Socktober!

October 22nd, 2011

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve put together a good knitting-content post. There have been several projects in the interim – so many that I’ve realized I have quite a bit of work to do over on Ravelry as well. Today I’m going to do some catching up on the sock projects. It’s really sad that I’ve failed so badly to update that I can’t even remember all the pairs of socks I’ve knit lately, or even all the yarn details of the pairs I can remember. I’ll do my best. Here’s the pile I dragged together earlier this week…

Let’s start with the  two oldest pairs, the two in the middle. Sophie picked out the yarn for the darker purple pair some time last Spring. We were over at the Yarnery in St. Paul, and I was planning to teach another sock class over there. These were intended to be sample socks for the store, then eventually keep Sophie’s feet warm. The class unfortunately didn’t fill, and the socks turned out a little big for Sophie’s feet. They fit Julie perfectly, though, so they’re going to her for now, and some day they will be handed down to Sophie. I think the yarn is Dream in Color Smooshie, but to be honest I can’t find the ball band so I could be totally wrong. It is lovely squishy stuff, and I loved working with it.

I’m showing them unblocked because I don’t bother to block socks when they’re going straight on to an immediate family member’s feet. It is a very small exception to my always-block-everything general rule.

Meanwhile, Julie and I ended up over at the yarn shop on a different day during the summer – before the above socks were finished. She picked out a skein of Cascade Heritage Silk, in a color strikingly similar to the one Sophie had chosen. This yarn was a finer fingering than the one Sophie had chosen, so I cast on with smaller needles (Addi Turbo 00) and more stitches – 64 around – so the stitches would be tight enough for durability. Turns out, Julie’s feet are almost as big around as mine – which are fairly skinny.  These were going to be tight on her.

I had already finished the first one when I discovered this problem, but the plan made itself pretty obvious when I had Sophie try on the socks I’d just finished for her – I was making her wait for hers till Julie’s were also done. I finished the second sock, only an inch and a half shorter to fit Sophie’s little hoof, then cut apart the first one mid-foot, ripped out and inch and a half and grafted it back together. In my mind, that was more fun than ripping and re-knitting the toe. Here, you can just barely see the line of grafted stitches, and that is without blocking or having been worn. On the foot, it is completely unnoticeable.

Here they are trying them on, supervised by our loyal Fred.

Get out of the way, Fred. We say that a lot around here.

Both girls were happy. Sophie says they make her feet hot, but it is only October. Maybe she’ll appreciate them more come February, but she does take after Joe, who tends to run warm.

I have a constant, low-level fear when it comes to knitting – I’m always afraid that I will have a desperate need for plain stockinette knitting and nothing in hand ready for such an event. You know, long car ride, boring meeting, waiting room, who knows. One of the reasons I like to knit socks from my toe-up short-row pattern is because they contain large uninterrupted stretches of plain stockinette tubes, which I can knit on without looking or really even thinking about. Usually, I try to set up a couple of just-finished toes so that I always have one to grab when whatever other project I’m working on doesn’t fit the knitting opportunity.

A while back, I bought a few balls of Schoppel Wolle Ambiete from Webs when it was on sale – I know I didn’t pay the $10 a ball they’re asking for it now because I bought the three balls necessary to knit a pair of socks for my large feet, plus another three in another colorway, which means the price must have been pretty good for me to add that much more yarn to an already overflowing stash of sock yarn. Oh yeah, conveniently enough Ravelry tells me I paid $21.48/3 balls back in January.  I especially liked the fact that this was a squishy sport weight, which knits up faster than the skinniest fingerings, yet still fits in my shoes and keeps my feet a tiny bit warmer. And I liked the colors.

So at some point between January and last week, I’d knit up a toe and had it laying around waiting for its moment. Last week, Joe and I had the opportunity to take our first tiny vacation alone since Julie was born 8 years ago. We drove to Chicago – an 8 hour drive – and back in three days. For a concert. A concert that I couldn’t have cared less about, but that Joe wanted to see and made a great excuse for me to spend a bunch of time alone with my husband, which has not happened in 8 years. Plus, 16 hours of free knitting time. W00t!1! I grabbed the as-yet-unfinished sock that turned out to be for Sophie, and the toe I just told you about. That would be plenty, right? ahem.

By about a third of the way back from Chicago, I’d finished Sophie’s sock and had gotten through the first ball of the Ambiente. Too bad I hadn’t brought a second ball along. Luckily, we were scheduled to spend a night in Madison, WI with some friends, and Joe was willing to stop at a yarn shop there for me to get my yarn fix on. Before I tell you about that adventure, let me say I really like this yarn. It is lovely to work with, I can tell I’m going to love to wear the socks, and holy buckets the colorway is fun to watch as it knits up. I don’t believe I’ve hit a striping repeat after knitting the entire first ball of yarn. Which takes the pressure off me to find the same place in the colorway when I start the second sock. I almost wish I’d bought yarn for a third pair in this yarn – the colorways are certainly appealing.

So. I pulled out my phone, dug around the internet and decided I wanted to check out the Sow’s Ear yarn shop in Madison. It is a combination cafe and yarn shop in a cute downtown area, in an old house type building. It was a nice enough shop with a high-end selection of yarn. Definitely the kind of place I would enjoy hanging out in, although the prices were – well – high-end. I went in there prepared to buy yarn and needles for another sock project, but was kind of hoping to be inspired and/or talked into some other quick project that wouldn’t involve a lot of looking at my hands (I get car sick easily). While the staff was nice, they were not chatty, so I ended up with sock yarn and called it a win.

That evening, I knit up a new toe in the Tittering of Magpies Fingering by Alisha Goes Around. It’s a lovely lilac color that both my daughters are drooling over, with a teeny bit of sparkly “Stellina” fiber spun in. Unfortunately, that first toe had a single mistake in it that I knew was going to drive me batty if I left it, so I broke off the yarn and started over. The second toe came out perfect, and by the time we arrived home in Minneapolis I’d made it well into the heel.

There she is, with the naughty toe looking on in envy. This sock is destined to eventually grace Julie’s foot (and then eventually Sophie’s) but first, it is going to be a test-knit for a pattern I wrote up at least two years ago but never actually published. It’s one that I really love – I love watching Sophie wear the original prototypes – and I hope to get it out in the next few weeks.

And those are the socks on my mind at the moment. Meanwhile, I’m also binding off the shawl I’ve been designing. I think I like it. I hope to get that pattern out in the near future as well – having a bit of free time while the girls are in school means hopefully getting some actual work done, although honestly that “free” time flows through my fingers like water as I run errands, fold laundry, prepare meals, and do a thousand other things that my family needs done. I have some big news about a new role I’ve recently taken on, but that is for another post.

Blankie Update

October 11th, 2011

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Know what’s great about the blankie? My 5-year-old can barf all over it in the morning, and by dinnertime it is freshly laundered, dry amd folded. I have no qualms about putting garments knit from superwash sock yarn in the washer, and spread flat on a bed it dried in a few hours.

Sophie is much better now, just sad that she can’t go to swim team tonight.

Garden Fairy Birthday Party

October 6th, 2011

Hi, there. So much exciting and fun stuff going on right now. A couple weeks ago we celebrated Julie’s 8th birthday. Well, we celebrated it a couple weeks before that just with our immediate family, then waited for the grandparents to come back from Europe to throw a party. In the past, I’ve almost always hosted the girls’ birthday parties outside our home. We’ve had lots of bowling alley parties, a painting party at a local shop, one or two at a giant indoor climbing structure, once in a public park – a risky prospect in Minnesota in September. It always just seemed easier not to have to worry about all the pre- and post-party cleanup, and also planning the entertainment.

This year, Julie wasn’t sure what kind of party she wanted. None of the previous ideas appealed, we weren’t willing to pay the big bucks for Pump It Up, the place where all the kids in the rich suburb just south of us seem to do their parties. Julie decided she wanted a fairy-themed party, and I decided I was finally willing to try a homestyle birthday gig. After all, I’ve been reading about Heidi Kenney’s fabulous parties she gives her kids for years, along with many other fabulous crafty blog moms. They can do it, maybe I can too.

Well, I did. It was a ton of work – before, during and even after. I was incredibly over-stimulated by the end of the day and it took me a good week to fully recover, but it was fun and I think worth it. I started with a bunch of research on the Internet. I wanted a generic garden-fairy theme rather than a Disney-fairy theme. Wholesome and sweet versus commercial and a little bit slutty, ya know? These kids are 7 and 8 – let’s hold onto the innocence as long as possible.

I found some super-cool free printable invitations from Hewlett Packard’s website – link also includes a paper flower wand, an activity guide, place cards, a paper chain, and “shrinkable sprite charms”. HP clearly wants to give you lots of creative ways to use up your printer ink you you’ll buy more. Thanks HP! I printed mine out on my Canon inkjet. Worked just fine. At least one of the moms who received the invitations commented on how great they were. One of the things I dislike about purchased invitations is that you still have to hand write the details on every single card. My handwriting isn’t all that, and writing out all the envelopes is plenty for me thankyouverymuch.

After much planning and prep, the day came and the girls arrived. Oops – and one boy-cousin who was thoroughly pre-warned that this was going to be a very girly party. Each child was offered a pair of fairy wings to wear, and we had some butterfly temporary tattoos as well – slightly less popular. We sat them down to decorate take-home bags for party prizes/favors, and to assemble flower headbands.

I found another free printable sheet of Fairy crown flowers from Disney Family.com – actually, there are instructions to go with it, and links to other fairy party ideas. Yes, they were Disney, but they were just flowers, not the fairies themselves. This flower crown fit well into my theme, although I chose to use green pipe cleaners instead of ribbon because I thought the finished product might hold together better and be easier to put on and take off – the paper flowers on the ribbon seemed very likely to slide around, twist and tangle each time someone decided they didn’t want to wear theirs – but maybe now they do – or not – and I don’t want to be responsible for fussing with ten little head bands on ten little girls while managing the rest of the party. I did buy some ribbons, and helped the girls tie lengths of it to the back of their headbands for added decoration. These projects kept them busy while the other girls arrived, and they seemed to enjoy them.

Before the party, we’d cleaned out our large basement playroom in case of foul weather, but the day turned out to be beautiful, so we headed outside for the games. First up, pixie dust relays. they had to pour the dust from Pixie Sticks into spoons and race across to dump it in a plastic cup, then hand it off to the next team member until they’d filled the bottom. This is me explaining to them how they were going to split into teams of three. Like herding cats.

Here they are during the race. OMG, it took a lot longer to get the tiny little bottom ridge of the cups. If I were to do it again, I would definitely get smaller cups! But they enjoyed it, and they worked together.

Next up, pin the star on the fairy’s wand. I drew this cheesy fairy picture. Drawing is not my talent, mmmkay? But the girls were impressed enough, and they again seemed to enjoy putting on the blindfold and taking a turn sticking a star-shape on the poster. This was way too easy – first girl got the star right in the middle of the wand.  Also, some of them got a little bored waiting their turn.

Here’s Sophie getting ready for her turn – Julie is helping me spin her around in an attempt to make it harder.

It’s funny, at the last minute before the party, I was worried that we would run out of things to do before time to do them, so I threw in a “musical fairies” game – I printed a bunch of clip-art fairy related pictures onto card stock, and found a copy of Bippidy Boppity Boo on CD somewhere, and we had our own version of musical chairs. Turns out, we ran out of time at the end, but I choose that over desperately trying to entertain a bunch of sugar-high kids empty handed. The girls liked this one, and decided on their own that they should be skipping.

One more game – drop the clothespin fairy (I used the old fashioned clothes pegs, tied ribbon wings on and drew little faces) into the flower-jar home. They liked this one too. Although – some of the girls started chanting “oops, she died!” when one of the fairies landed outside of the jar. A little morbid, but funny. Some of the other girls asked them to stop after a bit. :-)

For prizes I’d found a very cheap craft supply place online and bought a bunch of simple needlepoint kits (not all that popular) and fuzzy sticker coloring kits (which were tacky cheap and went like hotcakes). Every child ended up getting a prize – kids who won more than one game either picked a friend who hadn’t gotten one yet, or we otherwise fudged it to work.

Everyone headed inside for cupcakes and ice cream. The grandparents arrived just in time to sing Happy Birthday. I made the cupcakes from the same chocolate cake recipe I always use – the one from the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa box. It’s no-fail and it’s delicious. Especially if you spring for the fancier cocoa powder. I usually make double the frosting recipe, so I have plenty to go around and a little left over to spread on graham crackers and shove down my cake-hole in private once the party is over. Yes, I just admitted that to the world on the internet. Oh! and the cute cupcake papers are Wilton brand. I love that they’re tall enough to keep the cupcake from spilling over and making the crusty edges that always try to stick to the muffin pan and make you want to scream.

After we sing, I always whisper in their ears to stop and think of a really good wish before they blow the candle(s) out. Julie seems to like that.

We had time to open a few of the presents, but I wanted to get the girls outside for one more activity before the parents showed up…I love how the kids always cluster around the birthday child so they can see what’s being unwrapped. I’ve never gotten a good set of present-unwrapping pictures, and I’m okay with that.

Finally, out we went to whack away at the mushroom piñata. I love piñatas. The girls loved it. Inside, there was very little candy, but lots of little trinkets like ink-stampers, fuzzy pens, note pads, fancy hair ties, little mushroom erasers and other girlie stuff. We did a round of everyone blindfolded, then a round of everyone not blindfolded. By then, all the parents were there watching and waiting for their kids. The thing just would not fall apart. I only wish I could show you a picture of me whacking the heck out of that thing, but I think Joe was too busy laughing at me and pulling kids safetly out of my way to take pictures.

And that was it! My awesome in-laws brought Korean food for dinner, and I very much appreciated that, even though I was too shell-shocked by that point to carry on a coherent conversation. Seriously, the party was a success. Julie enjoyed it, and so did her friends. I had fun too. We’ll see if I’m recovered enough to do it all again in February.

Thanks for waiting for this – I’ve got more exciting news on the way, but it’s almost time for the kids to come home and I have to load the dishwasher and move some laundry around first. Parent teacher conferences are tonight, and I’m looking forward to a little face time with the new teachers. It’s always such a mystery what goes on in their little lives when they are away from us at school, and the little glimpses we do get always surprise me.

And Now We Are Happy

September 22nd, 2011

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After swimming (lots of smiles and hard work) it is time for a treat.

Club Crabby

September 22nd, 2011

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It is a tradition in our house (as in many houses with small children so I’ve heard) for our children to go through extreme picky phases with food.

Now that I’m eight years into this parenting experience, I’ve learned to take this particular issue in stride. Having a menu planned out in advance helps, since I can point at the menu and say “It’s what we’re having”.

Tonight’s dinner is quesadillas. Sophie saw me making them and immediately went into tantrum mode.I shrugged it off, smiled and said my usual. After all, she’s pretty much refused to eat all the meals I’ve cooked in the last two weeks – except the boxed mac n cheese we ate on Tuesday.

After a few minutes, I caved when she said she’d rather have rice (brown rice already cooked and in the fridge) with a slice of cheese. I’m not *always* *completely* unreasonable, so I shrugged my shoulders and heated it up. We are headed out to swim team practice in a few minutes, and I secretly wanted her to eat something before her workout.

The moment the plates hit the table, the tune changed to “I hate rice. I want quesadilla!” Dammit, after eight years of parenting, I really do know better than to fall into that trap. She’s eating the rice, under much protest.

Again, let me point out that she’s clearly not in the middle of a growth spurt and is neither fat nor skinny. I am not depriving her in any real way.

I think I’ll wait for dinner till they’re asleep and I can eat whatever I choose to throw together in peace.

Party Prep

September 21st, 2011

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Just one of the many tasks I’ve been doing this week in preparation for Julie’s birthday party. I cut out about a bazillion little paper flowers for a craft project our guests will be doing.

This is the first time I’ve hosted a birthday party at home since Julie was one year old. I think I have enough activities planned to keep a bunch of eight year olds entertained for two hours.

Now I just need to bake the cupcakes and finish cleaning the house…

Harvest Bounty

September 15th, 2011

Well, this week has pretty much flown by – BUT! I am right here! I am blogging! I have a whole mish-mash of stuff to show y’all today, but we’ll start with the crazy cooking. Stick with me – there’s a bit of knitting at the end.

With the school year restarting, along with a confluence of a giant harvest of veggies from my garden now that the weather’s cooling off and a giant realization that we got into some really bad eating habits over the summer (mostly of the eating-out variety), I realized it was time to start some meal planning and hard-core cooking.

There’s a thing about cooking – the more you do it, the easier it gets. In my house, cooking often involves large batches of things that freeze well and can be reheated weeks later so that the family will not realize that they are eating leftovers – something they outright refuse to knowingly do. You might be amazed at how creative a lazy and/or frugal mom who wants her family to eat healthy, whole foods can get with hiding things in the freezer and bringing them out on nights when she is too tired or rushed to cook from scratch. So you get on a roll, and you only have to really cook a meal from the ground up a few times a week. Until you start eating out all the time and deplete the stuff you’ve stored in the freezer.

So this week, I’m playing catch-up. I’m making new yummy dinners, and I’m using up some of the awesome vegetables that have been soaking up the sun in the garden all summer. I planted all kinds of stuff this spring, as I have in many springs past, and it’s always a craps shoot what’s actually going to grow. This year, the bunnies ate the lettuces and the peas and most of the beans. For some reason, tomatoes just don’t seem to grow for me the way they grow for other people – maybe it’s because I consign them to the pots that hide the ugly old-growth elm tree stumps we were too cheap to have ground down a couple years ago, and then I go on and forget about watering them more often than not. What I *did* succeed with this year were the potatoes, the carrots and the kale. In plenty. Sure, I got a few lousy peppers and a handful of soup beans, enough cucumbers to keep us satisfied through July and August when they weren’t turning bitter. (Why do they turn bitter? I hate that!) There were even a few zucchini squashes before the plant thankfully did a rot and die thing that kind of made me happy – I mean really – I’ve always hated zucchini. It’s pretty much only good for zucchini bread, which you’d have to be crazy not to love. And now I’ve gone off the deep end of rambling tangents! Welcome to my world.

Pictures sometimes keep me focused. Let’s pull some out. Sunday morning after I cleared away the newspaper and breakfast dishes, out came my binder of favorite recipes, my calendar (to figure out which nights we would actually have time to eat), and another cookbook or two just for good measure. I swear, thinking ahead is not easy for me, but once I get organized and sit down for a bit, I’m not too bad at it. A menu list and grocery list were born, and I raced away to the grocery store while Joe kept the kids busy.

Or maybe they kept him busy…

Sunday afternoon, I made one of my favorite all-time dishes, which Joe also likes and the girls – well, Julie ate it with a pretend gusto just to make Sophie look bad because she flat-out refused to touch it and instead went to bed hungry. It’s this awesome dish of deboned dark-meat chicken, calamata olives, dried apricots and dates and a bunch of spices simmered in chicken broth till it’s practically falling apart, and served on a bed of quinoa. I know, it sounds less than kid-friendly, and a bunch of you are gagging right now, but you have to believe me that I have been training my kids to eat weird food since day one, so they damnwell keep eating it now. And I swore I wasn’t going to pass on my parents’ food issues to my kids – I’m just making new ones up as I go along! Here’s what the chicken dish looked like:

There’s nothing in the picture to show scale – that’s the serving dish. I learned in our early childhood parenting classes that for some reason kids are more likely to eat what you are serving if you put it in a fancy bowl and serve it onto the plates at the table. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but we do it just in case it helps.

Oh, and for good measure – here is a picture of Sophie taken just yesterday, which will show you that she is clearly a healthy and generally happy kid who is not being slowly starved to death. And also will show you that she just lost her first tooth, making her even cuter than she was before.

Okay, and then Monday we had a super-easy korean noodle soup that involves boiling noodles from a packet, mixing a salty broth packet with cold water, hard-boiling some eggs and slicing up some cucumbers. So easy it barely even counts as cooking. Just don’t tell my husband that. Also, I baked a chocolate cake from scratch as in there was no boxed mix or frosting tub involved even. You already heard about that.

Tuesday, the girls had their first meeting of swim team, which meant I had an hour to get them off the bus, fed and back out the door to get to the swim facility in time. This is going to happen twice a week for the next several months, and I have *got* to have a plan of action for these nights. This time, I boiled some of those tiny cheese ravioli from the dairy section, tossed them with a bit of olive oil and dried basil (funnily enough at Julie’s request) and called it dinner. Oh, I put out some raw vegetables and gave them apple sauce squeeze tubes on the way home. They were thrilled at the pre-packaged treats!

Wednesday, I got my game on. Once Sophie had hopped the bus to Kindergarten, I headed to the garden with kitchen shears and went to town cutting the giant leaves of kale that had grown back after last month’s harvesting – mostly for the freezer. By the way, kale is this amazing super-vegetable that I choose to believe will help offset a lot of the poorer food choices we make if only we can actually bring ourselves to eat it. I’ve got three good recipes that my family actually loves, and they’re eating them all this week. The biggest drawback is that you have to wash all those giant leaves, carefully making sure there are no spiders hiding under their bumpy fronds, trim the woody stem off, and cut them into bitesized chunks. This is time consuming, but I spent an hour and got a huge pile processed relatively quickly when there were no children pestering me for – well – everything.

Last night we had these awesome turnover things that I forgot to take pictures of. You buy frozen puff pastry (yes, I know, not from scratch and I refuse to read the ingredients list because I know it’s bad and remember! I’m off-setting it with kale!) I brown a pound of ground beef, some onion and garlic, then add in a ginormous pile of kale, which cooks down to a much smaller volume – but ends up being about half the overall mixture, then dump in a bunch of crumbled up feta cheese and some lemon juice once the mix has cooled off a bit. This becomes the filling to the turnovers. I make a giant batch – enough for at least three or four meals – which justifies the time and mess required to make this meal. Some I bake right away, some I put in the freezer unbaked for brand-new meals later. Also, if I have leftover puff pastry, I usually make some kind of dessert thing with fruit filling – last night we had peach ones made with a peach preserve stuff I cooked up earlier in the summer. There you have it – my entire family ate that meal and liked it. yeehaw!

Today, I used up the other half of the kale I’d processed yesterday. I make this awesome soup with chorizo sausage, beans, tomatoes, a ton of carrots turnips and potatoes and of course kale.  I know, you’re sick of the K word. me too. Let me show you some of the beautiful carrots I dug up outta the ground…

The red things there really are carrots – they’re just one of those cool heirloom varieties. They’re orange on the inside, and they taste pretty much like regular carrots only maybe a little spicier – or maybe I’m just choosing to believe that. I apparently got a little carried away with the carrot seeds this spring – this is only a tiny portion of the carrot harvest – we’ve been eating them for at least a month, and there are more in the fridge. Soup also takes a lot of time, with all the peeling and chopping, but my kids BEG me for this soup. It is Julie’s favorite. Plus, a pot of it goes for several meals, and it hides well in the freezer. I also baked popovers, and let me tell you on a cold night, you pull that leftover soup out and put a pan of cornbread or popovers with it, and the family is happy.

I could hardly believe how much kale was still left after all that cooking, so I threw it with some olive oil and made kale chips for afternoon snack. My children eat it like candy. Weird, I know. But deliciously so.

Whew! Tomorrow night we’re having crock pot roast beef in an attempt to finally use up some of the last of the side of beef we bought in spring 2010, with garden potatoes and carrots and onions, and Saturday we’re having red beans and rice with the extra kidney beans I cooked up for today’s soup. And that is WAY more than you probably needed to know.

Meanwhile, on Sunday I snapped this picture of my current knitting project sitting on the counter with my smart phone and my ipod – all the fun toys I wished I were playing with instead of dutifully planning healthy meals for my family. Then I realized how incredibly tacky it felt to be carrying my lovely project around the house in a plastic bag when I had all kinds of beautiful project bags and baskets loitering in my office.

I still haven’t spent nearly as much time with my knitting as I would have liked this week, but at least now it’s in a pretty basket.

There are lace and beads involved, but that’s all you get till it’s done and I can spread it out.

Eight Years

September 13th, 2011

Yesterday we celebrated Julie’s eighth birthday. 8. It’s been a journey, I’ll tell you that. The baby years were tough on both of us – she with her food allergies and constant discomfort, me with the normal new-mom stuff, plus the baby that wouldn’t stop crying no matter what I did to try to make it better. Somehow, we survived the hardest moments. We managed to enjoy the bright ones. Gradually, things got better. At this moment, I’m totally in love with my kid. I’m so proud of who she is, all she does, the hurdles we’ve overcome together. All this in only eight years. I can’t really express what I’m feeling right now in words, but this will have to do.

So I’ll show you some pictures instead.

Uncle Dave came over to eat dinner with us – Julie had requested Naem Yung, a cold Korean noodle soup that we all love to eat. He had to go back to work, but stayed long enough to watch her open some presents. I think the one from Sophie, a book and set of toys for playing Restaurant with their American Girl dolls, was her favorite. Joe and I gave her the jean jacket, pens and sketch book she’d asked for. She was mildly excited about those too.

I’d baked a cake while she was at school – Sophie “helped” with that. I scrawled on Happy Birthday Julie with the decorator frosting, but decided to throw some candies on the sides of the cake rather than attempting additional decoration with icing. We invited our neighbors over to eat cake and ice cream with us – because it’s more fun that way and because I can  NOT have that much cake around the house without eating it. As it is, there is a hunk left just right for me and the girls to share after school tomorrow and it will be gone. Perfect.

We all sang “Happy Birthday,” Julie blew out the candles after a long moment of thought over her wish and about five puffs at the flames. I used the same chocolate cake recipe I always use – it’s the one on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa tin, and it totally rocks. Julie had asked for chocolate cake, chocolate frosting and chocolate ice cream. Now there’s a girl after my own heart. We all ate, the children played, the grownups chatted and drank their coffee. We are so lucky to have such fine neighbors. They are the best kind of extended family.

When I kissed Julie goodnight, I asked her “did you have a nice birthday?” And the answer was yes. I could not ask for more.

Folded

September 12th, 2011

Look! I’m back for a second post in less than a week. This time, I’ve got a knitted FO to show off. There are actually many FOs in the can waiting to be shown off, this is just the most recent. I spent most of my summer dawdling along on a single sweater. There were some socks here and there, and a bunch of spinning-related work, but this was my main project of the summer. But let’s start at the beginning.

Back in January, I spotted Folded in my Friends stream on Ravelry and loved it. I have several t-shirts in my closet with gathering at the neckline similar to the style of this sweater, and find them flattering for my small-chested, poochy-belly body type (okay, much less poochy now than it used to be, but I’m still haunted by the memories and there is still plenty of pooch left to hide. I know. Body issues. Forgive me.) But anyway, I have a pretty good feeling that this sweater would be a nice addition to my wardrobe. I also liked the idea of a finer-gauge sweater that I might be more comfortable wearing more often than just the very cold winter days. Here’s a picture, just to keep you interested…

Back this spring, I was kind of at a low point in fiber-related inspiration. I was busy thinking about all that good life stuff that I mentioned in the last post. I needed an easy knit that I could carry along and stitch away at without much thought, and this was perfect for that. I dug through my stash and found a bag of Classic Elite Yarns Summer Sox. I’d gotten it on sale from Webs, thinking I might use it for a light weight sweater and sure that I could add the leftovers to another project that is in the works, which I will share with you at some date in the near future (hopefully!) To be perfectly honest, I actually have another bag of the same yarn in another colorway still untouched, and I’m kind of wondering what the heck I was thinking when I bought it. Another sweater? We’ll see.

I’m not sure exactly when I cast on for this thing. Some time in the early spring. My yarn and gauge were entirely different than the ones suggested in the pattern, but I’ve never let that stop me in the past. The shape is there, I just recalculated the numbers and cranked away. It came with me to many soccer games and practices – the sleeves were knit separately to the underarms, so that was convenient. Then, eventually, suddenly – it was done!

I did modify the neckline just a bit. The pattern is written in stockinettte right up to the bind-off, and I tried that but it rolled on me in a way that I did not like, so I ripped out the bind-off and reformed some stitches to make 2X2 ribbing to match the sleeve cuffs and hemline. I chose to re-form the stitches by dropping down and crochet-hooking them back up because there is short-row shaping right up to the last couple rows in the back, and I really did not want to have to do all that knitting back and forth business a second time. You’ll have to trust me it was easier this way.

I have to say I’m pretty happy with the finished sweater. The neckline is a little on the wide side, so I will have to think about whether I want to either a) ignore my bra straps peeping out on the sides or b) wear a t-shirt or wide-strap tank top underneath. Also, probably because my row gauge was completely different from the pattern and because I didn’t think that through as clearly as I might have, the waist shaping and sleeve increases are a little clunky. They are fine in the wearing – normal people will not notice this – but a knitter might raise an eyebrow if they looked closely.

Oh! It would be unfair of me not to mention a totally dummy move I made in the making of this thing. When I joined the arms in, I accidentally joined one on upside down so that the decreases were on the top of the sleeve. I did not notice this until I was about an inch away from finishing the yoke, at which time much cursing ensued. This is where deep experience as a knitter comes in to save the day. I simply left it till I was otherwise done with the sweater, snipped a single thread in a single stitch on the offending arm, unpicked the stitches all around while sliding the newly live stitches from each side of the hole onto needles. Then I rotated the arm around into the proper position and grafted the baby back on. You totally can’t tell it ever happened. I’m calling this project a win.

Many thanks to my friend and neighbor Laura, who takes much better pictures of me than anyone else I know, and will do it on short notice with good humor. Thanks, Laura! You rock!

Forever Days

September 10th, 2011

Man, it has been so long since I last posted on this blog that I almost don’t even remember how to do it. I’ve been itching to blog regularly again, but have been so busy living this amazing life that it hasn’t happened till now. I think I’ll have a bit more free time this fall so hopefully (and I know, I’ve said that before) I’ll be able to not only blog more often but also put out some new patterns that have been rattling around in the works for some time.

For now, I’m going to do what I do best, which is a massive photo dump with some of the highlights in our family since last I shared. Ready? Go!

Sophie and I said a tearful goodbye to preschool. We’d spent three wonderful years with this team of teachers, and mostly the same kids and moms too. Teacher Margene is better than you can imagine, and Peggy has the best hugs – she’s gotten more knitted things from me than any other person outside my family and it’s because she appreciates them so much and because she’s so full of love. Stacey was the parenting teacher – the moms and/or dads met once a week for support and advice, and I learned so much about being a good parent from them! Srsly. I cried.

Julie landed the lead role in her first grade musical. She played Tiger Shark in Go Fish! – She was the shark that wanted to be friends with everyone. That kid – I am so proud of her. She knew all her lines, all the songs, spoke clearly, hit her marks, and enjoyed herself pretty much the whole time. Being involved in this little production really turned a light on inside her.

Of course the whole family came out to see her. Because the play included all of the first graders and the kindergartners too, there were two dress rehearsals and two showings because you can only fit so many chorus kids on a set of risers at one time, and there are AM and PM kindergartens. I was there for the whole thing, video camera and tripod and all. Again with the tears. So proud. And now all the other parents know Julie as “Tiger Shark” – which is not a bad thing to be known for when you are a first grader.

The end of Julie’s school year arrived, and with all the volunteering and hanging out during the play production, Sophie and I were almost honorary members of her class. We volunteered at the funfair on the last day, which basically meant we hung around and participated, although I did paste a couple of bandaids on, wipe away a few tears and squash a few antisocial behaviors – none of these on my own children mind you. I love this picture because it shows the best of my girls’ relationship. They really do love each other, are very close and play well most of the time. They also love to yell at each other and bicker over the tiniest of things.

We signed the girls up for soccer this summer because I never had a chance to play team sports and regret it deeply, and because hello staying active, making friends, coming home so tired that they actually fall asleep at bedtime. Sophie was very excited to participate, although when five-year-olds play soccer, it mostly involves standing around the ball and shoving each other until the one kid who has older siblings comes along and kicks it into the goal. It was so cute I almost died watching.

Julie – ahh, my darling Julie. She had to be persuaded to give soccer a try, and never did admit to actually enjoying it. We got her to buy in with a bribe. Yes, I’m admitting it here. We went to the store, bought one of every flavor of Gatorade, and told the girls that they could each have half of a new flavor every time they played a game. Worked a charm. And for the record, Julie did enjoy playing goalie, especially when she managed to stop a ball, and she even managed to kick the ball once or twice while out on the field. I’m calling it a win.

Also, we lucked out with two awesome volunteer coaches. Julie’s coach taught them this fancy little bow to perform at the end of each game. Both of their coaches were firm but supportive unlike a few we saw just screaming at their kids the entire game. Not cool for an in-house, non-competitive local soccer league.

Fred. Fred the chocolate lab is now quite big. He’s still very much a puppy, but fully potty trained and pretty obedient. He will chew up anything he can get in his mouth. The dog has destroyed at least ten pairs of flip-flop sandals. I kept saying “This is the last pair I’m going to buy this summer!” And then he’d get ahold of another one and c’mon we live in flip-flops during the summer, so off to Target we’d go for another pair. Every morning I wake up to him by the side of my bed, front paws up only because he is not allowed on the furniture. He is like a snooze alarm – one that wants you to play fetch with his duckie toy from which he has removed all the stuffing or his monkey which no longer has arms. I love the little shit.

This was the perfect Summer of the Pool for us. We had plenty of weather hot enough to actually enjoy being at the pool – which is not always guaranteed in Minnesota. The girls finally both swim well enough that I don’t have to worry about them drowning themselves. Best of all, they both discovered a love for water slides and diving boards, which gave me a chance to sit my hiney on a lounge and admire them from the side of the pool for half-hour stretches. The following pictures were taken on my cell phone, so you’re going to have to squint and use a little imagination bear with me.

Here, if you look past the creepy man walking to get back in line for the diving board with all the children, you can see Julie in free-fall from the drop slide.

Here’s Sophie getting ready to jump off the diving board. Every single time, she’d look over to me for confirmation that it was really okay for her to go now. The first day she decided to jump off the diving board, I wasn’t entirely sure it was legal for a five-year-old to pull this crazy stunt, but the lifeguard said if she could swim in 12 feet of water no problem. Off she went, and I stood by the side of the pool ready to jump in and yank her out but the worst that happened was me yelling at her for dawdling on the way out. It was pretty crazy watching her stand in line with 6-foot-tall teenagers.

And here it’s Julie’s turn on the diving board. I know, I’m beating a dead horse, but you can’t imagine my satisfaction at seeing them have so much fun doing what I enjoyed doing all summer at that age.

Finally with the pool pics, there’s Sophie coming off the drop slide. Eventually, the novelty wore off and they wanted to spend most of their time in the shallow side of the pool pretending to be mermaids or dolphins, spelled with jaunts over to the giant sand play area, which I only agreed to when the temperature dropped below 90. Because I’m mean that way. There were many afternoons spent at the pool till right before dinner time, when we’d rush home, eat something and head right back out for soccer. Did I mention that each girl had at least one practice and one game every week for ten weeks? Julie had two practices a week. That’s a lot of soccer!

Moving on…twice, Joe and I rode our bikes to the new stadium to watch the Twins play. The first time I learned my lesson about not stuffing myself on junk food so much that it hurt to peddle my bike on the way home. Damn nachos and their evil neon orange tasty-licious cheese substitute. That may have been the most fun Joe and I had together all summer long. I want to publicly thank my brother and sister in-law for taking the girls camping in the grandparents’ back yard, giving us the first night alone together since – you’re not going to believe this – Julie was *born*. That’s right. Seven and a half years.

This picture is really bad – totally out of focus and all, but it completely captures the girls’ reaction to our local fourth-of-July fireworks display.

I love this next picture. Julie participated in her first kids’ triathlon in July, and the look of satisfaction and pride on her face as she came down the finish line shoot is priceless to me. I wasn’t sure she would actually do it – the day before we spent several hours preparing equipment and convincing her that she would really survive the trauma of having to wear a swim cap for the ten minutes before and during her swim. The day of the race, she was cool as a cucumber and sailed through it. And she wants to do it again. Coming from the kid who complained non-stop about soccer all summer, this is pretty great news.

We signed the girls up for a week-long theater camp since Julie had enjoyed her experience at school so much, and Sophie is always eager for anything you suggest. They ended up in the chorus of a very cute production of Frog and Toad All Year. We now have the Broadway version soundtrack on constant loop in the van’s CD player, and it’s a good thing the songs are funny because I pretty much always have one of them playing in my brain.

Every child should run around in the pouring rain at least once per summer (especially if you get the chance to do it on a warm day without lightning.) Fred seemed to enjoy it too.

The next section of the post is all about me and my athletic pursuits. Two years ago, I finally started working out again, and was lucky enough to find a group of gym-rat friends that have not only kept me coming back for more, but motivated me to do things I never would have thought possible. I can run 12 or 13 miles on a long, slow distance Friday. I can run up and down hills on trails through the woods. I can swim two miles in open water no problem. I can actually enjoy pushing my body to new limits. Just don’t listen to my inner fat girl complain, because that’s what she likes to do when she’s not sitting on the couch eating Ben and Jerry’s.

In July, a bunch of us – nearly 50 – headed to Chisago Lakes and participated in a triathlon there. Many of them did the half Ironman. I “just” did the sprint – my second. It was a great day, and the best part was finishing in plenty of time to cheer in my friends as they finished their races. I’m near the center of the back row of this picture, just under the sign.

In August, I did another triathlon – again with a few people from our group, but this race for me was mostly about comparing my times with the same race (YWCA Minneapolis) as last year. I managed to shave 10 minutes off my overall time, and I am proud of that. I worked for it. Which is why I think it’s okay to show you way too many pictures of the day. First, Julie and Sophie crossing the finish line with me. Sophie is pouting because they were waiting for me at the finish line, and I was so focused on finishing that I forgot to stop for them. We circled back around and crossed the finish line second time, but she hadn’t quite gotten over my mistake at that point.

Here we are a few minutes later – everyone’s happy. A big part of why I work out and stay in shape is to be a good example to them, and it’s working.

Here I am during the run. I really need to work on my speed for the run. I know I can do better. My coach is pushing me to do speed work at the track, and I was motivated to work harder on it after this race – it’s just hard when my heart rate hits that upper threshold and the panic attack starts to set in. I need to work on the mind/body part of the game.

I really feel like I slammed it on the bike during this race. I have a new bike this year – the one I rode on last year is a very heavy, big leisure bike. I rolled together Christmas, Birthday, Mother’s Day and Anniversary presents to get this one which is not all that fancy, but it does have the clip-in pedals and is much lighter. I also gave that portion of the race every ounce of oomph I had, because I knew I would hate myself if I finished the bike part slower this year after having spent all the money on the fancy new bike. That part of the race went really well, and I even caught up with one of my teammates who’d started several waves earlier by the end of the bike. Also? This year I can actually show you the picture without cringing because my gut is not hanging down to my knees like it was in the pictures last year. This time I saw the camera and sucked it in in time. :-)

And the swim. Yes, I’m showing you these pictures in reverse. The swim was the first part, and my strongest of the three sports.  I work out with this amazing group of athletes – most of them run marathons, several have completed full Iron Man triathlons. It is an honor to be allowed to tag along with them. I’m just going to go ahead and say it, though, in the pool, I’m one of the five or six fastest of our group and it feels good to be good at something.

Even if I look like a big dork coming out of the water with my thunder-thighs bulging out of my swimsuit. Also? I’m developing that swimmers’ neck and shoulder thing where my neck is kind of too big for my head because of the added muscle. It’s worth it.

The thing about getting into working out again – it takes a lot of time. I spend two hours at the gym most week days – usually two swims and three runs. This summer our group ran outside, but because of childcare issues, I’m back inside for the fall now. It takes a lot of energy too, and usually by the time the girls are in bed, I’m utterly exhausted and barely have energy to sit and knit, let alone write about it. I’ve made a life choice to give up some things in trade for another.

One of the benefits of all this time is making friends with really nice people in real life. Many of them are also moms of kids around the same ages as mine, and my girls have become friends with their kids too. It feels so good to be part of a wild pack of bikers or runners, seeing the people we pass by looking at us with – admiration? envy? awe? – that’s what I’m choosing to believe they’re feeling. I lost a bunch of weight last year, and having those women notice as I slimmed down and tell me how proud of me they are – well, that’s worth the time and the effort.

I’m front-right in this picture – midway through a trail run in the urban wilderness of Golden Valley. There’s some really good runners in that group, and darn if I don’t just about fit in with them.

Fred even got in on the running action a few times. On Mondays, we’d run from the club to a school track that’s actually near my house, so I’d drive him and the girls over to the club, drop them in childcare, run Fred the couple miles back to our house, join the group back at the track and run back to the club. He is one happy dog on those days, and tired too.

I feel like I could have lived this summer forever. I loved spending the time with my girls. They are at the perfect age -we can talk, laugh, tell jokes, help each other out, compromise. I feel like I fell in love with them both all over again this summer. These are the days I want to hold in my heart forever. (sniff sniff) Summer does eventually have to come to an end, though.

We celebrated Joe’s birthday with a raspberry-peach cobbler as he is not a big fan of cake. It’s funny – one of my Facebook friends commented that they would have made a crisp instead, so I responded “me too, but Joe asked for a cobbler and it’s his birthday” and then Joe piped in and said “I really wanted a crisp too, but I couldn’t remember the word for it.” Ha! He is one year away from a big birthday. Time passes so quickly…

Because Julie started second grade on Tuesday. There was much deliberation on the outfit – it was just cool enough for her to wear some of her new fall clothes, and she desperately wanted “snail piggy tails” like her friend Ana, who played the Snail with the Mail in Frog and Toad.

And then – THEN! Sophie started Kindergarten on Thursday. Sophie has always been my easy kid. I realized as she started school that I have taken that for granted too often. I want to grab back all the moments when I could have read her another book or sat and colored with her instead of folding laundry or whatever it was I was doing. She has grown up so quickly. She is beautiful and fun, and it will be strange having her gone all afternoon during the week.

She’s enjoying herself so far, though, and honestly so am I – I spent the last two afternoons running around cleaning the house, liberated to do so once there was nobody yelling at me to fetch or do or take them or feed them or clean up or stop the dog eating their toy. I have big plans to get lots done during those afternoons this school year.

For now, I am busy planning a fabulous birthday party for Julie – the first time I’m hosting one at our house. There is a fairy theme, and I would like to do a whole post on the details of that in a couple weeks. I’m also in the middle of writing up a new shawl pattern so that I can teach it in a class this fall. There are beads! I will get to the spinning and knitting next time. For now, I’m off to bed. If you’re still here, thanks for reading!