Tuesday, January 31, 2012

january bookstand

Thought I would start cataloging what I read this past month, if for no other reason than I have some way to track the books. (I do not care to count how many times I have started a book, and then about halfway through, think to myself, "Geez, this seems awfully familiar." Unfortunately, I cannot remember the ending so I end up re-reading the whole dang thing. Which begs the question: if it was such an unremarkable book that I can't remember the ending, then why the heck should I spend time reading it again?)

The House at Tyneford, by Natasha Solomons
Highly recommend, especially if you are a fan of Downton Abbey. A slightly different time period—this time right before World War II—but it highlights an interesting facet of British history of which I was unaware and held my interest to the end.

All Wound Up, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Highly recommend, if you like to read about knitting. I have spoken of my love and admiration for the work of Ms. Pearl-McPhee before. I tend to gulp her essay books down in a few nights and then regret devouring them so quickly. This time I spaced it out by reading entire books between each couple of essays. Worked well to make me feel like I had really savored the book this time.

Ellis Island, by Kate Kerrigan
Recommend, especially if you are interested in Irish history or the American immigrant experience. It took me a while to get into the book, but the ending was not obvious and I did end up enjoying it.

Island of Wings, by Karin Altenberg
Recommend. Again with the British history! A very interesting look at the life of a missionary (based on a historical figure) in St Kilda, the rugged islands from which Soay sheep originated.

Proof of Heaven, by Mary Curran Hackett
Meh. I just couldn't get into this book. I did finish it (rare is the book I don't plod my way through) but it never grabbed me.

That's it for this month! I'd love to hear if you've read any of these, and your thoughts if you did.

Monday, January 30, 2012

knitting powers, activate!

I had one of those experiences this past weekend. You know the ones, or maybe you don't, but I get them all the time, when I am asked a "what are you doing these days?" sort of question. After explaining that I work from my home for my husband (acceptable answer, even if it is out of my field of training), then I got the trickier one. "No," she pressed, "For fun. What do you do for yourself?" Like all good moms, she knew that doing something for yourself is essential to your sanity.

I took a deep breath. "I knit."

(Insert crickets chirping here. Note that I didn't blow her mind even further by explaining that I also spin.)

Eventually she recovered. "Like knit one, purl two? I don't know how to do it, but I know what you are talking about," she said, although there was still doubt in her voice that it could possibly qualify. A list of otherwise acceptable answers that I could have given instead:
  1. I golf.
  2. I shop.
  3. I decorate my house.
  4. I bake fancy cupcakes.
  5. I cook elaborate gourmet dinners. (Now that one's funny!)
  6. I go out drinking with my high school friends.
  7. I go out drinking with other mothers.
None of which are true, but I think they would have been greeted with more understanding. (I do think I would have an easier time justifying the knitting than the working for my husband to my women's only college professors, however, but I suppose that's another perspective altogether.)

Today, though, today I got the affirmation that I needed! Primo came home from school and asked to go to the craft store. Turns out the FFA is doing a fundraiser selling scarves, and he shocked the pants off his advisor when he said he would bring in a scarf as well. (Kid didn't admit to it for years, but he has known how to knit since he was 8 or so; he learned for one of his first 4-H presentations.)

I was quick off the mark. "Do the scarves have to be knit by someone from your school? Or can they be donated?"

"No," he replied. "Other people can knit one for us."

Did you hear the clarion call??!?! It can only mean one thing. To needles, to needles! Of course we only have one week until the deadline, because he is my kid and that's how they roll. But to his credit, his own scarf in FFA blue and gold is already rolling off the needles (after I cast on for him, because he refuses to do anything other than the knit stitch):

That much hasn't changed from when he first learned, nor has the facial expression while he knits, though certainly the face itself has!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

a very belated christmas

Because of various circumstances beyond anyone's control, we weren't able to give my husband's grandmother her Christmas gift in a timely manner. Yesterday, faced with the prospect of pulling out a Christmas gift bag (blech!) to package her gift card, I decided on an alternate plan.

Voila! The sock yarn was left over from Secondo's Christmas socks, and the pattern was from Odd Ball Knitting: Creative Ideas for Leftover Yarn. The gift card fit perfectly inside the "leg" of the stocking.

I had picked up the vintage pin at our church's Barn of Wonders & Delights (I'll have to explain in a future post) a few months ago, because it reminded me of her. It wasn't really enough for a gift on its own, but it was the perfect decorative touch for this little stocking, right down to the colors. Now she can choose to wear it as a pin or leave it on the stocking, it's up to her.

Friday, January 27, 2012

muddy paws

The weather this winter has been beyond odd. Today it was almost 60 degrees, and rainy (again). I hesitate to complain too much, as we haven't had to battle frozen water tanks, but I am starting to get worried. No frozen ground means no hard frost, and no hard frost means that nasties such as sheep worms and garden fungi are not getting hit hard enough to reduce their numbers. I hate to think what this means for the coming summer.

The other problem with no frozen ground and tons of rain is: mud. Mud everywhere. It is definitely more like March conditions out there.

This means that Dusty can't come along for chores in the morning because he just ends up covered with mud from head to toe, and then we have to rinse him off outside. He takes that cold water from the hose like a champ, but he reserves the right to feel very sorry for himself once inside.

See? See how sad the poor dog is, tied up while he dries off and reduced to using a smelly pair of boy shoes as a pillow?

In case you need a close-up to really appreciate the pathos:

Oh, the (in)humanity! Try not to feel too sorry for him. No chores means he gets a two mile walk/run every morning, so things are quite as bad as he'd have you believe.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

by halves

Today was Halfway Day at Terzo's school: the school year is officially halfway done. The kids were encouraged to dress in a way that celebrated the spirit of the occasion.

He was quite proud of his outfit: half day wear, half night wear. Half camo, half plaid.

And the hair, of course, which he had come up with himself and I helped him execute (although he did try to quit halfway through the process).

I thought he looked like a maniacal leprechaun, but he was well pleased.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

time out

My knitting is in time out.

I know I shouldn't be so angry at an inanimate object, but my current project is really ticking me off at the moment. Two separate starts, two minor rip-outs, and it still isn't right and must be ripped out yet again. All for a project (mittens to match my new red hood) that should have been easy-peasy-quick-and-breezy. Well, there was my FIRST clue, if only I had remembered to know better.

Rather than look at it, I shut it up in the pattern book and let it (and me) stew for a bit. It took me three days to look at it again.

See? See how annoyingly wrong it is, in ways too numerous to count? Perhaps you'll have to take my word for it. But trust me. It is. Or rather, it was. While I was distracted on the phone this morning, I pulled it out from its corner, bit the bullet, and unraveled the whole thing.

Take that, you stinking piece of knitting.

I guess this makes us officially ready to start again. I hope we manage to get off on the right foot this time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

red riding hood

I am trying to do better blogging about projects as I finish them—I missed so many last year!— but I need to find a dedicated fashion photographer. Things just don't look that great lying on the floor, and there's only so many pictures I can take in a mirror or by holding the camera as far away from myself as possible. The problem is that getting someone around here to take the pictures in a spirit of cooperation and assistance is nigh on impossible. When I do manage to coerce someone into the task, I find that they have taken pictures of me with my eyes closed, or with the actual knitted item halfway out of the picture, or (true horror of horrors lately) focused on the skin of my chin/neck instead.

As payback compensation for the Ethiopian boondoggle, I forced Secondo to come outside yesterday and take a few pictures with what I hoped would turn out to be a lovely snowy backdrop. Instead he took many many pictures of me with the garbage can right behind me, all the while assuring me that the blue spruce was all that could be seen.

I was able to trim out the garbage cans for this project. It is a hooded scarf with cables that is perfect with my dress winter coat, which suffers from a lack of hood.

The buttons came from a great vintage button merchant who vends at the NJ Sheep and Wool Festival. I didn't have a project in mind when I picked these up, but I couldn't resist the different patterns.

You know that when your seven-year-old boy looks up (because he has the perfect perspective) and says, "Wow! Those are really pretty buttons!" that you have some winners.

Speaking of the seven-year-old boy, he managed to convince his father that his foot was well protected in a snow boot, and would suffer no harm from a sledding expedition to the golf course yesterday. He had received a super duper sled for Christmas that was burning a hole in his imagination.

The crew had a great time, and the sled met and exceeded all expectations, until this happened:

And then this, when he fell off the sled and went face-first down the icy slope:

The foot is doing just fine, but his face looks even worse today:

With the bruises and missing teeth (unrelated to sledding), he now looks like he went ten rounds with Tyson. We told him to tell anyone who asks at school tomorrow: "You shoulda seen the other guy." The fact that he is still limping will only add to the mystique.

Friday, January 20, 2012

no snow for you

It seems our kids have taken a pact not to allow a quiet night on the premises until they all leave for college. Tonight, Secondo and Terzo were playing "hall football" upstairs—a game my husband and I have forbidden on numerous occasions, to obviously no avail. In a sequence of events that is still not entirely clear, Terzo became upset at Secondo, and in revenge, kicked one of the spindles on the hallway bannister so hard that he split the webbing between his fourth and pinkie toe.

It took him a little while to realize he was bleeding, but once he did, he began running in circles while I begged him to stand still. Primo finally caught him so my LSH could take a look—and when he mentioned the word "stitches" the poor kid lost it.

I was in charge of holding him down while they assessed the situation. (Primo was only too happy to assist. The kid has an ironclad stomach.) The dialogue went something like this:

Me: "Take deep breaths. Look at the ceiling. Don't look at your toe."

Terzo: "Help me Mommy, please. No stitches. Please no stitches."

Me: (heart breaking)

LSH: "Gauze please."

Terzo: "Gauze? What's gauze? Is that stitches?"

Me: "No, it's a bandage. Breathe deep. Hold still."

LSH: "Cotton swab."

Terzo: "What's that?"

Me: "A Q-Tip."

Terzo (in complete and total panic mode):  "A Q-Tip? What's that? Is that stitches?"

Me: "No. It's what you use to clean your ears. Breathe deep."

LSH: "Put this in the sharps container."

Terzo: "SHARPS??!?!?!?"

My LSH took pity on him, because who wants to stitch up their own kid if there is any way of avoiding it? (Though I should mention it wouldn't have been the first time.) He ended up sterilizing and taping the toes together, with strict instructions to keep weight off it and keep it elevated.

There will be plenty more tears tomorrow when it sinks in that this means he can't play in the first snowfall of the season.

In other "thank goodness that's over" news, a picture of Mr. Ethiopia and their project:

Amy's comment to yesterday's post was eerily omnisicent. The parents of one of Secondo's teammates thanked me today for "all I had done," noting that they had kept asking their own son what he was responsible for on the project. The response was always that my son was taking care of it. Unfortunately, my son failed to communicate that to me. In retrospect, I should have just called Amy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

around the world

One of the big seventh-grade projects to help them learn geography is a "World's Fair," wherein teams of kids are assigned to represent a country, research the heck out of it, and present it to the entire school.

My son was assigned Ethiopia. (He had asked for the Yukon, but I think he got demerit points for not knowing the difference between a territory and a country.)

This is one of those projects that has dragged on, seemingly forever. I kept asking when the actual World's Fair was due to take place, so I could make sure I did my motherly duty by showing up, and he kept giving me vague non-responses in return.

Until yesterday, that is, on the way to the funeral. We were stuck on the NJ Turnpike in the mother of all backups—we nearly missed the funeral service as a result—and my husband and I were doing our best not to freak the frack out. It was at this well-timed moment that Secondo said, as an aside, that the World's Fair was due to take place Friday. As in tomorrow.

When I questioned him as to the status of his costume and food preparation (because of course they need to bring along a dish from the country), he promptly hit the panic button. My husband begged us to save the crisis for later, once we got through the current crisis, and so we tabled the panic for that afternoon.

There was only one choice for the costume, of course: the thrift store. Lord love the thrift store, I don't know how I would make it through a middle-school education in this town without it. Three brown nehru shirts later (because each kid on his team needed one) and we were somewhat in the ballpark, or at least as close as we were going to get.

Then onto the injera bread. I asked him to bring me the recipe so we could look it over. Thirty minutes later, I tracked him down watching sitcom re-runs on the iPad.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you were looking up the recipe for me."

No jury of my peers would have convicted me for the possible actions that ran through my mind at that moment.

I tackled the ingredient list this morning, calling around from specialty store to health food store to locate teff flour. While I was on hold with yet another place, my eyes skipped down to the instructions, which started "Mix all ingredients together, then allow to ferment for three days."

I knew I was beat. I called the Ethiopian restaurant in New Brunswick, after thanking my lucky stars that there is an Ethiopian restaurant in New Brunswick, and ordered plenty of injera bread to go.

Mama didn't raise no fools. I ordered dinner at the same time. Thank goodness, because I have spent the last three hours correcting such gems as "Addis Adada, the capital city" (it's Addis Ababa; so what's a few flipped letters) and "Gondor, with its castles and ruins" (actually, it's Gondar; Secondo was quite fascinated that they kept turning up images from Lord of the Rings, which does have a Gondor, during their research).

I can't wait to see what the rest of the world looks like.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

much sadness

It has been a very melancholy week here. My husband's beloved aunt lost her long battle with lymphoma early Sunday morning. (This shawl was hers.)

Her loss has been a deeply felt one. She was a true gem of a person, with a gift for making you feel like you were exactly the person she wanted to talk to, just by the way she smiled and said "how are you?" with the emphasis such that she really cared to hear. Her natural warmth and enthusiasm meant she was the life of the party, and I mean that in a good way! My boys were always happy to hear that she was going to be at a family shindig. It didn't hurt that she would talk and play with them as if they were the highlight of her attendance. The card game Mille Bornes was a particular favorite, and I doubt my kids will ever play it without thinking of her.

Her gracious touch in life—and most especially her wonderful smile—will be sorely missed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

lucky me

Yesterday my fiber group held their annual Yankee Swap, which was postponed from December due to various illnesses and schedule conflicts. I have never made it in December -- unfortunately, I am an occasional member at the best of times -- but January's meeting I could get to! I left with a box of knitting novels and stitch markers... and came back with the most beautiful fiber to spin.

Gale's Art Alpaca 70% Silk 30%
Colorway "Color-Proud Peacock"

Clearly, I got the best of the deal. Now I need to screw up my courage to spin it. I am in the doldrums with my spinning abilities at the moment, and I have never spun alpaca or silk, so this will be a new one for me.

I'm not even putting it away in the storage bin for fiber. Before I can lose my nerve, I am going to just dive in and do my best with it. It's definitely too gorgeous to sit around for long, plus I think it would be the wrong way to treat such luck.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

happy babys day

Today is the baby shower for Terzo's second-grade teacher. Every child was asked to make a card for her. Here's what Terzo came up with:

If you look carefully at the letters, 
you can spot little babies cavorting about.

The inside says "I hope you like your present. I made a few of the stitches."

And he did! A few on both hats (before he lost patience with the process; didn't take long). A little bit of second-grade teacher love, knit right in.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

a spurt of sprouts

Terzo's second grade teacher is expecting twin baby girls next month, so off to the Little Sprout pattern I went, this time in pink:

The first one, on the right, seemed a bit too big for a twin, so I ended up making two more in a smaller size. Luckily a friend just got her first grandbaby so it found a home very quickly!

Now I am off to do some truly selfish knitting tonight. I have been giddy all weekend at the thought of the second season of Downton Abbey starting on PBS Masterpiece tonight. Two whole hours of Edwardian era goodness! I have spent every spare moment this weekend reviewing last season on Netflix, and as of 9 pm tonight, I am settling in with a sweater for me on the needles, in front of the big TV, and I don't care what football game I am interrupting. I told you I am being selfish!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

selfish knitting

Again with the knitting jargon: in knitspeak, a selfish knitter is one who knits exclusively (or at least preponderantly) for herself.

I see selfish knitting in a whole different light. To me, selfish knitting is the reason that I am able to retain my sanity on a day to day basis -- and I will be the first to admit that it's a tenuous hold at best. I spend quite a bit of time waiting for people to do this, or accomplish that, or finish whatever. I am very rarely without a knitting project in my bag, and whenever I am presented with a spare moment, I say a silent thanks to the person who gave me the opportunity, and knit away. I can transform any moment from one of frustration at demands imposed upon me, to one reserved just for me and my personal pleasure. Knitting allows me to carve out a tiny bit for myself no matter what craziness is going on around me.

If it weren't for knitting, I suspect I would be a seething mass of resentment and annoyance. As it is, I am able to handle all sorts of delays and dalliances with a spirit of acceptance and aplomb, thanks to knitting -- provided I don't accidentally lose one of my needles under my car seat.

Drive my high schooler and his girlfriend to a semi-formal dance, then wait around for them (because it's too far to go back and forth)? Not a problem. Dance the night away, my lovelies, or at least until the local Barnes & Noble closes.

A comfy chair, hot peppermint tea and knitting:
what more can a girl ask for?

Watch a bunch of second graders chasing basketballs around the gym? Bring it on! I will try to mind when my own child is shooting a basket. Though apparently I don't do as good a job as I might think, as Terzo told me today that I hadn't watched him play yet because "you had been knitting." For the record, I hadn't watched him play yet because I hadn't been there, being otherwise occupied with ferrying the other two around.

That is Terzo with the basketball;
I do pay attention!

As for the selfish knitting part, seems it applies only in terms of my time. The little pink project in both photos? Baby hats for Terzo's second grade teacher, of course, and I wouldn't want it any other way. A mom can only be so selfish.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

clear the roads

It's official. Or rather, Primo is.

The little red decal means we now have a teenage driver with a permit.

I took my first ride with him this afternoon. My LSH and Secondo were very supportive as we pulled out of the driveway.

After my first gentle correction and the not-so-gentle rebuke I received in return, I made a rule: he is only allowed to say "okay" and/or "thank you" in response to my suggestions, or else I won't take him driving. His response (through gritted teeth) was "okay."

Actually, he did pretty well and was such a cautious driver that my biggest concern was that we would get rear-ended. We arrived at our destination a little late, but in one piece. He was highly pleased with himself.

Me, I am making an appointment with the hair salon to cover all the newly-sprouted grey hair.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

first f.o. of the year

(FO = finished object in knitspeak)

I was itching to do some selfish knitting after my Christmas rush, and this Chinook scarf has the distinction of being the first off the needles!

It was from an orphan ball of yarn that I had no idea what to do with... but one of the fun things about trying to knit exclusively from what you already own is that it forces you to view your stash in new and novel ways. And it's hard to tell from the picture, but all points were present and evenly accounted for, so I managed to get that monkey somewhat off my back as well.

The scarf is knit from end to end, starting with 9 stitches and then increased to a midpoint. Thanks to my awesome Christmas gift of a new kitchen scale -- which of course I have only used to weigh yarn -- I was able to figure out exactly when I was at the halfway point on the yarn and start decreasing. The scale was so accurate that I ended up with only about 1 foot of yarn, just enough to weave in the end. But I can truly say that particular yarn is all gone now.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

here we go again

Another year, another list of resolutions. Feel free to skip on to the next post, hopefully not ten days from now (see new resolution number 3). But as I find myself checking back from time to time to remind myself of my goals, guess I'll keep it up.

First to review my progress on last year's goals:

1. Knit more sweaters: I did pretty well on this one. Funnily enough, I knit four sweaters again this year, though unfortunately I only manage to share one on the blog. Two haven't even had pictures taken yet, though I wear them all the time. The other two were gifted away.

2. Buy less yarn: I did okay on this. Not great, but I did manage to knit up about 700 more yards than I purchased, so technically I was in the black. (Hey, my favorite yarn ever was discontinued. What choice did I have but to purchase a few sweater's worth on clearance? Plus I took a little tumble on sock yarn, also my favorite, also discontinued.)

3. Taking better care of the farm business: Nope. I did very little on this one, unfortunately. I actually suffered a bit of a setback as my local outlet went out of business.

4. Keep more organized sheep records: Yep! This was one of those things whereby the year was running out and I still didn't have it done. Rather than having to make it a goal YET AGAIN, I buckled down and got them thoroughly organized. They are now a thing of beauty.

5. More published articles: I managed two more in Piecework magazine, then I ran out of time. Maybe in the future though.

6. More regular exercise: I did pretty poorly on this one until I had my rear end handed to me on a platter by my kids while hiking during our vacation in August. I was so appalled at my lack of ability to keep up with them that I doubled my resolve to get in better shape. The dog and I manage a couple of miles, mostly running, about two out of three mornings. I ran four 5Ks this year, and just today I managed to run a five mile race -- which I still can't believe I did.

So for this year:

1. Knit four sweaters. That seems to be my ideal output: a sweater per quarter. Should also help me with goal number...

2. Continue with the stashdown. I loved how it made me more mindful about what I was adding to the rubbermaid container, and how it forced me to be creative with what I already have.

3. Blog more regularly, or at least back to previous levels. I barely made 100 blog posts this year, which is quite a bit down from prior years. 

4. Improve the farm business. This one is crying out for my attention. Third year's a charm.

And last but not least, a traditional one:

5. Eat more healthily. I am doing OK with the exercise end of things, but I need to get better at making healthy choices about what I put into my body as the flip side of that particular coin. So more raw carrots, fewer Wendy's fries with sea salt.

That's it for now! How about you?