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.