28 June 2007

Learning All the Time

I decided to give Ottobre 2/2007 #4 another try, this time in the Sweet Geese rib knit from Sewzanne's.

(Pic got fuzzy when I cropped it to remove the bathroom towels and the smudges on the mirror, but you get the general idea. Plus now you can't see how poorly it's hemmed.)

This is a 100% cotton from Baby Nay, and you would not believe how soft it is. It would be perfect for baby jammies (so, like, if you're expecting a new babe -- AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE I'M TALKING TO -- you might want to consider getting some of this and sewing up some jammies after you get that pocketbook done for your toddler and I'd highly recommend checking out Ottobre patterns since they have some adorable baby things that even I can sew; just saying). It's quite stretchy. Actually, it tends to stretch out and stay stretched, unlike the cotton/bamboo/spandex blend I worked with last time; that spandex stuff sproings right back into its original shape. This knit really needed the stay tape I put in at the shoulder seams. Sometimes you can skip the stay tape; I'm glad I didn't with this t-shirt.

The stretchiness made it harder for me to work with, because I tended to stretch out the neck while sewing, and then the neck stayed stretched out (this will not be a problem with baby clothes, as you'll want to stretch around a diaper anyway). As I noted before, I think the neck of this pattern is a bit low for me. We finally figured out why: I'm a petite, so regular size patterns are proportionately too large vertically; plus I am extremely short-waisted, and so I have proportionately less room between shoulders and waist for necklines to droop in.

This time I used the sleeves from design #3 in this same Ottobre issue, as Teri recommended. Yes, I do like these much better. Plus I think putting elastic in this fabric would've been a nightmare. Heck, I had a tough enough time doing the hems -- I kept sewing off the fabric with my blindstitching. I finally got out my disappearing ink pen (that is, the ink disappears, not the pen itself) and put a purple line along the edge of the fabric so I could SEE the needle poling into the correct layer. Yeesh.

So, still not an expert at sewing knits, but now I know a bit more than I did before.

And in spite of the faults -- too-low neckline, wonky hems -- I get compliments on the t-shirt because the fabric is so darned cute.

(Speaking of learning about knits, I also learned last night that I had dropped a stitch way back at the cuff of this second sock. I was poised to start the heel when I made this discovery. You know what? I'm not going back and re-knitting it. It doesn't hurt the design, and I doubt it will make a huge difference in the fit.)

27 June 2007

UFO Resurrection Challenge

A couple of years ago I decided to knit a Prayer Shawl for someone. It was not a good move, and I knew it at the time. I had knit a few other Prayer Shawls for other people, and it was a fine experience, but this was just wrong, for several reasons.

I haven't seen the person I'm knitting this for since about September 2005:

And this past Sunday I walked into the Fellowship Hall at church and saw a friend knitting with almost the exact color of yarn (not Homespun, though, but some other higher end yarn).

"Oh, what's that?"

"A Prayer Shawl."

"Yes, that's what I thought."

I took this as a sign. I decided that she's knitting the dark red Prayer Shawl for the universe, and it would throw the world off balance to have mine languishing on the closet shelf for another 2 years.

New location of the Prayer Shawl I was knitting. Okay, not really -- I already took the trash bag out to the outdoor trash can, and it will soon be on its way to the dump. But you get the picture. Not even its Project-Spectrum-appropriate redness could save it.

And, yes, it occurs to me that my UFO Resurrection projects are tending towards non-resurrection, as several of them end up ripped up (although this is the first one I've out-and-out tossed without even trying to recover the yarn). But, wow, it's a good feeling to dump some of this stuff.

State of the Socks

I have spent much of the past 2 weeks in a state of waiting. Waiting for my car to be fixed, then driving it a couple of days, then finding a new problem, then more waiting for the new problem to be fixed.

Trying to figure out what's wrong with my email, waiting to see if the "fix" works (it didn't).

Really, I'm starting to think there's something to mercury retrograde and the funky impact it has on transportation and communication. If I discovered that this particular retrograde period specifically effected plumbing, I wouldn't be surprised. I've also spent a lot of time waiting for plumbing problems to be resolved (not "stopped up" plumbing problems, but "gushing geyser" sorts of problems).

But, of course, every situation has an upside. And in this case, I have filled my waiting time with knitting:

The second sock is flying along. Of course, the first sock really flew along, but I kept ripping it out and starting over, so the net effect was slow.

I did rip up the entire thing and start over on tinier needles, as I was contemplating in an earlier post. It was a good move. The lace patterns no longer remind me of Klingon head ridges (not that I would ever call them Klingon socks, because Klingons wouldn't go for handknit socks; Klingons aren't exactly a comfy, cozy crew). The yarn still reminds me of something to eat, especially when it's in natural light.

Today I will be waiting for the door installation guy to come and redo last week's door installation (I think mercury retrograde also mucks up projects and causes them to need a redo). I think I might make it to the heel. Woohoo -- if much more goes wrong this week, I could have these done! How's that for positive thinking?

21 June 2007


When we lived in small Midwestern towns, the deer kept to the cornfields around the own, rarely bothering to visit.

Now that we live in a more urban area, the cornfields are too far away, and the deer eat neighborhood gardens. My neighbor has taken to covering her flowers with sheets each evening at dusk, removing the sheets in the morning. She hopes to protect the plants that way.

This little Bambi-sized fawn

(it's the brown blob in the middle -- an action shot taken quickly through a window didn't do much for photographic clarity) was scampering through our yard at noon. He ran over to his mother, who was looking over the neighbor's now-available-for-eating flowers; he wanted to nurse, it seemed.

The hostas planted by a previous owner of this house have been eaten down to nubs. Who cares? Hosta is common, it's ho-hum. But seeing a fawn nurse, well, that's a treat.

20 June 2007

And if the Fairy Folk tire of dancing...

they can play awhile on a wee swingset instead.

The kids went on a fairy tangent today quite spontaneously. At one point there was a fairy waterpark on the back porch.

After supper we read A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, then the kids gathered up all of their fairy dolls. Tears cried over two missing fairies -- it's always the same two, too, who give us this trouble! One was eventually found, the other apparently declared "already on her way to The Gathering", yet another is still missing a wing...next year I need to get an earlier start on this, I can see. Getting fairies organized at Midsummer is like herding cats.

19 June 2007

Retro Knitting

My mom has been clearing out some stuff. Check this out:

A pamphlet from Chadwick's Red Heart Wools, with patterns to knit using Clark's knitting pins. It's from 1947. The Red Heart wool called for comes in Worsted and Floss. That cover design was knit in Floss, which apparently came in 1 oz. balls, and is to be knitted on size 1 (2.5mm) and size 3 (3mm) pins. (Note: I notice that the materials list calls for "Sock Needles", which I assume means double points, but the rest of what we refer to as knitting needles they call "Knitting Pins". They switch over to the "needle" nomenclature for all needles for the directions. Interesting. Modern knitters would be howling in protest, don't you think?)

This is the one Mom knit for Dad:

Also in Floss, on the size 1 and size 3 pins (now I see where I got my love of teeny tiny knitting needles).

I remember seeing the leftover yarn for this around somewhere when I was a wee little thing -- it was a turquoise color, in about a sock weight, although given how young I was who knows what odd things my memory has done to the image. I don't recall ever seeing the sweater. Perhaps I did and it didn't make much impression on my young mind.

Mom wasn't much of a knitter. I don't recall any other knitted garments she had made, although I do remember her knitting bandages out of white cotton thread; the bandages were to be sent to India, I think, via some church misson. They were white cotton so they could survive being boiled and bleached. Again, my memory on this subject is pretty hazy.

Ten sweaters patterns, gloves (in 3 sizes), a scarf, and 2 sock patterns(in 4 men's sizes); the original price was 10 cents. And now it's mine.

Dragon Boat Festival

Once upon a time Donna Simmons commented that a great way to get to know a culture is to spend a year celebrating their holidays (I don't recall where I read this -- perhaps in one of her books, perhaps in her now-defunct yahoo group; it's entirely possible I dreamed it up as something I thought she should say although she hadn't really said it).

I commented on this to the kids, and Kid1 asked if we could celebrate Chinese holidays this year.

And so we celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival yesterday. The Dragon Boat Festival is supposed to take place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. I decided some elasticity was okay, since the actual 2007 date didn't appear on any of our calendars and it actually took effort to find out when anyone was celebrating it; some locations celebrated in May or early June, some (more authentic, I think) celebrate on June 19, Racine WI will celebrate in July. Yesterday was convenient for our household, so we celebrated yesterday

We read about Qu Yuan, of course. The Dragon Boats and bags of sachet were interesting, and great fodder for craft projects. But what really grabbed our attention was zongzi .

We had no bamboo leaves. I supposed bamboo leave are available somewhere around here, this being a metropolitan region, but we also had no car (and hadn't had a car for several days) and I've injured my leg so that walking more than a paltry few blocks is out of the question. As a matter of fact, the only ingredient we had for zongzi was sushi rice. Okay! Let's be creative!

We cut faux bamboo-leaf strips out of cheese cloth. We placed soaked sushi rice inside, sometimes with other treats, like a piece of dried apricot or a piece of meat. We then tied them up with thread, using various colors to indicate the fillings. We tossed them all in a pot, and simmered for about a half hour.

Success! Keep in mind we've never seen or eaten zongzi, but we ended up with a glutinous mass of rice. I think true zongzi would've been more dense. Ours were finger food, but I appreciated having a plate under them. We drizzled the plain rice zongzi with honey, and declared our Dragon Boat Festival a success.

15 June 2007

Some of the Stuff We've Been Doing

We went to the Arch.

The kids hadn't realized it was so tall.

We went up inside it and looked down.

Very cool. We also watched the documentary on how it was made. And we spent a lot of time in the museum of westward expansion in the base of the Arch -- the kids loved the museum, to my surprise. Maybe it's because of all the months upon months of reading Little House books and Birch Bark books -- it was sort of cool seeing stuff from that era. They also loved the General Store.

If you come to St. Louis, don't hesitate to ask us if we'd be interested in going back. We'll go with you to the Arch! But don't expect to share a tram car up to the top with us -- we want our own.

We also visited the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which are beautiful, not to mention more interactive than I expected:

This wasn't part of the Children's Garden, by the way. This was just a sculpture along a path. The Children's Garden is really nice, though. It's one of the nicest play areas I've seen.

Kid1 has been taking a sewing class all week. Since Kid2 and I have been home alone, we've been hanging out in the kitchen. We've made peanut butter, a cake from scratch,

chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream in a ziploc. Overall, we've used more sugar in the past few days than we have in the preceding 6 months.

We've also gone to the doctor a couple of times, and Kid1 had her first medical stitches (it was oral surgery, not an accident, but still sort of exciting). My car is having hot flashes, which is always exciting.

And, well, let's see...in general we've been up to all the other stuff people do this time of year, like playing in sprinklers, telling stories, catching fireflies, and watching Star Trek.

12 June 2007

Cheap Filler

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

I love snapdragons. I like the way you can sprong the mouth open and closed. Endlessly fun.

We have been wildly busy. Blogging will resume eventually. I haven't checked email for weeks, so I hope no one has emailed me anything important.

06 June 2007

A Good Poem About Ten!

Okay, as much as I like RightStart overall, I think that "Yellow Is the Sun" poem for teaching what makes ten is abysmal. Really. It's nonsense.


I just found this at David Darcy's blog. So clever! I think I'm going to teach it to my kids, even though we're already past that stage in math. Well, some days Kid2 is sort of wobbly on What Makes Ten, but we're theoretically past it...do you really ever get past What Makes Ten, really? Hmmm....

Actually, I just discovered David Darcy's blog, via a link in ... hmm ... someone else's blog ... dang, I was so excited about the Ten Poem I lost track of who it was, so I can't link them. Sorry. Anyway, I'm off to uncover other gems.

The Nice Thing About Sewing Is You Can Make Mistakes More Quickly

You know how it is when you're picking out a pattern to make. You look over the possibilities, you see what looks cute, you see what you think you have the ability to make (for the record, I ALWAYS assume I can make any knitting pattern; I figure I can sew well enough for about 50% of sewing patterns, and there's another 25% that I don't sew well enough to make but give it a whirl anyway because who knows, maybe I'll get lucky), you see what others have to say about using the pattern, and, most importantly, you ponder whether or not that would actually look good on you.

Except sometimes in all of the excitement I forget that last one about whether something would look good on me.

This t-shirt is from Ottobre Woman 2/2007, design #4 (yes, the one on the cover). It's out of the minty yellow bamboo cotton spandex from Sewzanne's.

I cut it out right after Easter, thinking it could be a Project Spectrum sewing project, since green was one of the colors for April and May. Except then we had out-of-town company, so it got put away. And wasn't brought out again until last week.

Once I got going on it, though, it went together quickly. Really, it just flew together. And you should see that 2-thread overlock blind hem on the bottom -- it's so perfect it takes my breath away. I SEWED THAT HEM! Myself! And it looks so good!

Well, really, everything hummed along just hunky dory until I got to the sleeves. Putting that elastic in the bottom of the sleeves was a disaster. Ottobre wants you to finish off the edge, appy the elastic directly to the sleeve, flip it up and sew it. I've done this before on other items, but for some reason it wasn't working with this fabric and pattern. There are people who could tell me exactly why this happened (they are known as Better Seamstresses Than I Am), but they weren't hanging around the house to give me advice. So I eventually just sewed a casement and threaded the elastic through.

It was while I was messing and gomming with the elastic (which I put in at least 3 times before I got it out; and, yes, that means I also had to tediously pick it back out that many times) that I had my first inkling that I had maybe made a mistake in the entire concept of this top. Specifically, my 11 year old came into the room while I was trying on my latest rendition, one sleeve elasticized and one sleeve still hanging loose, and commented, "the elastic bottom looks better with the style of the rest of the shirt, but you'd look better with a lettuce-edge on that sleeve." (She's a designer-in-the-making, I think).

Umm, yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence. Too bad she's right.

I perservered, got it done (more or less), and modelled for MrV, who commented, "you know, that neckline really isn't the best for you." Which is true, sigh, since where other women have cleavage revealed by decolletage I have an anatomy lesson on how the sternum connects to the clavicle and ribs. In a too-low neckline.

So, overall, I'm thinking I won't be making this top again, at least not with this neckline. Maybe I'll draft a new neckling. And the puff sleeves are so very much Not Me -- my daughter was right about that.

On the other hand, I'll keep wearing this one, if for no other reason than I enjoy looking at the hem.

The bamboo cotton spandex is a nice fabric, by the way. I took this picture after mowing the lawn then lifting weights. It stayed cool and comfortable, a nice light layer, through all of that.

On the bright side, if I had knit something like this it would've taken hours and hours and hours, and the yarn would've cost more than the fabric did, and it still would've looked so-so. And it wouldn't have had the kickass hem at the bottom. I made that hem, did I mention that? It's a really nice hem.

04 June 2007

And Another Curriculum We've Finished Is...

The Easy French. This was used by my 7 year old.

Actually, we finished this curriculum a couple of months ago. I've been meaning to comment on it, but, well, I haven't been able to get my thoughts together on it. The problem is that I don't like, but I don't have a good reason for not liking it, so it's been hard to say much coherent about it.

It really is an easy program to use. You get a book and 2 CDs. The CDs have the audio on them, as well as some worksheets. I had a tough time downloading the worksheets to my Mac, and the CDs wouldn't work in our normal CD player -- I had to use the portable one in the kitchen (not a problem, since we typically listened to the CDs over breakfast).

The program is more of a "whole to parts" introduction to French. "Whole to parts" is often touted by Waldorf as the way to go for any sort of second language, and it does have a certain charm. But, really, it can also drive you nuts over the long run. It's one thing to have a native speaker talking to you live, when you can pause and ask the speaker, "umm, excuse me, but why did you say that phrase in that way?" and quite another to be stuck with several hours of pre-recorded conversation.

Not that you're just wallowing in French conversation without a clue what's going on. The program uses a diglot weave rather like Power-Glide Junior Adventure (in other words, much of the story is in English, with some French woven in). After listening to the story, the French vocabulary and English translations are played. The book has all of the story written out, all of the vocabulary, some explanation of French language and customs, and some suggestions for extensions, such as cooking meals, reading other books, checking out websites, and phrases to practice around the house.

The book also has phonograms in the style of Writing Road to Reading. This seems like a great idea, since one of my huge stumbling blocks with French is how in the heck to pronounce it. We ended up not using these flashcards, though, since I was using the program with a child who did not yet read English. And there, perhaps, is one of the big reasons the program didn't do much for us -- we skipped pretty much all of the written work because Kid2 couldn't read and write yet, at least when we started the program. Most of the written work is pretty mild -- much of it has to do with drawing pictures and labelling them It really wouldn't be a problem for an elementary student with a good grasp of how to form letters.

Most of the spoken CD storyline is performed by 2 women. Later on a man enters the scene to read some parts, and one lesson also features a girl. But, aha, the stories typically feature multiple characters, some of whom are young boys. So, one is trying to follow a conversation between various people without an audio cue as to who the characters are -- you have to figure it out from the context of what is said. And I do wonder if listening to so few voices helped us or hurt us with our accents. After all, one of the speakers was apparently incapable of saying the word "library" in English (she pronounced it "liberry", which drove me absolutely nuts), so how do I know that they weren't making mistakes in French?

The story line is a mixed bag. We start out listening to conversations between a girl and her cat; these conversations take place in France. My kids were enchanted -- we're a cat-centric family, and the kids are girls, so they could immerse themselves in the concept. Then, after a few lessons, the girl announces she's moving back to Montreal and leaving the cat. Ack! Ick! You don't just pick up and move away, leaving pets behind!

Now, perhaps the authors assumed that everyone knows you don't leave pets behind, so they felt no need to be explicit that the cat is staying with Family XYZ, but, y'all, I know people who pull stunts like this. They are low-life scum, to be sure, but they think nothing of just packing up and leaving companion animals to fend for themselves.

"Or perhaps," you say, "the authors didn't want to come across as preachy, you know, about how people should live their lives." Hah. Preachiness is not an issue in this curriculum, believe me. One entire lesson features 2 young boys (voiced by the 2 women who perform most of the CDs) jabbering away about how blessed one boy was to have such a wonderful mother. Now, really, when I hear kids jabbering away whilst playing, discussing how they are "blessed", I think tend to think that whoever wrote the scenario must assume Christians children are lobotomized. Ick, again. Y'all, we are a Christian family, but I feel no need to have my kids spoonfed insipid conversational models. My kids have caught on, y'know? Overall, I'd say the curriculum isn't usable for secular purposes, due both to the conversations on the CDs and the teaching hints (which explain what virtues our children should be cultivating, just in case, you know, we've forgotten them since we haven't been reminded for the last 10 minutes). I'd rather have a more secular curriculum to which I can add my own theology.

The CDs also feature some French songs. My 7 year old adored this feature, and we danced around singing Sur le Pont d'Avignon more times than you can imagine. The CDs also feature a pronunciation guide which we didn't use since we weren't using the phonograms, as well as various segments of word groups that reinforce vocabulary and pronunciation.

One of our favorite parts was the use of idioms. The program does a great job of using and explaining some expressions like "mon petite choud" (bonus: some of these expressions are used on Star Trek Next Generation, and now we're clued in to what they mean). We also liked the ideas for cooking (the book even includes good recipes). We didn't do any of the crafts suggested, although they looked interesting. We did visit many of the websites suggested. I think the curriculum does a great job of giving homeschoolers a taste of the culture.

So, thumbs up for learning about French culture and some French folk songs and idioms. Thumbs down for insipid story lines that often assume we'll forget we're Christians if we're not constantly reminded.

01 June 2007

"So, how's the sockapalooza sock-knitting going?" you ask.

Okay, really, you didn't ask that, but let's pretend that you did.

If you had asked, I would thrust this leg towards you and shout,


Which, of course, is a loaded question. Am I shouting this out in pride and joy, or am I trying to garner sympathy? Hmmm?

What do you think?

I like how the little lace ridges look like Klingon foreheads. It's hard to get the full effect in this photo. As a matter of fact, it's hard to get the full effect when the sock is on, since that stretches out the lace too much to see its true Klingon-y goodness.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that I would like this fabric better knitted on 2.0mm needles. It's seen here knitted on 2.25mm. The pattern calls for 2.5mm, but what does the pattern know of these things.

And, having knit up to this point twice (the first time I got this far I realized I was doing the wrong pattern and ripped it all back), do I really want to start over again? Eesh.

I keep trying the sock on and pondering that my sock-sister's feet are a skooshy bit bigger than mine, so it will fit her a skooshy bit more snuggly...maybe the smaller size needles will make the sock too tight, you know.

Of course, I could start another sock (with the other end of the ball, since the yarn came in one gigantic skein so I wound it in one gigantic ball). Or, I could throw caution to the wind, rip the whole thing out, try it on 2.0mm needles, see what I think given that I no longer have the 2.25 version with which to compare it, then maybe rip that back out again and re-knit with 2.25

(Let it be known that the latter rip-it-out option is the one I naturally tend towards. I've never been big on looking before I leap.)

So, what do you think?

Bidding Adieu to Another Curriculum

Last week we finished up Introduction to Classical Studies from Memoria Press.

I had purchased the Study Guide from Memoria, and the other 3 books from various other sources.

The study guide schedules 4 days per week. The first day has a Bible reading from the Golden Children's Bible; the second day features another reading from the Bible plus a section of D'Aulaires' Greek Myths; day three has a Bible reading plus a segment of Famous Men of Rome; and the fourth day finishes up with a Bible reading.

Questions are included over Famous Men of Rome and the Greek myths (the Greek myths questions are considered "honors work"). Suggestions are included for mapwork, drawing pictures, and filling in time lines. Each week has a Bible verse to memorize, and many weeks have other tidbits to memorize, such as a list of the (Biblical) patriarchs or a list of the (Roman) Triumverate.

The idea is that you'll go through this curriculum once per year for 3 years, each pass through getting more detailed.

I thought, okay, this first time through we'll pretty much read through the stuff, answer the questions in the book, and sort of hang loose. I just read through the various stuff to memorize on a daily basis -- I didn't require a recitation of it, I simply aimed for familiarity.

The drawing projects sounded like a nice touch, although I'd want to sort of "Waldorf" them up...in other words, for a younger child I would draw the picture myself, then have the child draw it following my example (for a slightly older child we might do it together, discussing how we want to portray things). But, really, I don't think anyone desiring to bring Waldorf into their homeschool would choose this curriculum, given that it mixes Old Testament, Greece and Rome -- those are studied in separate years in Waldorf schools, not dumped all together.

Things we liked:

I really like the pronunciation guide for the Greek names.

Ummm...that's pretty much it on things we liked.

Things we tolerated:

Pretty much everything else.

Really, the kids liked the Greek myths. Kid1 was already familiar with most. It's a subject she enjoys (as did I at about that age...which is why Waldorf schools teach it at about that age). She's read the first two Percy Jackson books, which she adored.

Kid2 started complaining somewhere in the New Testament, "when are we going to be finished reading the Bible?" We had gone through the entire Egermeier's Bible Story Book prior to this with no complaints, but I think she's having Bible story burnout now.

Both kids disliked Famous Men of Rome, which they dubbed Men Killing Each Other. Really, I don't think it's such an awful book, but using the questions in the Study Guide tended to suck all of the narrative interest right out of the stories. So, why did I use the questions? Pigheadedness on my part -- I wanted to know that they were absorbing something out of all of this (well, something other than "Romans like to kill each other"). Also, I noted some discrepancies between the answers given in the back of the Study Guide and the information given in Famous Men of Rome on occasion. Tiny mistakes in curriculum we like -- okay; tiny mistakes in curriculum we don't like -- annoying.

(Please note: when we read Story of the World 1 a couple of years back Kid1 really disliked the Romans then, too, and we ended up skipping through pretty much the last 400 years of that book. So it isn't necessarily a function of the presentation of Famous Men of Rome or Intro to Classical Studies -- my kids just aren't that interested in that period of Roman history.)

Actually, juxtaposing all of the readings tended to emphasize that the Israelites tended to kill each other and their enemies off at about the same rate as did the Romans. Also we noticed more of the repeating-myths -- the stories common to Israel, Greece and Rome (and a whole lot of other civilizations, as I recall -- as my brother says, the rivers back then were just lousy with babies being floated down them to hide them from wicked rulers).

Overall, I doubt we'll go through this Study Guide again. I think rioting would break out if I pulled it off the shelf to read.