Friday, December 30, 2011


(1) a remedy to counteract the effects of poison 
(2) something that relieves, prevents, or counteracts.

I have found the perfect antidote for frustrating lace knitting. Turns out, it is cotton washcloths. 

You can churn a finished product out in less than two hours, they are so quick and easy. 

You can choose a different stitch pattern for each one. 

You can reassure yourself that you really do know how to knit and purl, and follow a pattern. 

(Except for when you can't and then their size makes it dead obvious. I had no time to rip this one back and correct it because it was my last gift to finish, literally done one hour before it was gifted.) 

Best of all, you can recover from a stressful couple of weeks finishing Christmas knits in a way that doesn't produce a headache, restore your faith in your own knitting ability and eventually contemplate casting on a slightly more difficult project. 

Yes, this one is a scarf with little points, though these are worked at the same time that the scarf is knit. Little points, I will master you yet. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a most frustrating knit

(Before I begin, let me emphasize: the following discussion has nothing to do with the pattern in question, or the yarn in question. It is solely limited to my own boneheadedness and lack of lace knitting experience. The products in question are without fault.)

At the Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival this year, my mother and I had a lovely time strolling around the vendors and admiring their wares together. I may have bought too much sock yarn at the same point, but that is a post for a different day. Brooke, at Twisted Fiber, had a beautiful red shawlette hanging up, made of red alpaca lace, which my mother admired. It so happened that I had that precise yarn in my stash (purchased the previous year, and of course not used yet) and I decided to make the same shawlette for her for Christmas.

I cast on in very good time, around the end of September. My progress was quick and encouraging, as progress on things that start with instructions such as "cast on three stitches" tend to be. You get through those first thirty rows so rapidly, it seems as if the project will be done in an instant!

The pattern is elegantly simple, and right there is where I ran into problems. It seems that after I had 100 or so stitches on the needles, I lost all abilities to (1) follow a simple pattern; and (2) count to any number greater than 100. It got to the point that I began to question whether I really knew how to knit and purl. I finally wrote out every line count of the pattern, all the way to the 99th (and final) row, and obsessively counted each row as I knit. It didn't solve all the problems but it did cut down on them significantly.

At long last, round about December 17th, I got to that fabled 99th row, and my count was correct. I did a little happy jig of Christmas completion (with a week to spare, even!) and turned the page...

And saw that 75 little points had to be knit onto the border.

Lacking lace knitting experience, I neglected to put in a lifeline (i.e., extra thread that will hold your place so you can rip back if necessary without dropping all the stitches) and just plunged in, determined to be done by the end of the weekend. With Bramwell playing away on Netflix, I doggedly worked my way through those darn points. I tried not to cry when I finished, and found that I had 37 points on one side (correct number) and 38 points on the other (incorrect, and errors easily spotted). I thought about ripping out, but due to the lack of lifeline and lack of time, realized it was a fool's undertaking.

I was stuck with what I had. I contemplated my spit of red dog barf, which is what all lace projects resemble prior to blocking, breathed deeply, and finally went ahead with the washing and blocking.

Stretching it out to block it was when I discovered not one, but two, dropped stitches, as they merrily unraveled their way up the shawl. Of course. And of course the errors were that much easier to spot, once I had it all pinned out.

Once again, what choice did I have? It was December 23 at this point. Dropped stitches were repaired. Shawl was wrapped and placed under the tree, once it dried.

And after all that... thank goodness... it still looks perfectly lovely on my lovely mom. But Mom -- whatever you do -- resist the urge to count those blasted points.

Friday, December 23, 2011

falling off the needles

Irreconcilable differences between my computer and me did not permit a post yesterday... but it did give me more time to get a few more projects done! I have spent so many days working on a bunch of projects, a little bit at a time, that it is nice that they are hitting the "finished" stage, one after another.

First up is an easy-peasy pattern that I made up, "Patch Pocket Scarf." Just little stockinette stitch pockets, sewn up after the fact, with a garter stitch scarf, for my little nephew, which is why it's a bit small on my model.

This one is for a huge Diego fan, can you tell? Unfortunately I couldn't find Diego patches, or even Diego fabric to make patches out of, so I made my own using clip art and the fabric that you put in your printer.

I am a little worried about the effect of rain on the patches, because I used an inkjet printer, but at least I have something to put under the tree. His brother is getting a black scarf with Batman (or as he calls him, "Bacmac") patches. I have about two feet to go. Argh. (I should note that I would never have proposed a scarf as a gift, because holy crow, those things go on and on and on. The scarves were a specific request, however, though the personalized touches were my own.)

Also finished today: another pair of socks for Secondo.

Part of his Grand Champion prize for his felted fruit basket last year was a gift certificate for a very high end yarn vendor. Lo and behold, their sock line shares his first name. It was meant to be. I picked up the yarn at Rhinebeck this year.

And yet another project: a Lego hat for my Lego fan.

You have to squint a bit to get the idea but it is supposed to be Lego bricks with little Lego man faces. I discovered that it is very difficult to make Lego bricks using knit stitches, because they tend to look like castles or little crowns instead. Not sure if this one will get any wear but if not, it can keep the dead fish hat company in the "never to be worn" pile.

I probably won't fit it another post before Sunday, so let me take this chance to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. See you on the back side!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

fast and furious

The title refers to the state of my knitting this week, though thankfully progress is being made! Most gifts are off the needles, a few even have the ends woven in, but the majority still need me to take time off knitting to wrap them.

I did manage to finish one, from start to finish. I was a bit stuck on a gift for my lovely sister-in-law. I had originally planned felted French Press Slippers, but I don't know what I was thinking. Me and felted objects so close to the holidays are a disaster waiting to happen, as evidenced by the four felted tote bags, in various stages of completion, that have yet to be gifted five years after that particular Christmas debacle.

Last night I was helping Primo shop for his girlfriend, and I came across this beautiful soap:

Yes, that is soap, and it smells as wonderful as it looks. Turquoise is her favorite color, so that was a no-brainer. Now, what to put with it? Another no-brainer: hand-knit washcloths, of course. I had the perfect cotton yarn in my stash. Two different patterns, a few hours, a little ribbon, et voila:

Another project to be revealed tomorrow!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

red kettle day

Since the holiday crafting continues more or less nonstop around here, in the faint hope of having it all done in six short days, I find myself planning my day around knittable occasions. My thought process during the morning dog walk/run is all about how I can work on current projects throughout the day to make the most progress.

Complicated knitting? Early morning when the house is quiet.

Sock knitting? Must be done when the intended recipient is nowhere in sight.

Straight garter scarf? Keep that sucker in my bag and knit it everywhere I go: music concerts, in line at the bank drive thru, waiting for kid pick-up, any occasion works.

Yesterday was no exception, part of which was spent watching the 4-H kids take shifts ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. This was the second year in a row for them and I think they enjoy it but at the end of the shifts their feet are so cold that it can be hard to tell.

This was definitely garter stitch conditions, to the extent I could get my fingers to move, but we did get to see Santa drive by in his spiffy red convertible, which definitely added to the holiday cheer!

OK, enough chitchat. Back to knitting. Hopefully I'll have some progress to report in the next day or two.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the slouching trombonist

We attended the middle school band/chorus holiday concert tonight, and I was interested -- but not entirely surprised -- to discover that my middle child has the worst posture in the entire 7th grade band.

Note the stylish white socks and black shoes combo, too.

I have no idea how he has any sort of lung capacity slouched over like that, let alone how he keeps the trombone slide from hitting the floor.

As an aside, I found this joke when I was checking the correct term for a trombone player:

Q: What do you call a guy who knows how to play the trombone, but doesn't?

A: A gentleman.

Monday, December 12, 2011


It finally feels like the season around here, with hard frosts over the past several days. Just in the nick of time too, because of course I am busy knitting my fingers to the bone for the holidays. It just doesn't seem like Christmas to me unless the ground is hard... clearly I will never be able to live in Florida or Australia.

The knitting has picked up as the cold weather has set in. The current count is:

Two projects (that cannot be named) done.

Four projects (most of which cannot be named) on the needles.

Two projects still to be cast on.

Typing it all out like that... it looks a little grim, seeing as how there are only 12 more days until Christmas. That would mean finishing one project every other day.

Hmmm.  All the cold weather in the world may not be enough to save me from my own particular brand of insanity.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


While I was in Rhinebeck, my friend Mel admired the gloves I was wearing.

The yarn, Lana Grosso Chiara, had been a birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law, along with a suggested pattern. I decided to honor their choice and work it exactly as intended when gifted. The yarn is not something I would have normally picked out myself, and that made it all the more wonderful. I loved working with, loved its slight sheen and halo, and adore the finished result. I even made a cowl to go along with it:

(Pardon the blocking picture, but it is the best way to see the lovely pattern:
Eleanor from Knitty Deep Fall 2010.)

Mel like them so much that I decided to make her a matching pair to thank her for bringing her sheep along for the breed display, two years in a row now. I chose orange because her son goes to Virginia Tech, and she wears a lot of orange and maroon to commemorate that!

Just after I finished the mitts, I heard some very sad news from Mel about her farm. Long story short, she probably won't have sheep to bring next year, which has understandably made her quite sad.

Now the color seems the perfect shade of bittersweet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

telling the story

A few years ago, I started making digital photo albums for my kids for Christmas, of the previous year. I make one for each boy, and one for Curt and me. This way, I figure, the boys will have a copy to take with them as they (sob!) move on in life.

They have become a tradition in our family. The kids mention each year how much they look forward to seeing them, and during the year I find them paging through the ones I have already made to revisit those memories.

I have been busy working on the album for 2010 this month, in the hope of getting it done by Christmas. It struck me how much this is a labor of choosing how to show them, each year, what I am trying to say: I think this is a good life, and I hope you agree. Your life is full of blessings. You are loved. I hope that is enough.

Like this one I came across today, of my eldest son and his youngest brother in Maine last year:

As they navigate the rocky shores of life, I keep wanting to repeat these messages to them over and over again: Your life is full of blessings. You are loved.

I hope that is enough.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

seeing double, knitting double

It has been a rough week in these parts. My LSH and I have spent every waking hour on a campaign against a new business ill-suited to our town, and I am seeing double with exhaustion. We had a town meeting last night that was somewhat encouraging, but it's hard to know just where this will end up.

Political action is not my usual mode of operation. I am very much a "you have your views, and I'll have mine" sort of person -- though my children may beg to differ -- but that's what happens when you are married to a person who belongs to the opposite political party. I was hoping that, at the very least, the boys would be inspired by my civic engagement. Instead they complained non-stop about the lack of clean clothes and home-cooked meals.

So let's talk about knitting instead, shall we?

I finished my first double knitted project last week, which I think is destined to be a Christmas present for Primo, because it is in his school colors. Double knitting is a technique that allows you to knit the front and back of an object at the same time, producing a reversible item that is actually two layers of knitting.

This was one of those projects I couldn't put down. It was so much fun to watch the pattern develop, even when I had to rip out rows due to mistakes when I wasn't paying enough attention.

Please excuse crappy knitted object photos.
Exhausted, no time, blah blah blah.
But at least the kid is cute.

It took me a while to figure out how to hold the yarn most efficiently for my knitting style. I finally ended up with the picking method recommended by StitchDiva but you can see problems with my tension on the reverse (red) row and I gave up on getting jogless joins on the stripes.

The switch in tension is pretty obvious on this side,
especially the bottom band.

I don't think it really matters though. Secondo and Terzo, both of whom had to lend their heads for sizing, really liked the hat. Of all the hats I have made, this one is definitely my favorite. If you want to try the technique yourself, I highly recommend this pattern, with this explanation of how to work the decreases at the top.

Since this is a late Wednesday pre-turkey post, I'll go ahead and say: Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! I hope you have many things to be thankful for tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

great little shed

At the beginning of the summer, I tried to head off the inevitable claims of boredom (as if that's possible!) by suggesting that the boys build a little shed in the one fenced field lacking shelter. I was embracing the 4-H "learn by doing" philosophy, perhaps a bit too naively.

They enthusiastically ordered me to take them to the Home Depot, picked out their own lumber and supplies with great excitement, and assured me they (mostly Primo) had it "all planned out in their heads."

A few days later they marked the boards and got their father's help to cut them up.

There was much enthusiastic hammering and drilling and such, and they managed to get three sides up in pretty short order... and then they hit a brick wall, planning-wise.

In other words: the roof.

It sat there for a few months, and as the end of summer approached, I started to panic a bit. I suggested they consult our building guru, aka my father, to get some advice on getting a roof on the darn thing. My dad, initially thrilled to be asked, had no idea what he was getting into.

He came and took a look at their first effort and told them to take the entire thing apart. Because he is their grandfather and not their parent, they obeyed without one word of protest. Plus I think they realized that they really, really needed his help.

He returned for quite a few days to guide them in the proper construction of a little shed.

They even shingled the darn thing!

Today the weather was finally dry and warm enough -- and more importantly, we weren't running all over the state from activity to activity -- that they were able to get it painted before winter hits.

I even caught Kali and Kevyn in it the other day when it was raining. I wouldn't swear by my kids' ability to build another one on their own, but I sure am grateful for my father's rescue on this one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

basket update

I forgot to take a picture for proof, but there were quite tickets in the cup for my lottery tree at tonight's basket auction. Primo, who was volunteering at the event, thought it may have had the most.

Yay! I win yet another contest entirely of my own devising, that has absolutely no bearing on anything at all. But given the crapstorm of a week that we've had around here, I'll take whatever I can get.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

back in nj

We went to Ohio, and came back with one fully-outfitted country boy, two sick kids, and too many miles to count on the car, but it was a good trip. We got to see almost everyone on our list and were shown such wonderful hospitality and care that it made us wish we lived closer.

Though of course I got a few looks like this if my somewhat-but-not-always-polite crew thought the visiting and chit-chat had gone on a bit too long:

Not used to such family visitations, at one point, Terzo exclaimed, "Why are we going to all these different houses with the same people?" Ninety percent of his focus was trying to get to the hotel pool, yet again. (I have no idea which of them took this picture but it is a very accurate representation.)

One particular highlight was getting to see one of my sprout hats on an actual baby's head (my new first cousin once removed... I think... we spent a few hours one night trying to work out some of these connections). Yes, it's a little big, but he'll grow into it. That's the thing about babies.

 As a matter of fact, by the next time I see him, it probably won't even fit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

heading west

Unlike my LSH, I am not from this state. I actually hail from Ohio, which is a great state to be associated with as it seems everyone has some sort of connection to Ohio at some point in their lives.

Most of my extended family still lives there, including several very dear aunts, cousins and friends that we haven't seen in some time. Since the boys are off school for the next two days, I will be taking advantage of the break in their schedules to whisk them off -- just me, no LSH this time -- to points west. The best part, by far, has been calling everyone to let them know we are on our way at long last.

Geese over a recently harvested corn field near our house.
They're headed south, we're headed west, 
but it's still the same basic idea.

See you in a few days.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

gift basket idea

I don't know about your town / church / school / kid's sports team / [insert favorite charitable cause here], but in these parts the gift basket auction is where it's at in terms of fundraisers.

Last year I made two baskets (one for church, one for high school) complete with a hand-knit hat and fingerless mitt set, hot chocolate, tea and coffee fixings, insulated mugs, dunking cookies, etc. They were tepidly received, so to heck with that.

This year I decided to change my tack. The church got the hand-knit baby hat and a bunch of hand-made marshmallow blow guns, courtesy of my boys, plus the usual nut brittle, courtesy of my LSH.

The high school got this, which I am passing along to you as an idea for the easiest gift basket ever:

It consists of a Christmas photo holder (this one from Pier 1, which is chock-full of stuff that looks as if it came straight off the set of the recent Grinch movie), a glass charger from Michael's (on clearance) and nine scratch-off lottery tickets, plus a few tiny confetti presents. For value I put "Who knows? Could be $20,000!"

But I really spent under $50 -- less than last year -- then put it in a gift bag, taped it shut and bunged a bow on the front. Total assembly time: about twenty minutes, tops.

Hope this helps another harried fundraiser!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

little sprout

One hat down. I finished the Little Sprout hat last night. Two days, start to finish, so the perfect quick and easy baby gift.

Yarn: Louet Gems Sport (machine washable)

I had actually made a hat like this last year, which turned out a bit too small. In March of this year, though, a special baby with a perfectly-sized head was born, and so the hat was mailed off to him.

A little bit better staged than the first one...

I was so pleased with the way that the first hat came out, I always intended to make another one so I could fix and publish the pattern. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone with this hat: contribute something for the church, and finally get the pattern (simple as it is) written out and put up for others to use.

I even had the perfect name: Little Sprout. When I went to check the name -- lo and behold -- there was a pattern that was almost identical to the one I had made! It was just too obvious, I suppose.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

hat central

Have you caught up with that barrage of late-October posts yet? It is an accurate reflection of what October is like around here. We turn the calendar page to November and things automatically calm down a bit.

I finally have time to do a bit of knitting, though I am still a little scattered! Here is my project area in the living room: three hats going at once. From left to right:

  • a double knitted hat in the local high school colors because I wanted to learn how to do reversible knitting; may be a Christmas gift for my sophomore.
  • a baby hat for the imminent church auction.
  • the beginning of an idea for a published hat pattern. 
If I could concentrate on just one at a time, I might actually produce an item to keep someone's head warm.

Monday, October 31, 2011

halloween 2011

Bwa-ha-ha. It was a cold and snowy afternoon... wait, that might be the start of a different story.

A very scary cabbage chopping picture. 
Heads rolled.

The 4-H club had scheduled a gleaning for the past weekend, but the weather was a little uncooperative. A heavy frost this morning (and another scheduled for tonight) meant the crops couldn't wait too much longer, so just a few of the kids went to the farm -- owned by one of the 4-H member families -- and gleaned cabbage and cauliflower this afternoon.

I won't need to eat cabbage for a while. As Secondo observed, the smell was enough to curb your appetite, so that's my new appetite suppressant tip. Go into a muddy field with a little bit of snow (all the better to nail your fellow gleaners) and chop off some cabbage heads. Works wonders for that, as well as any excess aggression you need to release.

Still enough time when they were done to go out trick-or-treating:

Primo was a cow vet (get it?);
Secondo was a carrot;
Terzo was -- well, that one's obvious.

And the Great Pumpkin didn't fail us. For the eighth year in a row, a carved and lit pumpkin was mysteriously waiting for them on the porch upon their return.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

sweet sixteen

The frequency of my posting lately is a window on the hectic pace of life around here in October. Today was no exception. First of all, we wake up to this amazing October morning sight:

Unbelievable. Equally hard to believe, this kid turned sixteen:

He requested apple pie in lieu of birthday cake. 
I had a heck of a time getting
the candles to stand up in the pie crust.

He is turning into such a wonderful man, that I try not to mourn the passing of his childhood too much.

Meanwhile his younger brother celebrated his Rite 13 ceremony at church this morning (can't have just one milestone in a day!). I love this service, though it never fails to make me cry. By far the most poignant part is when the older kids -- in this case, his brother -- lead the younger ones away from their families, across the aisle of the church, to symbolize the start of their journey to adulthood.

It's official, if we didn't suspect it already: now we have two on their way.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

procrastination rarely pays

Last Sunday at church, my LSH noted that I hadn't yet submitted my little words of wisdom for the booklet given each year to the 13-year-olds. He suggested I write about procrastination. My submission was along the lines of: "Procrastination will cause you unnecessary stress, but every so often, produces a work of brilliance."

Today was a golden example of the first part of my advice, however. Due to absolutely jam-packed schedules, we hadn't yet put our rams in with the ewes -- which means that we won't have lambs until the beginning of April. A little late, but definitely less stressful for the shepherd in some ways. Still, we needed to get them in TODAY.

Then along comes a weather forecast straight out of the North Pole in December.

We waited a bit, until we realized that conditions were only getting worse by the minute. We finally hauled ourselves out and moved as quickly as is possible with frozen hands, ears and noses. Hooves were trimmed, the last few coats were mended and put on, ewes and rams were put in assigned pastures with cozy sheds and dry hay, and we hightailed it back inside.

No pictures possible of the sheep.
I haven't seen them all day.

Primo has been nagging me since he got back from Indy that we needed to get ready for winter. (Much in the way that I come back from a fiber festival raring to get started on fibery ventures, he came back raring to start on farm chores.) I pooh-poohed him for the last week.

Because really, who on earth could have predicted snowball fight conditions in New Jersey in October?

Friday, October 28, 2011

friend ratatouille

The other night I made friend ratatouille, and it was absolutely scrumptious.

To make friend ratatouille, you need to start by having a few generous friends with healthy gardens. Mine never recovered from Hurricane Irene, but luckily Val and Amy have gardens that are still trickling along. They were kind enough to gift me with eggplant and tomatoes, respectively.

Ratatouille is a lot like vegetable soup: you can just toss in whatever veggies you have (within reason), cook it down, and it will come out pretty good. For my friend ratatouille, I started with a chopped onion and sauteed until golden in olive oil. I added a minced garlic glove and cooked for a bit more while I peeled and chopped the eggplant into half-inch cubes. Added to pan, with a splash of red wine to give it a little liquid (the eggplant sucks up the oil); sauteed while I peeled and chopped the tomatoes. Put tomatoes with all juice in plus a little water, some leftover spaghetti sauce, then a few chopped roasted red peppers, because I didn't have any fresh available. Turned the heat to simmer and put the lid on to let it cook down for a bit, stirring occasionally. Salt, pepper, maybe a little oregano, that's it.

It always looks pretty much the same when you're done, though the taste can vary slightly depending on what you've added in. 

This one was 100% delicious served over quinoa (made with a little chicken bouillon to give it a bit of flavor) and grilled chicken on the side. Our local farmstand still has tomatoes and eggplant out, so it looks like I will be making farmstand ratatouille in the near future!