Archive for November, 2011

More Holiday Weekend Fun

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

I’m loving this holiday weekend. I feel like we’ve packed it with the most fun our family is capable of having. Friday afternoon we all went to see the new Muppet movie. I think Joe and I enjoyed it more than the girls because of all the references to the old show – but hey, we all got to eat popcorn, and the girls did enjoy themselves. This afternoon we came home from an outing, watched lunch, and then I showed the girls some more Muppet clips on YouTube. Specifically, we enjoyed the original Mahnamahna song.

In a fit of silliness, the girls and I decided to record our own version, which I have (probably foolishly) posted to YouTube, and am now sharing with you…

The outing earlier was a trip to a local park where we took a bunch of family photos in the hope of getting one for our holiday cards. I love the timer feature on my camera, which takes ten in a row each time you set the timer. It still is not easy getting four people and a doge lined up and smiling, eyes open, but we came away with something passable. Fred was quite excited and distracted by the flocks of geese living in the park, and the girls were quite grossed out by all the goose poop covering the grass and the fact that Fred considered it a gourmet snack. Joe was just unhappy about the cold, and I was grinning and bearing it all while trying to hold it all together.

This was our second choice of photos – a close call with the one we are actually using, but if you’re local, you’ll probably recognize the park in question. That’s an old beehive barbeque oven that was moved to Lilac Park over by the NordicWare factory a couple years ago – it was originally built during the depression, and was restored by a local committee after years of sitting unused next to highway 100.

Yesterday I stole some time in the afternoon to knit a bit on the sweater I’ve been wanting for myself. I feel a bit guilty starting a selfish project in the middle of the holiday madness, but the lace is a nice challenge and a perfect excuse to sit on the couch with the girls while they watched Howl’s Moving Castle.

This is going to be the back of the Dahlia Cardigan that was published in the Fall Interweave Knits. When I saw the pictures, I knew that it was time for the pile of Silk Garden yarn that had been marinating in my stash for the last five years to come out and play. I have a feeling progress on this will be a little slow, but I will squeeze in a few rows when I can and it will get done probably before spring rolls around and the weather warms up.

I should probably also mention what I was up to the morning of Thanksgiving…since I wasn’t hosting, I had time for my normal workout at the gym before preparing my two dishes and taking them over to Joe’s cousin’s house for dinner. We usually swim on Thursdays (me and the awesome group of athletes that I hang out with). We decided to have a little fun since we’d dragged ourselves in on a holiday, so we had a few races. There is a back story, but really only funny to those directly involved. Video was taken, and again, I am foolishly sharing it with the world here…

That’s me in the shark cap, and of course the first thing I notice when I look at myself in the video is the fact that I still have a giant pear-shaped tummy compared to all my lithe athlete friends. I’m okay with that (for now) – and it doesn’t hurt that I held my own in the races – the people who finished first in this IM were college swimmers and incredibly fast. The lady in the lane next to me is my awesome coach, who is an incredible athlete and although I am not all that competitive by nature (especially compared to the people in this group) it did feel good to hold my own in the pool after spending the entire summer struggling to just keep up on the runs.

There has also been a teeny amount of spinning – I pulled out some nice merino roving that’s been waiting around for my attention – I bought it with three other colors of similarly-blended wool, and am spinning them all separately in the hopes of someday knitting up a striped sweater or three. This is another stolen-moment project right now – but I needed something on hand for a moment here or there of quick spinning in between other projects in my office. The spinning wheels always look so lonely when there is nothing in progress on them!

Oh, and backing up to Tuesday, I had the chance to meet a reader from Florida. I got an e-mail a month or so ago from a nice lady named Carole who has been knitting my blankie and was planning to be in town to visit her son. She wondered if I was interested in a meet up, and I figured why not? It would be an excuse to sit in my favorite coffee shop and knit for an hour or so, right? Turns out she was fun to talk to and had lots of questions about various projects. My coach from the gym (who also knits) came and sat with us for a while, and it was very cozy.

Thanks for getting in touch, Carole! (Here she is with her blankie-in-progress and the original blankie, which I pulled out from the storage ottoman by my couch so they could meet up.)

Finally, in case anyone is dying from suspense, I did track down all the Calico Critter pieces I had in mind for Sophie’s presents, but none in the places I’d most expected. Last week I’d gone to local toy store Creative Kidstuff with a coupon for 25% off one item, where I bought the Caravan Family Camper and the Convertible Coupe along with the rabbit family. I was a little horrified by the prices, but I figured I should at least secure the items I wanted before the crazy Black Friday shopping started, and then see if I could do better. Turns out, I was able to buy the car at half off through Barnes and Noble’s website at midnight on Thursday/Friday, but they had already sold out of the camper. Which is why I got up and out the door on Friday morning to try for the camper at an actual B&N store. Unfortunately, the store that I picked has already sold out of that particular item before the big sale.

The good news is that they had a different present I wanted for Julie – a pottery wheel toy. She’s pointed that toy out many times in catalogs, and the catalog I had at the moment sold it for $57. B&N had it for regular price of $27, and I used the Black Friday deal to get it for $13. I wouldn’t have bought that one for her, but Joe’s mom gave me a check at Thanksgiving dinner and asked me to pick out gifts for the girls from the grandparents. I was happy to do that because they mean well but have no idea what the girls like.

Back to the Critters, though. Sophie will get a family and the car as her big presents for Christmas. I need to look through the other things I’ve bought and make some decisions about whether maybe grandma will give her the carrying case/house for Christmas too. We’ll save the camper and another family for her birthday in February. As I was running around shopping for these toys, I started to worry that too much of it at once would not be as much fun as spreading out the collecting over more time. Really, with these “collectable” toys, the waiting part is a good chunk of the fun.

I feel only slightly guilty about having to return the car back to the store where I picked it up last week. While I was there, I spent quite a bit of money on other stocking stuffers, and these toys are more popular than I’d realized, so they will have no trouble selling it in its still-perfect packaging.

Now, off to order Christmas cards, fix some dinner, and plan my moves for the coming week – it’s looking like another busy one!

Calico Critters on Black Friday

Friday, November 25th, 2011

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I really don’t consider myself the Black Friday shopper type, and yet here I an sitting outside a Barnes and Noble an hour before they open so I can get my damned Calico Critter house for half off, making my five year old happy without bankrupting the family. I was at Toys r Us at 9 last night and got half of two families of the little beats as well.

At least I have a coffee and Joe’a socks to knit on.

Two Dreaded C Words

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

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I discovered last year that I prefer to get the bulk of my Christmas shopping done in November. I would never have tried to accomplish this feat if it hadn’t been for the vacation that took over most of our December last year, but once done it felt pretty good and gave me plenty of time to tie up loose  ends and even knit a bonus gift or two.

Which explains why I’m scouring the internet and catalogs to find the best prices and most interesting things. Julie’s big gift was easy. She asked for a globe or a telescope. I found what seems to be a quality globe with interactive features at Costco for about what I’d seen them going for online, but without the shipping. As a bonus, one of my beloved neighbors says she bought one just like it for her sons and they are happy with it. As for the telescope, well a decent quality one would be pretty expensive, we live in a major metropolitan area with a lot of light pollution, and she is only eight. Also, I have very bad memories of a Christmas when I was about that age and got a telescope a my big gift, which was accidentally broken by a well-meaning uncle before I was even able to look through it. We’ll wait a year or two for that one.

Sophie is another story. I don’t think she really has a clear idea of what she truly wants, but she has a fascination with the Calico Critters brand of toys, and plays quite a bit with the very few she has. That’s the only thing she says she wants – more Calico Critters. For little plastic toys, they are awfully expensive, sold at the fancy toy stores where we occasionally shop for birthday party gifts and where I imagine rich grandparents go to indulge their grandchildren.

I’m going to buy some critters for my little critter, but the amount of money I have budgeted will buy only the most paltry of sets. I’d like to buy a house, but am going to be pushing it with the price of a camper. Anyone have girls who no longer play with their calico critters and are ready to sell them off?

Christmas. I’ll have to do a more detailed gifts post when I’m a little closer to done playing Santa’s elf.

On to the other C word…crochet…

Really, I bet you never expected to see that one around here. But the hooks seem to have snuck
into my craft room, and the inspiration into my  hands.

I’ve had this book of crochet motifs since it came out a year or two ago, and for reasons that escape me I picked up some very thin cotton crochet thread at the craft store not too long ago. This weekend I stole a few moments here and there to play with it. The goal is to possibly make some cuff bracelets that might serve as small holiday gifts of they turn out well…or just to have fun trying. I’m thinking its going to be the latter option.

Now back to knitting a pair of boring socks for my husband.

First Flurries

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Life moves so quickly by…we had our first few snow flurries yesterday in my neck of the woods. I feel so grateful that our fall here in Minnesota has been so warm and long (if a little dry) this year, but hunkering down for months of cold and dark is always a little painful. In summer months we have daylight till almost ten at night, but we do pay for it starting about now. As always, life has been busy and I have lots to share…

Our chocolate lab Fred is one year old today. We’ve had him since January, and is is fully embedded as a member of our family. He still likes to chew up anything left laying around, but is starting to settle down a bit, and is pretty well trained (completely potty-wise, 90% on the obedience). Here he is trying to lick peanut butter off his nose. I wonder what diabolical puppy mama would have put that there?

Going back a bit, I attended a knitting retreat the weekend before Halloween. It was just for a couple of days, but it was a much-needed get-away, and I had the chance to catch up with some dear knitting friends I hadn’t seen in a while. New this year for this particular retreat, we had the opportunity to visit an alpaca farm. Thanks to Riverside Suri Alpacas, we got to go meet some of these sweet silly animals and even hand-feed and pet some (they actually don’t really like being touched, but can be bribed with food).

I love this next picture because you can see the baby cria nursing from its mama in the background.

This retreat is one that I’ve attended several other times in the past – it’s called Minnesota Knitters’ Days and is held at a retreat center in southeast Minnesota. This year, Candace Eisner Strick was our instructor – as she has once or twice in the past – and I love that lady. She is so smart, and hilariously funny. She comes up with great ideas and is fun to listen to. Here she is with her sister and an uncommonly friendly alpaca. Candace, forgive me for putting up your photo without express permission, but you look so sweet here, and it’s not a close-up so I hope you don’t mind.

Candace has a new self-published book of socks out, and she has a novel new way of attacking heels and toes. For quite some time, I’ve been so happy with my standard short-row method that I’ve been loathe to try other “new” ones, but since I was there and since it was Candace, I gave hers a go. I actually like it! Enough, anyway, that I am willing to finish a pair this way and see how they wear before I make any further judgement, but from me that is saying a lot. Candace had asked us to work the new method as a swatch with bigger yarn, but I figured I’d be happier jumping right in, and now I have a sock almost done – this photo was taken right after I came home.

If you like knitting socks, and want to try short-row heels and toes that don’t involve the old wrap-and-turn method, Strickly Socks might just be the book for you!

On the way home from my retreat, I stopped briefly in Red Wing to shop for little souvenirs for my girls and to check out the shoe outlet, where I took a picture with the world’s largest boot. Not a great picture, but I snapped it myself with my phone as quickly as I could so as not to attract attention. It really is a huge leather boot. Red Wing’s claim to fame!

When I came home, all that I’d left behind was waiting for me and it was time to catch up. We jumped right in to Halloween (Joe got the girls started carving pumpkins and I got home just in time to help finish up and clean up the mess!) This year I had a little purple princess and a leopard. The night before Halloween, I let them try on their costumes, and the leopard had fun sneaking up on and pouncing on the princess, who did a great job pretending not to know she was about to be attacked.

Halloween itself was a magical night – the weather was relatively warm and we stayed out for hours. There were more kids than usual in the neighborhood, and it felt like a movie set or a Norman Rockwell painting. We made a pack with our close neighbors and it could not have gone better. The girls were quite pleased with their candy haul!

There goes that sneaky leopard again…

This next part really should be its own separate post, but time is short so I’m just going to get on with it. This last spring at Shepherd’s Harvest festival, I took a class on processing raw fleece into yarn, and bought three fleeces at the silent auction there. (Actually I bought four in my zeal to make sure I got “enough” but came to my senses and managed to sell one off to a classmate before leaving for the day). I’m still in the midst of processing all that wool, but am making steady progress. It is quite time consuming, and while I am learning a lot in the process and enjoying it, I’m not sure I will be so eager to do all the work myself in the future. Here are 933 yards of about worsted-weight 4-ply yarn that I spun from a Columbia fleece after washing and carding into rolags.

I’m definitely on a learning curve, and this first batch is a little on the greasy side. I didn’t understand at first just how very hot the water needed to be, and how much detergent was necessary. Also, I think I put too much wool in at once and let some of it sit too long, so the water cooled off and the grease stuck back on the wool. I realized this after most of the fleece was carded, and I was trying to spin it. Still, this yarn is just fine, if a bit rustic. I will knit myself a sweater out of it (once it has marinated in stash for a bit) and I’m sure I’ll wear it with pride It is quite lovely and squishy. There is still a good portion of that fleece waiting to be re-washed the right way – I’ve done a few batches that came out much cleaner and happier, and I’m going to spin them worsted this time for smoother, longer-wearing yarn – probably at a finer weight. Like I said, this could be its own post.

While I’m at it, I may as well show you this 441 yards of 3-ply yarn made from a shetland fleece I bought the same day. It is slightly lighter weight than the cream colored yarn above, but close enough that I could possible combine the two in a sweater (or multiple sweaters) if I wanted to do some natural colorwork. This batch was also early on the learning curve, but it makes me happy when I look at it. Really, I must do a post about the process start-to-finish at some point.

In case there is any doubt that I am a sock-a-holic, here is another toe that I started, just to make sure I had a steady supply of mindless knitting on hand…

One never can have too many socks at the ready for a sudden long car ride, meeting, or random span of waiting time. Almost right after I knit this one up, Joe said something that took me completely aback. He mentioned that he might like to start wearing hand knit socks to work. This is the man who has never been interested in wearing handknits, with the exception of the felted clogs which he wears constantly during the winter at home, and has worn out the leather soles of one pair and is well into his second. I was thrown for a surprised loop! And, silly, wonderful man, he noted that he’s probably need several pairs. I told him we’d start with one pair, but I’d happily put him in the rotation for new socks if he liked. He only wants plain dark colors, but I will cast on a pair soon and set aside the wild ones for myself till his are done.

And back to the girls…something I’ve been meaning to mention that has been taking up a lot of our time and energy – the girls have both joined the Girl Scouts this fall. Julie was invited to join an existing troop of Brownies, which meant that Sophie was very eager to join a troop too. I showed up at the organizational meeting and somehow managed to put my hand up and become her troop leader. I walked out of that meeting stunned and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into, but at this point, I am very excited about the whole thing – it is going to be a fun adventure. Luckily, Julie’s troop leader is awesome and has been very helpful and supportive so far, plus I have a really nice co-leader who seems to fit really well with me – I like doing the behind-the-scenes organizational stuff, she is great with the kids at the meetings. Let me just say that this volunteer gig takes a LOT of time between training, troop leader meetings, actual girl scout meetings, communicating with parents, and lots of little planning and paperwork bits. Now you know what I’ve been doing with the time I would have spent blogging!

Last week, Julie’s troop had a field trip to tour the Wells Fargo bank in downtown Minneapolis. The bank has a little museum there where the kids learned about the original Wells Fargo stagecoach business in the 1800s, among other things, and then they got to go behind the teller counter and see currencies from different countries and collect a bunch of free lollipops.

I volunteered as a chaperone, so Sophie got to put on her Daisy uniform and come along for the ride. I know I’m not going to like every experience I have as a Girl Scout mom, but so far I’m all over it. I love the values, especially the all-inclusiveness – unlike the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts clearly state that they don’t discriminate on anyone for sexual orientation or religion, among other things. And yes, we’ll be selling cookies in February.

The ladies with whom I work out most week days have started our knitting group back up after a summer-long hiatus. We do a lot of talking and just a little knitting, but they are learning! Here you can get a peek of my latest finished project – it’s a beaded shawl of my own design and that I think will get its own blog post hopefully soon!

And here is a sneak peek of my next non-sock project – I’m just in the swatching stage for a sweater out of the Silky Wool yarn that’s been marinating in my stash since Julie was a toddler…it’s lovely yarn, and its time has come.

Whew! More to come….