Archive for January, 2013

Exploring With the Stinky Sisters

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

We’ve had these three little beanie baby stuffies for years and years. I think they may have come from a McDonald’s Happy Meal at some point, back when I occasionally bought those for my girls on days when we were pinched for time. Now they won’t even touch McDonald’s food (except for the breakfast sandwiches, in which we still indulge on rare occasions when we are required to be up and out of the house before the sun). I digress, as usual. Over time, these three lovely skunks became known as the Stinky Sisters.

Sophie rediscovered them from the stash of stuffed animals recently – we have so many, most of them are relegated to bins in the basement, a smaller selection lives on a shelf in our upstairs hallway, and each girl is allowed two or three at a time to call her own, with trade-ins allowed whenever they request it without screaming and/or whining about it. We have these rules for a reason, I don’t just make up Draconian laws on a whim despite what my children sometimes seem to think…

But this morning, Sophie left her Stinky Sisters on the kitchen table, looking out the window. On the way out the door to the bus stop she informed me that they were going to wait for her there today, so they could see her when she is coming home. Funny enough, that is where our old cat Daisy (may she rest in peace) used to sit waiting for us to come home. Most pets do that – they find a spot near the door or window where they can anticipate their people’s return. We all would like to believe that they spend their day there waiting, but if we’re honest we know that they wait till we are gone and then go exploring the house, looking for a comfy spot or something interesting that was not there the day before. This is as it should be, and the truly beloved pet, at least in a home filled with routines, knows when to expect their owner and is ready and waiting for their return at the appropriate time.

The Stinky Sisters are no exception. They started off slowly at first, checking out the ever-present bowl of fruit on the table. Lately we’ve been eating clementines like they are going out of style. They are like candy! This is also the table where homework is done, so if you look closely you’ll see a peek of the ever-present pile of papers and pencils that also live in this spot.

Soon, the sisters moved on to the living room. There, they found some wind-up Ugly Doll toys having a little party on a library book, which makes a nice hard surface when not actually being read. These toys were supposed to be stocking stuffers at Christmas, but Santa had purchased them much earlier in the year and forgotten them in their hidey-hole.  They were unearthed a couple weeks too late during the post-Christmas purging of junk, at which point they became spontaneous gifts-for-no-reason. We have a strong love for all things Ugly Doll around here.

Next, the Sisters took a trip over to the shelf where they checked in on the ant farm. This may have been the best present given or received in our house this Christmas. The girls had both circled ant farms in various toy catalogs during the lead-up to Black Friday, and when Joe and I sat down to leaf through the catalogs ourselves to pick out the goodies, he exclaimed that *he* wanted one for himself. Well, I’ve always secretly wanted one too, so I ordered one and gave it to him – it had to be opened a couple days before Christmas, because that is when the ants arrived in the mail, and I didn’t have the heart to make them wait in their tiny test tube. These new-fangled ant farms with their mysterious gel substance that acts as both digging-dirt and food are pretty cool. Ours came with a base that lit it up from the bottom, and unfortunately that part broke within the first week, but still – it has been entrancing to watch them build their tunnels over the last few weeks.

The sisters soon got bored in the living room, and just like my girls, they snuck into the office room to see what Mommy has been working on in her private space.

Bear with me while I share another side-story. When Joe and I were first married, we watched a lot of the Food Network. There was a show where chefs would knock on random doors and ask to come inside and cook gourmet meals from whatever the family had in their kitchen. On one show, this fabulous chef was stuck in a kitchen of dieters who ate only pre-packaged and processed foods where the only oil-type substance for sauteing something in was “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter”. She quipped “I can’t believe I’m cooking with this stuff.” Apparently I thought that was funny enough that it’s stuck in my brain for more than ten years. Anyhoo, I think of that all the time when I’m knitting with the yarn shown above and think “I can’t believe I’m knitting this stuff!”

Before Christmas, I knit a beautiful infinity scarf thing out of mawata silk that I’d attenuated into yarn – so light and fluffy and warm! And it went into our family gift-giving game on Christmas night. All of the little girls at the party tried to win it, but I really wanted it to go to a grown-up, who would be better able to take care of it, delicate as it was. In the end, I promised my two that I would knit them their own scarves if they would stop fussing about the one at hand. Later that week, we went to the big-box craft store and I let them pick out something more appropriate to little girls. To my own internal shock (horror?) I actually steered them to this stuff – it’s super-bulky nylon chenille that I knew would be soft against their skin, if not particularly warm, and quick enough to knit that I could have them done before the Spring thaws. Julie’s scarf is already done, but I’m making her wait to have it till Sophie’s is off the needles as well, one or two more sessions should see it done.

Once the Sisters were done bouncing on the layers of squishy chenille, they moved on to the exciting Ferris Wheel structure of my spinning wheel. Notice that there is no fluffy wool sticking out of the orifice on the front – the singles are all spun for this giant batch of wool – it started out as a 4-lb fleece if I my records are correct (and I’m not exactly 100% sure that I’m matching up the fleece to the right records, sadly). I know that I skirted the thing mercilessly, throwing out any and all dubious bits before washing, and then I combed the locks into top, which meant that even more ended up in the compost. It will be interesting to see what the finished yarn weighs.

So now comes the wider view – I am busy plying the yarn as time allows, usually late at night when my brain is good for nothing better. I used my beautiful Earl Oman wheel for the spinning, but all of the bobbins were full by the time I was done, plus my Rose wanted in on the action – she is faster at plying with her higher ratios.

I have three finished bobbins waiting to be wound off, the fourth is almost done. I’m thinking I’ll have almost two more bobbins’ worth by the end – a sweater’s worth, almost certainly. It is very hard to take a halfway decent picture of black-brown yarn on a bobbin on a cloudy winter morning, not that I actually tried very hard.

Observant readers will note the Garmin box to the left of the bobbins – my big Christmas present was an uber-fancy running watch that can track your mileage and pacing with extreme accuracy. I haven’t had much opportunity to use it yet, since I’ve been running on the treadmill at the gym – I would like to claim that I run outdoors in the Winter, but in reality I am a big chicken and afraid of falling on the ice. Someday. I need time to figure out all the fancy features anyway. To the right of the bobbins is a basket full of other handspun waiting for its turn on the needles. Oh, how I wish I had an extra pair of hands!

By now, the Stinkies had moved across the room to the work table. There, they found some freshly-wound sock yarn. I live in fear of running out of mindless on-the-go projects to take along to swim practice and other enforced instances of down time. I’ll find a moment in the next couple of days to cast on another pair of socks – I think I’m going to do these from the top down. This will be another pair for myself. A couple/few years ago, I knit a little sweater for Sophie out of a different colorway of this yarn – it has a ply of sparkly silver spun in, and the whole time I knit that sweater, I wished for some socks for myself out of it. I always re-wind the skeins into two equal balls so that I can knit both socks at once – on two separate sets of needles, alternating between them so that I still have something completely mindless to work on even if one of them is at the heel or toe and needs a bit of attention from my eyes rather than just my hands. I like to knit in the car if someone else is driving, but I get horribly car sick if I have to look.

Finally, the girls found their way back to the kitchen, where they explored my on-the-go sock pouch. The pair in there is almost done – probably in the next week or so. I would have finished them off at home by now if it weren’t for those frivolous scarves. You can’t see it in the picture, but there is a name and phone number tag on every one of my knitting pouches or bags if there is a chance that it will leave the house. I learned my lesson after losing an almost completely knit sock along with a big ball of my handspun yarn a few years ago.

Sophie will be coming home from school soon, and I think the Stinky Sisters were tired. They are back on their table, dozing as they wait for their girl to return.

All of this reminds me of my favorite quote from The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery:

“You should have come back at the same time,” said the fox. “If for example you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, I shall start feeling happy at three o’clock. As the time passes, I shall feel happier and happier. At four o’clock, I shall become agitated and start worrying; I shall discover the price of happiness.

I think I may go watch out the kitchen window – I think my girls have me completely tamed. Fred will come with me, and just before time for the school bus to come, he will start whining at the back door because he is tamed too. We are the lucky ones, because they will always come.

Twice in One Week?!?

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

hey, look at me, I’m back AGAIN!

Okay, so I have a story to tell you today, not about knitting. It’s about my kid and my mother-in-law and some other stuff.

I mentioned that my family is heavily into the Girl Scouts these days. It’s a little bit like a cult, only instead of brainwashing you to stop talking to your friends and family and drink heavily sugared, artificially colored drinks that come in little foil packets, they just teach you to be really nice to each other and try to make the world a better place. Oh, and sell a few cookies once a year.

Anyway, our local “service unit” hosts this event every year called International Tea. There’s not necessarily any actual tea involved, but the idea is that each troop picks a country, does a little research about it, especially about girls and women in the country, then sets up a display table about it for the other troops to hopefully learn a little something. To make it fun,  they also serve bites of some food (or drink, in which case tea *could* be involved) local to that country’s cuisine . They also have an option to perform some song or dance or skit related to that country at the end. And all this is background to the story.

This is my troop’s first year hosting a table – last year they were Kindergarteners, and we had never experienced an International Tea, so we attended as guests just to learn how it works. This year, I chose the easiest country I could think of – South Korea – because hello my entire family is from there. I’m going to wrangle my mother-in-law into helping make enough kim bahp for a crowd of 300! Weeeee!

Anyway, I knew there were some cute songs we could do, because I remembered my MIL teaching them to the girls when they were little. Never mind that Psy and Gangnam Style have taken over the planet (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go search for it on YouTube, and you can be the 1,657,998th person to view it. It’s pretty awesome). I’ve got her coming to help teach a super-cute song to my Girl Scouts in a couple of weeks, but it’s kind of hard to learn a song in a foreign language, especially one that is not rooted in the same continent as the language you’re used to speaking. So I decided we’d get a head start at the meeting we had this week.

Which is more complicated than it sounds, because it meant that *I* had to actually learn the entire song and the motions that go along with it – not just the first three words and hum along to the rest like I’d normally do. I went and searched the Internet for some video and lyrics, and while there was some out there I had a vague memory of making video of MIL doing it with Sophie, and I thought maybe it would be at least as good or better than what I’d found already online. Digging through the photo section of my computer’s hard drive is like a little treasure hunt, and OMG it reminded me not just how much I love my daughter and how delectably cute she was at that age, but also why I really do love my MIL even though – well, she’s my MIL.

Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure. It’s a song about a bunny who hops away looking for chestnuts to collect. Don’t ask me why he’s collecting chestnuts, I had lunch with my Korean sister-in-law today and we couldn’t figure it out either.

Yeah, I’m not sure why Sophie was yelling and running around, but it was cute enough to melt my heart a bit. Anyway, the girls in my troop made a valiant effort to learn it last night and made me proud. I’m hoping we can do ourselves proud in front of the crowd at the International Tea.

And, just for a slightly more up-t0-date version of my girls – last February the Girl Scouts had a big 100th anniversary party at the Mall of America. It was a long, fun, stressful day and at the end of it, I took them my two out for burgers, fries and a giant hot fudge sundae. We were feeling pretty goofy, and they posed for this picture while we were waiting for our food. Ack, they’ve already grown up so much more since then!

Dear Blog: I Miss You

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Hi, Blog! Remember me? Shelly. You know, the one who used to write here all the time. What? You don’t recognize me? Well, it’s been a while, and I’ve changed some.

okay, the cutesy attitude will get old quickly, but Hi, it’s me, stopping by again. I’ve been wanting to blog again for a while, so today here I am. I thought I’d share a little bit of what I’ve been up to lately – life has changed so much since the days of the fabulous sock-yarn blankie – hard to believe that was six years ago! So much has passed since then, and I feel like that’s what most blog readers of old think of when they think of Shelly Kang – a honkin’ big sock yarn blanket.

Well, a few years ago, I joined a gym and it changed my life. The changes have been gradual, and there has been much work involved, but I have grown a whole new set of friends that I see every week day while we literally work our a$$es off. Well, most of them already had the body shape they wanted. I was at the point where if I didn’t get off the couch and start moving more, I was never going to be able to. Over the last four years I have lost 50 pounds and become more fit than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve learned to love running (something I NEVER thought I would say, let alone really believe). Last spring, I ran my first half-marathon and surprised myself by finishing in under two hours. And it was fun.

This summer, I swam a race in Lake Superior called Point to LaPoint. It’s two miles from the shore to Madeline Island. I did that in just over an hour.

Yeah, not the most flattering of pictures except you can see the excitement and pride in my face as I went to hug my kids straight out of the water. What you can’t see is them totally not wanting their nasty wet Mommy to drip lake water all over them. Seriously, though, it was an amazing experience and I’m hoping to do it again this year. I could go on and on about the journey I’ve been on with the fitness and the changes in eating, and maybe I’ll come back and share more…

Meanwhile, the girls have grown up so quickly! I was just looking at some of the main Blankie posts while trying to answer a question for some knitter out there just now embarking on their own Blankie project (can you believe that there are more than 2300 Blankie-related projects listed on Ravelry right now? I sure can’t!) But anyway, in those pictures, Sophie was a baby and Julie was a toddler. Now they are both in elementary school. Being their mom is still my full-time job, and I am so grateful that I get to do this job every day.

We have all joined the Girl Scouts – Julie was invited into a troop last Fall, and Sophie wanted to be a Girl Scout too, which led me to a recruitment meeting at which I became a troop leader. Oh, I felt so suckered in! I thought I was signing up for this so that I could make sure Sophie had a good experience, but to be honest I have gotten much more out of it than I have put in so far. I’ve done a lot of cool things with both of my girls that I never would have done otherwise. Here we are at a rollerskating event just about a year ago…

One of the challenges of blogging as a parent is defining the limits between sharing and privacy. To be honest, one of the things that has held me back from posting is trying to figure out what I can say and show, and what I shouldn’t. There are a lot of things that occupy my time and energy that would make awesome blog posts, and writing about them is tempting when I’m in the thick of dealing with them. I deal with certain issues that I think I could share my experiences on and possibly help other parents out there who are dealing with the same things. But those stories are not entirely mine to tell. Once information is put onto the Internet, there’s no taking it back. A few years ago, I had a couple of instances where very nice local blog readers approached me in public at non-knitting events – once or twice when I was out with my girls at our favorite restaurants or shopping. It really hit home to me then that there really was an audience out there reading about my family, and that everything I share about my kids will be background information for the community to know about us before they even meet the real “us”.

It almost feels like lying by omission when I share only the happy-shiny moments of our lives, and I try to be very honest and open in all my relationships. It’s especially hard when issues flare up, but also when I have especially happy or shiny moments and here I am bragging about them again…but, nobody is forced to read my drivel, so I guess I can continue to spew it and you can take it or leave it.

Julie is 9 now, and a third grader. This kid is so smart, so insightful, so delightfully quirky. She reminds me of myself in so many ways, not the least of which is that she also loves swimming and practices with a swim team almost as much as I do. She loves to tell people that she is interested in fashion design, and every time we are at a toy or book store she zooms in on those kits full of templates for drawing clothes fashion pictures or cutting out paper clothing outfits, or – well you would not believe how many various activity books and kits there are on the market aimed at girls who like clothes. She’s had them all. In the lead-up to Christmas, she was circling all of them in the toy catalogs and a light went on in my head. I told her that if she was interested in fashion and really wanted to learn more about it, she needed to learn how to sew so that she could make real clothes instead of all these piles of drawings around the house. We went to the fabric store and picked out a pattern and some flannel, and over Winter Break she sewed herself some pajama pants. I made the shirt to go with them, but she really did do 90% of the work on the pants herself – including the hair-raising-for-me-experience of learning to use the iron. Yes, there was a small burn involved, but she’s fine and it’s almost a given that you’re going to burn yourself eventually when you use an iron. Here she is.

Sophie is almost 7 and in first grade. She loves to dance. Until last Summer, her hair was quite long and she claimed she was going to grow it down to her ankles. I think she really believed that she was going to, and the idea of combing through the tangles at that length gave me nightmares. Eventually, I told her about Locks of Love, where you can donate your hair to be made into wigs for children with permanent hair loss. She loved that idea, and was able to donate a full foot of her beautiful silky brown hair. Now it’s growing back nicely, but it was cute even as a short bob.

I knew that she would be sad if Julie got to work with my sewing machine and she didn’t, so I bought her a plain tote bag and let her pick out different colored threads to sample the various stitch patterns my machine can make to decorate it with. I’d say that was a win.

Yes, I have in fact been doing some crafty activities…just maybe not quite as much as I used to. Things have shifted a bit as well. After I learned to spin, I really took to it like a duck to water. It’s so meditative! So calming! Eventually, I dug even deeper and bought a few dirty fleeces straight from the sheep so that I could process them start-to-finish. Let me tell you, I’m glad I know how to do it. It’s been fun learning. I’ve told my husband to shoot me if I ever bring another dirty fleece into the house. I might be willing to buy a fleece and send it away to be washed, but sorting and washing fleece is not at all glamorous! I have a ton of pictures on my hard drive from my adventures with it last summer, thinking that I would blog it – I’ll go back and look at those if I need reminders why not to do it again.

Actually, I am just finishing up spinning the singles on a Romney cross I bought in 2011 – at least I think that’s what this one is – I’ve actually bought six fleeces total, and I didn’t keep my records very straight, so this could be one that I bought this Spring. I’ve got seven bobbins full of skinny singles, and now I’ve  got to decide whether to make 3 or 4 ply yarn with it. I’m leaning toward 3, but I’ll have to sample and see how it looks. There’s definitely a sweater’s worth here.

Knitting has not gone by the wayside, though. I still knit socks at a rate of just less than a pair a month. Joe decided last winter that he might actually like to wear hand knit socks to work – totally knocked me over when he announced that he’d like a few more pairs after years of hiding the few pairs he had in the back of his sock drawers. I told him we’d start with one more pair and take it from there.

I’ve been wrestling with a very nice batch of purple Elspeth Lavold Silky Wool yarn – I had a sweater 80% done, when I tried it on and discovered that the design was awful (not mine – I was knitting from a pattern out of a magazine) and ripped the sucker out. That represented months and months of work, though, so after washing the yarn it sat for a bit while I worked through my disappointment. I’ve started a new sweater – working on the arms first, two at a time on a big circular. I have my reasons for doing it that way, and maybe I’ll show you.

There is also another sock yarn blanket in progress…this one is not as amazing as the mitered square one. It’s just a collection of clunky crocheted granny squares. I made the mistake of doing too many rounds on the first 10 or so squares I worked up, and by the time I realized that it would be cuter with smaller squares, I was not willing to go back. For some reason, it feels like a summer project to me, and I’ve set it aside for now, maybe to be finished in time for next year’s state fair. We’ll see.

On the horizon, my glittens (fingerless gloves with mitten-flaps that go over the ends) that I wear every day are on the brink of wearing out. I have a plan for a new pair, and a matching hat of course…but the plan involves spinning some specific yarn – it will be a really cool project that I’d like to share so don’t hold your breath, but stay tuned!

The backlog of updates is daunting. Hopefully I’ll be back soon. Thanks for checking in!

Shelly