Archive for September, 2008

Random Stuff For Wednesday

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I have a few mostly unrelated items to share tonight, and a few minutes to spew them out, so here we go….

Dutch Elm Disease : Bad

Ever since we moved into this house, I have been in love with the two giant elm trees in our back yard. They shade not only the yard, but also the back of our house from the hot afternoon sun. We have spent our summers under them, laying on blankets, digging in the sand box, splashing in the pool. They shelter us from rain drops as we run from the garage into the house.

They are beautiful, they are lovely.

About a month ago, the one closer to the street dropped a ton of leaves off of the branches on one side of it. I was worried at the time – very worried. But it took me a while to get around to calling an arborist to come check it out. And the news is bad. The worst. It has Dutch Elm Disease, and will have to be cut down. Even worse than that, the tree next to the garage is also an elm and because they are so close they probably share roots. Which means that it is likely infected already and may eventually sicken as well. So sad. Not to mention the couple grand it’s going to cost us to have the sick one taken out – but as much money as that is to us, it seems like nothing compared to the loss of the tree. :-(

Chocolate : Good

At least I happen to have some fine chocolate in the cupboard with which to self-medicate. Our Canadian friends brought it back from Ottowa a few weeks ago. It’s from Stubbe chocolates, and they have brought it to me before. One bar has dried chiles embedded in it, the other red pepper corns. Yum!

Knitting : Momentum!

The start of the school year has vastly increased my opportunities for on-the-go knitting. I now have a parenting group for Sophie that meets once a week, and a parenting group for Julie that meets every other week. Keeping my hands busy with knitting makes it so much easier for me to sit otherwise still and concentrate on what people are saying. Which means that I’m cranking out the socks like nobody’s business.

I love this yarn. The colors are so much nicer in person than the photos show. The blues and browns are much richer. I can’t wait to wear these!

The sweater is also gathering momentum. As often happens when I knit sweaters, once the sleeves are joined in with the body, the thing feels almost done and each row just seems to fly faster and faster as I decrease away stitches on every row. I still have a good bit left on this, but the nice thing is that when I’m done with the knitting, there will be almost no finishing left to do.

I’ve already seamed the sleeves and grafted the underarms, most of the ends are woven in, and I’m taking care of the remaining ends in stages as I go. All that will be left is to find a clasp or two and sew them on.

Here’s an inside shot of the messy working yarns. This picture in no way does justice to the nightmare of working a row without becoming hopelessly entangled. That big ball is attached for the back section, and it is always tangled up in all the yarns on either side. Somebody shoot me if I ever decide to do another intarsia project of this scale again!

Oh, and one other note. I’ve figured out how I’m handling the shoulder shaping – it’s going to be saddle-shoulders a la EZ. (Sorry, muggles, you don’t want to know what that technical jargon means so just pretend you didn’t see it there.)

And finally,

Silly : Mutant Animal Crackers

I bought a box of animal crackers the other day – treats for Julie’s lunch box and general snacking. Last night I helped myself to a handful and noticed just how little most of the cookies resembeled actual animals.

Poor things. They are quite homely, but they do taste good. These are even the unbroken ones. And these are the little things I resort to for entertainment around here. Now you know.

Party, School, Sweater, Socks, Spinning…

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Another week or so has gone by in the blink of the eye, and I once again have more than a lot to report.

Starting with the birthday party – we had it at Edinborough Park, the place with the giant play structure. We arrived that morning about half an hour before the start of the party, so we let the girls loose to play. I was barely able to get them to sit still long enough for a single picture before Julie ran off to disappear into the maze.

Twenty minutes later she reappeared, wildly happy and drenched in sweat – just in time to greet our guests and do a whirlwind pizza-cake and ice cream – presents portion of the party.

And then they all ran off to run wild in the play structure for the next hour and a half. It was a great time, but it took us all a couple days to recover and there were SO many gifts to bring home and sort through. I need to start on the thank-you notes.

Julie was mostly invisible off inside the park, but Sophie was small enough to track, and I got some good pictures of her and our friends. She and H. spent quite a while climbing in the little kids’ area and sliding together.

At one point, a bunch of our other friends appeared on the other side of this net wall, and we got to socialize with them for a bit.

This was just cute. I tried to get a picture of when Sophie and two of our little friends who are about the same age were all in there together, but it was too much of a tangled mess to get a clear shot. They were all laughing, though.

Julie re-emerged every once in a while with her cousin Katelyn, only to run off again before I could get a half-decent shot. There they go…

I finally convinced them to come out and have another juice box – look at Julie’s hair! It looked like she had just taken a bath or something, but no, that was the result of running around non-stop in the quite-warm building.

Moving on, Sophie started pre-school this week. She seems to love it so far. Her best friend H is in her class, plus a couple kids from here ECFE class last year. She had no problem saying goodbye to me when it was time for the parents to leave. My baby! Ah, she is growing up all too quickly.

My monster blue diamond sweater is still creeping along, but at least it’s finally reaching a milestone. The arms are finished, the body is finished up to the underarms…

And then I got the whole mess joined together…

There are a couple little problems – ones that I’ve been aware of for a while, but which I’m choosing not to worry about as I’ve already invested more time and effort in this thing than I care to think about, and they are ones I can live with. Somehow when I started the sleeves, I managed to mangle the colorway a bit, so the sleeves don’t exactly match the fronts. Whatever. The other problem, though, is that right after the join there are going to be two pink diamonds on either side of the join, and that’s going to look a little wonky.

Still, to fix the problem I’d have to re-knit the sleeves entirely. Something there is no way in hell I plan to do. As it is, it should be plenty wearable – in a preppy kindergarten teacher gone wild sort of fashion. Thank the gods that this knitting trip is almost over. I’m sick of it and ready to move on to knitting up some homespun.

And speaking of homespun, I filled up another three bobbins with my Ashland Bay silk/wool blend…

And then I plied it up to make a total of five skeins of this yarn so far. It’s yummy.

I probably have plenty there already to make a sweater, but there is this much more wool waiting to be spun…

My plan is to go ahead and spin it all up, then weigh and count yardage for each skein and try to use the ones that are closest in yards per gram so that hopefully the gauge will work out as consistent as possible. I had a nice conversation with Detta a couple weeks ago, and she was all worried that I would end up with inconsistent yarn since I’m not using a sample card to compare with as I work. She’s probably right, but I want to test my theory that I have a somewhat intuitive ability to judge yarn thickness. And I figure the fact that I’m making three-ply helps to balance out the thickness issues somewhat. We’ll see.

Oh, look! I finished another pair of boring self-striping socks.

I like this colorway quite a bit, and I think these socks will get lots of wear this Fall even though the stripes are unmatched between the two – totally uncharacteristic for me alas.

I’ve got another pair going now – this is some medium-weight Socks That Rock, so it’s knitting up like lightning. The one on the right is what I got done during the Knitters’ Guild meeting on Tuesday night. I can’t wait to finish these either, because the colors are absolutely delicious and these socks are going to be pure squishy joy on my feet.

And that’s it, more or less. See you next week, or hopefully sooner!

Five!

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

I can’t believe my Julie is five years old today. But it’s true. These last five years have been some of the hardest but definitely the most rewarding of my life. Some days I look at her and still see the baby in her – when she comes and sits in my lap and lets me read a book to her, or when she hops out of the tub and lets me wrap her in a froggy towel and my big bear hug. Other days, she seems so grown up with her own little life, teasing me with scant details of her day at pre-school. “I’ll tell you about it after dinner, Mama.”

This year has been such a dramatic one for us – I think I have learned to accept and appreciate her unique little personality – so much like my own, I’m afraid – so that we are more relaxed together and have more happy days. I think she has grown not just in height – although she is definitely sprouting up at an amazing pace – but in emotional maturity. She sometimes actually volunteers to help her sister, or to share a toy (definitely not always). She has learned to introduce herself to strangers and reach out to new friends. She is much more likely to try something new and find that she can enjoy it even if it is different from what she knows.

I’m not sure why Julie requested carrot cake for her birthday, but I went ahead and made it for her. I did cupcakes so that we could have some tonight for her birthday, and take the rest to her party tomorrow, along with the chocolate ones with pink frosting that I baked up after bedtime. I’m sure not all in the pre-school set can be happy with chunky orange treats.

Julie oh-so-wanted to help peel the carrots. So I let her, and to my somewhat surprise she did a pretty good job of it, never mind the shavings all over the kitchen walls and floors. We had fun baking the cake together.

I let Julie pick the restaurant for dinner out with Grandma and Grandpa, and Auntie Krista (Joe’s cousin) who is in town from New York to perform at a concert this weekend. She chose Yum!, which has been one of our favorites lately – the girls love the macaroni and cheese, and we all love their handcut french fries.

Nobody had to ask her how old she was today, she was volunteering the information from the moment she woke up this morning.

Both of the girls were in fantastic moods this evening. Sophie had a bit of a hard time this morning after Julie opened her presents, because she didn’t understand where hers were. But overall, it was a fine day.

The in-laws had to drive Krista off for a rehearsal, so it was just the four of us at home with the cupcakes and the candles.

Happy Birthday, little love. Sweet dreams and sleep well – tomorrow is the big party with the friends.

Oh, and a little funny – when it comes to party planning in our house, it is my job to decide the time and place, to book the venue and pick out the food. I bake the cake(s), buy the juice boxes, pick out the party favors and write out the invitations. Joe? His job is apparently to burn CDs for all of his friends that are coming with their kids. That’s okay. We each do what we’re good at. :-)

Weekend Wrapup

Monday, September 8th, 2008

We had a good, productive weekend. It wasn’t really very active, but full of nice little blogworthy details. First, I have to welcome back our Canadian friends. They took their usual summer holiday back to visit family and we missed them dearly. I was lucky enough to get to pick them up at the airport on Saturday and welcome them home myself. It was fun to watch my friends, still stunned from their day of travel, arriving back at their home here and trying to decide which place they really belong. Here! I say.

Second, and I promise I *will* stop beating this dead horse…and I really want to thank everyone who’s commented here congratulating me on my Fair winnings. The recognition really does mean a lot to me, as most of my real-life people don’t really understand or seem to care about how important knitting is to me. I’m still on a bit of high about the wins at the fair this year, when I think about it. But it also makes me a little sad not to be cheered on by the muggles, so the comments here have been huge compensation. Thank you!

I layed out all the pieces with their ribbons on the bed the other day and here it is, along with a little cat butt.

Now, I’ll stop with the fair stuff. Really. I promise.

Here’s what my kitchen looked like during dinner preparations last night. It always seems like I have so much counter space, but it also fills up amazingly fast when I get to cooking.

Look! I made pizza! Slightly mishapen, but oh-so-delicious. Kalamata olives, turkey pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, fresh tomato slices and banana peppers. Plus a little sauce and some regular mozzarella.

I also made one for the girls with fewer toppings and no sauce. Julie won’t eat tomatoes.

Oh, my it was good, and nobody bitched or moaned during the meal. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but for a month or two now I’ve been reading Badger over at Make Your Own Damn Dinner rave about this new book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. She kept including descriptions of awesome-sounding crusty breads as part of her evening meals, and saying how easy and quick it was. Well. Finally she won me over in temptation – I adore crusty bread. So I bought the book, bought a couple kitchen items like a big dough-storage bucket and a pizza stone for the oven. Totally carb-o-licious! More on it all in a minute, but first let’s talk butterflies.

We woke up this morning to find two of our five Painted Lady butterflies hatched from their chrysalis. I tried putting a little mashed banana in there to see if they would eat it, and instead they kept falling into it, so I cleaned it out.

Also, our giant Cecropia moth caterpillar seems to be getting ready to make a cocoon. See the silky fibers all over the side of the cage? Those weren’t there yesterday.

By this afternoon, a third butterfly had opened.

And here’s a picture of its beautiful wings opened up.

Really, we must be simple people because these critters have kept us endlessly entertained for the last week. It is so fun to watch them do their little thing and cheer them on. I think the girls and I will have a butterfly release tomorrow afternoon.

And back to the bread. After the pizza-making last night, I was out of pre-made dough in the fridge. So this afternoon I got the girls started playing with some Moon Sand and whipped up another batch.

While I was pulling out the mostly-empty dough-bucket from the fridge, I glanced at the crusty-looking yogurt container in the back at the bottom and felt a surge of pity in my stomach. Poor Fannie has been left ignored since the end of June. So I brought her out and took a look.

Not pretty – not at all. But my friend had told me that it would look like this and still be okay, so I had faith. I mixed up a new batch of starter, threw half of it back in a clean yogurt container and the other half in with the new batch of dough. The book does not have any sourdough recipes in it, although it does mention that if you make a habit of leaving a few bits of the previous batch of dough in the bin before mixing up the new batch, a sourdough flavor will build up. I figured what the heck, time for a science experiment.

I ended up following the basic recipe, just adding the starter and a little extra flour. It worked like a charm, and I ended up with a nice round loaf of sourdough by dinner tonight, plus enough dough for a couple/few more loaves this week or next.

Julie has been begging for chicken-noodle soup, so I roasted a chicken Friday night for dinner, boiled the carcass with some veggies yesterday, and tonight whipped up the soup.

Yum!

Julie enjoyed it too, although she requested chopsticks to deal with the too-long noodles.

Poor Joe – he has horrendous allergies. Really really bad. He’s allergic to everything. Right now is peak season for fall outdoor allergies, plus he’s highly allergic to cats. Normally he’s well-medicated to deal with it, but this week he’s off his meds in preparation for another skin-prick test. He’s finally going on the injection program his allergist has been bugging him to do for at least the last eight years. In the mean time, though, he’s walking around snuffling and scratching. He told me this morning that he itches all over his entire body. He’s kinda cranky, and I actively encouraged him to leave the house for a few hours today to get away from the cats. I almost wish he’d go stay with his parents till he’s back on his meds, but he’s too stubborn to consider it.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of my sock collection. I think I showed a similar picture about a year ago, and as I was getting ready to put on my first pair of handknit socks of the fall, I thought I’d document the current status before half of them end up in the wash.

I think I counted 29 pairs.

Another Milestone, Still Spinning

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Hi, there. Me again. I have been trying to get an entry written all week, and have been just too drained and too tempted by the knitting and the spinning wheel at the end of the day to pull one together. But I’m here now with a few pictures at least, plus a little video at the end to make you smile.

First, let’s talk spinning. When I bought my Rose, I bought a giant ball of silk/merino roving from Detta. It weighed somewhere around two pounds, and in the following picture it is about a third smaller than it started.

It is really nice fiber to work with, very soft, very draftable, shiny and smooth. The only downside is that it does tend to float around in the air and coat one’s clothes and furniture. And it’s a hella lotta fiber! I’ve got two big skeins like the one shown, and will probably end up with six total.

I find it endlessly interesting to compare the individual colors in the roving to the melded blend of colors in the finished three-ply. I’m doing my best to achieve some degree of consistency – I’d like to end up with a sport-to-DK weight yarn on average. But it’s hard. I keep having to fight the tendency to go thinner.

In the mean time, I also started another project on the spindle. This is a merino/tencel blend. I split the roving lengthwise and am planning to navajo ply it so that I will have two skein of self-striping three-ply if the plan works out.

I have to say that after working on the wheel, the spindle spinning seems to go ever so slowly. This fiber is also a dream to spin, also very smooth and soft. I started this project in order to demonstrate the process to some friends at a knitting group who were curious, but once I had it going it’s been magnetic and I’ve picked it up during some free moments during the day when the girls are around and I don’t want them messing with the wheel.

I could tell you more about the ribbon mix-ups at the State Fair – I picked up my items yesterday, and they accidentally gave me two ribbons that belonged to other people. One has been mailed off to the rightful owner, and the other one apparently they gave a replacement ribbon to, so I can let the girls play with the extra. Also, I found out that the Best Original Sock Design award that I received was intended for the cream-colored lace cuff socks. Which makes SO much more sense than the rainbow ones. It’s too bad that they were displayed without the ribbon, but I really can’t complain.

On to the family stuff…Julie had her first day of pre-school for the fall on Tuesday.

They moved the start of school back half an hour this year, and I could not be more thrilled. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out the door on time without having to rush through breakfast now. Julie has the same bus driver as last year, and I am glad – she’s great with the kids and very dependable.

Finally, I’ll share a little video of the girls at their dance recital last weekend. It was so cute, and I’m proud of them both.