Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Close Quilting

The Shirt Stripe Boxes quilt came off the machine and is ready for binding just as soon as my regular workhorse machine gets back from having its much-needed maintenance at the shop.  I love the close-set quilting on this; together with the extra-smooth shirting fabrics, it gives the quilt a crisp, modern, beach house-like feel.
I used a light blue polyester thread (usually it's all cotton for me, but this turned out well).  You can see the pattern best on the dark squares.
The sheen of the poly thread makes an interesting effect even on the back.  The closeness of the quilting does make the overall quilt a bit flatter and stiffer, but it works here.
I've sorted my scraps of fabric into three tubs.  Left to right they are "Tinies", strips, and "Vintage-y".  This is in addition to the fat quarters that are more neatly organized in my cupboard.  I thought I would cut out strips from these three bins for the Framed In Quilt featured recently on Moda Bake Shop.  My recipe is "blue" and the background will be some white I had leftover from a large quilt backing.
Anything with blue in it will qualify, regardless of variations in fabric style and weight.  Now I just want to get my machine back so I can start piecing.  There are still many quilts' worth of scraps, and I haven't even dug into my fat quarters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Finished Project, an Enhanced Stash, and a Pig Roast

I rediscovered an old project (circa 2008) while excavating the craft room.  This is a rug made with yarn cut from old t-shirts.  The pattern is Trinity, based on the basic log-cabin square blanket knitting pattern (really a method rather than a pattern).  I had put it away because working with the 1" wide strips of cotton fabric on size 15 needles is not as relaxing as other kinds of knitting, but it was 85% finished.  Or, I decided it just needed a little extra push to finish it, so I did.  And I put the other balls of t-yarn in a pretty basket until I'm foolhardy enough to start another rug.  So the kids' bathroom has a new, very knobbly, bathmat and my forearms and wrists are sore.
Memorial Day sales added this to my stash (because everyone knows that the first step to using up a lot of scraps is to buy more fabric to use as backgrounds and blenders, right?).  Solid cottons, 1 1/2 yard each of the colors and 4 yards of white, and 1 yard each of the ginghams.  I really do plan to make some scrappy quilts with them.  Plus, they are very "now" colors and most of my stash is very "not now." 
 We just came back from a Memorial Day pig roast.  What a neat idea for party hosts with lots more energy than we have!  They had a whole pig stuffed with more pork roasts, rubbed with all sorts of yummy seasonings, wrapped in lots of heavy duty foil and chicken wire and slow-roasted overnight in a pit on their property.  Then they brought it over to the Grange hall they had rented on a pickup truck, unwrapped it and served it there, along with a choice of barbecue sauces and the potluck dishes everyone else brought.  And the weather was even nice (mid 60's and partly sunny)!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gardening in the Northwest

The first thing you need to know about gardening in the Pacific Northwest, if you don't live here, is that summer doesn't come until after the 4th of July.  There is about a month delay compared to the rest of the country: right now it feels like what most of the country experienced in April. The first thing you need to know about our garden in particular, is that Steve does almost all of the work, and we both tend to favor plants that can fend for themselves.  In this climate and with our lifestyle, it's nice when things that grow like weeds are actually attractive in their own right.  That's our raised brick flowerbed above (built on the old shed or barn foundation, we think) with daisies crowding out the lilies and iris and sage, backed by vast quantities of forget-me-nots and the raspberry patch, then the apple trees.
Peas, zucchini, lettuce and spinach, and some tomatoes.  This isn't the best spot for tomatoes: between the back of the raised bed and the 60-foot high Japanese cedars, it's pretty shady.  But that's okay, tomatoes don't do great anywhere in the Northwest, except for cherry tomatoes.  Note more forget-me-nots in the background and some volunteer mustard greens.
The back of the garage is the sunniest spot for tomatoes and peppers.  Steve has put in a little walkway so you can get to the stuff by the garage.  More forget-me-nots (it is Memorial Day weekend, after all), foxglove, and iris.
Grandma and Grandpa's coyote from Arizona is probably wondering why he's surrounded by oregano and wallflowers.  Oregano is something that grows as a weed in our yard.  Want some? Come on over.  Lemon balm, too.
I think there are forget-me-nots in every shot.  If you have to have weeds, make sure they're pretty ones!  This is the kitchen garden, by the side patio.  Also shady, but handy for herbs and salad greens.  Also trying some tomatoes there.  If they don't do well, we're also members of a CSA run by some friends who take their gardening more seriously.
Our other plants are growing well: Primigenitus received his SAT scores yesterday, and they are sufficient to make us optimistic about his acceptance at any reasonable institution of higher education.  Secundus, while remaining the buff athletic one with a penchant for video games, brought his verbal reasoning and vocabulary scores up by 2 stanines on the standardized tests he took.  Tertia is going to Third President for middle school, and that is, on reflection, a real answer to prayer, even if we don't have all the details worked out yet.  Quarta is quite the crafty young lady - I'll have to blog about her first quilt soon.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Allure of Red and Aqua

I have been noticing a new-to-me color combination a lot on the quilt blogs: red and aqua.  For years I had a subscription to at least one quilt magazine so I could keep up with these trends, but I've been simplifying, or trying to, the last few years and I've also been focusing more on knitting instead.  I was surprised by how much I immediately loved this color combination and wanted to do a quilt in it.

It's also appealing when you add in some sweet pinks to the mix.  That helps temper the aqua skull and crossbones a bit, maybe.

Now, I'm not really an aqua person.  I never thought I was, anyway.  Too close to teal, which is about the only color I don't love.  (I won't say I don't like it, but I'm not terribly likely to use it much). But it's been growing very trendy in recent years and, as trends have a way of doing, aqua has been growing on me subtly without my being aware of it.  I decided to lay out a possible grouping of fabrics from my newly reorganized stash, figuring I probably wouldn't find much aqua.  Ironically, I had a harder time finding true red, because of my red Chinese Lanterns quilt from a few years back.
So, I'd have to buy more red, which I can't do because I have absolutely no more room for fabric in my sewing corner until I make about 5 scrap quilts to use up what I've got.  In fact, I could probably make a monochromatic quilt similar to the above in blue, green, pink, purple, orange, and yellow, and then we could talk about fabric shopping.

You can see some more inspiring examples of the red and aqua color combo here.  I really do like the idea.

Bought a new vacuum cleaner this week.  It's the one on the left.  The old one has lost its mojo, and some of its attachments.  The new one is supposed to be especially good at picking up pet hair, and it comes with a special attachment you can use for grooming your pet during shedding season:

<Snort!> You just try that on any self-respecting cat!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finished Pimpelliese

Okay, this shawl has a strange name.  But it was fun to knit.  Plenty of garter stitch and a fairly easy lace edging on every row.  As a bonus, the side-to-side construction meant I could use pretty much every bit of my handspun and hand-dyed Polwarth yarn.
The trick is to divide your yarn into two equal balls (I don't have a scale, so I roughly measured the yardage as I wound it onto my swift). Then when you reach the end of one ball, you stop doing increases and start doing decreases.  I used about 420 yards altogether.

It's a happy shawl and I should really wash and block it.  The yarn was lovely to work with from the spinning through the knitting.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Coming Up for Air

Okay, the last few days have been a bit of a frenzy.  It's my aunt's fault really.  She shared a link to the Moda Bake Shop's Framed in Quilt, which I loved, because of course I love scrappy quilts.  This quilt was designed by Little Miss Shabby, whose site I also visited and loved.  So I put both in my blogreader to follow (you can do that when you have a blog, it's very fun.  I think you can do it even without a blog, but I haven't figured out how yet).  That was how I found out about the "Giveaway Day" at Sew Mama Sew, which is when hundreds of blogs get together to have a big blog party and give stuff away.  I have spent every last free moment of my time for the last two days visiting blogs to see what they're giving away and putting "pick me pick me!" type comments to try to win some of their fabulous loot.  It's inspiring to see how many other fun blogs there are out there.  I'll be excitedly watching my inbox to see if I won anything.

Of course, what I was supposed to be doing for the last few days was not trying to win new stuff, but to slim down my old stuff.  The stack of craft stuff to clean and organize has moved away from the wall and is now spread out through the family room.  Yarn is organized, some quilt projects are organized, but I just discovered a moth infestation in some of my older spinning fiber and a stack of cards and letters from my wedding (19th anniversary is later this year).  I have numerous plastic bins but some are missing lids, and I have some random lids with no bins.  I keep getting sidetracked with archeological finds like my rug hooking and that triangle rag rug I was knitting at least 3 years ago.  I'm going to finish it, by gum! And of course, the kids need my attention every few minutes and I have to teach school every morning.

Now that I know about it, the Sew Mama Sew giveaway day will be something I want to participate in next time around.  Too bad that I wasn't ready for it this time, because I could make up several nice prize packages - scraps that I'm not in love with anymore, leftover cuts of fabric from quilts, some vintage things I've picked up here and there, extra balls of yarn, quilting magazines and books.  It will be fun!  I'll have to figure out how to run the "random number generator" thingy they talk about to choose winning comments, and I'll probably have to recruit tech help to set it up, but I can do it.  And now, I'm off to do more cleaning.  Steve is coming back from business travel tomorrow and it would be nice if he could walk through the family room.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Defining the Blog, part 2

So, last post I revealed to you what you had probably figured out already.  The blog will be eclectic.  I know that some people can blog and stick to one subject.  I will not be doing that.  I will, however, be in the running for the world's only blog about knitting, quilting, teaching Latin, and book reviews.  I love all of those things and will probably be alternating my blogtime between them.  So far in my blog history, I have not yet run out of book reviews that I want to do.  And if I blogged about every knitting pattern in my Ravelry queue, I could focus on that for about 4 years without missing a day or repeating a pattern.  Or every quilt pattern I have tagged for inspiration among my books and magazines.  I could work my way through Latin tutorials and share with you the accumulated wisdom of 11 years of teaching an ancient language.

But I refuse to limit myself.  I could dabble in political discussion, housekeeping tips, favorite recipes, history and current events, and of course philosophy and theology.  There are always family photos and humorous stories to share. 

Lack of attention span, you say?  Jill of all trades, master of none?  "A little learning is a dangerous thing"?  Most probably.  But if I had a single specialty and stuck to it exclusively, I would be a university professor and not a blogger, and I'd be having a whole lot less fun.

If you're just here for the quilt, it's called (appropriately enough for this entry) "Windmills of My Mind" and is my own design.  I was inspired by an article in Quilter's Newsletter Magazine (before it changed its name and defied punctuation rules -- March 2005 #370) called "Big Block, Little Block" about creating transparencies with two different sized variations of the same block pattern.  I figured that if two different sizes were good, three would be better, or at least a whole lot more interesting.  It was interesting piecing, all right.  I narrowly escaped being driven insane by the permutations of different colors to get the layering effect.  Enjoy -- it's one of my favorite quilts.

I just found out today about the website sewmamasew, which is organizing a giveaway day on several craft blogs.  Check it out... the blogs usually require you to leave a comment to enter for their giveaway, and it's open for another 24 hours or so.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Defining the Blog, part 1

There comes a time in all new relationships when you are supposed to define expectations, read relationship books (like Blogging for Dummies and The IT Girls' Guide to Blogging with Moxie), and have deep and sometimes painful conversations about the Future.

It helps if you are brutally honest about your personal shortcomings (total lack of tech skills, frequent shifts in interest, a tendency to over-write).  Taking the blog out for a makeover is a nice way to keep it fun and relieve some of the angst of this process.

At this point in our relationship I am prepared to say that blog and I have had some heart-to-hearts and are optimistic about our future together.  In an age when blogs are going bust all the time, this is good news -- even if it means readers will have to deal with entries on quite varied subjects.  Look for complete details in a future post, but for now we have come up with one guiding principle:

The blog will be eclectic.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Mystery of Public School Special Education

Somebody needs to publish a Special Education for Dummies or Navigating the Special Education IEP for Complete Idiots book.  Because that's exactly how parents feel after dealing for even five minutes with the special education bureaucracy.  Basically, as my astute oldest child remarked, you pay into it but you have no say in it.  But they want to make you feel like you have a say in it.  So they give you all sorts of paperwork that tells you about your rights as parents, but they don't tell you in plain language what the expectations for your child should be or how you should go about making sure they are met.  And the phone tag is just awful when there are so many parties and they are all on different pages.

To recap, our third child, a girl with Down syndrome (hereafter to be referred to by the blogname "Tertia"), is completing 5th grade at our local elementary school, "fully included" (whatever that means) in a regular classroom.  She receives pull-out instruction, which I gather is called "learning support," but we have fought to keep her in a more inclusive, mainstream environment and especially resisted the push to put her in a "life skills" classroom full-time.  It has paid off -- she is popular in her class and loves school.  But 6th grade, as I can freely attest after teaching it for 11 years, is a different environment.  Tertia will not be able to keep up academically, even if she does read at the same level as many of her peers.  We are prepared for there to be some fairly major changes for her next year, but we still want her to be pushed, preferably just enough and not too much, out of her comfort zone (which is watching Curious George and reading Disney Princess books, just to be clear).

Apparently we may have set ourselves up for a lot of confusion when we made an IEP calling for some time in Life Skills classroom (although not as much as they wanted to give her) and more time in various Learning Support classrooms, along with one literature class and "arts block"  in regular classrooms.  Add to that the fact that we would like to have the option of considering two different middle schools -- one down the street, hereafter referred to as "Methodist Missionary", and one in a slightly more upscale neighborhood, hereafter referred to as "Third President."  Now, Methodist Missionary is not a bad school, although they do serve a wide territory and include some rough kids.  Many of Tertia's friends are going there and she herself wants to go there.  The district will provide a bus for her to go there, even though it's a fairly short walk away.  Many other friends are going to Third President, which has a slightly better academic reputation, and not so many of what I would consider "problem" kids as far as bullying -- although I would probably be the last to know.  The district will not, apparently, provide a bus for her going there, even though she would definitely need automated transportation of some sort to get there because it's further away.  And there's "no room" in the Life Skills class there, although we are not exactly clear on whether "no room" really means "no room" or "we will have to pull some strings to make room."

I know that we are not allowed to visit either of the life skills classrooms because they don't want parents "shopping" for the best program.  I'm not so sure about the learning support classrooms or meeting with the teachers.  And there seems to be a little confusion over whether Tertia would be considered a Life Skills student or a Learning Support student, and I'm not sure why that matters, but it seems to matter very much to somebody.  I'm more than a little intimidated by making phone calls to strangers at the best of times; now I've been told I need to contact the principals of both schools to set up a visit so we can make an informed choice -- but I'm not sure whether we're even supposed to ask for a meeting with potential teachers, and if so, which ones?  And what questions should I ask?  The school counselors and psychologists are referring this up the chain of command as if we are the scariest parents ever, and the elementary school teachers who have served us so well for many years are limited in what they can do other than relay messages in an enormous game of Telephone.  I understand the district rep. for special education has some information to convey to us, but it hasn't happened yet and we will stay in this holding pattern a little longer.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book review: The "American Way"

Something a little different today...

A year or two ago I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Allan Carlson, a leading spokesman and scholar for the Agrarian movement in the U.S.  Basically, and I am radically oversimplifying here, Agrarian thought emphasizes rural life over urbanism (well, obviously!), family-centered over factory-based economies, and small inter-dependent communities over "the system" -- whatever the system is.  It has been proposed as a middle ground between the political left and right, a place where the people who talk about "earth friendly" and "buy local" and the "traditional family values" people can meet and do some good in the world.  I think it has potential, although calling it a "movement" might be giving it too much credit for organization at this point.  It certainly resonates with me; my great-grandparents were a mix of Democrat and Republican, but they all had farm life in common.  I think there is a yearning in many of us to return to a simpler way of life, but a media-driven, cynical culture has little but scorn for the institutions and people who made this country great.  In our eagerness to appear sophisticated, I think we neglect what made our ancestors decent and good.

I recently finished Carlson's 2003 book The "American Way": Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity.  This is a good book to read as an introduction to Agrarian philosophy and as a history of a now-neglected idea.  In a series of six scholarly articles, he traces the development of the ideal of American family life from the time of one Roosevelt to another, and then its subsequent suburbification and decline in the post WW2 era.  Along the way, I was fascinated to learn about the German immigrants who shaped family-friendly policies for generations to come; the "Maternalists" who supported the New Deal and the feminists who opposed it; and the culture-changing good intentions of Life magazine.  This is a descriptive, rather than prescriptive book; only at the end are a few general guidelines for policy proposed.  These include affirmation of marriage and family, recognition of the different economic and social functions of men and women, deindustrialization and return of control to the family (as seen in the rise of home schooling), celebration of babies, and protection of communities (religious or secular) that support families.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review - Septimus Heap 5: Syren

If you've been following my kids' book reviews, you'll know I like the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage as a family-friendly, tween-friendly alternative to Harry Potter.  Not that our family doesn't love the Harry books, but they start at tween-level and get progressively darker and more YA over the course of 7 books, leading many parents who had no problem with books 1-3 to be reluctant to give the go-ahead for books 4-7.  This is not a problem with the Septimus Heap books, and they have many of the same positive attributes: quirky and well-developed characters, inventive plots, a sense of playfulness with language, and a judicious amount of humor.  I remain pleased with the series after reading its 5th installment, Syren.  (The 6th book, Darke, is coming out soon).

Septimus Heap travels away from the Small Wet Country where he lives to transport back some friends.  In the process, he has adventures and meets new friends, and has to counter a dastardly plot to overthrow the Castle and Wizard's Tower.  Some of the old conventions of children's literature are called in: the few adults/authority figures are distant, clueless, too busy to notice, or all three.  Villains are scary and evil, but not too scary and evil, and they can be outdone by a clever child with the help of his friends.  Hints of romantic interest are there for those who wish to know, but the story proceeds with a primary focus on friends and family.

Septimus and his brothers Nicko and Simon feature in this story, as well as Princess Jenna, Snorri, Marcia Overstrand, Beetle, the dragon Spit Fyre, Stanley the messenger rat, Wolf Boy (AKA Boy 409) and Aunt Zelda.  Some of the fascinating new characters we meet are Syrah Syara, Miarr Catt, and Jim Knee the sullen jinnee.  As with all of Sage's books, characters separate and reconverge in unpredictable but believable ways, and no loose ends are left hanging.  Overall, very enjoyable, and there's room for the next two books to expand in other directions.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The organization of my sewing nook continues.  Above are the various wool and wool blend yarns recycled from thrift store sweaters.  I have a lot of greens and blues and pinks.  Most of them have been used in some of the 5 or 6 colorwork sweaters I've made from reclaimed yarn, but there's still potential for several more sweaters.
These are worsted and dk weight, mostly wool odd balls and leftovers.  Enough for a hat here and there, or a very colorful sweater with a lot of different things going on.
Leftover sock yarn.
Yarn intended for felting.
A UFO from the days when I was more comfortable crocheting than knitting and only bought acrylic yarn (circa 9 years ago).  I think I'm going to let it go.  Even though it was inspired by colors of my mother's granny square afghan.

I've even excavated long-forgotten crafts, like this rug-hooking project I started in Y2K (probably).  And the large plastic bag of wool scraps from when I took the Pendleton Woolen Mill tour.  And enough burlap for 3 or 4 more rugs after this one.  Did you know rug-hooking is quite fun?  I had forgotten. I hooked about a triangle and a half worth last night and cut strips for a little more.
A blast from the past -- the Piecemakers 1997 calendar quilt, begun when my 14-year-old was a baby.  I always meant to finish it, so a few years ago I pieced the connecting blocks:
... and now "all" I have to do is prepare and applique several dozen flowers on the corner and side blocks, together with their stems and leaves.  And some final embroidery on the house blocks.  At least I have it all in one box.
Another ancient artifact, circa 1999, when I was pregnant with the 11-year-old.  It was going to be a beautifully appliqued wall quilt for the living room, and I still remember that I spent about $70 on the fabrics for it.  I have no idea what to do with it now.  Even though we've moved since then it would still be gorgeous in our living room.  The colors are classic.  The piecing is not so perfect though.
I'm glad to report I have organized most of my knitting yarn now.  Still haven't touched the boxes of quilting scraps -- and I like scrappy quilts, so there are lots of them.  Assistance in the ongoing organization provided by Muffball, who stalks odd balls of yarn, especially handspun, by night and deposits them in other parts of the house.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book review - Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: the Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, by Jennifer Armstrong.  You should read this book.  It's as simple as that.  If you have never been inspired by the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica in 1914, or if you want your children to appreciate it along with you, this is the book.  Everyone in our family was spellbound by the audiobook.  It was written for children, the vocabulary is approachable, the storytelling is clear and simple... and yet I found it brought the heroism of Shackleton and his men to life better than anything else I've read on the subject.  Future leaders of the world, read this book.

In recent years I've become interested in what you might call literary detective work.  It's highly speculative, but quite enjoyable to attempt to pinpoint the influences on a favorite author.  It's a little like mindreading, and about as provable by hard facts.  Still, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, was inspired by reading the (for him) contemporary accounts of Shackleton's voyage (as well as the previous doomed expedition of Scott), and worked elements of them into the Narnia chronicles and space trilogy.  Puddleglum's dire prediction about how these Northern journeys always end... Frank the cab driver's observation that "worse things happen at sea"... Ransom lying exhausted for days in a cave after battling with the Unman in Perelandra... Shasta's struggle and renewed determination when he is required to run a marathon after crossing the desert... Caspian's eagerness to keep exploring to the Eastern edge of the world, and his son Rilian's desire to visit the lowest reaches of Bism, both only recalled by the need to fulfill their duty to protect their people. 

One account in Armstrong's book that gave me chills was the description of the final trek of three men over the uncharted mountains of South Georgia Island to reach the whaling station that was their only hope.  On this hike they at one point had to slide down a mountainside on loose gravel because there was no other way (reminding me of the descent into the Underworld in The Silver Chair).  All three men reported independently afterwards that during the hike they had an impression, an awareness, of the presence of a Fourth Man.  Of course you think about the Biblical account of the fiery furnace when you hear that.  But I was also reminded of how Shasta, in The Horse and His Boy, becomes aware of a fellow-traveller at his side as he makes his way through a foggy mountain pass.  When Aslan reveals himself, Shasta understands that the Lion has been his companion through all the dangers of his adventure.

I can easily envision Lewis, with his wide-ranging interests and especially his fascination with "Northernness" in mythology, reading the Shackleton accounts avidly.  They would become a prominent feature of his thought-life, and he would return to the idea of what makes a leader great as he wrote his books.  All speculation, of course, but after all, both Shackleton and Lewis had their part in the Great Conversation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cleaning my corner

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. 
William Morris
One of my new year's resolutions was to clean my sewing area before some HGTV show tries to stage an intervention there.  Now, my sewing area is a 6' x 6' alcove off of the family room, fitted with some old cabinets and a countertop sewing table that I hope to hire a carpenter to replace this summer (because it's falling apart and shored up only by my own pathetic carpentry skills). In that small area I do mending, machine sewing, ironing, cutting for various sewing projects, and I try to store everything I need for sewing, quilting, knitting, ironing, papercrafting, gift-basket making, mending, thrift-store-sweater-unravelling, rubber-stamping, rug hooking, embroidery, soap-making, paper-making, and picture-hanging.  We don't even talk about scrapbooking... that is the elephant in my living room that I have been ignoring for many years now.

There is also, of course, "the beast," my mid-arm machine quilting frame, which takes up the rest of the south wall of the family room and slightly obstructs the entrance into my little nook.  It has a shelf for storage underneath it, and some of the overflow ends up there.  But even so, it's getting ridiculous. I have enough scraps for many more quilts than I will ever be able to piece.  I desperately need to lose a couple of hobbies and be more selective with the ones I keep. 
So I started by removing all the junk from under the sewing counter and from behind the ironing board and on top of the cabinets.  I dusted, and I finally finished the painting that was finished two summers ago for the rest of the family room.  That's Devine Colors "Mocha" on the walls.  Nice and cozy.  I'm slowly allowing stuff back into the alcove, and slowly deciding to get rid of some fabric and old patterns.  I haven't gone through the actual cabinets yet because they are in relatively good shape -- my quilting fat quarters and yardage is neatly organized above the sewing counter, and most of my yarn stash is underneath the cutting table.  The cabinets above the cutting area need to be reorganized, and I'm pretty sure I need to part with those yellow curtains I bought years back that are not what I want anymore.  I am not going to make them into decorator pillows or tote bags or Sound of Music dresses for the girls.  I also don't really want to do anything with the navy blue corduroy.  And I really need to be ruthless with some of the old balls of yarn that the moths have found.  But what about the _______?  That's the trouble -- every bit that I uncover has its own eloquent plea for considering its sentimental value.

Here's the stuff that is waiting to be let back in.  Somebody send a professional organizer to dig me out if you don't hear from me. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers and the Narrative of Our Lives

It's time to get up
It's time to get up
It's time to get up
In the morning!
       (to the tune of Reveille, in a trumpet-like voice)

Up Up Up and At 'em!

When a job you've once begun
Never leave it 'til it's done
Be the labor great or small
Do it well or not at all.

Always put your clothes on with the tag in the back.

Be sure your sin will find you out.

Eat your vegetables.  At least five bites.

When you get married, you should choose someone who is your best friend.  And you shouldn't fight about stupid things like how to squeeze the toothpaste tube.

You should write thank-you notes for the people who gave you presents.

When Duty whispers low, "Thou must!"
The youth replies "I can!"

Did you practice your piano today?

It's very sad that Grandpa died, but we know we will see him again in heaven someday.  It will be like the greatest party in the world, but even better.

It's very sad that Mr. E. died, especially since we don't know if he ever trusted in Jesus to forgive his sins.  Some people put off thinking about it, but you shouldn't.  It's the most important decision in your life.

Early to bed, early to rise
Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Are you ready to recite your memory verse? 

Never take candy from strangers.  Sometimes bad people put poison or razor blades in it.

Get your chores done early and then you'll have the rest of the day to do the things you like.

Learn to like your chores.

Learn to like broccoli.

You'll have another chance tomorrow.  Go to bed now.

The above are all quotes from my mother, who was herself quoting earlier speakers in some instances.

All of us have an internal narrative -- the inner voice of the mind -- that tells us what to do next, how to do it, and whether we did the last thing wrong.  We all talk to ourselves, constantly.  Those of us who are considered more or less "high-functioning" have learned not to talk aloud most of the time.  But the narration of our lives is shaped in earliest childhood by our mothers.  They do it without them or us being aware of it, with constant repetition, and with varying degrees of patience and success.  I don't know how you could measure this, but I suspect that the Really Important Things that mothers convey to their children are also the Really Simple Things that they say over and over again.  Somewhere along the line, those Really Important Things begin to be said with our own voices.  We may add to them over a lifetime, but at the heart of our inner voice is our mother's voice.

The gap between civilization and barbarism, between piety and paganism, between order and chaos, is just one generation wide, and getting smaller along with our attention spans.  Mothers stand in that gap.  They tell us how things are and how things ought to be.  It's the hardest work in the world, and the most important.

For those of us who are trying to raise the next generation but who have lost our own mothers, it's a comfort to know that we keep their voices always in our minds.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finished Evergreen Gardens

I finished this earlier in the week.  It's "Green Mountain Gardens" from the Green Mountain Spinnery Knitting Book, but I'm thinking of changing its name to reflect the Evergreen State where I live.  Yarn from eight different unravelled sweaters, purchased from thrift stores, went into it.  It is now officially my most favoritest sweater ever, and has convinced me that I really like stranded colorwork.  Unfortunately it is really hard to capture the interplay of colors on camera, but I like it even better than the "official" colorways in the book.

Now that the spring has finally arrived and I don't need to wear a thick wooly sweater all the time, I'm also not feeling compelled to knit a thick wooly sweater all the time.  I very much enjoyed attending Cedar Tree's auction yesterday (we have a 6 months' supply of Franz bread, some wine from Dry Falls Cellars, and a basket of family game night goodies to enjoy), but I was sorry that I did not contribute a quilt this year.  So I am resolving now to make up for it next year.  Quilting it is, and maybe lighter knitting for awhile.

So in Iran, I understand the hard-line clerics are at odds with Ahmadinejad, the mad dwarf president.  They have brought charges against some of his top aides, accusing them of magic and unlawful invocation of djinni.  It is... so difficult to know whom to root for here.  If only political cartoons were not forbidden under Islam.  The situation seems to call for them.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Safety Patrol Picnic

I spent the day as a chaperone for my favorite 5th grader at the end-of-year picnic at Oaks Park.  Students from at least two school districts who participated in Safety Patrol this year were invited, courtesy of the Elks Lodge.  The last time I was able to arrange to go on a field trip with her, it was 2nd grade and the destination was OMSI.  So it was definitely time.  I had to go through a whole new background check to be approved as a volunteer at her school.  (Doubtless as a private school teacher I am suspect; this is probably the same background check that allowed an unemployed welfare recipient who locked her autistic stepsons in a caged room to be a school volunteer... but I digress.)

Bus rides with 5th graders are a quieter and more orderly affair than I remember from my own elementary days.  The buses have emergency escapes in the roof, a "body fluid clean-up kit" up front right beside the first-aid kit, and the driver's name cheerfully written in front ("Ms. Jeannie").  All new since my day.

Initially we were grouped with a couple of boys, but it quickly became obvious that their taste in rides was a bit more adventurous than ours.  My daughter took one look at the ride called "Eruption" and decided to back out, in favor of the fast ferris wheel that rocks back and forth.  So, mildly-thrilling was pretty much our limit.  Personally, I don't like riding on any ride that can easily be packed up on a truck, for safety reasons.  And with a damaged inner-ear, I'm nearly incapable of feeling motion-sickness... an advantage when I need to prove my toughness to my teenage sons at Disneyland, but it makes it hard to tell when dear daughter may be having trouble.  But it worked out fine.  In fact, I had a hard time keeping up with her.  The one cell-phone picture I took was aboard the park's historic carousel.

Knitting -- I'm waiting for a good photo, but I finished another cardigan earlier this week.  I made 4 inches of progress on my new shawl today.  Quilting -- progress on the machine-quilting is measured in inches per day, but it is progressing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Persephone in Spring

I finished that shawl I was knitting -- Persephone. I bought blocking wires so I could block it.  The knitting obsession is a strange thing.  I don't think I look good in shawls.  I don't really feel terribly comfortable or confident wearing them, and I don't exactly love the lace knitting process.  It's too fiddly and mathematical.  So, why do I keep adding shawls to my Ravelry queue?  Well, they are certainly beautiful when finished.  (Impractical, the voice in my mind mutters).

Yes, but so pretty.  That lovely blue flower is Veronica -- nice, happy, rock-wall-loving ground cover.  Lest you get an inaccurate idea of what life is like around our house in the spring, not shown in this picture is the very loud raven that was croaking at me from the birch tree outside of the picture to the right.  Turns out, as I was carrying shawl and camera back inside, I discovered it was guarding the carcass of a road-kill squirrel that it had hung from a twig on the tree.  I told it to take its prey and begone.  Fortunately, it did.  I hope it's far away now.  Ick. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ablative of Agent

In 6th grade we have entered the realm of passive voice.  This is a good age to get them thinking about the difference between active and passive.  I have them act out active: pretend you're a superhero (teacher cues them by assuming a charging super-magistra pose, one arm extended).  Active voice happens when the subject performs the action of the verb.  Now pretend you're roadkill (all 6th grade students naturally want to mimic roadkill for some reason).  Passive voice happens when the subject receives the action of the verb.  As a general rule, it is better for young people to be active than to be passive.  These are smart kids: they can think of plenty of examples.  As we work through the sample sentences in Henle Latin I, an informal survey indicates that the majority of passive voice sentences are negative for the subject.

We memorized the passive voice endings for the present system:
r, ris, tur, mur, mini, ntur -- present system passive (repeat)
... to tune of Yankee Doodle

If you want to tell who is performing the action in a Latin sentence that uses passive voice, you have to use the ablative of agent.   I had a student ask yesterday what agent means, and I found a very opportune example.  Secret agents, like the ones who killed Osama Bin Laden, perform lots of actions.  The word "agent" comes from the Latin verb ago, agere, egi, actus meaning "do, drive, act, or treat" (which also gives us the word "actor".)  To be technical, "agent" is derived from the present active participle of ago, and literally translated means "acting person."

Sample sentence, improvised on the spot:
    Osama bin Laden superabatur ab agentibus.  Osama bin Laden was conquered by the agents.
(we can only do passive voice of 1st conjugation verbs so far: occido "kill" is 3rd -- but you could substitute occidebatur.)

See? Osama is the subject, and passive voice is definitely a bad thing for him.  But very, very, good for the agents.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book reviews - more Septimus Heap, and Susan Cooper

Some children's book reviews today.

Physik is the third book in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage (my review of the first two here).  This is one of the Harry Potter knock-off series that is good enough to talk about in its own right. It's really written for kids, not "young adults" -- so although the young heroes face real dangers and loss, and some characters do die, there is a comforting sense that good will triumph and evil will be defeated after the story runs its course.  We also get the idea that characters that have made bad choices in the past can be redeemed.  In Physik, young Septimus must face the malevolent ghost of the 500 year old Queen Etheldredda, and requires rescuing after he is snatched through a time glass by the mysterious alchemist Marcellus Pye.  In a race through time, he must return with knowledge of how to fight a mysterious illness that is raging through the castle.  There are some delightful new characters, chiefly Snorri Snorrelssen, a young trader from the northlands, and her panther/cat Ullr.

In Queste, the fourth book, Princess Jenna and Septimus, along with his best friend Beetle, set out to rescue their brother Nicko from the House of Foryx.  But Darke forces are at work, and what seems like a simple quest to retrieve a lost family member becomes a Queste overseen by yet another malevolent ghost and his minions... and no apprentice has ever returned from a Queste before.  These books are set in a richly-imagined world that appeals to the whole family -- Steve and I have been racing the 8-year-old and the 16-year old through them.  One of the most charming features in each book is the afterword, where the question of what-happened-to-the-minor-characters is illuminated in satisfying detail.


Susan Cooper has been a writer of outstanding merit in children's fantasy literature for many years.  Her 5-book series, The Dark is Rising, is highly recommended for lovers of fantasy literature -- it has been around almost as long as Narnia.  (At the very least, you should read the second book of the sequence, also called The Dark is Rising.)  Recently we listened to an audiobook of King of Shadows, a more recent (1999) work of ... well, what is it?  Time travel fantasy, historical fiction, emotional/psychological coming-of-age novel, Shakespearean appreciation?  It has elements of all of these.  Nat Field is a young American actor chosen to play Puck in a very special all-boy production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the newly reconstructed Globe Theatre in London -- but he goes to bed sick and wakes up in Elizabethan England, having switched places with another Nathan Field, who is being treated for bubonic plague in a modern hospital. While in the other time, today's Nat meets the great figures of 400 years ago, including Shakespeare himself, who becomes a father-figure to him.  As historical fiction and psychological development, it is a satisfying work.  I personally found it harder to appreciate the time-travel fantasy elements of it, which were intriguing but never completely explained... and of course, by its very nature time-travel tends to resist the suspension of disbelief.  Cautions: coarse language; violence (the main character's father died by suicide).

I've come to appreciate taking in books in audio form as a way to overcome the difficulty of "getting into" some books.  This was one book I checked out in conventional format but never made past the first few pages -- the audiobook form, narrated by Jim Dale (best known for narration of the Harry Potter audiobooks) was much easier to appreciate.  Dale's vocal talents extend to recreating the Carolina accent of the 1st person narrator, and this is particularly relevant to the story since there is some thought that it is the closest modern equivalent of the Elizabethan accent.  We hear Dale's subtly different version of that, too, along with modern generic American and British accents.  Dale was a wise choice to do the audiobook, and added considerably to it.