Saturday, September 24, 2011

Warm Sweater for a Cold Schoolroom

Continuing with the "Hey, I can make clothes!" theme, here is Bluebird's new sweater for the winter.  She picked out the colors and requested the hearts along the bottom.

PatternKnitting Pure & Simple #293 Child's V Neck Down Pullover, by Diane Soucy.
YarnPlymouth Yarn Galway Worsted, Colors #135, #127 & #8.
Needles:  US 6 & US 4.
Modifications:  When picking up the stitches for the armholes, I did a K2tog at the beginning.

I knit up the gauge swatch during the last little bit of our trip home from Alberta and have since been steadily working on this sweater and only the sweater.  I stalled out when it came to knitting up the sleeves, but that's just something I always do when making anything with sleeves.  I have to waste a week worrying about making the sleeves before going forward.  Every.  single.  time.

I ran into a problem with knitting monogamy about a week ago and seriously considered putting the sweater in the back of the closet and casting on for something quicker and more fun, but after two days of not being able to settle on a new "quick and fun" project, I hunkered down and knit on through the finish.  I'm glad I persevered.

Bluebird, who has a reputation for being a tad lackluster in her reception of handmade goodies, has surprised me with her adoration of her new sweater.  We're experiencing 80 degree (F) weather here, and when I presented her with the sweater she threw it on and wore it for the rest of the day, despite repeated inquiries about whether or not she was getting too warm.  After today's photo shoot, she refused to take off her sweater until I noticed that she was sweating, after which I demanded she take the thing off.

I've had a bit of mental anguish over the creation of this sweater.  Wool ain't cheap and knitting ain't quick.  I'm a homeschooling mother of four, and you can imagine how much excess money and time I (do not) possess. 

However, I really wanted to make this sweater for my girl.  I've spent the past seven years honing this skill and all I have to show for it are hats and scarves and a few shawls.  I was ready to venture into the land of sweater knitting and use my creativity to bless my family in practical ways.  Penguin and Junebug jumped on the "Knit Me a Sweater" bandwagon when they saw I was making one for Bluebird, so I have two more sweaters to make before winter sets in...and I'm obnoxiously excited about knitting them.

When I am knitting, I sometimes feel a little guilty for embarking on projects that take up so much of my time.  Really, I could go to a clothing store and buy a sweater, which would take tons less of my time and cost me about the same amount of money.  But there's something about making something rather than buying it that fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.

I figure that anything that helps to make me feel good about myself is definitely worth pursuing, so swathing my family is handknits isn't a waste but an investment.  Each day Bluebird wears this sweater I will feel proud of myself and she will feel loved because I let her pick the colors and then spent all that time making something for her.  If it was a sweater from the store, that positive emotional boost would not happen.

This sweater is meant for wearing throughout the coming winter as we embark upon our first year of homeschooling in our new schoolroom in the basement.  The coolness of the basement has been a blessing throughout this summer quarter, but will soon become a point of complaint as we move into the autumn and winter months.  It is my hope that Bluebird will feel warmed by my efforts to craft this sweater for her, just as I hope someday that her heart will be warmed by my efforts to craft her education.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Taking a Little Break

I was going to post the Weekly Report about our fabulous "Japan Week," but I just can't seem to drum up enough energy to tell you all about it.  I also opted to not write some other posts I had scheduled for this week and I've lately taken to watching television to get my mind off of how overwhelmed I feel right now.

So I've decided to take a blogging break.  Better to not blog and still do school.  Oh, I feel relieved after writing those two sentences already.

Hopefully the break is short, but there's a little voice inside my head that's telling me I won't be ready to come back with vim and vigor until at least October.

I just need a break from a few things to ground myself and figure out what the heck I'm doing.  :)

See you again in October!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nature Hike to The Grotto

We needed a break, so we went on a nature hike up to a waterfall in Payson Canyon.  The nice thing about "nature hikes" is that I can count them as both science and PE.  Which, when I get to the point where I announce that we need to get out of the house, makes it easier to enjoy myself instead of feeling guilty that we aren't sitting in our schoolroom and moving ahead in our curriculum.

It was an easy little hike; Monkeyboy could walk some of the trail by himself and I carried him on my hip for the other parts.  It was also a great photo opportunity, so enjoy!

The weather is just so perfect right now, it feels like such a waste to spend our days inside!  Summer is too hot to go outside and soon we'll head into winter with its chilly weather...oh, how we enjoy the cool days of autumn.  The sun warmed us and the breeze cooled us and the trail was canopied with leafy branches; it was a beautiful hike.  We saw the beginnings of some color-changing in the leaves,which excited us all.  I think autumn is our favorite season, visually-speaking.

Hopefully we'll be able to go on some more nature hikes and have more beautiful pictures to share as the forest puts on its show.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Super Selfish Alter Ego Swap

I signed up to participate in a knitting group swap.  You had to make up a superhero or villain alter-ego and then your swap partner would make up a package pertaining to said alter-ego and send it your way.  My package arrived today, all the way from lovely Canada.

My alter-ego was "The Soprano Homeschooler" or something like that.  My super power was the ability to take any assortment of academic facts and make them easy to remember by adapting them to a catchy tune.  (I know, the creativity astounded me as well...and yes, that was sarcastic.)  I have been awaiting my package for the past week, ever since its sender informed me that it was in the mail and on its way.

And oh!, what an awesome package it was!  Penguin and Junebug were on-hand for the grand opening and immediately snatched up the Smarties and ripped into the boxes.

Monkeyboy came into the kitchen to discover the reason for the sudden loudness in his abode, and was rewarded with handfuls of Smarties from his loving sisters.  Michael quickly stepped in to scoop out more Smarties from their boxes to save for Bluebird, when she decided to make an appearance.

OK, OK, Smarties are fantabulous and all, and of course the kiddos would love to snarf on some scrumptious Canadian treats, but it takes more than a couple boxes of Smarties to earn the title of "Awesome Swap Package," doesn't it?  Well, let me show you why this was a ridiculously awesome package:

My swap partner went big when it came to the "Homeschooling" portion of my alter-ego and sent me all sorts of stuff to do an entire unit study about Canada.  Which is absolutely crazy perfect because we are studying the exploration and discovery of the New World this year, and I wanted to spend a little extra time studying my Birth Country.  Technically, my children are citizens of Canada as well, so it means something to me to instruct them about that part of their heritage.  There are stickers, visuals to hang up in our schoolroom and a book that has so much interesting information in it that I practically squealed when I thumbed through it.

And there's also materials for doing a little unit study on "Why Leaves Change Their Colors," which is awesome for this time of year!  I'm giddy with all this homeschooling booty, and do you see the chocolate bars?  Those are my favorite and nigh impossible to purchase here in the States.  (I do see Crispy Crunches every once in a while, but it's a rare occurence.)  And my partner crocheted me the sweetest little bookmark, shaped like a music note.  She made it extra long so it would fit in the tall spine of a music book, too!  I love it!

And of course, there was some yarn:

Mwa ha ha ha, I see some seriously happy-making socks in my future!  Oh, what smiles this little package of trinkets has brought to my face and heart.  Thank you so much, MapleCrochet, you are an awesome swap partner!

Friday, September 9, 2011

2011-2012 Weekly Report:
China Week!

I know many of you already know this, but I earned a degree in history, and my emphasis was on the Tang Dynasty.  This week we studied the Tang Dynasty.  It was a big deal to me.  I've been waiting for this week since I first decided to homeschool my children many years ago, and I'm now looking forward to the weeks we spend on this again in 2015, 2019 and 2023.  :)

On Thursday we had our much-anticipated "China Dinner."  I gave the girls a "Chinese" hairstyle in the morning and we dedicated the entire day to all things China.  (It was also the only day I had the mental capacity to remember to actually take pictures.)

We read lots of great books this week, including Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Tale from China, Two of Everything, and Cat and Rat:  The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac.  Bluebird especially liked Cat and Rat, as she's always interested in the Chinese Zodiac placemats at Chinese restaurants.  We also thumbed through Science in Ancient China and a book about projects you can do that relate to Ancient China, but didn't go any further than that.  I plan to make better use of them the next time around.

We learned that it was customary during the Tang Dynasty for people to compose a poem upon meeting each other, so Bluebird and I took turns making up poems on the spot.  She came up with one that warmed my heart:
Hello Mama
I'm glad to see you
Your eyes are like emeralds
And your shirt is blue.
Of course, I complimented her profusely after her recitation!  She then spent the rest of the day comparing all of us to gemstones and precious metals.

I dug out my favorite books from my college days and let Bluebird have a go at them.  We read a fair amount about Empress Wu Zhao/Zetiang in Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors, which may or may not have turned Bluebird off in regards to the female emperor...truth be told, she was a mean and calculating woman!  We also spent a fair amount of time browsing through The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T'ang Exotics by Edward H. Schafer.  (If you're interested in the Tang Dynasty, that is a name you need to know--he's also written some really great articles about cosmetics during that time.)  Golden Peaches is an awesome encyclopedia of all the stuff they had in China during the Tang Dynasty and how it got there, be it through trade or discovery.  Bluebird especially liked the chapter on food and the section in that chapter on "Sweets."

The highlight of all this was our China Dinner.  I purchased chopsticks for the meal, which the girls eagerly awaited the opportunity to use, and we went grocery shopping after school was finished so we could buy what we needed.  We learned about soybeans and tofu in our readings and Bluebird begged to buy some tofu for our meal, which request I obliged.  When we saw the tofu in the grocery store, Bluebird started squealing and jumping and pointing and announcing (to everyone in the produce section) that she had found the tofu and it was going to be so good and...YAY!

We read in one of our books that they had twenty four different flavors of dumplings during the Tang Dynasty, so we made dumplings and rice for our China Dinner.  Despite numerous pleadings to make twenty four different flavors, I held my ground at only making two flavors:  Pork and Tofu.  The girls helped to make the dumplings, which they enjoyed immensely.

And then we began our much-anticipated meal with chopsticks.  I had purchased some easy-to-use chopsticks for the kids and Michael, Monkeyboy and I used regular chopsticks.  The girls thought it was totally awesome and we had a great dinner together.  We finished off our meal with Rice Ice Cream (or "Rice Cream" as the girls gleefully called it) and tried some honeyed bamboo shoots, which weren't a big hit.

Hopefully it's a week they'll remember fondly when they look back on their homeschool journey. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Let Me Tell You 'Bout: Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder

One of my maternal bloodlines carries the gene for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, also known as Hereditary Motor Sensory Neuropathy.  My mother inherited the gene; and, as it is autosomal dominant, passed it on to 50% of her children.  She had two children, my brother and brother was the unlucky winner in this genetic lottery.

Growing up with a mother who had Charcot-Marie-Tooth wasn't too bad.  The only real limitation she had during my childhood was that she couldn't run.  Period.  Just couldn't do it.  She did cross stitch, sewed Halloween costumes and crocheted throughout the long Canadian winters.

When I was a teenager, the disease started progressing.  It started in a pinkie finger on one of her hands.  It just started to curl and not straighten out on its own.  My mother bought popsicle sticks and I would splint her dying fingers at night in an attempt to straighten them out while she slept.  Her walking ability started to diminish and she would ask to hold onto my arm when we were somewhere new or there were a lot of people milling around us.  She stopped cross stitching because it was getting difficult to hold that little embroidery needle in her weakening hands.  She was only in her late thirties.

Fast forward to last month, when we saw her at my brother's wedding for the first time in almost four years:  Her fingers are completely dead and she's basically stranded if there is no one willing to offer their arm to her so she can walk.  She has progressed to a full-blown foot-drop walking gait and has to pick up a drinking glass with her palms.  It was a harsh reality to observe.  My mother's body is already slowly dying at the tips and working its way inward.  She is fifty years old.

She has crocheted a baby blanket for each of my daughters, but confessed to me at the wedding that her hands simply will not hold a crochet hook anymore.  Not because it hurts, but because she simply doesn't have the strength in her fingers to keep holding onto the hook.  That is why Monkeyboy never received a baby blanket from his grandmother.  Her hobbies have been taken away from her.  She can no longer type, which has taken her living as a bookkeeper away from her as well.

I usually can brush aside the anxiety that accompanies the fact that this disease runs in my family.  I don't have to worry about its effects upon myself or my children, because I don't have it and you can only pass it to your children if you have it yourself.  When I was old enough to be aware of its existence, everyone who was going to get it already had it.

However, my wonderful brother got married last month.  You can't see the Charcot in him, despite my mother being able to see that he had it before he turned two years old.  He's strong and grew up playing soccer, obviously able to run.  I don't think "He has Charcot" when I look at him.

What I think about now is "Half of his kids will have Charcot-Marie-Tooth and it could be as bad as my mother's."

I found out that this month, September of 2011, is CMT Awareness Month.  So I'm sharing with you the facts of this disease in an attempt to raise awareness of its existence and the need for better treatments and someday a cure.  Some of my nieces and nephews will have this disease and it will slowly deaden their limbs when they get older.  I hate that that is the reality that our family will have to watch unfold.

CMT doesn't affect a person's life expectancy; in fact, I have many a great uncle and my own grandmother who are nearing or already into their eighth decade of life.  What CMT does is leach the things you love to do out of your life as your body slowly fails in its ability to perform fine, small and large motor tasks.  It causes loss of sensation in the peripheral nervous system, which means that a person can't even feel things with their hands and feet.  (I remember, years ago, one of my great aunts stepped on a wire and it worked its way through the sole of her foot and up into her ankle without her feeling a thing.)

There are lots of other diseases and conditions out there, many that do affect life expectancy.  It seems silly to ask for awareness for this disorder when, in comparison to Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer (another disease that my mother has had to battle, and eventually won), it's not that deadly.  But it does steal lives.  Lives that start out strong and able-bodied and slowly transform into lives that are lived in a numb shell of dying body, only able to remember days of when they could tie their own shoes or walk by themselves without support.  And seeing that CMT doesn't shorten a life with its progression, a person affected with it can live a lot of days in which they aren't capable of doing anything.  I would hate a future like that.

So please help by simply spreading the awareness of this condition.  It's estimated that 2.6 million people throughout the world have this disorder.  It is misdiagnosed all the time and improper treatment given to those who are actually suffering from its symptoms.  (I can count on one hand the number of doctors who knew what my mother was talking about when she mentioned that she had this disease.) 

This week, as part of CMT Awareness Month, we are being asked to simply make others aware of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder.  We can each do our part by blogging about it, tweeting about it or posting the link to the CMT Awareness Site on our Facebook pages.  It's just one little thing that could potentially lead to more funding for CMT research, which could also help out researchers working on similar diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy and ALS.

For more information, please visit the aforementioned Charcot-Marie-Tooth Awareness Site, or The Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association's website.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Great Basin Fiber Arts Festival

I have been wanting to attend this festival for years upon years now, but something always came up that made it so I couldn't go.  I wasn't planning on going this year, but I woke up that Saturday morning and found that my afternoon was completely open.  Bluebird and Penguin had an Ice Cream Social to attend at church, and when it was over we drove on up to South Jordan to partake of some fibery eye candy.

A lady at the festival was kind enough to allow Bluebird and Penguin to pedal on her spinning wheel.  (Bluebird asked when she could have some fiber to actually spin.)  I only have a drop spindle at home, which impedes my spinning speed.  Someday I'd like to have a wheel, but I have to always decide between food, school supplies and hobbies.  Responsibility can be such a downer sometimes.

Penguin thought all the fiber batts should be called "snakes," and would try to bite me with them.  I wish I had my camera ready when picked up a batt of silk blend, stopped short and exclaimed, "Hey, this snake is smoother than the others!"

Penguin fell in love with this crazy handspun yarn, I wish I could have bought it and make a funky little hat for her!  She already has three hats though, so it would kind of be a waste of time and money.  Perhaps I can interest her in spinning in the future by showing her this picture and telling her that she can create her own yarn just like it!

Bluebird was completely floored that you could make yarn with gold in it!

Stitch markers.  I thought they looked pretty on their black background.

Stitch markers that Bluebird tried to talk me into buying for her.  The lady manning the booth informed Bluebird that "stitch marker collections" were really fun.  I informed Bluebird that stitch marker collections are even more fun when you actually use the stitch markers for knitting, and when I see her knitting on a regular basis that I will consider allowing her to start a stitch marker collection.  I always get to be the bad guy.  ;)

Locks for spinning.  Oh, I wish I had more time for spinning, there are so many fun yarns one could make on their own!

Lots of hand-dyed batts.  Someday...someday.

Sample yarn from the festival.  Bluebird named hers "Midnight" and Penguin named hers "Ocean."  It's funny when they lose them around the house because you'll hear a voice squeal, "Oh no!  Ocean!  Where's my Ocean?!?!"  Perhaps we can eek some doll hats out of the teeny skeins.

It was a fun little trip that allowed me to meander with my girls for an hour.  However, I might go by myself next year, as they meander faster than me.

Friday, September 2, 2011

2011-2012 Weekly Report:
The Week That Doesn't Count

I do not know what is up with this school year.  There is zero motivation to keep pushing forward and we're right at the beginning!  This is not a good starting recipe for success, so we took the week off so I could spend some time analyzing why it's feeling like this.

Conclusion:  My mindset is not where it should be and lack of funds are making it hard to be excited about getting up to do school each morning.  I'm working on the mindset (which is too casual at this point and needs some sharpening to get back into "professional" mode), and funds should start becoming available in the next week, which will be a paycheck week that isn't already earmarked to cover the cost of travelling up to Alberta for my brother's wedding.  Mindset and finances, both my own fault.  Lessons learned, and I also gained fodder for some intriguing future blog posts.

Sorry this is a disappointing report, but it's the truth.  I could have tried to spin what we did instead of school and make it look like academics, but it wasn't.  Lesson for next time around:  Take a week off before the August beginning of school to clear my mind and re-focus on why we're homeschooling.  I've been tossed about on the waves of my mental ocean the past few weeks, and it's not a fun place to be.

I hope your weeks were far more academically productive!  See you next week!