Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Parenting, Part Two

The Middle School Maniac is not pleased.

As part of the last round of "What the &*%! is up with your grades?", my husband and I concluded that the cell phone Older Son got for Christmas (that he would have just died without because absolutely everyone else has one and he feels so diminished by being the only kid without one) is an integral part of his current focus problems. He's so distracted by talking to his friends and texting and what new games he can get and how to play music on his phone that everything else is secondary. I know I'm not the first parent to discover this, and I'm sure I won't be the last to decide to restrict cell phone usage only to the weekend. But, boy howdy, my kid thinks I'm the meanest mom ever. I think that means I'm doing something right. At least I'm not alone in the the doghouse; my husband took the phone away for the weekend, too, in response to an act of defiance and disrespect. I suggested to Older Son that he might be able to get some lenience if he apologized sincerely. He responded that he had nothing to apologize for, and to prove it, he spent the evening digging through the law books in our office, searching for proof that "kids have the same civil rights as adults" and that he is "entitled to a fair trial." Poor kid; with two lawyers for parents, he doesn't stand a chance.

On a side note, has anyone else seen the show "The Strictest Parents in the World"? I think it's new; we watched it out of curiosity over the weekend, wondering what strict parents look like. The premise of the show is that indulgent parents who can't control their defiant teenagers send them to live with strict parents for a week. About halfway through the show, my husband turned to me with a look of dawning horror and exclaimed, "Are we the strict parents?!" Huh. Who knew?

And because this is still a knitting blog...or (ahem) at least a fiber-y blog, here's the update on the GGGSS:

I'm still loving working on it, despite the unwieldiness of such a huge single piece. The constant color changes remain endlessly entertaining (I'm simple that way). And I think the mindless repetition of double crochet is about all I can handle at the moment.

The end is not yet in sight, but we are slowly closing in on the goal of seven feet square:

Very slowly.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Parenting, Middle School Style

The school year is rapidly drawing to a close, and I, for one, couldn't be happier. I'm not one of those parents who love summer vacation and the chance to bond 24/7 with my little darlings. In fact, when I signed my last son up for kindergarten, the school secretary asked me if I was sad, and I laughed hysterically and responded, "Are you kidding?! I've been waiting for this for years!" (The principal almost swallowed his own tongue laughing. I'm guessing that wasn't the socially-appropriate response.) Normally, the approach of summer vacation corresponds with an intense desire on my part to move to some remote village in the Himalayas--alone.

But this year is a little different. This summer vacation marks the end of Older Son's first year of middle school, and I'm just barely hanging on. For some reason, I foolishly expected parenting to get easier as my kids got older and I could do away with things like marathon midnight nursing sessions, mountains of dirty diapers, and screaming temper tantrums punctuated with repetitions of "NO! NO! NO!" because I callously threw away a used napkin that had become someone's best friend.

I didn't count on the insanity that is Middle School.

To say I wasn't looking forward to Older Son starting middle school would be a vast understatement. The middle school years ("junior high" when I was a kid) were the worst years of my life. There isn't enough money in the world to convince me to be 12 again. It's a horrible time of life for many reasons, but the crucible of middle school can turn even a relatively well-balanced kid into a raging maniac.

Older Son is not necessarily the most well-balanced kid in the world. Oh, don't get me wrong; he's a wonderful kid: funny, outgoing, interesting. But he's also smart. Really smart. He's what they call "highly and profoundly gifted." And he knows it, which can cause problems for him. He tends to think that, since he's so smart, no one else could possibly have a better idea than he does so he doesn't need to listen to anyone else. And he doesn't get why he has to prove that he knows how to do things--like how to work out math problems--when he's obviously got the right answers. And he's impatient. About everything. If it takes more than two minutes, he's not interested. All of which makes him that kid on the playground that other kids are itching to smack. And often that kid in the classroom that teachers are just itching to smack.

So when my kid started middle school, I watched him carefully. And for a while, everything seemed fine. He was happy to go to school, had a lot of friends, and brought home straight A's and glowing teacher comments on his first report card. I heaved a sigh of relief and decided maybe middle school's not as bad for boys as it is for girls. Or maybe things have changed since I was a kid. Or maybe his school is better at dealing with the whole pre-teen hormone-steeped culture shock. Or maybe I'm just an idiot.

The second report card came home and I was stunned. He got a B- in math, which was a shock, since he's always had A's in math, represented his school last year in the regional math field day, and was bumped up a grade level in math when he started middle school based on his test scores and his teacher's recommendation. Many parent-child-teacher discussions ensued. The end result was weekly math tutorial sessions at school, daily tutoring and homework sessions from Mom (we'll just gloss right over the irony of that, considering my checkered history with math--at least I'm finally understanding pre-algebra), and a new-found relationship with his math teacher. He's now getting an A- in math.

Now, granted, a B- isn't the end of the world. So how about that D he got in band, of all things? He loves band. And he's good at it. He was in the elementary school district honor band, and a soloist in the elementary school jazz band. How the heck did he get a D in band?! Many more parent-child-teacher discussions ensued. Hmm...could be all those practice sheets that he diligently filled out every day and had me sign every week...and then didn't turn in. Or maybe it was that final he never bothered to take. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that his saxophone was so damaged--who knows how?--that when he finally told me it was damaged and I took it to the shop, the repair guy informed me he didn't know how the kid had even gotten a sound out of it. $130 dollars and a re-test later, his grade is up to a B+, with a potential A in sight.

So when the mid-term progress reports came out, I wasn't too worried. What could go wrong? Ha. Can you say D in Science?! This is more astounding than math and band put together. Science is his Great Love. When he was three, I gave him a CD player to take apart, and he promptly built a "satelite transceiver." It didn't work, of course, but he explained to me exactly how it was supposed to work. When he was four, he announced he was going to Cal Tech to become an inventor, and I never doubted it for a moment. At six, he calculated the rotation of the earth by sticking a pencil in a block of styrofoam to make a sundial, and then watching as the shadow moved across a protractor for half an hour. ("Hey, Mom, did you know the earth rotates 15 degrees an hour? The shadow moved seven and a half degrees in half and hour, so that means 15 degrees in an hour, right?") When he was seven, he wanted to fly a kite, and I told him it wasn't windy enough. He asked me how windy it needs to be to fly a kite. I told him I didn't know. The next day, he announced he had figured out how to measure relative wind speed by hooking a propellor up to a dynamo and the dynamo to a multimeter. The voltage reading on the multimeter would correspond to the wind speed.

So, yeah, that D in Science was a stunner. As you may have guessed, it called for yet more parent-child-teacher discussions. One week, several extra credit assignments, and a major project on volcanoes later, he is up to a B+ and heading for A territory.

That was Thursday.

Friday morning he handed us two detention slips. It seems he got an F on a Language Arts test. (Do I even need to mention this kid was reading at college level in third grade? That I have to buy him new books every week to keep up with his reading habit, because the school library doesn't carry anything at his reading level and we've exhausted the resources of the public library?) He then failed to get the test signed, so he got detention. He got the detention slip signed, but lost it. So he got another detention. And forgot to get the slip signed. So he got a third detention. Plus the F. Sigh.

School ends on June 11th. I'm counting the days.

I think I need a new career path. The luster is wearing a bit thin on this "Mom" gig.

Monday, May 18, 2009

GGGSSC* Update

*Great Giant Granny Square Scrapghan Challenge

I figure you're all waiting with baited breath to see how the Great Giant Granny Square Scrapghan Challenge of 2009 is shaping up. The 1984 Olympics ain't got nuthin' on me.

I didn't measure this when I laid it out, but it's in the four foot square range. It's at the point where I'm wondering whether two rounds a day is a reasonable goal. Each round takes a loooooooong time, and I do have other fiber projects, after all. The ever-changing colors keep it exciting, though. It's fun deciding what should come next and planning out how best to use those yarns I only have a little of.

I have determined that each linear foot of afghan takes about five yards of yarn (or ten yards if it's a worsted weight that I have to hold double). This is very useful information, since it allows me to calculate whether I have enough of a particular yarn to complete a round. Or it would, if I actually went to the trouble to measure out the yarn before I started a round. On the last round, I ran out of yarn about halfway around. As it happens, though, I had another yarn that was so close in color that I was able to complete the round without it being at all noticeable that I had changed yarns halfway through. One of the benefits of having a completely unreasonable stash, I guess. I got a little X-treme Needlework rush out of that victory.

Oh, and I must thank all of you who suggested weaving in the ends as I go. I stopped and did just that, and was immensely relieved when they were all gone. But my extra special thanks go out to Ruth and Crochetgurl, who both suggested crocheting in the ends as I go! Why the heck didn't I think of that?! It's simple, and much, much faster than weaving them in later. Now I have a nice, tidy afghan with no dangling ends.

The "Unmentionables" are coming along nicely, too. I have the body of the shorts completely done, grafted, ends woven in, and I'm working on the first leg ruffle. And despite Colin's comment--which made me laugh out loud, by the way--I still think they're cute! I was able to try them on once I bound off the waist, and they fit, which was a relief. I had to guess at the sizing, and ended up adding an inch to the length of the legs and another inch to the rise, both to accommodate my rather long frame. I think those were good choices. I do think they'll make great summer lounging pajamas with the addition of a camisole top. If I have enough yarn left, I may even knit one to match!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Great Giant Granny Square Scrapghan Challenge of 2009

I seem to have developed a small obsession with the venerable crocheted granny square. You've seen this, of course, which now lives in my knitting spot and is also perfect for curling up on a lounge chair next to the pool after dinner. I love it. I enjoyed making it and I enjoy using it. After I finished it, I thought about doing a couple of rows on my nearly complete Swallowtail shawl, but discovered I would have to wind another skein of yarn and do a Russian join, so that sort of fell by the wayside. Instead I spent an evening making...yawn...a few inches of progress on the endless Chevron Scarf. All I can say about that is it's a good thing we don't actually need scarves in San Diego.

And then I started this. It is currently on hold, because as much as I love the color combo (and even though I have over 4000 yards of this bulky weight wool--don't ask, I blame WEBS), the turquoise, purple, hot pink, green mix doesn't go with anything in my house, or in the houses of any of my friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances...and despite the rather substantial evidence to the contrary, I am at heart a practical person and don't want to spend a fair amount of my limited life span crocheting a giant, beautiful afghan that will never see anything but the inside of a linen closet.

In a fit of Spring Fever, I then cast on for this year's utterly adorable, completely impractical, never-to-actually-be-worn Spring Folly. (I do this every year. April hits, and I just can't resist making something completely inappropriate to my age, shape, taste, and lifestyle. I have learned to accept it. And the women in my knitting group got a great laugh out of this one.)

This is the pattern "Unmentionables" by Lee Wood Juvan, from the Summer 2007 Knitty. Why? I have no idea. I really can't imagine a scenario that would find me wearing knitted bloomers with ribbon ties. I tell myself I can wear them as summer jammies--completely ignoring the fact that I don't wear jammies. But, oh, it's a fun pattern! The yarn is Jaegar Roma in Fern, which I had in the stash, purchased quite some time ago for $1.99 a ball from Smileys. I made my Gathered Pullover out of this yarn in white, and I love it, even though it's primarily synthetic. It's very soft and stretchy, holds its shape beautifully, and doesn't pill at all. It seemed like the perfect yarn for this pattern--even if it is destined to spend its life in a storage box under the bed.

But the lure of the granny square was irresistible, and I was consumed with the desire to make a giant granny square afghan for my king-sized bed. I wanted to use Noro again, because, well...do I really need to explain? But after several hours of searching the internet, I concluded that a good mother would not raid the kids' college fund to finance enough Noro to make a king-sized crocheted afghan, so I moved on to Plan B.

Plan B is one of those things that's great in theory. It justifies the purchase of all sorts of strange and wonderful yarns, not to mention bookcases and boxes and baskets and bags to store it all in. But Plan B rarely comes into play in the real world. Plan B is "Knitting From Stash," and it is largely a theoretical concept in my world. This time, though...this time Plan B is going live with a vengeance.

After a lengthy perusal of the stash, which involved impressive gymnastics in order to pull it out of all the corners and crevices and crannies into which is is crammed, I recognized that even I do not have enough of a single color--or even a single type of yarn--to crochet a king-sized afghan. I do, however, have an extraordinary number of leftover skeins and balls from previous projects. I live in fear of running out of yarn, and also labor under a delusion about my actual size, and so I almost always have 1 or 2 or 14 balls of yarn left when I finish a sweater. I knit a lot of sweaters. I also discovered that virtually my entire stash consists of shades of green, red, and brown. Coincidentally, my bedroom (and the rest of my house) is decorated largely in shades of green, red, and brown. (Hmmm...do you think there's any connection here to my red hair and green eyes?) And so, I made myself this challenge: to crochet a giant Giant Granny Square, at least seven feet square, using only leftover yarns from the stash.

Think about that for a minute. Seven feet square--the minimum size I figure I need to completely cover my bed--is 49 square feet. My Noro giant granny square is five feet square, which is 25 square feet. It took 1000 grams of bulky weight Noro Iro and an entire sweater's worth of worsted weight wool. That means this afghan will be twice the size of that throw and will require twice as much yarn. And that, my friends, is a lot of yarn. The fact that I am completely confident I will be able to pull this off tells you something about the amount of leftover yarn I have in the stash.

In fact, I have so much leftover yarn in the stash that I was able to pick and choose to come up with a combination of colors and weights that pleased me:

Yup. That's a two-bushel laundry basket full of yarn. And I forgot to pull the yarn I'm already using out of the large knitting bag I stuffed it into for the photo op, so there's more. And if I were to run low, there's plenty more where this came from.

Check out all the pretty colors:

Now, for the purposes of this challenge, I have defined "leftover yarn" a bit broadly. Much of this yarn is in fact left over from completed projects. Some of it is not technically leftover, but was purchased either with no project in mind or for a specific project that didn't work out. But in any case, all of this yarn has been in the stash for a long time (over a year, at least) and isn't earmarked for anything, nor is it likely to find its way into a sweater any time in the foreseeable future. This may be stretching the definition of "leftover" just a little, but it works for me.

And check this out:

That's about a two-foot square of Giant Granny Square Scrapghan! The colors are a little off. That light cream is actually yellow, and all of the colors are a tad richer in real life, but it's still pretty close. There are a whole lot of different yarns in there, including some gorgeous, super soft alpacas, along with some scratchier wools, and even some beige, wool-acrylic blend bulky that I bought in a particularly oblivious moment. There are leftovers from my CPH, the Knitting For Peace Messenger Bag, my Traveling Cables Cardigan, my Tahoe, my Opulent Raglan, and probably a few others as well.

I made a few rules for myself to keep this from looking too crazy. First, I'm using only shades of red, brown, green, and a little yellow. Second, all the yarns are either bulky weight or doubled worsted weight. Third, each round must be a single color. Fourth, every other round must be a shade of green (I have a lot of green yarn). Other than that, I'm just trying to space the yarns so that they look pretty and so that I don't run out of some colors early on and have none left when the afghan starts getting big. I'm trying to keep the whole thing looking like there was some sort of plan, without actually following a pattern of color repeats, which I think would get both boring and difficult, as I have different amounts of so many different yarns. So far, I'm pretty happy with it; I haven't been able to stop crocheting...around and around and around...

There's only one problem with using different yarns instead of a self-striping yarn:

But I'll think about that tomorrow.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy Mothers' Day!

Here's wishing all you moms out there a very happy Mothers' Day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

FO: Petunia Roving

Thank you all for the great dyeing (and clean up!) advice yesterday. I did get the blue dye off the stone counters with Clorox, which also got most of it off my hands. To answer a couple of questions posed in the comments (which I can't answer directly because Blogger won't give me your email addresses):

CraftyLzrd, roving is a long strip of wool that is already washed and combed and prepared for hand spinning. You can buy it by weight from lots of different suppliers in all sorts of fibers and colors, and there are lots of Etsy sellers who offer hand painted roving. It saves the spinner the time and effort of starting with an unwashed fleece. It also creates wool in which the fibers are mostly aligned in one direction, so that you end up with a smoother, firmer yarn than you usually would with hand carded fiber, where the fibers are kind of jumbled.

Tracy, I sprayed the roving with vinegar because that's what the directions I was following said to do. I have found other directions that recommend soaking the roving in vinegar water before dyeing, and still others that indicate you should mix the vinegar with the dye. I'm sure any of these ways will work; the important thing is getting the vinegar and the dye both onto the fiber, since the vinegar (which is the "acid" in my acid dye) acts as a setting agent for the dye.

Here's my dyed roving, all dried and braided (there are seven braids there; I just wound them around each other for the picture). The color looks pretty accurate on my monitor.

I spun a bit last night to see how it would come out. So far I'm not in love, but I'll post a picture when I have some plied up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Warning: picture heavy post

Last week I finally got ahold of some acid dyes. I've been tossing around the idea of dyeing my own roving for a while now, prompted primarily by the high cost of hand dyed roving and my apparent inability to resist buying it. So yesterday, I decided to give it a try.

I had a pound of this lying around:

I wanted to try to make it look more like this:

For the record, this is roving I bought already dyed on Etsy. You can see how the undyed compares to the dyed roving here:

According to my research, the first step was to turn my mound of roving into smaller roving balls for soaking and dyeing. This is about eight feet of my roving wound into a ball:

And here it is with all of its siblings:

I put all these in a tub of hot water with just a little dish soap and let them soak for about half an hour. While I was waiting, I prepared my work surface, otherwise known as the kitchen counter.

More is more here. I cannot stress this enough. Lots of newspaper is critical, unless you really want rainbow colored counters. I covered every square inch, and then spread out long strips of plastic wrap for wrapping the roving after dyeing. [I never realized how difficult it is to spread temperamental plastic wrap out in neat, eight-foot long strips. At one point, I looked like I was attempting some sort of marital enhancement role-playing. Fortunately--or maybe not--there was no one here to witness it.]

Once everything was completely covered in newspaper and plastic wrap, it was time for the fun part--mixing the dyes!

What's that? There's no newspaper here? No plastic wrap, either? Wow! You're right! There is, however, a handy dandy paper towel, whose main purpose is not, as you may think, to keep the 20 ounces of concentrated dye off the stone counter top, but instead to hide the dollar sized blue stain I made when I knocked over the pot of powdered dye onto the one part of the counter I hadn't covered in newspaper. Which was, of course, where I had decided to mix the dyes. Not to worry, though, I wiped up most of it...with my bare hands, which are now a lovely shade of periwinkle, and will likely remain that color for the next several weeks. I did put on the gloves right after that, though.

Once the dyes were ready, I carefully removed my little roving balls from the hot water, squeezed out most of the water, and spread them out on the plastic wrap.

Aren't they pretty? I will admit to a long, long moment of second thoughts as I prepared to pour dye all over a sweater's worth of beautiful, natural merino roving. One might almost think a test piece of roving would make more sense for a first attempt at dyeing, wouldn't one?

But patience has never been my strong suit. Instead, I used a couple of those big eyedroppers you get at the pharmacy for squirting medicine in a baby's mouth and went wild with the green and purple. Yes, I did say green and purple. The roving I was trying to copy was green and purple. I know it sounds awful, but the roving I bought was really pretty, sort of olive-y and plum-y with bits of white and brown. I left white patches between my colors, not really wanting to find out what color you get when you mix green with purple. I also ran out of dye halfway through and had to mix more. Which, of course, proved impossible to do with any accuracy, so I squirted the new colors so they mixed with the old colors and looked at least somewhat more deliberate. Or so I thought.

Once I had the rovings colored to my satisfaction (more or less), I sprayed them with a generous amount of white vinegar, using a standard household spray bottle. When they were well wetted with vinegar, I rolled them up in the plastic wrap like nice, fat sausages.

I don't know why they're all different sizes and shapes. I could have sworn they didn't start out that way.

I put the sausages into a large (improvised) steamer pot with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, not touching the steamer basket, and turned on the heat. I simmered the pot for 45 minutes, then turned off the heat and went to the gym.

When I got back, I unwrapped the sausages, rinsed out the roving, gave it a quick spin in the washer to get out as much water as possible, and hung it out to dry.

Nope. Nothing like the roving I was trying to copy. At all. The green is grassy rather than olive, and the purple is more grape than plum, even though they looked the way I planned them during the dyeing stage. My white patches pretty much disappeared during the steaming, and some of the colors separated a little. This roving is still wet, though, and the colors may change again when it's dry. It's hard to say how this will spin up; I am notoriously bad at predicting what roving will do when it's spun. It could turn out to be the world's ugliest yarn. In the meantime, though, I'm calling my first handpainted roving Petunia, because it reminds me of these:

Not quite so ugly when you look at it like that, is it?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I think it may be time for an intervention of some sort.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

FO: Giant Granny Square

It's done! I used the purl bee granny square tutorial to make this. I think you could easily make one of these even if you don't know how to crochet already. These pictures are of the afghan unblocked. It's currently soaking and will be blocked tomorrow. The finished size pre-blocking is about five feet square.

I used 10 skeins of Noro Iro plus a bag of unknown recycled brown wool I found in the stash for the border. I just crocheted until I ran out of the Noro, then switched to plain double crochet (I think) for the border and continued until I ran out of the brown yarn, which I held doubled. If you don't already know this, crochet really, really eats up yarn. I think I had a whole sweater's worth of the brown yarn.

I used a size J hook, because it seemed to be about right and I had one. Gauge is pretty irrelevant with an afghan, as long as you like the fabric. I can honestly say I loved making this, despite the problems I had and the massive amount of ripping I did to solve them. (After I got the whole thing done and the ends woven in last night, I discovered a mistake with a corner only inches from the beginning. It doesn't throw off the shape, though, and I'm not about to rip the whole thing again, so I am embracing the error as proof that it was made by human hands and not a machine.)

The tortoise came over to check it out during the FOto shoot. I think he likes it.

[Endangered California Desert Tortoise, which can't be re-released into the wild. I have a permit for him. My aunt rescued him from another owner more than 30 years ago, and he was already an adult then. I've had him for the past three years, since my aunt moved to Colorado, so we know he is approaching 40, at least, and may be much older. No one knows how long they live, but they are known to live at least as long as humans, and probably longer. I'm going to have to put him in my will.]