Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year is Nearly New

We had a wonderful holiday here and I hope yours was good too! We are gearing up for our first New Years out. Yes, you heard me. First New Years not tucked safely at home. I am kind of excited, and kind of nervous that maybe at 43 I am too, shall we say, 'mature' to begin living like it's 1985, but we will see. Wish me luck.

I knit a sweater for my mother-in-law's puppy, Max, in the 24 hours before Christmas Eve. I wanted a picture, but did not have a model, so I grabbed the closest thing.

Mel! Now, some of you may know that Mel was rescued by us (Girl, really) from a shelter after he'd been found wandering the streets, and had just come back to the shelter after a bad 24-hour adoption experience that left him labeled as "viscious" by his 24-hour-adopter. You can see from the picture above that he's a brutal beast. Terrifying even. I even still have all ten fingers AND my face! The pattern is a Drops Design and the yarn Berroco Comfort. I did make some modifications as I went along; the hood was left off, and stitch pick-ups for the legs were based on ratio not numbers.

Dinner here Christmas Eve day with three of our four kids and their partners/spouses was a lot of fun. Starting with Mr. Wonderful at the head of the table (far right) and going counter clockwise around the table, that's Rachel and Eric, Megan and Jeroth, and Selina and Brendon, the newlyweds.

It was a good day with lots of good food and good company. It's nice when kids are grown up and have learned to get along. Not once did I have to smack any heads together. They all got along like regular grown-ups. I am so proud.

In and around the holiday fray, I have been working on editing the new book. In my spare time I knit up owl hats with Katy's Owls and Tigers and Zebras, Oh My pattern:

(their faces will be along shortly!) and I work on this shawl:

I am loving it in a lot of ways. I love the way the beads sit on the yarn like fat water drops. I love the subtle (and difficult to catch with a camera) glow of the yarn which contains a good amount of tencel.

I love the rippling motion of the stitch pattern. The yarn is Buffalo Gold Moon and the pattern is my own. The beads are from Webs Beads. The pattern will be available someday, somewhere, but I can't say yet!

In the meantime, check out the pattern shop and grab yourself a copy of my new Moon and Stars Socks pattern!

I heard a rumor that there will be a knit-a-long with this pattern on Ravelry. Although Stella, the yarn the sample socks are knit in, is not currently available Carol's beautifully dyed Luna makes an excellent substitute. A little bunny tells me that until January 3, 2011 a 10% discount will automatically be applied at check out... ok, I read it on Facebook, but still - a deal is a deal!

This weekend our annual family Christmas on Sunday at my Dad's was cancelled due to an impending blizzard. I had planned to make a Butternut Squash Soup with the Vitamix, and had already cooked up the squash the day before. No one here likes that soup except me. After a couple of days of contemplation I decided to use up a few leftovers, including the squash. I present for you here my solution to leftover cooked squash, spinach, chicken and bits from the holiday cheese board. It has no name, unless we want to call it something like:

"Leftover Butternut Spinach Chicken Cheese Casserole"

1.5 cups chopped cooked chicken
1.5 cups cooked butternut squash, chopped or mashed
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 of a large purple onion, sliced thin
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup neufchatel cheese, softened
1 egg, beaten
1.5 cups shredded cheese (mine was a combination of roughly equal parts parmesan, fontina, manchego and cheddar)
1 teaspoon sage
10 cranks black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garlic infused olive oil (or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 cloves or garlic, chopped finely)

Assemble all ingredients. Spray a 3-quart with non-stick cooking spray. Combine 1 cup buttermilk, neufchatel cheese and egg and beat well to combine. Set aside. Layer ingredients as follows: 1/2 of spinach, 1/2 of sliced onion, 1/2 of squash, sprinkle over all 1/2 of salt, sage and pepper, 1/2 of chickens and 1/2 of cheese. Repeat with remainder of ingredients. Pour buttermilk/cheese/egg mixture over all. You may want to use a chopstick or fork to help the liquid penetrate the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the casserole is heated through, bubbly, and cheese is browned. Let it set up for a few minutes before serving. It was good! Ask the dog... he stole my lunch today!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice and a Lunar Eclipse, and a Pair of Socks, Too!

Tonight, or more correctly tomorrow morinng, there will be a rare occurance of a lunar eclipse on a Winter solstice, the first since 1638. The next one will be in 2094, and I hope to be dead by then. I may need to rise from my bed between 2:30 and 3 and have a look. Ironically, this weekend I released this sock pattern, rather aptly named Moon and Stars, given the astronomical happening we're about to experience! I have added the pattern to my little pattern store. I had to spend some time remembering how to put a pattern in there, which is an indication that I have been doing entirely too much of the wrong sort of work.
The yarn is Black Bunny Fibers Stella in the colorway Meteor Showers. The base yarn is very similar to Kraemer Sterling Silk and Silver, for which I have a deep weakness. Black Bunny Luna would make a great substitute for Stella as well.
The pattern is an undulating eyelet that lets the yarn show off both it's beautifully dyed colors and it's hint of silver...yes I said silver. That glint in the close-up is sterling silver!
I knit them on a US 1 at 8 stitches per inch. The pattern, written for top-down 2-at-a-Time knitting, includes directions bsaed on this gauge, and suggestions for knitting a larger sock by changing the gauge to 7.5 sts/inch.
Really they are just beautiful, which I think I can say even though they are mine! I am a bit of a sucker for the sparkly stuff. Add an amazing dye job and a deceptively simple stitch pattern and really, you need to knit these socks! They would make an excellent last-minute Christmas gift, or a stellar (no pun intended) New Years Eve accessory.
And aren't the pictures amazing? Thank you Katy!! Using my camera and her office, I think we got some pretty nice shots of these little lovelies!
I also, somewhere along the way, made this adorable owl hat that Katy designed. But now I don't know who to give it to. It needs a child's head. I can't really see April in it, unless it were red or maybe princess pink. And I need to move it's beak up. And make it bigger. It needs to be goofier, I think.
Yes, I know, it's not quite done. I can't find my button box, which is a very odd occurance here. Gene usually brings it up and puts it away when I need it. This leads me to believe that it is someplace over my head. I looked around a little but I can't find it. Regardless, it's adorable, and I want to make more of it and more animals (not really joking about the princess pink...maybe a pony...with sparkles!). The yarn is Berroco Vintage Chunky, color Chana Dal, and it knit up so fast I barely knew what happened. You can buy the pattern, Owls & Tigers & Zebras Oh My! from Katy's Ravelry store.

It's almost Christmas! I am hoping to have all or at least most of the kids here on Christmas Eve. I thought I didn't want to do it this year, I thought it would be too much with the book finishing up, but I think I need the connection with our little family unit, just for a part of a day. Just once, before they are all really grown up and gone!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the Army Now

Fort Jackson SC, Basic Combat Training Graduation, 3rd Battalion 34th Infantry Regiment Delta Co.
 Delta Co. on parade at the conclusion of graduation.
 My boy.
My boy and his girl, who was at first unsure, but then made up her mind that Army Daddy was actually real daddy after all.
 Daniel, Sarah (fiancee) and April (World's Cutest Grandbaby)
 Hug for mom.
Here the babies are having a silent communication - "Your dad looks kinda like my mom, who really doesn't look like my mom any more..." "Yeah. And your mom looks kinda like my dad, and he's not really him, either. Are we sure we're ok here?"
 Child training, Army style: learning to work the camo.
Army Daddy, Army Baby, Army Bear. Army Bear and Army Daddy have graduated from Basic and have their berets. Army Baby cannot go to Basic for, thankfully, a few more years.
Army Mom.

Graduation struck me in a way I had not anticipated. It made me think a lot about many things. I am not a fan of war. I am not a lover of conflict. In fact, I flee from conflict whenever possible. I was reared in a family that has generational military ties. Not career, mind you, and not hard-core pro-military, but we were reared with an awareness that service is noble and necessary for the security of all Americans. How, I wondered, did I end up with a soldier son?

I was reared on the patriotic songs that many of us know by heart and that more of us should know now, and do not. I remember singing the Battle Hymn of the RepublicYou're a Grand Old Flag, My Country 'Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, and of course The Star Spangled Banner in the car with my sisters and my father. They were things we shared together driving around the county I still inhabit, driving in late summer through amber waves of grain and toward the purple mountains as we sang about them. Those songs were as familiar and as stirring and as emotional as the hymns we sang in church on Sunday and the Christmas songs we sang from the end of November until January 1st. I shared them with my children on our drives, assisted by an 80's Wee Sing America cassette and songbook (I wish I still had this.).

My intent was to create loyal, aware, thinking people, with respect for their traditions and beginnings and an awareness of their duty and responsibility in being specifically an American person. But I also taught them about the not so great parts of our heritage;  how exactly we had come to be on this continent, the people we had hurt and killed to stay here, the land and humanity we had thoughtlessly plundered and exploited. It's an odd upbringing they had, and not really one that would necessarily lead them to consider the military as a career.

We had a flag that we treated correctly. We watched presidential inaugurations. We discussed the electoral college, taxes, individual freedom, rights and responsibilities. Freedom isn't free, and it should not be free for anyone. You do not respect or appreciate what you do not suffer for or work to earn. Sometimes we said things about America and Americans that were less than complimentary, even if they were completely honest.

We talked about selfless service to others; about giving to others for the sake of giving. Giving back but in the way that Jesus taught us to. ("But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matt 6:3-4). Altruism was the name of the game, and it extended beyond people to the natural world around us. If you fail to recognize and respond to the suffering of the living things around you, how are you better than the animals?

I tried to raise them with respect. Although there were times when it was a significant challenge, I tried to model the respect for others that I wanted to see in them. Simple things. You don't need to be first in line. Hold the door for others. Say please and thank you, and mean it. Acknowledge the humanity of those around you in a way that shows that you value them.

Integrity is huge for me and my children were reared with it. Be truthful. Do the right thing, even when those around you do not. I believe in God, and I believe in moral truths and the concept of right and wrong. Some things are just wrong. Don't do them. Other things are right. Do those instead. It's really very simple. If it will hurt another person, do not do it. If it fails to show respect for another person, don't do it. And don't lie. It will only make things worse in the long run. I made them make restitution if they hurt others.

I tried to teach them to face their fears head on and not run from them. As Roosevelt said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In fact, the fear of the thing is often worse than whatever it is we are afraid of. This is a hard one for me; I tend to be a fearful person. I hate to fly. I don't like new situations. I am afraid of people in large groups. Cities make me edgy. Public transportation scares me. I like small, confined, controlled environments - you should see my hotel room when I travel. Everything must be just so. This was something I could only teach them by example.  I confronted people I was afraid of and told them to get out of my way. I went to college. I made friends. I got on an airplane. I wrote books. I went to New York, and I rode public transportation. Sometimes my example wasn't the best - as evidenced by a minor meltdown in 2000 in Orlando International before boarding - but I did the things I feared and came out the other side a better person.

What I didn't realize while I was doing all this bizarre (I am, remember, a bit of a freak) blend of moral, values-laden, pro-Republic, Libertarian, crunchy-granola, tree-hugging, Jesus-loving, natural-child-led-homeschooled-child-rearing was that I was apparently beating into them, with my many failures and flaws, core Army values. As I stood in the stadium at Hilton Field at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and I heard the songs of my nation over the speakers above, and I saw the flag that represents who we were, who we are, and who we should be on the field before me I found myself discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, a new sense of patriotism and nationalism. I know - that's a dirty word in some circles now, isn't it? Maybe I should whisper it, for safety...Nationalism. Or maybe I should just pick my head up and yell it. Regardless.

There are approximately 1.5 million active US military serving all around the world. The population of the United States was most recently calculated to be around 310 million. 1.5 million people defending us, 1.5 million people defending others, 1.5 million people doing their duty, heeding a call, obeying a chain of command that they may not always agree with or support but that they recognize as their authority. I don't always like or approve of what our military or our government does. I am, for example, fanatical about liberty, freedom, and individual rights in a country that seems to be increasingly intrusive and legalistic and that seems at times bent on dictating my every liberty - which wasn't the plan in the beginning and it confuses and confounds me that it has become what it has. 

But what I discovered, or more rightly remembered, on that field on Wednesday was that for better or worse and in spite of all of her many flaws and failings (and I do believe they are many) we still have the best game going (see. Nationalism!) and we owe it to ourselves and our children and our children's children to make it better (Patriotism!). America the beautiful. Land of the free, home of the brave.

Now if you will excuse me, I think I shall go and knit something red white and blue, and wear it with pride.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Knit it Forward

Potter Craft has teamed up with Warm Up America! to help in accumulating knit and crochet blocks that will be assembled into afghans, hats and other items for distribution to those in need. If you have a little time and a little yarn to spare, consider this worthy cause. Potter has even posted two patterns from Nicky Epstein's new book to get you started.

Mail your blocks by December 2nd to:

CrafterNews c/o Potter Craft
Crown Publishing, 12-1
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Post a photo of your block (or blocks) on the CrafterNews Facebook page. The first 25 people who send in their blocks will get a copy of Knitting Block by Block by Nicky Epstein. The next 25 will receive another free pattern. And if you're not in the first 50? Well, you get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that during this holiday season you took some time out to help people in need. Be sure to come back here and post in the comments that you contributed. You never know when the MMO 2-at-a-Time yarn fairies might start tossing things out!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Indigestion, It Goes Straight to the Heart.

Anyone remember this post? If you've been here long enough, you may. If you don't remember it, you can read it now. Go ahead. I'll wait. But you may want a tissue.

We have children, most of us, for noble purpose. Or by accident. Or maybe a little of both. Or even none of the above.

I had mine, both of them, by a direct act of God. I know this because I had been labeled infertile at a fairly early age - long before I was really ready to have children, actually. I married young and my (then) husband and I were waiting to adopt. Never mind that I was 18 and he was 23. I knew I wanted babies. In fact, I wanted a whole farm house stuffed full of them. Millions. Or at least a dozen. And since having them on my own wasn't likely, adopting was the way we were going.

The week before Christmas 1985 I sat crying over ceramic ornaments I had painted by hand, ornaments I knew I'd never hang with a baby born of my own womb. I tried to make peace with that. When my cousins announced that they were pregnant, all I could do was cry. I cried a lot. In fact, I cried constantly. And sometimes I felt pretty nauseous. Really nauseous. And I almost passed out at work once. Or maybe twice. But it was hot in there. And then...well, and then in the normal manner of womanhood it came upon me that I might be, just might be, pregnant. And I was. And I was joyful. I quit smoking. I drank milk. I hate milk.

It wasn't easy, but then nothing worth having ever is. The baby made a few early attempts at departure. I spent a lot of time trying to lie down and trying not to do things like move refrigerators (I saved that for my second pregnancy - and almost lost that baby in the process - but if you know me, you know that sitting still and waiting for help is not on the menu). By December 1986 I was proudly carting around this beautiful, amazing, shining baby boy. You'll have to either read that post I linked to up there or take my word for it, because I am not in a place where I can get baby pictures right now. Trust me. I make amazing babies. The kind that go right to your heart the first time you look at them. And they stay there.

I am not at home today. In fact, I am a few hundred miles from home, spending my first ever holiday away from my (now) husband, waiting patiently for tomorrow.

What's tomorrow?

Tomorrow the indigestion I had on a warm and stormy August night in 1986, the stomach ache I have carried since 1986, the one that wormed it's way into every thread of my life is going to graduate from basic training. Army basic training. He's giving 8 years of his life. For me, and for his daughter and his fiancee and for us all. He's one of thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. All of them nothing like each other in most ways, but all alike in one. They're willing to put their lives on the line - not an imaginary line, but a real one.

I don't know how, and he keeps saying it was me that did it (and I swear I am not paying him), but somehow I reared a soldier. For now this is what I have of him:

That is my son. Goofy weird grin, chowing down on government-issue turkey. Tomorrow when he graduates I'll have more. And for 24 hours I'll take all the pictures I can, but it won't ever be enough. I don't know where he goes from here (Ok, fine, I do. AIT in Virginia. But then, well, then I really don't know, and neither does he), but here's what I do know.

Somewhere today a soldier died. Maybe of old age or maybe of a gunshot or maybe s/he got blown up by a bad guy. And sometime before today that soldier had a mother, and that mother is now me. And if you think the first 24 years of indigestion were rough, try that on for size.

So what am I thankful for? On this day, and the next day, and the day after that, ad infinitum? I am thankful for indigestion. And the tens of thousands of indigestions that came before him, and the tens of thousands that will come after.

I don't get political here. It's a matter of conscience. How you or I vote, what we believe, how we feel about war or peace or anything in between. I don't go there.

But right now, right this minute, I am going to tell you something. I am going to go so far as to tell you what to think. And here goes.

You damn well better be thankful too. And if you aren't? You might not want to say it in front of me. Because while you debate your politics, and your yes or no to war and yes or no to troops here, there or anywhere, my kid - MY kid - and tens of thousands of other woman's kids - are standing by someplace willing to take a bullet because their nation and their president tell them they need them to. Get off your horse, high or otherwise, and the next time you see someone in uniform you remember this post. You remember that for every American in uniform there's a mother.

Now do what your mother said you should, and say thank you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

One Year Ago on Rhinebeck Weekend

I haven't done a Rhinebeck recap because this has been a very busy and exciting time around here. I am writing a book, working a lot, my mother has been unwell in fits and spurts, we lost a dog, my son joined the Army - it's been a sort of endless year of up and down and craziness. But this is a very special weekend here, and so I want to share.

One year and two weeks ago, give or take a day, as I sat at the Wild Fibers dinner surrounded by friends, I got a text from my daughter conveying some very exciting news. Her oldest step-brother had asked the girl of his dreams - and ours - to marry him. And she said yes. Even though she knows him. Even though she has met all of us - and I do mean all - in this insane blended family we have built.
This is Brendon.
He's the oldest of four, or the oldest of two, depending on the day and which house he is in. He's the leader of the pack. The first to shave, the first to get a license, the first to graduate from anything, and the first drive me right up a freaking wall.

When I say we're an unusual family I do not exaggerate. First his parents were married and rearing he and his brother and then they were not married any more. I was married to someone else and had two kids of my own, and then I was no longer married.
(Brendon, Eric, Gene aka Mr. Wonderful)
In the end we found each other and we blended this crew into some sort of family.

When his father and I got together he was about 12. I was about 24, and Gene was about 30. Brendon's biological brother, Eric, was 7. My kids, Dan and Meg, were 5 and 3. I don't know what we were thinking when we decided to make this all work. Well, I do know what we were thinking. I think we were in love, we knew this was huge for both of us, and we decided that hell or high water we would make it work. The kids were no where near as accommodating as we might have liked. They all came into this new family with their own varied baggage.
(Brendon, Eric, Dan and Meg)
But blend they did, and in the end they formed a pretty reasonable if motley group with Brendon at the head. And I love them all, and they are all mine. And I mean that.

Because he was the oldest and the first to do all of the fun stuff, he was also the first to leave home. He was the first to leave pieces of himself behind in our lives and head off into the world to make a new life all on his own. We watched and sometimes worried and waited a lot for reassurance, and in the end it came. This bird fledged and made it look easy. The rest would have a tough act to follow. College, a good job, and in the end the right partner to share his life. And we are so very proud.

This is Selina.
(Selina at her Bridal Shower)
Brendon brought Selina into our lives a while back. His last girlfriend had been a very nice girl and we all liked her. What, we wondered, would this new girl be like? Girlie? Tomboy? Rugged? Dainty?

Selina is, and I do not lie, perfect for him. She is game and energetic, joyful and sweet, and a pleasure to be around. She's smart, witty, charming and unbelievably adorable. She can be a girlie girl when the situation warrants, but will cheerfully ditch the heels for a pair of jeans and a romp through the woods after a bear.

From a small family and with one sibling - and parents married only to each other since before she was born - what on earth would she make of the chaos and craziness that is our family? We worried. Would she run? Make for the door? Really, who wouldn't?
(Rachel, Eric, Aidan, Brendon, Selina, Megan, Jeroth - Christmas 2008)
But she stayed. In spite of the insanity that is this family, and in spite of the handful that is Brendon, she stayed. And then the text came, at the Wild Fibers dinner, the text that said that she wasn't just staying for now. She was staying for real. The girl said yes. 
Tomorrow Brendon and Selina will join their lives in marriage. We're proud, we're thrilled, we're beside ourselves. We're adding a daughter to our crew, and we could not be happier. We could not have chosen a better partner for him if we'd searched the world over. And the best news? Check this out people....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Books That Aren't Mine. But I Love Them Anyway.

Disclaimer: Reviews posted on this blog reflect the opinion of me. I am not compensated by the publishers in any manner other than the acquisition of a free book (never a bad thing!). If I don't like it, I won't talk about it. If I do like it, you'll have to put up with my blather for a few paragraphs.

Most of you know by now that I am a grandmother. I am also a big fan of handmade gifts. And I am a big old sucker for "cute". When I was asked to take a look at two Watson-Gupthill books, Knitted Wild Animals by Sarah Keen and Knitting Mochimochi by Anna Hrachovec, there was no choice but to say yes. I may have said it a little louder though. And there may have been a very very tiny bit of a squeal.

When I was a child, one of my things was watching my G.W. (aka Gramma Winnie, aka Winnifred Harvey Irish Morgan) crocheting and knitting a variety of animals and toys. Bears, mice, elves, you name it, she would make it. I even once had a purse that was made from the bottom of a used laundry soap bottle. When opened, it converted into a doll bed. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I watched her fashion many of the same for siblings and cousins, and many, many more for selling at the local Christmas craft fair held annually in Northfield, MA at a variety of churches and other locales. Small knit and crochet friends, therefore, have a special place in my heart.

I have also been very busy of late with this new book, and once again my plan to knit sweaters for my grandchildren for the holidays is falling away from me. It makes me very sad that once again I am thwarted. But then I got to thinking. What about a smaller item? Not a sweater. What about...a toy? And then the email came - would I like to review books on knit toys? It's like they read my mind.Yes, of course I would love to!

When the books arrived I dove right into them. The books are decidedly different from one another, and yet I find myself in raptures over projects in both. Knitting Mochimochi is the work of Anna Hrachovec who's adorable blog and website Mochimochi Land contains a wealth of cute, cuddly and sometimes a little bizarre creatures.
Knitting Mochimochi: 20 Super-Cute Strange Designs for Knitted Amigurumi
 In all there are 20 amigurami designs divided into four categories - Fierce Creatures, Random Objects, Impractical Wearables and Nano Knits. Most are under 8" when completed. The projects range from Bite-free Bedbugs to Feet Eaters (this is the cover image - a slipper that eats your feet) and from Grouchy Couch to a Hamster Herd. Information is provided on everything from childproofing your toys to designing your own. Most importantly, I think, there is a great deal of information on basic toy technique. Unlike a traditional knitted project, toys require a few tricks that some may not have in their arsenal. The information presented here on these topics would alone make it worth the investment for any toy knitter.

Most of these projects are small and quick to knit, making them perfect tote-along projects. I personally require a herd of hamsters for my office, and possibly some Pigs in Wigs as well. I am looking forward to boatloads of fun both to knit and to enjoy when they're complete. Excellent as gift ideas or just adorable objects to have around you, this book is loaded with fun and inspiration.

Next I turned my attention to Knitted Wild Animals by Sarah Keen.
The patterns in this book are more traditional in appearance, but are just filthy all over with cute. The cover image alone is captivating, but then you begin to flip the pages...fifteen adorable creatures peer up at you, page after page of wildlife just begging for you to pick up the needles. Lion and tiger and, well, no bear unless you count the unbelievable cute giant panda. There's warthog and moose and zebra too!

A technique section gives advice on the basics of casting on, increasing and decreasing and binding off. There are helpful hints on working with intarsia, making tassels (tails!) and embroidery for faces as well as stuffing and care of your finished stuffed creature. These creatures are larger in size, about in the 8-18" range. You could knit an entire zoo that would keep any child entertained for hours regardless of their chronological age.

Continuing the trend toward unbearable cuteness, the Webs Holiday 2010 catalog just made it's public appearance.
Seriously cute. Within hours I had knit two penguins using the pattern from Webs which is available as a download (in case you are, as I was, instantly driven to whip some up), and I doubt my obsession will stop there. I love the slightly sarcastic look of the penguins. These are mine (so far):
There will, of course, need to be more. I've been rewarding myself for accomplished work with something like this - a project I can knock out and feel finished with in a matter of an hour. Of note, I did NOT put them here. When I went up to bed last night they were side by side on the mantle contemplating who they wanted me to knit next. I think this display indicates they want more of themselves? I can happily comply!

(edited to add an update on penguins and the resulting stacking behavior seen above from Girl - "Well there was an epic penguin battle going on, but then we all came in to watch movies so they had to freeze where they were. At least that's what I think happened... It's not like I was there.". I don't think I believe her about the not being here bit...)

Next weekend is our oldest sons wedding. There's a  lot of flutter and excitement here. We love Selina (oh and Brendon too) and could not be happier for them or for ourselves, really. Among her other fine qualities, Selina KNITS. Just a little for now, but I think we can work on that, don't you?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Block at a Time.

When I am in the middle of a big project (like, say, a book...) I tend to crave small things, just a small project to wipe my palate free of the big one, if only for a moment. When I was offered a copy of Nicky Epstein's Knitting Block by Block, I couldn't resist.
I am a fan, I will admit. I own the functional eye candy that are also known as Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments, Nicky Epstein Knitted Flowers, and of course Knitting On the Edge and Knitting Over the Edge and Knitting Beyond the Edge, among others. I even own the 2001 Knits for Barbie Doll. The concept of this new block-based book is simple - using these simple shapes as a foundation, you can knit a variety of pieces - wearable or huggable or anything in between.
As it turns out, you can. Beginning with some helpful basic information on designing with squares, the book moves into a series of block-based designs for the knitter's perusal. Patterns for the featured designs are included in the back, but really I like to view them more as inspirations. In total there are 13 projects with specific pattern directions ranging from afghans and scarves to full garments and accessories. There's even simple toys, which I must say would make excellent last minute gifts!
Then there are the blocks. 150 of them to be precise. In true Nicky Epstein fashion, they run the gamut from simple to creative and tame to wild with a little of everything in between. Blocks are knit simply, or are embellished, cabled, embossed, colorized and liberally textured. Last but not least, there are four pages of images of the blocks themselves to finish things off. Simply copy them, cut them out, and use the squares to design your own project.
This book made me want to drop everything and play with my knitting. I think we don't do enough of that. isn't knitting, first and foremost, about enjoyment? We don't knit because there are no socks or sweaters. We knit because it's fun. it feels good. This book will inspire you to have some fun with your craft. One block at a time!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nothing Significant to Say

Things have been hairy here for a while now. I can sum it up for you with two phrases - "personal stuff" and "nobody died". Or maybe that's one phrase if I move the quotation marks around a bit. This happens when I am writing a book, it seems. The closer I get to deadline, the more things fall apart. So things started to fall wildly apart, and I got myself and some of the things back on track (the ones I had control over anyway) and right now I am not good for much more than casual conversation. So that's what you get!
I am looking forward to three days of work in a row, no interruptions. Except to share a little glimpse into life outside of and around the insanity.
After weeks of craziness, I declared Monday Big E day. For those of you not local to New England, the Big E is also known as the Eastern States Exposition, and is a weeks-long regional fair that just happens to be about 50 minutes from my front door. And I love fairs. I had no date so I called my mother in law and she was delighted to come along.
She likes birds. And these are really cute houses for birds.
I generally have an agenda at the Big E which usually involves browsing the state buildings and indulging in certain retail activities within them.
This ranges from the very specific salmon on a stick in the Maine building to the more vague "something else really bad for me".
I saw a lot of Whoopie Pies - these from Wicked Whoopies come in a string of flavors as long as my arm - but they are made with wheat, so no-go for me.
We did stand in a very short potato line in Maine - this one is half-loaded. I cannot believe how much stuff they put on those potatoes! I decided that half-loaded = "bad for me", so this about terminated my eating, except for the tastes of spun maple sugar in three of the buildings and the samples at Halladays that are required eating. As is buying a stack of their dips, which this year I managed to keep at three (Scampi, Spicy Garlic Dill and Garlic Chipotle). They're not just good dips (which they are...). They are also excellent for days when food prep is decidedly minimal - a tablespoon of one of these in the crock pot with some vegetables and maybe a meat, and dinner is decidedly simple.
We found these - Pushovers from Bigfoot, Inc. Would that I had a stack of them by the front door in a variety of sizes.
We saw and talked with beekeepers. I wonder if my customers would be interested in small strips of cut comb in their one pound jars? Judy thinks this is a bit of genius. I love comb honey. We will have to try it next year.
We saw an intelligently placed solar trash compactor outside of the Massachusetts building. Because all solar things work best in the shade.
And the most adorable shirts in Vermont. The one on the far right says "Vermont: we were green before it was cool." I love the tie-dye one, but I am a sucker for tie-dye.
As we stood debating what to do after our whirlwind tour of New England states, a parade came by. Not just any parade. A Mardi Gras parade, complete with bead throwers. I explained to my mother in law what is generally required to obtain beads at a Mardi Gras parade, and also that on this occasion I doubted that the general means would be required. I did state, however, that a certain amount of aggression would be required. Hands up, jump around, yell, and dive for them when they fly.
I created a bead maniac. We raced from one end of the fairgrounds to the other, dodging through buildings to get ahead of the parade route. She flattened little old ladies and small children in her quest. No football player with big shoulders would keep her from her strings of delight. When it was all over she was as decorated as a tree at Christmas.

Since I was a small person (no smaller, like 3' or so) I have lusted after, sighed about and in general desperately wanted a Vita-Mix. I just know that a Vita-Mix will solve all the problems of life. it would probably make me grow to 5'6" tall, remove all my stretch marks, and possibly cause me to lose weight. I just know it. I love to watch the demo, nod knowingly (since I've about memorized the thing) and run to the front for samples of freshly made dairy-free frozen treats, or peanut butter so new the peanuts are still weeping, or soup made hot in what some people call a glorified blender. I, of course, know better. The Vita-Mix is not a mere blender! It makes food processors look weak. It can BOIL WATER for crying out loud! Every year I watch the Vita-Mix guy and every year I am persuaded or constrained or in some other manner forced to NOT hand over my Visa and NOT head to the gate at a dead run in search of ice cubes and whole fruits with the seeds still in them so I can whip up a fresh, organic smoothie. I've sold them, not literally, but just by my obsessive and effusive adoration, which inevitably rubs off on someone near me. But I still don't own one, and if Mr. W. has his way I never will.
When we entered the Better Living Center the first thing I saw was the Vita-Mix guy. We must, I said, watch. Judy must see for herself the glory that is the Vita-Mix. Now my mother in law, is not much on spending. She's very good at saving, scrimping, and in fact makes me look like a spendthrift (and I reuse tinfoil and plastic flatware, so we're talking hard-core cheap here).
She bought one!!! Red. With a second bowl thing. AND a DVD and a recipe book. My mother in law now owns what I consider to be the grail of appliances. I still do not.
They say I will recover in time. This helps:
On a dare of sorts I made marshmallows over the weekend, and let me tell you this was not only easy, it was also fun and they are quite delicious. My candy thermometer bit the dust, but I like to test sugar in cold water anyway - I think it's more accurate. I used this recipe, although I did adapt it a bit to fit the day. For example I had no light corn syrup. In fact the presence of corn syrup here is somewhat miraculous, and I suspect that the jar this came out of was legal to vote in all states. Combined.
So I used the dark corn syrup I had here.And white sugar? Not so much. Cane sugar. White sugar goes to bees and hummingbirds. I also cut the vanilla by half because I have this vanilla on crack that my mother gave me, and it's dangerous in food if used as directed. When they say double strength, they mean it. There were three unopened big bottles in her house when we moved her and a few open ones. It will be a very long time before I require new vanilla. A very, very long time.
I also used a silicone mat to line my 9x13 pan because I had this vision of failure involving a chisel and rock-hard sugar goo. I did not need to fear. They de-panned beautifully, and were cut into appropriate sized cubes and are now...well...gone. But while they lasted they were perfection and I highly recommend the activity to anyone. Great fun, great gifts (I know because I gave them all away), and they do taste like marshmallow.
That's all the thrills and chills for this week. I need to get back to the grind, churn out this book, then take a nice long break in which I shall knit endlessly and bore you with pictures of knitting, DIY home projects (like my mudroom floor), and probably more food. Definitely more marshmallows!