Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I have been spending a fair amount of time recently planning for my holiday baking. Every year I bake a bunch of goodies and use those to fill treat "baskets" for the girls' auxiliary teachers (math teach, social studies, art, PE, spanish, and the principal are all on the list). ANd then, if you've been reading a while, you know I like to knit something for the teachers.

This year one of my daughters has a male teacher, which means lacy scarf is out, but warm scarf remains a possibility. The other daughter has a very hip young teacher, and I have been racking my brain for some hip knit scarf. I have not made any progress with this, and had resigned myself to gift cards and maybe making each of them an ipad holder (since the school has provided ipads to the teachers and students ). You know though how sometimes something just comes along that blows all your plans out of the water in a totally cool way? Well that happened today when the girls each brought home a letter from their teachers, suggesting that in lieu of holiday gifts, they'd like to suggest a donation to a charity.

Ok not just any charity. Their classes have all been reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, which tells two stories, one of Salva in 1985 and Nya, in 2008. Both stories highlight the need for safe secure drinking water in a region often fraught with conflicts, sometimes over this very water. It is a really good book, and if you have never read it, I would encourage you to do so. Anyway Salva is a real person, who after escaping Sudan (sorry spoiler!) started a foundation to dig wells in South SudanWater for South Sudan is that charity, and the one the teachers would like to encourage. So even though there must have been a bunch of dust hitting us, as the kids told me this, I managed to choke out that yes, indeed we could do this. Knitting problem solved!

However, both girls were all sad about not giving teachers something. "Can we still bake?" they both asked. Oh yeah we can. If we didn't what would I eat all through December? This time, I think I'll make a more sizable portion for each of their teachers.

So now, I am concentrating on that list. So far, I have:
Hard candy in either a variety of fruit or peppermint. Or maybe fruit and peppermint, I have no idea.
Peppermint Marshmallows I made these last year and by the end, I was hoarding them.
Sea Salt carmels yes, this recipe was in Oprah magazine. I don't care. I made these last year and they didn't set so I ate them all myself to save anyone from eating them. They were particularly good on a trefoil cookie, covered in one melted dove dark chocolate. I think I need to cook them a little more this year
Truffles. Last year I wasn't happy with how they turned out. This year, I may dip them in milk chocolate. I'll try to update with this recipe and the recipe for the next item
Spiced Pecans. The recipe is from my husband's grandma, and I was sure I had shared it before, but I can't find it. Anyway, I love these, I have a batch in the freezer now because oatmeal tastes oh so good with them.

When I think about all these things, they are all good but the tastes don't really form any sort of theme. This, I tell you, bothers me. It really does because it feels like what it truly is, which is--here is a bunch of stuff I love making and eating--Merry Christmas! I suppose I shouldn't let that bother me, no one has ever said--yuck these don't have a theme. I couldn't get a hold of any trefoils this year either. Maybe I'll make a shortbread if the caramels don't come out again. Sound be a fun December.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I wish there were progress to report on the dahlia cardigan. I wish there were knitting to show. I did finish the first sleeve, but then hesitated to start the second. A bunch of reasons held it up. One, I was scared that the sleeves might not be far enough apart to fit my arms. Second, the yarn I was using developed a huge tangle. I decided, thus, to take a break and use my knitting time to untangle the ball. That took a while, it was a huge mess. It did give me time to decide what I might do if indeed the arm holes are not far enough apart.

Instead, I've been doing more sewing as of late. An early snow weather day last week found me at the fabric store my MIL makes samples for (she needed to show off her grand babies). Each girl was bribed with a fat quarter (they love them) and while they decided, I found some fabric I needed. And then I found a cute pattern for a bag.

The pattern you can see at the whistlepig website. it is this iPad carry case. It seemed like fate when I realized I had a frequent buyer card that made the pattern and all the fabric for it $3!

Of course I didn't actually get to start on it until I had completed Barbie dresses for each girl. DSCN2078

The green was a fat quarter purchased that day, the red came from my daughter's stash. (grandma does this often)

My fabric had to wait until everyone went back to school. So far I have it cut. DSCN2083

Hopefully, I'll get more done soon. I was thinking that if this pattern works well it might, in a different color, make a good teacher gift.

Friday, November 08, 2013

My first (major) knitting project

I have already told the story of how I learned to knit from my grandmother when I was 11 or 12. The headband I made is still in use to hold hair back while washing my face, or applying moisturizer. (You can read the story), but basically due to impatience on both my grandma's and my part, I didn't knit anything again for 20 years.

first project I wanted to write more about that project,because I felt this sense of connection to my grandma as she taught me to knit. It is kind of hard, though, for me to write much about my grandma in November. Not only did she pass away in November, but I spent much of that last November thinking that she "wouldn't survive the night." In the end, I decided I'd pick up after the 20 year hiatus.

So, almost eleven years ago I found myself 400 miles away from all of my family, with infant twin girls. After a really rough first year of motherhood, my wonderful husband wanted to gift me for my birthday with some sort of "fun get out of the house class type thing." He gave up trying to surprise me, in part because he was kind of stumped as to what I would like. It just so happened that he was looking at quilting classes at a store that also offered "learn to knit." I'm not sure what made me say--This! I want to relearn to knit. Maybe it was remembering that closeness I felt when my grandma tried teaching me a skill that she had. I wanted a skill I could someday teach to my children or grandchildren.

So off I went with a ball of acrylic yarn and US size 8 needles to my first class. Over the next four weeks we learned to knit, to cast on (cable and knit cast ons), to purl, to decrease, to yarn over, and to bind off. We learned how to read patterns. We made dishcloths!

knit baby

I don't use dishcloths, but I made several of the two patterns we learned. I gave dishcloths to my mom, who did use them. I did keep the first two though.


Where the story gets more interesting is here. I finished the class, knowing all the basic skills and having only made 4 dishcloths (plus the 20 year old headband) and I decided to knit a sweater. Actually two sweaters, one for each of my now toddling daughters. I asked the instructor on the last class if that was even a thing I could do at this point and she gave me wise wise words of advice:

Take the pattern one step at a time.

Sure, there are a whole page of directions but really the first step? Cast on. After that one step at a time.

So I went to the library and browsed patterns from books and found this great Debbie Bliss book. Then I didn't write down the name of the book or the pattern, so it is forgotten through time. I balked at buying *that* much baby cashmerino and so found a cheaper and more washable yarn substitution. Of course not knowing anything about what baby cashmerino felt like, I picked instead a sock yarn in baby colors and then had to go up to size 3 or 4 needles to "get gauge." So yes, I got gauge, but the fabric that it created was much looser and airier than what the original pattern called for. And since I didn't get row gauge (because really how could I--the yarn I picked was so much thinner than baby cashmerino) they ended up a little bigger than I intended. But hey, the longer to fit them in right? Um yeah.

Tip: don't just match the stitch gauge, but attempt to get row gauge too.

Yarn substitution tip: Try to match your yarn to the other characteristics of the original yarn first sweaters They came out huge. I think I made the 2T size and they look like maybe 4T. Also, even though I was "careful" about the sleeve directions, I ended up with four sleeves that were all different lengths. The funny part? every sleeve was too long. Every single one. In this picture I have lined up the sleeves at the top.


My knitting instructor invited all of us to come in and visit her during the store's holiday open house later that year, and I asked her how to get the sleeves to all come out the same length. Her tip was:

Knit both sleeves at the same time

I have done this and it does really work if you are the kind of person who forgets to decrease when you are supposed to. Although if you are the kind of person who gets yarn tangled up, then it may not work that well for you.

In the end though, learning to knit was about trying to recapture some of that closeness that I felt with my grandma. And perhaps make things that would make my family feel loved and warm. And even though the first sweaters didn't quite come out the way I would have wanted them to, knitting has given me so much. Not just (eventually) warm knitted stuff, but also the closeness I wanted. I don't have pictures of my grandma and I knitting, and I don't have pictures of my daughters and I knitting. But I do have one of my mom and I knitting. And you can tell we are having a blast with it.

Mom and me

Submitted for Knitting Daily's Blog it to win it contest

The Prizes I picked are:
Penny the panda kit

Ashbury knitted mitts kit in hunter

Best of Knitscene

Sockupied one sock two ways firefly kit

2006-2011 Interweave knits Holiday gifts CD collection

I picked the above prizes for various reasons. I have a panda girl, I love knitscene, and it is time to start making holiday gifts.

Friday, November 01, 2013

halloween recap

Ahhh November! A time to gracefully make the transition from "pumpkin all the things" to "peppermint all the things." A time to go from the craziness of Halloween costumes, into the craziness of Christmas gifts.

But before we make that transition, there are some ends to tie up. So without further ado, here is the rundown/smackdown of the Halloween costume craziness.

Ever since Nov. 1, 2012, one of my daughters has been wanting to be Hermione Granger for Halloween. And this did not waver (as it does with her sister who has wanted to be statue of liberty, a toothbrush, a penguin, a flamingo, and a tube of toothpaste--all in the last 3 months!) and so this is how I came to find myself weeping in frustration in Joann's In early September. Every year of the last 15 years there has been a pattern for some version of Harry Potter. Sure they might call it magical wizards, but you and I know that it is Harry. Sadly, this is the year that every pattern company decided no one wanted to be Harry Potter (although tell that to the TWO other girls in my daughter's class who ALSO went as Hermione). But hey no biggie right, Hermione needs a grey vest, a white shirt, a grey skirt, a gryffendor tie, and a robe. How hard can this be? Well. I started strong by finding the perfect skirt pattern. Then I found a great sweater vest/white shirt combo at Salvation army. Eventually, I found an adult robe pattern (yes, only adults now want to be Harry Potter evidently--as this was entitled something like "Wizarding world!"). I decided to fake it on the tie, and found bias tape in the perfect shades. I even had my MIL print out the Gryffendor crest of fabric, which I fused to the robe!

The skirt was to be my undoing. The skirt pattern was up to a girls size 14, but pattern sizes often bear little or no resemblance to "real" sizes (by this I mean sizes of clothes you can buy). And thusly neither of my girls is little enough to be a size 14--despite the fact that they both wear that size. I had my Tim Gunn moment, in which I decide to make it work even if I needed to work every spare moment the last week. And then! OK back up a little here.

One weekend, I was frustrated with the general state of the house, and my inability to actually sew on weekends (do you KNOW how many barbie clothes will be requested if I get within a foot of my sewing machine when the girls are home?) I decided to clean out my closet and once and for all stop kidding myself about some of the items in there. One such item: My interview suit. When I was first out of Graduate school, I splurged on the perfect librarian suit in which I would interview and land the perfect librarian job. That was 20 years ago. I am neither that size nor that style anymore and furthermore: I never will be. Well, I may be that size again, but I doubt I'll want the huge shoulder pads. Heck, I get that size again and need a suit, I'll splurge again! So I dumped it in the bag and set the bags in the basement awaiting a trip to Goodwill.

In my frustration over the skirt, I passed that goodwill bag and it hit me! That skirt is grey. That skirt should fit my daughter! That skirt would work in a pinch. And guess what--the day before Halloween IS a pinch. And lo and behold it did. And so I present Hermione with a candy corn over her face because this is the Internet:

The other daughter is a tad indecisive. But I make them decide when patterns go on sale in early September. And she did waffle a little, but I talked her into this adorable teen monster . (as an aside, do you want to know how whack pattern sizing is. This pattern which to me looks so tweenish--was barely big/wide enough for my admittedly tall 10 year old) She of course wanted her own spin. One eye please, in green and pink and blue. And aside from the silky fur making a huge mess, this went together easily. And even with that mess, I would totally make this again.

Seriously, how cute is that!

She is happy--even though I put a smiley over her face.

And now trick or treating is over (we being of strong stuff and never postpone halloween for a little rain! And thankfully, it was only a little rain--despite the deluge and gale force winds predicted) and we can move on to the craziness of Christmas.