Fill My Cup

Tuesdays have become the day when all of my needs, both creative and emotional, are fulfilled in eight hours by my tribe of Attachment Parenting families. In the morning, the AP craft group meets at my house to learn a new skill or work on a project and share in the joys of parenting small children while playing with hot liquids and pointy sticks.

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This week, Jen showed Kristen and I how to improve soap by milling it and then adding common kitchen ingredients. We started by grating twelve ounces of olive oil soap and melting it on the stovetop with nine ounces of water. Once you can trace a spoon across the surface, the soap is ready for whatever you would like to add.

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Kristen added ground oats and cinnamon.

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I added orange zest and cloves.

Once the ingredients were thoroughly mixed, we poured them into a shallow container and put them in the freezer to solidify. When the liquid has set, the soap needs to be left undisturbed for at least three weeks to dry. Then the bars can be cut, or milled again. As you browse the shelves of your favorite body store, you will notice the finest soaps have been milled at least three times. Something in the process of melting and remelting soap alters the chemical composition and produces a better soap.

dojo.jpgAfter lunch, Owen and I head to aikido at Tenzan Aikido. Owen gets to run around, practice the disciplined spiritual art of aikido and play with his friends while I socialize with Sara and Rosie. This usually means that I knit while Sara reads to Rosie; I try to limit my interruptions to once per page. Today, I was (re)working the sleeve on my Café Bastille Cable sweater.

A few days ago I noticed that the sleeve seam was coming loose, and since the sleeves were not long enough, I decided it made more sense to try adding a few more inches than just tighten up the seam. Not sure how many more inches I wanted, I put the sweater on while I knit the shoulder. One of the mothers told me at the end of class that she and another onlooker were trying to figure out if I was knitting the sweater while it was on my body. That would be an amazing feat of flexibility! In the end, I decided the entire sleeve needed to be reknit because my gauge was tighter the second time around, which made the lower section seem sloppy. I frogged the sleeve and will redo it in the round using magic loop.

After aikido, we zoomed over to Salmon Bay to pick up Sophie from school, then zoomed back home to pick up a potluck dish I made during lunch for dinner at Sara’s house. To my delight, my zooming to and fro was so effective that I was able to spend a few extra minutes at home reading email, while Sophie and Owen played cards in the car; this met my need for a little solitude.

Sara had a bumper crop of six families arrive for dinner. As Matt and Sara tried to figure out how to fit everyone around the table, I caught up with Erika who had just returned from a nine-day Non-Violent Communication intensive in New Mexico. I am forever grateful to Erika to introducing me to NVC, also known as Compassionate Communication; it has changed the way I view the world and approach my personal relationships. Jen brought a fantastic twist on Cinderella for everyone to read: Cinder Edna. We shared great food and co-parented our large flock of children. It was a wonderful evening that met my emotional needs for connection and authenticity.

We managed to leave Sara’s without drama or hysterics, an improvement over last week, and get home in time for Sophie and Owen’s normal bedtime routine. Lance walked in the door just as we were starting to read our bedtime stories. He relieved me of my parental duties so I could join my knitting tribe at the Fiber Gallery for our weekly Sit ‘n Knit. I felt like Norm on Cheers as everyone told me how much they had missed me the last few weeks.

I love Tuesday.

PS. If you are interested in learning more about NVC, Marshall Rosenberg will be speaking at Town Hall on March 23rd. I saw him speak last year and can honestly say it rocked my world. I’m going to hear him again, but this time I’m taking Lance and hopefully a few friends with me.

PPS. The quinoa pilaf I’ve cooked two weeks in a row continues to please. The recipe, as requested, follows:

Quinoa Pilaf
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
ground black pepper
2 tablespoons solid coconut oil
1 small onion , minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 medium cloves garlic , minced
¼ cup currants
¼ cup pine nuts , toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes

1. Melt coconut oil in large saucepan over medium heat; add onion and sauté until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.
2. Add turmeric, cinnamon, and garlic to sautéed onion; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer.
3. Add quinoa and stir to coat grains with coconut oil; cook until toasted, about 3 minutes.
4. Stir hot water and salt into quinoa; return to boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 16-18 minutes.
5. Off heat, remove lid, sprinkle currants over rice in pan (do not mix in), and place kitchen towel folded in half over saucepan; replace lid.
6. Let stand 10 minutes; toss in toasted pine nuts, fluff quinoa with fork, and serve.

Bluegrass Knitters Unite

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent last weekend in Tacoma at Wintergrass, a fantastic bluegrass festival, where the traditional definition of bluegrass is stretched far beyond the comfort zone of most purists.

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It was amazing to see the Sheraton, where the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat was held just three weeks prior, so utterly transformed by a vibrating horde of musicians and music-appreciators. And much like Madrona, it is entirely possible to rub elbows with the superstars of the bluegrass world wandering through the hotel lobby. Sophie talked to her hero, Kristin Andreassen, clogger extraordinaire, accomplished guitarist and one of the g’Earls in Uncle Earl.

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My father grinned and chuckled most of Friday night at the sight of us contentedly knitting away in the half-light of a bluegrass concert. Apparently, there is an album called The Three Pickers which features the legendary Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs; he called us “The Three Knitters”.

I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than knit while listening to live music. For three days, we sat two rows from the stage, off to the side, where we could hear the chatter between the musicians that was too soft for the mikes to pick up, where we could see the guest performers getting ready backstage, where we could see the techs fumbling with the lighting boards and where we could knit for hours at a time.

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Odd as it may seem, we were not the only knitters at Wintegrass. I happened upon Linda in a back hallway, trying to rearrange some stitches that had wandered away from her needles in the dim light. The ability to knit by touch is a valuable skill at this sort of event.

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Then there was Lorette, the talented Knitting Doctor. I spotted her standing towards the back of the Pavilion, the biggest concert venue, last year when I attended Wintergrass for the first time. She was absently knitting socks while watching the concerts. She was also wearing Rogue. It caught my eye last year, and there she was again this year, wearing Rogue. This is the sort of pattern that would normally make my head turn, but when I happen to be working on it…

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I muscled up the gumption to walk over and introduce myself. As I admired the cables and fondled the world’s softest yarn, Beaverslide‘s mulespun McTaggart Tweed, Lorette told me that she knit that version of Rogue at another wonderful event, the Darrington Bluegrass Festival (incidentally, I’ve knit three sweaters, and a bag with this yarn; it is the softest wool I’ve ever handled). My mother and I have both knit at Darrington, which led me to think that I bet there are a lot of closet bluegrass fans out there who just need to hear our rallying cry: “Bluegrass Knitters Unite!”

PS. In case you are interested, we loved Uncle Earl, Crooked Still, Captain Gravel, True North, The Greencards and Lee Highway. My dad said Chris Thile was fantastic, but Sophie couldn’t stay up that late.

Kismet Abounds

bluegrass_ufo.jpgSophie and I joined my parents this weekend for their annual pilgrimage to Tacoma for Wintergrass, the best bluegrass festival this side of the Smokey Mountains. Spanning four days and five venues centered around downtown Tacoma, there was a lot of bluegrass happening. Even the Mexican restaurant where we had dinner on Saturday night was playing bluegrass on their restaurant sound system. Off-duty fire fighters for the City of Tacoma operate a shuttle between the various venues and local hotels, sprinkling musicians and fans throughout the city. As Rayna Gellert commented on stage, “…it is as if the bluegrass UFO has landed in Tacoma”. 

Since musicians sometimes like to stay up late carousing with their mandolins, the first concerts on Saturday morning don’t generally start until mid-afternoon. There are various workshops earlier in the day for musicians, songwriters, and wannabe agents, but since we didn’t fit into any of those categories, my mother and I decided to spend the morning at the Museum of Glass.

If you have ever driven through Tacoma, you’ve probably seen these two glass sculptures rising over the highway:

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These towers are mounted on a wide pedestrian overpass that connects the museum with the main street through Tacoma; it crosses both the freeway and train tracks. In addition to the rock candy towers, there is the wall of glass, featuring fanciful glass sculptures measuring between two and three feet tall.

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The wall of glass contains no less than 100 pieces. While impressive on a grey day, it must be dazzling on a bright, sunny day.

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We walked back and forth trying to capture all there was to see, but the wall was just too high and we were just too cold.

Inside, the museum is no less impressive. Several galleries feature rotating exhibits, but the showstopper is the Hot Shop, where a live interpreter narrates the creation of a piece by a team of four gaffers. When we arrived, there were two teams, a professional in-house team and a student team, each working on an elaborate vase. If you can imagine glass blowing as a team sport with live commentary, a large projection screen and stadium seating, that is what we saw. We watched the professional team work for close to an hour before moving on to see what else the museum had to offer.

Just around the corner from the Hot Shop is a studio where rotating artists-in-residence create projects for students. We arrived just as they were opening the doors for a lino-cut workshop. My favorite.

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Sophie took to it like she’d been cutting her whole life. In fact, she really didn’t want to leave. She demanded, pleaded and begged to make another block. Since we have all the materials at home, I negotiated an exit, promising to do more another day.

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The artist had lots of photocopied illustrations of bugs and birds, intending to make a paper quilt of the various prints made by museum visitors. I love the look of block prints, but not my own. My preliminary drawings are weak, and no amount of etching or cutting can improve a cock-eyed loon.

So where does the kismet come in, you ask? I was browsing through my favorite blogs late last night and came across a post on WhipUp.net linking to a tutorial: “Linocuts for Older Children“. The blog is called Creative Kismet; believe it or not, my husband and I briefly considered naming our firstborn Kismet, after a bar we enjoyed when we were dating, and because there was so much kismet involved in our meeting years ago when I was volunteering in Haiti. Chancing upon this tutorial late at night, after Sophie had just discovered the art seemed too random to be random.

Creating Balance

I’ve been thinking for a while that this blog is about so much more than knitting. It is really about the urge to create and to be productive at the same time.

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I have to balance this imperative with my responsibilities in our home, but the fact remains that if I don’t find an outlet for my crafty impulses, I am a very grouchy mother.

When I reflect on my youth, I realize that I spent far too much time trying to enjoy what my boyfriend or girlfriends were doing instead of creating for myself. Finally, I can stand on my own and say “I want to make something”.

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This is why I have a clothesline of roving hanging across my dining room, and the plate rail is filled with felted treasure boxes, nested origami sets Lance made at Christmas, some unfinished felt slippers, Sophie’s duvet waiting to be sewn and a piece of felt art without a home. This is also why there is so much dog hair in the bathroom and the door frames are full of dirty fingerprints.

So, I’ve changed the name and description of this journal to more accurately reflect what I write. This isn’t about who or what inspires me, it is really about what we create in our home.

Seven Strange Things about Me and David Francey

By now, everyone has seen the meme floating around the blogs where someone has to share six strange things about themselves. I haven’t been tagged, but I’m compelled to share several strange things that happened to me this weekend.

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First a little background: David Francey is a Scottish-born singer-songwriter who lives in rural Ontario. The Seattle Folklore Society (SFS) brought him to Seattle this time last year. I had never heard him play before that night, but by the intermission, I had fallen for him. His self-deprecating humor, fine storytelling, gentle voice and excellent songcraft left me bubbling and babbling. I bought two cds during the intermission and proceeded to gush all over his shoes as he signed my cds. 

The final song of the evening was a rousing sing-along to “Mill Towns”; the chorus is “Don’t follow me in boys, don’t follow me in boys, don’t follow me in boys, don’t follow me down.” The song is a warning by an older generation about the hazards and perils of working in a one mill town; when jobs go south, a town dies and along with it the people who worked there.

The morning after the concert, I was still bursting with ecstatic energy; I popped on the cd in our kitchen and called me kids to attention to listen to “Mill Towns”. My version of David’s introduction, along with the powerful chorus, captured Owen’s attention. It is no exaggeration to say that this song is Owen’s anthem. A propos of nothing, on a random Wednesday morning, driving to the grocery store, Owen will ask me about working in a paper mill. He picks bits and pieces out of David’s songs and listens to them with a deep concentration.

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Strange things:

1. Two weeks ago, I read in the Seattle Folkore Society newsletter that David was going to be appearing in concert again at the Phinney Center, which is where Owen attends preschool (his hero plays a concert, that he can attend, in the building with his preschool). I raced down our back stairs to where Owen was creating a swimming pool in the middle of our lawn. “Guess who is coming to the Phinney Center for a concert – it’s David Francey!” Owen stopped what he was doing. “Wooohooo!” he shouted, lifting his trowel up into the air.

2. Yesterday morning, Owen woke up at 6:30 am and was dressed in minutes. This is the boy who would rather stay in his pajamas all day if we had nowhere to go, and usually insists that I dress him because it is all too difficult early in the morning. “I’m ready to go,” he announced as I trudged into the kitchen in my bathrobe. “Go? Where?”, I asked. ”To the concert! To see David Francey!” “Oh, no. I don’t think David Francey plays music this early in the morning, Owen. We’re not going until after supper. His concert starts around your bedtime,” I reminded him gently. 

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We met our friends Liza and Morgen in the hall, where they had saved front row seats for us. They had already been there half an hour when we arrived, and we had another thirty minutes to fill before the concert started. morgen.jpgThere was lots of high energy bouncing around; in an attempt at distraction, I suggested to Owen that he show Morgen his classroom across the hallway from the community hall. Unbeknownst to me, the concert organizers were using it as a dressing room for the performers. We stopped just inside the vestibule once we noticed the musicians sitting at a table, whispered and giggled a lot, and then tiptoed back to the hall where we waited impatiently for the music to begin.

Finally, a volunteer came onstage to thank the crew and speak a little about the SFS. I had spoken with him on the phone when he called to confirm my reservations, and told him how excited Owen was to see David perform. I had also written to David through his website and asked whether “Mill Towns” could be put on the set list, including a little background about his little fan.

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Just before calling David onstage, the volunteer mentioned Owen sitting in the front row, which made him squirm and beam at the same time. And, true to his word, “Mill Towns” was the third song. He taught everyone the chorus, and mentioned that there might be a tiny little high voice leading the group. Sure enough, Owen belted it out, loud enough that David looked over and smiled every time the chorus came around.

Once the long-awaited song was over, the wiggles kicked in. I offered to dance with Morgen at the back of the hall, but when Sophie and Owen joined us, we got the evil-eye from members of the audience sitting in the last rows. Unable to contain the whispers, giggles and loud questions, I took everyone out into the hallway. Morgen asked if we could see Owen’s classroom now, so we took a peak inside.

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3. We found two things in Owen’s classroom/musician dressing room: David Francey’s coat hanging in Owen’s cubby,

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4. and Owen’s plate on the table.

During the first week of school, every child in the pre-k classroom drew on their own plate, which is theirs to use for snack for the rest of the year. Now this classroom is used by several groups, and there are several cupboards with plates. Owen is one of twenty students, but somehow, a volunteer pulled his plate out of the pre-k cupboard for the musicians.

We came back into the community hall to discover the music had stopped for intermission. We practically bowled David Francey over with our enthusiasm. Owen so desperately wants his picture taken, but is also so shy to actually be in the presence of greatness.

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5. And would you look at the vest David is wearing. Hmmm. It looks a little familiar. Not a true fair-isle, Lance points out, but still two color stranded with Shetland wool. Before David poses with Owen, I ask if I can take a picture of the vest. My enthusiasm overtakes my sense of decorum as I gush about being a knitter, and recognizing the central motif (not enough contrast between the pattern and background colors I note to myself). David tells me that he bought the vest in Edinburgh and he is aware it is not a true fair-isle, but this is what the woman had in her shop and he wanted a souvenir to bring home.

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6. Back at our seats, we discover that Liza has bought the same two cds I bought last year when I first saw David perform.

Much like the Prince of Wales vest featured in both Sweaters from Camp and Folk Vests which was inspired by a painting of the Prince of Wales in a yellow fair isle vest, I am determined to recreate this vest for myself, with a few value adjustments for the pattern colors.  

7. In the second set, David dedicated a song to Ben and Sarah, a couple married in Wolfeboro, NH, who used one of his songs for their wedding. Lance lost his wedding ring while water-skiing near Wolfeboro, on our honeymoon.

Unrelated to David Francey, but still a strange thing: on the way to see a children’s play on Saturday, we we turn on the radio in Lance’s car. One of our old time favorites “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers is playing; we sing along to the words we know so well. What does the Giant’s wife sing onstage at Jack and the Beanstalk? The Gambler. Who knew the Giant was married to a crooner from west Texas?

Knotty Holes

After satisfying my fair isle itch, there was only one lonely unfinished project left next to my knitting chair: Rogue. I cast-on in November, but after completing the hem, which is a little too tight,  I ran into difficulty.

This pattern has a lovely Celtic knot featured on the cuff of each sleeve and at the waist on either side. To create a Celtic knot, you need to increase four stitches so the knot has somewhere to go, as it were. The pattern instructions call for increasing two stitches on the RS and the another two on WS, but my execution left unsightly holes. Not sure what I had done wrong, or how to do it differently, I put the project aside.

While I was at Madrona, I took a class in Celtic Cables from Fiona Ellis. She had us swatch a knot repeated in the two-tone blue cabled hoodie from Inspired Cable Knits.

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Fiona instructed us to increase four stitches all at once on the RS (make 1 by picking up the strand between next 2 sts and k into the back of loop; k1, p1, k1 all into next st; then make 1 by picking up strand as before) and then purl straight across the back. My swatch turned out beautifully, with no holes.

Another useful bit Fiona taught us about cables, which has helped me to knit more intuitively: purl stitches are usually held to the back of the work in a cable crossing. She said to think of your purl stitches as shy stitches. Because of this tendency, next to a cable is a good place to hide a decrease in your work. Nestle a p2tog next to a cable and it will hide behind the stockinette column.

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Encouraged, I frogged back two rows and tried it again. After redoing it twice, it finally worked. This project has miles and miles of plain stockinette punctuated with tiny bit of detail; this should make great work for Wintergrass.

Can you believe there are two great events, back to back, at the Tacoma Sheraton? This Friday, I leave for three days of bluegrass with my parents and Sophie. We had a fabulous time last year, and I expect this year to be even better since we know several returning bands.

A Fulfilled Teapot

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The conclusion to the Fair Isle saga: full the knitting and turn the piece on its head. Since I don’t wear hats very often, this bit of knitting will be better appreciated as a teapot cozy, as I pour my third and fourth cup of tea, still warm thanks to the lovely cozy.

Anyone interested in the technical difference between fulling and felting can get the full dish at nonaKnits. Basically, fulling is shrinking knit or woven fabric, while felting starts with abusing simple roving.

Sweetie

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To the love of my life:
You hold that special place in my heart.
I hope your heart is full to bursting today and tomorrow and lots of days after that.

Feral Math

Does anyone else see the error in my calculations?

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Janine Bajus instructed all of her students in her Introduction to Fair Isle Colorwork class at Madrona to take home 2 oz of Shetland yarn; since she calculated her hat pattern would take about 1 1/2 oz of yarn, we had more than enough allowance to finish the hat.

Clearly, what I failed to recognize was that colors used once in a repeat don’t require as much yarn as colors used for ten rows. Oh, if only I could wind those little balls again. Why did I take so much green, orange and red?

Now that I have run out of navy, Lance thinks I should just create a ribbing with either green or orange and call it good, rather than finishing the hat. I’ve been wearing this headband just about every day to tame my overgrown fuzz-head; it would be nice to have another, but I can’t bring myself to break the fair isle symmetry. Any suggestions?

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This was a sight that made my heart go pitter-patter this evening: Sophie knitting in my chair while I was cooking dinner. She pulled out “her” knitting on her own and just sat down to work on a swatch she started several months ago. Who knows how or where inspiration will strike. When Lance arrived at home, he asked her what she was working on. “Something slippery with slippery needles,” she scoffed. Clearly, my six year old daughter has already learned to appreciate the handle of different yarns on various needles. Be still my heart.

Muse

Last week, a friend was sitting on the floor behind me during our sons’ aikido class.

“You have a hole in your sweater,” she commented.  “You better fix that.”

“Why?” her three year old daughter asked.

“So it doesn’t get bigger,” she answered.

 ”Oh. She got another one on her arm. Better fix that, ” Rosie offered in her most helpful voice.

“Thanks, Rosie. I will fix it right away,” I replied.

“Why?” she asked in the way that only a three year old can ask the same question again and again.

Despite a severe drought last summer when our house-sitter forgot to water the planters, and persistent frosty nights through December and January, the first signs of spring are poking out of my baskets.

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Bronze fennel. Tiny fennel, so delicate, so sweet.

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I drew this illustration after discovering Tricia Guild through Kristin Nicholas. I checked out all the Tricia Guild titles from our local library, including a very 80′s book on flower arranging. The spreads were a bit Victorian for my taste, but the illustrated reference of cut flowers in the appendix was fantastic. I was inspired to draw this flower, which reminded me of fennel gone to seed.

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Noticing the illustration on my toothpaste put me over the edge.

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I can’t wait to show Rosie.