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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Raveling On...

I skimmed the book about Mindful Knitting, and I found it both helpful and kind of disheartening. There were some lovely images... but apparently to knit mindfully, one shouldn't do it with an audiobook running in the background. It had some excellent patterns--so many, in fact, that I'm highly tempted to buy the book after I return it to the library.

Today's sleep-deprivation is brought to you by Harry Potter garb for Halloween. I've been working like crazy getting D's Halloween costume finished on time. He now has his tiny owl Pigwigeon:

And his Weasley sweater, broomstick, Gryffindor scarf and tie, magic wand, and orange hair:

Tonight I hauled out the fabric and pattern for his robes, and got both the main parts cut out and sewn together. Now I just have to sew the lining to the outside, and put the hood in--I think I have to figure out how to line the hood as well, drat it, as I don't have enough red lining for the hood. There's plenty of black, though. And then I'll stitch on the Gryffindor patch and, bam, the kid is ready for Hogwarts.

I'm not exactly relaxed--my whole body hurts and my neck is in a complete crunch--but at least it should actually be finished tomorrow night! This is a Good Thing, as I'm really much busier this week than I expected.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Learning the Power of BARK

I've been pondering this topic for some time, and although I have other things to write about, I want to get this out of my head and onto the screen. So here I offer thoughts on my dog learning to use his indoor voice.

We moved into the new house in June, and we've all had things to adjust to. Almost all the way around, it has been a positive experience for every member of our family. For T and me, finally having the space to keep our belongings has been liberating in the extreme! and my commute has reduced to a point where even if I leave after I'm supposed to be at work, I'm only 10 minutes late. We haven't been late to church or choir once so far--all we have to do is get out two minutes before the start time and we're there!

D has not only his own room--which he uses more than he did his old room because it's across from ours instead of way up in the lonely attic--but also room to bounce and make noise in the basement family room without getting totally underfoot. He can also play outside without me having to worry about him getting squashed by a car, and there are so many more kids in the neighborhood his own age than in our old neighborhood!

Chester Kitty became an outdoor cat when he discovered he could yank the corner of the screen door out and walk outside. It took him a month to learn this skill, but now he's down to 1 second to complete the task anew after I shove the thing back together. But the neighborhood is safe enough that at least I'm not really worried about cars. Raccoons, skunks, and wolves, yes... but not cars. He comes in when it gets dark, though. And we don't let him out again despite his pleading.

But in no family member is the change so apparent than in our dog, Ian the EagerBeagle. In our old house, Ian was a tightly-wound, house-wetting, barking, howling monster. He'd sleep calmly on the window seat until another dog walked by--which happened at least 15 times a day in our old, busy neighborhood--whereupon he would jump up, bark, howl, growl, race around, pick up couch cushions in his mouth and shake them thoroughly (that'll teach them cushions!) and remain on guard for minutes at a time until the other dog was gone... and then back on the window seat until the next Evil Puppy dared to walk by... sometimes as little as 5 or 10 minutes later.

Here we still have the barking howling cushion-punishing routine, but it might happen 3 or 4 times a day. In addition, because the deck is separated from the kitchen (where I hang out most of the time) only by a screen door in summer, Ian spent a lot of the summer on his tie-out on the deck, relaxing in the sun. And we have a state park that allows off-leash doggies where Ian can get plenty of exercise.

But the biggest change, a huge blessing for us, is that Ian no longer has accidents in the house. It used to be he'd go weeks or even months at a time without peeing or pooping inside, but then he'd go through a spate of these indiscretions several days in a row. Also, we'd have to shut him into our room at night, because if he left the room and went to the back door without us hearing him, he'd pee or poop if no one came.

What changed, you might ask? I have absolutely no idea why, but in August, when T was going off to work and I was not, so I was sleeping a bit later, Ian would follow T downstairs and often go out for his morning constitutional, but then when T left, Ian would be lonely or need to go out, and rather than come all the way back up those stairs, poor doggie, he would stand at the bottom of the stairs and give one demanding, loud bark that caught the acoustics of our house and wake me out of the soundest sleep imaginable. It was the first time he'd ever barked to be let out--he barked to be let in at the old place, but not to be let out--and so I hopped out of bed and let him out, and praised him tons and tons.

Now, being woken up that way isn't fun. He did it a few times, and it was okay because at least he was peeing outside (and not on the deck, by the way--that's another totally disgusting habit that changed when we moved here), but that bark was loud. So eventually Ian figured out that I wasn't coming down when T did, so he came back to bed, and then if he needed to go, he'd get down from the bed, which usually wakes me up.

A few times he barked at me from right next to the bed, which was kinda shocking, but then he started experimenting with using his indoor voice. Again, I have absolutely no idea why this concept kicked in for him... It wasn't anything I taught him. I guess even he didn't feel comfortable barking at full volume at 2:00am one morning when he wanted to go out (it happens sometimes if he gets leftovers at dinner--can't make it to morning). So he learned the trick of standing right by the side of my bed and giving this little whispery "gruff, gruff" sound, which for some reason wakes me out of a dead sleep but without the shock value of "BARK!"

The other thing he uses it for is getting on the bed. If it's brightly lit in our room, and there's no one in the bed, he can jump up there even though it's a stretch--he slips a bit on the uncarpeted hardwood floor--but in the middle of the night after he's spent the first bit of the night on his dog bed and then wants up with mom and dad, he can't judge the distance properly, especially if I'm sleeping there and the cat is on my feet as is his wont. So Ian gives his "gruff, gruff" sound and silly me, I hop out of bed and pick him up and put him on the bed, and we all go to sleep. I need to get him some stairs, seriously. I can tell the difference between "get in the bed" and "gotta go" because "get in the bed" entails standing at attention waiting to be picked up, whereas "gotta go" includes tail wagging, a pleading expression, and lots of little circles, the doggie equivalent of the peepee dance.

Anyone who says "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is just dead wrong. Ian's not old--he's only 5--but he's mature and he had his ways. Now he's a different dog and I'm a happier owner.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I suppose it should come as no surprise that blogging is easier in August when I'm not working. Since returning to work in mid-September I've found that I have to carefully allocate my "me" time between knitting and sleeping, as allowing anything else time on the clock means I reduce one of those--and this, I cannot do.

The HPKCHC (That's Harry Potter Knit/Crochet House Cup to the uninitiated) is about halfway through for the Term. I completed four projects plus 3/15 of my O.W.L. (I'm making 15 towels) last month. This month all my non-O.W.L. work is on D's Halloween costume. He's reading (we're reading together) the Harry Potter books. Actually at the moment he's upstairs listening to Prisoner of Azkaban, I may never see my iPod again. :-P

So of course when he decided he wanted to be Ron Weasley for Halloween, I jumped up and down and started planning knitting projects! I'm also making his robes "from scratch," as it were... I found a cape pattern with a lining and hood--I have to combine some different pieces to make it long enough but it should work nicely, and I even found a Gryffindor patch on e-bay. We'll have to find a tie and a wand, but if worse comes to worse there's a website that I can order costume-y ones from.

I'm also involved in the HPKCHC "Quidditch" match... it's all about knitting for charity this term, and while the Quidditch coach usually changes it up term to term, I'm loving this term's Quidditch play. My team is making baby hats for Knits for Infants, and not only are they adorable but they're needed. I've only made two hats, and one stripe for a team-effort baby blanket, but after D's costume is settled I'll have time for more.

That's the "what's new" part of this post; now I'm moving on to the "pondering" part. Oh, and yeah, I know I haven't mentioned a single thing about my life other than knitting. I could, but it would just be whining about work. I have thoughts about my dog learning to talk, but that's another post altogether. :)


I knit on a deadline for the House Cup. Really it's a series of deadlines, because each month's assignments are due on the last day of the month at midnight. And so, toward the end of each month, several things happen.

First, my stress level increases. Seriously. I was sorted into Ravenclaw for House Cup purposes, and there's a reason: my overachieving geekiness dictates that R'claw is where I belong. So when I'm not done with my projects I get a little bit on edge. Each project completed is worth 15 points for your house; each partial project is worth 5; O.W.L. earns 50 points at the 30% mark (if achieved before the last day of the second month) and another 100 points at completion. Last month I earned the 30% points but never finished my project, but I'm going to modify it to be a table runner instead of a tablecloth so I'm kind of glad I never finished it. So all this work is worth points... and right now the Slytherins are 600ish points ahead of us and I'd really like to see the cup back in Ravenclaw Tower! We came in 2nd to the Slytherins last term and there was just no way to catch up. Their lead this time is much smaller.

I might be a trifle competitive.

Second, my production level increases. I just barely finished those mittens for my nephew by midnight September 30, but I did it. And while that means I had to work like a lunatic to get it done, I also have his Christmas present all set and I don't have to think about it any more. I love having Christmas ready with time to spare. This month won't go toward Christmas at all, but next month will, and last month did.

Third, my sleep deprivation increases, which really isn't so good, but it's temporary. Once the month clicks over and new assignments come out I get back to somewhat normal sleep habits. Though I find knitting addicting--maybe I can just finish one more inch if I stay up just a little longer. So even mid-month during low-stress times, I stay up too late because I'm doing something I enjoy.

All this plus job stress led my Darling Husband (of almost 14 years!! time do fly when you're having fun!) to ask me whether it was wise for me to be getting all stressed out by the thing I do to "relax" myself... and so I had to stop and think and ponder. (Yes, finally made it to the pondering part!)

Do I knit because it's relaxing? I'd have to honestly say no. I knit because I love the finished results of my work, and I knit to challenge myself to do harder stuff. I knit because I love giving handmade stuff to people I love. I knit because, honestly, I enjoy people's reaction to the things I make. I enjoy being admired. Especially when I worked really hard at whatever it is they're admiring.

Should I knit because it's relaxing? Probably. I recently found information about a book called Mindful Knitting which I plan to look into. Perhaps then I would enjoy both the knitting part and the end results, who knows?

Should I stop participating in contests with deadlines? No. Because contests with deadlines make me finish stuff, and that's always been a problem for me. If I don't have a reason to finish something, I get halfway through and lose interest. And I really like having finished products (which is why I rarely attempt big projects like sweaters: much more likely to finish mittens or hats!).

Okay, I have to go face the world. And cast on the front part of D's Weasley sweater, which is going to be completely beautiful. And working kids' sweaters barely counts as a sweater, they're quick and easy! Wait until you see the one I want to do during Spring term for my O.W.L.!

I'll post pics later... most of what I've made is Christmas presents, so I can't post 'em for fear someone will see them who's supposed to wait until they open it... but when D's costume is ready, pictures galore!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Anger, knitting, and state of mind

If I cover my anger with a knit scarf, can you still see me seething?
--Nicole Freire
I have to admit, this entry will have very little to do with actual knitting, although I'll throw in some gratuitous funny hat double-knitting pictures at the end. But as I was thinking about writing, I google-searched 'knit' and 'anger' together, and got this. Love it.

Most of this entry, however, is about Six Flags, to which place I traveled yesterday with my young son. It was a hot, muggy day. Tempers flared. I reflected. I also had a very long moment of peace, lasting nearly all of our 11 hours or so of travel and frivolity.

On our way there, we were caught in traffic. We stopped. I checked Facebook, tried to get a traffic report, and played a mediocre game of Bubble Breaker on my phone before handing it off to my son for amusement purposes. My radio did not work, because my antenna broke off for the second time quite a while ago, and it basically now picks up only NPR, and that only when we're really close to home. No way out in Charlton. And I'd forgotten my iPod. But still I was philosophical about the whole thing. "Are we there yet?" my son asked, numerous times. "No," I said, "we are stuck in traffic." There was nothing I could do. Getting off would have accomplished nothing--there was no exit except for the rest stop, which was frighteningly full of people trying to wait out the traffic. So I crept forward.

Now, I drive a standard-transmission car. I love it, unless I am stuck in traffic. Then it means that every time the traffic edges forward, I have to depress the clutch, ease the car into gear, coast a few feet, and reverse the process. So occasionally I let the car ahead of me get a couple of car lengths away before I move. Am I holding up traffic? NO! I say, because once I engage the clutch-shift into gear-move forward-shift out of gear I will once again stop short and wait for the traffic to move again. Might someone come in ahead of me? Yes, it could be. Will this affect my ultimate emergence from the traffic jam? Minimally if at all.

Yet the gentleman (I use the term loosely) behind me apparently disagreed. I hesitated before moving forward, and he honked his horn repeatedly and quite loudly, and a glance into my rear-view mirror showed me that he was gesticulating in a very uncomplimentary manner at me. His un-love was flowing out of his car into mine, and I got hot under the collar. I contemplated getting out of my car the next time we stopped (oh, right now! see, we moved, we stopped!) and asking him to keep his hate to himself. But then I thought about how he might run me over or punch me, and I kept my aggravation to myself, and at the very next chance I changed lanes (something I rarely do in a traffic jam) and moved ahead a few cars to get out of the aura of his anger.

By the time I pulled back into my lane I could see the cause of the back-up: some poor person's car was smacked up against the guard rail, facing in the opposite direction to that which the rest of us were traveling, with a very large tire wedged into the dent that had previously been the passenger side door. He was standing on the side of the road with a police officer, unharmed as far as I could tell, making a cell phone call. I found details here.

So we went on to Six Flags. And as I said, it was hot and muggy, and people were sweating and dumping water on themselves. D wanted to go on "Pandemonium," I think to see me scream. I told him I'd do it with him once. :) The line wasn't too bad--about 40 minutes. Most of it was in the shade. About halfway through our wait I had the beginning of the lovely moment that comprised the rest of my day. I realized that I could turn off my discomfort. I could not turn off the sweat--that was trickling stickily down my chin and neck and getting my shirt all wet. What I could turn off was the feeling of irritation that so often accompanies feeling too hot. I discovered that it wasn't enough to not think about the heat: I had to concentrate reasonably hard on feeling cool and comfortable.

But it wasn't the kind of concentrating where you're screaming at yourself: I'm not going to feel hot, I'm not going to get upset!!! It is, I admit, rather difficult to describe. As long as I kept that feeling of cool, comfortable, and happy at the corner of my conscious mind, I remained that way. I only got upset with D once all day--and that was when he completely ignored me when I was trying to call him out of a water fountain. I didn't get upset until the fifth or sixth time he didn't respond when I called. :( And then after that, I was back to that beautiful happy place once again.

I'm not there this morning. I'm hot and sticky and thinking about it. I need a shower. I'm looking forward to a day of being hot and sticky and doing laundry and cleaning, and it isn't making me happy at all. So now I just have to figure out how to get that happy place back again. Perhaps after I shower. :)

Double Knitting little hat points:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Doubling Up

I am learning to double knit. I can almost officially say "I have learned to double knit" except that I'm sure I haven't conquered all the nuances of double knitting.

In its practical application, double knitting has a couple of applications. For example, you can make something two-sided or reversible, and do mirror-image patterns. Pretty cool. The other application is that you can knit two socks at the same time, which anyone who has attempted socks knows is a godsend, because when you get to the end of the first sock, you're only half-finished. But I will have to investigate how to turn a heel if I do two socks at once. I'm sure that's not as easy as just knitting around and around is.

Right now I'm knitting little pointy things for a silly hat, and I'm doing them two at a time. The big advantage to this as a knitting practice is that the two little pointy things are different colors, which means far less tendency to cross the threads and get all mixed up. Also I've had to learn to decrease, because the pointy things have to get smaller around at the top in order to become pointy.

My reaction to learning this new skill is mixed satisfaction and discontent. I'm very pleased that from one read-through of the directions here, I was able to work out how to cast-on, work around, and decrease without referring back to the directions. (Read the article whether you ever plan to attempt double-knitting--it's really funny!). But the discontent stems from this feeling that while it's cool and all, it was way too easy. Where was the struggle? Every once in a while I yearn to take on something hard, and this isn't the first time I've felt kinda disappointed that this just wasn't it.

I felt the same way when I learned cable knitting several years ago... "That's it??? just take 3 stitches off, knit the next 3, and then knit the three from the holder?" Bobbles are a little harder--I should go back to those. Lace knitting... not so much, yeah. It's not easy, per se, because you have to concentrate on where you are and what you're doing--but neither is it terribly challenging once you've worked out the pattern. Yarn over, SSK, or K2tog, YO. You got that? You got lace.

I don't look for challenge in every part of my life. I mean, challenge is good and all, but I'm a lazy person, basically, and most of the time I'm perfectly happy to cruise by. But when I'm looking for a challenge and it just doesn't exist? What's that about?

Or is it just that because I've put in so much time knitting, things that would have been challenging a while ago are just not that hard anymore? Increase in skill can cause ease, I suppose. So I should be proud of my accomplishments and accept the accolades of the folks who think my work is good. Right?

I'll get a picture of my pointy hat things up later.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ambulatory Care

We spent the morning in the Emergency Room with my son after he--in getting down from a chair--went sprawling and smacked his head loudly and with colorful results upon the chair at the next table in the restaurant where we were having our Sunday brunch.

He falls and gets up so cheerfully so often that it took me a fraction of a second to realize he was crying--but I'd heard the crack and was at his side faster than anyone else. And saw the blood streaming down his face.

I'm grateful to many years of training in working with children for presence of mind in an emergency. It's not something, I realize, that comes naturally to everybody. It's not precisely natural to me either, but I don't lose my head when something like this happens. I shouted for my husband, who realized there was a lot of blood and went in search of paper towels. I grabbed a napkin off the table, grabbed my son's head, took a deep breath, prayed I hadn't wiped anything really horrible on that napkin earlier, and applied pressure. A person from the restaurant brought some brand-new table-washing-cloths, fresh from the package, and asked if I'd like them wet. I would. I got the waitress's attention and asked for ice. I kept applying pressure. My husband returned with some of those brown paper towels from the washroom; knowing that something cleaner was coming I asked him to use them to clean my son's hands. The clean cloths arrived. I discarded the icky napkin. I used the clean cloths to look at my son's head. Eew. The waitress came with... now, look, I don't want to crow too much about keeping my head in a crisis, and I was grateful for the ice, but honestly, should I have had to specify a plastic bag to put it in? She brought a handful and tried to apply it, in a napkin, to my son's head. I asked for a bag, she brought it. It was a fun moment, especially when we were distracting my son in the ER later.

Time elapsed? Two minutes, perhaps. So often in life they happen: moments which alter us permanently, spinning nearly out of control, over in a minute or two.

Emergency room, triage nurse, nice child-friendly ER room, complete with complimentary TV, friendly prompt doctor, no stitches, but rather glue (something I don't want to think about too much). It has a fancy name: dermabond. But it is still glue. Has it slowed my boy down? Not one whit. It's 11:00pm our time, and he is literally bouncing in his room.

This in complete contrast to our week: days spent in the company of family, feeling that cushion of people who care around us like a much-needed hug. Fun, happiness. Support when tragedy strikes or emotions run high. We really do have a bit of a tendency to include emergency care visits in our family vacations, though. This has to be the fourth ER visit during or adjacent to a family vacation in the last five years. We waited to get home for this one, but it was still within 24 hours of hitting the road, so in my opinion, it counts.

In contrast, too, to knitting. Here there is no spontaneous coherence, no sudden change. Knitting takes time, patience, and love. You may well knit fast--many people knit faster than me--or choose small projects to finish quickly, but knitting isn't something to be done in a flash. Knitting up the ravell'd sleeve of care isn't a work for a few moments.

A friend jested that perhaps I should have had a new crocheted Pokemon for my boy to comfort his pain, and indeed I did: introducing Jigglypuff. I got the pattern from Bizzy Crochet, but I made the microphone.

In addition this week I modified some shoes, and made a matching hair scrunchie. The shoes were cheepies from Target; I love the soles but the uppers were scratching and irritating my toes and feet, so I used some cool Lion Brand ribbon yarn to make 'em both cuter and less painful.

I also made another string bag, but it looks kind of like my first string bag, so it's not very exciting, and I haven't taken a picture yet.

And now I'm off to bed to knit up some ravell'd sleeves of my own. Unfortunately my son hasn't decided to join the ranks of the tired yet... but at least I know he doesn't have a concussion.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crochet--it's the new knitting!

I used to hate to crochet. My fingers always got crampy, everything came out too big. I admit: I never really learned to do it properly. I learned something I thought was right, and guess what--it wasn't right.

Not too long ago I crocheted some shoes. I had to do it. They were shoes. It never occurred to me that one could make shoes with yarn, and when I saw a pattern, I had to try it. And that's when I realized I was, er, doin it rong. To quote LOL Catz. For the first time in my life I found a crochet tutorial and learned the proper way to do a Single Crochet, Half Double Crochet, Double Crochet, and Triple Crochet. I saw the light, I tell you: I've been doing a Double Crochet incorrectly and calling it a Single Crochet. No wonder everything always turned out twice normal size.

Which leaves me pondering: why do I resist learning to do things properly? Crochet isn't the only thing I've ever skipped over steps and instructions on. When I take the time and get some instruction, amazingly enough I get better at what I'm doing. Take, for example, the above Lucario Pokemon doll, crocheted by me over three days and now comfortably ensconced in my son's bed, the new favorite toy (at least until next week). :) He's shown here in the company of my son and the Pikachu I made earlier this year.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Knitting and Sleeping

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care. Macbeth, Act II Scene ii

In my life, these two things are both as necessary as breathing--and also prevent each other from happening. If I sleep, I can't knit, and if I knit, I stay up late and sleep deprivation sets in.

I have many things going through my mind, and a knitting and sleeping and caring blog seems appropriate right now. Knitting--and crochet, and several other yarn crafts--is my main creative outlet at the moment. I've been on a serious knitting jag for the past 8 months or so. I'm learning so much about knitting from my Ravelry friends, especially through the endearingly geeky "Harry Potter Knit and Crochet House Cup." I'm a Ravenclaw, through and through... is anybody surprised by this? I think not.

And I know for a fact that my sleep-deprivation adds to my sense of depression and being overwhelmed by the world. When I'm sleep-deprived my temper gets shorter and my ability to care lessens. And there are just so many things in my current life I need to care for: my son, my husband, my cat, my dog, the children in my preschool classroom. When a knitting project takes me away and I lose sleep, who really benefits? But if I don't knit... then who benefits?

So here I will explore: to knit, or not to knit. That is the question! Will I ever stop knitting? I somehow doubt it. Finding balance, now--that sounds like a wonderful idea.