Friday, January 30, 2009

Filosofical Friday

Springer hunting for tennis ball:

Filosofical Friday

(Pardon the spelling - I'm practising (sic) wat (sic) my six year old is lerning (sic) in skool.(sic) )

A couple of years ago when dashing with my minions through the airport, a book caught my eye:
Creating A Charmed Life; Sensible Spiritual Secrets Every Busy Woman Should Know. It's not usually my type of book , but this time I couldn't resist on the off chance that there was actually some secret to life that I've missed.

Despite my initial skepticism, the book actually does have some good bits of wisdom. There are short chapters each centered around a thought about a different way to approach life. I read one a day when I can. After having read through it once, I would have to say my life is a little more charmed. Or more importantly, my eyes have been opened to all the ways it was charmed that I didn't recognize before.
Recently, as I worked through the book a second time, I came across a thought that has leaped out at me being both relevant to my knitting life as well as the rest of it. It's the concept of living with unsolved problems - or unknit patterns or unknit skeins of yarn.

"The ability to coexist with the unresolved has immense practical value. Without it, we can function at our best only when everything is perfect (in other words, never). Even solvable problems seldom have instant answers. Until these problems are worked through, we share space with them."

The author points to small things such as finding a problem with your bank statement on Friday night and having to live with it until the bank opens on Monday.. Or big problems like your best friend not speaking to you and refusing to take your phone calls.

This is not to say that I think of patterns or yarn as problems - but they are unresolved things in my life.

How do you deal with them? Fences, the author says. You build fences to separate them from the rest of your life.

"Dilemmas need fences to prevent them from migrating. Fencing in an obstacle means keeping it contained so it doesn't affect the rest of your life....When you have well-tended fences, one or two or a dozen things going wrong won't negate the 147 that are going right."

When it comes to my knitting, I envision a white rail fence on a farm with beautiful horses running behind it. I can enjoy looking at them even though I can ride only one at a time. There's no need to stress, or feel pressure about those that are waiting.

On a life note, it's a revelation to realize that I can mentally separate the issues. I've never been good at living with unresolved things. I'm a journalist - write it today and move on to the next thing. And now I have five unresolved problems (ie children) and a business filled with long-term projects, so it's more important than ever to be able to consciously set aside things I can't fix immediately to give my attention to what I can.

As a Christian, this is important because it means praying and then trusting that God is working on the things even when I can't. I'm okay with the praying part, it's the trusting part I'm not so good at.

The pics are from our recent snow day. It's since all turned to ice, but we had fun for awhile.

Monday, January 26, 2009

You Can't Have Your Yarn and Knit It Too

Thank you for the comments about yarn collection vs. pattern collection (see previous post and feel free to add to the discussion). Your comments have helped me figure out how I feel - I love to have yarn on hand so that if I come across a pattern I like, I can get started right away. It's hard for me to find time to shop and I don't have a lot of patience when it comes to waiting to get to a store - I'm more of the instant gratification sort (thus all the quick projects). That being said, I realized that I feel pressure to knit the yarn I have on hand and since I can't knit it all right away, I've been sort of feeling guilty. I feel now that I can relax and just enjoy having the yarn. It's beautiful to look at and I'm giving myself permission to enjoy just having it around.

Which brings me to my latest project. For Christmas last year, my cousins gave me two giant balls of yarn - the biggest balls of yarn I've ever seen. For 12 months, I gazed at them, pondered them, wondered what they should become. I wasn't sure how much was there and so I hesitated. I didn't want to get through 90 percent of a project only to find out I didn't have quite enough. On the other hand, I knew there was a lot so I didn't want to use just a little on a small project and then not have enough for something bigger.

Then the cold spell came and I had a hankering for a wide, cabled scarf. My budget was busted and I couldn't get to a shop anyway. So I took the plunge with the big ball. I found a great reversible cable pattern and have fallen head over heels in love with cables. By the end, I'd even mastered cableing without a cable needle.

As I knitted, the ball got smaller and smaller and smaller. That made me a little sad. Not to get too philosophical on you - but it's that way with the children only in reverse. I love what they're becoming, but I miss what they were.

So here is my ball now, next to the remaining big one for context.

Here is what we have instead of a giant ball of yarn - I will say this much, it is a lot warmer! As you can see - it is as long as I am tall. I'm told this is a good length for a scarf. I must agree.
Now, the question is - do I keep the balls intact or do I move ahead with plans for a matching hat and mittens? Hmmm......

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Found it

How do you locate a pattern for which you have been searching for hours and ranting about ad naseum? Decide to make a different pattern, of course.

I finally decided that the baby hat patter for which I was searching (see below) was gone for good, probably lost in an organizational purge. I settled for being inspired by one of the other patterns I had found - a wide striped hat with a touch of Fair Isle. After casting on and knitting a couple of inches, I paged through the magazine to find my chosen pattern and there - yes, you can see what's coming - was the pattern for which I had been searching - in the same gosh darned magazine! It's the rastafarian hat, which can, I believe, also be found in Itty Bitty knits - or see it here on site of author Susan B. Anderson.

This event has left me pondering the question - is it better to amass a large stash of yarn you love and search for the perfect pattern or to collect patterns and wait to find the perfect yarn? Please share your thoughts on your subject and pass the question around - I'm curious to hear what other knitters think.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Knitter's Frustration

My story starts, as most do, rather simply. I have a new niece. I saw in the store an adorable blanket and sleeper in lovely pink and brown combo. It was on sale. I figured I'll make a little hat to match. Easy enough, right?
We go to the store, the 3yo and I. We find parking right out front (an amazing feat given the lack of parking in Cambridge). We walk in and the very first yarn we pick up is perfect - it's the exact colors we need and it's superwash -- perfect for a busy mom who doesn't have time to hand wash baby hats.
It's a little on the pricey side, but it's so soft and so pretty and I had a gift certificate from Christmas. The only problem is we (I)can't choose from among the four perfect-colored skeins. We (I) decide to get all four and make two hats. (The 3yo brings over to me a $65 skein of pure Cashmere, and says, "How about this one?" Boy, does she have great taste! Yikes.)
Then I get home. Then it hits me - Now that I have four fabulous yarns, I need to have an equally fabulous pattern to match. I remember seeing one in a magazine that might be a good one - but which magazine!? I have stacks and stacks of them. I've been through all of them and I can't find it again. Aaarrrrrggghhhhhhhh! I've found about 202 other patterns I want to make (and consequently feel entirely deprived since I can't begin knitting all of them immediately). Why do I keep all these magazines? Are they treasured sources of inspiration or anchors weighing down my creativity and cluttering up my work space?
I did come across some nice baby hat patterns - but not the one I was thinking of and none of them quite special enough. I've found some other patterns on the web but in the wrong size (I know I can convert, I was just hoping to not have to.) The problem, of course, is that every hour this baby is getting bigger - I have to knit quick so she can wear it at least a day before it's too small. (Maybe I should buy her a doll that can where the hat when she grows out of it.)
On a side note - for hat knitters: in doing research for this project, I came across a purl of wisdom from the Yarn Harlot - when knitting a rolled-brim hat, it will fit better if you drop down a needle size or two for the rolled part. That explains part of my hat sizing problem.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Knitting Dreams

True Dream:

I walk into a consignment shop that has many rooms on two levels. The toothless, wild-haired woman at the front desk takes one look at me and says they have a great package of yarn in the room down the stairs to the right, but I had better hurry. My heart both races because I really wasn't expecting to find any yarn but then my stomach tightens because I don't have much money to spend so I'm worried I might find something I actually want to buy. The whole place is filled floor to ceiling with interesting looking pieces of furniture and knick knacks.

I make my way to the room she is talking about and it is piled high with textiles. Toward the back on a table there is a single bag of yarn with a sign that says "Entire contents $30. Will not be sold individually. Value over $150." I pull out a bunch of skeins of yarn when one catches my eye - silk and some other rare fiber in a lace weight. It is the softest yarn I have ever touched but it is bright red, white and blue - vivid colors as in the American Flag - not my usual palette. I sit their fondling it trying to figure out if I could dye it, knit it for someone else or even whether it's worth the money. I think it's probably value, but I don't really even have the $30 to spend. Maybe if it were $10...I wonder if I should scrimp on groceries, I could afford it - the yarn is so unbelievably soft. And just then the 3yo, who has been running a fever, sits bolt upright and says "I don't feel well."

I am no longer dreaming - I am grabbing her and making a run for the bathroom. We made it just in time. (Later DH remarked on her impressive grammar: I don't feel well vs. I don't feel good.)

After a relatively sleepless night, I'm left pondering the meaning of my dream - do I crave softer yarns? Am I feeling deprived? Should I be stash-building? Is it a sign that I should be more budget conscious?

Coincidentally, a nearby yarn shop is starting its winter sale today...hmmm.....

Monday, January 19, 2009

Humiliated by the Claw

We went this morning on what was supposed to be an innocent trip to the Monster Golf - this is (for the unitiated) indoor, glow-in-the dark miniature golf set in a maze decorated with images of various monsters moving to the beat of Rockin' 80s music. Maybe they figure that's a way to keep the parents mezmerized while their children play.

Next to the golf course are various video games that allow you to earn tickets that you can trade in for trinkets destined tobe be jetsom (or flotsam?) in the clutter of a child's room. The wise parent stays on the sidelines, handing out the quarters, smiling at the wins and comforting the losses. The foolheardy venture to join in the fun.

Of all the games, the one I have asiduously avoided and thus far been able to steer my children away from is the claw. I know that is the money muncher of all games. It looks so tantalizingly easy - move the claw, push a button and it drops down to grab a prize - a cheaply made stuffed animal that will end up gathering dust but at the moment looks heartstoppingly cute. You can't win, I tell my children. It's a rip-off. But today is a holiday, so I decide it's time they learn this lesson for themselves.

The 6 yo stepped up to the plate. No luck on the first try - 50 cents, plooop down the drain. Let me try just one more time? she begs. It's your money, I tell her. And what do you know? She drops the claw over a coveted pink pony and up it comes! She did it! Knock me down with a feather - she got the very one she wanted and on just the second try. Maybe this isn't so hard afterall. (Can you see where this is headed?)

Now the 3yo wants a try. Mommy figures if the 6 yo can do it.... I carefully position the claw over the desired fish. Drop, drop, drop...right to the fish. the claws close in. Yes! We've got it. But no. The fish is round and slips right out of the side of the claw! Now it's in a really good spot. We have to try again. Drop, drop, drop...right to the fish. Same as last time - bloop it slips between the claws. Lets try for another one? Again, the claw is positioned perfectly. It grabs around the animal, but the slippery animal slides right off the claw. After way too much money was wasted, I finally tore myself away. I just couldn't stay away, however. So close! Thankfully, by the time we went back, the machine was busted. It wouldn't take in anymore quarters. I was saved from myself. After that, we concentrated on the games that spit out at least a few tickets no matter how poorly you performed.

In the end, we had a grand total of 128 points between the three of us. This was enough to get
1 pink monster finger puppet
1 Chinese finger trap
1 tiny Pirate spy glass
2 glow plastic bracelets
3 "poppers" (very tiny pieces of stiff rubber in a cup shape)

Honestly, these silly little toys made the girls as happy as any stuffed animal from the machine would have.

Me? I think I've learned my lesson....send dad to the arcade.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In Praise of Pecans

My momma came for Christmas. She brought Pecans. I'm not sure why - maybe for cookies that we never got around to making. What I didn't know is how much I was missing by not having pecans in the cupboard! I just passed over recipes with pecans without a second thought, but suddenly, I was free to include them in my contemplation of what to cook! And wow, what a wonderful addition!

We started with the cinnamon roles that I made before without pecans. They were okay, but with the pecans, they were out of this world fantabulous. The recipes calls for them to be cooked in muffin tins. Last time, I skipped that step and ended up with flat, spread-out rolls that the kids wouldn't touch. This time, I put the in a 13x9 pan, which kept them together and allowed them to properly rise. Thankfully, the kids loved them and saved me from myself!

Next was the nutbread with a struessel topping. You can make a streussel topping without pecans, but it doesn't really compare.

And finally, came the salmon with a pecan glaze. DH of a dozen or so years said it was quite possibly the best recipe I've ever made!

Here it is:
Spread 1 cup of pecans on a flat pan and place in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a small sauce pan. Add 1/3 cup of honey, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard and the pecans. Let cook for ten minutes. (You could add a little extra dijon mustard to taste)

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Season salmon with pepper and salt and cook until flaky - about 5 minutes per side. Top with pecan glaze, serve and enjoy the compliments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shameless bragging

Please indulge me in some gushing. After years of talking about wantint to write a book, DH actually did. I've mentioned it before, because I just can't stop talking about it. I'm so proud of him and I want it to do well. Plus I think it's a great book. But, of course, I'm totally biased. Here's proof that it's not just me:

This is a review of the Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird, by Alvin Powell
available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A race that couldn't be won

By Mike Leidemann Special to the Star-Bulletin

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 11, 2009 I missed my bus stop. Even though this book starts by telling you the ending -- the bird, the po'ouli, is going to go extinct -- somehow I got so engrossed in the story that I kept right on going through downtown Honolulu on the No. 56 bus when I was supposed to get off near Fort Street Mall.

Powell, who lives and works in Massachusetts, says he was inspired to write this chronicle of a Hawaii bird that was discovered and lost in the last 30 years after reading a short newspaper article.

"There's something wrong with this," he thought. "Surely, we humans must acknowledge the passing with something more than just a couple of paragraphs."

Maybe in Hawaii we do take such passings too lightly. After all, there are more endangered and threatened species here than anywhere else in the country. But we hear little about the heroic work that is being done to change the situation. Great efforts are being made, millions of dollars are being spent and heroic (and sometimes mundane) battles are being fought every year to change this tide of extinction. But how much do we even hear about these struggles going on in our rain forests or even our own back yards?

Powell's gift to Hawaii is to trace the story of the po'ouli, which was first discovered in the 1970s in some of the wettest, most remote parts of eastern Maui.

Full review

More knitting coming - this cold spell me hankering to knit very warm things as fast as I possibly can!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obscure knitting reference in pop culture

Have you heard about Arthur? He's walking talking animated critter (an aardvark I think) who teaches children about good, ethical behavior. We usually skip him in favor of Curious George or the Power Puff Girls. But today he appealed to the 3yo.

In today's show, he was referred to a great musician for piano lessons. A friend was warning him how hard the teacher was on students and ended with an ominous mention of the knitting needles.

The teacher ended up "firing" Arthur because he wasn't working hard enough. Arthur was at first elated and then he missed playing so he practiced real hard and tried to get back into the teacher's good graces. After playing his piece and making many mistakes, he saw the teacher get out the knitting needles. Arthur had a terrified look on his face and we were on the edge of our seats waiting to find out what diabolical use the teacher intended. Then he reached in the basket and pulled out - you'll never guess - a pair of fingerless gloves!
"I like to have my students keep their fingers warm," he said, handing them to Arthur.

Now that's what I call a great lesson!

Monday, January 12, 2009

photo fun

Bonnie had a very good point - no photos! I was too busy knitting (and unknitting). I am very happy to report that I am back on track-ish.

Meanwhile, the snow is good for something...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Knitting with cobwebs

I don't remember why I thought it would be a good idea to knit a giant scarf with yarn as thin as a cobweb. And not just any giant scarf - an intricate one with a delicate pattern and beads. This is the Secret of the Stole 2 (set up by the nautical knitter) I started well over a year ago. I'm 85 percent done. I was 90 percent done just two days ago, but after several weeks of ignoring it, when I went to pick it up I discovered I'd done something wrong somewhere and just couldn't fake it. So I went back a few rows. And then a few more... and then a few more!!! How distressingly easy it is to undo hours and hours of work! Zip Zoop Zut done (that's a tribute to the Froggy books, those of you with children might recognize). The reason the stole is still undone is that every row is agonizingly complicated and I know it's hours and hours from being finished. I keep setting aside for simpler projects that can be done quickly - like hats that can be done in a day :)

I'm left wondering if I am cut out to be a lace knitter. I wonder if there are just some things that some knitters aren't meant to knit. Should I just accept who I am and stick to hats and chunky scarves?

Here is what I don't like about this project:

1. There are 99 stitches in a row and every row (except for the purls) is different so there is an incredible chance for error.
2. There are 99 tiny stitches so each row takes an eternity, which means I can only get 10 (20 if you count the purls) done during an hour long show, if I don't mess up and have to tink back.
3. You have to make gosh darn sure you really love the yarn you've chosen because you're going to be spending a gosh darn long time with it. It would be tragic if half way through you start to think maybe it's not quite as pretty as you thought it was when you started.
4. The pattern is so complicated that when you mess up, it's nearly impossible to get back on track without going way back.
5. I'm still working on it more than a year after I started.

On the other hand - there is a good reason I haven't given it up - a bunch of them actually:

So here is what I love about this project:

1. It is drop dead gorgeous. I am unabashedly stunned at how pretty it is.
2. I discovered that adding beads to a project isn't that difficult and it really adds a lot of vavoom.
3. I have learned to read my knitting better.
4. I have gained patience with going backwards.
5. There is great satisfaction at reaching the end of row without error. I feel a little victory every time I get to the end with exactly as many stitches as I am supposed to have.
6. When I am finally done, I will have a wonderful, beautiful stole that will draw many comments and compliments.

I'm torn because there are so many projects I want to try that I tend to pick only things I can finish quickly. On the other hand, there is so much you miss out on if you don't take up longer projects. The problem for me is that unfinished projects hang over my head like a weight about ready to drop and I feel sort of frantic about needing to get them out of the way and not being able to. Maybe what I really need is a change in attitude. I need to accept that there are some things that are meant to just be worked on from time to time. They'll get done when they get done.

Here's my first draft of a serenity prayer for knitters:
Help me to finish the projects I should finish, give me the strength to give up on those that aren't worthy of my time and give me the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Knitting in the New Year

I had a wonderful Christmas, so this should in no way be seen as a complaint, but there was no yarn in my stocking. Not exactly, anyway. Well, not exactly - dh got my a gift certificate for a yarn shop. The bonus is that it's near where he works so I can have lunch with him when I use it.

But from a practical standpoint, I had no new yarn on Christmas. When everyone else was playing with their new toys, I had just empty needles. It's little like getting a new toy but having no batteries for it!

To fill the void, I dug into the stash and pulled out a lovely ball of purple that was a gift for last Christmas. I have spent a year gazing at it wondering what it was supposed to be. It refused to talk. Not even a hint. But on that day it screamed at me: I AM A HAT. MAKE ME A HAT! And so I did that very night. Thick thin yarn. Big needles. Quick knitting. Even the teens approve, which is a lot coming from them. The 6yo likes it so much she wears it whenever I'm not!

Then shortly after Christmas, I got yarn. Not just any yarn. Silk and merino yarn. From California. From my great friend Allison who knows that I'm not grooving on the cold and snow of New England. The name of the yarn - absolutely true - is Summer Dreaming. It's as lovely to touch as to look at. We had no problems with communication this yarn and I. It told me right away that it wanted to be a scarf. I found the perfect pattern - a lace variation of a bias pattern that I've knit before. It was tricky to get started, but just engaging enough once I figured it out. I finished on New Year's Eve, pretty much as the ball dropped in Times Square. To celebrate the new year, I made a hat to match the scarf. I wasn't quite sure if there would be enough yarn since Santa didn't bring my the yarn meter I requested (again not a complaint - just a statement of fact). It felt like enough and I figured it was worth the risk. As it turned out, I had enough with just a tiny bit left over.

This brings me to another New Year's resolution, however. I am determined to improve my hat sizing abilities. Most of mine are too big - even my nice thick brioche hat, which should be toasty but lets the wind in. those that aren't too big are too small. I'm like Goldilocks searching for the "just right." I do swatch, but it doesn't seem to help. Action: keep track of needle sizes and stitch counts to get a better sense of what is happening. Hopefully this will help me "head off" any problems in the future (lol)

Here is why I really appreciate the name of the yarn - Winter in New England is beautiful but bone chilling and now they say another storm is heading our way - one that might (gasp) force the schools to close just two days after they opened!