Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Knitting meme -- my turn

Emily tagged me, and now we're off!

What is your all-time favorite yarn to knit with?

As a new knitter too, though far newer than Emily, I only know that I especially like the combination of sock knitting and Lang Jawoll sock yarn.

The worst thing you've ever knit?

My eyelash yarn and thick acrylic yarn scarf that got me started on knitting in February 2005. Worst thing because it has lots of holes, mostly hidden, and a few unruly loops of yarn, and it's in acrylic which I usually dislike. And yet... I love it! I love the hot oranges and reds in a winter scarf, I love that I made it myself, and I love that it drew me into knitting.

Most valuable knitting technique?

Knitting in the round with double-pointed needles. It means I can make socks!

Your most favorite knit pattern?

The one I'm currently working on. Okay, er, um, let's pick one. Right now I'm enjoying the Go Team! pattern from the SixSoxKnitalong, which I adapted to make Harry Potter socks, in Gryffindor colors of scarlet & gold. The lettering spells out "Harry" around one sock leg, with "Potter" coming on sock No. 2.

Favorite knitwear designer?

I haven't yet fallen in love with any particular designers. My eye was caught early on by designs in a Jo Sharp library book and a Debbie Bliss book, but I haven't knit any of their stuff so I know not whether I'd truly enjoy their designs.

Best knit book or magazine?

I enjoy Interweave Knits magazine, and I love Knitty.com. I learned a lot even as a beginner from a library copy of Meg Swansen's Knitting. The many detailed tips were great, and I really want to make a Russian Prime sweater someday.

Favorite book?

To echo Emily, I learned a LOT as a rank beginner from Melanie Falick's Kids Knitting and Debbie Stoller's Stitch and B*tch. As in, how to recognize a knit stitch and a purl stitch, LOL. I really needed the very basics, and they inspired me with accessible possibilities while helping me learn, learn, learn. Next favorite: Knitting on the Road -- for my second sock project, help with learning to knit socks, and lots of accessible inspiration!

Your favorite knit blogs?

Mason-Dixon Knitting, Sweet Georgia, Claudia's Blog, I'm Knitting as Fast as I Can, Zeneedle, Knit One Purl Too, fluffa, .... Like Emily, I have a long secret Bloglines list that I shall not reveal. But this question had me browsing through it and getting all knitting-inspired again, yay.

The knit item you wear the most?

The first pair of socks I knit myself. They're short and fun. I used a wildly variegated pastels acrylic sportweight yarn, and of course I Made Them Myself! I love wearing them with my Birks, even if my tension was tighter on the second sock and it's a bit too snugly short compared to the first, LOL.

I'm not sure who to tag who hasn't already done this meme. Hmm. How about Trina and, er um, Sarah if she stops by here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happy Advent to all!

Advent. A time of preparation, anticipation, and maybe a time to get our Christmas cards mailed! I brought home from church today an Advent wreath base, candles, and a booklet of weekly prayers and readings. We need to add greenery to the wreath base and place the candles, and then we'll be ready for our much-enjoyed nightly Advent wreath lighting with the kids.

I love to bake and cook for Thanksgiving feasting, and it's a great way to begin the holidays. Right now the turkey stock from yesterday's turkey carcass and drippings is simmering on the stove and smelling delicious. It'll go into the freezer for cooking Christmas dinner. Tomorrow morning I may make cranberry-orange bread (recipe from my Fannie Farmer Cookbook) or pumpkin bread (F.F. cookbook or a recent Cooking Light magazine), and my favorite topping for toasted pumpkin bread: easy baked cranberry preserves (Fancy Pantry, by Helen Witty). The family prefers cream cheese, so we have that, too. No special reason -- only that these treats mean harvest and holidays and keeping warm against the cold outside.

Gotta keep things moving along. Holiday prep, always-needed household management, repairs (!), get out the Advent and Christmas music, put up the pre-Christmas decorations (no Christmas tree until later...), do some related projects and reading with the boys, start Christmas gift prep and shopping, ... Yet: pick and choose what we love and what is most important to us about this season, both climatological (fall becoming winter) and liturgical (Advent to Christmas to Epiphany).

What happened to the last two weeks?

They flew by, that's what. First, the crunch days of our church's final preparation for hosting the diocesan convention. Somewhere in there we bought a dishwasher because the original-to-the-house, 14-year-old dishwasher died suddenly and the simple fixes didn't fix it. Time to buy a new one. Then, the work of doing the hosting (went great! was fun! glad it's done!). Funny enough, our hand-me-down TV died suddenly while I was working at convention, so we did some quick research (thank you, ConsumerReports.org) and bought a new TV.

A deep breath, and then whaddaya know, it's time for Thanksgiving. We went to some friends' for the day itself, relaxed on Friday, and hosted our own feast with more friends on Saturday. Today is a regrouping day, and yet...

We're experiencing high winds that have so far knocked over/down two full panels and a post of our worn-out back fence. The back yard adjoins the neighborhood park and looks out over a gentle downslope, so we see all the way to a far horizon past the far rooftops. South and southwest winds always hit the backyard fence and the back face of the house pretty hard. After deciding it was too dangerously windy to try to detach the half-blown-down second panel -- we'll do what we can after the winds die down -- dear husband and I stood in the back yard and watched the second-story roof shingles quiver and shake in the wind. Oh boy. Again, we'll check it out when the wind has finished its work. I just checked, and the latest National Weather Service report is wind speed sustained at 40 mph, with gusts to 52 mph. I believe it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

How to keep this boy in books?!?

Son1 finished Peter and the Starcatchers last night. All 425? pages. In 48 hours. Yikes! How am I going to keep this boy in books?!? He LOVED the book; I definitely need to read it. Until this week I had no idea it was the story of Peter Pan before he became Peter Pan, or that one of the co-authors is THE Dave Barry, humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

I bought the highly recommended books Inkheart, Eragon, and Peter and the Starcatchers through his class's Scholastic Book Club order, and they arrived Wednesday. He'd already read Inkheart, but I wanted it for our shelves. He started Eragon, but then picked up Peter... and apparently couldn't put it down! Yesterday he also borrowed the new Inkheart sequel, Inkspell, from a friend, and he is also reading A Wrinkle in Time for his class literature circle at school. Wow. When it rains, it pours I guess. Two weeks ago he was reading and rereading some gaming magazines and reading the Circle of Magic series (that I'm also reading).

Of course next week we'll be all about Harry Potter again, with the opening of the new movie. I predict with some confidence that the day he sees the movie he'll drop all of the books he's reading so he can reread the HP series for a couple of weeks.

I'm barely bothering to read my own fiction right now -- I have Inkheart, Eragon, and Peter and the Starcatchers to read, as well as the 2d, 3rd, and 4th Circle of Magic books, LOL! And I bet I'll reread the 4th, 5th and 6th Harry Potters along with Son1...

She knits! For coffee to-go cups & water bottles

I've been carrying around in my purse the cast-on stitches for a pretty pink child's sock, but it's on a circular needle so I can learn to knit a sock on a circular needle ("magic loop" method). Big problem with this: I'm really busy and haven't been inclined to sit down in a quiet moment and figure out how to do this.

So. I stopped at my wonderful local yarn shop and bought some sport-weight wool yarn in fun colors, went home and got a good size of double-pointed needles from my wonderful passed-along and inherited stash, and cast on some clear red wool for a to-go coffee cup sleeve.

I've had plans for a while to make a bunch of these to donate for our parish's annual holiday bazaar, and I know each one will take me maybe two hours -- they're ribbed sock cuffs, basically -- and I also know that this is easy and fun to do... so now I have a proper purse project. I have three weeks until the bazaar, and I think I can make a bunch. For the bazaar I plan to display one on a (new) to-go coffee cup, and another on a water bottle!

I cast on Thursday evening while watching TV (and ripped it out and went down a few needle sizes and cast on again). I knit a round or two while chatting with friends during our MOMS Club visit to the local natural history museum yesterday. I knit a wide stripe of contrasting yarn and switched back to the main color while watching TV last night. This morning I'm within a couple of rows of binding off. Yay!

This coffee cup sleeve and a couple more will be in the local university's colors. I also have a thicker, variegated, dark red wool yarn, and more sport-weight plain black, pink, yellow, medium blue, and another color I forget. It really helped that they were all on clearance!! The coffee cup sleeves will have ribbing in the top and bottom thirds, and I'll play around in the middle third -- slip-stitch patterns, and various stitches and second colors. I also bought some Squiggle in a mix of hot colors (oranges, yellows, reds) and another very fun yarn in pinks, to knit into the first few rows of a couple of coffee cup sleeves for just crazy fun.

It all makes me smile. Just the thing to have in my purse or tote for the crazy, crazy week that begins today.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A deep quiet, rustling by

Lately I feel both introspective and very busy. There are tiny snatches of deep quiet that whisper to me in an instant and then are gone. I never seem ready to follow them to the great silence and peace, the fragrant clearing in the deep forest, but the whisper is nearly enough. At bedtime I put my face to my open bedroom window, breathe in the cool night air, listen as the leaves rustle in the wind, the insects gently buzz and sigh, an occasional car glides by or a train whistle sounds in the distance. The whole world seems to breathe deeply, gently, slowly as the night settles in. I wish that I could draw it to myself, fold it up and tuck it into my pillow to breathe its stillness to my soul as I sleep until morning. Instead, I breathe in the night and during the day try to notice the sun-glints of deep quiet that sparkle for just a moment, here and there, among the busy things I do all day.

As a way to follow that sparkle, that whisper, I rediscovered the following quote in an email folder for things to think about. It was sent to an email list months ago with the note that it's a translation of the text on a German Web page.
The books of today are made of paper. The books of yesterday were made of skin. The Bible is the only book made of air -- a flood of ink and wind. A senseless book, mixed up in its meaning, likewise lost in its pages like the wind on the parking lots of supermarkets, in women's hair, in children's eyes. A book that is impossible to hold in two stable hands to read thoughtfully -- it will keep spilling away, will let the sand of its sentences sift through the fingers.
By Christian Bobin, "The Child, the Angel and the Dog."

Friday, November 04, 2005

It's a plan! Thanksgiving feasting

We live far enough from family that we decided long ago to stay home for holidays and have our own celebrations at home. For several years we've invited friends over for our Thanksgiving feast. Last year and this year we're going to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with several families; this probably means next year will be our year to host! Crazy woman that I am, I can't let the holiday pass without our own feast and LEFTOVERS, so we've also had our own Thanksgiving dinner on the Saturday of the holiday weekend.

Over the years I've worked out a plan so I can make from scratch just about every part of our feast, and make or prep some foods ahead. It's a feast, but I've learned that it can be an easy feast. Roast turkey is easy, the pies I make are easy, the vegetable side dishes are easy and most can be made in advance, ...

One of the benefits of early prep is that the house smells yummy several days before the actual feast day, getting us all ready for it (though it's a miracle if the spiced and sugared nuts last until Thanksgiving Day!). Another benefit is that the more I stick to this plan, the easier and more enjoyable the feast day itself is for me.

Often I try a different recipe for a side dish. This year I might make seasoned roasted sweet potato wedges; some savory for the grownups and some sweet for the kids. Now that the kids are older and typically eat most of what we serve for dinner, we've noticed that they don't enjoy our traditional feast dinner -- but dear husband and I don't want to change it very much! So I try to include textures and tastes that they're more likely to prefer. I avoid too many mashed and pureed vegetables; we always have sweet potatoes and jellied cranberry sauce; and we have some version of green bean casserole. If nothing else, they'll eat those and the rolls. If they have any sort of protein, I figure they're fine!

Here's my plan as it would be this year IF we were eating at home on Thanksgiving Day; I'll actually shift some things for our Saturday feast later a day or two, and add whatever we're bringing to the families gathering. I have this on the computer and print it out the week before Thanksgiving to use and scribble notes on.

Thanksgiving & Christmas Planning 2005

The Menu

Dinner: Roast turkey, gravy, country-style bread dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, olives, pickles, dinner rolls, red wine, sparkling apple cider.

Dessert: Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, whipped cream, decaf French press coffee.

The Shopping List

-- Nonperishable or needed early --
Wine, white and red; beer
Various crackers
Olives, green and black
Pickles, bread and butter type
Chicken broth, fat-free low-sodium
Canned pumpkin
Jellied cranberry sauce
Evaporated skim milk
Frozen green beans
Yukon Gold potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, oranges, cranberries, Romaine lettuce
Dinner rolls
Turkey wings
Provolone, sliced, and/or Swiss
Great coffee

-- Perishable --
Whole turkey or turkey breast
Whipping cream

-- Other --
Knife sharpening
Platter and serving bowl(s) ?

The Schedule

-- Previous week and weekend --
Clear counters; clean out fridge, freezer
Make piecrust x 2 (or 4); freeze
Slow-cook spiced nuts, sugared nuts
Make good breads for sandwiches and toast
Make baked cranberry preserves, cranberry bread, pumpkin bread for breakfasts and snacks
Check table linens

-- Monday --
Buy turkey and whipping cream; refrigerate

-- Tuesday --
Put frozen piecrusts in fridge to thaw
Prep Yukon Gold potatoes into salted water; refrigerate
Roast stock fixings; make stock; refrigerate overnight
Make roux for gravy
Oven-toast cubed bread ends (from freezer) for dressing

-- Wednesday --
(easy dinner from freezer or takeout; DH grill?)
Make two pies; cool; refrigerate
Cook Yukon Gold potatoes; mash with potato water and season; refrigerate in microwave-safe dish
Make dressing and green bean casserole; refrigerate in baking dishes

Thursday - Thanksgiving Day

-- Morning --
Bake pies if not yet done
Kids: set table (tablecloth, napkins, dishes, silverware; trivets, candles?)
Get out serving dishes and utensils (for turkey, gravy, rolls, beans)
DH and kids: make snack mix?

-- Lunchtime --
Kids: set out nibbles (pretzels/crackers/snack mix, carrots and celery with dip, sliced apples, olives, nuts)

-- T - 3 hours --
Prep turkey

-- T - ? hrs --
(time depends on weight of turkey)
Turkey into oven at 325F; baste with chicken broth or turkey stock
Kids: prep cranberry sauce (put in fridge), olives (black and green), pickles
Cut and season sweet potato wedges?
Dressing, green bean casserole OUT of fridge

-- T - 1 hr --
Oven: sweet potatoes into oven to bake (seasoned wedges or whole); add white wine to turkey’s basting liquid
Stovetop: make gravy and keep warm
Prep rolls; add topping to green bean casserole

-- T - 0.5 hr --
Oven: turkey OUT. Rolls, dressing, green bean casserole in
Microwave: heat mashed potatoes
Kids: set out relishes
DH: carve turkey

-- T (6 pm) --
Serve all (check, and turn OFF, oven)
DH: open and pour wine!

-- After dinner --
With kids: whip whipping cream; serve pies
DH: make coffee

-- After kids are in bed --
DH: deconstruct turkey and break down carcass. Me: start stock

-- Friday/Saturday following --
If whole turkey: cook and cool stock, skim fat, freeze. Freeze remaining meat in stock
If any leftover mashed potatoes: make mashed potato cakes, freeze
Make turkey casseroles

Repeat, with simpler dishes, for Christmas dinner!

Christmastime meals

Day before Christmas Eve: Easy dinner or takeout

Christmas Eve: Seafood in light Alfredo sauce over pasta, steamed veggies, good bread; cookies. Make cinnamon rolls to rise in fridge.

Christmas breakfast: Homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese; fruit, coffee

Christmas nibbles: Crackers, spiced nuts, DH’s beef rolls, fruit, vegs, cookies (simpler than Thanksgiving)

Christmas dinner: Roast turkey breast, gravy, dressing, baked Russet and sweet potatoes, green beans amandine, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pies (simpler than Thanksgiving)

Son1’s birthday: Son1’s choice for dinner + ice cream and homemade cake

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Work for the grade or for the understanding?

A friend found this quote online.
One thing about school -- I always had this attitude that I was in school to learn, and attempted to do whatever was involved in that process, while school had this attitude that I was there to earn grades, which I couldn't care less about. Unsurprisingly, my grades weren't very good.
A verrrry interesting point that can be extremely subtle when you're actually really good at doing A+ work and you test well too (i.e., my older son and me, at least in primary/secondary school).

This reminds me a LOT of a little conversation Son1 and I had Monday afternoon over his finished and (graded? corrected? marked up?) schoolwork from the previous week. He was frustrated / irritated at the things he didn't get right, and I began to suspect that his goal was to do perfect work. I told him his job was to do his best. That sometimes he'd get everything "right," but at other times he would be challenged a bit more and the things he got wrong would help him know what he needs to work on.

Hmmm. I'm still thinking about this..

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Playing with paper for my Sunday school kids

Did I mention that I decided to take on a sort-of-big project as my leap into paper crafting?!? A set of cards for the Days of Creation. For 12 kids. That would be... 84 cards! Plus a set for me! So my first goal was a mere eight sets besides mine. Thankfully, all but mine would be the blanks -- ready for the kids to complete in their own way.

In my Godly Play class, we tell the Biblical story of the Creation every fall with a set of Days of Creation placards. I've wanted to set up an art activity for the classroom in which the kids make their own set of cards so they can "take the story home." I finally disovered paper crafting ideas. All of the details are over at my homeschooling blog.

Days of Creation cards, completed by yours truly.
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I brought the blanks -- the basic cards for each day -- and the finishing supplies to the classroom. They'll be available as one of many art activity possibilities for several months, or perhaps for the rest of the year. My four- and five-year-old Sunday school kids can work to complete their set of cards over however many Sundays they want or need.

Days of Creation card blanks, on a playing card base, ready for the kids to complete. Notice the little envelope they all fit into.
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I brought short strips of paper to glue on as the firmament (Day 2), stencils to make flowers and green growing things (Day 3) and the sun and moon (Day 4), tiny insect stamps and fish stickers (Day 5), animal stickers and small pieces of paper for drawing people (Day 6), and golden hearts and gold glitter glue to decorate the day of rest (Day 7).

My only concern is that kids who come irregularly may start it and not finish, but if so I think I would get it to them somehow with a note for their parents on what it's about.

This art activity requires more adult involvement than I prefer for a Godly Play art activity, but it would be less so if I had avoided stamps (or prestamped the blanks) and had already introduced using stencils, and glue paints. About half of the kids are interested each week, and they get 1/3 to 1/2 done in one class session. They leave their card project on a tray, and I resist any temptation to encourage anyone to finish their cards, work on them every week, etc. It will appeal to whomever; not for me to dictate.

I'm really happy with this project so far. Now, I still have four more sets of blanks to make. Yay for the Xyron machine and the adhesive cartridge -- nice craft glue sticks are NOT a very good substitute for the Xyron adhesive, so I'm back to using the Xyron. I hear this kind of use is where the Xyron shines, and I believe it.