The sixth and seventh week in review

I was was told on Sunday  that I am a slack blogger,  but I’ve been out and about putting  a bit of spice in my life.    There was no time to write.   But I’m back and here’s  a little summary of where I’ve been and where we are now.

Monday was Valentine’s Day, but Jon and I enjoyed our celebration of that fun holiday  a week ahead of time.  We got away, just us two, and stayed in a lovely and luxurious hotel for five days.

Now,  I wonder if anyone  (outside my family)  can guess where the photos above and below were taken.   Really, no fair naming the place if you already know because I TOLD you.
Here are a few extra hints:   We enjoyed the most amazing Italian dinner just a few blocks north of this scenic parking lot, right after I watched my husband do some very enthusiastic gift shopping at a wonderful art shop on Sherman Street.

Notice how much these feather earrings look like the flies one might use to catch fish.   And since we have both a jewelry designer and several fly-tying fishermen living under our roof, we found this quite inspirational.

After dinner and a glass or two of wine, we popped in to Cabela’s Sporting goods store, which is  fly fisherman heaven  and which I’m now recommending as a  Valentine’s Day entertainment destination.
While there, we tried on some cool shades and some really bad hats, photographed their extensive collection of taxidermy,and checked out all their feathers which can be used to make fake insects OR lovely jewelry.    I suspect that we  almost bought a crazy expensive fly-fishing  reel, but I noticed we walked out empty handed.    Having fun with your husband in a hunting and fishing supply store is actually way more romantic than watching a sunset, by the way.   And it’s not nearly as time sensitive.

Besides goofing off in the fly-tying department , Jon and I met some really wonderful Christian physicians and their spouses on our trip.  We saw gorgeous scenery, enjoyed some delightful meals with very interesting people and we really had fun just being together without any interruption.  It’s kind of rare for us, and we were so glad for that little gift of time together.     It was lovely just to sit with my husband on an airplane and know that I was not responsible for six kids and their passports and the reservations and connections for the next 24 hours.  (One day I will write up a blog post about travelling with the kids, and without the husband,  to Europe last fall, and how much fun and how much stress came with that adventure.   But that’s another post.)

So we had this sweet getaway.   Meanwhile, the kids had an amazing opportunity to exhibit their maturity at home by  keeping everything in top condition, while loving the little ones and keeping up with that business of educating themselves.   They did a stellar job.   I am so thankful for them.   Again.
Daniel got a bit lonely for adult companionship one afternoon and  pulled a snowball ambush upon  our very kind neighbour, Charles, as he emerged from his car at the end of his workday.
Charles was nearly injured in the snowball fight which followed, and claims to be working out with weights  in preparation for our next trip out of town.  Otherwise, it all went well.  Or so they say.

We returned home at the end of last week and then everybody skiied on Monday, even Jon.  That was a special treat.   It was extra cold and icy, and the skiing was FAST, but it was a great day.   One of our favourite Valentine’s Days in a long long time.

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I believe  we’re now in  the second half of the seventh week of 2011.   And, as I had hoped, we are winding up week ten of Tapestry of Grace.  We aren’t on the official  (and very optimistic) schedule of the publisher, but we  are on schedule according to my plan so it’s all good as far as I can see.

We’re into the late 1920’s, financial crises, increasing turmoil in post-war Europe, getting ready for darker days ahead.

And I’m cramming extra large doses of grammar instruction down various gullets, as it has come to my attention  that a love of grammar in not innate for everyone, and none of my little darlings have inherited mine.  I thought my children would be born with a craving for  sentence diagramming.   Turns out they took after their dad on this one.   This will soon be remedied!

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And here, for a little artistic break, are some of Maggie’s projects from this morning.    First, a blackline drawing which she off-handedly describes as (from left to right)

This is the Dad, this is the little boy…….and this is the angry policeman.”

We wonder what the rest of the story is, but when I asked, she just flicked her wrist and went on to fill the next piece of blank paper.

Later, having grown weary of the simplicity of pen and ink,  she made some flowers to brighten our gray snowy world.   She had a little help from Audrey…….

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Meanwhile, the  sweater I am knitting for David has not been seen or heard of on this blog in a few weeks.  So, everybody asks,  what’s the deal with that?

First, I took a week away from working on it so that I could attend a class called ” Tips and Tricks for Finishing Your Knitted Garment.”    I signed up for this class because I was so nervous and unprepared for the job of putting this sweater together.
Last time I put a sweater together, it looked like it was  tailor made for a chimp with one arm five inches higher than the other.  Sadly, it was knitted in the most beautiful garnet mohair, so it was a tragically  freakish deformity knitted in elegant yarn.

For this “finishing” class, students were required to knit up several oddly shaped pieces, which we then brought to class and practiced our new finishing tricks on.
I was by far the least skilled knitter in the class of 15.  And, of course, I was closest to the instructor, so she was continually grabbing my work to show to the class.
The first time, she didn’t really check to see if it was done correctly before hoisting it aloft and saying “Let’s see how Missy did…”   She then looked closely at the knitted piece,  and then at me, and said “This is terrible!    Were you even listening to my instructions?”           ****Mortifying****
But, I learned it before the class was done, and now I can do it just like the rest of those ladies.

In that class,  we talked a fair bit about how and why a knitter might  decide if a piece of  work  has too many errors in it to be “wearable”.   So,  I came home and looked at David’s sweater, which consisted of the entire trunk up to the arm-pits, and the beginnings of both sleeves.    I started taking note of all the things I didn’t like about the way it was turning out.   And there were just too many little things that I was not happy with.
So…….  I pulled it off the needles.
And last Saturday, I started the whole thing over.

The new sweater is on the left, and I think the most important improvement in it is not photographable, and that is the texture and weight it now has.  It’s so much denser and more substantial.  So, I am really glad I went ahead and abandoned the old one and built it all new.  I don’t think I’ll be as reluctant to begin again in the future, if it looks like that’s the better option.

Here are both sweater attempts.
When Audrey saw what I was doing, she gave the most heartfelt groan of sympathy, which really made it all feel much less lonely and hopeless.   It’s always nice to have an empathetic friend!

In the new and improved sweater, I have used a long tail cast-on which has given the ribbing at the waist a much stronger and straighter edge.   I have also doubled the yarn, and am knitting two skeins together on size 9  needles (instead of one two ply strand on size 6 needles).   Now, it’s knitting up faster, thicker, more substantial, warmer, and the tweedy colors are blending better.  I love it now.   In five days, I have got as much sweater knitted up as I had previously done in six weeks.   So, I am now almost exactly where I was when I abandoned the first attempt.  Apparently, I’m  really slow to pick up new skills.    For me,  perseverance is the only way.

Now,  I’m using this little success story of mine with quite a heavy hand, as I encourage my young home-schooled writers not to fear having to write and re-write and then re-write  again until their work is of good quality.   Sometimes my “life lessons from knitting” really tax the patience of my family, I’m noticing.

I think that the next several weeks will be packed with school, dentists, music lessons, skiing, friends visiting every Friday, and a little bit of interior decorating.   Not very spicy, but all very nice.    It’s sometimes just good to be home.

I made this book for Jon……

I have found that  in my marriage,  as the years have rolled on and Jon and I  have become a better unit with a clearer sense of purpose together and a keener sensation of having become “one” organism, I am very nearly overwhelmed at the prospect of how to express what he means to me in a wrapped  gift.

I cannot  any longer simply walk  into Best Buy and find “just the thing” for him.
And as I was knitting everybody else’s gifts, one might expect I would knit up something for him.
The trouble with that is that his dear mother, Elza, is among the most outrageously talented knitters on the planet.
She knits fabulous Norwegian sweaters in four or five colors, while watching television and chatting with guests, and jumping up from time to time to check on dinner.

Her work is always beautiful, and I cannot compete.

All this is meant to explain why  my gift to Jon was not a sweater, but this little book.

It’s a book of quotes and thoughts and ideas from books I have read over the past year and also from really great blogs and websites where Puritan passages are still alive and well, and sermons are recorded, and hymns are written up like poetry, and it’s all available for our great edification.
The idea for this project began last year as the kids and I were redoubling our efforts to keep our copy books more diligently.  I found that there were so many little passages and quotes and verses that Jon would have loved.

Then my good friend Jeanine mentioned that her pastor’s wife had made something similar, and she gave me some good ideas and encouragement.

So I started a book for him, with a date at the top of each page, going through the year, so that he has a page of something encouraging to read, to kick off his day at work, or maybe for a little moment with coffee later on.

Jon is faithful about always having an hour in scripture every morning at 5:30, and with that in mind, I used scripture for only about half the days in the book.

When I used scripture, I used Psalms, written in their entirety, long passages from Ephesians and Philippians, some pages are headed with topics like “Wisdom”  “Forgiveness”  “Grace” or “Speech”  and have verses which apply to these subjects.
The rest are full of the thoughts of people like Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, J.C Ryle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones,  John Flavel, Octavius Wnslow, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards…….and many more good theological thinkers.    I used ten or more of the poems from The Valley of Vision .

There are also days filled with quotes by Aristotle, Plato, EB White, Confucius, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Julia Child, Bill Cosby, Calvin and Hobbes, Andy Rooney, PG Wodehouse, and there is even a day (April Fools Day I think) which is dedicated to ridiculous statements made by Jennifer Lopez.

So, I believe that all bases are covered.

It’s not a beautiful book, not in a really artistic sense.  It’s full of quotations and wise words from other people, and there are only a handful of pages which I wrote entirely on my own.

I want to just say that the one who got the greatest gift here was not my sweet husband.  It was me.  During the year of writing this book, as we made some really hard decisions for our family, the daily work of putting this book together sometimes compelled me to look for wisdom and comfort for myself in the places that were hard for me and for us, and I found such great comfort in the scripture studied topically, in the wise words of puritans who had already thought through many of my questions, and in the words of the Valley of Vision and Spurgeon and Edwards especially.

Wives out there, here is a great project that will bless you richly, and hopefully it will bless your men as well.

But you better start it soon……a year is almost what it takes to do a nice job on a book like this.

Hand made Christmas

It’s almost New Years, and before I start talking about resolutions, I want to show some photos of the gifts we made for each other here at our house for Christmas this year.

It was so much fun making these gifts, and such a crazy fun celebration when we opened them all up on Christmas Eve.

Everybody was so enthusiastic and everybody had a couple of things they were just popping to give, and to see how their creations would be received.

Everybody was happy and  laughing, and a couple of people cried.

Here’s a little breakdown of what we unwrapped:

Daniel made a mug for Jon, and some coasters and tiled trivets which we will treasure for years to come.

Maggie glued a hundred buttons onto a basket because she knew that was just what Audrey needed, and she also painted and glued beads and sequins onto a flower pot for Jon into which she planted a Christmas cactus, making him a really dramatic piece of living art for his office.    I addition to these treasures, she made an adorable collection of pompom art animals, complete with googly eyes.   They are almost like a little pompom nativity set.

Helen made a set of festive paper lanterns for Audrey and a painting of a mountain scene which she framed up for Jon to take to work.

Jon made some gorgeous wooden items.  One was a beautiful wooden lap desk for Helen, which he tricked out with all kinds of cool calligraphy pens, paper and ink.  So, you can see the writer wearing her new blue shawl here on the left, and here is here lovely desk just below.

Audrey sewed up a cute bag for Helen.

She also made Maggie a soft pink blanket with satin rosebuds on it, under which Maggie is sleeping  as I write here.

Audrey also made some funny T-shirts for the boys which they are wearing in the photos here, and she made  a beautiful collage of black and white photographs for Jon and me.

David made some killer hot-chocolate mix, which is disappearing fast.

Michael made some lovely fragrant candles, and he also  found an old doll sized dresser which belonged to my mother long about 1936.    It was in very poor condition, but he sanded it down,  replaced the mirror, painted it, rebuilt the drawers and made it like new for Maggie.

The queen of all gifts was the wooden knitting box Jon made for me.

It is lovely, lovely.  And I will use it for years to come, and pass it on to one of my girls.

It has three compartments, and one of those has lid with holes especially designed so I can keep yarn in the box, safe and clean, and run it through holes in the lid……and there are three holes in the lid, so I can work with three skeins at a time, if I want.    When I pulled the three boxes apart, I discovered it was packed full of bulky yarn for some great felting project which is yet to be drawn up.   Maybe it will be somebody’s gift next year.

And here is something special Audrey made for me.

It’s a set of twenty one knit markers which she made from silver rings and little blue and green beads.

There’s even an extra large centre marker which I can use for lace knitting, or for marking the beginning of a round on circular needles.

And she’s put them on this funky piece of bent wire which not only looks way cool, it also keeps then from wandering all over that gorgeous box.

Here’s a photo of some knitting that needs pretty markers.  See how boring those little green plastic rings look there.  Imaging that little piece with some groovy beaded markers to set it off.  Maybe then I would finish it!

And in addition to these home-made treasures, there was the annual Christmas slot car stuff, a pile of hockey equipment, an electric keyboard, and various other things that none of us knows how to make, so Jon bought ’em.   Which brings to mind a question that popped into my head Christmas morning:  I wonder how many households have an annual slot-car derby on Christmas Day.   It’s kind of amusing to me that one of the sounds I have come to associate with  Christmas goes along with the sounds of breakfast preparation.

It is the unlikely   sound of those toy  racetracks whining, cars flying off the tracks, and the boys yelling at them while I’m getting the food on the table.  Ruby-red grapefruit, sausage and cheese balls, egg-nog and the sound of those little cars whizzing along and crashing into the furniture.

So much to be thankful for!

Finishing is all the Fun!

I have got a little pile of finished knitted projects and I’m giving them all away.
It is such a joy to complete them and send them out into the world.

I think it’s OK to put some of them up here because the people I made them for never look at this blog, as far as I know…..

(There are six or seven more, all almost done, and if I show them it would spoil some surprises.)

First, above is the Modest Lace Shawl.   I learned to knit with organized holes on this project, and I have to thank my wonderful neighbour Patricia, who taught me how.   She learned from the pattern’s designer, and I am amazed at my good fortune in having such a patient good humoured instructor.
It’s called lace, and so I guess it is.
I used a Noro sock yarn, and I like the way the color changes and repeats itself.

I wish I had a photo of it before it was blocked.  It looked like an ugly old rag, and I nearly threw it away.  But once it was washed and stretched and straightened, I really liked it very much! And  Helen is such beautiful model, she makes everything look good!

I aso completed a funky orange poncho, which was not based upon any pattern, but was a crazy creation born on a speed tour through Mary’s Yarns, where I got tons of discounted wool, and lots of good advice  from Mary herself.  Nobody would model it, as it was too large for my girls, and I would not be flattering to an orange poncho.  So here it is, lounging in the kitchen:

And last night I (finally…) completed this red cashmere stole for my mother.

The pattern for this one is Cheryl Oberle’s Kimono Shawl pattern from her wonderful book of  Folk Shawls.  This is a great collection of patterns, there is something for everyone.  And her instructions are clear and easy to follow, very thorough succinct.

I used Lana Grossa Pashmina for this one, and found it was so nice to work with.  It’s so soft and elastic and warm.   She recommends silk, and a lighter weight than worsted,  for this shawl.    But I wanted something warmer than silk because this one was made for warmth and not just beauty.   I love it that you can fudge around with wool and change patterns and find that even when you go out on your own tangent, something nice can happen.
I have a bit of a hankering to make this one again……after a good prolonged break, and to make it in a DK weight  cashmere and make it more like a large scarf.

Here is a picture of how it looked just when I finished knitting, and before I blocked it.  I sort of miss the thickness that was lost when I stretched it out.  But it does show off a little more with all those lacy holes opened up from the blocking.  It’s nice both ways.

Something new at the blog

I had a dream last night that I was Googling around hunting to see if there was a more efficient duplicate of myself in a parallel universe whom I could summon via the internet, using my Visa card.   Something like that.
I was seated  on a pile of gravel in the backyard, surrounded by baby raccoons in trees who were flinging ceramic dishes and cans of Krylon paint at me.   And I was surprisingly relieved when the alarm went off at 5am.

The meaning of this dream is that my life is too full, and I need to just pull back a bit and focus on small and unglamorous things like pulling more weeds and spray-painting the lawn chairs, and I need to put the computer in a cupboard for a few days.
But before I do that,
IF I do that,
I have to just say Please Look At The Top Of This Page, and move your mouse up to the tab which says “Dinner”
…..and click there.
I am experimenting at building a food blog with some  cool women I know, and we are just getting it together today.
This project is just about ready for Prime Time, and if you have anything to add, please ADD IT.

there was once a little nubbin of knitting…

And that little nubbin looked like this when it appeared on my old green blog last month.

So, what ever happened to that nubbin?

That innocent looking nubbin was actually  a relentless instrument of torture for me for  most of the month of April.  I knitted along, and got as far as the 53rd row …a few times.
In fact, I know that I started it over from it’s very complicated provisional cast-on beginning… at least eleven times.  I think I almost cried over it while trying to correct my mistakes in the car (with Jon driving) on Good Friday.  I got so tangled up in a series of mistakes while I was knitting in Ohio two weeks ago,  I had to start all over again, AGAIN.

A small voice whispered to me that perhaps I was in over my head, but I hunkered down over that orange yarn snarling  “I Am Not!”

And then I remembered that knitting is supposed to be pleasant and restful and soothing and creative.  Knitting should not feel  like going to war.

So I started over with an easier pattern and some fresh yarn, and here is what I have achieved in six days:

This is the Modest Lace Shawl , which you can check out for yourself if you click that link, and which I have made before.  But this time I’m using much finer wool on size 3.25 needles (I think that pattern recommends something like size 4), so it’s going to take twice as much time to get it done.  But it does look nice in this finer gauge.  I think I am about 30% done here, and it’s pretty gratifying to see it getting bigger and better every day.  As I write this, I am about to get the tea ready for knitting night, my knitting neighbors are on their way over!

Meanwhile,  here is the latest on the orange Angel Lace Shawl:

I will return to it once I finish the Modest Lace one, and hopefully I will have learned something along the way about keeping a better count of my stitches and not getting jumbled up.  If anyone ever reads this and has any good suggestions for how to place markers in this piece of work, I am all ears.