January 31, 2012

Snow, Portland Style

Amy and Annie in the rain with snow on the ground a couple
of weeks ago. Amy loved the snowman they built, which melted within
ten minutes of completion, and is to this day
still looking out the window to see if he will reappear.
"Mom," she says each day looking out the window,
"Our snowman died." Yes, honey, and you may not
see him for at least another year.

When it snows, it rains. That's just the way it usually is here in the Greater Portland/Vancouver Metropolitan area.

Even though it generally ends in disappointment for school children and a lucky few with government jobs whose offices close when it snows, a snow event around here typically begins, at least, with great anticipation and excitement.

When there is impending snow here in the Willamette Valley, everyone is abuzz.

Some people run out to the grocery store for last minute "supplies" as though it were Black Friday, some run to the tire shops and get snow tires or studs and everyone--absolutely everyone--watches the news as though the    real date for the end of the world were about to be announced.

And we are all certain the news channels love it.

They talk about it incessantly--for public safety, of course--as the newscasters on location stand out in the freezing night air before the cameras, telling us that, at any moment, the blizzard of the year will be upon us. They give each weather "event" a name like "Winter Blast" and tell us of impending worsening weather conditions. Meanwhile, we the people of Portland, all stare out our windows into the sky, waiting. When darkness falls and we can no longer see the sky, we stare into the street lights instead, to see if any tiny snowflake shadows might begin to fall, lest we miss it all.

While we do have the occasional real snow event (for us, that means about 6 inches max here on the Valley floor) and the truly dangerous (and more likely) freezing rain event, most of the time all our excitement is for naught.

The moment the clouds roll in, the temperatures begins to rise, the snow, if any, eventually turns to rain and can be gone in hours or minutes. Oftentimes it does not stick here at all.

But we are not daunted. In the face of our disappointment, we still head outside the moment we see the white stuff coming down, no matter what is is mixed with. Heck, it could be mixed with lightning for all we care. We build wet snowmen, make wet, sloppy snowangels and throw dirty wet snow at each other. It is just what we do. Why? Because it gets really, really old just looking at water falling out of the sky.

So, all you folks from the mountains, or from Minnesota or North Dakota, or Upstate New York ... you folks who have the real winter weather. You know who you are. We know we seem ridiculous. And we like it that way.

After all, aren't we supposed to be keeping Portland weird?

January 22, 2012

UFO's: Not Just For Intergalactic Space Travel Anymore

Annie's never ending Potato Chip scarf. I
don't recommend making one of these with baby
yarn. Takes FOREVER! This one is now done.
 When you clean up a huge mess like a yarn stash (or a mobile home surrounded by mountains of unknown materials...I've had to do both), you never know what you might find. In the case of the mobile home, you might simply encounter things that prompt you to contact Hazmat or animal control. But in the case of the yarn stash, you might come across things long unaccounted for--and much missed--like knitting needles or tiny stitch holders you thought were lost forever. You might find a missing hank of yarn that was intended to complete the yardage needed to someday create the perfect sweater. And you might find some of those perfect sweaters in unfinished states. These projects are good examples of "UFO's."

UFO's are not the traditional unidentified flying objects (well, I guess they could be if they were cabled cardigans thrown across the room in frustration...). To knitters, UFO stands for UnFinished Object. Most of us do not have one UFO. We have many, many, many UFO's.

Take my stash mess, for example. I found much-needed needles, to my relief, in many sizes and styles as I cleaned. I found my share of missing skeins of yarn that I didn't even know were missing until I cleaned. And, of course, I found several UFO's.

Mostly, the UFO's were mistakes. I had a legwarmer that would fit around my thigh, but was meant for Amy Rose when she was 1. I muttered to myself that at least I had only made one. I had a single Mary Jane bootie that I remember struggling through when I didn't know how to read a pattern very well. I must have stopped in frustration.  I had a poncho that I had tried as an experiment--even before the booties--a pattern out of a Debbie Macomber book. It was my first try at reading a pattern and I didn't understand about weaving in ends. Consequently, each time I added another color (it was a free form, change-colors-whenever-you-want- poncho), I tied in the new yarns and cut them short, leaving little nubs of shredded yarn sticking out all over the place.

Not even a child can get
a leg in these

Dorm Booties, from Rhodes. The closest pattern I have found
is here: http://www.tropicalyarns.com/index.cfm?PID=22&ProdID=307

Then there was the category of "what the heck is this and who does it belong to?" These items included a pair of unmatched "Dorm Booties," so-named according to the pattern that was with them. It was from a store called "Rhodes," which, upon some research, turns out was a local department store that distributed patterns for the Red Cross during WWII. These were not from one of those patterns. But were interesting nevertheless. They were typed on what was typical "onion skin" type paper with a manual typewriter. The ink is now nearly invisible after all these years, but I am trying to decipher it.

I think the booties were from my grandmother's things. It would be shocking to think she would not finish a pair, so I concluded that my mother must have been the single-booty culprit. My grandmother was always complaining that my mom didn't finish what she started. And there was another cabled sock that was so tightly knit that it would fit no one's ankle. Also likely mom's.
Next on the growing list of projects to toss or complete were a couple of unfinished projects of my own. There was a tank top that had too-narrow shoulder straps that I had intended to frog months before, some scarves meant to be gifts and an uncompleted sock design. I wanted a tornado of Harry Potter lightning bolts and worked on this pattern as I knitted up the leg of a sock in inexpensive yarn. I have since figured it out. I will be frogging this sock, too, and working it up properly.

Harry Potter lightning socks, coming soon
This was all very frustrating since cleaning out your stuff also makes you feel anxious and empowered to start whipping out some huge project. But, alas, I feel I must put on the brakes. I have decided to complete what I can, gifts first, then work out the faded writing on my grandma/mom's mysterious pattern for adult booties. Finally, I will complete that Harry Potter design, hopefully in time for Halloween.

Turns out that riding UFO's is not really that fun. The trip usually winds up taking longer than you think. And that idea that they travel faster than the speed of light? That's a myth.

January 20, 2012

Vanity Fair

This is ME, NOT Kim. And every time I look in the
mirror, I have my more-than-fair-share of emerging
wiry and squirrely grey hairs that will likely remain undyed
 for a long while. I guess it just doesn't seem that
important to me yet.

 I have this acquaintance. Let's call her Kim. She is gorgeous. Tall, blond, thin and curvy (each in all the right places) with lovely, lovely skin surrounding perfect, white teeth. Which no one sees. She cannot smile very well due to very regular Botox injections, which she laughs about, sans the smiling part.

Yes, she might be all about her appearance, but she makes jokes about her vanity frequently. Then, she always turns a little serious. She makes no bones about her lifestyle. She usually finishes one of her self-deprecating remarks with, "So what? I don't want to look old. Ever." No body fat and no nonsense. I like her.

My friend takes her nearly-Death-Becomes-Her lifestyle very seriously and even is embarking on a personal business venture in an effort to convert the rest of us Northwesterners to her way of thinking. She has started a skin care business in her home where she provides clients with medical grade chemical peels, microdermabrasion and other age-defying services. She has been very smart and safe and uses a medical team--of sorts--to help her in her endeavor. And she has gone to school to learn all the necessary procedures and precautions. In addition to her services, she has decided recently to add a line of upscale products to her business, promoting skin care.  For this part, she needed a third party vendor.

Enter the woman from Santa Barbara, California. Let's call her S.B.

The S.B. woman has made a very lucrative career in the Los Angeles area, providing exotic, effective products for individuals, day spas and other businesses like Kim's. She sounds to me like a Mary Kay-like deity from some sun worshipping religion, but, S.B. came highly recommended and Kim hired her upon their first meeting.

S.B. had recently moved from southern California to the Pacific Northwest in order to escape what she called the "rat race" and the hoards of people. She wanted a slower life for a while, a change of pace. She probably saw, no doubt, some print ads for Oregon containing enticing photos, probably promising sun, sand, mountains, skiing, desert, lakes ... we have it all! Right?

Little did she know the truth about Portland, Oregon. It rains here. A lot. All winter. And the clouds are grey for months on end sometimes. Many a Californian has moved here, only to turn tail and run back to the sun soon after the first winter is over. Many of the more optimistic ones make it through one rainy summer, too, but few remain long-term.

The weather truly was a problem for S.B. But it was compounded by what, for her, were much bigger issues.

S.B. was here for only a handful of months--only partially steeped in the Northwest culture--before she exclaimed to Kim one damp day in utter disgust, "What is wrong with these people? Why don't they take care of themselves? This place is full of ugly, fat, dumpy people." Within a year, she was gone.

It is true that within the single year she was here, the take home portion of her sales went from $800K in Santa Barbara to just $125K here in Portland, but that really wasn't her true problem with our city. Her dramatic statement reveals much more than a frustration at the loss of income.

After all, one can live here just fine on $125K per year. In fact, much better than fine.

S.B. was upset. Not about her salary, as I say, but at the morality of it all--what it means in her idea of the bigger picture. To her, decent people would just naturally care so much about their appearances that they would go to great length and expense to preserve it. They would spend a lot of time thinking about it, planning for beauty treatments and diets and maybe even cosmetic surgery. To her, these things are just part of "taking care of" oneself. In short, she was offended at the smaller market here for such things because she thinks it means that we must not care about anything.

Little did she seem to know that many people here, undyed hair and all, would take offense to her statement. Some might even say that her and her usual L.A. clientel are shallow, vain and a bunch of you-know-whats. Some Portlanders might say that we'd rather spend our money on more meaningful things than appearance alone, like education or charitable causes. (After all, it has been said that we are overeducated, underworked coffee drinkers, and by kinder people. So we laugh at that one. It's charming.)

And we take care of ourselves, too. We enjoy organic and whole foods, and we not only exercise in our great outdoors, but we pride ourselves on our ability to stay outside no matter what the weather. It seems that hiking, kayaking, hunting and fishing might compromise our appearances, according to S.B.

But are we really that unattractive? I will admit that on any given ordinary day, I typically look more like the before picture in a Merle Norman makeover ad than a bathing beauty. But I still think we Northwest types can look quite well, au naturel faces and all.

And could it conversely be true that all the people in California are hollow, vain movie star wannabes who spend every waking moment (and dollar) planning their next tummy tuck or face lift? Of course not. That is ridiculous.

Finally, who the heck am I to even raise such questions? Do I even have any answers? No. I am no more an expert on social groups and norms than Mr. Green Jeans from "Captain Kangaroo." And this situation is far, far too complicated to explore completely here; I did not set out to write a research paper. The brutal honesty of S.B. was just too rare to keep to myself.

And isn't perspective an interesting thing?

January 16, 2012

Mission Accomplished...Almost.

Whenever you set out to tackle a big project, expect delays. It's like attempting to drive to Disneyland from Portland in summer, thinking about how nice a road trip will be. You dream about the things you will see traveling by car and congratulate yourself on your patience--after all, you could just fly. As you set out, you quickly run into the first of many (oh, so many) construction delays unanticipated. The dreaded "expect long delays" signs and sunburned, hard-hatted people who control your destiny greet you without feeling. And your long, long wait begins.

My stash organization has taken on that sort of life.

I know my stash is not the biggest ( I have talked to many
who beat me by a mile) but how many pairs of socks is
It's always tricky to finish a big project, but throw in a two-year-old, older kids, a full time job, yadda yadda yadda. Expect delays.

I did get a lot done since Wednesday when I decided that the right thing to do with my mounting stash of yarn and needles was to go exploring and discover what I really had, but the time seems now to stretch out before me like some vortexical tunnel. Stuff of science fiction? Nope. Just plain old reality.

I can see my floor!
In order to reorganize my yarn, I also had to clean my closet and dressers out, get a donation pile going and re-organize, re-fold, and re-hang everything. It was a mess. Then there was the original culprit, of course, the stash.

Cataloging and recording each and every last string of yarn, then photographing and editing it, then putting in all into the Ravelry database is a slow, slow task. I will admit here that I definitely slowed myself down when I took opportunity to practice my photography during the project, which really adds one more component. Unnecessary? No. Take opportunity when it presents itself, I say. And what about learning some organizational tricks along the way?

A mesh veggie bag makes a great holder for odds and ends!
I used Rubbermaid to store most of my yarn, which was fine for those larger groups of unused hanks and skeins. But what of the tiniest of balls? The odds and ends? I have, in the past, used a Sharpie to write the contents on plastic bags filled with these tiny wonders, which are usually too small to keep the labels with, but then I wondered if it wouldn't be better for the wool to breath.

Winding up sloppy skeins and hanks
In the kitchen drawer, I had several unused mesh, fabric vegetable bags with a drawstring top. Perfect. I added a hand written tag or two, filled them up, tightened the top and tossed them in the Rubbermaids.

Overall, I am happy with what I have accomplished. There are a lot less boxes and no more weird bags with unknown contents. Even the things I have not finished have at least been looked at and put together. That's right: I am not done yet. Just three more boxes to photograph and catalog.  And my kids still need to eat and my laundry still needs washing, and my husband and two-year-old still need attention. And I still need to work most days.

But it is to be expected. After all, the signs do say, "Expect Long Delays."
 A beacon of light? Why not.

January 15, 2012

Captain's Log, Stardate 2012: Phase One


Slurping spit constantly due to bleach trays. Life on this Home planet is quiet. Most life forms are at school. Smallest one soothed by Hello Kitty video. Huge mess here. Taking before pictures. Entered intent in previous entry, spent 45 minutes.


Small one expressing extreme activity, may need nourishment soon. She may be the key to my success--labeling her "X-Factor."  Will not stay upstairs, keeps scurrying downstairs to bother daddy who is trying to work from home today. Reminding me of that Tribble episode on Star Trek. Or Gremlins. If she starts to divide madly, will run from house. Not getting very far on the cleaning.


Fed Tribble-Amy and myself some lunch. Explained 8 times to her why we don't watch Barbie Fairytopia video in the family room next to daddy's office. Waited through a 10-minute-tantrum. Heading back upstairs.

Mystery stacks

Wading through all the stuff I pulled out of my closet.  There are boxes lining the short hall between the bedroom and bath. From the other direction, they extend out into the hallway almost to the laundry room. Didn't know I had so many knitting baskets. Like 5. And several bags--Nordstroms, Fred Meyer (grocery), T.J. Maxx--filled with odds and ends, too. Put them on top of the boxes.


Decide that a shower would make my mind more settled. Put Tribble-Amy in front of the T.V. Husband comes upstairs, sees the mess. Cries out, "I had no idea you had this much yarn!!!" Get into an argument over alleged hidden receipts from Jimmy Beans Wool.


Take a shower. Amy's show is over. Tribble in my shower. Water hits her, no transformation. Relieved that she is not a Gremlin. Window is open by the shower. Leads outside to neighborhood walkway. Neighbors walk by, hearing Amy screaming and me telling her she can't put soap in her eyes.


Really? Didn't plan on cleaning drawers.
Deciding on what outfit is cozy, feels "organized" and makes me look thinnest. Choose leggings and a fitted white sweatshirt. White is "clean," right? Put makeup on. Linger in the mirror to make sure I feel as thin as possible.


Took too long on the make-up. Look again at the mess. Walk around it, assessing the damage. Decide to go to Fred Meyer for more Rubbermaid containers. Will better hide the exposed stash. More marital bliss.  Head back to the mirror before I leave. Check another angle on the outfit.


Leave for store. Amy wants a cookie at the bakery. Purchase two large, clear bins. Head outside. Forgot to get the cookie. Head back inside, get cookie, head out and go home.

The view through my hair--seen here by the "halo" on the frame.

Try to settle back in to cleaning. Realize I had an hour and 15 minutes before I have to pick up my daughter from play practice. Then it will be dinner.


Pull miscellaneous items out of several bags and spread them out all over the bed and chest at the foot of said bed. Create a photo shoot site on the oak chest. Get out the camera. Don't know what Tribble-Amy is doing. Take a few pictures.


Leave to get Annie from play practice. Arrive 5 minutes late. Hurry home.


Husband see my crazed look. Offers to get dinner out. Breath sigh of relief.

Helper Amy at 11p.m.

Stayed up way too late. Husband forced to fall asleep on the couch downstairs while I was still taking pictures of the yarn and writing down details for further entry into Ravelry's storage area on my page. Eyes are stinging. Not sure, but Tribble-Amy may be sleepingin a box of yarn. Don't dare to look in the mirror.

Yarn Tribble
One thing is certainly true: there are no real Tribbles here. Only UFO's.

January 11, 2012

Cleaning Day: Where the Hell Are My Sticks?

Today is January 11th. On this day, I am making a few more New Year's Resolutions. Why not January first? Because it is so cliche. So over. And also because this way, I trick myself into thinking my resolutions will not be just a few more to add to the billions that are made and broken each year (... like 6 billion, for those of you keeping track of the world population ...). I want mine to stick.

In some ways, I am easy going. I like to laugh, I don't take most things too personally and I generally--and genuinely--really like others. I'm not hard on my friends when they forget something--hey, I do it all the time myself. And I figure that they are, overall, more important to me than some forgotten card on my birthday.


In other ways, I can be quite intense (enter comments from those who knew me in college here ...). I enjoy assessing situations, organizing and categorizing the information I discover, then creating a goal and ambitiously heading out after it.

This should be ONLY my clothes closet.
Please don't call "Hoarders," I can
handle this. But if I don't come out,
save yourself.
Sometimes this can be a small thing like the time I suddenly decided I really, really needed to know the real endings to all those Disney fairy tales. I knew they were not written by Walt Disney himself. And I knew from a childhood book that the "Little Mermaid" dies in the end. I headed to the library at the center of town on that very day of decision and checked out every book I could find on fairy tales in their earliest forms and read myself sick for days.

Turns out Cinderella was quite the self-starter. Charles Perrault (author given credit for the written story) gave her a sort of wishing tree in her back yard where she would request her gifts--dress, slippers, etc. And those step sisters? They actually "nipped off" a "bit of heel" and toe to make that slipper fit upon the prince's arrival. When the prince saw the bleeding, well, their plan didn't work out and Cinderella still made out pretty well.

My Christmas gift from my husband:
a swift and ball winder. Get ready to wind,
label and stack!
 While the step sisters head to the first aid station,  let me get to the point: You can do a lot of things when you want to.

I completed six years of college with four, then five (after marriage) and finally six children at home. Don't get me wrong, I know all of you likely have some of your own pretty awesome stories of ambition and success that could put mine to shame. And I have some pretty big current ambitions of my own.

I want a clean, organized house. I want to fit back into my old jeans and I want whiter teeth.

While I can sit here right now with my bleach trays in my mouth, the other two are much harder to do. We all complain about frustration over organization and being thinner, but I really want to accomplish these things. Not over night--I have a whole year, right? Isn't that how this whole resolution game is played?

So ... I have analyzed my situation and broken it down into parts. Part I: Organize my yarn stash, needles, books and patterns. I am afraid I have been much better at shopping than at putting things away. When you can't find your needles anymore, or you can find the plastic bag that once contained a pair, but there are no bamboo sticks in sight except the old chopsticks in your kitchen drawer, it's time.

This should be my nightstand.
Today, I begin with my room. My craft room. Which is really my clothes closet, my sewing desk, which is in our bedroom, my nightstand and the area around my favorite overstuffed green chair downstairs. There are bins, baskets, bags, boxes (some still with shipping slips) just overflowing with wooly chaos.

If I am ever going to make a sweater for some imaginary skinny body, I need to know how much fiber I have and what pattern I will use. And where the hell are all my sticks?

Time to dive in. I'll keep you posted. Literally. This will feel like no small task.

January 8, 2012

Of Men and Needles

I love men. Not in the freaky deaky way you might think upon first glance at that statement, but as a group. They are generally more rugged in appearance than us, they have a different thought process than we do, and they like things that are typically very different from the things women like.

Men have whiskers, they smell like men, they don't really like doing their own laundry or ironing, they hunt, fish, watch sports (sometimes obsessively), work on cars (sometimes with great expertise, like my husband), chop wood, love electonics, put up our Christmas lights, mow the grass, paint the fence...heck, sometimes, they even obey their wives, who usually believe they have their men all figured out. Or do we?

Did reading the list above make you say a few things to yourself like, "Hey, I am the one who does that!" or, "Women can do that, too!" ? Or maybe, "My husband is the one who does the laundry!" or, "My Aunt Una has whiskers!"

For me, it was my Aunt Gertie, but the reason we notice the exceptions is because we as people like, of course, to categorize others, yet we recognize that there are always individual differences. They stand out to us.

Yes, anyone can surprise us. And men are no exception. I still love their male attributes, and admittedly some of the more traditional ones, but I love that element of surprise that can be found absolutely anywhere. Even in our husbands, boyfriends, sons and dads.

Recently, I found out that a friend's husband belongs to a group on Ravelry called S.M.A.C.K. The acronym stands for "Straight Men Also Crochet and Knit!" It's like a support group for male knitters who have wives, kids and regular lives that may or may not include frequent T.V. sports viewing. They just happen to love wool (and perhaps the precise German engineering in an addi turbo).

These guys say they recognized that the men who were knitters were not really recognized as a legitimate group, yet they do exist. Just like those ROUS's in "Princess Bride." (There is a joke to be made here about "unusual size," but I am just not going to do it.)

Further, these men found out that when their wives/significant others/daughters/female friends learned of their knitting, they thought it was great, perhaps even charming and awesome. Their group on Ravelry celebrates their hobby and the bonds they form with others--and fibers--and encourages anyone to join.

And those Ravelry friends are not alone. There are dozens, if not more, groups and websites dedicated to men who knit. There are even exclusive men's patterns and entire books dedicated to the cause.  It seems to be spreading like wildfire. Or wool afire.

Now some of you ladies who may have read the historical account in Nancy Bush's book, "Knitting Vintage Socks" regarding men and knitting, may be feeling threatened. You may be recalling how men were the first ones thought to be the knitters, and that in some regions, these same men had to follow intense knitting apprenticeships, followed by almost walkabout experiences, in which they had to create never before seen stitches to ultimately be included in knitting guilds as "Master Knitters." You may be thinking, hey! it's our turn! You may especially feel this way if you are a woman who heard the medieval story of how women were not allowed to knit at home for fear that their brains may catch on fire, but take heart. I say that if we want sexual equality, then let them knit. Or eat cake. Or knit while eating cake. Or knit while eating cake and watching the Bronco's beat the Steelers in sudden death overtime...that's what I was doing today, and I'm not even a sports fan.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. I personally love it that men knit and I would be proud if my husband or sons picked up a pair of sticks and went to it. It's a good idea.

In fact, knitting is good for everyone. It is being used more and more in schools as therapy for kids who are bullied or feel like they don't belong, for kids with learning disabilities like ADD, and in rehab programs for drug and alcohol addiction (see Eunny Jang's great personal story in the latest issue of Interweave Knits). I even heard someone say they heard it was being used in prisons as a way to change the mood.

The obvious "OZ"-like danger of that last idea aside, we all know that knitting takes you to another place during the actitivity. Further, think about how you feel when you connect with another knitter or when you are in your knitting circle. It can almost become like a religious experience.

So S.M.A.C.K. guys, for all these reasons, I completely, unabashedly, soap-box-style support you in what you are doing. I joined your group. And I love all that you are, yarn porn and all.

Go ahead and saddle up your horses, but don't forget your needles.

January 7, 2012

Camille's Birthday Scarf

This is me, imagining I am keeping
this scarf. Guess it's back to the
 My good friend had a birthday this past New Year's Eve.  She is a sweet lady--the sort who, at work, might pass you in the hall and say, "Hey, want me to get you a coffee?" as she leaves for a quick errand. Then she would return with it and say, "It's on me."

In fact, Camille and I have been working together for 3 years. I started at our dental office right out of college and she has been a great help and encouragement to me. Her long, loud joyful laughter can be heard throughout our place of work...and she is the only one I can easily share an off color joke with. Without words. I am glad she is my friend.

For her special day this year, I knitted her Joelle Hoverson's "Big Lace Scarf." Camille is the sort of girl who loves cute glam stuff and adores accessories: she has more Brighton, Silpada and Stella and Dot Jewelry than anyone I know. She even has an Ebay account to help "rotate it." And to soften the Cleopatra-esque bling, she loves to wear scarves.

This scarf is knitted in Lion's Brand Hometown yarn, extra bulky weight, and is bright turquoise so it will show off any gold or silver jewelry she is wearing. I added some embellishment, too, or it just wouldn't be glam enough.

I used Interweave Knits Edgings stitch dictionary for a few of the knitted flowers on the scarf and another stitch dictionary of crochet stitches for the rest.

I used a double crochet to "wagon wheel" the center of those flowers, and chained up 4 for the next round, using double crochet again. For the petals on the final round, I chained up 4 more, made a bobble, chained 4 more and finally secured each petal in the next stitch, beginning each consecutive petal in the same spot. Those flowers are the larger pink and green ones on the corners in the pics.

For a final touch, I used some of my grandmothers vintage buttons--VERY heavy compared to today's--which I have had in storage for about 25 years, now.

What better use?

Happy Birthday, Camille!

January 5, 2012

Grandma Miller Meals

Baked chicken parts smothered in 99cent Kraft BBQ sauce.
Convection: 350 uncovered for 1 hour, reapply sauce for
final 15 minutes, add chopped green onions for garnish
 Realizing today that the blog is nearing its one year anniversary, it got me thinking. One of the first posts I did was about my grandmother around her birthday, which is at the end of March. As I was thinking about how the time has flown by, I realized that I was really hungry for a Grandma Miller Dinner. (The capitalization of the letters is out of respect.)

What is a GMD? You ask.

My Grandma Miller was an extremely frugal woman. She lived successfully in a pretty swank retirement community for most of my life on an incredibly fixed income. She would supplement her social security by doing things like seamstress work for her wealthier neighbors, wore her clothes for 10 years at least before recycling them into other useful objects, boiled her used plastic bags to "sterilize" them and then hang them to dry on a mini makeshift clothesline she put up in her kitchen.

The kitchen itself was cozy and always steaming with activity. It was a galley-style apartment kitchen with an attached eating area, which was complete with four vinyl seated chairs surrounding a plastic-covered (yes, I mean a sheet of plastic to protect the vinyl tablecloth) dining room table with a small plastic flower arrangement in the center. It was light and cheerful, with a large window adjacent the table. It was always ready for company.

The secret to Grandma's cornbread: Make the recipe on the box
adding double the sugar and one extra egg. Use a 8x8 or
9inch round pan, not muffin tins, 350 for 35 minutes
 My grandmother prided herself on her hostessing skills. Many times she told the years-old story (1945 at least) of the pastor, who came to their farming town for a visit with the pastor of the local baptist church. His reputation for his dislike of rabbit preceded him, and the townspeople whispered about it madly--it was a staple to them, and how could a man who should embody humility be ungrateful for any meal?

Grandma Miller, quiet in her usual way, did not participate much in the gossip. But she was always listening. Upon her first meeting with this man, she invited the new pastor to her home and whipped up her best rabbit dinner for a special welcome to their town, but did not share with him what the meal would be.

"That was the best chicken I've ever had!" He exclaimed as he leaned back in his chair after he had eaten three hearty plates of food, picking his teeth, "Mrs. Miller, you sure are a good cook."

"Oh, good!" Grandma Miller said, "That makes me so glad. The ladies of the baptist church will be glad to know that you like rabbit after all." She smiled sweetly.

My Grandmother particularly liked the next part of the story and she stifled giggles as she would tell it.

She said his eye grew wide, then almost wild. He again thanked her for the meal, stood up, looked around and stiffly walked out of the house. He did not eat with her, or any members of the church for the remainder of the visit.

At this final statement, she would allow herself to howl uncontrollably, enjoying the moment each time as if it had just occured.

Grandma Miller may sound like a trickster, but she was not. True, she may have been trying to teach him a lesson in humility as the other ladies probably wished they had been given a chance to do, but she may have merely been testing her skills as a cook: If she could pass off a rabbit dinner to a rabbit dinner hating guest, well, that made her the Iron Chef of Oregon City, OR, South Bend Road. And a for a rabbit dinner to be so satifying was a feat, too, because it was cheap.

Cheap was never a word my grandmother used. Not once. She talked about saving and not wasting--she was a newly married adult during the depression, after all--but she never said "cheap." In fact, she hardly used the word "money" either. To her, it was a moral obligation to use things completely, no wasting and no frivolity.

She took this to her kitchen, and seriously, even long after her farming days. Well into her 80's she made her own bread. In summer and fall, she used each and every vegetable and fruit that was given to her, either canning green beans (hard to do, but not for her), in making her own jellies and jams for the year, or just serving them fresh.

She purchased only the most inexpensive cuts of meat, too. Ground beef was the only beef she bought--it was less money and went farther in any dish than other type of beef. And chicken was only purchased on the bone and in the thigh and leg variety. For special occasions, she would pick up a turkey loaf, which was made up of various turkey meat, chopped and pressed into a 3-dimensional rectangle and frozen into a mini aluminum bread pan.

From all of these things, my grandmother, like she had done long ago for the visiting Oregon City pastor, could whip up a veritable feast. And she loved to do it. When I was small, we were asked over quite often to her house for dinner, and I antipicated each meal with feverish excitement.

My parents' red grapes, picked in their back
yard, made into homestyle jelly
She would lay out a plate of homemade bread or her own special cornbread for us on that table by the window. Next to it would be a bowl of homemade jelly and a purple melmac plate with Nucoa on it. She would bake some chicken legs and thighs, boil some frozen or canned vegetables (I particularly liked the mixed ones) and, for a final touch, she might even put a small fresh flower arrangement where the plastic one held the place the rest of the time.

It always tasted so good and I would eat till I was sick. It felt like the food supply was endless.

Tonight, I wanted that experience again, as I do from time to time. I did not make rabbit, or frozen vegetables, but I did make her special sweet cornbread, baked chicken legs and thighs and some sweet frozen corn, all served with my homemade grape jelly (my parents grow and juice the grapes--I am in charge of the jelly now) and real butter.

My four kids thrilled with delight over the meal, and notwithstanding my own feelings, that makes it all more worth the while.


When I began this blog nearly a year ago, I knew there would be things I did not understand. Let's face it: my last computer science class was at McLoughlin public middle school, 7th grade, 1980 with Mr. Perkins, who was famous for saying, "Be alert! Lerts are popular."

I never thought I would be on a computer as much as I am in recent memory, but since they have invaded our spaces, personal and private, as though we all lived in a real-life Isaac Asimov story, we must all learn to deal with them in big or small ways.

Until the robots take over our world, we are left to manage them and mine has gone awry.

It came to my attention a few days, no weeks, ago that my email was not receiving my blog entries. I suscribed to my own feed thinking that I could keep an eye on things. I did a rotten job.

Being a neophyte to blogging, I failed to recognize that if the feed does not go to MY email, then it is going to no one else's either. Instead, I just went, "Wow! Something must be wrong with my email." And I didn't even attempt to trouble shoot that, either.

Today, I asked a friend if she was receiving emails from Through the Knitting Lens and she said, "No. but it's ok. I just catch up on Facebook."

I came home from work and immediately got online. It turns out that the feed can get too big. So every entry from the last year, apparently, was being stored in the feed!

I hope it is fixed, now, and I apologize for any irritation and/or inconvenience!!

Kermit was right: It's not easy being green.

Thanks for reading!


January 4, 2012

Man Slippers, Hats, A Monkey and A New Year's Resolution

Only a few gifts this year! There are two
pairs of slippers missing...I was also late
in taking the photos!!
 Christmas. At work today, my knitterly friends and I were just discussing this knitting-sore topic, meaning this: we are all sort of new-ish knitters (I know I have been at it for 3 years now, but put me up against someone who has been knitting for 40 years and I am like primordial knitting slime) and for the last couple of years, we have been killing ourselves unnecessarily before Christmas with knitting.

Instead of realizing that it takes many months--or at least weeks--to crank out gift-worthy knits, we all seem to continue to operate under the assumption that we should wait till after Thanksgiving every year once the proper holiday season begins, cozy up by a fire on a cool day and knit away for our loved ones. And all of these projects will be, of course, finished completely by Christmas with plenty of time to spare for shopping, card writing and general fun Christmas activities. We had at one point even discussed the idea of throwing in a fun knitting club Christmas party.

Instead of the above peaceful fantasy, here is what really happens around the holidays: Thanksgiving comes seemingly faster with each passing year, then goes as fast as it came. We no sooner pack up the leftover turkey for our parting guests before it is time to look at the calendar. There are only...let's see...how to calculate working time...31 days in a month, but Christmas is on the 25th...that only leaves about 25-27 days to complete about 15-20 gifts, 21 if we include the outer circle of friends and the mailman.

It's frustrating to not be able to do everything you want.
 We then realize--seemingly afresh each year--that we have to quickly decide on patterns and yarns, shop for these things, order some things online, wait for them to come and when that task is completed, we re-check the calendar for updated working time, only to realize that there might now be a realistic 20 days (at best) to knit. And shop. And decorate. And do cards, visit Christmas light displays, take our kids to Santa, go to church, plan each family gathering, bake treats (which we also must complete as gifts for our neighbors and co-workers) and on and on it goes.

Instead of a cozy warm fireplace on a cool day, I personally end up sweating it out figuratively and literally: the days are usually not cold enough here in early December for a fire, but I am always determined to have one, even in spite of the fact that I am working at mach speed to finish gifts for at least my own children. The very children I neglect for most of December in my rush to finish projects like an underpaid worker in some third world sweat shop with my head perpetually down and my blistered fingers flying. It is not cozy.

This year, I sort of wised up...a little. I realized about midway through the month of December, that some things had to be cut, pushed out, let go. Not everyone was getting a gift this year of dainty woolen fibers lovingly wound with two sticks into magical intricate shapes. Heck, I can hardly do that on a regular day, and no matter how much Christmas magic one sprinkles on a project, some fantasies are not to be.

I stripped my knitted gift list down to a few people: my husband, three sons, three daughters and my boss. That would be manageable enough--maybe. Then I looked again at my feverish list of possible patterns, determined to pick only a few that would leave enough time for eating and sleeping, at the least.

One son loves Oregon State, and one loves UofO.
Civil War in our house.
Slippers. There was something I could finish. And hats. Now we were talking. I had a great pattern from Fiber Trends for some felted clogs and another one I had wanted to make for my daughter about two stressful Christmases ago--which I had failed to do. That one was a Paton's pattern for sock monkey slippers.

I got out my patterns. The clog pattern was great, and I knew just the yarn for the men in my family--my husband and two of my sons. I also had practiced making a pair a few months back, so there would be no weird surprises. I knew exactly how it would turn out. The sock monkeys were another story.

I bought Patons's Family Felting book a couple of years ago and Annie, age 9 at the time, wanted the sock monkey slippers immediately. Back then, I fel that I could not tackle them: they looked too hard for me. I looked at them again this year. What a nice surprise they would make for Christmas. I understood the pattern. No problem after all those socks I have been making--another bonus of Sock Summit! I looked closer. Hmmm....size 8 inch foot length for a 7-8 year old child. Annie was now 11 and had a women's size 7.5 foot, about 9 inches long and 8 inches around.

Yup. I had to rework the pattern.

Adding to the difficulty was the fact that is was a felted project. I took a deep breath and thought about all those mathmatical measurements I had learned over the past several months for feet, socks and fit. I made myself sit down calmly with pencil, paper and calculator--sans fire--and figured out how to add stitches for 25% shrinkage that would ultimately fit her foot. I was unsure, but I went for it.

It actually worked. I will never doubt math again. Unless it promises time travel, but that's another story. After the monkeys, it was on to the slippers. They really are a fun project and I would recommend the Fiber Trends pattern by Bev Galeskas. They worked up pretty fast and turn out great. I used Cascade 220 wool. A friend recommended Lamb's Pride, but I don't like it as well. Those things aside, it was time for a couple of hats.

Alex's new Duck's hat. It was fun to try "fair isle" knitting
for myself. I used very, very old Red Heart yarn. Boy,
it sure feels thicker than the new stuff!
My one son, Alex, did not want slippers. He wanted a new Oregon Ducks hat. I made him one last year and he wears it so much, it can stand alone in a corner. I actually think I heard it demand dinner once. So, in order to wash it so as to prevent it coming completely alive, I agreed. I worked my own checkboard pattern into the one size fits all hats from More Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. I love that pattern and even made it a second time for my boss, this time with navy yarn and a white stripe for BYU, his favorite school.

Finally, and since I sort of had a small amount of time, I threw in a pair of fingerless mitts for my boss to match his hat. 

That was my checklist: 5 pairs of felted slippers, 2 hats, one pair of fingerless gloves and a partridge in a pear tree.

As for Amy Rose, she did not get any knitted things for Christmas, though I am working on a sweater for her as we speak out of the latest Interweave Knits magazine called Petite Facile Pullover in Plymouth Mushishi. It's adorable and fun to make in this breathable time.

That is the story of how I survived Christmas this year. It wasn't perfect and I still was late in my knitted start, but we were able to decorate our house and made it to one local light show. Next year is going to be different. I suppose I am making a resolution. In fact, earlier today, I think my work friends and I all did: we are starting now. At least the planning. The knitting, we decided must begin in Spring. Or summer at least.

Only then will the mailman be able to receive his special delivery.

January 3, 2012

A Yarn Bomb. No, Really

Since Portlandia is beginning it's second season this week, I thought it might be appropriate to pay a little homage to my new fav sketch comedy program. If I were ever allowed to write a script for the show--which will NEVER happen--I would have a ball. Or a bomb.

In this snippet from my own imaginary script for Portlandia, there just might be one.

A Yarn Bomb. No, Really

Fred and Carrie meet up with a good friend from Portland named Vince who has been a very useful consultant for the show, helping to keep it true to Portland form. He is an earthy fellow who still believes in peace and love. He has very long, graying hair that is lately forming dreadlocks surrounding a kindly face. He is soft spoken, but deliberate in his way of communication. He has elegant, fine features and a slight build formed from years of yoga and a strict vegan diet. An accomplished fiber artist and glass blower, he has called the two friends for a meeting.

He has an idea for the show.

Let’s listen in as they settle down in a coffee shop...

Vince orders a chai tea without cream. No animal products, please. He softly smiles at the server, a young woman probably in her early 20’s.

Fred and Carrie order a couple of espresso drinks and ask Vince what’s up.

Vince’s serene face lights up and he strains to hold back a too-broad grin. He begins, “Well, my friends, you know how much it means to me to work toward a more peaceful existence through natural means and loving others,” his words are drawn out in a meaningful, almost dreamlike way.

He continues as Carrie and Fred glance at each other, then return their attention to Vince, “I believe I have found a way to celebrate Yarn Bombing Day, which also strives to bring people together, with a message of peace.”

No longer able to hold back, Vince produces a tiny, round knitted object with an even tinier stem of crocheted stitches on the end. He points the stem toward the ceiling. The sphere is only about 2 inches in diameter, and the stem only millimeters.

They all three gaze at the tiny…bomb?

Vince exclaims, “Isn’t it great?”

“What is it?” Fred and Carrie ask simultaneously.

“It’s a bomb!”

“Why would you want a bomb to promote peace?”

Vince is clearly glad they asked this question, “Don’t you see the social irony?” His words are freely flowing now, his excitement rising, he speaks rapidly as though all the words will not wait their turn, “A tiny, warm and fuzzy deliverer of peace in the very form that usually instills fear! What a message!” Vince, the evangelist of peace goes on, “Remember that piece you guys did a while back? ‘Put a bird on it?’ Well, put a bomb on it for International Yarn Bombing Day!”

He sits back triumphantly. His eyes welled a little with tears as his emotions have momentarily carried him away. He composes himself, waiting for the wonderful compliments from his friends that will surely ensue.

“Uhhh…” Fred hesitates, careful not to burst his friend’s bubble, “Vince, you might be able to do this in limited places, but I think overall people might think it sends the wrong message.”

Carrie nods. She holds her hands over Vince’s. “Vince, it’s a great thought, but I agree with Fred -- it’s too risky.”

Vince is undaunted, he ignores their caution. They just aren’t getting it, that’s all. “Think about this for a minute. It will be cute. You know, like those miniature knitted figures. The bombs will be like a messenger of hope. Imagine! Bombs for peace!”

He says this last part too loudly, and people are starting to turn and look at him. He is wearing flowing robes and is starting to make people suspicious.

“Vince,” Fred says through his teeth, smiling and glancing around, “you might want to lower your voice.”

“Fred, we did not lower our voices back in the 60’s and we aren’t going to start now!” Now he was really getting riled up. He tried to quickly lighten the mood that was clearly turning, “Look, it could be really splashy and fun! You could use those candles that won’t burn out—the birthday candles that re-light themselves—inside the bombs. Light them for fun, leave them in a public place, and watch people try to blow them out!”

He wasn’t finished, “Or another thing you could use are those party poppers. You know, wrap them in yarn, only the string is the ‘fuse’ and kids could pull them and the streamers and stuff come out the bottom. Maybe that could be a 4th of July skit, or something. Man…you could get crazy with this!”

There was a commotion outside, which Vince did not hear at first. A few people wearing lovely entrelac sweaters and carrying dogs on leashes—wearing the same sweaters—were running by the coffee shop window. Were they running from something?

For a moment, everyone in the coffee shop turned their attention from Vince’s sermon (“…or what about New Year’s Eve and party crackers…”) about peace and bombs to the window. They all heard the sound of drums, marimbas and this clacking sound…what was that? The television behind the espresso machine in the shop was humming something about a Yarn Bomb Gang and the mayor of Portland declaring a state of emergency.

Then they all saw it. The tidal wave of color and yarn and needles and oh so many people!

Vince stopped his speech. He saw them, he heard them. He heeded them. His people. They were calling him!

He turned. He had, in his excitement, climbed a chair to preach to an unwilling crowd.

Now, as they passed, he gave up on his friends, bidding them farewell. He grabbed his bomb and lightly, freely exited the shop, joining the mob as joining old friends. They welcomed him, tossing him a tee shirt that said “only knitting.” on the back.

“We’ll never see him again,” Carrie said wistfully.

“No. He’s happy now.” Fred smiled. Then he wondered, almost to himself, “Where the heck did they get those tees?”

They both stared as they watched their old friend pass from this life into the next…

If you'd like "the rest of the story," just click the Part II Portlandia button down the right side of the page : )

As the kids and the hipsters say these days, "Cheers!"

January 2, 2012

The Hipster Dilemma

My whole world opened up yesterday. I finally learned the "new" meaning of the word "hipster..." I think.

"Hipster" is one of those vague slang words that could mean any number of things. Usually I don't care too much about the true meaning of a slang term (I say "true" loosely). I just hear new phrases, sometimes adopt them for my own and then throw them around for my own amusement.

This usually works for me--except that one time in 6th grade when I went around my classroom with a tea cup hook, hooking people's jean belt loops and crying out, "I'm a hooker!" to gales of classroom laughter. The more the class laughed, the more I did it. Mrs. Stanton, 6th grade teacher and understander of the term "hooker," put a quick and hard end to my fun.

I have since learned to be more discerning in my use of new, hip, urban vernacular...at least that which is new to me...and my days of hooking are over. But, in general, I still lean at least a little on the fast and loose side: if the words aren't filthy or gang terms that might get me beat up in a mall parking lot, well, they are fair game. Until recently.

Something has been really bugging me about this newish word, "hipster." Upon first hearing it a few years ago, it had the usual vauge charm and a lack of potentially ensuing violence required for my personal use, but I just couldn't throw it around.

My 18 and 20 year old sons were saying it, and I heard it from younger friends, but it was just too mysterious to use. For me, it would conjur up images of Austin Powers and the 60's swinging single crowd, or even actual jeans that fit on the hips, but these definitions didn't fit the contexts I was hearing it in. It was always used, well, sarcastically, as if it were a sort of insult. It was hardly a natural retort to someone's casual description of their Old Navy's.

Enter Nicole.

She is my twenty something, cool, young friend in the know. She has her intellectual finger on the pulse of all things urban, fresh, socially new, young and colloquial. Nicole is one of those people with not only a commanding knowledge of all things social, but one with an uncanny ability to read situations and people with freakish accuracy. In short, she should probably be a lawyer...or one to start a social revolution for the greater good. Whether she uses her powers for good or evil was never my concern. She is my avatar, my social guide to all things current. And she enlightened me yesterday like no other day.

We work together in the same dental office and yesterday we were cleaning instruments together and popping them into the sterilizer like some great sanitizing oven and I said, quite out of the blue, "Nicole, I saw this Youtube video yesterday. I was looking for the 'Vancouvria' video, which was hilarious, but then I saw this other one that caught my attention." I felt sheepish. I was either about to be so right or embarrassingly wrong.

She waited for me to go on. She stopped stuffing the sterilizer and put down a stainless steel cassette wrapped in blue paper. The instruments clinked inside.

She just looked at me. Crap. There was that reading people thing again.

"It was called, 'Confessions of a Hipster.' And it was really funny, I think." I felt unsure if I should laugh at it.

"Oh?" She was sort of smiling. Of course, she knew where this was going. She probably assumed that at my age, I had stopped learning new slang after "radical" and "awesome." She might have been right.

"Yeah. You know, I always thought of a hipster like Austin Powers, you know? Like a swinging single. But it's more like someone who thinks they are intellectually superior, isn't it?"

Nicole's smile broadened. She was reading my mind and she knew she was about to blow it apart. "You didn't know that?" Bigger smile--she was proud of me, I could tell. "Yeah that's like those people you know who talk about things they know you don't know enough of to respond or engage. And if you try, they just talk over you. I have friends like that." She went on, "I say, 'hey, I heard this great new band!' and they say, 'that is so over! Now it's this other band!' They work really hard at being able to show off."

Not just one light bulb went on over my head, but 10,000 gleaming beacons. I had just been given a category for the people I never previously had the words to describe.

I thought of a friend I saw recently at a party who exclaimed, "You know, I used to think, now why would anyone waste their time reading fiction, you know?" when someone brought up how much they liked their book club. She said it in a tone that said, "I am trying to make this sound like many of you will agree with me, but secretly I know that you will all instead really be feeling stupid for reading Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter, and I will be the intellectual superior. Round one: me." She's a hipster!

I mentioned to another friend once that I enjoyed my church and she not only tsk tsk'd the idea, but gave me a Dark Ages lecture on the church followed by a very long story about how Christianity rose out of eastern Europe with the Zoroastrians and didn't I know how convoluted, yet quaint it all was? It was sooooo manmade. She is one who pulls out very specific information on classes from college that she knows you have not taken and talks louder and faster over you until you stop trying to respond and sit silently. She sits back, thinking she has outdone you. Round two? The hipster.

These thoughts all flew through my mind as I talked to Nicole that fateful day of sterilization in the dental office. How freeing. I used the word at least 6 times that day, thinking of sketch comedy from Portlandia that now had even funnier content. I wanted to run home and rewatch every episode. I thought of example after example in my own life...and how these people have been around for some time.

They are not usually the true nerdy folks (though they are certainly not exempt from the temptation to rule the world, or at least the conversation), no. The true hipsters are the ones who simply proclaim they are nerdy and oh, so proud of it. In short, they talk the talk, but don't walk the nerdy walk. Really, they are the overeducated--even if on the asinine--the socially too-aware and perhaps even the intellectually vain among us who seek to overpower others with information that makes no sense or that most of us do not use.

So the next time I am tempted to announce to my friends that I got a scalene triangle tattoo because equilateral triangle tattoos are simply not chaotic enough, I will think twice. About getting the tattoo in the first place.

Everyone knows that isosceles are the way to go. Two equal angles with only one odd man out are just enough chaos to maintain singularity. That makes me more ironic.

Doesn't it?