Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Food for the Body and the Soul

Both knitting and bread are good for mistake-prone, distracted people like me. Okay, maybe not lace, but knitting in general is pick up and put down, tear out if you get it wrong kind of stuff. Bread can be equally forgiving.

Take yesterday. Thing 1 and I were planning to make Pane all'Olio, or Olive Oil Bread. We mixed it up and set it to rise. Even substituting butter for the lard called for, it was a terrific dough. [As an aside, four recipes in, I'm finding that the doughs as written are too dry. I'm adding between 2T and 1/4 c of water to make them just right. Maybe our flour is holding a lot of moisture?]

At any rate, the dough rose beautifully. Thing 1 shaped it into 12 little lime-sized balls and placed them in a ring. We covered them and set them to rise. By this time it was her bedtime, so I figured I'd have time to get them in the oven.

Instead, I got me into bed and only after I was covered up did I realize "The bread!" I hopped out, punched it down, placed it back in the oily bowl, covered it, and popped it into the refrigerator.

Here's the nice part. This morning, it was happy to see me, so I shaped it again and baked it after rising. Brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, it was great with the cappucino the girls walked to the coffee shop for. It was so good -- all those rises? -- that some of it was eaten before it posed for its pictures:

With all I have to do (hello? camping trip, Shakespeare discussion group, housecleaning, homeschooling?), am I doing them? Nope, I'm reading.

I had the great good fortune of hearing Alexander McCall's The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs on CD before I read it. For some reason, the voices really added to my experience. I laughed so hard I probably shouldn't have been driving. So I've read At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances over the past few days, and chuckled my way through that. I may have to go back and read the first one. How I know this is funny? My fluent-in-German and German-culture sister thinks it's pretty funny too.

Maybe I'll come back from camping with a somehow-finished scarf.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Perfectionism or being careful?

At least one of my children has a problem doing things "wrong." Learning curves are not her friend. In most of my life, I don't struggle with this issue. That's fortunate, considering what a sloppy and slapdash knitter I can be. That tendency toward perfectionism, however, is arising in me as I contemplate making something for another knitter. Think about it, really. A stranger, so they don't have any generalized affection for me to tide them past mistakes, a knitter, so they can spot said mistakes. Eeeesh. And I want my scarf exchange pal to enjoy her scarf, and I want the pal who's making mine to enjoy the process. I'd like to enjoy the process, too, but I am feeling some performance anxiety. Perhaps it's thinking that there's some higher standard to uphold here. It's not just a scarf, it's not just a scarf without mistakes, it's a highly complex/fully original/knitting showcase kind of scarf.

That's a lot of baggage for some yarn.

I'm delighted with the cable I've worked out for the ISE3 scarf, really I am. I get the lovely complexity of the Baroque Cable while extending the length by streeeeeeetching out some of the "bar" parts. Nice job, actually. I even like the no-roll double knit edges.

What I'm not so thrilled with is the determination of the thing to curl up like a threatened armadillo. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. If I'd only put a border on the end and made the double knitting nine or eleven stitches wide, rather than five, maybe that would counteract the reverse stockinette and cable. Maybe not.

Instead of ripping the thing out in a fit of pique, though, I just started another ball. I figure that if I like this one better, I'll abandon Mr. Cable. If not, I haven't destroyed a long time of distressing cable knitting (all brought to you without a cable needle, by the way). It appears I'm not that careful a photographer today, either.

Scarf iteration #2 has a pointy garter stitch end, leading to a garter-stitch edged version of the Prince Charles Brocade, brought to you through history via Barbara Walker. Hopefully this one will lie flat and showcase the yummy yarn. Then all I have to do is decide what to do with the curly one. Maybe I'll make a really fat-brimmed hat?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Itchy in my Skin

One of the things I hated about my various forays into graduate school (see "slow learner" in the dictionary) was the omnipresent, nagging feeling that I should always be doing something other than what I was, at that moment, doing. The world of knowlege was so huge, and the people I was with knew so much, and the standards were so high. . . let's just say that when I made an executive decision to run far, far away from any doctoral degree, I heaved enormous sighs of relief.

So now I find myself marginally employed, gifted with four wonderful children, deeply engaged in numerous interesting avocations, and I'm feeling. . . like there's always something else I should be doing.

Whether I'm nursing a baby, reading to the kids (okay, not so much with this -- I'm sort of Zen about that, thank goodness), vacuuming, knitting, working online, I'm fighting the monkey voice in my head. Nonstop chattering, offering not very supportive analyses of what I am doing or accomplishing, pushing me to hurry, hurry hurry. I am so tired of this.

Perhaps it's because I am tired. Perhaps it's because I set ridiculously high standards for myself. Perhaps it's because I have to make a choice every stupid second of every day about what to do next, what to prioritize, how to accomplish what must be done to keep body and soul together versus what makes keeping it together worthwhile. And the stakes feel unaccountably high. I don't think parents are responsible for their children's outcomes, but I do feel like I'm responsible for the kind of parent I am. I don't think I'm up to it. At least not recently.

Well, lying on the couch and weeping isn't a workable possibility. So, instead of finishing the fix on the lace throw or working more on the cabled scarf for the ISE3 (which I've decided to alter for more drapiness but NOT rip out -- trying to make the monkey quiet), I did some other things yesterday.

Did you know that "ciabatta" is Italian for "slipper"? Apparently Italians like their slippers flat:

And I took a nice lambswool/angora/nylon Gap sweater

and made it into something worth running away with.

Here's a quieter shot.

I'm probably going to undo the bottom and turn it 90 degrees, so the handles face the other way. I also decided to only use thrift store sweaters for diaper covers. The monkey and I agree: I don't knit fast enough to knit bum bags anymore.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Learning by Doing

That's what we call it here in the homeschooling world when a person runs headlong into a brick wall tries something out to see if it works. It can be something such as learning to flip a skateboard and land on it, or divide a big number by a smaller one, or, say, make a scarf with a cable.

This is my Desert Island yarn.
That is, if someone said, "You can only knit with one yarn from now on," after I came out of my swoon, I'd say: "Araucania Nature Wool, please." (After that, I'd weep.)

I've been trying to get my International Scarf Exchange 3 pal's scarf done on time, but in order to do that, this lovely yarn must have a pattern to go with it. Being a Good Knitter, that is, a well-behaved, rather than an overly talented knitter, I swatched.

And by doing that I learned that a) I love twisted stitch patterns as much as I thought I would (go look at that overly talented knitter I mentioned), and b) they don't work so well on variegated yarn. Next try? Loose 24-stitch cables. On the swatch, I liked them. On the actual scarf, not so much. I have Barbara Walker's Charted Knitting Designs open and am perusing a different cable, a more traditional cable, in hopes that we'll finally get somewhere.

I really want to get this done. The cotton wrap is half-fixed, in that the yarn over is back where it belongs but in some way I twisted some of the loose strands. I'm going to try to drop only a bit of the stitches, rather than all of them. At worst, it'll be tink city. Of course, we still have to figure out what to have for lunch, accomplish some sort of learning, have fun with each other, get the baby to sleep, and wipe the kitchen counters. Brick walls? Comin' right at ya.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Deary Deary Me

Well, it happened. I was feeling cocky and the goddess of yarn overs threw me a smack down. The dreaded misplaced yarn over.

I think I can rip back just those 8 stitches, put them on a separate set of needles, and redo the whole thingy. I think. I'm pretty sure I can't do it tonight, though, or at least I am sure I don't want to attempt to. Fiddly knitting fixes involving yarn overs need more focus than I can muster right now.

But I can appreciate the shiny goodness of the pretty yarn. And the fact that Thing 1 made that blue stitch marker sort of in the center. And that she just approached a new LYS owner all on her own and got her markers placed in that store, too. Talk about a proud mother!

And who knows? I'm getting so much help with housework these days, I may just have plenty of time to knit tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Mama Brag

Sorry about the double-posting, but soccer season started today for Thing 2.

Thing 2 is now at the level where they use big goals and have goalies.

She stopped one (sorry for the blur).

One got by.

But what can you do? This child slays me.

Third time's charm

Hey, this swatching thing? It works, it really works. (I'm going to ignore the corollary that washing and blocking a swatch would also yield valuable information for now.)

I absolutely lost any sense of knitterly responsibility, and am not knitting on anything I "should" be knitting. Thing 4's tank top? It's too cold for that. Cotton sweater 7/8ths done? It can wait a bit longer. ISE3 scarf? I haven't bought the yarn. But it's not too cold for cotton if it's going to be a wrap. See? Here's the Schaeffer yarn:

I was experimenting with different patterns from Barbara Walker's first Treasury. I love leafy lace, as the pattern near the cast-on edge shows. But as I knit it, I worried that the variegation of the yarn distracted from the pattern of the stitches, and the leaves were lost. I also didn't like the garter stitch edge as much as the stockinette edge.

So, I figured, more stockinette would solve my problems. Enter "Checkered Acre," from the same book. Stockinette in between was good. The rectangular pattern, however, seemed. . . static, somehow. Plus I screwed up.

It was right about then that I decided I needed to chart out the patterns in order to understand them. That helped. So did my new notebook of graph paper! I felt so very knitterly-experienced, when I really was forced into charting because of my ineptitude on the needles.

Ahem. I then tried "Openwork Diamonds." And I think we have a winner. A pattern I can manage to knit without screwing up constantly, nice purl side, and the diagonals lend a dash of movement and excitement while the stockinette shows off the gorgeous yarn. Going up a couple of needle sizes made the yo's a bit more lacey, also. I assume you all agree with me. If you don't, please don't tell me.

Oh, and Jacquie's stitch markers are gorgeous and helpful. Now, all I have to do is take some measurements, calculate what I want for the finished size (this has to be knit long side first, to orient the diamonds properly when worn, in my opinion) and decide what, if anything, to do about an edging now. How many miles of 3-stitch attached i-cord can one woman do without losing her marbles?

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

After falling into a knitting funk, I just stopped blogging, too. It's not that nothing was happening, I just couldn't get it together so much. Like housework, writing and knitting are probably easier if you just do them frequently.

For all the people who have asked in the last few months about why I keep bees, here you go:

There's a long and probably boring story about why I ended up harvesting a frame of honey now, without going to the trouble of figuring out how to do it right, but I had to do something with it. A simple set of household implements did fine in a pinch, although I did end up ruining the bees' nice work of drawing all of that comb.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get the hive open again and see if they've done what I hoped me moving comb around so freely would provoke. It also has an interesting texture -- it's viscous and sort of, well, rubbery. It clings to itself. Maybe it's a function of "fresh" honey? I don't know. The taste is sharper than the store-bought honey, but not in an unpleasant way. It's very definitely honey. I'm going to have to perfect a sourdough English muffin to do it justice, I think.

The Italian bread project went on also. We made "Pane di Como Antico, o Pane Francese," in other words, Como French bread. I think we need to let it rise longer -- maybe the kitchen is cooler than I remembered? This recipe required an overnight biga, or starter, and they can be reused just like the sourdough I make our weekly pancakes with, but this one messed around with the proportions, making it only apply to this bread. Helpful, if you wanted to make this bread over and over and over. Fine choice, but that's not what we're doing.

I then had to get my family ready to trek across the country by plane. Last year, I went to the annual matriarchial family reunion without my spouse, but Thing 4 is much more lively this year, so we used a zone defense. Traveling was just fine. Once we all got together, it was the usual roster of activities. I call it the matriarchial family because among the five children in my mother's family and the eleven grandchildren in my generation, there are only four men. A few of us have imported men through marriage or giving birth to them, but it's really a lot of Southern women getting together. Therefore, the main activities are talking, getting ready to eat, eating, and cleaning up after eating.

It's always very nice to see my special cousins, and my kids enjoy their second and first and first-removed cousins a lot. (I put down "kinship labels" for my homeschooling records.) We had quite a pack of youngsters. And a high proportion of them were armed with some sort of sword or shield or bat. . . we couldn't let our kids be left out. A trip to the dollar store by their dad kitted them right out. Here's Thing 4 in her adorable swimsuit accessorized with near-authentic plastic battle axe.

Thing 2 found a kindred spirit in one of my cousins, and she got lots of information about the insects that she was catching and collecting.

She also caught the Eastern counterpart to the Western Fence Lizard (go ahead, just guess what it's called!). I hardly saw Thing 1, and didn't take many pictures of her, as she slept away from us and spent most of each day running through the woods. That's probably why she is currently dotted with nail polish, fighting chiggers. Poor thing! Thing 3 enjoyed being one of many boys, rather than the Token Male Child.

Yes, that is a Diet Coke beside him. I decided to simply shelve most of my food and sleep ideas and let the kids run. I made an executive decision that I'd rather at that moment he ingest a horrible sweetener versus a slug of caffeine . . . Thank goodness no one brought a case of Moon Pies.

Despite bringing a large bag of yarn and plenty of needles, I managed to finish one diaper cover and sew the hook and loop closure on another. This is the second one, unblocked and unfinished. The first one was in use when I had my camera out.

Even without lanolin, the completed one is great! No diaper pins, and she's not covered with yuck from the gel inside paper diapers. I should probably make a few more. It's funny. People talk about how they don't get knitting something to hold body wastes, but it seems to me like knitting socks: they're useful, wool is the best material, knitting is less expensive than buying them (unlike socks), and everything that comes out of the body is washable. Oh well, that soapbox could probably be put away without anyone minding.

Even though I didn't knit much there, souvenir yarn is a tradition of travel. I made it over to Angel Hair Yarn, in Nashville. Nice store, and I had resigned myself to buying a just-okay linen blend since no yarn or book had called to me, when I walked to the cash register and saw this in a basket beside it:

It's Schaefer "Laurel," in the Empress somebody colorway, because this is a series about exceptional women. Oh my. My mother bought me a second skein so I could make something spectacular. I'm thinking. . . lace? I'll pick out some nice, easy smallish pattern and make a rectangular wrap. Then I think I'll give it back to my mom.

When I got home, the dog was well-cared for, the house was full of dog hair, but despite that, it was nice and clean. I've finally learned that a little work ahead of time makes homecoming that much more pleasant. The icing on the cake? This was waiting for me:

Jacqui sent me a great little box she made out of nice soft yarn and put stitch markers in it (because, you know, I'm such a great lace knitter). Plus, plus, there was a Burt's Bees hand care kit -- with gloves. I'm going to feel like the Empress around here!