Thursday, January 31, 2008

wicked fast, wicked good

Last night, after a long day at the office, I thought my mom was going to cook supper. She would have, if I'd suggested something to make. Since I didn't, she didn't. It was already 6 p.m. by the time I realized that there was no food forthcoming. Thankfully, I'd been preparing for that moment, figuring out how to cook various things without having to even look at a recipe. Ironically, I'm going to write down what I did, creating a recipe. It's so easy though that you can memorize it. I think it's similar to something I've made in the past but even easier. I had dinner on the table by 6:30 even though I started with frozen chicken. Thank goodness for microwaves.

Chicken Quesadillas.

2 chicken breasts cut into pieces
8 tortillas (you could easily use more or fewer)
2 tblspn flour
1 tspn cumin
A pinch of chili powder
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 cup shredded cheese
1 can refried beans
2 tblspn buter
2 tblspn oil.
Optional: salsa and sour cream

Put the flour, cumin and chili powder in a ziplock back to mix. Add chicken and shake.
Heat oil and butter in pan. Add garlic, sautee for 1 minute. Add chicken. Cook until it's done.

Put tortilla in a pan, spoon on desired amount of refried beans. Add chicken. Add cheese. Top with another tortilla. Heat until cheese melts. Turn. Leave on burner just long enough for top tortilla to get crisp.

Take quesadilla of burner and cut into pieces like a pie. Serve with rice. Would also be good with salsa and sour cream if you have it. Eat. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Go Figure

Is it better to do the math before starting a project, or should one just launch into it? I want to make a scarf for a friend. I'd like to get it to her by Valentine's day. Already I've discovered a flaw in my thinking - that's 14 days away. That doesn't mean I have 14 days to work on the project - it means I have to finish it in 10 days so I can get it in the mail to her.

I'd like to make her a lace scarf that starts with 47 stitches and reduces to 32 in the middle - there are two sides that have to be grafted together. A quick calculation indicates that there are about 400 rows in the scarf. That's 40 rows a day, if there's no frogging. The only thing I have to compare it to is the Secrets of the Stole. That has 99 stitches in a row and I was able to get only 10 to 20 rows done in a night. The difference is that is a complex ever-changing pattern. The scarf I'm thinking of uses four different patterns, but they are predictable.

I am not a slow knitter, but I'm not particularly fast either.

Also to be considered, I have a hat that I am very close to finishing and I really want to have it done before I start. I don't actually have the yarn for the scarf, although I know where I'm going to get it.

I could send my friend a box of chocolates with the promise of the scarf to follow shortly. I could pick an easier pattern with thicker yarn. I'd like to lock myself in a tower and just knit it until it's done, but that's an unlikely scenario.

So back to my original question - is doing the math before hand a smart way to make life more manageable or should one just go for it figuring that the more you try to get done, the more you get done even if you don't get it all done?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blog gone array

I think blogger has gone bloggy - first it shut off access to my profile and now it says I'm 251 years old and live in Massachusetts: Afghanistan. I will fix it - I just want to see what else it comes up with first. For the record, I was not actually born before the Revolutionary War even started.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I have cast on for yet another hat out of some scrumptious yarn I found at Windsor Buttons in Boston. I read the pattern from the 101 Designer One-skein Wonders many times. I swatched. I cast on. the complicated part - the cable band went smoothly even though I knit it while on a play date with (I'm not exaggerating) six 5yo and two 2yo and their moms. I feel like I've had some sort of a breakthrough because I really had memorized the pattern after just a few repeats. (I still have to write down every row to know when to do the cross over for the cable).

Then I started the "easy" part - the crown of the hat. It would have been easy if I could actually follow directions. When a pattern says *k9, do some fancy stuffy, k9* repeat - it does NOT mean k9 do some fancy stuff, k9 do some fancy stuff, k 9, some fancy stuff.... That didn't dawn on me until I was at the end of a 100 stitch row and had three stitches too many (or six stitches too few). Thankfully, it didn't take me long to figure out what I'd done wrong, since I've done that wrong before. We're back in business.

The shiny yarn is Artful Yarns Heavenly -mohair, nylon, acrylic and metallic. It's essentially a strand of mohair plied with a ribbon yarn and a metallic string. The solid is Lamb's Pride worsted, wool and mohair in wild violet.

The book is one of those things that was on my Christmas list but didn't make its way under the tree. I sneaked out after the holidays and played Santa to myself. I'm glad I did. The book is great. There are a lot of fun patterns that are great as is or will serve as fantastic inspiration. The pattern I've chosen for the hat calls for a cotton wool blend. I think the substitution will work out, fingers crossed.

Tomorrow, dh leaves for South Africa to meet with doctors, patients and others involved with a massive HIV/AIDs project. He will be writing about it for Harvard's Website. Thankfully, just as I drop him off, I'm picking up mom (my calvery from Wisconsin) She will be helping me to keep track of all my kids. I'll be helping her finish her purple hat and casting on for a new project.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Easy Peasy

After so much complicated knitting I craved a quick project - something simple that could be done in two days. The solution was a hat. Not just any hat. A hat made from some marvelous handspun yarn sent to me by my good friend at Saratoga Knitting. The pattern is labled Simple Knit Hat. It's a ribbed hat that is very forgiving so no swatching needed - cast on 96 for sport weight yarn, 88 for worsted weight. I swatched any way, given my bad luck with hats.

Next came the slight pattern modification. I wanted simple, but not too simple so I decided to do a mock cable instead of plain ribbing. The results were, I'm pleased to say, fantastic. The yarn is primarily gray with other soft colors woven in. the result is subtle stripes. The mock ribbing adds a nice texture. The best part is that the hat fits just like it's supposed to. And, it took just two days! I might have been able to get it done in just one if I had fewer kids.

One of those kids (the 14yo) saw that hat for the first time when I went to pick her up at the previously mentioned luncheon. "Mom, can you take that hat off?" were the first words out of her mouth. My 15yo dd and 13 yo ds both liked it and so does at least one of my good friends.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why kids are great

This weekend my 14 yo was away overnight for the kickoff of a semester of volunteering for City Year. It's a program through which Boston's young people can volunteer every Saturday. On Monday, families were invited to a luncheon at the end of the kick off event. By the time we arrived I was entirely stressed out from having gotten lost and living in the irrational fear that I wasn't going to be able to find my kid. (She could easily have gotten home on her own, but knowing that didn't stop my panic). The lunch was in the cafeteria of a run down school. It was a loud and crowded room jam packed with teenagers filled with attitude. Big teenagers acting tough for their friends. I felt entirely out of my element. On top of it all, the 14 yo wasn't thrilled to see me. (Go figure) In the midst of this my 2 and 5yos were happy as clams. To them, it was as good as any other restaurant. The soup wasn't too appetizing, but they were pleased as punch to have bread and little pats of butter. The best part for them was the mini water bottles that they got to keep. They were patient in line, patient while we found a seat and giddy over getting to butter the bread themselves. They were just happy to be there. I get it, now. I get that whole looking at the world with child like wonder thing that has always bewildered me. It may be sappy, but what a neat thing to be so joy filled. I want some of what they have. Of course they don't have the pressures or the responsibility or the stress that goes along with those things. But still, maybe there's room for more of their perspective as well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The scarf I never want to take off

With unprecedented discipline, I stuck with my scarf, resisting the urge to cast on for a dozen different projects. The knitting muses rewarded me with a beautiful finished project that is pretty much what I imagined. This project is great if you are adventuresome and want to try some simple designing. Basically, you just try out different stitches. It worked out on mine that the cabled and other solid portions are opposite the lace patterns when it hangs on my neck. That's nice, but I think it would have looked good anyway. What I really liked about this project was getting a sense of how various stitches look and feel compared so directly to one another. Cable stitches pull in. Lace stitches are fluid but roll in on the edges. Moss sitch is stiff and not very smooth. Overall, the scarf rolls up a little more on the edges than I'd like, but that helps hide the differences where the cable pulled in more than the lace. The yarn is Blue Sky's Alpaca/silk blend. It is wonderful to work with - very soft. My scarf took exactly two skeins.

The project took me about two weeks. It is the sort of thing you could keep in a drawer and work on between other projects. I just really wanted a scarf since it's gotten so cold here. I picked most of my stitches from the Vogue knitting book. I used 42 stitches - three for the border on either side, which left 36 for the stitches.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Half mitts make Colbert Report

Hey! Guess what? Steven Colbert wore a pair of very patriotic half gloves through his entire monologue tonight! One was red and white stripes and the other was blue with white stars. I'll post a pic if I can find one. It looked like they have a ribbed cuff and stockinette hands. They have a thumb gusset.

"These are surprisingly toasty," he said just before taking them off.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow Day

When the schools call on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon to say that they're cancelling classes on Monday, you better get ready - something major is headed your way. The storm lasted less time than initially forecast and left less snow in it's wake, but it was coming down pretty hard right when everyone would have been headed out for the morning commute. At least we got a respite between the last storm and this one so there was some place for the snow to go. Living in the city, that is always an issue. It can really pile up by Spring.

I have still managed to avoid casting on for yet another project, but I am drooling over patterns. Why can't I just pick out something simple? Why must I fall in love with complex projects that will take far, far longer than I expect? I'm dreaming of Interweave's Koolhaas hat - it looks simple enough - knitted diamonds against a purl background. Those diamonds are cables (cabling veterans probably knew that from looking at the pattern - I'm still a newbie to the artform) and the diamonds aren't simple purl. Never mind that the pattern calls for Yak yarn, which although I really do want to work with I don't have on hand. I think I'm perfectly capable of making the hat. I understand all the words in the pattern, although that's not always enough. But I'm fairly certain this won't be a quick-hit. Why not a simple, roll-brimmed hat? Why not an easy double ribbed hat? I suppose because I can buy that at the store for less than the cost of the wool to make it. If I'm going to knit, why not knit something special, even if it does take 15 times as long? (give or take some frogging). Regardless, MUST finish scarf first. After all, it took me all of Saturday's knitting time to make just one repeat of a complicated lace pattern. At least having knit it three times, I now understand it.

Photo credit goes to Ruby, my lovely 8th grader with a brand new Christmas camera.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sampling a Sampler Scarf

My mom bought me some vintage knitting books and in one of them was this fabulous sweater made out of a patchwork of various stitches. I love the look, but I haven't found time recently to make a sweater. The concept danced in the back of my ahead until I saw at Macy's a scarf made the same way. It was beautiful and retailed at $45. The concept danced its way into the front of my brain.
I had this gorgeous alpaca silk blend that had been calling to me for some time. I was contemplating making gloves from it, but after reading The Knitter's Book of Yarn, I learned that neither alpaca nor silk has much elasticity so together they are not the best choice choice for gloves. For that, you'ld need to add a little Merino or other fiber with more give.
Suddenly, I had this idea and the perfect yarn for it. Isn't it great when things work out like that?
I started with a moss stitch, switched to garter and then moved on to a heart shaped lace. Next up were some cabling stitches and then moss stitch...I'm still working on the rest. Some of the stitches go more quickly than others.
Here is what I've learned, if you're interested in trying this.
The hardest part is matching the repeats to the number of stitches I have on the needles. I chose 42 - three stitches for the borders on either side, which leaves 36 to play with. Depending on the pattern, I make the border wider or set up a few lines of stockingnet in the middle between repeats.
The article points out that cables tend to pull the yarn in, so it's a good idea to add a few stitches for that part of the scarf. I didn't and wish I had. It may all work out in the blocking. The author suggests adding a stitch or two right before the cable so it's sort of hidden. You have to remember to decrease by the same amount at the end of the cable section.
You could go all out with the planning and pick stitches that reflect one another or blend together. This is a great project for trying out different stitches. You can deliniate between one area and another by tossing in a row of garter stitch, or not, as you feel like it.
At the end of the day, or weeks as it is turning into, I will have a one-of-a-kind scarf that will be worth much, much more than $45.
This is the project I had started when I wrote about the call to cast on for other projects. I decided to try that discipline thing Loribird mentioned. It helped that the weather changed. The project I wanted to cast on for was a hat and since it got warmer I felt less urgency about it. I dug down deep to rediscover the excitement I felt about the scarf when I first cast on for it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How does she do it

People often ask my dh and I how we do it with all those kids (5 ages 2-15). We usually just sort of shrug and say, "You just do." But my dirty little secret is that I don't always. Two days ago, I got a call from the school because the person who was supposed to pick my kindergartener up from school for a play date didn't. Yesterday I got a call from the dentist office at 3:30 reminding me that three of the five had appointments starting at 3. And today, I didn't take my 14 dd to visit a potential school because my husband said we got a call cancelling the appointment. It turns out it's a different meeting that was cancelled - one on Beacon Hill (our state capitol) not Beacon Hill Academy (the school). I find these sorts of things incredibly frustrating since I work so hard to be organized. I plan, I review, I check my calendar nightly. I just have so many balls in the air - or plates spinning - pick your metaphor - that a crash here and there is inevitable. Still, I'm tempted to beat myself up for it, wallow in a pit of self pity berating myself for my stupidity. It's hard to let go of the mistakes. It's hard to focus on all the things that go right. It's like knitting 800 rows on a stole and seeing only the extra hole or the short line of twisted stitches instead of the rich pattern that everyone else sees.

Aren't these mishaps an opportunity to shine? If we are truly organized, or at least earnest or creative enough, can't we not only recover but turn mistakes into minor victories? I had the missing parent's number on my cell phone and dd was picked up within minutes of my finding out she'd been forgotten. She learned that it's okay if she's scared, things can work out. I was able to quickly round up the kids and get them to the dentist because I'm fanatical about knowing where they are all the time. I still haven't fixed the school issue, but I think I can.

Anyway, for anyone who is wondering how I do it - I don't, I'm just really good at faking it.
That and I call on God a lot.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Up with Dish cloths

If you look at this small piece of knitted art sort of squinty eyed you will see a partridge in a pair tree finished just in time to be a Christmas/housewarming gift for a friend of mine. I will admit that the pattern is rather subtle, but it was fun to knit. I had no idea what it was going to be. I got the pattern from a dishcloth knit along. Patterns are revealed just a few lines a day starting on the 1st and 15th of the month. The first one is a picture and the second is a pattern. I joined this KAL some time ago when it was just in it's toddlerhood. It is now a full grown KAl with more than 5,000 members. That's practically more people than the town I grew up in! (Which says as much about where I grew up as it does the KAL). It's a very friendly group. Members share hints, tips, triumphs and failures. They also talk about their lives and share their losses. Recently, one member asked for prayers after her mother passed away and another wrote one right then and there. It's a great group and I want to hand out kudos to Andi who founded it and puts a ton of work into keeping it up. My oversized hat is off to her dedication.
All hail the mighty dishcloth. They're quick to make and gauge doesn't matter. If they look good, they make wonderful gifts. And if you're not so happy with how it comes out, you can still use it to wash dishes. They're also cheap - you can get a skein of cotton yarn for less than $1.20 on sale. Dishcloth patterns also make great squares for blankets.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cool Momma Knits

My mother has been diligently learning to knit. I asked her why, since I know she prefers to crochet. Her answer was, "Because I love you and I listen to you." I didn't realize how influential I could be. I do both but far prefer knitting. I must have mentioned that to her at some point. Mom is making great progress. The blue swatch is a pattern for a square that will be used for a charity blanket. Notice the nice even tension? Notice the complicated pattern that she followed?
The purple is a hat I was helping her with. We found a pattern generator on the web, measured her head, swatched and voila, a hat that is well on its way to being too big. It seems I have a big hat curse. Of all the hats I've ever made only one one fits right. That includes the hats I've made for other people. All too big.

In the case of my mom's hat, it wasn't clear until well past the increasing was over (this hat is knit from the center out) At that point, being a new knitter, she certainly didn't want to go and undo all that work. If it really is as too big as I think it will be, I'll have her do some decreasing toward the end and work a rib ending so it will be a little poofy but still wearable. On a positive note, she did an excellent job with the increases - note the nice swirly pattern on the top.

As for my latest too big was a Foliage Hat made in Malbrigo. I really, really wanted that hat. Every night I worked on it, I'd think this could be it, I could be done tonight and wear it tomorrow. Then I'd mess something up and have to go back and fix it. And yet, I persevered. I love the pattern. I learned a lot. The yarn is a delight to work with. The day finally came. I was done. I put it on and... too big. It's my own fault. I didn't really get gauge. I just bumped down a couple of needle sizes and hoped it would work out. It didn't. In hindsight it's clear that what I should have done is used the pattern for the bulky weight. C'est la vie.

Plan B for the hat was to felt it. I'm sure you can see already where this is headed. Malabrigo is a great yarn. It felts really well. It felts really fast. In no time at all, I had a great looking hat that fits my 5 year old. The felting eliminated most of the lovely foliage pattern. All that's left are subtle diamonds around the leaves. I don't mind too much because she looks so gosh darn cute in the hat. The only problem has been convincing her to wear it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Queen of hearts

There was a report on National Public Radio recently about how Disney is marketing its Princesses to women. It got me thinking.
When I was young, I wanted to be a boy because the girls in all my stories just sat around and waited to be rescued and I that didn’t sound much like fun to me. As I got older, I found more positive female role models who taught me that it’s possible to be strong and feminine.
Disney has come a long way making the heroines in its stories more proactive and involved in their own rescue. They no longer sit around and wait for the prince to show up and slay the dragon.
There is something appealing about princesses. They’re beautiful. They’re clever and creative. They’re sweet and charming. They live happily ever after, at least until the next calamity befalls them.
And yet, I don’t think we should aspire to being princesses. They are na├»ve in their youth. They have no idea what the world can throw at them. It’s okay to want to be beautiful, clever and charming. But how about adding in wise and powerful? Enough with the princesses. Bring in the Disney Queens – smart, attractive, seasoned women who get things done, who create their own happily ever after and do it all while running the kingdom.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another ufo!?

I want to finish my secrets of the stole. I want to finish the Knitted Babe for some teenager battling cancer. I want to finish the soft scarf I'm working on, I want to finish my lace shawl from the French blog. But I want a new hat and I want new gloves and it is so much more satisfying to start a project than to work on one!

Every project has a rhythm - you start full of enthusiasm. The knitting speeds along as you create something out of nothing. An inch and then two and then three - each row is great progress. You're engaged and challenged learning a new pattern, figuring out a new design. This continues for awhile. Then you've learned the pattern, you know the design and even adding an inch seems like you've added nothing. You get bored. Your attention wanders. You see that soft, gorgeous yarn in your bin calling to you, beckoning you to knit it now, NOW! And you reach for the needles...

Is there a solution?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A little Christmas hangover

Looking for a little post-holiday amusement? If you need to take a short break from knitting, check out Some things just don't find their way to the right recipient. Some of the gifts speak for themselves, but for the real funny part, click on the pic and the receiver explains why he/she posted it. Alternatively, find someone to click on the pics while you continue to knit.