Reading While Knitting

Nothing complicated; nothing too exciting, but yes, I do knit while I read. As well as during many other domestic activities.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Treat and Retreat

[If you're here for the knitting, feel free to scroll way down.]

Thank you, everyone, for the lovely birthday wishes.

I got through it just fine -- and I mean that in only the nicest way. While some people have really come down on me for saying this, for me, 45 is about the exact midpoint of my life (I hope). I come from a line of mightily long-lived people, and if nothing untoward happens, I will probably be about 90 before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

And that had me well and truly freaked out. I mean, halfway, right? Aaaaaiiiiieee! Halfway? I want more time!! I want more life!! Why did I go to graduate school? Why on earth did I drop out of not one, but two PhD programs? How can I instantly be a perfect parent and wife?! What is wrong with me!!!

So I was making Eric really happy, as you can imagine. For my birthday, he gave me me. Off for a retreat, all by myself, just to think and knit and spin. In quiet.

I drove to a yoga retreat center, and checked in. I looked for my parking place -- I was camping in the van -- and drove past the first one on the map, thinking, "That can't be it -- it's a gravel lot next to a building" The next one? A gravel lot next to the fire house. Finally I found a gravel lot, but away from the activity centers of the buildings. Unfortunately for me, it was a tiny bit tilted. Undaunted, I got out my spinning wheel and prepared to enjoy my peaceful solitude.

Then came the bulldozers. Two of them. Back and forth, up and down, right through and past my gravel lot. Grrrrrmmmmmm, zooooooooom, grrrmmmmmm. Thumpdumpdumpdump. Apparently yoga retreat centers need a lot of rubble moved.

I finally had to laugh.

Going and having a lovely massage helped -- it was quiet down on the other end of the campus. After that, I didn't try to spin any more. Not only am I horribly out of practice, but there was a gummy residue on my lace flyer and I didn't have rubbing alcohol or silicone spray or lubricant of any kind with me, although I did find a bit of oil from the massage behind my ears. Not enough, however, to approach that hard to turn wheel. Instead I thought about and wrote about my garden plans. It's easy to be a master gardener on paper.

Dinner next! Lovely vegetarian food, eaten alone while looking out at a small garden of some sort and some still-bare fruit trees. It wasn't until afterwards I realized that many folks were sitting in a semicircle around the guru of the place. Because of some difficult family history, gurus kind of make me itchy, so I wandered back up to my tilted van. . .

Just in time for the singing and stamping dance sounds to come wafting towards me. I could also hear birdsong, and running water, and frogs -- frogs!! -- but had to hear them through the human-generated noise. It wasn't as silent as I'd hoped, but no one was actually talking to me, and I got a whack of knitting done even though I waited until after dinner to start on it.

As I unknit first, in true Stefani knitting fashion, the sounds gradually died down until all I heard was the frog chorus. And people walking around and talking loudly, cars starting and driving out, or driving in and parking, but it didn't matter any more. I was so engaged in counting aloud and thinking and wondering if it was long enough yet and did I figure the decreases correctly -- I should never put a project down in the middle of any shaping -- that my focus became narrower and narrower. Just me and the needles and yarn and color.

Until I got this for my birthday:

I didn't have scissors with me, or even a pocket knife, or I probably would have tried steeking then and there, I was so excited. I folded it up and stuffed it in the bag and tried to figure out what angle to sleep in the pop top so I wouldn't roll downhill in the night. There really isn't much room there; I know now why some of the kids object to sleeping up there. Sorry, kids! It is, however, more comfortable than the downstairs bed, so maybe we can work out a trade. I'll have to talk to Eric about that for the next camping trip.

A three-needle bind off, from the purl side, seemed like a good choice. I'm happy with the shoulder seams. I thought about casting on for the sleeves and getting a few repeats in on them, but about halfway through the casting on, I thought that it was the better part of wisdom to realize when you're tired and go to sleep.

I drifted off to the frogs, looking forward to getting to go home. And then I woke up early, and cold, and thought, "Forget this, I'm going home now." And I did, and I snuck into the house full of sleeping people and was so glad to be home that I could hardly express it. It was also Eric's birthday, and I got to be the first to wish him a happy birthday by touching him with really cold steering-wheel hands.

The next day, I used a teeny crochet hook to make steek holding stitches, instead of dealing with my sometimes-balky sewing machine. They're hard to see, blue on blue, but my fingers are on each side of them.

Crochet worked well for short steeks, like the one for the back neck opening and the sleeves, but the neckline seemed too long to deal with each little crochet stitch. Plus, the yarn is really sticky. I am not that worried about it unraveling. Not unworried enough to do nothing yet, but I did switch to simple backstitch.

For sewing like that, I keep my sewing-up needles in this custom-made just for me needle case:

My father in law made it out of olive wood for me. You, too, can own one in any of a dozen woods or wood-blends. Just ask me how!

As the steeks fell open, it was more and more exciting. Deciding to do fewer neck decreases made a slightly less deep neck, which was good. I even slipped it on overhead and it will be a close-fitting cardigan, just the right length, blocking permitting. Finally, finally, I started to believe that there might be a real sweater "soon," a knitter's soon, for me. I picked up neckline stitches, as you can see in the top of that picture, and will knit that up, then knit the front bands, and then I'll knit the sleeves.

Once those puppies are done, there won't be anything more to do. Seems like a fantastic plan at the moment. But I won't be yoga retreating again any time soon.

Bee story over on my gardening blog.


Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm 45 today

As a birthday present to myself, I finally started another project. I'm looking forward to it for lots of reasons.

I also went for a nice run this morning, and am looking forward to a lovely day of showering, cleaning, baking a cake with the kids for me, and planting out another flat of basil. Maybe I'll move the cukes up into bigger pots, too.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Favorite Work Out

Running alone has become a favorite activity of mine. Quiet, both inside and out, because no one is talking to me. I love feeling my body moving through space, even on the days when I'm heavily aware of my, well, heavier places.

But once a week, according to my new workout plan, I'm supposed to take a long walk. A walk about 60 minutes long. Turns out, walking to Peet's for coffee takes about 30 minutes. Bonus!

Eric's knees don't really want to run, but walking works well. Together, it's a different quiet. At home, getting a full conversation in with him is really the art of finding the interstices between childish pronouncements. Verbal juijitsu, if you will. But while we walk, we can talk and talk and talk. There's enough time to find our way through conversations, to circle back and reexamine topics, or just to walk in companionable silence.

A good run is invigorating like little else. But a good walk and talk fills me up for the whole week to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Maybe you're blessed with naturally photogenic looks. The camera doesn't have to see a classically beautiful face to love that face. Some people just always have flattering pictures of them -- something about the arrangement of cheekbones and eyes, chin and forehead.

I'm not one of those people. I routinely allow my children to take pictures of me, only to gasp in horror at the Sicilian crone looking out from raccoon-dark eyes, wild, mind-of-its-own hair, and horrifying expression. In them, I'm only inches away from grabbing a broom and chasing them around. Fortunately, I'm in charge of deleting pictures from the disk and figuring out what to print, too, so I only leave about every fifteenth of those in there. No sense lying to the great-grandchildren that I didn't start the slide into cronehood at about 25. Maybe they can use it as a warning, and start investing into good under eye cream early on.

There is one picture of me, though, that I adore. Fortunately I get to carry it around all the time, but it's not quite the same. I'd like, ideally, a 14x16" print of it on my wall, in one of those oval old-timey frames. It's that good. I look Sicilian, but more Sophia Loren than a little old village lady. It came in the mail today. Unfortunately, it has some holograms right over my hair, and it's only about an inch square.

(wait for it)

Something that's not often seen -- a beloved driver's license picture. This one's good until 2014, so maybe I can keep it until I truly am a little old lady and it will more obviously be the vanity it is now.

Something else got done today.

This one was started way back in 2007 for Tor. I must have messed up the cable and put it away in a fit of pique. I found it yesterday in a shopping bag, didn't know why on earth I couldn't have fixed it earlier, and figured I'd finish it off. It will, of course, only fit Caterina right now.

Unfortunately, I created some more mistakes in the finishing, none of which I'm going to either point out here or dwell on, firstly because I'm not doing that to my knitting any more: good knitters can see the mistakes and think I'm an idiot, non-knitters won't see them, and secondly, I'm not willing to reknit this baby a single stitch more. I'm also out of yarn and would have to rip, cannibalize, and then reknit. Not going to happen.

Instead, I'm going to encourage behavior like this as long as she's wearing it:

See? No mistakes! Amazing how fast a sweater gets done when 7/8 of it is already finished. I wonder if I can arrange to have that happen to all my knitting from now on?

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quiet Morning

I think it really dawned on me this morning.

It's quiet.

No clicky toenails on the floor. No whining to go out, no jingle of tags on a collar.

We had Mack put down at home yesterday.

It was all too much -- the blindness and his subsequent fear made him unable to navigate the physical challenges that our house provides, and even when carried outside, he was running into the bushes he usually greeted with a morning shower instead.

I wish I had some of the good pictures we have taken of him over the years, although photographing a glossy black dog is a challenge. As he got older, his muzzle and front end grew gradually whiter, so it was easier, but his eyes got cloudier and cloudier.

The best pictures are probably in my head, though.

Him jumping impossibly high to get a tennis ball, and Sarafina's reedy three year old voice, "Good catch, Rothbart!" Even the dog didn't escape her "Swan Lake" obsession. Him dancing in impatience on the side of a lake, "Just throw the stick, already!" His quiet disdain for the children, and the long-suffering looks he used to give us. The way he sighed happily when we finally went to bed and he could come in and lie down. Kids at homeschool park day who would vie to walk him, when what he really wanted was to stay right by me, and maybe cruise for leftovers. The way he'd run inside after a bath and then scrub his muzzle all over the couch, drying his face and leaving wet marks all over, no matter how much we tried to dry him.

I'm sure more good memories will come back, although right now my view of him is colored strongly by his last year or so. The kids are doing okay, but sad.

It's just too quiet.

Fortunately, the rest of the family is due to wake up really soon. That'll stop.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Done and off to school

Caterina, from under her blanket this morning, said, "Scratchy homemade socks," when given a choice between those and a "regular" pink pair for preschool.

Even not completely awake, she knew what she wanted. I'm glad they're done. This child is definitely worthy of better socks, too.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

This is so hard

Mack the Wonder Dog is getting old.

This is, of course, to be expected.

But since his diagnosis of diabetes, he's been facing more and more challenges. First the diabetic neurapathy, making his hips weaker. He's still drinking a lot, as we struggle to stabilize his blood glucose. Sometimes he wakes a person up in the night to go out and pee. Sometimes he wakes people two and three times a night, and I tell you, standing in the rain in just a t-shirt at 3 am waiting for my elderly dog to finish in the yard is not my idea of a great time. And for the last couple of days, we've realized that his sight is going. Apparently diabetes can speed the formation of cataracts, which he already has.

Now the vet is telling me to buy a harness to help him go downstairs -- we live on the first floor of a house, up a flight of stairs front and back -- as he's afraid because he can't see the step under his feet.

I'm growing very weary. Nothing seems bad enough to say, "Enough!" but it adds up to a sad twilight with this fine, and truly noble, dog. He doesn't seem to bee too pained, just sort of foggy.

It's just hard. I don't want to be the grownup. I don't want to carry him into the vet because he won't go where he can't see. I don't want to worry about him all the time. I don't want to be the one who has to make the final call. Sarafina wants a puppy, and when I say versions of "Over my dead body," it's not only the thought of all the work a puppy makes, and the idea of the freedom of a non-dog life. I also (I realized today) don't want to do this part again. It's just too hard.

Bit by bit

The rain this morning was perfect for running. Not too hard, just a teensy mist that softened every edge, the heads of the daffodils hanging heavy with water despite the lightness of the rain. They reminded me strongly of when I worked as a gardener's elf in Virginia, at a very posh horse farm. I learned to deadhead and mulch, and that I really didn't care much about growing non-edibles, but I did love to arrange cut flowers. That was as close to the posh as I ever got.

As I was making my way through my pitifully short gradually increasing length run, I was thinking about how like knitting it is. I'm nowhere near where I'd like to be, running-wise, but I'm slowly getting back to where I was before I started getting sick (over and over and over) last October. And I run on faith, that if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll get to the point where running will feel effortless again.

Knitting might not ever be what I'd consider "effortless;" my brain just doesn't work that way, but if I keep stacking up stitches, then objects will keep getting finished. Not just the snowflake sweater, but things like this little bonbon, made up while Eric and I were reading out loud to each other last night. [Currently, my book is much funnier than his book.] I was asked for socks by the smallest-footed person in the house, so sock(s) I made.

Scratchy natural wool, unhappily dyed with Koolaid many years ago for trim for my now-eight year old nephew's toddler sweater. Caterina doesn't seem to mind the scratchy, as she's running around with just one on her foot right now. Better hurry for the second one.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

They're all unique

That's at least what I hear about snowflakes; we don't get enough snow here for me to do any personal research.

My only recent experience with the singular nature of snowflakes was a wooly type. I finally (finally!) finished the Stashbuster Raglan, and was embroidering snowflakes along the red band, as I'd planed.

"How hard could it be?" I asked myself. Well, three snowflakes in, I realized that for me, it was "hard," perhaps "impossible," to embroider snowflakes I was both happy with and that bore some relationship to one another, designwise.

Duplicate stitch! That would surely save me. Nope. Apparently making duplicate stitches resemble one another in more than a third-cousin-once-removed way is also beyond my capacities.

Leaving it with just one finally made the most sense, I figured. We'll go with the "it's as unique as you are" approach.

He doesn't seem to care that I managed to knit one red arm-end with a too small needle, since I picked up the last needle I'd made the rolled edge on the other one to finish the second. He just likes it because it's warm and soft. I don't think I'd do the purl ridges on the arms again.

They look a little bit like weird arm gauntlets, but the bustin' out all over apricot doesn't mind, either. And I don't live in Blueland, it was just evening when I took the picture.

The brown cat doesn't mind the children, as long as they're asleep.

Oh! For those of you who care, I pulled a total Bee Whisperer move yesterday! I had talked with a new beekeeper at the Association meeting on Tuesday evening, and he was telling me about his mentor, who works his bees barehanded and often veilless. And yesterday, I wanted to super one of my hives. Didn't want to get in it, didn't want to powder sugar them to treat for Varroa mites, just wanted to make sure I got that honey super on before the flow.

So without changing any clothes or suiting up, I walked to the hive, and with lots of slowness, eased off the top cover very slowly, set it on top of the super, and turned toward the hive. A bee landed on my hand. So I made like a statue, and held very very still. Tor called across the yard, "What are you doing?" I just said, "Waiting for this bee to fly away." After some moments, she took off. Various other bees had been landing on my shirt and pants, but just sitting there and flying off when they were done doing whatever they were doing.

Without moving my feet too much, I turned again toward the super, grasped the sides, and pivoted to place it on the now-topless hive. I didn't want to crush any bees, so I placed the first corner of the super on one corner of the hive, then gently, so gently, lowered it along the sides so any bees in the way could move. Once it was on, I walked away.

Then I felt the shakes. Apparently I'm not quite the Zen beekeeper I was acting as. Not yet. I don't think I'll open hives at least without veils, but it made me feel as though I was making some progress.

In other catch-up news, I'm still maintaining the running schedule, although my slowness and literal feeling that I'm "hauling ass" down the street (like dragging a bag of rocks) hasn't changed much. And I'm supposed to be on a panel discussion on local food production for Earth Day, so I have to get my talking ducks in a row. Someone asked me yesterday how many hours a week I knit. I laughed and laughed. I consider it a bonus day if I even get to pick up needles lately. With four kids, three classes to teach, and a household to run, who has time?

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Dreams Can Come True

Last night I knit and watched a movie on the laptop with Sarafina, while poor Eric slept next to us. Even though we were using earphones, we're movie-talkers, and he found it amusing that we couldn't just watch quietly. Didn't keep him from snoring away. Being really sick will do that for you, I guess. Anyhow, I woke up this morning -- for the final time -- from a dream involving John McCain's tailless silent helicopter, about which I said, "No matter how cool it is, it's not worth sitting with him to get to ride in it." Subsequently in my dream, I was contacting a student in one of my classes, and going through someone's estranged father's custom-made study: drawers for everything, including old letters. I remember thinking, "I have more old letters than these; no matter how beautiful the cabinetry, this study isn't very practical."

I called the student up, and apparently the student's mother disapproved mightily of this Older Woman calling, even though I wanted to talk about the missing paper. And then I realized what I was riffling through the study for -- the perfect Blueberry Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake recipe!

In my dream I never found it, but on my run through the quiet streets this morning, I figured it wouldn't be that hard to do, so after I got home, I boiled eggs to assuage any guilt, and pulled a Bill Cosby. Behold, breakfast:

Not enough blueberries for the berry-lovers and too many for the berry-haters, but it is a compromise, even if it is a dream come true.

Before succumbing to the Land of Nod after the movie, I'd done the collar on this little beauty. I figured that it was all done, short of weaving ends and embroidering snowflakes.

Then Tor tried it on this morning, and in a medical miracle, apparently his arms have grown two inches overnight. Sigh. This entire stashbusting sweater has been a labor of knit, rip, reknit, rerip, and still it's getting done. Just a little slowly, and there are two skeins of green sock yarn wanting to be knit into Embossed Leaves and a rainbow Kauni still patiently waiting for attention.

This alpaca sweater fits Caterina very well, but when I suggested that she ask her brother if he still wanted it, and she interpreted that as an opportunity to prance in front of him wearing it and announcing, "Do you want this, because it fits me!" he screamed, "Mine! mine!"

It's nothing but amity and high level communication around here, I tell you. Let them eat cake.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Has it really been 14 years?

I went out for a brief run this morning (I'm still not quite admitting to a Training Program, but still) in the rain-washed air. Then it struck me -- fourteen years ago I had just done something really hard, too.

I haven't scanned the old pictures, but I had just given birth to a baby, my first one. She'd started in one of the most beautiful deserts in the U.S., and despite the months where the only thing I wanted to eat was chocolate malts, and the fact that easily 90% of this baby girl was made of ice cream, the pregnancy was a hoot.

Birth had its funny moments, too. But mostly, it just felt miraculous. I had been oddly alienated from my body for years, and having her at home, in our bedroom, with screams and some blood and some extreme silliness, just gave me back myself. I remember holding her immediately after she was born and having the stunning realization: It was you the whole time -- you were who we have been waiting for.

Eric and I stayed up all night, just looking at the exquisite beauty who had showed up.

We should have known, then. We'd stay up all night for a lot of nights. This one wasn't what you'd call a sleeper, and we were still learning how to do this parenting thing.

But we made it through her babyhood and toddler years. I think she spent most of them tucked into a sling on my hip. And she stayed beautiful. And got funnier and funnier.

There were the "dress and leggings" years, and "Swan Lake" mania, and adjusting to siblings, and a couple of very cranky periods, but through it all, she's been fascinating.

Now that it feels like she's fully into "youth," she's even more interesting. I know, I know, how could it get any more interesting than Ballet All The Time, but it is. She's a boon companion on walks, watching movies, discussing books, playing Frisbee. She's a fierce friend to her few chosen compatriots, and a sometimes patient, sometimes irritated sibling. She's a fun Big Kid to her cousins, even though they try her patience. She loves her pets and keeps having interesting insights that she will sometimes share with me.

That radio silence is in itself a miracle, since she literally talked without stopping for a few years there. I thought it would never end.

But one thing this precious firstborn daughter did teach me is that it ends. . . it goes by fast, and maybe increasingly faster. The journey has been constantly interesting and it appears to be getting ever more fun.

So happy birthday, Sarafina.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Busy busy busy

According to this site, one anagram for my name is "Elation Fest."

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, here's the one for whom that's accurate, a real Cat in a Hat.

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