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.