Archive for April, 2009

Background Information on my Spinning

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

I’ve been getting a good sprinkling of questions lately about the details of my spinning experience, and I figure that if a few people are e-mailing me, maybe a few more would be interested in some of the answers I’ve been giving out in private e-mails. I’ll also note for what feels like the millionth time that it is SO much easier to answer an e-mail or comment when the person in question gives me their contact information, and that you are not likely to get a response if you don’t. Because no matter how much I might like to, I don’t know how to find your e-mail address if you don’t give it to me!

Anyway, Jacqui from the UK is a good example of a typical question. She asked:

I love the spinning that you do and would like to ask how you make the gorgeous skeins from the colourful roving? I can see you have the roving in a basket and you spin it but can I ask – do you split the roving first to make it thinner and do you just spin the colours as they come to end up with such lovely yarn? I have just bought a spinning wheel, which I should have in my home tomorrow. I am so looking forward to playing around and teaching myself to spin (I can just about make yarn on a drop spindle). What I am really aiming for is for hanks of wool which resemble in some fashion the gorgeous ones that you make.

Here’s what I wrote back to her, plus a few additions for links and stuff.

Hi, Jacqui! Thanks for your sweet e-mail. Congratulations on getting your new wheel! Boy, you have asked a complicated question. I’ll do my best to answer it.

First, don’t expect too much of yourself with the first skein you make on your wheel. In fact, you may want to sit with the wheel and practice just treadling it without any yarn for a while before you try to spin, and then you might want to practice feeding pre-made yarn onto the wheel a couple times before you try to create your own yarn. It’s good that you’ve learned first on a drop spindle – knowing how to draft the wool makes it a lot easier.

Well, about how I draft the wool, the answer is that it depends. The most recent project that I started is some really cool roving with very long color repeats – the rainbow stuff. I want to maintain those color repeats, so I split the roving lengthwise only once – in half – and then I did a little pre-drafting with each half. By that I mean, I just shook it out a bit, then ran it across my lap from one pile to another, giving little tugs at each spot as it passed through my hands to loosen up the fibers a bit. And then I’m drafting directly from that onto the wheel. In this case, I am planning to Navajo or chain-ply the yarn to keep the colors all together while achieving a 3-ply.

As for my other projects – well, it depends on a bunch of factors like my mood, how easily the fiber drafts, how thick the original roving is, how long the color repeats are, and how I think I might ply it at the get-go. If the color repeats are quite short, I might not strip apart the roving at all – unless the colors play really well together and I’m looking for a really random barber-pole effect. The stickier the wool, the more likely I have been to strip it pretty thin and be sure to pre-draft.

I am by no means an expert spinner! I got my first drop spindle only last May (2008!) (and editing to add that I think it’s hilarious the titles of my posts related to it are A New Obsession and Oh, Yes I DO Have a Problem), and I bought my wheel in June. Go back to May in my blog and take a look at the crappy orange yarn I made on my first attempt, and you’ll see what I mean. The biggest thing I have focused on in the beginning and still do is to get a nice, even single without any blobs or huge variations in thickness. Somehow, it seems that the colors tend to work themselves out if I can do that.

Oh! And one more thing. I looked at a lot of books for good background information, and I think that has helped me immensely. I recommend:

The Ashford Book of Spinning by Anne Field (specific to Ashfords, but lots of good information that applies to spinning in general)

Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (this one is specific to drop spindles, but what you learn about drafting and plying here transfers directly to the wheel)

Start Spinning by Maggie Casey

And the quite new The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin

If those aren’t enough, Adlen Amos’ Big Book will keep you busy and give you tons of food for thought after that.

I have at least as many more books on spinning as I’ve listed above, and checked even more than that out from my library. Many of them have good information, and there is even Color in Spinning by Deb Menz, which might be appealing to you in your search for the perfect combination of colors. I really do have to give huge credit to the dyers from whom I buy my roving. They are the ones who come up with the awesome color combinations!

Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed spinning:

Fiber Optic Yarns (lots of awesome there, and she often has pencil rovings that I think would be good for beginners.)

Crown Mountain Farms has a huge selection of fibers, both natural and dyed. They have great customer service and good prices. I loved that I was able to buy a sweaters’ worth of BFL in the color I wanted, and that they dyed it for me and got it to me in the mail in less than a week without fuss.

Squoosh is another nice etsy seller, as is Cloudlover69.

Creatively Dyed is awesome too.

Alright. Does that cover it? Any more questions? I’m going to try something I don’t usually do on this post. Go ahead. Ask me any question related to spinning, in a comment on this post, and I will do my best to answer it either in a comment below or if it’s long or requiring photos or links maybe in an edit to this post.

Now, I’m off to the library with my kids and then back to make dinner and knit some more on that sweater. I keep trying it on every few rows at this point both to check fit and admire it. This one might even be fairworthy!

Semi-Obsessive Knitting

Monday, April 27th, 2009

I know that my long-time readers and close friends will hardly bat an eyelash when I admit that I’ve been knitting a little obsessively over the last few days. I mean, yes, I knit at least a little bit just about every day of my life. But I have occasional spurts of frenzied knitting that get close to the edge of out of control.

This time, it was most of the weekend, when we had very little else scheduled, when Sunday turned out to be rainy and cold. It was perfect knitting weather, and I’d just gotten this sweater to the point where the sleeves could be joined to the body.

Oh, the exciting! The yoke portion of the sweater is really very little knitting compared to the overall project, and the rows get shorter the closer one gets to the neckline. Not only that, but since I’m designing this knit on the fly, I had lots to think about as I clicked along the first several rows of garter stitch. Just where and how often did I want to decrease? Should I go ahead and use some of the beads I’d bought to go into the project? What about buttons and button holes?

I decided yes on the beads, but not too many – and interspersed fairly randomly – I wanted just a bit of glinting sparkle, without a defined pattern.

As for the button holes, I’d originally planned to do simple YO, K2Tog holes knit into the incorporated button band as I went. But I changed my mind. I want to try the thing on and see how it hangs before I decide on the button placement, and I’ve been very happy with the hook and clasp closure I used on my intarsia diamond sweater this fall, so I will either use some similar clasps on this sweater, or create button holes when I knit the applied i-cord I’m planning to finish the button-band edges with.

As for the decreases, I decided to go with a rounded yoke shape (versus a raglan) and I consulted a few Meg Swansen and EZ books to aid the where and how often decision. More on that later maybe, once I’ve finished the dang thing and know whether or not it’s going to work. I’ve tried it on as best I can on the needles, and it’s going to fit well, but it’s certainly not photo-worthy yet!

Ladona left a comment asking what pattern I’m using. Well, I’m basically designing it on the fly, but I can tell you where the bits and pieces of inspiration came from. First, I spun the yarn myself. It’s something between lace weight and fingering weight yarn, very soft merino wool. I’d been wanting to knit a February Lady sweater, but the gauge was completely wrong for this yarn. So I knew I was going to have to re-do the math in this case, which got me thinking a little longer.

I figured I might as well pick out a different lace pattern to make it more my own. I swatched this leafy thing out of one of the japanese stitch-pattern books that I picked up at the Yarnery last year when we first got them in, and it is both easy to learn and pretty as well. And then, I just sort of cast on and started knitting – after doing a tiny bit of math, of course. I based the size and shape of this sweater on a couple other sweaters I have that I know fit me well.

I knew I wanted the garter-stitch yoke (or at least, I was pretty certain I did, although it gave me plenty to think about as I knit the sleeves and the body). So that’s why I did all the cuffs and edgings in garter stitch. I kind of wish I’d done the underside of the arms in stockinette instead of reverse stockinette, but not enough at this point that I’d be willing to go back and change it. The one teeny little thing that I don’t particularly care for in the February Lady sweater is the raglan shaping, versus the rounded yoke in the original February Baby sweater. So I’m knitting it the way I want it.

The beads, I’d bought on a whim one day when the girls and I were at the Mall of America. At that point, I was maybe halfway through the sleeves, and strongly considering ripping them out and just knitting another shawl with the yarn. So I bought a metric buttload of beads for that scenario. At least I know I’ll way more than I need for the sweater.

And that’s about all I can say for now. Hopefully I’ll be blocking it in the next couple/few days….depending on just how much more my repetitive stress injuries flare up. I had to wear my wrist braces to bed last night, and will again tonight because I’ve been getting that annoying numbness, tingling, and occasional shooting pain up the arm that tells me I’ve probably been overdoing it.

Knitting and Stuff, a Picture Post

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

I’ve been busy here having fun the last week or so. Spring is almost finally upon us, sort of. Yesterday it was 80 degrees here, today it went back down to 40. But the girls and I have been playing outside a bit, which is great. We’re getting our first tastes of what summer will be like – digging in the sandbox, running around with bikes and scooters and hanging out with our neighbors in the yards.

Today I wore sandals for the first time this year, and we dug out the girls’ Crocs and flip-flops. Julie can wear hers from last year, Sophie will need new ones.

Anyway, let’s do a quick catch-up on the knitting stuff. I went to the Minnesota Knitters’ Guild annual Yarnover event on Saturday. It’s always fun to see all the other knitters, to run in to old friends and make some new ones. It was a little freaky sitting down to chat with people a couple of times, and they casually asked me specific questions about my current projects or mentioned other facts from the blog. And don’t get me wrong, dear readers. None of you were invasive or weird or anything. It’s just – even after all this time, I always find it surprising that real people out there are actually reading my blather. So, Hi! Nice to meetcha!

I took two classes, one from Joan Schrouder who is awesome and smart and funny. I really enjoyed the entrelac class I took from her last year, so I signed up for her class on enclosing cut edges this time. I’m a big fan of steeks, so playing around with them always feels like fun. I knit up the swatch as homework, then we secured the edges with crochet chains before cutting. So far, this was similar to the technique I learned at Meg Swansen’s camp five years ago, but Joan did a great job of describing other techniques that I’ve heard about and tried, including Rick Mondragon’s crochet technique and machine stitching, as well as just cutting without reinforcement.

So we cut it open. And then came the cool part. We picked up stitches in the same holes on both sides of the fabric! We knit around and around making two seperate layers of fabric until it was long enough to cover the cut edge…

And then we did something very like a three-needle bind-off but without the bind-off part to join the two layers and continue with a single-layer button band.

It’s a really cool idea. The sample we made in class was actually quite thick – too thick to be practical for an actual sweater, but Joan had us do the crochet-chain version because we could do it in class without a sewing machine. Done on a cut edge stabilized with machine stitches instead of a worsted-weight crochet chain, this could actually work out pretty well. I’m totally going to try this on the next swatch I do for a steeked project.

I don’t think I really want to talk too much about the other class I took. It was okay, but not amazingly wonderful. The teacher was a big-name, nationally known designer, and she had some good ideas, but there were some problems in the transition between theory and application. Still, it was decent food for thought. I know, you want the dirty details, but for once I’m going to take the high road. At least in public.

Okay, and the other thing about Yarnover is that they have a great marketplace where lots of local and regional vendors come to sell knitting and fiber-related stuff. I’m very proud of myself. I did look around and admire many things, I walked away with only one purchase…

I’m a huge fan of Jennie the Potter, and I’ve been wanting another one of her mugs. I’ve had one for a while that I keep some of my double-pointed needles in on my desk, but for the last week I’ve been actually using the new one for its intended purpose, and I love it. Not only is it pretty, but it’s a perfect size and dishwasher safe!

She has some really cute newer patterns, and I came close to buying a bowl as a mothers’ day gift for my MIL, but held back. I’ll see her again at Shepherd’s Harvest on Mothers’ Day weekend, and I think I’ll buy it then.

In the mean time, I’ve been spinning, spinning, spinning.

There’s my four ounces of superwash merino, spun up into pretty darn thin singles and plied into either a thick lace weight or a thin fingering.

Oh, yum! That’s 650 yards, plenty for either a small lace something or at least one pair of socks, maybe two. Sorry, you can’t have it. I gave it to a friend who was visiting on her way to the Spring Fling at the Loopy Ewe. More on that in a minute.

Of course, the wheel looks naked and lonely with no project on it, so I picked out the next pile of roving to play with.

I’m going to go for some more rilly thin singles here, and shoot for a navajo-plied fingering weight.

Seriously, this roving is meant to make some awesome stripes.

Jaci is my friend from Eau Claire, and we were talking on the phone a few weeks ago. She mentioned she was flying out of Minneapolis for her trip to St. Louis, and I spontaneously said “Why don’t you drive up a day early, and then you can spend the night at my house!” So she did, and we had a whirlwind day of fun. We drove over to the Yarnery to visit the blankie, stopped at another yarn shop while we were out, took the girls out to dinner, and then Ben and Jerry’s for dessert.

It was pure coincidence that we were wearing eerily similar t-shirts. And then she was off to St. Louis for a crazy time with the wild knitters. I am not jealous. I am not jealous. No, I am really not jealous. Seriously. Not jealous. Not one little bit.

Hoookay. One more thing. A quickie update on my little sweater project. These pictures are horrible, the colors are totally off despite the natural lighting. But you’ll get the idea.

I love it that the sleeves are done first. By the time I finished the sleeves, I’d memorized the really very simple stitch pattern, and now it is thisclose to mindless knitting to work back and forth across the body. Which means that it feels like it’s knitting up really quickly, which is great.

This is homespun yarn, spun from a heathery top that had several colors combed together. Of course, the colors weren’t uniform throughout, and you can see there is a bit of striping, most notably at the top where you can see a big ole streak of red. Just a couple few more inches, and I’ll be headed into the home stretch and the really fun part of joining all the pieces together and racing to the top. I think I’ll go work on it now.

Handspun Socks and Comfort Food

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Finally! These handspun socks are done, done, done.

I spun this yarn in November out of some Crown Mountain farms roving, which was lovely to work with. I dug up the blog post documenting that process, and if you’re interested, it’s here.

The yarn marinated only a little over a month in stash, and I started knitting the socks in January. This yarn is somewhere around sport weight, so the knitting went quickly on these.

Except.

If you’ll remember, tragedy struck in early March when one of the almost-complete socks in progress disappeared along with half the yarn, a pretty project bag and a very nice Addi Turbo needle. D’oh! That really put a bad taste in my mouth, especially since there would have been enough for a second pair of socks and I’d really wanted to give the extra yarn to a special teacher as a gift.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, and I eventually got over it and buckled down to knit a third sock.

They are very soft and comfy. I’m not super confident about how well these socks will wear. The yarn is sproingy, definitely not over-twisted in a case when slightly over-twisted would lend longer life. But I do think they’ll be nice and warm, and the colors will go with much of my wardrobe, so I’m calling the project a resounding success. Total comfort food knitting.

And speaking of comfort food (note that smooth transition there?) Remember a week or two ago when I was begging everyone for dinner ideas? Well, you got my creative juices flowing. Someone suggested chicken tettrazini, and that sounded pretty good.

It turned out that I roasted a chicken earlier in the week, and of course I’m not allowed to make roast chicken without a big bowl of gravy and some potatoes to go with it. There is always leftover gravy, and in the past I’ve ended up dumping the stuff out because cold gravy just looks disgusting. But lately I’ve realized that leftover gravy is quite similar to the base of canned soups. Only there are no weird ingredients in it, just drippings, flour, chicken broth and some salt and pepper.

So, using mostly stuff I had in my cabinets and fridge, I improvised my own little version. Don’t ask me for a recipe – I really just chopped stuff up and cooked it till it looked right. But the process went something like

1. Boil some noodles. I used angel hair pasta because that’s what was in the cabinet.

2. Chop up some onion and some mushrooms (left over from beef stroganoff a few days before. I’ve been shopping at Costco a lot lately, and hoooboy, a package of mushrooms from there goes a long way!) Sautee those with some garlic till they’re soft and the liquid has evaporated, set aside.

3. Melt a little butter, mix in an equal measure of flour and cook till brown, then add in that leftover gravy and a bit of chicken stock till it looks right. Don’t ask me what right is – something sort of like cream soup or gravy. Toss in some shredded parmesan (I had a nice chunk left over from the baked mac ‘n cheese I made a couple weeks ago) and pour in a little half and half, stir till melted and warm.

4. Dump in the chunks of chicken left over from the roast chicken, chopped up into small bitesize pieces, and also a bunch of frozen peas. In my case, I took a huge step and allowed Julie to help me in this part. She desperately wants to help in the kitchen, and it is so easy to say no because it is more work to let her help. Plus, having her near the stove is scary. But we kept it very short and very well-supervised, and I think having her feel like she contributed to the meal maybe, just maybe, makes her more likely to eat it.

5. Mix the sauce stuff with the drained noodles, dump it into a greased casserole dish, top with shredded cheddar and then some panko crumbs. Throw the whole thing in the 350 oven for 20 minutes or till the husband walks in the door.

Everybody ate it. Nobody complained. I thought it was amazingly good, if a little guilty for the creamy-cheesiness of it. Joe and I even ate it left over for lunch over the weekend. Thanks again for all of your suggestions!

S’More Spinning

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

It’s getting really hard to keep thinking up names for blog posts about spinning. S’mores have absolutely nothing to do with this post, which is too bad – I love s’mores. mmmm…

But back on track. I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of spinning last week. It helped to keep my hands busy and not scratching at my itchy face.

I’ve gathered together the pictures from start to finish on this yarn for once, so let’s tell the story properly. I started with three of these 8-ounce packages of SeaWool Fiber from Creatively Dyed Yarn. It’s a blend of 70% superwash merino and 30% Seacell fiber.

I did very little pre-drafting of this fiber – I just unbraided it, split it lengthwise kind of randomly, and went to town. It is incredibly soft and easy to spin.

I really love the colors in this roving, and seriously, don’t click through to that site unless you want to fork over and buy some wool – she’s got awesome stuff. AND! I’ve noticed since I started spinning that you really have to catch the good dyers right when they update because they’re always either really picked over or just completely out of product. I was pleasantly surprised tonight when I clicked over there to see that she’s got lots of good stuff up, and SO many pretty colorways. It’s a good thing I’ve made that vow not to buy any more wool till Shepherd’s Harvest!

Well, I got all the singles spun up – the first 8 ounces I split between two bobbins, then I went a little nuts and squeezed all of the following two packages onto one bobbin apiece. I was feeling so smug about how much I could fit onto one of my Majacraft bobbins.

The box that they’re in is the “carrying case” provided with the Rose when I bought it, and it functions as a basic lazy kate, albeit an untensioned one, which is less than ideal, but I haven’t yet decided that it’s worth springing for a tensioned one, especially while I’m saving my pennies in hopes of attending SOAR in the fall, plus that other major purchase which is coming up soon – I promise I’ll give all the details when it happens – I’m SO excited about it, but it feels too good to be true, so I’m not going to jinx it by talking about it now.

Anyway, that carrying box/kate works a lot better with underfilled bobbins than it does with overfilled bobbins. Next time, I really should fill them no more than level and call it a day. I ended up with a couple of extra bobbins for this project, so there’s no reason why I couldn’t have spread the singles out a bit more, or just added more to the first two bobbins. Live and learn, right?

I started plying the yarn on Thursday night, and it took till Saturday morning to finish. There were a lot of singles, and even with cranking away at it steadily, it took a while to get through them all. Here is the finished three-ply yarn hanging out on the wash line on Saturday afternoon. I love it that it’s warm enough to hang things outside again. So much better than my dark, dank basement!

And up close you can see the melding of the colors better. I really like the way the blending acted to tone down the brights to more pastel and earthy colors. I love the barber-poling, and I love the fact that it’s still going to make pretty pretty stripes knit up.

And a final picture of the finished skeins.

All told, it came out to just under 1500 yards of yarn that I would say averages at worsted, although it is fairly dense worsted. It’s hard to explain – this yarn is quite soft, and I think it will drape well, but it’s not super airy either. I really worked to not over-twist the singles, but I think there is something about the seacell that makes it a little heavier and definitely shinier and stronger feeling.

There is totally enough yarn here for an adult sweater, and I think it would look best knit up into something very simple. Textures wouldn’t show up well with this yarn, and this is the kind of yarn that wants to speak for itself with it’s striping patterns. Another Sunrise Circle Cardigan would be nice, or even just a basic raglan. I’m going to go off and look at all the patterns people knit with the Noro yarns, because I’m sure this would be a great substitute for them. Still, this project is going to be way down my priority list. I have so many other things begging for my attention. So….if anyone reallyreallyreally wants this yarn, I would sell it for $180 plus shipping, which is twice what I paid for the roving. It’s a three-ply. A lot of work went into this, and I would be just as happy keeping it for my own knitting pleasure. But, of course, the income would go straight to my SOAR fund, and that’s a totally valid purpose as well.

Moving on to the next spinning project, I looked at the shelf and picked out a nice little fiber-snack of a project after having tackled such a big feast…

This is just four ounces of superwash merino. I’ve only just gotten started playing with it, I’ve got it unbraided and fluffed out a bit, and barely started spinning. I’m not sure exactly what I’m shooting for here, but I’m making very thin singles and will either do a two-ply lace weight or maybe a four-ply sock yarn. For that, I’d either have to rig a kate for a fourth bobbin or maybe try out cable plying. But really I’m leaning towards a thin laceweight for a shawl or scarf of some kind. We’ll see.

Next up, a finished sock project too long in the making!

A Very Heathen Holiday

Monday, April 13th, 2009

We here at the Heathen house celebrated Easter in our own special way again this year. As a refresher for those who’ve joined me since the last time I mentioned this, the Heathen part of my blog name is semi-serious. Joe and I both grew up in religious Christian households, and now we are both…not. Still, we are used to celebrating the holidays. It’s fun to have something to look forward to, and Christmas and Easter both fall at points in the calendar that correspond so well with the natural points in the year when holidays make the most sense – getting us through the darkest part of the winter, and then pulling us through the last dregs of winter into celebrating the renewal of life and light for spring.

So we’re passing along portions of the holidays to our own family traditions. Okay, mostly it’s me passing along the stuff I remember as fun from when I was a kid, plus a few things I’ve picked up along the way. Joe just comes along for the ride.

The girls and I bought a couple of egg coloring kits again this year, only I didn’t get around to buying any white eggs – we usually get the organic free range kind, which for whatever reason are usually brown. And the thing is, the last few years when we’ve colored eggs together, they always got more fun out of splashing the coloring around on paper towels and watching it spread, so I decided we’d just do that this time. I printed out an oval template, drew some egg shapes on paper towels, and we were set.

I mixed up the colors, and a fresh cup of coffee for me…

The pink color was a real dud. Next year I need to make sure I buy a PAAS kit instead of the Dudley brand. I’d also picked up this stamper kit – it’s food coloring meant to go on eggs, but again, paper towels work just as well.

See? The girls had plenty of fun, so did I, and they managed to get their hands just as grossly stained as they would have if we were coloring eggs.

I had been planning to take it a step farther and cut the eggs out when they were dry, but we haven’t eggsactly gotten that far yet.

Finally, this week the weather started to warm up to bearable temperatures again, and the girls and I spent some time out poking around in the yard. In the photo above, they were checking out the first flowers of the season, but then that evolved into searching for pebbles to collect. Ah, the start of the season of explaining why no, you may not bring handfuls of pebbles into the house every day. Let’s put them in this nice, safe spot outside, and they’ll be waiting for you tomorrow.

Here are those flowers in question…They are right below the dryer vent from the basement. It is so sad that the only flowers we get before Easter here are the ones sparked to life by my laundry.

Saturday night, we put out the Easter baskets so the bunny could find them, and the girls wanted to add some carrots and celery, and don’t forget a glass of water for the bunny to snack on. It is awesome to have a bit of daylight back, and to have the sun still shining as we’re herding the kids up to bed.

Once the darlings were asleep, I the bunny went to work. I printed out some name tags on cardstock, then strung them on curling ribbon, from the top of the stairs, just outside the baby gate where they would see them on waking, but not start messing with them till the adults were semi-conscious.

The ribbons led down the stairs, all over the first floor – I had to make sure they’d walk past the carrots and see that the bunny had nibbled on them. Julie noticed right away and said “Look! The bunny ate the carrots and celery, but she didn’t drink the water.” There had been much debate over the last few weeks about whether the bunny was a girl or a boy, and of course my girls came to the conclusion that it must be a girl.

Sophie’s basket was hidden in plain sight, around the corner to the little entryway for the front door. Julie’s was a bit more hidden, in the storage compartment under the ottoman cushion.

I think the bunny did a good job this year – they each got a new nightgown and new set of spring pajamas, a wind-up toy, a new pack of cute undies, a little PixOs craftie kit, a very small chocolate bunny, three small foil-covered chocolate eggs, and two plastic eggs filled with jelly beans.

They were both excited about the event, but especially Julie, who seemed to be at about the same level of thrill as Christmas. Maybe more, since it was all focused on the one moment rather than spread out over a few days as Christmas is.

Poor Joe – he is not a morning person. In this picture, he wasn’t hiding from the camera the way he often does – he was rubbing his eyes trying to wake up.

The rest of the day was pretty much a candy fest. I’d portioned the candy in the basket relatively small because I wanted them to feel free to eat it as they saw fit without having to ration them. I mean, I figured let them go to town, eat it up, and be done with it rather than have them get in the habit of asking for candy. It worked out fairly well – Julie had hers pretty much gone before noon, and Sophie ate the last of her bunny right before dinner.

We also played with the PixO thing, which was kind of a hassle and didn’t turn out all that great, but they had fun.

But this…

This is how they spent most of the day – playing with the eggs out of their baskets. Julie figured out how to make a “Pull Toy” out of the ribbon and the egg, and Sophie followed suit, only she called hers a baby egg dog. You would have had to be here to believe how far that game took us through most of yesterday and on into today.

The only down side: we did suffer a bit this morning when they both woke up crazy-crabby. The blood sugar had dropped with a bang, and neither one of them could pull it together this morning. Finally, they managed to get dressed and to the breakfast table, and within about five minutes of getting some yogurt and eggs in their faces, they were smiling and reasonable once more.

Oh! and don’t let me forget to mention – at Christmas, I think I mentioned struggling with explaining some of the Christ story to the girls so they would understand at least the principles of the holiday beyond the sheer consumer frenzy. I found a book on Amazon called Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher. I felt like it fit the bill perfectly, presenting the story in simple terms that I’m not sure my kids understand fully, but well enough for a start; and doing so without much judgement. It uses phrases like “some people believe…” and also talks about the lessons he taught that people of any faith can respect whether they believe in him as god or not. The girls have actually chosen it for story time on and off since we gave it to them, so I give it two thumbs up.

We also bought a book called Unitarian Universalism is a Really Long Name at the same time, and I think it’s also a good book, but maybe a little more conceptual and better for slightly older kids. Man, I really need to get motivated and get my family back to the UU church! It’s just soooo hard to drag us all out of bed and out the door on a Sunday morning, when it is so nice to sit around and drink coffee and read the paper in our pajamas till noon.

For once, I’ve got a bunch more update photos to share with you AND the energy to load them into their own seperate blog posts. So. I’m off to schedule posts for the next few days. Coming up – a newly-spun sweaters’ worth of yarn, some finished socks, some finished sweater sleeves, and a bunch of random follow-up stuff from recent comments. I hope everyone out there had a pleasant weekend, whatever you were doing.

Psych!

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Sophie and I had been sitting in a room at the doctor's office for the
last 45 minutes waiting for them to come in and tell me my test results.
I was trying to keep her entertained and keep her strapped into the
stroller. If you've ever had to take a small child with you on a trip to
the doctor, you know why.

Suddenly, as I was spinning her around in a game of peek-a-boo, I
realized that the handles of the Maclaren stroller I've been using for
the last five years, always stooping over to reach them, are actually
adjustable.

Oh, and then the doctor came in and told me that the test results came
back mostly normal, and that while they don't know exactly what my
problem is, it's probably not lupus or any other crazy-scary thing like
that. Whew!

Thanks to all of you for thinking happy thoughts for me, and also for
keeping the horror stories to myself. Oh, and thanks to the nice lady
who sent me the e-mail about the mangoes. That's still my favorite
theory.

Weekly Blog Blast

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I’ve resolved to stop apologizing for my blogging patterns of late. So what if I only post once a week? Most of you probably have me on your feed-readers, right? If you’re not using a feed-reader yet, I highly recommend Google’s. Stick with me, I’ve got another marathon post heading your way.

First, let me follow up on last week’s post – thanks to all of you who suggested meal ideas for me. The top candidate so far is the Chicken Tetrazzini recommended by Jeloca, which also reminds me of tuna-noodle casserole, which I’ll have to put on the menu for a few weeks out. In the mean time, Sophie requested roasted chicken for dinner when we were at the co-op yesterday.

We were standing in front of the meat counter, ordering chorizo sausages for another recipe I love that Joe’s been begging for. She saw the row of whole organic free-range chickens sitting there and said “I want a bone for dinner” (they call chicken drumsticks bones.) I added a chicken to our order, and roasted it up tonight. I couldn’t make it last night, because Joe usually eats lunch late on Mondays and isn’t hungry for dinner, and since roast chicken is also one of his favorite meals, I saved it for tonight. But all that boils down to – now I have some chicken leftovers, and we’ll have tetrazzini some time this week.

I know we all deal with picky-eater issues, but our household has its share of them. Joe doesn’t like seafood, except he will eat fried fish and chips, and sometimes tuna salad and tuna casserole. He’s allergic to tree nuts and most fruits, and doesn’t particularly care for most vegetables, although he will eat them at dinner without complaint in order to set a good example for the girls. Sophie is a carb fiend, and is likely as not to turn up her nose at anything else set in front of her, but she’s also at an age when she doesn’t need to eat all that much, so a few bites of whatever really is enough, and I do my very best to keep that in mind. Julie – well, she’s a good eater, and has been eating a lot lately due to a massive growth spurt. But she loathes tomatoes and tomato sauces, and is prone to general not-gonna-eat-it fits as are most five-year-olds.

Me – well, I love food. There are a few things that I really avoid – grapefruit, eggnog, and sundried tomatoes top my list. Also, I have a general aversion to canned soups as casserole ingredients, which means that I usually substitute a from-scratch sauce when they are called for. Whew! It’s amazing that I manage to feed the lot of us.

Moving on, I have to post another picture of my Ingenue sweater. I’ve been wearing the heck out of it since I finished it, since spring hasn’t fully arrived here in Minnesota. We had one really nice week, then back to snow and ice earlier this week, and now a slow warming trend is expected for the weekend. We might even get up to a high of 60 F for Easter.

This sweater is so easy to wear, and so incredibly comfortable. I love the softness next to my skin! As with so many soft, cuddly yarns, it’s starting to pill already. I’m okay with that. Pills don’t bother me too much. Surprisingly for how light and airy this yarn feels, it’s also really warm. I’ve been dreaming a bit about what I might do with the remaining yarn. If my girls are luckyluckylucky, I might knit them sweaters for the fall.

Oh, and one more follow-up from last week. I’m afraid that some of you might be mislead by the picture I showed of my spinning stash. Someone even used the word reasonable in responding to the amount of wool pictured there. So, um, I’m going to flash a glimpse of the extent of my yarn stash overall. There are three large bins hiding in my clothes closet upstairs – two of them are full of my Pomfret hoard, and the other is only about half full at the moment because I destashed the other half at camp last fall. They’re labeled with numbers, and the yarn in them is recorded in my Ravelry stash.

Here’s a good chunk of my sock yarns – hanging on my office room wall are all the ones put up as twist-skeins. It seems to me that I’ve put a small dent in this portion of the stash over the last year as well. I really have been trying to be more conscious of my yarn-buying urges.

This is the rest of my wool/nylon sock yarn stash. It’s been shrinking gradually as well. In the front there is a small cake of glittery purple handspun that I bought from Aisha a couple of years ago, and I’m still trying to suss out the perfect project for it. See the sheep figurine? My grandma Marlys made that, modelled after a sheep she saw in a field and couldn’t forget.

Okay, and then there’s my yarn closet. I call it my yarn closet, but really it houses most of my knitting stuff, knitted artifacts and samples for my classes, and a bunch of other crafty stuff, and a portion of the top shelf is dedicated to stuff I’m hiding from the kids – at the moment, it’s the planned contents of their easter baskets.

So in the picture above, top to bottom on the left side – a bin containing the remainder of the Ingenue-sweater yarn; a bin of yarn I use for demonstrating things in classes; two bins of knitted objects – some class samples, some of the girls’ baby items, a few used-up socks and glittens, etc; a bin of leftover worsted-weights mostly Cascade 220 and Malabrigo; a bin of yarn left over from my purple diamond sweater (yes, I vastly over-purchased for that sucker); a bin of towels and other stuff I use for blocking, plus some other miscellaneous yarn-related tools; and another bin of knitting-related tools and crappe.

Still with me? On the right side – a skein of mostly-white sock yarn that I use as scrap in place of stitch holders and for blocking, a few skeins of Malabrigo lace weight which haven’t been put away yet, my renewed collection of sock yarn scraps, a bin of enough Lavold Silky Wool to make a sweater, a bin of food color dyes and another one of blank yarn (anyone interested in taking these off my hands? e-mail me!) a bin of solid-color sock yarn, a bin full of enough Kauni to make two sweaters, bins full of Koigu bits and cotton/wool/nylon sock yarn bits. No, you may not have any of my sock yarn scraps. I’ve given away all that I plan to, and there are plans in place for the rest.

On the other side of the closet, a bunch of scrapbooking crappe, paper supplies for printing patterns, the green box is nail polishing stuff, the pink-lidded box is beads and cotton thread for making those beaded-edged socks that little girls love, and the rest is pretty well labelled.

Now my conscience is more or less clean. There are a few bits and bobs laying around elsewhere in my office, but that’s the brunt of it.

Whew! We’re not done yet. I’ve been spinning away at that seacell/merino roving, and I’m about halfway done with the last 8-ounce package. I’ve been kind of alternating how I split up the lengths of roving, sometimes spinning the entire thickness, other times splitting it thin. I want to randomize the color-lengths so that when I ply it – well, it’ll be more random. I took this picture of the bobbin on the wheel today – it’s a stretch of longer color chunks, and at a point where the bright colors are all showing up. Totally misleading about the overall colorway.

Here are the rest of the singles so far. Two of those bobbins have about 4 ounces each on them, and the big one is holding an entire 8-ounce package! This is one of the many things I love about my Rose. You can fit 8 ounces on a bobbin, and I could have gotten even more on there if I’d tried.

I’m really looking forward to plying this project up. Maybe by the weekend…

Oh, a quickie here – I took a picture of this book to remind myself to mention it. If you love socks and like texture and challenges, go buy it! There is so much eye candy here, and all of the patterns are cool. The first entire half of the book is information on the design process, and there are several patterns in here that I could actually see myself knitting. Angee, Rick, and kai-mei are my favorites.

On the knitting front here, I’ve been diligently plugging away at this blue handspun lace sweater thingie that I started a while back.

I started with the sleeves, doing both at the same time on one circular needle. This has got to be the worst part of the project, but at least I’m getting it over with first, and hopefully the body will go much – well, if not more quickly, then at least more smoothly. I hate the futziness of stopping so often to shift the needles around. The only option that I think might have been better is knitting them flat, which would have been easier knitting, perhaps enough to justify the seam, and blocking would have been easier then too. Ah, well.

At least this way, I can try the sleeves on as I go. The lace still doesn’t look all that pretty yet even stretched out – blocking will really help smooth out the decreases and pretty it up (I hope!)

I’m doing three repeats of the leafy/flower motif around, then filling in with reverse stockinette as the underarm expands.

At least since It’s spring, there’s no real rush to finish this project – but I do think I will do my best to focus on it here at home to just get it over with. I know I’ll feel differently about this once I get the sleeves knit to the armpits and can move on to the body. I’m hanging on to that thought.

And finally, a stupid story about a stupid mystery rash that’s been driving me crazy all week. Feel free to skip this part without fear of missing any good stuff at the end of the post. I mentioned last week that I woke up on Thursday with a crazy-itchy face. Well, it only got worse over the next few days, and by Sunday, I woke up with one eye swollen almost shut, a blotchy red rash all over the bottom half of my face, and even some rash on my hands. I look like a freakin’ monster. I don’t know which is worse – seeing my face in the mirror, or living inside it, constantly feeling the burning itching and doing my very best to keep myself from scratching.

Here’s what my hand looked like this afternoon – it’s not exactly the same as my face, but you can get an idea of how bad it is. No way I’m putting a current picture of myself up on the Internet for the world to see!

Well, something similar happened about three years ago, and I’d gone to a local Urgent Care at the time to have it checked out. The main doctor there happens to be a rheumatologist who used to work at the Mayo Clinic, and retired to open his own clinic. So when I went in there three years ago, he freaked me out a bit by telling me that rashes on the face with no other explanation (like changes in diet or laundry or skin products) can be symptoms of auto-immune disorders. He ordered a bunch of bloodwork, all of which came back clean, and we shrugged our shoulders and waited for it to clear up.

This time, I went back to the same clinic, partly because by Sunday I couldn’t wait any longer and partly because I knew they’d have records of the previous rash. Again, they couldn’t come up with any clear explanation for it – I haven’t changed any of my products or habits, haven’t really eaten anything unusual, haven’t been outside, etc. The one theory that the doc came up with which I kind of like is that the rashes happened at pretty much the same time of year, when the light wavelengths from the sun are the same, and that it could be a photo-allergic reaction. Apparently there have been other documented cases. I like this theory because it is less scary than the other options being presented.

Since the lab was closed on Sunday, the nurse practitioner that I saw told me to come back on Monday for another blood draw. No problem, I thought. I’ll sneak out while both girls are at pre-school, and it’ll be okay even though I’ll have to skip my parenting meeting. It’s just a quick blood draw. But I had to drive out a little ways, then I was kept waiting for a few minutes, and then in comes the head doctor guy and starts asking me lots of questions – the kind of questions that a rheumatologist uses to diagnose things like lupus or arthritis or other connective tissue diseases.

And the funny thing was, I was answering yes to some of them – things that I had just been taking for granted like waking up with numb hands (’cause I knit and spin too much and have a past history of repetitive stress injury) and aching joints (yes, I wake up every morning and use an act of extreme will power to get out of bed and move around enough to get my back and hips to stop screaming) and a couple of other things like that, which I had mostly filed under the suck-it-up-you’re-out-of-shape-and-getting-old category. But it’s funny, because the conversation made me realize that most of these things started pretty much right after Sophie was born.

And I was trying not to freak out, trying to keep an eye on the clock because I had to get back to the school for Sophie – I hate the idea of not being there the moment the classroom door opens and the mommies come in to pick up the kids. I want her to *know* that I will always be there for her. And the doc tells me to put on a gown so they can do a chest x-ray?! and I said okay, and I still don’t know what they were looking for there, but I guess I’ll find out on Thursday when I go back to get the bloodwork results.

So, as awful as having the crazy-itchy-monster face is, I’d much rather have it unexplained and show up again every few years than the obvious alternatives. In the mean time, I’m taking Claritin during the day, Benadryl at night, Zantac, which also blocks histamines, putting on Hydrocortisone cream and drinking lots of water. I still itch to hell and back, but I think maybe it’s starting to clear up a bit. Oh, and I’m not doing any Google searches. Nope. Not me. Please, feel free to send healthy vibes my way, but also? Pretty please, don’t share any horror stories. I’ll let you know something when I know something. Whatever it is, worrying about it now isn’t going to help any.

Pandora’s Box?

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

I am generally anti-video-games for young children. But then the new
session of swimming started today, and Julie's lesson is first, followed
by a 15 minute break before Sophie's lesson. I thought, maybe I could
dig out the old Game Boy Color and let Julie play with it while we watch
Sophie. I made it clear that we would only be using it during swim
lessons. So far she seems to be catching on to Super Mario 2 just fine.

Also? I'm all puffed up, itchy and red in the face. I think I'm having
an allergic reaction to some herbal tea I drank a couple days ago.