Wednesday, January 30, 2008

a baker's dozen

Well. It seems that I have a little problem. (Just one? And it's little? Are you quite sure? I can hear you asking.) Yes, just one. That I'm going to tell you about. In this post. It all started when we had some friends over last weekend, and I wanted to show them a charming comic strip that Big One drew for me for my birthday.

"I think it's in one of the sock books," I said.

"One of the sock books?" my good friend asked, incredulous. It was immediately clear that her astonishment stemmed from her belief that if one were to knit socks, surely more than one book about it would be redundant. Surely what a sock knitter needs are not books, but yarn and needles. Need I mention that this very good friend is not a knitter? Not a knitter, but she's a hopeful person, so she asked:

"The extra sock books? They must be from the library."

"Oh, no," I said, laughing. "They're all mine."

It wasn't until after my friends had gone home that the awful truth emerged. I own not just a few sock books. I own so many sock books that even I might be forced to admit that I might have just one or two too many.

My friends, I own twelve books about knitting socks. I'll just let that sink in for a moment. Twelve.

This is more than I need, and I know this because I use a minority of these books, and indeed I find only a minority of these sock books to be interesting or inspiring. So here is my review of each of my books about knitting socks. They are listed roughly in the order in which I acquired them.

Vogue Knitting: Socks
This is the first sock book I ever bought, long before I thought about knitting socks in any kind of realistic way. Amazon says this book was published in 1999, and I think I probably bought it shortly after it came out. Back then, all I'd knitted were sweaters, and the only book I really needed was Knitting Without Tears, by HRH Elizabeth Zimmerman.There are a few interesting patterns in here, but I've never tried one. Perhaps this is a book I could have done without.

Fancy Feet, by Anna Zilborg
I believe this book was given to me for Christmas by Joe, probably around the same time. For me, this is not actually a sock book in any meaningful sense, because I would never want to knit up any of these designs as socks. The construction is too wacky, and they probably wouldn't fit in my Danskos.

This books is quite useful as a source of patterns for stranded knitting, and I have used it more than once when I was looking for patterns for mittens and sweaters.

Socks Socks Socks: 70 Winning Patterns from the Knitter's Magazine Contest
I got this book when I started to think about maybe getting some sock yarn and think about maybe making a sock or two. Actual sock knitting was still years off.

This is a good book, with lots and lots of patterns, including some outlandish ones. I've used one pattern from this book, but I look at it fairly often for ideas.

Cool Socks, Warm Feet, by Lucy Neatby

I like this book, I really do. It's engagingly written, and extremely funny. It also seems like a great idea for a book, some creative patterns for printed yarns. I've found, over and over, that what works best for fancy striping yarns is K3 P1, but I keep looking through this book to see if I can find something else I'd like to do instead. So far, no dice. I think I could have saved my money.

Folk Socks: The History and Techniques of Handknitted Footwear, by Nancy Bush

Ah, Nancy Bush. I love everything she's ever done, I think. I like her sock patterns very very much, and I've knitted many of them. What I really like about this book is that half of it is about the history of socks, with great photos and lots of interesting stuff. I don't think I've knitted any of these designs in particular, but I probably will someday, and it doesn't matter, because I love reading this book.

Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles, by Cat Bordhi
Although this is how I knit socks, on two circs, and in spite of the fact that there are some excellent photos explaining how to set up your socks this way, I don't find this book useful at all. The designs are uninspiring, the photography is not so good, and I've really just never used this book. I like a lot of what Cat Bordhi has done since, but sadly, this is the book of hers that I own. I could have saved my money on this one.

Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy, by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts
I really thought this was going to be the breakthrough book for me. I read it in my LYS, and I was sold on her innovative system. It's basically short row toes and heels, and I've never tried it. I studied and studied the instructions for toe-up socks, and just couldn't make them turn into a toe. I showed it to an experienced sock knitter friend, and she made it work, but was unimpressed with the results. I've paged through this book a few times since, but I've found nothing that interests me enough to want to try it again. Another book I probably shouldn't have bought.

Sensational Knitted Socks, by Charlene Schurch
This is the book that finally made it possible for me to start knitting socks, and Charlene Schurch is my hero. This is not a book of patterns so much as a book of sock formulas. Lots of charts, tricks, and plenty of stitch patterns, although once you understand her charts, you can plug any pattern into a sock. This is the book I return to again and again, and the book I recommend, over and over.

As I think about it, probably the reason this book works for me is because the author is much like HRH Elizabeth Zimmerman in her thinking. I apply her formulas to most socks I make, regardless of their source. Because of this, I can comfortably ignore instructions about gauge and number of stitches to cast on. I just do what works for my yarn and my tension and my needles, and figure out the math from there. Love love love this book. This is the book, along with Knitting Without Tears, that would go with me into exile.

Two critiques: I wish this book were smaller and spiral bound, because it goes with me literally everywhere, and I find that the lacy patterns knit up much larger than expected, based on the charts. Once I figured this out, it was not a big deal to compensate for it, but the book really leads you to believe that's not going to happen.

Favorite Socks: 25 Timeless Designs from Interweave
I like this book. I've made several of the patterns, including the socks on the cover, and I have several others marked to do in the future. Good photography, and it's spiral bound, so it lays flat.

Knitting on the Road, by Nancy Bush
Love her books, love this book. I've knitted several of these designs, and plan to knit many more. I bought this book because of Grumperina, and her gorgeous Traveler's Stockings, but I haven't quite worked up the courage to try them yet. I think our anniversary trip to the beach in May will be the time. Mine will be purple.

Knitting Vintage Socks, by Nancy Bush
Another great sock book. Here, Nancy Bush researches some old sock patterns from the late 1800s and translates them into knitterese for our time. It seems that back in the day, folks knitted socks as such tiny gauges that my size o needles would look like pool cues.

I've knit several of these designs, and this book is a keeper.

More Sensational Knitted Socks, by Charlene Schurch
This is (obviously) a sequel to her first book about socks, and it is in the same vein: charts and recommendations rather than patterns, and lots of good tricks. This book is arranged differently, with all the stitch patterns at the back of the book instead of with the chapters, and the main charts are in the back rather than in the front. This is very confusing if you are really familiar with the first book, but wouldn't be a big deal otherwise.

I like this book. It does cover some new territory, particularly in the stranded patterns. I've used it quite a bit since I bought it this summer, but in terms of concepts, it's pretty interchangeable with her first book.

And finally, a pattern I love: Loksins!

This is not a book, obviously, but a pattern available for free download here. I love this pattern so much, I've knit it twice, and I'm about to cast on to knit it again. It's perfect. It looks fancy and difficult, but it's really easy once you get going. You don't have to look at the pattern past the first repeat, just read the knitting and keep going. It knits up exactly right for me with this yarn (Claudia Handpainted Fingering) on size 1 needles.

I think AK was right. I have too many sock books.

Coming this week: a response to some of the responses I've been getting to Five Good Minutes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Five Good Minutes

A few months ago, I read an article in Brainchild, a magazine I like in spite of its subtitle's smug implication that some mothers are thinking mothers, and others aren't. I don't know which issue it was, but the whole issue was about homeschooling. There was an article written by a mother who described the year she homeschooled her daughter, and I think I remember that the article was titled One Good Year. Her daughter was stressed out by the exigencies of conforming to a system that didn't make sense to either of them, and this mother's aim was to take the pressure off for one year to let her daughter recover, in order to re-enter the fray the following year.

Along the way, she described the joys and challenges of homeschooling, particularly given her particular plan, which required that her daughter's homeschooling dovetail with the local public school's curricula. They had to keep pace and study the same topics, because the following year, her daughter's teachers would be quite specifically building on the knowledge the kids were supposed to have gleaned the previous year.

This is something most homeschoolers don't really have to contend with. They can follow the school's curricula if they so choose, but as far as I can tell, most don't, and that's just fine for them and their kids. We build on what our kids are learning, whatever that may be.

But for this mom, it was the right thing to do, in order to give her daughter One Good Year. It was a good article, well-written and interesting, and I enjoyed the mother's story. It had a certain internal consistency, and I could understand why she chose to homeschool for a year, and why they proceeded as they did.

I also have a book, titled Five Good Minutes: 100 Practices to Help You Stay Calm and Focused All Day Long. It's a good book, and I got it as a gift from either my mother or from my good friend Colleen, at a time when I was really struggling with keeping it all together. I was working hard at a failing school, and feeling very frustrated that I was probably wasting my effort, but seeing no alternative. At the time, it seemed like a good idea: spend five minutes in the morning on bringing my attention deeply into the moment, and that would get me off on the right foot for all the difficulties I would face during the day.

But now that I'm looking at this from a perspective where if we're not having a good day or a good week, I can change it, this seems pathetically sad. Is this all we as a schooling society can offer our kids? One Good Year? Is this all we as working moms in stressful jobs can offer ourselves? Five Good Minutes? Is that all we can hope for, all we can expect? We are literally spending our lives on a treadmill that doesn't ever seem to stop.

And I am acutely aware that the very freedom I currently enjoy, in which it seems to me for the very first time that I am able to read, write, do, think, pursue whatever interests me and the kids the most, is a privilege so rare and precious that many many people will never experience it. I am also acutely aware that we enjoy this freedom at the expense of my husband's long days at his job. He loves his job, and he doesn't complain, but he has quite literally given his life over to it, and that's what makes it possible for me to sit here, on a late morning during a weekday when the vast majority of the people around us are working in jobs they are only tolerating, and write out my thoughts.

I know I will work again, and I hope that when I do, I'm able to construct it in such a way that I can count on a little more than Five Good Minutes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


WARNING: this is a post about housekeeping.

In my defense, I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that I would be utterly fascinated to read a similar post on someone else's blog, although that may not be sufficient reason to inflict this on others. Suffice it to say that keeping a house has not come naturally to me, but it has been, like Mr. Collins' compliments to Lady Catherine, a subject of much study. While I much prefer a tidy and clean house, it has taken me years of book-learning and practice to get to the point where my house is tolerable most of the time.

You have been warned. Please, look away if you can't stomach this sort of thing.

So here are my routines for maintaining a (mostly) clean and tidy house. Devotees of Flylady will discern her influence. I've also been influenced by Cheryl Mendelson, but I don't even aspire to anything approaching her level of excellence.

When I get up in the morning, the boys are still in bed, and Joe has been up for a while. This can be almost completely relied upon, unless I've really slept in. So after I:

1.make my bed,

I go downstairs and:

2. empty the washer

of the laundry I put in during my after-dinner tidying up. My washer has a timer, so the wash gets washed in the morning even though I load it in the evening.

The washer is in the kitchen, so I:

3. empty the dish drain

and put the clean dinner dishes away before I leave. I find that I am much more likely to actually wash dishes during the day if there's a place to put the clean ones. I also put the kettle on for a cup of tea (green, with caffeine).

I carry the wet laundry out to the living room, where I encounter a rack full of dry laundry from yesterday, so I:

4. fold yesterday's laundry

before I can start to:

5. hang today's laundry on wooden racks to dry.

Before you start thinking I'm some kind of eco-genius, I must confess that my motivation for air-drying our laundry is economical rather than ecological. We have a dryer, and I use it, but I really try not to very much. This is part of why laundry must be done every day, which is fine because I actually enjoy laundry.

That's the morning routine. After that, I sit down and knit or read, or do yoga until the boys wake up and come downstairs. They are both expected to:

1. get dressed

2. make their beds, and

3. put their clean and folded laundry away.

This happens more or less well, depending on the day. I find that Big One has internalized most of this routine, and will often do the first two without reminders. Little One struggles with this, but I have noticed that if I remind him and then turn away as if I have not the slightest doubt in the world that he will get these things done, he mostly does. We do have days when these jobs require seemingly endless reminding (ahem, nagging) and we even have days when I just do their jobs for them. Some days, it isn't worth a battle.

Then we have breakfast, tidy up a bit, and settle in to a morning of doing school at the dining room table. Then lunch, and then we are sometimes out and about in the afternoon, sometimes we have company, sometimes we go to a park. Sometime during the afternoon, I will be compelled to:

6: make some kind of dinner plan.

This can be anything from panicking at 6 p.m. and making eggs and toast, to making a soup starting at 3, to knowing ahead of time exactly what we're having and thawing the necessary ingredients and fussing for several hours in the kitchen. This remains the most challenging part of the routine for me.

After dinner, Joe washes the dishes, and we tidy up. I wipe off the dining room table, put in a load of laundry and set the timer, and remind/encourage/bug the children to tidy up any toys they've left in public areas of the house.

That's mostly it. Oh, one more thing. Each week day, I have one extra job in one area of the house. However, it must be noted that while the daily routine is pretty firm and I notice that things start to slide south pretty quickly after even a day or two of neglect, the weekly routine can be neglected for almost any number of days. The big role that the weekly routines play in my life are so that I don't panic and try to do everything all in one day, then get discouraged when things start to look messy and dirty again.

Here they are:

Monday: tidy the boys' rooms and vacuum upstairs
Tuesday: vacuum downstairs
Wednesday: clean the bathrooms
Thursday: vacuum downstairs
Friday: clean the kitchen

So this means that if I notice that the bathrooms need some attention on a Tuesday, I can ignore it and go back to whatever I was doing, because it's not the day to clean the bathrooms. This doesn't necessarily mean I actually clean the bathrooms on Wednesday, but it means that the anxiety that develops over a messy bathroom is contained and tamed and doesn't overwhelm me. This is absolutely essential.

When I was working, I did something very similar, except I had to get up earlier, and there was no sitting peacefully knitting in the mornings while the boys slept. I did most of these things, but I did them more quickly and they were crammed in before school and after school.

Which brings us to the names we use on the blog. When I was working and trying to maintain some semblance of order in the house, I crammed these very minimal routines in before and after school. I went through a very dark period in which I felt that all I did at home was tidy up, vacuum, fold laundry, wash dishes, on and on, in an endless cycle. I felt like a housekeeping robot, and I gave my droid alter-ego a name: LC DX

LC is my model number, and also the initials of my real life name. If you pronounce it quickly, it sounds like Elsie. DX, or deluxe, is my trim line, and let me tell you, I am not the fanciest model available.

When we started this blog, Joe needed a name too, and there were friends of my grandparents whose names were Elsie and Joe, so those names went together for me in a deep, childhood sort of way. I also thought Joe was a good all-around sort of guy name. The kids are Big and Little because, well, one is big and one is little.

So there you have it. The story of our names.

Friday, January 25, 2008

happy friday

Last night, we had a friend over for dinner for an assortment of soups, and then sat down at the dining room table for several hours of beeswax manipulation.

This was good colorful fun, and the kids created a produce market, inspired by the image on the box of wax. This is an activity that takes some time, and is more satisfying when the weather's warm, because the wax is more pliable. The wax needs the warmth of your hands to make it pliable, and that can be challenging when it's cold outside, no matter what the furnace and the thermostat say. For some reason, though, I never think to do it in the summer. It's a great thing for cooped-up winter evenings.

Bev is making an abstract, as is Little One. Little considers the wax to be exclusively his own, and was very generous to allow all of us to play with it.

Big One and Joe got interested in making their stuff as realistic as possible, and the results are here. This is a bowl full of carrots, a basket of lemons, and a large yellow thing that I believe is a tangelo. Somewhere there is a bowl of blueberries as well.

Oh yes, I left all of this out on the table last night, thinking that the kids would want to get right into it this morning. I'm always trying to think of ways to get them out of their warm sleepy beds and their rooms full of books. Not easy. I thought the wax would do it.

But this morning, instead of continuing to construct their produce market and their abstract scupltures, they were playing Library.

Big one has set up a library in his room, with sections by genre, and a front desk where he uses his old manual typewriter to make out a list of books you've checked out.

So this is where I found them this morning. They've started to get into a habit of getting dressed in the morning, without being asked, and what mother could possibly find anything amiss in the sight of an older son reading to a younger son?
Not me, anyway... I was happily downstairs, playing my own version of Library, reading this book, which is completely fabulous, by the way. I love Margaret Atwood, and this is an unusual book for her. They are miniatures, according to the fragment of the review from the Toronto Globe and Mail on the back of the book, and they are stunning. Hilarious, absurd, sarcastic, cynical. And the writing, of course, is breathtaking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


This editorial has me wigging out, on a number of fronts. In particular, this one sentence:

"Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House.

Professionally, this doesn't seem to apply to me in any way. Because my profession is overwhelmingly female-dominated, my gender has certainly not restricted me. For now, let's leave aside questions of whether I would get hired by a school that was really hoping to increase male role models in an elementary school. Practically speaking, there are enough teaching jobs to go around for all qualified candidates, male or female. And let's also leave aside the question of why I might choose to be an elementary teacher in the first place, rather than an IT professional or a rocket scientist.

Educationally, I was accepted into the college of my choice as well as the graduate program of my choice, and while in school, I perceived no restrictions on my work or progress that stemmed from my gender. Any problems I had with fellow students or professors along the way were certainly the result of my own work or lack of work, and I believe I was never discriminated against in any way. Likewise, in my family of origin as well as in my current nuclear family, I have been treated as one with full rights to all the goodies: intellectual, material, recreational, and so on.

Personally, however, it's a different story. Here we must pause and give this some serious thought. When I think about the things I am interested in doing, the projects I've pursued, the interests I've spent my time and money on, I have to say it looks like I'm choosing from the girl list. In other words, while I have not been limited by outer circumstances because of my gender, it looks very much like I've limited myself from within.

Here's what I've done for pay: taken care of other people's children, baked bread, answered phones and worked the front desk for a university museum, worked in marketing for a scholarly press, and taught elementary school.

Here's what I do for fun: knit, sew, bake, read fiction, write journal-like prose and a little poetry, do yoga, play music.

See what I mean? I'm choosing from the girl list.

Even if you include my athletic pursuits (it's so easy to forget about those in the middle of January) there's nothing there that really bucks the trend. It's all gender neutral at best. I like to camp, canoe, walk, bike, and swim.

Then I have to ask myself if that's really so terrible. Isn't it just as intellectually rigorous to figure out a complex sewing pattern as it is to figure out how to fix a toilet? More so, probably. It's not that hard to fix a toilet. I used to tinker with them, back before Joe and I got together. But now that there's a man in the house, I hardly ever rouse myself to investigate. Embarassing, but true.

And how else do you explain that this* is as easy for me as simply sitting down and figuring it out:

While this:
is a project that's been languishing for months, in spite of very helpful advice from online friends, and the exhortations of Dave, a real-life friend who has assured me that fixing this is as easy as pie.

I'd rather make a pie. Gloria Steinem would not be proud.

*This, by the way, in spite of my careful calculations and the dutiful use of an actual, smaller swatch, is a giant swatch. 280 stitches per round, and still the thing measures only 32". Back to the pattern books.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Alison's blanket

Remember the blanket from our very first post? It was called Elsie and Joe Get Things Done, and it's from April 06. I can't seem to link to it, so if you're interested, you'll have to go look. It's a blanket that I sewed together by machine from rectangles cut from felted sweaters. We got these sweaters for free, and some of them were pre-felted for us. My friend Alison took a liking to this blanket, and I agreed to make another one.

She and I have been trolling local Salvation Army stores for months now, looking for the right combination of colors. Sometimes we find the sweaters already felted, which is a good sign that they will felt well. Other times we've bought sweaters nobody else is likely to buy, because they have great gaping holes or stains.

And we have even bought perfectly good sweaters, with the sole intention of shrinking them and cutting them apart. We think we have almost enough now. Here is a rough mock-up of what the blanket might begin to look like. The sweaters are laid out on my lawn, to get an idea of how much contrast we have and how much we need.

We think we need more red, and a nice grassy green would be nice. Let me know if you have any old sweaters you'd like to donate to Alison's blanket.

The giant ball of yarn is getting smaller. This is a swatch:
I have officially run out of blue yarn for my mittens:
And no, I don't have anything that comes close to matching this yarn. I'm afraid the thumb is going to be either gray or green Lopi. You can see why this project has stalled out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

learning to read

My sister-in-law asked a great question about unschooling and learning to read, and I wanted to think out loud about it a little bit more. She wondered how I planned to approach the teaching of reading to Little One, as an unschooler.

Let me first say that while I freely admit that my approach seems like unschooling, smells like unschooling, looks like unschooling, I am not comfortable with that term. For me, it conjures up images of children playing video games all day. When I use the term, what I mean is that I don't know where we're going to end up, and I don't have a strict schedule. Curriculum flows from what the children ask about, write about, read about. I really believe that this is the way it should be, and that it is the very best way we can respect our children as fellow human beings.

But this is far from a completely undisciplined approach. We "do school" at the dining room table and there is a certain amount of skill drill for Big One, in the areas of math facts, grammar, handwriting, and punctuation. But what I find is that the time we need to spend in these pursuits is quite short, and the rest of the day can enjoyably be spent drawing, reading, doing legos, listening to music, singing, doing yoga, going for walks, etc. I consider all these pursuits to be "school" as well, but I don't have to schedule them or insist that they take place. They just happen, and that is the essence of unschooling as I am choosing to use the term.

Now then....

Little One loves books. He likes to look at books on his own, he loves to have them read to him, he does some spontaneous writing in his drawings and in the letters he writes to us. He recognizes all the letters and knows what sounds they make. He knows about rhyming, and knows that some rhyming words look the same as each other,while others look different. He will happily write a word on the grocery list if I help him with the spelling. All this, to me as a teacher, constitutes the teaching of reading. And I expect that he will naturally come into reading sometime in the next year or so, without me sitting down with him and explictly teaching him "how to read."

Big One did it this way. Sometime after his fifth birthday, his teacher and I realized he was decoding text. That is, he could figure out how to read unfamiliar words. This was with very little explicit instruction, but with lots and lots and lots of experiences with words and reading and stories, and so on... It took another 18 months before he really "became a reader" and was able to sit with a book and just enjoy the story.

And now here is the important caveat: I can tell from my teaching experience and my work with Little that he is going to learn to read easily and naturally. If it were otherwise, I would be taking a more direct teaching approach with him. Because I can tell it's not going to be hard and that he is coming to appreciate the world of books without me pushing them on him, I know I don't have to worry about his learning to read.

And this is the crux of the matter: if it were going to be very challenging for him to learn to read, I don't think an unschooling approach would work. Given that reading is an essential skill for any life I can imagine either of my children wanting to live, they must learn to read. There are some children who really struggle with reading, and many of us avoid what is difficult for us. If it were going to be hard, I'd have to spend a lot more time and effort on it: an unfortunate irony.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The elephant in the corner

... or why I'm not talking about homeschooling all the time.

Chez Deluxe has undergone massive transformation in the last six months. This time last year, I was working full time (and more) as an early elementary teacher at a small private independent school. I taught there for over six years, since right after I finished my MSEd. My children were both students there, and the vast majority of our family's social connections were through the school. It was a great place, fraught with certain problems like any organization, but on the whole, it worked and was a good place for my kids to go to school.

Also this time last year, my husband was working a part-time job, from home. This meant he made dinner every night, kept us stocked with fresh-baked bread, and did most of the laundry and general household management.

In September, the school opened as usual, but with many fewer kids and a sharply reduced faculty. Three weeks later, we closed. There followed a brief flirtation with opening a new school with a group of parents, and then an even briefer consideration of sending Big One to public school. And so we became homeschoolers.

Also in September, my husband got a full time+ job that actually appreciates his presence on-site. Every day.

I have spent exactly zero seconds trying to figure out what kind of homeschoolers we are. I knew I didn't need to buy any curricula. I knew we'd be working from the interests of the children, that I'd be addressing academic issues as they arose organically from the work the children are already doing. I knew we wouldn't be scheduling breaks or using worksheets. I knew we would continue to go to the library, talk about issues as they come up in the news and elsewhere, to research topics that the kids ask questions about, to go for walks, play music together, sing songs, do yoga.

For many homeschoolers, all this meets a definition of unschooling. For me, it is the logical extension of the kind of teaching I was doing in a classroom with lots of kids. The great compromise we are making without a school is that we don't have a community of kids with us on our walks and our yoga and our discussions. But it hasn't taken a whole lot of thought to get here. I already figured it out, years ago, as I grew into my role as a progressive teacher.

I have spent many many hours trying to figure out how to get a reasonable dinner on the table at a reasonable time, how to stay caught up with the laundry, and how to create a structure that will allow me to live in a reasonably tidy house without walking around behind the kids, picking up their stuff all day long. This has been a huge challenge for me. Here we are, four months in, and I still haven't completely figured it out yet.

So the knitting and the house projects were just hobbies before our world got rocked, and the work we did to pay the bills was explicitly outside the scope of this blog. Now that my "real" work is in the house, quite literally, I must admit that I struggle with my new role. Being a homeschooling mom is like being an ultra-mama, and that's a role I've never identified with.

Ironically, I became a teacher so that I would have a project of my own that I cared about, so that my children wouldn't become the center of my life.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

living on the edge

So for about the last year, I've been knitting virtually nothing but socks. I wrote them all down recently, and it seems that I average a pair about every three weeks, since last Thanksgiving. My photography skills are not good enough to make a post of ALL THE SOCKS interesting, and besides, many of the socks have gone to live elsewhere. So, instead of socks, here's the pair of mittens I'm knitting. The light blue is a heavy and coarse unknown from the stash, and the cuffs are made from equally unknown leftovers. All wool.

The darker blue is a lighter weight yarn for a lining. If you've never done this, it's really very simple. After you knit the first mitten, you just pick up stitches along the cast on edge of the first one, and knit another mitten, checking along the way to see that the second mitten is slightly narrower and slightly shorter. I usually accomplish this by doing the same number of stitches in a skinnier yarn with smaller needles. Then when your second mitten is complete, you just tuck it inside.

The pattern on the cuffs is from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Around. There's a picture of an antique Norwegian mitten with an intriguing pattern on the wrist, but no chart for it. I worked out the pattern on graph paper several years ago, in order to use it for a sweater I made for Big One. This is the first time I've used it on an actual mitten.

See that ball of the light blue yarn? That's how much yarn I have left to finish the outer mitten. It's not enough. Living on the edge, indeed.

On my 40th birthday, almost a month ago, a friend of mine taught me how to spin. That is, she showed me how she does it, gave me a few pointers, and then gave me access to her excellent spinning wheel. It was bad going at first, but yesterday for the first time, I spun a more or less consistent piece of stuff for almost an hour. It was exhilarating. I don't know anything about the technical aspects of what I was doing, ratios and batts and so forth. I don't even remember what kind of sheep she has. But here is the so-called yarn I've spun so far. From left to right in that little arc is the first and worst to the most recent and best.

And here's the most recent pair of socks I've made. The yarn is leftover Sisu from a pair for my dad and a pair for Big One. There wasn't quite enough Sisu, so I used some Reynolds Swizzle for some of the parts. Many adults think these socks are quite charming. A certain five year old dislikes them, but is generous enough to wear them on occasion. His complaint is that they are different from each other. Socks are supposed to match, he thinks. I guess he has a point.

About Sisu: I really disliked this yarn at first. It seemed rough and splitty. I think I may have been responding to its price tag. It is relatively affordable, at about $6 for a 50 gram skein. Certainly the cheapest sock yarn I can find in a LYS. After the first pair, though, I really came to like it. It is consistent, and springy, and knit up into a great pair of totally washable socks for Big One. It may not be dryable, haven't tried.

As for the Swizzle, there's a nasty yarn. Rough, stiff, and ugly. Anybody want to take it off my hands? I have two red balls and two green balls, 100 grams each.

After I took photos of the socks the way I thought they should be photographed, with feet in them, much silliness ensued. It seems Little One has his own ideas about sock photography. First there was this:

And then this:

And finally this, exactly the way he wanted to show them:

And then he thought perhaps socks should hang from the ears:

Or maybe this:

Sweet silly boy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

As big as my head...

Although Joe disputes this. He thinks that because my head is taller, my head is bigger, but the ball is wider by far than my head, and I think that in matters round, width is the more salient characteristic.

This is an unknown, unlabeled wool that came to me through my mom. It was a huge skein, and I spent about an hour and a half yesterday winding it into this ball. It's going to be some sort of cabled cardigan for me. I was thinking traditional Aran, but now I'm thinking some kind of all-over cable design. Suggestions for patterns are welcome.

And in house news, Joe finished scraping the old
shellac off the landing last weekend, and I put the new shellac on. Very exciting stuff. We have had a piece of cardboard protecting the naked wood there as he meticulously scraped and scraped and scraped, every weekend, for months, and then I got to do the fun part and put the finish on. It looks good, if perhaps a little too bright and orangey, so maybe we'll put a little color on it eventually. It also seems possible that it will fade and darken with time.

Still lots to do in this area: paint on the walls, stringers, and risers. Significant prep and sanding still required, mostly on the stringers. We removed the old paint with a heat gun, and it took off paint in layers in all kinds of places where we would have rather kept the paint. Thick old paint, so I really need to spend some quality time with a sanding block to get it smoothed out enough to paint.

Other house projects: We have a couch in our living room that is extremely comfortable, but extremely ugly, so it has been begging me for a slipcover. I've gotten as far as choosing the fabric from my stash and bringing my sewing machine downstairs, but I've been stalled at that stage for about three weeks.

An exciting house project: moving bedrooms around. Little One has been in a tiny bedroom without a closet for about two years, ever since he stopped sleeping in our bed. We want him to have the bedroom we've been using, and we plan to move into the largest bedroom, which we've been using as an office and for book storage. Little one's current bedroom will become my office and sewing room. We are incrementally working our way toward this goal. Most of the books are in their new storage place (eventually to be housed in bookshelves downstairs that are waiting to be built) and most of the sewing machines have moved onto a shelf in their new home.

And then there are the usual house projects: front porch, back porch, bathroom tile, touch up exterior paint, repaint and putty windows, repoint chimney. Does everyone experience their houses this way? As a continuing string of never-ending projects? It's a lot like teaching school, and I'm wondering about that. Could it be that I seek out situations that are huge projects with many details that never end? Or is this what life is like for everyone? Maybe our next house will have vinyl siding, replacement windows, a fiberglass shower insert, and a tin roof. Would we still have lots of house projects? Probably.... maybe our next house will be a condominium. Sigh. That seems unlikely.

I'll leave you with a photo of Little One and me doing yard work in January. A few weeks ago, we had a fabulous thaw, with temperatures in the 60s for several days. It was glorious. We were outside every day and really enjoyed ourselves. It was good to get a respite. We're now back to our usual January weather.

Little One loves all kinds of gardening projects, and will follow me around outside for hours. Big One couldn't care less. I guess it just seems likes work to him.

Monday, January 14, 2008

okay, we're back

We have had some very eventful months at the Deluxe house, and we both want to get back to blogging. My small private independent school closed at the end of September, and the boys and I have become homeschoolers. Joe got a new job which he loves, but which requires him to show up every day, can you imagine? So among my many other projects, I now have to make dinner, not an easy thing for me after so many years of dinners made for me.

Knitting is happening, mostly socks.

House projects are happening too, slowly.

Photos to come....