Monday, December 31, 2007

May you have a very happy New Year

Dh and I tried a new tactic to more thoroughly enjoy Christmas this year. We set a side a night before the holiday's final explosion to celebrate together - just the two of us. On top of the regular gifts we gave each other "wish gifts" - things we want for the other person that can't be bought. I want for him for his book to be a success and for his relationship with our children (esp. older ones) to grow stronger. He wants for me to get my writing business running more smoothly and to enjoy my trip to France. I found it to be a powerful to know that someone wants something for me that I want so much for myself. My friend Allison reaffirmed this when she sent me some wish gifts as well. So in keeping with the spirit, I am sending these out to you, my knitting friends:

I wish for you that you will conquer a knitting dragon and make a project that you now find daunting, whether that be socks, sweaters or entrelac.

I wish for you that you find at least three new knitting friends, virtual or land line, to inspire and encourage you.

And finally - keeping in mind that troubles with projects are often learning opportunities - I wish for you that you are able to accomplish at least three complicated projects without any annoying frustrations.

May you always have the right needles on hand, pick the best pattern for the yarn and be on gauge.

Happy, happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Merry Christmas

Christmas was a little lonely when I was growing up. My immediate family was my parents, my brother and me. In high school, my brother was off doing his own thing so it was just me, mom and dad. We opened our gifts on Christmas Eve so Christmas Day was generally pretty quiet. I'm making up for it now with the ginormous family I've collected, as well as the one I married into. There are numerous houses to be visited over multiple days and Christmas morning is a glorious pandemonium. Five children multiplied by at least five presents each equals a room full of presents and at least a few smiles from each one. I shocked and delighted the 15yo with a Hollister sweatshirt - she had no idea I even knew the store existed.
I would generally agree that Christmas is all about giving and I was happy to give. But I have to admit I was happy to give the gift of receiving as well. My dh kicked off the season with the recently released Book of Yarn - an exhaustive explanation of all things fiber. I've only had time to read a few pages, but so far I'd say it's great.

It's really good I've got it because I need it to solve the mystery of one of my other gifts - the biggest balls of yarn I've ever seen from my world traveling cousin. They're from England, Ireland and Scotland. I have no idea how much yarn I have or its content. I'm sure I'll have fun figuring it out. I should have no problem figuring guage because dh also got my memo and bought me the knitpicks interchangeable needles. They are wonderful.

Dh also got me a Roomba - one of those little vacuuming robots. This may not seem on the face of it to be a knitting related gift - but it is, and here is why: It gives me more time to knit! Now, I can vacuum my floors and knit at the same time. How great is that.

My other great joy this season has been helping my mom knit a hat. She was crocheting and she enjoyed it a great deal but took knitting lessons anyway. When I asked her why, she said, "because I love you." We found her a pattern for a top down hat and I helped her cast on using the Magic Loop method. She watched me fumbling with those needles and said, "Honey, I can't do that." Of course, I knew better. Pretty soon she was knitting around like pro.

My husband says I have a knitting problem because I was critiquing the knitting of one of the chickens in Chicken Run - she was knitting a noose in the round on straight needles. Impossible. I'm perfectly willing to suspend disbelief for a movie - but don't you think that's pushing it?

I hope y'all had a great Christmas and that your New Year's celebration is wonderful

Friday, December 21, 2007

Yum Yum

I had a great time "Baking" cookies with my children. Most of what we did was strictly stove top so we could avoid using our tempramental oven that requires us to set the temperature 25 degrees below the called for baking time and turn the pan around half way through baking so that the whole pan cooks evenly.
By far the tastiest were the haystacks. They confused my citified 14yo terribly. She kept insisting they were supposed to be square. I explained that those were bales of hay, but she wasn't convinced. Here is our recipe, which is a complilation of a bunch:
2 cups of chow mein noodles
1 cup of butterscotch chips
1/2 cup of peanutbutter
1/2 cup (more if desired) of peanuts
1/4 cup (more if desired) of chocolate chips.
Melt the butterscotch and chocolate chips with the peanut butter. Add the chow mien noodles and peanuts. Toss to coat. Spoon out small mounds on parchment paper (or tinfoil in a pinch) let them dry and pack them off to the neighbors for oodles of complements.
We also had rice crispy treats with Christmas M&Ms - very tasty and festive looking.
For those big on candy canes, we dipped mini ones in melted chocolate chips and then sprinkled tiny candy balls over the the top. I've heard you can paraffin wax to make the chocolate dry shiny, but I couldn't find any.
The best part from my perspective was that made just enough for the neighbors so there wasn't a ton of sweets around to tempt me. The only "problem" was the number of neighbors who reciprocated with cookies they had made!
I'm still working away on the hat. I should have been done, but I messed something up somewhere and didn't catch it for a few rows. I had to frog bag further than I wanted and then it took me awhile to figure out where I was because it's a lace pattern. Still, I like the pattern and Malabrigo is so nice to work with I don't mind too much.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Moments

I have decided as the years have gone by that Christmas is just too big for one day, so in my house, we consider it to be the entire month of December. It takes the pressure off. I don't have to worry about having the perfect Christmas Day because I've already had a great Christmas.

My Christmas moment for today was when my two eldest daughters - 15 and 14 - voluntarily went together to deliver Christmas cookies to the neighbors. This is lamb and lions lying down together sort of stuff - or more lioness and lioness given how strong willed they are and how poorly they've been getting along. That simple event has made me happier than any material gift could. They were doing something nice for me and for the neighbors and they did it together without fighting.

We've been dealing with lots and lots of ice here near Boston. It snowed and then it sort of sleeted/rained and then everything froze. This has been a problem for me because I drive a huge van - a giant, I can take the whole soccer team to the game van. Yesterday, I got stuck on the ice in the driveway of the day care! My husband had to come with his Jeep and pull it out with a chain. Today, we got stuck in a parking spot in front of the doctors' office. It took a good bit of shoving to move it! That's to say nothing about the piles of snow that I keep getting hung up on when I try to turn corners! I am in serious need of some above-freezing temperatures.

I am also in need of finising my new hat that I'm knitting out of some wonderful sage green Malabrigo. It is in the foliage pattern from Knitty. Fingers crossed that it will fit, since I had trouble with guage. I went down two needle sizes and it was still a little big. I may just get to find out how well lace felts.

With Christmas coming, there are a lot of packages coming to my house since I did much of my shopping on line. I was delighted when one of those packages turned out to be for me - from Lisa, my SP 9 pal in Saratoga. Through the exchange, we became good friends and we recently met in person in Boston. Her family was relieved to find that I'm not a serial killer. We had a great time catching up, talking about knitting, and of course shopping for yarn. What she sent me was incredible hand spun yarn in delightfully complex colors. One skein is yellows, whites, greens and blues and the ohter is blacks, golds, purples and greens. I look forward to knitting with it someday. For now, I'm going to keep it on my desk so I can enjoy looking at it and touching it.

I also got in those packages thank you yarn from a friend in Australia who came to visit last Christmas. Her name is Gay, but she is best known as giggles for her propensity to giggle. She took a year long leave from her job as a chef on a cruise line to travel the world and landed for awhile in our neck of the woods. It was a hoot to have her around. She's a good cook and she kept the children entertained with her accent and exotic words. She said it took her awhile to get around to sending a thank you - given the contents, I didn't mind at all! She knows I love to knit and that yarn makes a knitter happy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Celia Nash Memorial Cookie Baking Day

Tomorrow is the Big Cookie Baking day - the day I'm hoping may family and friends across the country will head to their kitchens with their friends and family to bake up batches of cookies to share. Join us if you've got an oven and some time (or buy some cookies to share) in worldwide celebration of the love that connects us all through the generations and across the miles.

I've named the day in honor of my grandmother, Celia Nash, who was the best cookie maker and one of the most loving people I've ever met. She passed away a number of years ago, but when I bake, I feel a connection to her. I know there are others who've had people like that in their lives - hopefully this day will be a way of reconnecting and enjoying the holidays in a special way.

On another note, we got socked with snow last night - so much so that everyone is still digging out. As a result, the start of school was delayed for two hours. With a little bit of extra time on our hands and a need to entertain and feed the children, I came up with a new pancake recipe. This could be adapted for use with a mix - just use the mix instead of all the dry ingredients.

3/4 cup of milk (more if needed)
One flavored instant oatmeal packet (We used Maple and Brown Sugar. You could add 2 for a stronger flavor, but then omit sugar)
1 egg
1 cup of flower
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Butter for cooking

Heat milk and add instant oatmeal. Let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients. If the mix is too thick, add some more milk.

Coat pan with butter and heat. Pour a spoonful of pancake mix into pan. Let sit until bubbly, turn and cook other side.

It was so good, I ate it without syrup. Now I'm ready to go get more instant oatmeal to try out some of the other flavors.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Great Mommy Lie

When I was a wee girl while shopping with my mom one day I caught her buying some Bible books that I thought looked rather interesting. "Are those for me?" I asked. "Oh no, these are for your cousins," she said, thinking quickly. They were, of course for me and I was thrilled with them. Years later, however, when she would say, "Have I ever lied to you?" I would quickly shoot back, "Yeah, that time you told me those books were for my cousins."

Now that I am the mom, that is just one of the many, many things I regret having said to my mom. Here it is time for Christmas and there is little time to spare. In the interest of ensuring Santa would be getting my daughter what she wanted, we were out doing a little window shopping/list making. It was with great alarm that I realized there was just one left of something she really, really wanted. I've learned the hard way that if one waits to buy these things when a child isn't present, one might not be able to find it later.
"Let's get that for the toy give away at daddy's work and put it on your list," I suggested.
"But there's just one left," said my astute daughter.
"That's okay, Santa knows were to get more," I said reassuringly.
My rational is this: It won't be a lie if I can actually find another one for the toy give away.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pride goeth before the fall

I felt like shouting from the mountain tops - I get it! I finally get it! Inspired by Monica and a picture she posted of some correcting she was doing several rows back and motivated by not wanting to tink back again on my Secrets of the Stole I sat and puzzled and pictured it all in my head until I finally figured out how to do a knit2tog several rows down. I'd previously figured out how to add in a yarn over - but knitting two together had totally confuzzled me (as my 14yo would say).

Then I got it: you have to let two stitches drop down to where the yo was missed. Then you pick up the two stitches together and continue as if you are picking up a dropped stitch - et voila, c'est fini.

To add a yarn over, spread the stitches so you can see the bars in between them. Figure out how far down you need the yarn over and pick up a bar as if it was a runaway stitch and then just as before, treat it as a dropped stitch.

So yeah for me for figuring this out! I was so proud, I ran up and took a picture to post on the blog. Then came my biggest mistake yet. Why oh why did I leave the stole on the bed? Why oh why didn't I think ahead just a little bit to realize that my little ones would soon be jumping on said bed for their goodnight stories?

I came up the stairs awhile later and saw on the floor outside of the bedroom door the needles on which I am knitting the stole. There was no stole attached to them. They were just slinking off as if to go have a little party being finally freed from their task. The stole was sitting on the bed abandoned and lonely not sure what to do without the needles to hold it together. All I can say is thank the knitting muses that I've learned how to fix knit 2tog and yos without tinking whole rows! It took a bit of time to get everybody back in order, but not nearly as long as it could have taken.

On this stole I am firmly in the turtle the club. While most are done with all 8 clues, I am still on clue 3. But I haven't given up and that's something.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

email hot stuff

It seems I've suddenly become very popular. I've been barraged with emails from very fun sounding people who say they've read my profile on line and want to chat. How nice. Considering that I haven't actually put up a profile on line, I'm guessing it's a scam. Oh well. At least my dog loves me. :)

I have completed my annual bead teach a thon. Three years ago a friend who heard I was crafty asked me to come up with a craft to teach for our church's annual Christmas breakfast. (With friends like these...) So I dragged out my old beading supplies, brushed up on my beading skills and here I am three years later converting innocent bystanders into bead-a-holics. I even had two repeat customers. One has made so much jewelry over the last year she's looking into selling it so she'll have an excuse to make more. Every year is a flurry of making and testing and checking designs to I'll have samples to show. I now have necklaces and earrings in just about every color imaginable - even red, which I never wear. Honestly, I'm looking forward to getting back to knitting. While beading is much quicker - a whole set can be completed in a night - it's not nearly as meditative or soul soothing as knitting.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A cruel hoax

This explains why the lining of my coat is coated with fur. I no sooner set it down than my faithful friend decided it would be a comfortable item on which to nap. Will the extra fur make me extra warm?

I will admit that on occassion I have enjoyed playing a fun practical joke on a friend - I once had my best friend in college convinced I was flunking out and there was a time when I told my parents I was adopting three kids - oh, that wasn't actually a joke, I really did. But it was still funny to hear their reaction. (They were totally supportive once they got over the shock). But this week I learned of a practical joke that was downright sinister. A woman on my dish cloth knit a long group wrote in asking for help with a pattern. After trying it and frogging it several times it just wasn't coming out right. How many times has that happened to you? A couple folks looked at the pattern and couldn't see anything wrong with it. Turns out, her daughter and son-in-law had switched some lines in the pattern! That's not funny. That's just plain mean.

For time-pressed cooks, I have another recipe for you to try - this one was a real crowd pleaser in my house. Everyone loved it, even my finicky son. I used creamy peanut butter to appease my nut-hating children, but I would have preferred it with crunchy.

Easy Peanut Chicken sauce

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves of garlic chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
1 pound chicken breasts or thighs cut into cubes
(fresh or frozen vegetables if desired)

1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup chicken stock
¾ cup peanut butter (or more to thicken)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauce pan, cook chicken in butter and oil with garlic and pepper flakes until it starts to turn white.

Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and heat about 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If frozen vegetables, add them when you put in the tomatoes and chicken stock. (Add fresh vegetables after about five minutes so they will be cooked but not get soggy) Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, add peanut butter and cook while stirring until sauce is thick. Do not add a splash of lemon juice. I tried that and it made the oil separate from the sauce. It was still tasted fine, but didn't look so good.

Serve over rice or noodles.

This is my version of a recipe I found on that uses mushrooms and onions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Spirit

Christmas has officially begun in our house - we have a tree. A big, beautiful, bountiful tree. Did I mention that it's big? Really, really big. It didn't look so big standing on the hill in the forest amid even bigger trees. It wasn't really a forest, it was a tree farm, but it was a sort of back to nature experience. We loaded up our citified kids and drove off to the country side to chop down a tree. Actually, we sawed it down - apparently the tree farmer thinks axes are too dangerous for families and probably a little bit of overkill. There were six of us altogether hunting for this tree. It might have taken us all day to find one on which we could all agree, but it was really cold - sting your face make your hands hurt cold. It just froze all the argument right out of us. The tree is gorgeous even if it is too wide of the alcove into which we like to put our trees.

Now we continue the preparations and celebrations. I’ve been making these plans to buy the 5yo all this great stuff for Christmas and I think I need to rein myself in for her own good. She wants an American Girl doll, but I think I’ve convinced her to go for the much cheaper Target “Our Generation” instead. Then she wants to go with the doll a horse, a bed, a beauty salon chair, a spa set, a dog, several outfits, a bathtub, a tent and sleeping bag and a closet. And that’s just for the doll – there’s a whole separate list of polly pocket/little pets/ flying pony thingys. I just want to make her happy and it’s hard to keep it straight that material things won’t make her happy when she seems so convinced they will. I read all these stories around this time of the year about families who have so little and their Christmas is made wonderful because a stranger gives the kids a shirt and a toy. It seems the Walmart/Target/Dollar Store culture that has changed all that. Toys are so cheap, they’ve become far too abundant. How can the kids (even us big ones) truly appreciate our things when it is so easy to accumulate so much?

Here is what I really want this year – a good joke that I can share with my friends who need a good laugh and friends to share it with.

This scarf is even softer and more lucious than it looks in the picture. It's knit with an Italian yarn, Douceur et Soie, the Gourmet Collection from Knit One Crochet Too. It is baby mohair and silk. If you can get your hands on this yarn, by all means do. It is fantastic to knit with and even more fantastic once knitted. It's light and airy, but oh so warm. (I'm a little obsessed with warmth these days because it's been below freezing all day and there's no sign of a thaw) The pattern, rabbit tracks, is a fun but simple one that I found on the Internet. It doesn't take too much to memorize the pattern. It would work well with a slightly thicker yarn as well. The scarf is off to a friend who is a mom of 3 in her first year of law school. She has finals coming up just as Christmas is coming and I figured she could use a little TLC.

Friday, November 30, 2007

What's your Christmas style

My friend Allison e-mailed me a great get-to-know your friends Christmas questionnaire. Below is her introduction and my answers. Feel free to pick it up the survey and pass it along to your buddies or post your version on your blog. Merry Christmas!

OK Knitterly friends - I got this from Brooke - my SP9 fabulous upstream pal and copied is Terri who was her pal in another exchange. Jennifer, Bonnie and Janice I have met through the international tote exchange and now we can all know one another!

Welcome to the 'Christmas Edition' of getting to know your friends.Okay, here's what you're supposed to do and try not to be a SCROOGE!!!Just copy this entire email and paste into a new blank e-mail that youcan send. Change all the answers so they apply to you. Then, send this to a whole bunch of people you know, INCLUDING the person who sent it to you. It's the season to be cheerful!!! :-)
1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Gift bags – I have 5 kids after all

2. Real or Artificial tree ? Real, we’re hoping to cut our own

3. When do you put up the tree
This weekend if all goes well

4. When do you take the tree down? You’re supposed to take it down?.

5. Do you like Eggnog? Too much so.

6. Favorite Gift you received as a child? A doll that if you moved it’s head one way it smiled and the other way it frowned and shed real tears.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?

8. Hardest person to buy for? My cousin Cathy, who always picks great gifts for us.

9. Easiest person to buy for? My mom – I know what she likes.

10. Worst Christmas gift ever received? Can’t think of one.

11. Christmas Cards...Snail mail or E-mail? Snail mail

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? The original Grinch and Scrooged, the Bill Murray classic.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I’ve already started window shopping

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Not that I know of

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cookies!

6. Clear lights or colored on the tree? white, very classy although my children are pushing for colored

17. Favorite Christmas Song? What Child is This

18. Travel at Christmas or Stay Home? travel for Christmas Eve, stay home on Christmas.

19. Can you name Santa's Reindeer? Dasher, Dancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Grumpy, Sleepy, Doc

20. Do you have an Angel or a Star on top of your tree? Star – I’ve never found an angel I like enough

21. Open the Presents Christmas Eve or Morning? Christmas stockings when the kids first get up, presents after breakfast..

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Parking at the mall.

23. Shopping...mall or online? increasingly on line.

24. Do you decorate outside for Christmas or just inside (or at all?) Both

25. Favorite Christmas cookie? The green wreaths made out of cornflakes and decorated with cinnamon balls.

26. Do you own Christmassy clothing or jewelry? Just pins – I finally ditched the sweater after 10 years.

27. Do you believe in Santa? But of course, I am now him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Write right right?

When a two-year-old requests a hat and scarf, how can a knitter resist? Even knowing it was unlikely that she would ever be willing to keep them on in the cold, we forged ahead. She picked out the yarn: some cheap acrlic that I bought fo 99 cents at a thrift store and some hot pink Cascade superwash wool. She hugged them to her and said gleefully, "My favorite." On the first day, every hour or so she would ask, "are they done?" I'm not a fast knitter so even as small as the would be getting them done in a day was impossible. It didn't help that the first one didn't have enough room between the cuff and the start of the thumb. She was dutifully exuberant when the mittens were finally done. She actually wore them long enough to get a picture taken. As predicted, however, she took them off just a few minutes after getting out into the cold. Why do kids do that, anyway? I would think that would be a self-teaching sort of lesson.

I stumbled on an interesting pattern with a lot of potential for the scarf. It's probably a named pattern somewhere. Here's the formula:

It's knit lengthwise. Cast on 150 to 250 stitches depending on the desired length. For preceission, make a swatch and figure out how many stitches per inch you are knitting.

Row 1: knit

Row 2: knit 5, (knit 1, yarn over) repeat to last five stitches, knit 5

Row 3: knit

Row 4: knit 5, (yarn over, knit 1) repeat to last five stitchees, knit 5

Row 5: knit

Row 6: repeat Row 2

Knit across until scarf is desired width, keeping in mind that you will repeat the above rows in reverse.

For the final 6 rows:

Row 1: knit 5, (knit 1, yarn over) repeat to last five stitches, knit 5

Row 2: knit

Row 3: knit 5, (yarn over, knit 1) repeat to last five stitches, knit 5

Row 4: knit

Row 5: knit 5, (knit 1, yarn over) repeat to last five stitches, knit 5

Row 6: knit

Bind off

This creates an airy, lacey edge with solid knitting in the middle. As an alternative, the middle could be done in seed stitch, or some other appealing solid pattern.

To make the scarf self-fringing, cut the yarn after each row leaving a tail of 8 inches or so. The tails will have to be tied together to keep them from unraveling.

I like the way the pattern looks, but mine isn't as wide as I would have liked because I was concerned about running out of yarn. Cori Jane was happy to dance around with it for the pictures, but it has since been sitting in the scarf basket by the door. Oh well, it's a good prototype.

On a non-knitting note, I am a novelist! Albeit an unpublished one, but still I have officially completed a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. I took the challenge issued by the National Novel Writing Month and beat the clock by three days. It seemed an unsurmountable task when I signed up in October. With children and work and a house to keep up I had my doubts about the feasability. I had to give up much of the little television watching time I get and my knitting production slowed down. There were times when the words flowed like water down a waterfall and other times when I felt I was in a dark room with no idea where the lights were.
Throughout, I had a husband who took me seriously and believed I would do it. The story is about a woman raising 4 children while renovating a seriously broken down house. She's not me, but she could be one of my friends. I figured since I had to write fast, I'd write what I know.
Finishing the story was the hard part, now as my writing husband pointed out, comes the "nearly impossible part," editing and selling it! Is it good enough? Maybe. Having come this far, I'll push it a little more.
But for now, I'm going to clean up my neglected house and make up some lost time on my Secrets of the Stole while getting ready for Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some color for your fall

It is set to snow here just outside of Boston and in fact there a few wanna be flakes actually fluttered down this morning. Still a few flowers are maintaing a tenacious grip on life adding vivid spots of color in an otherwise gray garden. I'm not surprised by the alyssum or the mums - they usually stick around until after the snow falls. The roses, however, are showing unusual gumption and the snap dragons should have given up long ago. It has been an unually warm fall, which may be confusing them a bit. Regardless, I'm glad they're still showing off despite the neglect they suffered over the summer. This was not a big gardening year for me. Twice the garden became nearly choked with weeds and I had to hire my children for a few solid afternoons of unwanted plant removal.
Usually around this time of year, we are complaining about the encroachment of Christmas on the rest of the year, but it feels so dark after 5 p.m. that I'm longing for the lights that will brighten the night. We ususally wait until a few weekedends after Thanksgiving to put up ours but I'm tempted to put them up now in hopes of sparking a trend. We may get the tree earlier as well. Now that we have kids, it seems to make more sense to stretch out the holiday so there is less pressure on the one day.
Kudos to all who have already started their holiday knitting - I know of at least one person who started in July. You all deserve to revel in your organization and forthought. I'm keeping it light this year since I have a lot of projects started already and my children are inbetween appreciating knitted gifts. But I will enjoy watching everyone else's gifting progress.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Calling all bakers with grandmas

My fondest memories of my grandmother are sitting with her in the kitchen eating the best fresh out of the oven cookies I have ever had. She was such a committed baker that she had two ovens! She passed some many years ago but whenever I bake, I feel a connection. In honor of her and as a way to bring together my far flung family, I have declared December 15th the National Celia Nash Memorial Cookie Bake Day.

It is for anyone who likes cookies and wants to make a connection with the legacy of love expressed in sharing baked goods. To participate, make a batch of cookies on December 15th to share with someone else, a neighbor, a friend, your spouse or your children. If you don't like to bake, or can't, buy some cookies to share. So please, join us and spread the word.
For me, this day is an opportunity to connect at least in spirit with my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins and friends who are scattered across the country.
In my house, we will be making strictly no-bake cookies. That's because our oven is too quirky to do large batches of cookies well. I let each kid pick their own recipe and they each get a turn in the kitchen. That helps reduce the level of arguing and ensures that we will have a strong variety of cookies. The only problem we habitually run into is an ever growing list of people to give cookies to and the kids inevitably get tired of cooking before we've made enough.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Poison Toys

My dd 5, is pretty well traumatized by the Aqua Dot recall. It was high on her Christmas list so we had to explain to her why she wouldn't be getting them. She took it in pretty well but the little wheels in her head started turning. A few days later she said, "Mom, if I see anything that I want on a commercial, don't get it for me because it might be poisonous." Then she asked if I would have to take away the markers that she just got. Then she said she didn't think she should go over to a friend's house because she might have toys that are poisonous! It's so sad that our children have to be worried about this. Can I sue for pain and suffering even if I didn't actually buy the toy?

I've finished clue 2 on my Secrets of the Stole and I'm 20 rows into clue 3. It's keeping my attention, but it's very slow going - I'm lucky if I can get six rows in during one episode of Heros. It doesn't help that the show sometimes has subtitles!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Boston Adventure

The great thing about living so close to the city is that there is so much to do nearby. With a little additional planning, even a simple trip can become a great adventure. Our trip the New England Aquarium began with a ride on the T. This to a 2 and 5 year old is the ultimate in transportation. They are very enthusiastic about everything from buying the ticket to waiting for the next train to come. They even do a little happy dance when they see it making its way down the tracks.

Boston is filled with more history than they can begin to comprehend but they still have fun running around. This spot was once under water. It was filled in to make way for growing city.

Inside the historic Fanieul Hall, we found very tastey chocolate chocolate chip cookies. They go very well with chocolate milk. This was long ago a thriving market place for shippers. It had fallen into disrepair until about two decades ago when a marketing genious got the idea to revamp it as a shopping mecca for tourists. It's become a vast collection of fast food vendors and kiosks filled with goods from around the world. It was once a hotspot for local goods and specialty shops, but they've moved out as rent went up. It's now surrounded by the likes of the Gap and other big chains. I will note for the knitters that it is sadly lacking a yarn shop. There is a great one in Boston - Windsor Buttons, just off the common. That would be a short hike for us addicts, but a major trek for the little ones who are not entertained by squeezing soft hanks of Malabrigio.
It's just a short jaunt from Fanieul Hall to the Aquarium. This area has changed dramatically since I moved here ten years ago. Then, an ugly highway tore through the city, cutting it off from the waterfront. The big dig changed all of that, putting the highway underground and reconnecting the city. It was a costly, inefficient project, but the results are fabulous. I'd like to personally thank you - since you paid for it with your federal tax dollars.

The Aquarium welcomes visitors with an outdoor Harbor Seal exhibit. The seals, native to this area, swim back and forth entertaining visitors and no doubt being entertained by them as well. Today we came just in time to see a training session. they mimic their handlers, nod yes or no and do some other very cute behaviors. As they run through the program, the handlers are looking them over to make sure they are healthy. The oldest one in the exhibit is 37.

The Aquarium features a round, giant ocean tank in the middle of the building containing two sharks, two large sea turtles and dozens of other types of fish from the bizarre to the beautiful.

Penguins live on the main floor at around the outisde of the tank. They amuse the crowd by "flying" through the water. There are Rock Hoppers, with their wild yellow feathers, Blue Penguins, that are quite tiny even when full grown and Donkey Penguins, so called for the bray-like noise they make.

The only reason I know what's there is because I used to go frequently before I had kids - I see virtually none of the exhibit now as I concentrate on just keeping track of my chidlren. My girls have been here many times, but every time is like the first. They dart off, usually in opposite directions. I spend most of my time screaming for one or the other who is suddenly out of eyesight. I've thought of putting them on leashes, like some people do - but I can envision the tangled mess that would create.
We opted to eat at the Aquarium's cafe. I hope to remember next time to bring our lunch. Food is not the Aquarium's forte. By a long shot. We bought more chocolate milk, most of which ended up on the table. No one cried over it, at least.

At the end of the day, we called for our Chariot, a giant white van driven by dad. Though the train can be fun - part of it was closed down and the only way to get home would have been by bus and the stop was more blocks away than a tired 2yo, or the mother who would have had to carry her, could handle. The happy dance for daddy was almost as enthusiastic as the one for the train.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Making it BakeTime

8,060 words on the novel! Woo hoo! It's hard to find the time to write, but boy is it fun once I get going. I find it very freeing to not have to worry about whether it is any good or not. It's fun to just wander through the story.

We found something almost healthy to do with the Halloween candy: baked apples. Preheat oven to 375. Take an apple, cut out the core about 3/4 of the way down (don't cut through the bottom). Peel a thin strip of skin off around the middle, which will keep the skin from getting all shrively. Fill with some assortment of Halloween Candy and/or brown sugar and cinnamon. We used brown sugar and cinnamon, chopped peanuts and Milk Duds. Top with a small pat of butter. Put in a baking pan. Pour a small amount of water around the bottom of the apples. Cover with tinfoil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes until the apples are soft. Some would serve this with ice cream, but we found it sweet enough on its own.

This is also a great activity for children. I'm on playdate duty today for my Z and a friend of hers from kindergarten. They are both sweet, joyful headstrong little girls. Both having an alpha personality, they are having a hard time deciding who should be the follower. The apples were a good distraction.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Yum Yum

Dinner time at my house is crazy with mulitple children coming and going and begging to watch TV/use the computer/talk on the phone. I probably should get a food routine - Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, Hamburger hump day, Pork chop Thursday etc. But as much as I don't like cooking every night, I don't like cooking the same thing over and over even more. So despite the chaos of my household, I'm always trying new things. Mostly I (loosely) follow other people's recipes, but the other night I came up with one of my own for chicken quesadillas that is tastey enough to pass along. What I am giving you is just a guideline of what I did - there's a lot of room for variation. The best part is that it is a very fast cook - crucial around here where there just isn't enough time in the day...

Chicken Quesadillas ala Jen
Makes 6-8 full sized quesadillas. Can be used as an appetizer or served with rice as a meal.

You will need:
1 pound of chicken cut into bite sized pieces
2 teaspoons of garlic
2 tablespons butter and 1 tablespoon oil

For the Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cumin (or to taste)
A dash of pepper
1 tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in two tablespoons of cold water (powdered corn starch has to be mixed with cool water - not hot - to work the way it should. I learned this once the hard way)
A teaspoon of lemon juice (optional)

12-16 tortillas
1 can of refried beans
2 cups of shredded cheese (I like cheddar and pepper jack, the kids prefer American)

Optional: salsa and sour cream

Saute chicken and garlic in butter and oil until chicken is cooked thoroughly. (I combine them because butter has a nice flavor, but the oil doesn’t burn as easily)

Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients: chicken broth, cornstarch, cumin, pepper and lemon juice.

Once chicken is cooked, add sauce and simmer until thickened.

To make the quesadilla:
Heat a half a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan (I add butter before starting each quesadilla as needed) Place a tortilla in the pan. Spread a spoonful of refried beans on the tortilla. Add a spoonful or two of the chicken mixture. Sprinkle cheese over the the top and cover with another tortilla. Heat for a minute or two until the bottom tortilla is firm and a little crispy. Turn over and cook for a minute or two until the bottom tortilla is firm and a little crispy.
Serve as is or with salsa and sour cream.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Yarn Scribe

There are times when I feel like a Ouija Board - I am guided by unseen forces within me. I cast on a hat despite having yarn for five other projects, I pick up the stole even though I should be knitting the sweater for the party tomorrow. It's the same way with writing, which is why I'm writing a 50,000 word novel this month with Nanowrimo - the national novel writers month. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to get done. The idea is to push people past the inhibitions of their inner editors that hold them back. I will publish excerpts on my other blog: You are welcome to read it although I say that with the caveat that it is unedited and written primarily for word count. I hope, however, that it is still readable and enjoyable. It's about a woman around my age, someone you might meet on the playground or at one of your children's soccer games. I figured that since the goal was speed, I should stick to what I know best. I am a non-fiction writer by trade but at heart I'm a story teller. I like to tell real people's stories but I figure it might be good to get the different perspective of making one up.

With novel writing, raising children and watching the Patriots eek out a victory from the Colts, the sum total of my knitting was this. I'm trying to make a baby hat with a pattern suggested by Lori Bird. Why didn't I check gauge before I started? I'll give the standard answer I get from my kids: "I dunno" About 7 rounds into the 125-stitch project I realized that the only baby this hat would be fitting belonged to the Jolly Green Giant. I did what I should have done in the first place and confirmed that my gauge was way, way, way off. It's supposed to be 28 stitches for 10 centimeters - I had several times that. I dropped from 5s to 2s and it's still too big. Apparently I'm a very, very loose knitter. I tried again, this time casting on for the smaller size. I was okay for the first several rows, which are garter stitch, but I fell apart when I hit the increases and decreases. It didn't help that I was trying to knit with two circulars since they weren't long enough for the magic loop nor short enough to knit as one circular. I'm not sure what to do next. I may get new yarn to try the pattern I like or I could find a new pattern or I could just save this yarn for another project. It is knitpicks washable wool - very soft and nice to work with at least.

Today - Monday - the 2 yo and I were hanging out when she asked me to knit her mittens and a hat. We went up to the stash and she picked out a Navy blue worsted weight that I'd gotten on sale for 99 cents and an almost worsted weight Classic Elite in hot pink that cost considerably more. This time, having learned my lesson, I swatched. They aren't quite the same weight, but given that one is for the cuff and rim of the hat and the other for the rest, I think I'll be okay. What to do with a swatch? How about making a "Tilly Toy?" This is a project that can be done in the time it takes a 2 yo to color three pictures and take a bath, albeit a long bath. I got the idea from

Friday, November 02, 2007

Comfort Scarf

This is a sort of prayer shawl that I knitted for myself. Only along with the prayers, I knitted in the memories of my dear grandmother.

The yarn is handmade by my good friend Lori Bird, now living in Maine, who sent it to me as a surprise. It sat for a long time on my desk being adored even though I knew it was destined to for a remarkable pattern from my calendar.

It came with me on the flight to Wisconsin for my grandmother's funeral. It was a color she would have loved and I know she would have been impressed with the pattern. The yarn is so soft, it was soothing to work with. The pattern was just challenging enough to hold my attention and yet let my mind ponder the remarkable life of my grandmother and wander through my memories of her.

In fact, I enjoyed the pattern so much, I was a little sad to come to the end the project. It was like saying goodbye to a new good friend. Of course, I'm happy to have the scarf to wear, especially now that the weather is turning cold.

The pattern is a version of the dragon scale. I swapped a seed sitch border for garter stitch.

Having now actually knit with Lori's yarn, I can highly recommend it, and it's available at her etsy shop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

The ghosts and the goblins are ready to rumble - or at least make a grab for a whole lot of candy. The excitement in our house is visible - not a child can contain it. Costumes and candy and candy and candy.

This is my 2yo "Vitch." She wouldn't stop twirling long enough for me to get a decent pic. Her shirt reads "Ghouls just want to have fun." The three characters on above the words are "a vitch, a ghost and a mumma," she says.

Thankfully, the weather is warm for October and there is nary a rain drop in site. The pumpkins are carved and set on the step with care in hopes that St. Nick soon will be there... oops, wrong holiday. That other one is coming all too soon.

Meanwhile, my mom is learning to knit - big grin! She's doing great but I think she's finding it to be a struggle. If you ever want to get a sense of how far you've come as a knitter - watch a beginner. It's like watching a kid learn to walk. You can lead, guide and direct but you can't make their hands do what they need to do. It didn't click with me right away. I found it to be hard but interesting enough to keep my attention. It was a double ribbed scarf that got me totally hooked. Maybe it was the sensual nubby yarn. Maybe it was the steady pattern. Maybe my heart just grew three sizes that day. I was out shopping with my family and I asked to be left in the car with the sleeping baby so I could knit while they browsed the after-Christmas specials. That's when my dh knew I was a goner - I chose knitting over shopping! Anyway, "Go mom!"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox Nation = Happy Nation

I am one happy fan tonight -my adopted Red Sox have won a second world championship in my lifetime! And what a finale - hanging on to a narrow 4 to 3 lead in game 4 against the Colorado Rockies. Historically, the team has let opportunities like that slip out of their gloves time and time again. But this is a new team with indefatigable spirit. It's a team that has been carefully crafted by a master knitter. (Knitting analogy needed because this is a knitting blog, not sports commentary). This team is an inspiration - a symbol of what can happen when there is determination. We are the underdogs transformed. If they can do it - anyone can do it. Just because you have lost doesn't mean you will always lose.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Flying high

I recently had the opportunity to fly from Boston to Wisconsin without my entourage. It's the first time in 5 years that I've traveled without 5 or so kids in tow. I felt like I'd taken off my 50 pound backpack after a long day of hiking - it was like floating. One bag, no one running ahead through the security check, no one begging for money to buy soda and no one to disturb my knitting. Of course I missed my little companions, intensely at times. But still, it was kind of nice to not have to play 20 rounds of 20 questions.

I also discovered the joy of flying as a knitter. It's so much more relaxing? Long lay over? Great- I can knock off a few more rows. Flight delay? No problem. I wanted to get past the heel turn. Everyone else jumped up as soon as the flight was called, milling about and standing around in a long line while I peacefully finished off the seed stitch start to a new scarf. Toward the end of the flight - that long interminable part when the plane has landed but the captain hasn't turned off the seatbelt sign yet - everyone else puts their stuff away and starts impatiently fidgeting. I calmly k, k, spsso, k2tog, k, k. Okay, it really wasn't calm. In fact, it was rather frantic as I raced to finish up a part of the pattern. My only complaint is that the flight wasn't long enough!

Here is what I learned:

If you've missed a yarn over, you can fix it on the next knit row. When you come to the place where the yo should be, gently pull apart the stitches. You will see bars in between them. You need to focus on the top two bars. Take the second bar from the top and loop it around the upper bar as if you are picking up a dropped stitch - et voila, you have a yarn over. Presumably you could do this several rows down if need be but I haven't tried it yet.

Q: When you are doing seed stitch and you realize several rows up that you are off the pattern (knitting when you should be purling) do you have to frog?

A: No! It can be fixed without major surgery. Tink back or knit to the trouble spot. Let the stitch above the mixed up area drop to a row below the problem. Look at the stitches around it and figure out if it should be a knit or a purl. Make sure you loop it over the bar just on top of it in the right direction. Then switch to the opposite for the next bar. Keep switching until you've brought the stitch back to the top.

The picture is a mystery project I worked on while on the trip. Details to follow.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

An inspiration

It's interesting how much you find out about someone once they've left this world. People talk about events and accomplishments that go unmentioned when that person is around. And so it was with my grandma. I grew up in an era of raging debate over whether women should have jobs or stay home with their children. My mom worked and that was considered radical. It wasn't so radical, as it turns out.

My grandmother worked on the floor of a shoe factory as long as my dad can remember. She would get up at 6 a.m. and go to the basement to shovel coal in the furnace to heat the house. Then she'd make oatmeal before leaving for work. All grandpa had to do was wake up the kids and get them to school.

The kids got home from school around 3 p.m. Grandma was there by 4. There was no nanny and no after school programs.

After many years of the factory work, grandma helped start a credit union for the workers. She got it up and running and then became the president and chief executive, a position she held for about 20 years.

Throughout her career, she carried the responsibility for keeping the house clean and the household running all without a dishwasher or a microwave. She had a washing machine, but she had to boil water for it and then run the clothes through a ringer. The clothes were hung outside to dry.

In high school grandma was on a championship women's hockey team and the volley ball team. And in 1981, she won an award for getting a perfect Cribbage hand during a state tournament.

I am even more in awe of this lady. And I'm much more appreciative of my gas heat that comes on automatically before I wake up, my dishwasher, my quick-cooking microwave, and my washing machine and drier. I will no longer complain that it takes almost 70 minutes to get the clothes dry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good bye Grandma

A very special lady passed away on October 17, 2007 at 10:20 p.m. She was Dorothy Heldt, mother to my father.

My grandma had dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren and even a few great-great grandchildren, and yet she made me feel as special as if I were her only one. She did that for all of us. She always remembered our birthdays. She picked out Christmas presents for each one of us as long as she could. She kept our pictures all over her walls even as the space grew smaller when she moved from her home into assisted living and finally to a nursing home. She was always interested in everything we did. She'd collect stories about cute things this one said or did and pass them on to anyone who would listen. She had a great sense of humor and she was incredibly generous. I don't think she ever met a Democrat she didn't like, or at least she wouldn't admit it if she did. For as along as I remember, she collected donkeys. It started when she needed one for a fund raiser and grew from there. Her grandchildren kept a sharp eye out for them whenever they shopped. If she ever got sick of getting them, she never let on to us.

Her home was always open to us. I spent two summers with her while working at the local cannery during college. Those were precious days when I got to hear about what things were like when she was young and how she started teaching before getting married. Mostly though, she listened to me over dinner at the Pizza Hut or ice cream at the Dairy Queen.

She was strong willed and opinionated. I didn't always like that when I was young because her ideas on child rearing were different from my mom's and I liked my mom's better. Now that I have more children (5) then grandma had (4) I agree with her more than my mom, who had just 2.

Although I am sad to have to say good bye, I thank God for giving her to me for so many years. I am blessed to be the granddaughter of Dorothy Heldt.

These are a few of the things I learned from her:

  • If you want to have friends, be a friend.
  • Your community is what you make of it, get involved.
  • If you believe something is important, support it.
  • Cribbage is a game of strategy but it can't be won without a little luck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ski Lessons

Back when I was an actively skiing avid skier, we would often say, "If you're not falling down, you're not pushing yourself hard enough."

I remember as a new skier looking at double black diamond slopes that dropped straight down and thinking I had no interest. I thought people who did that were slightly off their rocker. But it turns out that I'm an adrenaline junky. It seems that once I've figured out how to do something, I need to to move on to something harder to keep my interest. The green slopes that once felt so high and steep to me eventually felt flat. The Blues kept my interest for awhile but then I conquered them. The black diamonds weren't far behind, which is how I found myself one day standing at the top of a cliff scared out of my mind but nearly certain that once I leaped off I would be able to stay upright. I didn't, at least not right away.

I find these lessons to hold true to knitting. It's not quite the adrenaline rush of skiing, but it's as much of a mind challenge. This stole on which I'm working - it's probably a black diamond. I'm falling down a lot. But, I'm learning a lot and I'm having a blast with it. It certainly has my attention!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Novel Ideas

The Internet world is a great place where one thing leads to another and another and another. On the Secret of the Stole, there's a post about a group that encourages people to write a 50,000-word novel in a month! That's about 1,700 words a day, which I've done, as a reporter. No problem, I thought. Of course, all my writing is news, commentary and corporate requests. I don't do non-fiction. But out of curiosity, I decided to see how long it would take. Somewhere between 45 minutes and two hours - it's very hard to tell given all the interruptions from my various children and the intervening phone calls. The result is a story about Halloween in a world very much like my own. The whole bit about the Ariel costume - a little too true. If you have some extra time, and are curious, you can find it on my new blog:

If I lose my good sense and decide to take on the novel-writing challenge, I'll post the results there too.

Meanwhile, I'm ready to launch into number 2 clue for the stole. The pics are from clue 1, finished Thursday. This time, I'm going to try marking the chart and putting in corresponding stitch markers to see if it helps me keep my place.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A happy dance a la Dora

We did it! We did it!

We cast on 56 stitches and we knitted around and around. We did it! We did it!

We knit a mock cable cuff and turned it upside down. We did it! We did it!

We turned the heel and decreased back to 56! We did it! We did it!

We knitted to the end and then we kitchnered! We did it! We did it!

Any of you with children under the age of 10 will recognize that as the victory song that wraps up a Dora the Explorer show. The rest of you just think I'm really strange.

Having two children under the age of 5, we hear the show enough that we all go around singing it to celebrate. I caught my ds, 12, singing it after taking out the garbage. (and you thought I was strange)

I finished up with what is quite likely the world's worst kitchner stitch. It's supposed to look just like knitting, right? Not mine. There's a distinct ridge. I'm just happy to have finally figured out the pattern for it - knit off, purl leave on, knit off, purl leave on,...etc. Maybe the next one will be better.

Following the good advice of my friend and veteran sock knitter Lisa over at Saratoga Knits, I immediately cast on for the next one of the pair. I need to get these done - it's getting cold outside.

My dh who thinks I knit too much was even impressed - "It's a "real" sock! One you can actually wear," he said in amazement. The backstory on the comment is that one time for Christmas he was given a pair of red and white striped socks knitted in worsted weight. They would have made fine house slippers, but he's not the sort to wear house slippers.
For some silly reason, when I finished the sock I turned my attention to my satellite studio - aka the coffee table in the living room that has drawers for all my knitting stuff. What a tangled up nightmare - half done projects, needles scattered throughout, pages of patterns, notions that had snuck out of their carry bags. I was shocked, shocked to see what a mess I've made! If I were my one of my kids, I would have given me a good sound lecture. "If you care about your things, you should take care of them. You expect me to buy you new yarn when this is how you treat the yarn you've got? No wonder you're complaining about never having enough, it's all hiding here."

I thought I was being good and putting everything back when I was done with it. I thought I was keeping projects together neatly in their own bags. Maybe some gremlins came in at night and had a party, right?

I do have one organizing tip that is working - I keep the pattern and all relevant tips and instructions in a folder along with a swatch of the project. I even printed out the items on three-holded paper and got the folders for reports that have the posts for the holes. It doesn't fit well in a small project bag, but does keep everything together.