Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflecting on 2012

I subscribe to too many blogs, but they give me good ideas!  Take, for example, this post by Jen over at Laughing at Chaos that talks about reflecting on the things you did right during the last year before jumping into your resolutions and dreams for the upcoming year.  I love the idea, so now I'm going to do a little reflecting as well:

*clears throat*

The Things That Cara Thinks She Did Right in 2012

I moved the homeschool room upstairs, which resulted in a ton more work getting done because we're not avoiding the basement because it's freezing cold.  Moving everything upstairs required an entire weekend--we moved all the items from both rooms (school/living room) outside into our front yard in order to deep clean the rooms and prepare them for their new purposes.  It was such a job, and it was such a great idea.  I'm the kind of person who thinks I have to "make do" with everything as it is, and we'd already invested a lot of time in turning the downstairs room into the school room...but it was very, very good that I admitted it wasn't working for us and took the steps needed to improve the situation.

I decided that we were going to read through the entire, actual Book of Mormon this school year.  That was a really daunting decision for me to make given the age of my kids, my inexperience with the whole "family scripture study" idea, doing scripture study without Michael around, the consistency required...I really didn't think I would stick to the plan, but we have thus far and I don't see any looming reason why we won't be able to complete this book of scripture by the end of the school year.  I've been reading the children's versions of the scriptures out loud to the kids for a couple years now, but dreaded doing it anymore and decided to make the jump to "real" scriptures for them.  The kids like listening to all the stories, but the real reward has been how much more I'm getting out of the scriptures as I read them out loud.  It's way different than reading them silently by myself--you hear things differently.  So glad we're doing this.

I pushed my choir to perform a piece for Christmas that was at a higher difficulty level than everything they had done all year, and pushed them to put it together in a mere three weeks.  I didn't do it on purpose, mind you--scheduling just turned out terribly and that was what we were left with.  At the first rehearsal, they were pretty much looking at me like I was crazy.  At the second rehearsal they were still looking at me the same way--but then we did a straight-through try at the end of practice and they were able to sing the entire thing.  (Not perfectly, but the main components were all there.)  The looks on their faces--the astonishment, then the realization that they had pretty much conquered this seemingly impossible task, and then the excitement over it all--were so awesome.  I really thought they could pull it off, but they seriously doubted their abilities in the beginning and wanted to scrap the entire thing, but I held my ground and pleaded with them to give it a try and it ended up being such an exhilarating experience.  We can all do hard, seemingly impossible things--but only if we stick with them and put in the time.  (And your friend volunteers to hold Men's Sectionals at her home for two thankful for her.)  Conducting that song was one of my favorite moments this year, and has me seriously analyzing my abilities as "that person" who helps people bring goals to fruition.  I've never thought of myself in that light, but maybe I possess some of those qualities?  (Now, to figure out how to use them on my children...mwa ha ha ha.)  (And that last little bit wasn't meant in a "I'm so amazing and can guide Israelites to the Promised Land" way at all.  I've just never thought of myself as the person who stands in front and gets people from Point A to Point was weird.)

Bluebird was baptized.  And while that is technically something she did, it was a culmination of a lot of things we've done as a family, a lot of things Michael and I have done as parents, and a lot of things that I have done since deciding to join the Church myself.  It's best summed up with a few lines I wrote in the blog post about that day:
I kept thinking, "Everything I have ever done or sacrificed to make this day a reality has been completely and utterly worth it." It truly felt like Heaven on Earth. That's the only way I can explain it. I believe that Heaven will feel like her baptism. Everything that mattered was in that little room--family, friends and faith.
That day was a confirmation for me, a confirmation I sorely needed:  I am still doing the right thing.  I catch a lot of flack for the decisions I've made since joining the Church because I changed so much about myself and what I was doing with my life.  But Bluebird's baptism--while I knelt on the floor and looked down into the font as my firstborn came up out of the water--produced such an intense feeling of peace and a feeling of knowing that Heavenly Father was pleased with me and the choices I was making.  I'm not perfect, but I'm making good choices in regards to the truly important things.

I hopped back on the FlyLady wagon.  Everything goes so much better in my life when I'm diligently shining the sink.

I forced myself to talk to people when I felt sad.  This saved me weeks of depression, WEEKS.  When I start experiencing negative feelings, my instinctual response is to shut down and retreat into myself; but with years of blog posts witnessing that I wasn't getting a whole lot of anything consistently done around here, it was obvious that I needed to try a different coping tactic.  A therapist is essentially someone you talk to--why not give talking to friends a try?  So I have; and my friends are earning their celestial rewards with each phone call, email and text conversation we've had over this past year.  Those minutes and hours of helping me bear my burdens and talking me off my psychological ledges have paid off so richly for myself and my family. 

I started drinking caffeine again.  I know, not something you'd expect a Mormon to admit, much less be glad about!  I've been exhausted for years, which I blamed on being pregnant and nursing, but with Monkeyboy turning two and me not having been pregnant or nursing for over a year, there was no reason why I should still be so worn out all the time.  I went to the doctor, we did a big bunch of tests for some stuff and, long story short and overly simplified, discovered that my heart is a little confused and isn't getting the message to pump harder when I stand up or start moving.  With my heart essentially acting like I'm asleep all the time, it's no wonder I always felt sleepy.  My doctor suggested caffeine as an attempt to raise my heart rate and blood pressure, so I started adding a caffeine supplement to my breakfast beverage and permitting myself a can of caffeinated soda at lunch.  World of difference.  I no longer need a nap by 11am, which is a pretty big deal.

I've started to surround myself with people who do things that I wish I did.  You become the person that your friends already are, and all that.  I'm already seeing evidence of some really positive changes in my life, but I want to keep those things to myself for a while yet.  These new friendships are causing me a lot of excitement over the next few months.  It's nice to move forward in areas that you doubted you'd ever have success in.

I gave myself the month of December OFF from homeschooling.  When I decided to schedule a month-long break for December back in June, I didn't know why I felt it was such an important thing to do, but then December started  The stress was mostly in "Christmas Music" form, but there were a million other little things that just suddenly sat up and started screaming for attention.  I'm glad I had already put the blog on hiatus, or the stress of trying to keep it updated would have undone me completely.  December is insane, and my first instinct is to always fight back, so I spent a lot of time in the past few weeks fighting everything--change, expectations, failures.  I have fought so hard that I'm worn out and in that "everything works out in the end" attitude now.  Which is a better mindset to start the New Year with than the "Fight or DIE!" mindset I've been carrying on my back all this holiday season.

I'm sure I could come up with some other ideas that I'm glad about, but I'm satisfied with my list as it is.  2012 has been a good year; not terribly exciting in any way, but grounded and positive.  I guess this is what "normal" feels like?  After many years of chaos and frustration, this was a nice little respite, and I feel like I've gathered strength in this "down year" to take on some new things in 2013.  *sigh*  I am content.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Time for a Break

I'm going to take a little break from the online world for an undecided amount of time.  There's just a lot going on around here and blogging, status updating, tweeting and posting have become obligatory chores that I'm finding myself avoiding, so I'm just going to grant myself some sanctuary for the time being.

I wish my American buddies a Happy Thanksgiving next week, and all of you a pleasant finishing-up of the year, whether that includes celebrating Christmas or not.  :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The War On Happiness

I went to the temple with Michael last night.  I normally look forward to sitting in the Celestial Room so I can pour out my heart's anguishes and griefs and find comfort and inspiration on how to deal with my problems, but when I sat down in the Celestial Room last night I couldn't think of anything that was troubling me.  I searched my mind fervently for something that was wrong in my life and came up completely empty.  My life is balanced and we are doing good.  This is the first time ever that I've sat in the Celestial Room with nothing to complain about.  I felt peace, but it was the same peace that I carried into the temple.  What?  When did that happen?  When did I become this person?

This morning I kneeled to pray and poured out my gratitude:  Our home, our awesome children, school's going well, Michael's job, our car, our loving neighbors, the beauty of colors, the opportunity to perform music, that the Atonement makes all the bad good in the end, all the people that love list went on and on.  My heart was so full.

I exited my bedroom as if on a cloud--a fluffy, pink cloud spun of love, friendship and unicorn hair.  Peace was my buzz.

And then, almost as if someone was running alongside me and whispering in my ear, the bad thoughts started happening.  How hard it was to get one of my kids take a shower, how hard it was to get the youngest kids dressed, how loud they were while they ate breakfast, how the dog got under my feet, how the cat would not shut up, how dark my corner of the school room was, how cold it was to sit next to the window in the school room, how loud the markers clacked against each other when the kids searched for a new color to draw with, how no one will visit us for holidays, how I promised myself as a child that I wouldn't live far away from my family and here I am all isolated and far away and I so rarely get to see them and everything sucks.  What's the point of being happy when everything is so obviously crappy and sucktastic?!?!

Out of obligation, I corralled all the kids into the school room for devotional.  I started reading today's scripture, Alma 12, which reminded me of last night's temple session, which brought to remembrance how wonderful my life had seemed, not only in the Celestial Room, but just two short hours ago.  My anger started to melt away...until one of my kids did something and I was re-admitted to my World of Frustration with How Nothing Ever Went Right.  I scratched and clawed at my memory to re-capture the peace I had felt ten seconds before, and I found myself remembering something my bishop had said in the blessing he gave me a couple weeks ago:  "Focus on what you have left."

So I tried to focus.  I tried to focus on my blessings--my children, the snow falling peacefully outside my window, the upcoming holidays, the FOOD, yarn, what it's like to go on dates with Michael and not be spazzed out about if he likes me or not because I just know that he does, how I'm not in the dark place so much anymore, that we have clean clothes folded and put away in our dressers--but the moment that I relaxed a little from my Blessing Focusing, the mean voice would remind me of everything I don't have and my heart would just swirl in anger and longing.

NO.  I am happy.  Life is good.  I don't want to be angry right now.

I decided to go pray.  I closed the door to my bedroom and started pouring out my frustration to my Heavenly Father...for about twelve seconds.  Monkeyboy, never content to have me out of his sight, toddled into the room, climbed up on the bed and situated himself so that we were eye-to-eye with his legs around my chest and my folded, reverent, prayer hands were up against his chest. 

Monkeyboy wanted something, and I tried to figure out what that boy wanted so I could get back to my praying, but he was impossible to satisfy.  He didn't want a cup of milk, he didn't want a snack, all it seemed he wanted to do was hang on me and cry and whine and say, "No" to all of my suggestions.  After about ten minutes of the whining, I just collapsed into my school chair and said, "That's it.  You have got to tell me what you want because I just cannot figure it out and I'm tired of trying when all you're going to say is 'No' to all of my suggestions."

He grabbed his blankie from the floor, ran over to me, climbed into my lap and snuggled up against me.  For about twenty seconds.  After which, he jumped down from my lap and trotted away, trailing his blankie behind him.  "Really?!?!" I thought, "All you needed was a hug?"

*lightbulb moment*

I texted my best friend with "I need a pep talk, I haz a sad" and my phone rang a minute later.  I told her how happy I had been and how frustratingly intent my heart was set upon being angry.  "Whoa, whoa, whoa," she said, "it's not your heart, you know that, right?  This isn't you being angry, it's someone else.  Can you guess who might want you to be miserable despite how well everything is going in your life right now?"

Oh.  Yeah.

It was a 12 minute phone call, I cried a little, and it ended with "Let's go kick Satan's butt!"

Satan is real and he hates me.  He hates you, too, and the only thing he wants is for us to be unhappy.  He doesn't care what brings about the unhappiness; his only objective is that we are unhappy.  I was bold in my declarations of gratitude and he launched a full-out assault.  He will always launch his army on someone who is happy, peaceful, or feeling anything remotely positive.  He has to--he is obsessed with our misery.

It makes a person hesitate to be happy, to declare glad tidings, or to do good things because Satan will always execute some sort of counter-attack, but happiness wins.  Love wins.  Good will triumph in the end because The Plan of Happiness was set up before this world existed.  That conversation with my friend obliterated the negativity because it shed truth on what was happening and allowed me to focus on what was really going on instead of chasing shadows and wallowing in the murkiness of half-truths.

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior."
--Boyd K. Packer

I'm going to go be happy.  If Satan tries to attack me again, I'll tell him to get lost because I'm onto him.

Life is good.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fun at the Voting Polls

It's official:
The Brooketopians have cast their vote
in the 2012 Elections.

I think it's important to make the entire process accessible to our youth, so I load up our kids with us almost every year and we make a family event out of voting.  This year we decided to try voting in the morning, as opposed to our usual afternoon voting.  We arrived to a very long line, so Bluebird and I stayed in line while Michael and the other three Brookelets left to buy some breakfast for the family.

As luck would have it, our bishop and his wife showed up right behind us and we were able to spend the 1.5 hour wait chatting with them.  Michael arrived with breakfast; and, since we were standing in an elementary school cafeteria, our family noshed on breakfast at a cafeteria table while I continued to stand in line and gab away.
Bluebird showing our bishop how to color on the Kindle.
Face after familiar face showed up in the room and we waved and smiled at each other, walking over to each other to comment on the length of the line or commiserate about our voting location being changed at the last minute.  The girls explored the unfamiliar halls of an educational institution that most of them have only heard stories about, and at one point a little girl stopped Penguin and asked, "Do you go to school here?" to which Penguin replied, "I don't go to school!"  I wasn't on-hand to witness the conversation, but Michael tells me that the little girl's flabbergasted facial expression at such a statement was absolutely priceless.

In the end, we cast our ballots, waved at our neighbors, took a detour to jump in a leaf pile for a few minutes, and then drove on home.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled school day...

...with repeated checking-in with the news channels to see what's going on throughout the country.

Happy Election Day!
(Now get on out there and do some voting!)  :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Costumes

It's my ninth year of dressing up my offspring for Halloween and I think I finally got it right!

We started getting dressed right after naptime, had Michael bring home some drive-thru dinner, and I took pictures BEFORE dinner, not after dinner when they're all spazzing about getting out on the street ASAP to start trick-or-treating.

Result:  My kids in full costume, me NOT running around trying to do hair and make-up while simultaneously answering the door to pass out candy, a dinner comprising something more than PB&J, AND decent pictures of my children in their costumes.

However, while I pat myself on the back for getting it together regarding my kids' costumes, I must admit that I completely spaced the idea of carving pumpkins.

Goal for next year:  Costumes AND pumpkins.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Raspberry Ropes Cardigan

Junebug finally has a handknit sweater to call her own!  She's pretty happy about it, mostly because she picked out the best buttons ever--according to her, they are the reason that this sweater is better than all the other sweaters in the world.

Pattern:  For the most part, I made this baby up!  The cable pattern is "Overlapping Ovals," from The Harmony Guides: Cables & Arans, edited by Erika Knight.  I also spent some quality time with various cabled yoke sweater patterns around the internet to get a feel for how they went together, notably the "Cabled Knit Pullover" found for free on the Patons Yarn website.

Yarn:  Cascade Yarns 220 Tweed in Color 7608.  (Junebug calls it the "Minnie Mouse Rainbow Yarn.")

Needles:  US 5 for the ribbing, US 6 for everything else.

Notions:  Six 1.75" gingerbread buttons from JoAnn.  (The buttonholes are enormous!)

Obviously, I'm proud of this sweater.  :)

Lessons Learned
Knit the top yoke up to the neck and then start the neck ribbing.  As you can see in this picture, the ribbing and top yoke grew because of the pull of the horizontal cabled section.  I now understand why almost every yoked sweater I saw had a vertical cabled top yoke--cables don't tend to stretch like plain knit stretches.  However, I still like it and she's going to grow into more over the next year or two, so I don't consider it a failure.  Just a design element...yeah.

Junebug will change her mind about everything if you give her the chance.  When we first started planning her sweater, it was going to be "aphid green" with "dark grass green" trim and little handknit ladybugs stitched all over it.  I drew up a little sketch, colored it in and we set off for the yarn store with our idea on paper.  When we stepped into the yarn store, she immediately changed her mind to a black and red sweater with ladybug buttons, to a brown sweater with gingerbread man buttons, to the final "Minnie Mouse yarn with rainbows in it" yarn--with white polka-dot buttons like Minnie Mouse.  I put off buying the buttons when I bought the yarn, and when we went to the JoAnn store to pick out buttons, she was immediately swayed from her polka-dot buttons to these giant gingerbread man buttons.  If I was the sort of person who required everything to match, it would bug me.  However, I think that kids should be allowed the freedom to completely design something for themselves every now and then, so I'm not bothered by all the decision-changing.  (And it was rather amusing to watch her give herself whiplash in the yarn store...)

Sweet girl, growing up so fast.

Enjoy your Minnie Mouse sweater sweater with gingerbread man buttons.

Monday, October 22, 2012

In Which the Socks Bite Me

I mentioned, a couple of weeks ago, that I had a feeling that Michael's socks were "going to bite me in the butt."  Turns out I have Sock Knitting ESP because they did do just that.

I was knitting along on the second sock, all happy with myself for being on the second sock, when I looked at the remaining (hand-dyed) yarn in the skein and had a thought--"Is there enough yarn to finish the second sock?  I'm not sure that there is enough in the remainder of this skein..."

So I had Michael take the first sock to work to weigh it on their super fancy digital scale.  The skein of yarn weighed 127 grams, which meant that if the first sock weighed less than half of that amount I'd be OK.

Half of 127 grams= 63.5 grams.

First Sock = 80 grams.


I hope my tetanus shot is up-to-date.

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012-2013 Weekly Report: Weeks 11, 12 & 13
Rising from the Ashes

Week 11:  Attack of the Monster Cold

Week 12:
  • Monday:  Columbus Day, No School.  (Of course, I didn't realize this until getting through half a school day...)
  • Tuesday:  Full day of school.
  • Wednesday:  Full day of school.
  • Thursday:  Tried to do school, but all the public school kids were on their Fall Break and were running around outside, looking so happy in the autumn sunlight, that I said we could have a Fall Break as well.
  • Friday:  More Fall Break.

You see, it's not that big of a deal if we fall behind in almost any subject because lessons for most subject only take 10-15 minutes to complete.  Not so with Math.  Math lessons take at least 45 minutes to complete, and usually wander into more-than-an-hour territory.  We were already significantly behind in the subject before stricken with the Monster Cold, so adding almost another two weeks' worth of missed lessons on top of the already staggering number made me want to curl up into the fetal position and cry quietly on the bathroom floor.

On Monday I woke up suddenly from fitful sleep with the realization that I could institute a "Math Week"--All Math, all day, the entire week.  However, I knew the kids would not possess the enthusiasm I was feeling for the idea, so I came up with a huge reward and I made a check-off chart to track our progress.  It's a lofty goal--an average of seven weeks' worth of math lessons to be completed in two weeks' time--so the reward has to be pretty large, which I figured into my sales pitch.

Now, normally, I'm a proponent of "don't force the subject on your kids," but as I was flipping through the math lessons, it was rather frustrating to see that the lessons dealt with topics that my kids already sufficiently know.  I just want the knowledge documented so that we can move on with our lives.

The reason we've fallen behind is, quite simply, that we haven't been doing the lessons.  In an attempt to appease my kids, I've scheduled math to take place towards the end of the day so I can say, "Just push through and you'll be done for the day!"  However, we are tired of school by 2pm and trying to tackle math at that time is just not working for us.  Math needs to be done first thing in the morning so we can be freed to tackle less-demanding studies as our energy wears down.  I thought this to be the case when I switched the schedule, but now I know it is a truth for us.  (Yay, I learned something.)

I've noticed, as we've gone along with our ALL THE MATH week, that the intense study is making a dramatic difference in the girls' retention of their math facts.  Bluebird normally struggles to the point of almost melting down with her math facts and drill sheets; but, now that she's been doing 2-3 drills a day, the facts are finally "sticking."  We all have those random areas that only stick through practice and hours spent with the subject, and I'm starting to think that math facts are one of those areas for her.  I have a few ideas bouncing around in my mind that I might implement in the future in order to keep this trend strong.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Knitting: Hop on the Bandwagon!

I'm assuming that the shift to cooler temperatures is what's spurring the sudden interests in learning how to knit, or that people are just completely inundated by my awesome creations and cannot spend another day of their lives NOT knowing how to create such feats of artistry themselves.  Take your pick--there has been a lot of people requesting instruction in recent days.

Since I'm rather busy with knitting my own stuff, educating my children, feeding my family, and folding laundry when I'm not engaged in the previous three activities, I figure that I'll write a nice little post about learning to knit and direct folks to it whenever the query arises.

First and foremost:  WHY You Should Learn to Knit
(Because there's little point in spending your precious moments of life learning something if you're just going to chuck the experience and move onto something else.  I'm a fan of "learn to do a few things really well, and delegate or say 'no' to the others.")
  1. Unlike sewing, scrapbooking, painting, and most other crafts, knitting is completely portable.  This one fact alone is why I am able to finish projects--all that time you spend waiting can be put to use if you know how to knit.  Riding in the passenger seat/commuting/sitting in an airplane seat = knitting time.  Waiting in the doctor's office/exam room = knitting time.  Waiting in line at the grocery store/post office/any other retail location in the world = knitting time.  Sitting in a chair watching television/waiting for a stubborn child to finish a worksheet/listening to people argue over who should be in charge = knitting time.  There are so many moments in one's day that would otherwise be cast away into oblivion, wasted and non-productive, that knitting can salvage for greater good.
  2. Knitting makes you more patient.  Yeah, I totally said it because it's totally true.  Those long waits in line aren't that hard to deal with if you've got your knitting in hand, and you'll accomplish a whole lot more than updating your Facebook status and finishing up a move in Words with Friends.
  3. Instead of pointlessly complaining about how nothing in the stores fit you, flatter your coloring, or covers enough of you, you can actually do something about the problem.  (Same goes for sewing, but remember--it's not as portable as knitting.)
  4. I don't think you can run out of things to learn in knitting.  Once you master the two (Yep, only two) foundational stitches, there are countless avenues to explore:  stranded colorwork, lace, cables, intarsia, entrelac, brioche, socks, sweaters, buttonholes, grafting, color combinations...the list goes on and on.
  5. Ironically enough:  Knitting can seriously boost your social life.  There's Ravelry* (a social network devoted entirely to the fiber arts), local knit groups (highly recommended--although sometimes you have to shop around to find the right "fit" of people) and the surprising amount of people already around you who dabble in the fiber arts that will enthusiastically welcome a newbie into their conversations.
  6. I'm going to keep this list short and just add one more thing:  Knitting is pretty inexpensive, start-up cost-wise.  You need a skein of yarn and two knitting needles.  If you go cheap on those two requirements, you're looking at ten bucks, give-or-take.
    (Warning:  If you fall hard for this hobby, costs have the potential for skyrocketing very quickly.  There are a lot of really gorgeous yarns out there; in all sorts of different materials, colors, and thicknesses/weights.  All those different thicknesses need different sized needles.  All those different projects need different project bags, notions, pattern books...I use the term "need" on purpose.)  :)  I do know a few people who stick with cheap yarn and one size of needles for years...and I commend them for that tenacity, while simultaneously pitying them for their limitations.
Second:  How to Learn How to Knit

Nope, I'm not going to spell it out for you.  I learned to knit from a little pamphlet in a "Learn to Knit a Baby Hat and Booties" kit that I bought at a JoAnn store.  I learn best from books, so that was the best method for me.  I learned to crochet from a booklet entitled "I Can't Believe I'm Crocheting!," also purchased from a JoAnn store.  My mother and a college roommate both tried to teach me how to crochet, but I could not wrap my head around it until I read about it in a book.  That's how my brain works.

If you learn best from another person, then find a person who will teach you.  Note:  The mere fact of knowing how to knit does not dictate that a knitter is obligated to teach you.  Be polite in requesting instruction and do not take offense if the answer is negative--some crafters don't have the time, some don't have the desire to teach.  That's OK and you need to respect that.  If you can't find someone teach you out of the kindness of their hearts, check out your local yarn shop (LYS).  Your LYS should offer classes, either for free or for a fee ($30-50 seems to be a regular fee).

Please don't crash your local knit group's Knit Nite and demand that someone in attendance teach you the craft.  It's rude to act in such an entitled manner, especially in a place where many people show up just to have a few moments to themselves without worrying about catering to the needs of others.  If you think that this is your best option for instruction, find the group's forum on Ravelry and post a message asking if someone would be willing to help you out at the next meeting.

Another option is the good ol' internet.  There are a ton of helpful sites, YouTube videos, and illustrations that show each step of the processWhat you want to search for, in order of necessity:
  1. How to cast on.  (Start)
  2. How to do the knit stitch.  (There are a lot of ways to knit, so if something seems really wonky, you can always look for another method of executing the stitch.)
  3. How to do the purl stitch.
  4. How to bind off.  (Finish)
BAM.  You're knitting.

Now, as far as first projects go, I'd recommend practicing the four basic steps listed above and just make some squares until you're comfortable with the motions.  When you arrive at the point where you cannot stand the idea of making another stupid square, I suggest tackling a hat in worsted or bulky weight yarn.  I do not recommend a scarf.  Scarves take forever to knit.  They are extremely long rectangles, whereas a hat is a short dome.

I've started my girls on baby hats because they're fast (especially in bulky yarn), which means they get to hold a finished project in their hands quickly, which keeps the knitting flame-of-desire-and-enjoyment burning bright.  Purchase a set of 16" circular needles in the size for your yarn, find a free beginner's hat pattern, and go to town.  You will need to transition to double pointed needles (DPNs) for the last couple of rows, but they're really not that tough to negotiate and the sooner you get over the idea that they are hard to work with, the better for your knitting career.

Third Step:  Expect to completely and totally suck at it for a while.

I've yet to come across a single soul who just "took" to knitting and never struggled with it.  I stumbled along through two years' worth of hideous results** before something finally clicked and I could actually handle projects more difficult than knitting a plain scarf.  Now I look for danger, and it only took eight years to get here!

Fourth Step:  Find inspiration to keep you pushing forward.

I recommend The Yarn Harlot's book Knitting Rules for proving that knitting is completely approachable, and Elizabeth Zimmerman's (EZ) Knitting Without Tears and Knitter's Almanac for giving you the warm-and-fuzzies while also inspiring you to unflinchingly step out of your comfort zone.

Conclusion:  Why I Like to Knit

Portability is the main sell for me.  I like to create, but don't have a lot of designated time for creating.  I like having a hobby that fits into my life as it already stands, instead of requiring me to carve out special one-on-one time for it.  I don't want to hunker down in the back bedroom with my sewing machine after the kids fall asleep--I want to hang out with Michael while he watches his documentaries in the TV room, or talk with him in the kitchen while we sneak a snack.  I can't simultaneously read a novel and teach my kids; but I can knit and teach at the same time.  (It took me a couple of years to get to the point where I could knit without looking--pace yourselves.)

I love color.  I hoard yarn because it really does make me feel happier to go into my closet and just look at all the colors.  I like working with color and beauty.

Knitting is love made tangible.  (Well, all acts of creation are emotions made tangible.)  Some people don't understand this--don't knit for them.  Many people do get it though, and my kids just have to open their dresser drawers or glance at the coat rack to see some of my love made tangible for them.  It makes them feel good to get a gift, and it make me feel good to give the gift.  Win-win everyday.

Except in disastrous situations, knitting is one of the few things that stays done at the end of the day.  There is always another lesson to teach, another load of laundry and dishes to put away, another window to clean--but the knitting will stay done and I can move on to something else in the pattern the next day.

Knitting is something I can reasonably control.  I am a very anxious person, prone to paralyzing worry.  There is a great quote from Elizabeth Zimmerman that says "Knit on through all crises, with confidence and hope."  I have taken this to heart, and when I feel those familiar feelings of tense anxiety rising in my chest, I break off for a moment and just knit a bit, concentrating on hoping for the best possible outcome to a worry.  It gives me something to do in situations where I really can't do anything, and it gives me a sense of control that helps to ground my emotions.

It's fun.  Need I say more?  :)

*If you do join Ravelry, my screen name is MapleSyrupMama and I will totally be your "friend" if you'd like.  :)
**A couple of my early year scarves set my teeth on edge every time I happen to see a picture of them.  There was the hideous eyelash scarf and the mistake-laden rainbow scarf (that's Bluebird in the picture!), and a wonderful lesson in the importance of dye lots:  a sweater I made for Bluebird when she was a toddler has a very noticeable moment on the back where I had to use a new dye lot of the same color and they don't even look like the same color of yarn.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yarn Along: "The Giver" series & Knits for the Family Unit

I now know that it is a cold that I am battling, not allergies.  (Which, in a funny way, is really awesome--no allergy attacks this autumn, so far!)  Penguin succumbed on Monday, followed by Michael and Monkeyboy on Tuesday.  Here we are on Wednesday--a big bunch of sniffling, coughing sickies, too worn-out to get much done at all.

However, there was a perk to this illness:  It only made you want to die for about two days.  Days Three and Four are mostly just about being tired, having a nagging headache, and having too sore of a throat to accomplish anything that requires you leave your bed.  And now that I'm on Day Five, I'm feeling like I'm gaining ground against this nasty little germ, and that I may just survive this yucky little ordeal.

But you saw that, right?  Two whole days of being able to sit up.  That translates into reading and knitting.  Big time.

How many of you read The Giver, by Lois Lowry, back in the day?  (And if you haven't--tell me your secret of how you managed to avoid all the hoopla surrounding that book.)

Yes, I read it myself, sometime in middle school.  A few years ago, I found out that there were other books that followed The Giver.  I was intrigued, but was also expecting another Brookelet at the time, so the information never really gained enough hold upon me to necessitate tracking down said books for reading.

Well, I happened to stumble across that information again last week, AND found out the fourth (and final) book of the series was being released this week.  So I figured I'd indulge and read the middle two books and be prepared for the arrival of the fourth.  Books Two and Three (Gathering Blue and Messenger) were devoured on Sunday, and Book Four (Son) was consumed yesterday after it arrived upon my doorstep.  [insert blissful sigh here]  I enjoy receiving a book the day it's released and then spending the day reading it cover-to-cover.

I think I will assign some or all of these books to my children for school.  I especially like The Giver for its ability to talk about agency at an appropriate age-level, Messenger for its symbolism of the Atonement, and Son for its treatment of the topic of evil and love/Satan.  I like Gathering Blue for its beauty in describing colors, and I guess it would prove valuable in discussing the value of human life and how imperfection didn't automatically denote lack of value.  Actually, now that I think more about Gathering Blue, the more topics come to mind--it touches on quite a few, so I didn't come away from the reading with as much impact in only one area as I experienced with the other books.

The knitting this week is all centered on my own family unit, with progress made on Junebug's cardigan, and that pair of socks that I started knitting for Michael nine months ago.

I am pretty stinkin' pleased with how this cardigan is turning out.  Aside from the cable pattern, I've come up with everything for this pattern on my own.  I've crunched so many numbers, knit a fair share of gauge swatches, and then just sort of threw it all out there and hoped that my calculations were correct.  It makes a person feel like they are freakin' amazing to sketch up a pathetic rendering of a idea in their head, measure the way stitches line up in a 4" x 4" knitted square, do a lot of math and then use all that information to create a tangible object that does indeed look like (well, honestly, looks much better) than those scribbled drawings.  Fuh-reakin' ah-mazin'.  All that stands between this little cardigan and its aspiration to be a finished little cardigan are two button bands and some buttons.  Oh, and grafting two little seams in the underarms.

Of course, in order to knit up those two button bands, I have to cut up the front of the cardigan.  But I've done it before on Penguin's cardigan, so I'm not even scared of the process.  (I just added the emphasis to add a little spice to your lives, dear readers.)  Before I can cut the cardigan, I do need to sew some safety seams along the proposed cutting area, and that requires using my ill-tempered sewing machine, and I just didn't have the stoutness of heart needed to embark upon any task requiring its frustratingly stubborn intent to sabotage anything I try to sew cooperation.  Perhaps, as I find myself in better health as the week progresses, I will shore up the fortitude required to patiently handle that tempermental piece of crap little machine.

The socks that never end.
I gave 'em a little more attention.
It doesn't feel like they progressed any further towards completion.
And yes, the Michael Socks earned a period of parole from their imprisonment on the second craft shelf in the closet.  (The second shelf is not a happy place for works-in-progress.  Very little stands between a project and frogging when it finds itself sitting upon the second shelf.)  I could frog them, but I have put a lot of work into them and at this point I'd just be throwing all that away.  A pair of relatively nice socks can emerge from all this, so I will continue forward with the sluggish progress.

I have a feeling though--these socks are gonna bite me in the butt in some fashion.  My gauge will be off or the yarn will do something weird--something's not right, but I'm going to push forward with it anyway, which is insane.  I guess I'm just too curious about finding out what exactly is wrong to stop knitting.  We'll commisserate and laugh about it together, when they're finished.  (And no, that's just the first sock.  I'm not even halfway done with the pair.  Gah.)  But, on the bright side, Michael says that they are very nice to wear, so far.  They're bunching a little at the back of his ankles, and the heel is a touch too narrow, but he insists that they feel pretty good.

Hopefully next week's post can feature a finished object?  Hmmm?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


We play a little word game during lunch, in which someone says a word and then the next person comes up with a word that begins with the ending letter of the previous word.

It was my turn; I had to come up with a word that began with the letter Y, and I said "Yew!  But not 'y-o-u' like 'I love you,' but 'y-e-w' as in a species of tree."

Bluebird's eyes widened, she dropped her head into her hands, and exclaimed, "Augh!  That just caused a brain explosion!"

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Irony of Getting Sick

For most of last week, I was very good about getting my work done before "playing."  I kept telling myself that I had most of Sunday for various leisurely pursuits, and that I'd just feel better in the long run if I did all the grunt work in the moment.

On Saturday I kept working hard.  I planted my fall flowers, helped Michael in the backyard a little bit, and did all my prep work for this upcoming week of school.  I was a whirlwind of productivity.  As I was creating a calendar on the computer, I noticed that it was a little painful to swallow, but was then sidetracked by something and forgot to worry about the symptom anymore.

Later that evening, as I was assembling dinner, the Illness Fairy came up behind me and whacked me on the back of the head and it was all over.  (Seriously, that's what it felt like!  Just minding my business and then my body completely gave itself over to being sick.)  I went to bed early, asked Michael to go get some throat lozenges from the store, and spent most of the night awake in achy, feverish pain.  Sunday was spent in likewise fashion.

The annoying irony of getting sick is that it forces you to lay down and completely ignore your usual responsibilities, but you feel so wickedly awful that you don't care one stitch about participating in your leisure activities.  For days I had been looking forward to being able to rest and spend some time on the things that add spice to my life, and I was indeed granted time to rest at the expense of being able to minutely perform any of those leisure activities.  Argh.

*sigh*  There's not a whole lot that can be done about it, so it's pointless to complain.  I'm just always amused by the irony of the situation.

I have no idea how much school we'll get done in the next few days.  So far I think it's a bad allergy attack (it's the right time of year), but if my kids start picking it up, then we'll know that it's some sort of cold.  I think today will just be spent in picking up the house and having the kids read out loud to me, as my voice is pretty shot.  We'll resume "getting caught up" in a few weeks.

And based upon the coughing I just heard from Monkeyboy, I'm thinking we've caught a cold.  Fun times ahead here in Brooketopia.

Friday, September 28, 2012

2012-2013 Weekly Report: Week 10
From Stinky Plague to Rose Water & Versailles

Another week come and gone.  More assignments completed.  The weather is quite lovely right now, which makes it hard to stay inside--until we step outside and get blasted by the chilly morning wind.  Autumn is definitely upon us, yippee!

We kept going.  I'm not sure we had any memorable experiences, although Bluebird had a lot of fun learning how to write checks and being allowed to pick which of her neighbors she made fake checks out to.  (In case you're wondering, it was her best friend down the street, her latin tutor, and Carly.)  Penguin had an easy time with math this week as well.  No complaints here.  It would have been nice to move ahead like we did last week, but at least we didn't fall behind.

Working on math "all by themselves."

Language Arts
I think Bluebird will finish up Level 1 of All About Spelling next week.  They're both kicking butt in spelling.  Have I already mentioned that I lurve All About Spelling?  LURVE!

I decided to video each of them reciting their memorization poems so we could post them to the blog.  It was very exciting, and I was going to embed the videos here, but am suffering from some technical difficulties at the moment.  If you'd like to watch them, they are available here.  Penguin's recitation of "Work" is kind of fun to watch, and both Bluebird's videos are entertaining--she really got into her recitation of "A Tragic Story," and her look of sheer horror when she forgets a section of "The Land of Nod" cracks us all up every time we watch.
Bluebird finished reading The Old Man Mad About Drawing, and started reading the all-time favorite Pippi Longstocking.  Apparently, it's an entertaining read, because I can't keep her nose out of the book:

Penguin read some Dr. Seuss books out loud to me, and she also read Bad Kitty to me today.  I cannot believe how far she has jumped ahead in her reading in the few weeks.  I tested her reading level this week (because I was curious to see if I was just imagining that she had improved), and found that she's now reading 3.5 grade levels ahead of where she tested at the end of the last school year.  What a big girl!

We're still working away on At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, but only have one more reading session to put in with it before we're completely finished.  I was trying to have that happen this week, but the sky won't fall if we spend a day on it next week.

We read You Wouldn't Want to Be Sick in the 16th Century, which is a touch revolting; and we also read about Louis XIV, of Versailles-building fame.  Bluebird ooh-ed and ah-ed over pictures we pulled up online of the Versailles palace and gardens, and now wonders aloud when we'll be able to visit the grounds.  Someday, my little Francophile, someday.

In association with our study of the Plague, and going along with reading Sugared Plum, we started making some rose water:

In the back of Sugared Plum, there are recipes for various 17th-century sweetmeats--and nearly all of them require the use of rose water.  The girls are eagerly anticipating our sweetmeat-making session, which can take place as early as next Saturday, after our rose petals have sat in their water for nine days, as our rose water recipe dictates.

Foreign Language
More latin review.  Bluebird doesn't quite have the whole conjugation idea figured out, so I figured another week to work it wouldn't hurt.  We'll move on next week, and hopefully it will come to her with repeated practice.

Not a bad week!


  • Bluebird coughed a little uncontrollably for a moment and I chuckled and said, "Uh oh, better hope you haven't caught the plague!'  She scoffed loudly and replied, "Do you see any lumps on me?!"  Touché.
  • Quesnel was especially in-your-face with her feelings about us doing school and ignoring her:

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


If this was Sesame Street, today's Letter of the Day would be "Z."

Bluebird, while procrastinating completing her penmanship assignment, was looking up at the Periodic Table of Elements we have posted on the wall and asked how old I was (30).  She then informed me that I was zinc, because its atomic number is thirty.

"Awesome," I said, "I just wiped a bunch of zinc all over Monkeyboy's bunky to help get rid of his diaper rash.  I'm butt cream!"

Bluebird squealed, "Yeah you are!"

A few minutes later, Junebug came tearing into the kitchen and exclaimed, "Mama!  Did you know that the thing that starts with 'zebra' is the same thing that starts with 'zucchini?!?!'  IT'S THE SAME THING!!!"

"I did know that, but I'm glad that you know it now, too."

"I KNOW!!!"

Exciting times, exciting times...all brought to you by the letter "Z."


I complained last week about how everything I was working on was pink or purple, and realized that the exact opposite of said colors was yellow-green.  As luck would have it, I had purchased a skein of very yellow-green yarn only a few weeks ago, and figured it was a great time make use of its much-desired colorway.

The original intention was to make Penguin a new hat, but the girl owns numerous hats AND she is bumping up into number of Bluebird's outgrown hats this year as well.  Penguin doesn't need another hat.  I asked her what she did want and she suggested mittens.

I'm not much of a mitten knitter.

However, the yarn was a bulky-weight (Lamb's Pride Bulky--85% Wool, 15% Mohair), and a quick pattern search pulled up Susan B. Anderson's Outsider Mittens, which looked pretty cute (and free!).

Once I cast on, I was a woman possessed.  I finished the pair in less than twenty-four hours, and I'd really like to some more of these quick little cuties.
What's analogous to yellow-green?
Oh.  That would be

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012-2013 Weekly Report: Week 9

I was so not gung-ho about doing school this week, but we got it done anyway.  I'm proud of that perseverance.

These girls have worked hard this week!  We're trying to catch up to where we are supposed to be lesson-wise, and so we've had a few double lessons throughout the week in a effort to accomplish that goal.  They each completed EIGHT math lessons this week, and I'm so proud of them!

Language Arts
Both of them finished up their respective penmanship books.  Bluebird has now started the Level 3 book and Penguin is embarking upon Level 2M.

Penguin's right on track and doing a great job with her memorization.  Bluebird is catching up (one extra lesson this week) and is working on diagramming sentences with both adjectives and adverbs.  She's working to memorize "A Tragic Story," by William Thackeray.

Bluebird is almost done reading The Old Man Mad About Drawing, and Penguin read a few of the _____ Bear, _____ Bear, What Do You See? books out loud to me this week.  We're working on reading At the Sign of the Sugared Plum as our group read aloud.  We should finish it up next week.  The girls love all the candy-making descriptions and are slightly horrified about how dirty London was during the period.

Sugared Plum goes along with our study of Charles I's England in history.  We learned about his beheading, the Cromwell Protectorate, and finished up with reading some more about The Plague and the London Fire of 1666.

Foreign Language
Bluebird took another week to review the first five lessons of latin. She loves her "tutoring sessions" with our neighbor down the street, and I'm so thankful for my friend being so willing to spend time with Bluebird each week and provide an extra incentive to learn more about the subject. (Bluebird is a very social girl and loves any excuse to have some one over to our house, or to go visiting at someone's house herself.)

A productive week.  Hopefully we can be more excited about school next week and remember to break out the camera every now and then.  :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Purple and Pink

It's all I see right now:

Lavender Baby Hat--finished and gifted away.

Junebug's Cardigan--pretty near completion, just waiting for me to locate my 16-inch circulars
so I can decrease the neck.
Then it'll be a quick steek and some button bands, and we'll be done.

Echo Flower Shawl for ME--This grows here a little, there a little.

Hat for Bluebird--Because I wanted to make a cabled hat.
Waiting for me to purchase 10.5 DPNs so I can finish decreasing.

Fingerless Mittens for Denise--Because she asked, and she had already bought the yarn,
originally intending it to be a beret.
However, the beret pattern and I did not get along.
It's looking like the fingerless mitt pattern and I do not get along either.
Somewhat ironic, considering I get along with Denise better than almost anyone else in the world.
You know how you just get tired of every single one of your projects en masse?  I am totally there.  Everything is either waiting for new needles or I just kind of don't want to look at them anymore. 

What's the opposite of pink and purpleGreenYellowYellow-green?  :)

I have some yellow-green yarn...but need the aforementioned 10.5 DPNs in order to finish the project I have planned for the yarn.  :)


Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012-2013 Weekly Report: Week 8
A Bumpy Start to the New Quarter

We were attacked by stomach bugs, allergies, and new additions to our extended family, but we still managed to complete three full days of school.

After having no school on Monday and Wednesday, and staying up a bunch in the wee hours of Thursday morning to celebrate the arrival of Shaun and Carly's little baby boy, I was pretty much resigned to the idea that Thursday was going to be a wash as well, but then I wrote that blog post about how unproductive a week we were having and it proved very cathartic.  I whipped us through our morning routine shortly thereafter and we charged through an entire day of school despite the fact that we didn't even get started until 10:30am.  Friday started late as well, but we persevered and were able to claim the day an academic success as well.  Whew!

Alright, here's the rundown:

Language Arts

Penmanship:  These girls have fought penmanship time all week.  Frustrated, I informed Bluebird of my plan to put her through a calligraphy course once she completes the "Cursive Mastery" book, which is two books after the one she is currently working in.  This tidbit of information served to motivate them a little and we had far fewer disagreements about the necessity of completing penmanship assignments.

Spelling:  Love, adore, appreciate--take your pick, that's how I feel about All About Spelling.  Bluebird completed Lesson 1-19 and Penguin finished Lesson 1-12.

Phonics:  Penguin moved into the nastily confusing world of long vowels and all the different ways you can spell each pronounciation.  She handled it well.

Grammar:  Penguin's right on track, Bluebird is four lessons behind.  Bluebird learned how to diagram adverbs in sentences and has begun memorizing a new poem.

Writing:  I had them each write a letter to our new family member, who I have decided to assign the pseudonym of "Baby Moose."  Baby Moose will be receiving some letters from his cousins in the next couple of weeks.

Literature:  Didn't get to it.  I had planned to read The Cat That Went to Heaven, but it just didn't happen.  I may assign it as independent reading to Bluebird in the following weeks.

I did read Gingerbread Man Loose in the School to Junebug this week for "preschool."  She enjoyed it immensely.  I had plans for some activities relating to the book, but then my week got all shot to snot.


Moving along.Bluebird is twelve lessons behind, Penguin is seven lessons behind.  On Friday, Bluebird had the longest math lesson EVAH, in which we had to look up the daily highs and lows of cities in the U.S. and write them down, then round them, then graph them.  (And may I just take a moment here and express my annoyance at the fact that the National Weather Service doesn't seem to find it necessary to list the cities in alphabetical order?  Seriously?  Seriously?!?!  Way to make science enjoyable and easily accessible for the young...)

Foreign Language

Review week for Latin, and I finally discovered the reproducible quizzes and tests in the back of the book.  I'm going to have us do another week of review next week, just to make sure everything is gelling and to administer the missed quizzes and tests.


Fast and dirty.  We caught up to where we were supposed to be at the beginning of this week, and just read through the chapters and did our narrations and called it good.  It worked out rather nicely, as we started with The Thirty Years' War, then read about the closing of Japan, the rise of the Manchu dynasty, and the Moghul Empire of India, all of which happened about the same time.  I hope to have some fun next week with actual activities to go along with our studies.


Michael bought some dry ice and they had a lot of fun discussing phases of matter and various related topics:

Oh, it's so much fun to play with dry ice gas!

Oh, yay!  Daddy's going to add more dry ice!


Bluebird diligently practiced piano.  All the other stuff:  Nope.

Here's hoping that next week will be a little more relaxed and not marked by random illness.  I also don't foresee the births of any new family members, so we should be good on that front.  :)

And I saw this on the stairs one day, and it cracked me up:

I think I know who wrote it, but I'm actually not sure...regardless, I think it's awesome.