Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring break

As had happened so often  in  the  past, I  was conscious of an impending doom.  Exactly what form this would take I was of  course unable to say - it might be one thing or it might be another --  but a voice seemed to whisper to me that somehow, at some not distant date, Bertram was slated to get it in the gizzard.

-- How Right You Are, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Thirty-three Latin final exams.  Twenty-some excruciating pages of sentence translation.  Much red ink.  Tears, hysterical laughter, and pre-teen classroom flatulence.  Then a punctured tire, delayed start, numerous meltdowns from the youngest family member, with only audiotapes of Ian Carmichael reading the above book to spur us on to the pit stop.  And tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Here is Cityscape, almost ready to work the neck ribbing.  After I finally got off Sleeve Island, it went fast.  When the neck is done, then I cut the steek and work the button bands.  That checkerboard area in the center is where the steek will be cut; there are 3 stitches on either side of the cutting line to provide a facing to turn under and margin for error.  Cutting your knitting is totally not scary at all.  Not nearly as scary as lace.

For example, consider Persephone.  I cast on this shawl and have made a fair amount of progress over the last few weeks, a row here and there.  But consider that if I ever dropped a stitch, I could get completely confused and be unable to delicately un-knit to the point where the mistake was made.  In fact, it would be highly likely that I could knit on in complete ignorance of a massive mistake for many rows, because lace knitting looks like a big jumble of disorganized matter as you're knitting it:
It will not be until it is blocked (wetted, then stretched out under pressure to dry) that it assumes the ethereal beauty that knitted lace can achieve.  And it may not, even then.  If I do find a major glaring error at that point, it will be far to late for me to rip it back and correct it.  That's just not how I work.  Besides, by that time I will have started three or four other projects and lost interest in this one.   For now, the knitting is smooth and the pattern is fairly easy.  Every time I pick it up, I do have to get used to the laceweight alpaca yarn, which is so fine it is easy to lose track of where the thread is.
I finished the shirtstripe mitered square quilt top!  Now, I double-dog dare myself, before the internet and everybody, to machine quilt it before the end of the school year. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Magician's Nephew

Braving the truly glacial pace of our internet connection to try a post about Cedar Tree's production of The Magician's Nephew at the Loves Street Playhouse in Woodland, WA.

As the mother of Aslan, I could hardly be less than proud of these young people and their hard work on this charming children's theater production.  Every single one of them is a student or former student of mine.  All shows sold out before opening night, so unfortunately, only a select few will get to see the care that went into this production.  Melinda Leuthold did a fantastic job as director, applying her artistic vision and pulling out quality performances from every single cast member.  I was especially impressed with makeup and costuming -- Narnian animals came alive, Queen Jadis screeched at Aunt Letty, who responded in high dudgeon as any proper Victorian aunt would, and Uncle Andrew stole the show with his unruly wig.

If you can't make it to Narnia, check out one of the other productions upcoming at the Playhouse.  It's a beautifully restored tiny church building with a nice intimate feel.  I took a picture of one of the stained glass lights:

While you're waiting to watch the show, if you like Thai food, check out Mali Thai on the other side of I5 from the playhouse.  It's a little storefront Thai place, but great food, fast service and they're happy to adapt a smoothie so it's kid size.  They are the only Asian restaurant I've ever seen that has an illustrated kids' menu, with actual Asian, not American, specialties.  This was a huge hit with my daughters, who don't think they like Thai food but changed their minds when they saw the pretty plates with wontons that look like flowers, carrots that look like flowers, egg rolls, barbecued chicken, etc.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mixed Berries...

... is my tentative name for these skeins of homespun fingering/sport weight yarn from some Polwarth roving I bought last summer at Black Sheep Gathering.  According to my rough estimates, it's about 440 yards, enough for a shawl.  It's not superwash, so it's not practical for socks (at least not in my house, where you can't count on anything being handwashed unless you intercept it yourself first every time.)  But it will make a nice shawl, and I've been queuing quite a few shawls on Ravelry.  I don't wear them much because they make me look like a dork, but that's beside the point.

I dyed the roving using food colorings.  Wilton's cake decorating gels are great, and I also have a few of the liquid kind you find at the grocery store.  I have an old canner kettle that I use for dyeing.  You pre-soak the wool for 30 minutes, add it to the kettle (already filled with water and a few glugs of vinegar) and slowly heat it to a simmer, adding your dabs and drops of food dye at will.  Nothing terribly scientific about it.  When the color disappears from the water and seems to be absorbed into the yarn, you take it off the heat and try to be patient while it cools.  You should soak it in water the same temperature as the cooled dyebath to make sure any excess dye gets removed.  Still, while I was spinning it, my thumb and fingers got pink.

The top photo is the truest color, but the strong natural light washes it out a bit.  The lower photo is too blue, but shows the tonal variation a little better.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Greater Ones

The Latin word translated as "ancestors" or "forefathers" is "majores," which literally means "the greater ones."  I mentioned this fact about one of their vocabulary words to my 8th-grade students last week, and suggested that you can tell a lot about a culture by whether the people in it view their forefathers as greater than themselves, or not.  (Note to self: avoid inviting post-modern teens to an open-ended speculation about the value of previous generations in the last minutes of class.  They have not yet learned to see themselves as dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants.  In fact, they have trouble conceiving of any greater generation than the one which gave us Ipods and PS3's.)

That, it seems to me, is my job: to convince young people that they are part of something larger than themselves, and bring them to a point where they can appreciate it more fully.  Or, failing that, at least understand the difference between a noun and a verb.

The National Latin Exam was given last week.  It's all very strictly controlled and Latin teachers themselves are not allowed to administer the test.  We'll know the results in a month or so.  For the last two years I've had an Intro level student get a perfect score... it's always so fun to receive a personalized letter of congratulations.  I'd love to see that happen at Level 1 or even Level 2, but it's unlikely.  Not because these aren't high-caliber students, but because they are young, especially in comparison to students at other schools who take the test.  They may be whip-smart, but they're not wise.  Not quite yet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book review - Septimus Heap

In the crowded world of juvenile fantasy literature, Angie Sage has crafted a story worth looking at in the Septimus Heap series, beginning with Book 1: Magyk

This is a series for those looking for something to read after Harry Potter -- or perhaps better, for "tween" age kids whose parents are a bit reluctant to let them read the progressively darker books in the Potter series.  It's creative enough that it's not fair to label it a Harry rip-off, although some of the same elements are present: orphan (or apparent orphan) with phenomenal talent, evil Darke lord plotting a comeback, numerous supporting characters with endearing comic qualities.  The Darke characters are buffoonish and incompetent, the good ones are fully-developed and noble, even when they are eccentric.

Septimus Heap is the seventh son of Silas Heap, himself a seventh son.  But he is snatched away from his family as an infant by the midwife, who proclaims him dead.  At the same time, Silas finds an infant baby girl abandoned outside the castle, and is cautioned to raise her as his own and never tell how he found her by the new ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand.  We figure out fairly early on that the baby girl is a disinherited princess and that Septimus Heap will return... although when and how is the main subject of Book 1.

Archaic spellings and font usage give visual interest; clever word coinage and a deft, age-appropriate sense of humor tie it together.  I listened to this book as an audiobook read by Alan Corduner: his narration, as it has been in every other audiobook I've heard him in, is superb.

Book 2: Flyte, takes up the story a year later.  Princess Jenna has been restored as queen-in-waiting, Septimus is apprenticed to Marcia Overstrand, and the plot revolves around Septimus' oldest brother, Simon, who has apprenticed himself to the evil necromancer Dom Daniel, and various attempts to do away with Jenna and Marcia and bring back Dom Daniel.  More episodic than the first book, this one also includes a dragon hatchling and a lost spell for the ancient art of Flyte.  The mood stays light, even though there are skeletons trying to come back from the dead and ghosts (who don't make very good castle guards because an enemy can ride right through them).  I'm looking forward to reading further books in this series and reporting on them.

The Cedar Tree Spring program was yesterday evening.  The kindergarten class gets cuter every year.  You really must come and see them perform the Wiggle Worm song some year... sadly, no Youtube videos of that exist yet.  It's exciting to see the entire curriculum come together.  We have come a very long way in the 11 years I've been teaching there.  We have a young man in our Junior class, my son's good friend, who will be travelling to Washington D.C. to represent Washington State at the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition.  He recited Edgar Allen Poe's "Dream within a Dream."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Holding Pattern

In a world where we wait anxiously to find out how much worse the devastation from Japan's earthquake and tsunami will get, where the Arab world seems determined to prove that their religion is incompatible with modern civilization, and our President is displaying such a leadership deficit that Hillary Clinton and France start to look good, I have nothing to offer but this jigsaw puzzle, completed a few weeks ago.  It will probably be the last puzzle until next winter; another keeper from Goodwill.

In our own small circle of the world, this time of year is incredibly busy and stressful.  School decisions have to be made, school programs and projects have to be completed, plans for Spring break finalized.  Nothing earth-shattering or devastating when we consider the world news, for which we are thankful.  And we are in prayer for those who are at risk in so many places right now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blue Onion - Recreating Grandma's china collection, one piece at a time

My most recent thrift store find was pretty special.  Since I was a little girl I have loved the combination of blue and white in kitchens, all because of Grandma.  This pattern is called Blue Onion and it looks exactly like the cannister set she had.  I think my sister has it now.  I only found the Flour and Sugar cannisters at Salvation Army, and they both have cracks on the lids, but for $6.00 total (half-price sale) I'm really happy with them. 

The Blue Onion pattern has been copied many times, and I look for it every time I'm at a thrift store.  I inherited what was left of Grandma's everyday "Blue Fjord" pattern by Wood & Sons, if I can get the picture to post (Ides of March apparently makes our internet connection even slower):

Three dinner plates, 4 dessert plates, 7 bowls, and 4 little bowls perfect for small servings of strawberries.  I think Sarah got the teacups.  Over the years I've added to the collection from Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Value Village:

Two cup and saucers and two bread-and-butter plates from Johnson Brothers - "Saxony."  One saucer and one bread-and-butter from J.G. Meakin - "Blue Nordic."  But the Flour and Sugar cannisters... that was really cool.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day

3-14 is Pi day.  So I made this.  It's blueberry by special request of all the blueberry lovers in this family.  The rest of the meal will be Hamburger Helper and salad-in-a-bag.

Speaking of blue, here is the skein of yarn I plied the other day.  It's "Salt Marsh" by Dicentra Designs in a wool-silk blend, about 400 yards of laceweight.  It's always an adventure to ply a variegated yarn, and I think this one will be pretty when knit up into something.  The lighter colors found each other and the darker colors found each other.  After letting it sit on the bobbin for a day or so, I wound it onto my yarn swift, tied it carefully in several places, and gave it a soak in some cold water with a capful of Kookaburra wool wash.  Then I squeezed it out, thwacked it against the side of the sink (this sets the twist, I am told... and besides, it's fun), and hung it to dry.  It's all dry and smells pleasantly of clean sheep and eucalyptus now.  Now it will wait patiently for me to spindle-spin the rest of the fiber and choose a masterpiece lace shawl pattern.  That may take some time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More spinning

Last June I was able to travel down to Eugene, OR for the Black Sheep Gathering.  It's a fiber festival drawing spinners from all over the Northwest together with sheep farmers and wool merchants.  There's a certain hippie vibe going on in Eugene at any time, and it's amplified manyfold with the diverse crowd gathered to show sheep and other animals, buy and sell fiber, and generally hang out.  It was my first fiber festival and I loved it.  I bought this little Kuchulu spindle, made of Tulipwood, from the Jenkins Woodworking booth.  I had been coveting one since a lady in my knit night group showed me hers.  It's small enough to hold in the palm of my hand, and so beautiful that a little toddler girl came up to me in the park in Eugene after I bought it and was trying it out.  "What is it?  It looks like a flower!"

Basically, for those who don't spin, this is how all yarn and thread was made before the invention of the spinning wheel.  One form or other of the drop spindle.  I never figured it out for the longest time, but it's relatively easy once you get the feel of it in your muscle memory, like spinning on a wheel.  Last year was the "Year of the Spindle" for me and this one is the one I've been using the most.  I also bought some hand-dyed fiber (75% Blue-faced Leicester, 25% silk) from Dicentra Designs and have been spinning it a little at a time for several months.  The nice thing about a Turkish style spindle is that you can remove the crossbars when you're finished spinning and have a center-pull ball ready to store and eventually ply.  The lovely thing about the Kuchulu is that it makes beautiful, fine laceweight yarn.  I find it incredibly fun and rewarding and am looking forward to knitting a beautiful shawl with it someday.

 I finally had enough to ply and decided to do that this week, using my wheel.  There's still plenty more to spin, but here's what it looks like on the bobbin.  Haven't wound it off yet, but it took a few hours to ply 4 balls together.  We'll see how much yardage I get out of 7 months' spinning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Darn those socks...

I like knitting socks from scratch, but I don't love it.  I like wearing handknit socks better than storebought, and so do all the male members of my family for whom I have ever knit socks.  They want me to knit them more socks, enough so that they can wear handknit socks every day of the week.  Truth be told, though, I'd much rather be working on another cardigan.  That's why I like to make sure that the socks I make will last a couple of years before the inevitable happens.  Not like this unfortunate pair, my Father Time socks, which stunned me this Wednesday by showing me a big gaping hole in the bottom of the foot after less than six months of wear.

The moral of the story?  For me, it's this:  buy cheap sock yarn with 25% nylon and 75% wool.  No more lusting after indie sock yarn dyers and boutique yarns.  No more dropping more than $30 on a skein of Three Irish Girls Sea Sock, with seaweed fiber that is supposed to be antibacterial and earth friendly.  It will just break your heart.  Not only will you be out the $30, but you will also feel guilty about the time you spent knitting them.  This is not what knitting is for.  I have not yet arrived at the point where I can stand in front of the trash can, say "darn those socks," and drop them away without feeling remorse and guilt.  So I darned them the old-fashioned way, but there is still going to be a fair amount of angst associated with those socks.  In the economics of knitting for me, there is a point where the useful life of a garment justifies the expense of the raw materials and time spent creating it.  These socks did not make it.  Sure, I had great fun working with the yarn itself at the time, and playing with an unusual pattern.  But when push comes to shove, socks are utilitarian objects and I expect them to do their duty like Roman soldiers, not act like works of art.

Some of my knitting buddies are members of sock yarn clubs, spend a sizeable amount of their disposable income on sock yarn, and have stashes that take my breath away.  They will be going to Sock Summit 2011 and making their stashes grow even more.  They will take classes on sock knitting techniques from the finest sock-knitting leaders in the world today.  I respect their love of their craft and their zeal for pushing new boudaries in the sock frontier.  But from now on, if I buy an expensive skein of sock yarn, it will be used for something frivolous and impractical that will not wear out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A wide variety of book reviews

Book reviews for you today, starting with the serious and working down from there...

Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis is by David C. Downing, who has a more recent work of fantasy that I'd like to read but our library doesn't carry yet, so I read this instead.  It is an approachable treatment of the concept of Christian mysticism, specifically as seen in the works of C.S. Lewis.  Lewis wasn't a mystic first and foremost, and some might think it's a bit of a stretch to classify him as a mystic at all -- how does one classify a mystic, anyway?  Where does mysticism fall in systematic theology?  Lewis certainly did not write extensively about mysticism as such.  The author makes a case for Lewis' elusive "Joy" experiences being mystical, and traces elements of mysticism from a Christian perspective in his works of fiction.  He is careful to distinguish Christian mysticism from generic, mystical spirituality which embraces a pantheistic approach to enlightenment.  The most helpful part of the book for me was the historical survey of Christian mysticism, listing figures such as St. Francis de Sales and Julian of Norwich.  I'm not sure if it's what the author intended, but my reaction by the end of the book was, "Of course Lewis was a bit of a mystic.  Isn't that true of most Christians?"  I wonder a bit if there was a bit of publish-or-perish about this book, and mysticism was chosen because it was the one aspect of Lewis that hadn't been explored yet.  Still, an interesting read.

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith -- have I mentioned that I love these books about the #1 Ladies' Detective agency?  In this one we get to go on safari (actually, a business trip) with Mma Ramotswe.  Questions of mistaken identity are resolved in a uniquely African way, and Grace Makutsi shows grace and dignity in distressing circumstances.

Death of a Valentine by M.C. Beaton is the 25th in the series of Hamish Macbeth mysteries.  The author also writes the Agatha Raisin mysteries and got her start writing Regency romances.  I like her wry characterization and her comic style, but this isn't one of the best.  Only Hamish (an unlucky-in-love policeman in the highland village of Lochdubh) and a few recurring characters are fully complex; most characters are exaggerated and their motivation is one-dimensional.  We do get a glimpse into life in the Scottish highlands and the U.K. in general, and some of the social ills that go along with it... particularly alcoholism in this book.

Here's one I only skimmed: The Overton Window by Glenn Beck.  Yes, the Glenn Beck of right-wing radio fame wrote a thriller; I saw it in the fiction section of the library and was curious.  Now, I think it would be fascinating to have Glenn Beck as a dinner guest.  He's wildly hyperactive of mind and his heart's mostly in the right place, but his conspiracy theories are best treated as light entertainment only.  His prose style isn't terrible and he's doing his best to channel Robert Ludlum, but that's as far as it goes.  Maybe it's the fact that our government really is on the brink of financial collapse and sinister forces really are at work to paint patriotic Americans as evil terrorists, that makes Beck's fictional conspiracy tale seem to take on just the wrong tone for me.  I do owe him a debt of thanks; a centerpiece of his book is the wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings."  I had never encountered it before and it's a good reminder for an age that would like to take a holiday from history that we may be doomed to repeat that history we're forgetting.  An embittered Kipling wrote it after his son died in WWI.  From the Wikipedia entry I learned of the drama when the liberal blog Huffington Post attacked Beck for his "insane" "Seussian" poem, not knowing or not bothering to find out that it was actually Kipling's.  An amusing illustration of the very point of the poem.  If only I could set the Huffpo to copying "I will do my own research" 100,000 times.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How Grandma makes quilts

My mother-in-law is getting a lot more quilts finished than I am.  She probably averages 3 hours a day.  I'm happy to get an hour a day for any of the fiber arts, and it's usually knitting these days since my quilting area is still trashed.  But since I help her lay them out and pin them, I can take pictures and put them on my blog. 

She has an interesting approach to quilting: she backs her quilt tops with pre-quilted fabric, and once the top and quilted backing are pinned, she ties them at intervals with embroidery floss or perle cotton.  The resulting quilts are cheerful and utilitarian and she donates most of them to charity.  The top one is made from a bunch of her Christmas fabrics.

The second one she says took her over 20 years, mainly to find the different flower patterns she used.  You can just see the wrong side of the pre-quilted fabric sticking out under the top.

As for me, I'm still stuck on sleeve island on two sweaters.  On Cityscape I'm more than halfway up the sleeves -- the good news is that my arms are short, so I only have to make it to 18 inches, instead of 19.  Lots of stockinette stitch still to go, but the good part is getting closer.  On Green Mountain Gardens, I've been taking a hiatus because it's too complex to just grab and go when I go to knit night, and lately I haven't been up for much complexity while watching TV either.  I have almost finished spinning up the Shetland wool I blogged about last week.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


My favorite 5th grader will be going to middle school next year.  Since she has Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and I have yet to encounter a local Christian school that will accommodate her disability, it will almost certainly be in the local public school.  I think I am resigned to this and even somewhat positive, but it is still a major change.  Even though I teach middle school myself -- especially because I teach middle school myself -- I am worried about the challenges ahead for her and for me.  Even little things (maybe not so little, since I'm a creature of habit) like the daily schedule will change radically.   School will start for her at 9:00 -- for the rest of us it is 8:30.  This will mean that either I will spend my life in the car making multiple round trips a day, or I will need to find a carpool for the other three kids and make only one or two round trips to Ridgefield a day.  My schedule will have to change from first three periods to something that allows me to see her safely off to school first.  That means less time in the afternoon for housekeeping and errand running and otherwise trying to keep all the balls in the air.  In other words, much less likelihood of staying sane.

Then there are all the issues with her program itself.  We had a preliminary meeting today and the representatives of the school district are never anything but positive and encouraging, but I find myself overwhelmed by the need to choose wisely in a decision that will affect the rest of her life.  Life Skills classroom for 1 or 2 periods a day?  Learning Support classroom for all the core subjects?  Which social and adaptive skills do we need to include in her IEP? Do we dare insist on including her in a General Ed. class at all?  Should we push for an aide if we do?  And why in the world would any school district forbid prospective parents from visiting a Life Skills classroom, or any classroom for that matter, of a public school?  I don't care what they say about student confidentiality concerns and disruption... the more they insist on treating parents as the enemy, the more success they will have in creating that kind of relationship.   But of course, since the district reps are never anything but positive and encouraging, you can't really direct any of your parental outrage at them.  It's all very passive-aggressive, and I get the feeling we're just supposed to go along with the recommendations and not notice the man behind the curtain. 

What's a couple of introverts with a special-needs kid to do?

I do know that if a private Christian school refused to let prospective parents visit actual classrooms, it would be out of business very, very, quickly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Sometimes Tuesdays are for spinning at my house.  This is what I use for spinning... that's Muffball trying to help.  Actually, this was her first introduction to the wheel and I tried to get a picture of her climbing up on top, but the moment passed too quickly and she never tried again.  The wheel is an Ashford Traveller double drive and I've had it for... let's see, eight years.  My youngest was a baby and slept in her carseat while I had my first spinning lesson.  It was the final blow of the pregnancy hormones -- the same ones that suggested I take up knitting.  Eight years later, I'm still waiting to get it out of my system.

Ashford wheels are from New Zealand and you assemble them yourself.  I'm better at mechanical things than I was before putting this wheel together, but I'm still not going to win any prizes for technical achievement in spinning.  The basic principle is that you make the wheel go clockwise while spinning (to create a "Z" twist yarn) and then when you have two or more bobbins full, you make the wheel go counter-clockwise while plying (to create an "S" twist finished yarn).  You can experiment with this on someone who has long hair and wants twisty ponytails; it's the same basic idea.

This is what I've been spinning: light gray Shetland wool, 1 1/2 pounds, hopefully enough for a sweater.  I'm doing a 3 ply, more-or-less worsted weight yarn.  I've had good success with this type of handspun yarn for sweaters in the past.  Spinning is a good activity to calm you down when you're watching "V" episodes with your teenage sons.  It takes your mind right off that evil alien queen and her nefarious plans for humanity when you're concentrating on getting an even amount of twist into the yarn as it passes through your fingers.  One hour-long episode equals about half a bobbin of spinning.  I need to fill another 3/4 of a bobbin before I can ply again.