Monday, February 24, 2014

Olympic Yoke Wrap-up

This is the Olympic knitting project I chose.  It is the yoke portion only of a Drops free pattern, knit from three different colors of yarn from thrifted sweaters and some white from my handspun.  I love love love the color combination, even though I was skeptical at first.  The rest of the sweater will be knit from the chest downwards: I just came back from Knit Night at Starbucks, where I picked up the stitches from the provisional chain cast-on.  They are all on the needle now; I need to count them up and do some basic figuring for how to do the dividing for sleeves and body.  Then the plan is to have the chocolate brown be the main color, with little green speckles.  I might work the pink and white back in at the wrists and the waist, I'm not sure yet.  I do love colorwork.

Unfortunately, since it's not a finished project I still can't count yardage used.  And since I haven't finished anything in the quilting hobby either in 2014, once again a week has passed without a single thing that I can enter into my Stash Report.  That's zero yards of quilting fabric and zero yards of knitting yarn, in or out, in 2014.  I've never had such a long spell with no finishes to show since I've been actively blogging and counting my stash usage.  At least I'm not increasing my stash.  But I need to have some kind of burst of productivity, if only for my own self-esteem.  Finish something before the end of February!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


I have come to the conclusion that just because I have a Kindle Fire now does not mean I can read any faster.

But... I finished a few good books this week.

Command Authority, by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney.  I've been a Clancy fan for years, and always amazed by how prescient his books are.  This one, published posthumously last fall, has all sorts of eerie connections with things we've seen in recent news.  A Russian dissident who mysteriously dies of polonium poisoning.  A Russian president with close ties to the old KGB who wants to reclaim the old Soviet satellite states.  A Russian economy and political system riddled with corruption and basically run by organized crime.  Ukraine wanting to break free of Russian control but unable to stand independently.  An attack on an American diplomatic outpost, staged to look like a political protest turned violent (but handled with much more integrity by the fictional American administration than the Benghazi attack was).  The Clancy characters have come full circle, with a significant plot element involving flashbacks to a young Jack Ryan enmeshed in international intrigue 30 years ago.  Okay, so the Clancy characters have never been completely believable -- but the events they deal with are a snapshot of the real world.  I wonder what the franchise will do with his characters in the future.

7 Men: and the Secret of their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas.  I've briefly reviewed this before but it merits a read by anyone who appreciates biography.  It's particularly nice because of the manageable size of the 7 mini-biographies.  All 7 men (George Washington, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoffer, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, Chuck Colson) took courageous stands and made sacrifices based largely if not exclusively on their Christian faith.

In other randomness, the basement has mostly stopped leaking because the rain has stopped falling quite so hard and fast from the south.  Smudge has been retrieved from the basement and escorted back outside where he belongs.  We are afraid that when he is inside now, he is too scared of the other cats and his own shadow to eat.  He is truly an outdoor cat now.  He goes from hidey-hole to hidey-hole outside and seems relatively happy as long as we keep feeding him.

I took the girls to the Journey Theater Arts production of The Little Mermaid Jr. tonight.  It was lovely all the way around.  We know Ariel from church, and recognized several other faces and names in the cast and crew.

My Olympic knitting is almost done, but not quite.  There have been several days where I didn't work on it at all, so it looks like I may end up having to sprint to the finish line.  But I don't think I'm awake enough to do any more tonight.

I am finding it hard to enjoy grading anymore, and I keep getting more of it to do.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yarn-Along and WIP Wednesday

Olympic knitting continues.  I am heading into the last two decreases of the neck for my Olympic knitting project, the yoke of a Drops cardigan, knit with my thrift store sweater yarn.  I'm liking the colors a lot and I think when the whole thing is finished it will be a sweater I will wear often.  Getting it finished will be the trick.
I'm reading, among other things, 7 Men by Eric Metaxas.  It is a selection of short biographies of, you guessed it, 7 men who positively changed the world, starting with George Washington.  The author has written full-length bios of Dietrich Bonhoffer and William Wilberforce, condensed versions of which are included here.  I also enjoyed reading about Jackie Robinson and Eric Liddell.  I'm recommending the book to Secundus, who is doing his junior thesis on the theme of leadership.  It's a good one, easy to read if you're busy but still quite well-written.
Not much progress in quilting at all... this is my mother-in-law's top that I pinned for her over the weekend. I like the scrappiness of it... she doesn't think there are any repeats in the fabrics. Celtic Solstice is still being worked on when I work on anything sewing-related.
 Quarta was assigned Filippo Brunelleschi as her Renaissance artist, and so here is her Sculpey/craft foam rendition of Il Duomo.
Today her class is having the Hobbit Feast that was postponed because of the snow two weeks ago.  We made pflaumenkuchen, which seems like something Hobbits would eat.  But they would probably call it plum cake.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yarn-Along: Olympic Knitting. And (not much) Work in Progress

 Linking up today to the Yarn-Along over at Ginny's blog.  This is my Olympic knitting project.  I am making the yoke of a Drops cardigan.  Then when that's done (which it looks like will be before the Olympics are over at this rate) I will pick up the provisional cast-on at the chest and work the rest of the sweater downwards from there.  It makes sense to me, kind of.  I'll let you know how it progresses.  It feels really good to be working on something that's not socks.  I'm kind of suffering from sock burnout.  I'm reading Tom Clancy's last novel, Command Authority, which is as much of a page-turner as any of his other books.  Kind of ironic reading it during the Olympics, as the corruption and greed for power of a fictionalized Russian government is the theme and the setting of some of the most intense action is not too far from Sochi.  I might get around to doing a book review of it soon.
In quilting, my WIPs have slowed to a crawl.  This is how I left the last row of Celtic Solstice a couple of weeks ago.  I'm so close, but I've been concentrating on knitting and reading more.  I really have only this row to be joined and added to the body, then the borders to piece.  The more daunting task will be cleaning up my sewing area, which is trashed.  Seriously, I've been avoiding it.  Not even the need to iron clothes is enough to entice me back there.  What, ironing doesn't entice anyone?  Well, no wonder it hasn't worked for me either!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Political Tuesday: In Defense of the All-American Sweater

As a conservative Republican in a blue state, a teacher of an ancient language to middle-schoolers, and a general gadfly-about-town, I'm used to espousing unpopular opinions, so I'll venture into the political minefield today and say I think the sweaters worn by the American Olympic athletes during the opening ceremonies were perfect.  You can read a little about their all-American origin here.

Now on Ravelry and Facebook and other internet gathering-sites, the nay-sayers are loud in condemnation of the Ralph Lauren design.  Words like "fugly," "grandma," "ugly Christmas sweater" are among the kinder things being said.  Some don't like the fact that they were not hand-knit (although a lot of handwork went into the assembly, they were knit on machines).  Some dislike the fact that Ralph Lauren worked his "Polo" logo into them -- too commercial, I guess, and as we all know, the Olympic games are far above that sort of crass consumerism.

I like the sweaters because they pay homage to two American crafts: knitting, obviously, but also patchwork quilting. They both happen to be my own favorite hobbies.  Quilting, especially, exemplifies the resourcefulness and thrift of the American pioneers, and deserves a place of honor in the costumes of our finest young athletes.  Betsy Ross used some outstanding patchwork skills when she stitched the first flag. And that flag is not one of the quiet, shy, retiring flags that lets other countries do whatever they want so long as we're left alone.  Ours is a flag that wants to be noticed, that waves even prouder when there is tyranny to confront.  And we are not a nation of snobs.  Personally, I embrace the heritage of my grandparents and great-grandparents, Midwest farmers all, who valued things like finely-made clothes because they had to work so hard to earn them.

The sweaters may be a little too over-the-top for daily wear, but there is no denying that when the Olympic delegation entered the stadium waving their Star-Spangled Banner, it looked like a fireworks display had gone off.  America's champions, free, brave, breaking new boundaries of athleticism and personal achievement -- if they gush about their native country, you can be pretty sure that it's based on their genuine feelings, not because of behind-the-scenes pressure to say positive things about Vladimir Putin.

And if we want to get catty about national costumes, how about those escorts wearing the cake-decoration hats and carrying plastic barrel signs?

Monday, February 10, 2014

(Probably) Our Last Snow Day Pictures

It's probably the last big snow we'll have for a few years, so I took some more pictures yesterday.  Church was cancelled on Sunday, school cancelled again today.  I'm hopeful as a teacher that we'll be able to get caught up somehow, but it will be challenging.  But that's a worry for tomorrow.
 The freezing rain started Saturday night and coated everything.
 Underneath a top coat of ice there was soft, wet snow.

 I love how every twig and leaf shimmered under a coat of ice.
 and how the snow clings to the branches and the moss.
 The roads are mostly thawed now where the traffic is heaviest, but on the side streets you can still get hung up in slush. It's not so much that the roads are unsafe to drive, but the infrastructure and local services can't handle a large number of cars on the streets.  And of course, (speaking as a Midwesterner), the people here don't know how to drive in the snow.

 Daffodils and tulips, just biding their time.
 Poor coyote.  He probably wishes he was back in Arizona.
We get ice dams in the gutters that can cause leaking into the basement if they're not cleared out.
Steve just can't keep away from a snow shoveling job.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Randomday - the Blizzard of '14

 The elementary school across the street was cancelled yesterday, which made it the perfect place for sledding.
The trees are so tall and stately.  I don't take enough pictures of them.
 Steve put most of the snow he shoveled into this mountain, and the girls hollowed out a cave in it.
 A little bit like the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
 Quarta did most of the snowy work.  She must have inherited Steve's "must do something about all this snow" gene.  Because I would be perfectly content to just look out the window at it.
Poor Smudge.  He involuntarily became an outdoor-only cat a few years ago because of litter-box infractions.  He manages okay with his thick fur coat, but he doesn't like getting his paws in the snow and hangs out by the door meowing pitifully.  After I took this picture of him, he zoomed inside along with me and hurtled down the basement.  He hasn't been seen since.  There are at least three extensive crawl spaces for a cat to hide in down there.  He's a coward, and not very bright compared to other cats.  I wonder when we'll see him next?
Tertia after the labors were finished.  She's fighting a cold today and has no real desire to go outside again.  She and I are the sensible ones, I've decided.  We'd be perfectly content, sipping hot cocoa, knitting or reading, and watching the Olympics.
Quarta, the thrill-seeker.
Today Secundus apparently earned this punishment by throwing some snow at Quarta.  He is a confirmed thrill-seeker.  He has been inventing every excuse to be allowed to drive in this snow.
And then he buried her.
 Steve was out again shoveling today.  I told him it was pretty pointless when it's still coming down and no one else is shoveling the sidewalks.  I told him it will change to rain eventually and be pointless again.  I told him it's pretty hard on the heart and he should limit himself to half an hour.  More than two hours later, he comes inside.  Apparently, he likes futile jobs where you move a lot of stuff from place to place.  I have him pretty well trained on laundry, too.
 Evidence that Secundus has been climbing on the garage roof.
 How are you going to top driving your friend to Salmon Creek in a blizzard, and then driving to Target in a blizzard?  Well, let's try some roof-climbing in a blizzard.
 Make sure to strike a triumphal pose for the camera.
 Hey, let's slide!
For some reason, I do not find snow days as relaxing as they should be.  I'm going to go knit, drink my tea, and stare out the window at the snowflakes.  Nobody call me to take a picture of anything, ok?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow Day and Casting On

 It's an atypical winter when we have a snowstorm like this.  Yesterday there were just a few spitting snowflakes when I left for school; by the time I got to Ridgefield there was white on the ground and the 8th graders were wired.  School districts called early release and people kept popping in to pick up their kids all morning long.
I left after my final class at 12:10 and took Secundus and a 4th grade girl home with me.  Quarta had to stay home sick and missed all the excitement.  What is normally a 20-minute commute was more than an hour of very slow-moving traffic, avoiding the highway which was blocked because of a bad accident.  We were really glad to get home safely.  It's unbelievably pretty outside.  What makes it unusual is that it has stayed far enough below freezing for the snow to still be powder and the streets are all snow-covered.
 And of course, they don't put anything on the streets to melt the snow or give traction, and there isn't a fleet of snowplows to clear the main streets.  Sometimes I miss the Midwest.  But it's even colder there.  We had a snow day today and there was some sledding and lots of snow shoveling (Steve is a bit obsessive about shoveling, but it's a useful obsession) and the girls carved a cave out of the snow pile.  I'll save those pictures for tomorrow.  However, you should realize that underneath all those inches of snow, there are daffodils growing.
 I decided to swatch in a completely different colorway, and I really like this one (the one on the right -- chocolate mint, it looks like).  Not like the refugee from the '70s that is on the left.  All the yarns are from thrifted unravelled sweaters, except for the white, which is my homespun.
So I cast on with Lucy Neatby's crocheted provisional cast-on.  321 stitches, including 4 steek stitches, at the base of the yoke, on size 5 needles.  I'm going to knit upwards through the yoke and make that  my goal for during the Olympics.  Then I will pick up the provisional cast-on and knit downwards for the body and sleeves.  I think this will work.  It should be fun trying, anyway.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Yarning Along, and thoughts about Olympic Knitting

So here we have a swatch.  It is intended to be a swatch for a hypothetical Olympic knitting project, more of which later.  But I don't really like it.  It's made from my stash of reclaimed thrift store sweater yarn, plus the white is my homespun.  But I think it looks too ... '70's.  I was too tired to go to knitting night at Starbucks on Monday and so I asked Steve for his opinion, and he could see the validity of that complaint.  And while I love doing colorwork and I am generally adventurous with combining my thrifted yarns, I am just not wanting to do this particular combination.  So, I will maybe spend some time working up a swatch in a different assortment of yarns, with a smaller needle size, and rethink.  I feel like I need a fresh new knitting project for the Olympics, for reasons that are not logical at all.

On the good news front, I picked up my interminable argyles last night at Tertia's choir concert and am almost ready to turn the heel on the second sock.  That is encouraging progress after so many months of stalling, and it would be the logical thing to do to make finishing the argyles my Olympic knitting project.  But I do not knit logically.
(last week's photo of the argyles ... too lazy to take a new one).

The pattern I am currently in love with and wanting to cast on is a free Drops pattern.  There are several things I would need to do to make it workable, I think.  Number one, it needs to be knit in the round.  On smaller needles than 6's, I think.  And I need a totally new color combination.  I'm currently thinking about a chocolate brown for the main color, with hot pink, mint green, and a color to be named at a later date.  The Drops patterns are kind of confusing, but I've read enough Elizabeth Zimmerman to "unvent" a few of the issues in them.  I think I can, I think I can!

I know I'm not energetic enough to crank out an entire Nordic sweater during the 17 days of the Olympics, so I'm thinking I will do a provisional cast-on at the base of the yoke, knit upwards through the yoke to the neckline and bind off, and call that my goal for the Olympics.  Citius, Altius, Fortius!  But not the whole sweater.  After the yoke is done, I'll start from the provisional cast-on and knit downwards, divide the sleeves and body, and when it's all done, steek it and knit on some buttonbands.  Simple, right?  But first I have to swatch and decide on the colors.  My reason for wanting to do the yoke first and then knit the rest of the sweater top-down is to conserve yarn if necessary.

Oh yeah, what am I reading?  Well, I found the last Tom Clancy, Command Authority, on the "lucky day" shelf at the library and am working on that, as well as various things on the Kindle.  There is also Seven Men by Eric Metaxas, and This Town by Mark Leibovich.  All in all, especially with the cold winter weather, I'm feeling like staying home and reading, with maybe a little knitting for a change of pace.  Usually in this space every week I report on my quilting progress, but that hasn't happened at all this last week.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ten Years

Class of 1958 and still classy ever after; riding a bike with me in the baby seat and posing for the obligatory tourist photo in Holland; 4 generations when Daniel was a baby; the grandkids as they were ten years ago.

Ten years since my mother went "Into the West" and only yesterday did I explain to Steve why that song always reduces me to a puddle of tears.  It started with one of the last telephone conversations I had with her, anticipating the upcoming release of "Return of the King."  How long it would have to be if it stayed faithful to the book, what they would have to leave out, etc. (Because in my family, literary criticism is a perfectly valid topic of conversations at all times.  Some family members feel irritated or left out, but that is just their tough cookies).  I think I said something like, "They'll have to leave out a lot of the slogging through Mordor so they can put in the spider and the battles and everything else."  And her reaction was surprising, coming from one who was slogging through Mordor herself.  "But that's important; they need to leave it in."  She may have had something profound to say about the nature of suffering.  I can't really remember.  The years have softened the memories and blurred a few.  She never did get to see the movie, but I always think of her in the Grey Havens scene.

So today I'm doing my best to walk the fine line between honoring her memory and perpetually reliving Groundhog's Day, 2004.  It's harder than I thought.  But I think she would be happy to know that Daniel and I talk literature a lot.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Randomday: (Not) Getting it Done

Well, January's goals are (not) in the books.  To recap, I was supposed to:

  1. Finish the UFO #8, On Your Toes gray homespun sweater.  I did not even dig it out of the bag to look at it.  Instead, I am plotting starting yet another sweater for the Olympics: This one.  The Olympics should be all about impossible feats, right?
  2. WIP: Celtic Solstice mystery top.  Almost complete, but not quite. Still, closer than anything else this month.
  3. WIP: Farmer's Wife quilting.  Some progress, but not even close to complete.
  4. Knitting WIP: Secundus' argyle socks.  They have been advanced but not completed.

So, I think it's enough progress to merit 1 1/2 stars out of 4.  I didn't complete the thorough cleanup of the sewing area or any of the other projects I thought about for bonus points.  January was a stressful month and I'm not really optimistic about it getting much better, but I still like to set goals for the crafting part of my life.  So here's what I want to get done in February:

  1. UFO: chose #1, applique on the 1996 Piecemaker's calendar quilt.  I have about 4 setting triangle blocks of hand applique to reach the halfway mark.
  2. WIP: Farmer's Wife.  Keep plugging along
  3. Knitting WIP: the argyles.
  4. Olympic knitting.  I've been an eager participant in the Ravellenic games/ Ravelympics in years past.  I want to make another Nordic stranded sweater.  I highly doubt I can finish it in the 17 days of the Olympics, but the whole month of February... well, maybe.  Stay tuned.
Bonus points available for sewing room cleanup, completely finishing the Celtic Solstice top, and maybe partially assembling the String Star top.  Or anything from my big master list.

There is still no stash input or output to report.


Now, as to other random matters:

Daniel's 9th grade biology notebook showed up in my file at school the other day.  It has such gems as this: "white mold from classic Blue Brie Cheese x400" followed by a drawing of 2 speckled blobs.

"I now believe that my frog is male due to lack of evidence to the contrary.  I tried to expose the brain and I saw brain but I mutilated it in the process."

This is classic stuff and will have to go in the special box.

Daniel reports from Pennsylvania that he is enjoying the relatively warm temperatures in the 20's (after a few days where it stayed well below zero) but has a cough.  I mentioned to him that in some of my classes we had at least 2 absentees all week, and he shook his head and said, "That just can't happen at college."

Secundus has been working hard; his goal is to earn enough money to buy a car that actually doesn't have to be junked by this summer. I keep nagging him to practice for the reading SAT but without much success.

Tertia needs to stop daydreaming in school and writing imaginary letters to "Padfoot" in her planner.  The staff is becoming concerned about her reports of seeing Darth Vader and waiting for Asterix and Obelix to come rescue her.  I just see it as evidence that she is my daughter.

Quarta was assigned Filippo Brunelleschi as her Renaissance artist to do a report on.  I'm hoping she will attempt to recreate "Il Duomo" in the form of a cupcake.  She is also one of the finalists for 6th grade in the school speech meet.  She is pulling once again from T.S. Eliot's cat poems with "Growltiger."

I now have a vocabulary of almost 1000 Italian words, according to Duolingo.  It is very like Latin, but also quite similar to French.  Funny how the languages morphed and interacted.

"We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. "
— Booker T. Washington