations and I just handed a sock to her one day and told her to try it on (after first explaining that she couldn't have that one, it was already promised to someone else).

She skeptically pulled the sock on her foot and her eyes went wide. "OH" she said in tones of wonderment, "I like this!"

I graciously refrained from saying "I told you so" and promised to make her socks for her very own. I made her one pair in Socks that Rock, and the next time she came to visit she very coyly told me that if I made her more socks she would wear them!

So I made her another pair in STR. And another pair in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock. And she wore them and wore them and wore them. Until, you guessed it, she wore through them.

So I have learned how to darn socks. (In the meantime I made her another pair in a yarn with 20% nylon and am working on yet another pair with nylon content).

One pair just had little holes at the toe, those were fairly quick to darn.

You can tell where they are darned because I was darning in green/yellow leftover sock yarn. One of the downsides of almost always knitting socks toe-up is that I have almost no leftover sock yarn in the house.

The remaining two pair have big holes under the heel of the foot.

Because my mother is very sensitive to rough edges and ridges in her clothes, I am darning a large amount of surface area. It's tedious, you have to watch carefully what you are doing, and it generates lot of ends. I am not enjoying it very much, but I will do this for my mother. My mother is not well and living three thousand miles away there's not a lot I can do for her, but this I can and will do.

Let's not talk about the holes in The Italian's socks.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

A Lovely Weekend

We have had a busy last week and a half (busier than normal).

Last week my delightful friend and her charming husband came to stay for a few days. He had a work conference on the West Coast and she joined him at the end for a little R&R. They were with us from Thursday morning to Saturday morning and it was a lot of fun.

Jill has been a good friend since sophomore year of high school, and has been a friend of The Italian's since almost as long as I've known him. Her man is a good guy and they complement each other well. They are a child-free couple but they like kids, so they are fun to have around the children. (They have the patience of people who don't have to be patient with children all day, every day!) Plus they didn't have any agenda other than just hanging out with us.

So we did fun things like going to both kids' Halloween parades, we took them to our local German Butcher (they like meat!) and we ate some good food. It was a good time. The Italian took this picture of them at one of the kids' parades:

It is always a relief and a treat when a good friend marries someone that you like very much, it makes spending time together that much more enjoyable.

After they left we spent the day getting ready for the evening's trick or treating, at which point we were joined by another couple, also child-free, who came for the evening. It was so much fun to have extra grownups around - it meant that we could take turns taking the kids out trick or treating and still have company to enjoy the evening with. Lara is a friend from college and her man is a great guy, I feel lucky to have good friends like all of these.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009


This year's Halloween was a smashing success.

As I have in past years I sewed their costumes. Punkin was very concerned that I wouldn't finish in time because I started with her brother's costume, but I had everything finished by the time I went to bed on Thursday.

They had parades at school and we took them trick or treating on Saturday night. They enjoyed their costumes and going out in the neighborhood. I got my mama yayas hearing lots of people exclaim over their costumes - I don't normally pay much attention to what my kids are wearing but I like making their costumes every year.

My costume appears to be that of a graying middle-aged woman - I knew my hair was getting gray but for pete's sake it looks like it's been highlighted! Wow!

Now I need to start thinking about making Christmas presents. I'm on the hook to make stockings for my niece and my son this year, and having never done it I'm not sure how big a project I'm in for. The stockings are velvet with appliqued embroidered felt characters all over them. The originals came from a little old lady in the town where my parents grew up. When more stockings were needed my mother started making them, but she can't do it anymore so the task has fallen to me.

I'd much rather be spinning!

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Knitting pattern rule #1

I have read a lot of knitting patterns in my life. I have made a lot of things from knitting patterns in my life.

I am starting to develop some real biases against poorly written knitting patterns. Now, I know enough to be able to figure out most knitting patterns, although if I'm following a pattern it's because I'm feeling too lazy to write it myself and I clearly don't want to do a lot of figuring.

But new knitters often don't have enough experience to think for themselves and second-guess a pattern.

I teach knitting at the Library where I work and help people with a wide variety of skill levels.

I helped a knitter this week who was flummoxed as to why the fronts and back of the child's cardigan she was knitting were 1" off in length. I carefully "read' her knitting and she had followed the pattern instructions exactly, but still there was this difference - what was the problem? She guessed that maybe her gauge had changed drastically from the fronts to the back but she's a pretty even and consistent knitter, so that wasn't it.

Gauge, it turns out, was the answer. The pattern instructions for the back said to knit for 5" after casting on before beginning armhole shaping. The instructions for the back were written out line by line, since there was shaping at the bottom edge.

The problem was that her row gauge didn't match the row gauge of the pattern. The back was 5" to armhole and the front was 48 rows. If her row gauge had been on those two would have been the same but in reality the fronts were 1" longer because of the gauge difference.

I understand that the onus is on the knitter to know what's going on with gauge (To Save Time Check Gauge - we've all read it!) but how hard would it have been for the designer to specify the number of rows to knit the back so it would always match the front in length? Hmmm?

So my first rule of knitting patterns is this: Specify length for all pieces in the same units of measure.

So there.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feeling my years

I am feeling every one of my hard earned years today.

Saturday night I was the ultimate mom: I chaperoned an all-night Girl Scout overnight at a mall.

My 8 year old is in a girl scout troop and loves it. Her scout meetings are on Friday afternoons and that's a hard day for me to get off work, so I try to help out with her troop in other ways. This year one of the things I offered to do was to help with the Bay Area wide Mall sleepover.

Picture this - three to five thousand sugared up girls in a mall, all night, with activities scheduled throughout until mandatory departure at 7:00 am.

We actually did sleep, although not a lot. Both Punkin and I are still tired.

It was crazy and the girls loved it. Being in a mall for 12 straight hours reminded me of why I quit the garment industry and why I'm doing my best to raise my children without the commercialism and consumerism of that kind of influence, although you can't hide from it forever. I really have a hard time with the way that part of society pushes the notion that there is one standard of beauty and if you can't/won't force your body into that norm you are less than acceptable or desirable.

Punkin just thought it was cool to be up past midnight. I love her.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Shades of beach

A couple of weekends ago we went to the beach for the afternoon. I had wanted to go to the beach this summer but between my broken ankle and our trip east the sumer got away from us. So on a nice sunny day we went to the beach.

Which, being Northern California, meant it was cool and overcast on the coast. (In November, though, it'll be clear and beautiful on the beach).

We stayed and played anyway and had a nice time. The overcast was variable - sometimes you couldn't see the horizon for all the fog, and sometimes the sun broke through.

I played with the kids for a while, then sat down and enjoyed my beach chair for a while. I was looking around, watching a guy standing down by the water when I took a picture.

Before I show you the picture, I should explain. We've been having conversations about color around my house lately. The Italian and I both went to art school and have a reasonably decent vocabulary to talk about art and related subjects. Then of course we have two small children and are exposed to all sorts of things we might otherwise miss.

An example of which is a TV show call Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman. It's a live action / animated show created by WGBH in Boston (a PBS affiliate) with funding from the National Science Foundation. It's one of those shows which the kids love but is clever enough to be entertaining to their parents as well.

A recent episode started with a bit about color which had my husband laughing fit to bust a gut. Take a look:

This was weeks ago and I can still make the Italian laugh by just saying "zingy grey".

Anyway, the beach trip was shortly after seeing this episode on TV. The fog and haze was doing amazing things to the sunlight, and I took this picture to try to capture the roughly a bazillion shades of grey:

I took it with my phone and the colors aren't quite right - the actual colors were all shades of French Grey, but it still captures all the different shades. It was really beautiful.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Food, food and more food

It seems to run in cycles, but these days my life is all about food.

This morning I've made puttanesca sauce for dinner tonight (yes, my kids love anchovies!) and a batch of hummus (my son especially loves it).

I've been picking and cooking green beans every day for days, we got a little behind on the harvesting.

Tonight I'm going to make several batches of pesto with the basil I picked yesterday. Also picked bunches and bunches of mint, which are currently hanging to dry (we use dried mint in cooking several times a week.)

This weekend I'm going to try pickling cherry tomatoes and freezing the larger tomatoes that volunteered in our garden this summer. Also, this weekend we will make an enormous batch of red sauce the way the Italian's nonna used to make it, which involves large quantities of canned tomatoes, meat and many, many hours of cooking down (stirring every twelve minutes!)

Hooray for good food! I feel like a squirrel, packing food away for the winter, but there's nothing like food in the freezer to give you a warm feeling.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Warning - this is a blog post that would be better if I had supporting photographs. I actually do have the photographs, but if I wait for the time when I can post them, this blog post will never happen.

So, imagine if you will...

I have been spinning lately. Not a lot, but enough to remind me how much I enjoy spinning and how much I miss it.

I did a lot of spinning when I first started, about 12 years ago. I was working a more than full time job, but didn't have kids and indulged myself. I got a nice wheel, picked up a used Pat Green drumcarder, and had fun at the Monterey Fleece auction several years running.

Then I quit my job and went back to school. Then I had a kid. Then I had another kid. Then all of a sudden I realized I hadn't touched the spinning wheel for a long time! (Then more time passed...)

Lately I've been focused on using supplies I already have on hand, trying to use things up and whenever possible not replace them (I'm talking cleaning supplies, soap, pantry, yarn, everything). I've felt weighted down by the stuff that fills every nook and cranny of my 1000 sq ft house, and I'm trying to lighten the load. To that end I've been going through drawers, shelves, bins, etc. taking stock of what I have. (Not in any systematic kind of way, just randomly, but still it's a start).

Plus I've had a few things lately that I couldn't find, so I've been looking through all sorts of things. And I have found all sorts of thing. Fleeces that were brought home in 1997, washed, sorted, and still sitting there. All sorts of yarn, spinning fiber, etc.

All of this has inspired me to want to get out the carder and get cracking through some of the fleece. Easier said than done.

For several days I looked for the manual and instructions. This shouldn't have been necessary, except when last I used it I had set it up with the motor, and with two children in the house I wanted to switch it back to manual crank in the hopes that would decrease the chance of injury.

Finally it occurred to me to look for paperwork in the file cabinet. (No mean feat - I had to move four bikes to open the 'long term storage' file cabinet).

Then I had to wait two days for a window of time to get out the carder. Finally this morning I had time. I followed the instructions and reattached the crank, wiped the surfaces clean, oiled the necessary spots, attached the drive band and was ready to go. I thought the carding cloth might be dusty so I pulled out some random waste fleece and carded on a light batt. Things were going well - the kids were busy in the other room, I pretty much remembered what I was doing, the carder looked in good shape, everything was fine. I decided to switch the position of the crank to make it easier to doff the batt. As I was calmly undoing the screw, excited about getting to actually card some wool today, I hear a slight "plunk" and look up to see half of the drive band lazily uncurl from the gears and flop to the table.

Damn drive band failed at the join, making the carder completely inoperable. I don't blame the manufacturer - it's been sitting on a shelf for years (although I was smart enough to remove the drive band from the carder!) and I'm sure whatever they use to join the band gets brittle over time.

It's not a tragedy, I've got plenty of other things to do with my time, but it was disappointing. I'll call Pat Green tomorrow and see if I can glue it back together or if I need to get a new band (if so, I'll probably get a new band for the motor at the same time!) Hopefully by next weekend I'll be up and running, at which point it will probably be another month before I find the time to do it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Behind my Back

My little girl is a reader (any of you who have met her are nodding your heads at this point). Since I am a librarian I supply her with a never-ending stream of library books (the Italian once looked at the bag of books I brought home from work and asked "did you leave any books for anyone else?")

I make it a policy to not interfere too much with what she reads. I occasionally try to get her to read slightly longer, more complex books, but if she wants to read large quantities of short chapter books I don't get in her way. Reading is a skill that needs to be practiced and to some extent it doesn't matter what they read, as long as they are reading.

There have been two instances when I have not let her read something. The first was the day she brought home a "Mary-Kate and Ashley" book from the library. I read the first page and decided it was the moral equivalent of Fluff'n'Nutter and told her to find something else. This was at least a year ago.

The second time was more recently. The kids had expressed an interest in the Harry Potter books and I decided they would be a good read-aloud series. For many months this was our bedtime reading. Both kids seemed to enjoy the books; Buddy would occasionally look at a Lego catalog while I read, but he is four and his attention span wasn't always up to the challenge. We read the first three books and got partway through the fourth, at which point Punkin got impatient with the slow pace and finished the last three hundred pages one day while we were in Massachusetts this summer.

I tried to continue to read from this book at bedtime but Buddy decided he wasn't interested and Punkin had already read it so we moved on to something else. The next day, before I'd had a chance to talk to her about it, I found Punkin sitting and reading book 5 in the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). I had already decided that we were going to have to stop at this point in the series and wait a little while before we read any more. (If you haven't read these books at this point Harry is 15 and dealing with many challenging issues, not the least of which is a teacher who forces him to write lines in his arm as punishment for breaking the rules.) It seemed like things were getting a bit intense for a third grader.

Punkin objected, of course, but didn't really press the issue. This was in August, and I haven't given it much thought since. We read one of the Lemony Snicket books and are now reading By the Great Horn Spoon, which is especially fun since we went up to Sacramento for a little sight-seeing at the end of the summer and this book takes place during the California Gold Rush.

Fast forward to this evening - Back to School Night at Punkin's school. The Italian and I went, sat through several presentations and got a chance to chat with Punkin's teacher (a thoroughly pleasant young woman.) We chatted for a minute about Punkin and I said something about how much she reads. The teacher said "oh yes, I can hardly tear her away from the Harry Potter book she's reading!"

At which point proud mama disappeared and irritated mama appeared. I tried to keep a poker face, although I think I did a poor job of it. I hope her teacher doesn't end up thinking that I'm one of those uber-controlling moms, because I'm generally not.

After picking the kids up from the friend who was watching them I managed to wait until we were home and getting ready for bed. I asked Punkin if she was reading a Harry Potter book at school, and she said yes. I asked her which book, and she said book 5. I thought it was fair to at least establish the facts.

I tried to be calm, and I think I was. (Tensions were running high because Buddy was having a screaming melt-down about something with his dad in the next room). I was brushing Punkin's hair and her face was buried against my chest. I talked to her about not doing things behind my back, about my reasons for asking her not to read that book, and how I would prefer if she talk to me about things instead of doing an end-run around me. At which point I discovered that she was crying. Made me feel like a cad.

We talked a little bit more about how she could have handled the issue differently, I told her she should try to make the case and find some other solution. I really stressed that I didn't want her going behind my back about things, that I wanted her to talk to me about things like this and try to find a solution together.

She cheered up a bit, although I think she really understood that I was disappointed and she didn't like the way that made her feel. I hope I struck the right balance.

This parenting business is hard.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Knitting - River Forest Gansey

Looking back through my past 12 months of posts I was struck by how little I was blogging about knitting on what is ostensibly a knitting blog.

I do, in fact knit. I don't, however, have much patience for photographing/downloading/editing/uploading etc of the images. Part of the issue is that my computer is old and slower than dirt (shh, don't tell the Italian, he's been pointing out for some time now that I need a new computer.)

So I'm going to try to streamline the process a little bit in the hopes that I will actually post photos more often, even if they are low quality.

My latest knitting project is Jolene Trace's River Forest Gansey (from Melanie Falick's Handknit Holidays) which I am making for my son. My LYS Purlescence had a sale on Cascade 220 earlier in the summer and I enjoy working with that yarn, plus it is moderately priced (even more so when it is 40% off!) So I took Buddy and we picked out this beautiful orange together. I love making things for the kids in bright colors, and this orange looks great on him.

I finished the pieces two nights ago and got them blocked this morning (with the boy's help, of course). This is just the back. The pattern is a pullover which I have converted to a cardigan with a plan to put a zipper in the front. I am really excited with this project - it has been fun to knit, the boy is excited and I think he will get some good use out of it.

I was less than thrilled with the quality of the pattern - there were too many little mistakes. Nothing that I couldn't work my way through, but with a better job of editing the pattern it would be more user friendly.

Friday, September 04, 2009

More Milestones

They're coming fast and furious these days, aren't they?

16 years ago today the Italian and I were married.

We had, and I hope I don't sound immodest, one of the most entertaining weddings I have ever attended. We had audience participation in the ceremony, cross-dressing at the reception, and vocal performances by both the bridesmaids and groomsmen (there were six of each).

It was a blast, the parts of it that I can remember. I was suffering from severe sleep deprivation and stress, so some of it is a blur. But it was one of the best times I've ever had.

It's been sixteen years since then, which is hard to believe some days. He still makes me laugh (much of the time), and he still makes me angry (some of the time) and I can't imagine my life any other way.

We're going out for a drink tonight, just as soon as our friend who is going to watch the kids arrives.

Hope you all have a pleasant evening and a lovely weekend.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Today is a big day. Today is my man's birthday. Today the Italian is officially old.

I can say this with some protection from mocking and retaliation, because I turned old about six weeks ago (yes, I am an older woman).

Today will be a day of modest celebration. The Italian has to work until lunchtime and I have to work this evening, so today's festivities will be limited to what we can accomplish in an afternoon with two kids in tow. Perhaps I will plan some other celebratory activities for some other time in addition to today.

I think lunch out would be a good start. Suggestions?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Things you don't expect to hear from your 4 year old son

My son is a builder. He likes to build things out of other things. He will build with just about anything - bits of wood, rocks, corks, tape, whatever it is he will build something with it.

The other day he got into the linen closet. On one of the low shelves in the closet is where I store my "feminine hygiene" products. I use O.B., the kind without the applicator, and I keep a box of each size on a shelf with the tops torn off, for easy access.

Well, Buddy pulled out about a half dozen of them and was playing with them. When I found him I explained they weren't meant to be toys and took away the ones that were still wrapped, but let him keep playing with the one he had unwrapped. He was pulling off the cotton, swinging it around on the string, having a great time.

After the kids were in bed and I was cleaning up I threw it away, figuring that if it wasn't lying around maybe he would forget about it and move on to something else.

The next morning I got the kids up and ready for the day and we piled into the car to take Punkin to camp and Buddy to preschool. It's a challenge to get everyone ready and I'm constantly worried that I've forgotten something (lunch, shin guards, sun block, etc). As we're riding down the highway he bursts out with:

"Momma! Where's my tampon?!"

Between laughing and trying hard not to show it I almost drove off the road. It's not something I expected to hear from him.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Speaking of which...

I just looked and realized that I haven't posted in the past month.

We got back yesterday from a 12 day trip to the homeland - meaning New England. Both the Italian and I are from Massachusetts and most of our family is still there. We took the kids and went to the Boston area to stay with my parents.

We had a mile long list of things to do, some of which were fun and some of which were not fun. We got a lot done, there is always more to do.

I'm still jet lagged and I get to take Buddy to his first day of preschool and myself to my first day back at work, so I have no idea why I am up this late.

I have a few choice photos to share and some lovely souvenir yarn to show you.

Anybody know of a good place in Northern California to get a pound of steamers? I had some in Maine for the first time in 20 years, and they were damn good. I'm not waiting until next summer to get some more.