Monday, January 31, 2011

The Grande Finale (of January, not the Blog)

So... knitting first or navel gazing first? I think I'll do the knitting first, so that people who click over here from Ravelry don't have to indulge my neuroses.

January has been a great month for churning out the finished objects. Many of them were already in progress on January 1st, but not all. So far this year I've finished off 2 sweaters (Paper Crane and Dark and Stormy), one pair of colorwork mittens (Fiddleheads), two pairs of socks (Event Horizon and Ember, below), and one lace shawl, Annis, also below. That's an impressive list, even if I do say so myself!

The Ember socks are the final pair I knit for the stripey sock KAL on Ravelry. The yarn is, once again, Playful by Twisted Fiber Art, one of my favorites:

The stripes on the socks don't match, but I don't care. Interestingly, one foot has four of the dark stripes, and the other one has three, but by serendipity, both socks reached the point where I needed to start the heel right at the point in the orange stripe that matched the heel and toe yarn I had. I love this yarn so much -- the colors are amazing. Even colors I don't normally like, like orange, manage to fascinate me in Twisted yarn. The base makes a really warm and cushy sock that knits up quickly enough to be satisfying without making an overly thick sock.

My final FO of the month is another gift. A friend of mine is having her bat mitzvah in a couple of weeks. She's already hosted her daughter's bat mitzvah, and has another three years before her son's. Even though she converted years ago, now is the time she gets to fulfill that goal.

I thought back to the gifts I got when I was bat mitzvah'd and the gifts that Sr. Jr. got this summer and realized that a grown woman does not need pen and pencil sets, iTunes gift cards, luggage, contributions to her college fund, or shiney satin stuffed animals. All her hard work and dedication deserves something special, something just for her.

I knew exactly which yarn to use -- Wollmeise's Hortensie, a blue/purple colorway like Hydrangeas. C has dark red hair and gorgeous blue eyes, so this yarn will look fabulous on her.

I looked about for an appropriate pattern. I needed something pretty, but not too lacy. I settled on Annis, from Knitty last spring. I cast on 363 stitches and hoped that I could finish it in time.

6 days later...

The pattern was very nice to knit, notwithstanding the initial 363 stitch row! I want to knit one for myself now, too.

And now I really don't have anything on the needles. No socks, no sweaters. I have one shawl I'm knitting with my handspun, but I'm not sure if I like that pattern. I may rip it and turn it into an Annis.

I also plan to knit another Paper Crane, but in a pullover version. So yes, I'm just confirming how crazy I am by knitting another laceweight sweater on teeny tiny needles.


Ok, the navel-gazing section.

I never thought parenting would be easy, but I also never expected how much I would second-guess myself and how much I would wonder whether I were doing the right thing. I suppose I should have, given that I do that in the rest of my life, but I didn't.

An older colleague of mine once said that she laughed at all the women who thought that being home with their kids when they were two years old was so important, because in her experience, it wasn't until the kids hit puberty/middle school that the kids really needed more hands-on parenting. This is absolutely true.

I constantly wonder: am I too hard on them? Am I not hard enough? Too involved? Not involved enough? Too indulgent? Not indulgent enough? Do I model the lessons I want to teach them? (Well, clearly not when it comes to cleaning their rooms. But I hope that I do in terms of what kind of person I am, and how I treat other people.)

How do I motivate them to want to do their best?

Sr. Jr., at 13, is at that age where all of these questions start popping up. He's so bright, but he coasts through school. He doesn't have to put too much effort into his schoolwork, which sometimes gets him in trouble. I think he gets surprised if he gets a bad grade, even if he hasn't studied. He wants to rush through things, do math in his head, skip steps. Then he gets discouraged and down on himself. He hides things from us, so that instead of having us help him get back on track, he just gets himself in deeper.

He also thinks that it's middle school, and grades don't really matter that much. But several of the classes he's taking are high school level classes and his grades will go on his high school transcript.

This is how he got a C in math first quarter. If he had come to us early on in the quarter, he probably could have ended up with a B or even an A. Most of the mistakes he made on tests were stupid mistakes made because he was rushing or being sloppy. Instead, it was a fight to wrestle him back on track. But he did get back on track, and his second quarter grade was much better.

But -- and here's the important thing -- in order to get into the IB program that he wanted to do, he had to have all As and Bs, even in quarter grades. It doesn't matter one bit to them that the one quarter he got a C was an isolated event. It was enough to disqualify him.

This is not a tragedy. Our home high school is one of the best in the country. His teachers have recommended an all-intensified class schedule for him. He will be fine. I think he would have liked the IB program. It suited his interests.

And in the end, I think (I hope) that he's learned a lesson about the importance of really doing his best in school.

After years of refusing to do anything even vaguely academic during the summer, he's decided he wants to do a summer enrichment program at UVA this summer. So maybe, just maybe, we're moving forward.

I'm shocked I don't have more grey hair than I already do. (And yes, I recognize that we could be experiencing much more difficult parenting issues! I'm very thankful that we're not.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January is for Finishing

So far this January, I've finished socks, sweaters, mittens... I'm getting a false sense of productivity here! I have to keep reminding myself that I'm merely finishing up projects that have been on my needles for a long time... as in the sweater below, since June. I am not some superhuman knitting machine who keeps spitting out sweaters in a couple of days, nice as that would be.

And don't you, dear reader or two, get used to seeing so many FO's! After this one, and another pair of socks that I'm hoping to finish in the next few days, it might be a while. In fact, I have very few projects on the needles right now, and I need to rectify that quickly.

So here's the next finished object of 2011 -- the long-awaited Paper Crane:

Modeled in the 20 degree temperatures by a woman with a bad cold.

Specs: Pattern: Paper Crane. Yarn: Wollmeise Lace-Garn, Merlot colorway. Needles, a teeny tiny size 2.75 mm.

The pattern is fantastic, really well written and easy to follow. The yarn, of course, is fabulous. Despite all my whining about knitting so many stitches on such small needles, it really was a pleasure to knit. The fabric that the lace makes on that size needle is drapey and silky without being too loosey goosey. There are a number of patterns out there that call for knitting laceweight yarn on big needles, similar to the size you'd use if you were knitting a shawl and wanted a lot of stretch and openness, in order to provide extra drape, but I find that 1) I don't like my sweater fabrics so loose, and 2) this fabric is plenty drapey.

I'm planning to make a pullover version of this. It should be really easy to modify the pattern to do that, too. I'll have to make it a little bigger, because this version has negative ease, but I think it will look fabulous. So all I need to do now is pick a skein of lace to use and get going.

Look for it to be done in another 7 months or so. (Of course, I knit three other sweaters, a large number of socks, some lace, some mittens, and some handspun projects while I knit this, so it's not like I'm a total slacker.)


Tomorrow is Jr. Jr.'s 10th birthday! It's so hard to believe that my little guy is that old. That dessert by the way, is his coveted chocolate waffle from Silverado. He wants an iPod for his birthday. It's hard to fathom that in 8 years or so, I'll have an empty house.

In Sr. Jr. news, we handed in our application for transfer to the I-B program at the other high school. I continue to really feel the difference between the two schools. I know he'll be fine no matter where he goes, because both schools are excellent. I'm anxious to find out whether he gets in or not!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Through the Haze of Yuck, FOs

Mr. T caught a cold. He shared. Yay. I don't get colds very often, maybe once every five years or so. I hate colds. I wouldn't mind being sick if I could sleep through the night. I get very whiny and self-pitying when I have a cold. At least it's a long weekend, so I don't have to worry about getting up early and getting the kids off to school. Between the cold and the loss of a friend who died way too young, I've been a bit off my best. The loss of my friend makes me want to hold my kids tight and tell them how much I love them, but I don't want to get them sick.

On to more pleasant stuff.

I finished Dark and Stormy a little while back. Twice as a matter of fact, since I re-blocked it to make it smaller. It's still a little longer than I'd like, but I'll just wear it with skinny pants and boots to balance the line. I threw it on this morning for a quickie photo shoot before Mr. T had to run off to de-ice his car and try to get to work. As you can see, I didn't even fix my turtleneck:

While the sweater is a smidge big, it's very warm and comfortable. Cozy. Great for snuggling up in on a cold day.

Paper Crane is almost done, too. I sewed up the seams that make that funky shape turn into a sweater -- the ones right over the bust. All I need to do is sew up the sleeves and set them in. I've been too out of it with my cold to think about doing that, but look for it soon.

About the only thing I have been able to do it plain old stockinette socks. Soooo, I finished yet another pair of stripey socks for the knit along:

They're my stripey socks of '80s awesomeness. I love them. The yarn is Continuum, a cashmere blend sock yarn from String Theory Colorworks, in the Event Horizon colorway. I love this yarn and this dyer. She has really interesting stripey colorways like this one, as well as some more plain stripeys. She's amazing to work with, too. Highly recommend the yarn.

So now I'm going to go back to my couch to continue to hack and wheeze and work on more plain stockinette socks until I feel better enough to move on to something else.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Taking My Own Advice

In the past couple of days, two people have mentioned to me that sweaters they've made from superwash merino/cashmere blends have grown on them after a wearing or two. I told them that I'd heard that a quick trip through the dryer could help -- wash the sweater, spin out as much water as you can, and dry the sweater on low to medium heat until it's damp, but not dry. Then block as needed and dry flat.

After I washed and blocked my Dark and Stormy for the first time, I was concerned that it would be too big. I even noted in my last post that it had grown more in the wash than my swatch had led me to believe. So it was with trepidation this morning that I took the now-dry sweater, sewed the buttons on, and slipped it on.

Suspicions confirmed. Sweater too big. Longer than I wanted and much bigger in the shoulder/upper arm area. Sigh.

So I took my own advice. I plopped it back in the bath, squished out as much water as I could, then put it in a large mesh bag. Rinse/spin cycle in the wash. About 15 minutes in the dryer on low heat. When I checked it, it was still pretty wet, so I let it go another 8 minutes on medium heat. A quick prayer to the yarn goddesses, then I took the sweater out and laid it on the blocking mats.

I know you can't really tell from the picture, but much better. It's two inches smaller around and a good three inches shorter, looking no worse for it's adventure.


And a closer-up shot of the buttons, which I got in DC at Looped Yarn Works:

So I still have to be patient while this dries -- again -- to see how it fits.

As this was drying, I've been working on more stripey socks and, yes, Paper Crane. I'm determined to get that one done, since I'm so close. Look for that to be finished and blocking by the end of the week.

Then I get to cast on for something new!

In non-knitting life, January has been very good to Jr. Jr. He was in the school's Geography Bee on Friday, as one of 5 fourth graders competing against 5 fifth graders for the school championship. It was a nail-biter. He was up against the younger brother of the boy who beat Sr. Jr. a few years ago and who went on to the state bee, as well.

This year for the first time, the bee was being held as an assembly, with all of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders watching. Very nerve-wracking! He looked so nervous up there that I thought he was going to throw up. Mr. T and I kept trying to catch his eye to give him our support, but he didn't look our way.

After getting the first two questions wrong, he ran the table -- and won! I couldn't believe it. I was just hoping he'd get one or two questions right. Now he gets to take a written test to see if goes on to the state bee in Richmond.

Then Saturday morning his basketball team had their first game of the season. After going down 14-2 in the first quarter, the team came back to win, 26-25. I was really impressed with how much Jr. Jr. had improved since last year. The whole team looked great.

I am very, very saddened by the shootings in Arizona this weekend. I've looked at some of the YouTube postings by the alleged shooter, and he certainly appears mentally ill. I don't know if he was influenced by some of the inflammatory and violent political rhetoric that has been proliferating in the last couple of years, but I fervently hope that the people who spout that kind of rhetoric will re-evaluate their tactics. They may claim that they're speaking metaphorically and that they don't condone violence, but their words say otherwise. And they need to realize that those words and images may reinforce and inflame the anger among people who can't control themselves or who are easily led.

Like the Sheriff in Arizona said, and I'm paraphrasing, speech may be free, but it has consequences.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Out with the Old

Hello, 2011! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, 2010. That was not a good year. Not the worst ever, but just a long exercise in frustration. I hope that 2011 is much better for everyone.

Since I started a whole whack of projects in the last couple of months of 2010, I'm slowly but surely finishing them up.

S's Fiddleheads, all done. They take a long time to dry, since they're essentially three layers of wool. But my goal was to have them ready to give to her when we see each other at the Geography Bee on Friday, and I met that goal. We won't talk about the previous goals that I missed. I met this one, and it's the first one of 2011. I hope that's a good omen.

And look!

Dark and Stormy! With actual, full-length sleeves. In order to conserve yarn, I reduced the width of the front button band to 2 inches from 3. I'm doubly glad I did that since the sweater grew slightly more than anticipated in the wash. It's about an inch bigger around than I planned for, but since this is supposed to be roomy for layering, I think it will be ok. If not, I think I can get it a little smaller. I just blocked it this morning, so no live shots for a few days.

I have about a quarter of a skein left, and I did unravel my swatches and use them for the sleeve cuffs.

The pattern was an absolute joy to knit. The yarn was wonderful to knit with. If the sweater looks bad on me, I'll be very unhappy.

Some close-ups:

(The T-pins mark where the buttons will go.)

Today I am wearing new contact lenses. I haven't worn contacts regularly for a long time, because I have just enough of an astigmatism to make it difficult for me to find contacts that correct my distance vision but are comfortable to read with. My eye doctor has some new candidates that we're trying out.

After picking Jr. Jr. up from the bus stop and walking home with him, I asked him if he noticed anything different about me today. Here's how his thought process went, and I swear, these are direct quotes:

"You got a haircut? No... You took a shower? [well, yes, but that's not different] ... You put on makeup?... You're taller!... New pants?... New shirt?... You're more beautiful?"

What a suck up.