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.