Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kitchener is my Nemesis


I got my own dose of lessons in humility, lately. Even though other things in my life may be a mess, I could always look to my knitting to see some minor successes. Well, I could, until last week.

So I am making a pair of mittens. This is my first pair of mittens; I have made fingerless mitts before, and they are fun but really not that practical in January when your hands are really cold. I decided that, darn it, I've been knitting for 24 years, I ought to be able to make a pair of mittens and get some full coverage for my hands.

I have pairs of store bought gloves a-plenty, but my favorite thing to keep my hands really warm is a pair LL Bean ragg-wool mittens that I have had since college, or maybe high school. They have no fancy thinsulate filling or waterproof fabric. They're plain wool, with a thin wool lining. They repel the water because they are wool, and they are the best at keeping my hands warm because the fingers are together. They're awesome. Their only flaws are that they're a drab gray/brown and they are not handmade. I wanted to make some pretty mittens for myself.

I found the perfect pattern to do it: Wood Hollow Mittens from Through the Loops. I became obsessed with this pattern as soon as I saw it. At first, they were going to be my Ravelympics project. It seemed the perfect pattern: these mittens are doable within 2 weeks, but they still offer a stretch because they involved kitchenering a seam, which is a skill that I have not yet mastered. I found what seemed to be the perfect yarn: Berroco Vintage Wool, an affordable, machine-washable, and super-soft wool/acrylic blend in a gorgeous violet heathery color called Sloe Berry.

I couldn't even wait for the Ravelympics to start them. I cast them on last week. Full speed ahead!

I was completely entranced from the start. I love the twisted rib. I love the big cable-y goodness of the main stitch pattern. I loved the perfect point formed by the thumb gusset--man, I'm easily enchanted, aren't I? And then I got to the end of the fingers, where the pattern calls for you to kitchener together the last 7 stitches of each side together. Full stop. Screeching halt, actually.

And here I met my doom. When I said before that the kitchener stitch is "a skill I have not yet mastered," I was understating the situation. I was being kind. I was sparing my own feelings. I was letting myself off easy. In reality, kitchener stitch is a skill at which I outright stink. I suck eggs. It is hard to believe that, after so many years of knitting, I could be so bad at this particular kind of knitting. I'm pretty darn competent at so many other things in knitting (well, except for color-work, but let's not go there. Who needs different colors, anyway?).

Just as I do every time I try kitchenering (or grafting, as it is also know), I bravely dug out one of the knitting books I have that goes through kitchener in detail, complete with step-by-step descriptions and pictures and color-coded diagrams with little arrows. I dove in. Here is the result:
The kitchenering is at the end of the fingers here. If you can't see it in the picture, I will tell you that this is terrible. It looks awful. It's backwards. I don't know why, but my kitchenering always ends up backwards. If I am doing stockinette it ends up looking like garter stitch. If I am doing garter, it ends up looking like stockinette. I don't know why.

I pretended I did not hate it to death and moved on to the thumb, and then I started the second mitten. I figured I would rip it out and try again on another day. At the recommendation of someone on Ravelry, I totally wimped out on kitchenering the second mitten and did a three-needle bind-off instead. When she suggested it, I thought, Eureka! I thought I had found the perfect way for me to kitchener--by avoiding it entirely! Ha ha! I'll show this mitten, I thought.

But easier said than done, people. The three-needle bind-off needed to be done inside the mitten so it would not show. This meant turning the mitten inside out, which meant that they had be taken off the 6 inche needles right? That's where I got in trouble. I figured, 7 stitches are no big deal, I'll just let take the needles out and flip the mitten and they'll be right there. I don't need no stinking stitch holders. Right?

Wrong! The live stitches at the end of the fingers did not want to flip inside-out. Turns out those live stitches have a mind of their own. They know which way they are supposed to go, and apparently being inside-out was not on their agenda. I had to go digging for these stitches to try get them back on the needles, and it was not pretty. It did not help it was 11:30 at night, everyone else had gone to bed, and there may have been a glass of wine lurking nearby.

Here's my end result for the fingers on the second mitten (before I finished off the thumb):
See what I mean? Better than the first, but still no cigar.

So what have I learned, children? Practice, practice, practice. I tell the kids that they can't expect to be great at things the first, second or even the third time they try them. I need to listen to my own lectures. I need to practice this thing called grafting or kitchenering. I need to face my demon--nay, my nemesis--over and over again until I can beat it into submission. Well, I would be happy if I could just manage to deal with 14 measly stitches on a mitten, OK?

I close with a picture of some neighbors wandering through our backyard the other day.
I could not get them all in a picture, so you will have to take my word that there were 15--FIFTEEN--of them.

A Nauseous Skeleton Brings Humility

He had high hopes, our Mathboy, as we headed off the Knights of Columbus for the spelling bee. He spent several days reading through the Scripps book of spelling words and was about as ready as he could be, considering that he also has mid-term exams this week at school and he has been pretty good about studying for those. I was throwing extra words at him in the car, once we got tired of the words in the booklet. Truth to tell, there were several words in the booklet that we never got around to quizzing him on because none of us could even pronounce them, let alone give him a definition. So in the car I just came up with words that I thought were tricky: crustacean, coagulate, sesquicentennial, expeditious.

When we got to the council’s headquarters, it was not quite as elaborate as we expected. They had fifty or so chairs set up for the audience, only about 12 of which were filled. There were 12 chairs for the competitors, but only 8 came. A few kids were there without anyone there to watch them. We had made Mathboy wear khakis, but most of the kids were in jeans.

Because there were only 8 kids, each round only took about a minute. One kid was out in the 2nd round, another in the 3rd, another in the 4th. In the fifth round, Mathboy was asked to spell “nauseous,” and that is where his night ended. He knows very well how to spell it, but he had a brain freeze. As he explained it to us later, he heard “nauseous,” but his brain started thinking “noxious,” so he started “N, O….” And then he stopped, because he knew he had screwed up. He told the judges that he knew he was wrong and that he saw no reason to continue. So that was that.

To his credit, Mathboy took defeat very well and with grace. We were very proud of him, because we knew he wanted it bad. His friend from school went on to win the whole shebang in a couple more rounds, with “smorgasbord.” His friend actually looked as if he were a little embarrassed that he won—it was almost as if he couldn’t help but win. I am pretty sure he didn’t try that hard; he just knows how to spell and how to handle himself under pressure. It was kind of funny, actually. We ended up giving him and his trophy a ride home—his parents hadn’t stayed to watch.

It was one of those situations where nothing really goes the way you expect. I thought the spelling bee was a big deal, but most of the kids certainly didn’t act as if it was and it was the same with the parents. I was surprised at how quickly it was over. All told, the actual spelling bee took less time than all the other stuff took--the explanation of the rules, the opening welcoming speech from the KoC grandmaster and his closing remarks combined took much longer. It was over so quick I even forgot to take a picture.

The actual spelling bee only had 8 rounds, I think, which goes pretty darn quickly with less than 10 kids. I was amazed at how quickly these kids went down—the first kid was out with “subsidy,” for which he needed a definition. The second kid was out with “follicle.” These kids were supposed to be the best spellers from their schools. It was very weird.

The title of this post comes from the two words that my kids will never misspell again. "Nauseous" was Mathboy's downfall last night, but "skeleton" was the one that did Catgirl in during her class spelling bee last week. She knows that word, she just mixed up her letters when she was spelling it out loud. Both kids are so supremely confident of their spelling abaility; it is interesting that they were both tripped up by words they knew how to how to spell. I am proud of them both. They did not do as well as they expected of themselves, but they have handled their disappointments well. I am grateful for the lessons they learned from this. Sometimes you really can learn more from failure than from success.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where are my Apples?

Or, In Which Our Heroine Learns Yet Again That Her Children are NOT, In Fact, Miniature Versions of Herself and Her Husband.

There are times when I look at my kids and wonder how on God's Green Earth they became the way they are. I know they physically look a lot like me and Rich, so I know they must be ours. And I am pretty sure that I have had a hand in raising them to this point. So where does this behavior come from? Where do their ideas come from?

This goes way beyond my kids' complete inability to find their shoes unless they are actually wearing them. (I swear, I don't remember being that hapless when I was a kid, but maybe Mom would contradict me on that.) My 13 year old son, who is no intellectual slouch, will stand helplessly in the kitchen and moan that he is hungry but that he doesn't know what to eat or how to make anything. What's that all about?

But I did not start this entry to complain about my kids. On the contrary, I am sometimes amazed and baffled by them, and that's what got me thinking this week.

Mathboy had to stay home sick on Wednesday. Now, your average 13 year old, when staying home sick, would spend a lot of time watching TV or playing video games. I seem to have very fond memories of doing exactly that at age 13. I got very good at guessing the price of those Egglands Best Eggs on The Price is Right, and I knew all about Luke and Laura on General Hospital.

I have a memory of one day when I missed the bus but was too afraid to tell my mother, because I knew she would yell at me for the whole drive to school. I don't remember how old I was, but I probably was not much older than Mathboy. Anyway, my solution was to hide in my closet until my mother left for work. I hoped she would think that I got out for that early morning bus without her hearing me leave. It was a ridiculous idea, but it worked. Mom eventually left for some appointments and I spent the day watching game shows and soaps. (I finally told her about this incident a couple of years ago.)

Enough about my misspent youth; let's get back to Mathboy's sick day. He did go back to bed for a while. He also took time to post his school absence on his Facebook page. That's teenager-ish, right? Then he got bored. So he turned to his bedside reading, which this week is ...
The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover and Knotted Doughnuts by Martin Gardner. Then he started graphing out isometric worms, a math game discussed in the Doughnut book. Then he wanted to tell me all about them, step by step. Then my brain started to hurt.

Slacker that I am, I eventually distracted him with video games. He played some Bookworm and some Myst. He also made vocabulary flashcards in preparation for his Latin midterm. But most of the day, he graphed those worms. And he really enjoyed it. Fun times.

On the other side of the coin, we have Catgirl. First of all, as a complete extrovert, she is the only one is the family who can't stand to be alone. This, all by itself, can be a problem, as you may imagine. She also absolutely loves cheerleading. I have no idea where that came from. Not me.

Finally, and this is the kicker, she has been talking a lot about the upcoming school talent show. As a 5th grader, she is permitted to take part for the first time. She is insisting on doing it. She has noticed my lack of enthusiasm--after all, I quit Girl Scouts as a child because the troop wanted to spend several months of meetings planning and preparing for a talent show. I don't do talent shows. I don't remember ever really liking being the center of attention for something like that. So Catgirl has warned me "not to try talk her out of it because she has been waiting to be in the talent show FOREVER."

Uh, okay. So I can't talk her out of it. Instead, I am suggesting various group activities that could be done. She really wanst to sing--so why not sing a song from Glee or Taylor Swift with her friends?

This is where I start to wonder about her parentage, people, because her response was that "She wanted to perform all by herself."

What? Hunh? You want to go up on stage in front of all the kids at your school and sing a solo in the talent show? This would be my idea of a good torture for one of the circles in hell, and my daughter wants to do it? That reminds me: Mathboy sang that solo (a whole movement, by the way) at his Christmas Concert. And let's not forget the incident at the Montessori end of the year festivities in 2007. He had a solo, but he didn't tell us about it in advance, so when he took the microphone Rich and I were mortified and thought he was misbehaving. I still remember the shock when he started singing with the whole class as his back-up. Sheesh.

Where do my kids get the confidence to just put themselves out there like this? I don't think I ever had that. I don't know if I envy them or if I am scared for them.

Relax, Sydney. As the Yarn Harlot says: Here. Look at some soothing wool....
Lisa's Beret from Through the Loops, in Woolbearers hand-dyed Kona Superwash, the colorway Twilight. It's blocking on a plate suspended over my counter. I hope it doesn't fall over, because that's a new plate and it would smash on the granite. Excuse me, I have to go pad the area with dishtowels....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Christmas is not good for Blogging

You know, you would think that something as special as Christmas would actually be great for blogging, but it's not. You can't post about gifts before they are given because, well, duh. During Christmas you (hopefully) got to see your friends and family, so you don't need to blog for them to hear about what's going on in your life. And then after Christmas? Well, you're just too exhausted to blog.
See? Rich and Rudolph were completely wiped out.

Now that we are in the second week of January, and everyone is (more or less) back in their routines, I figured I should take a few minutes to post an update here. But, at this point, I am not sure I remember everything that I wanted to say....!

Catgirl's cheer squad finally got to start cheering at games (prior games had been cancelled because of the snow), and they are having a great time. Here she was, all ready to go to the first game:
(She takes off the flannel pants and her glasses for the actual cheering.) A few parents and I stayed to cheer the cheerleaders for the first couple Sundays, and I got some video with my new digital video recorder. We had fun, and I am learning more about basketball than I ever knew.

Knitting Stuff:
Many lovely gifts were exchanged over Christmas at our house between us and between our wonderful extended families. I did not knit very many gifts this year--last year I had plenty of knitting time for small projects while commuting on the train, so nearly everyone I know got a hat. This year, I just had a few things, a couple of which were finished in the nick of time.

This hat
went to my Mom. She has been talking for ages about how she wanted a blue hat. I did make one a couple years ago, but I am not sure it was what she wanted. Anyway, this one was waaay prettier, waaaay cooler. This is the Snapdragon Tam by Ysolda Teague , in Madeline Tosh worsted yarn. I so wanted to keep it. I also made a pink one, which Catgirl and I are sharing. Actually, in her point of view, it is hers and I keep stealing it from her. Oh well.

I also made this scarf
for Leslie. This is the Scroll Lace Scarf, also from Ysolda, in some Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport I had in my stash.

I also finished the Veyla mitts
in a cashmere/wool blend from my stash. How sad that I did not finish them in time for Christmas, so I have to keep them for myself. These are amazing! The color is kind of blah, and I did not love the yarn to knit with, but the finished mitts are so incredibly soft. I love how high and tight they are on the wrist, too. This pattern is yet another Ysolda design. I am really enjoying Ysolda's patterns, and will be making more, I know it.

Finally, I also finished the vest for Rich--yes, the one started back in ... September, was it? You'd think I could do a vest in less than three months, even a man-sized one, but what can I say? The pattern got boring. I had made the same pattern for Mathboy in the spring, so my boredom threshold was messed up. Anyway, it was done by New Year's Eve, and I was glad to start a new year without it hanging over my head. Rich is wearing it in the picture at the top of this post. It would go better with a light-colored shirt, but when your man happily takes what you knitted for him and puts it on right away ... you don't argue that it would go better with a different shirt.