Having fun

Handmade dollhouse, made by hubby for the girls.

Handmade dollhouse, made by hubby for the girls.

Yup, the unthinkable has happened: I’m actually enjoying needle knitting. How did this happen?! I can’t even think of it as an “old lady” thing anymore, because I know too many people who are much younger than I am who knit, and do it a lot better than I do!

So, this past week I added more yarn to the stash–as if eleven tubs full weren’t more than enough–and some knitting books, by taking a trip to my favorite yarn store up in Black Forest. And a trip to Wally World netted a few more skeins of yarn and some more straight needles, because, well, they were inexpensive and shorter than the 14″ needles I had been struggling with. And I also sat down with YouTube and learned to do double knitting on the needles, which is turning out not to be as difficult as I had anticipated, and it allows me to do a little bit of colorwork. Go, me!

The first attempt, while successful, was made with a pair of yarns that I’ve decided I really don’t like. They’re not soft enough, and kind of rasp against your skin. So I put that one aside and tried again, this time with some Caron yarn, which is more than soft enough. In fact, it may actually be too soft. It frays very easily, and I’m not happy with that either. I’m still going though, because despite that, they’re both acrylic yarns, which means they’re cheap enough to use for practice runs like this. Once I get it down pat, then I’ll break out some of the good stuff!

Annoyingly, the blanket I made for Bryony on the longest of my Spanish knitting looms is coming apart. I don’t actually know if it’s something I did wrong, or that Bryony is that hard on her blankets. It’s been suggested that I might have missed a stitch somewhere, or dropped one, and that’s causing the problem, but I would have sworn I hadn’t. I was so careful, but I suppose it’s possible. It’s so annoying because her original two blankets are still intact, and I crocheted those for her older sister’s birth more than nine years ago! Okay, yes, some repair work to the edges has been done, but that’s it, and it was easy work. The main bodies of those two blankets have never come apart, which is why it pisses me off that this one has. It’s only a few months old, in comparison to the nine + year old crocheted pair, which have been washed repeatedly, dragged all over creation and back, yanked on by dogs, and slept with every night for three years.

Needless to say, Bryony has commissioned me to make her a new blankie. Also needless to say, since the new one will follow in the drag marks of its predecessors, this one will be acrylic as well. I just have to find the perfect color for her, or let her choose them. That’ll be fun for her. She’ll drive me crazy until it’s done, of course, but she’s four, and driving mama

Front of double knit fabric

Front of double knit fabric

crazy is in the job description of all four-year-olds.

Speaking of my children, hubby took it into his head this past Christmas to build them a dollhouse, and he has done an outstanding job! We weren’t thrilled with what we saw in the toy stores as far as dollhouses went. The last one the girls had cost about $125, and was horribly flimsy. It was made of very thin MDF and plastic. Hubby took $60 and went to Lowe’s for 1/2″ plywood sheets, trim, and some 2 x 4s.  This dollhouse is enormous. It’s 4 x 4 x 2. It’s a lavender/pale pink castle, complete with drawbridge that works, and three floors, counting the roof. It takes two people to move the thing, and it isn’t quite finished yet, but the girls are already using it. We haven’t yet attached the chains to the drawbridge, and the girls have decided that the interior walls to create separate

Back of double knit fabric

Back of double knit fabric

rooms are unnecessary for them. Well, okay, if that’s what they want, so be it. The floors are all perfect heights for 12″ Barbie dolls, and the girls are thrilled. They’re not the only ones. I’d like to be eight again, with a massive, hand-built dollhouse to show off to my friends!!!

Knit stuff

Apple's Knit Counter

Apple’s Knit Counter

I’ve picked up another skill necessary to needle knitting this week: UNknitting!!! For someone like me, this is absolutely a necessity. One of the pros of loom knitting is the fact that it is very difficult to lose or add a stitch without knowing it immediately. With needle knitting, I consistently do both, with no idea how it happens, and then I have to unknit everything all the way back to where I made the mistake. It’s a royal nuisance if you are a beginner and have made the further mistake of using a dark color to knit with. It is, however, much better than starting over from cast-on, which I have also done numerous times.

Another tip: count your stitches at least every other row. Me, I count them at least that often. See above.

This was a good weekend. I got the early release of Thor: Dark World on iTunes and watched that with the family while trying very hard not to look as though I was lusting after Thor, and the cable knitting is still keeping me occupied which, given how many times I have started over, is nothing less than miraculous.

This brings me to what I really wanted to do today, which is an app review. It’s for a knit counter app, named, appropriately, Knit Counter, which I found in the Apple app store. I don’t know if it’s on Android as well, though I’m certain there will be similar apps there. The app is made by Cordless Dog.

I know a knit counter doesn’t sound very impressive, and ordinarily I’d agree, but this one allows me to put a number of counters on each project. As you can see from the first picture, I’ve named the project and got four counters on this project. I’ve got a total of 44 rows altogether, 40 of which are cable rows, and 4 of which are the foundation rows. Next cable row is where I’ll be using the cable needle again, which in this case is every four rows I switch again.  When I’m done with row 41, then I will add four to the “Next cable row” counter, so that I know when I reach 44 on the “cables” counter, the next row I will need the needle again.

In the second picture, I’ve shown a project I have on the sock loom. I’ve named the project “Autumn colors sock loom socks” so I know exactly which project it is, and this one has six

Sock project on the Knit Counter app

Sock project on the Knit Counter app

counters on it. “Row” is total number of rows, “Cuff” tells me how many ribbed rows I’ve done, “Leg” for how many rows of the leg I’ve done so far. “Heel”, “Foot”, and “Toe” are empty because I haven’t gotten to those sections of the sock yet. But when it’s done, I have a template for the second sock.  And as you can see, for this project, I actually included a picture of the work in progress.

At the bottom of the picture, you can see three buttons: Counters, Info, and Frog. By clicking on info, the app takes you to four other headings that can be edited however you like. Pattern info has sub-sections for designer, name, size, source, and URL. Yarn info has eleven sub-sections: amount, brand, fibre, dye lot, name, shade, source, weight, skeins, wpi, and gauge. Needle info allows you to input the material, size, and type of needle, and Notes allows you to type in anything else you might want to remember about the project that isn’t included in other areas. The third button, Frog, allows you to go backwards on a counter if you need to rip out rows.

According to the information on Cordless Dog’s webpage, counters can even be linked together, and there are alerts available. I haven’t yet found those features or figured out how to use them, but it’s good to know they’re available! The app isn’t all that expensive either; unfortunately I can’t remember exactly what I paid for it as it no longer shows in my app store, but I can assure you that it was no more than $3, and possibly less. Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong purchasing this app. I had a few other knit counters, but deleted them after working with this one. There is a Knit Counter Lite, which is the same app, but although it’s free, it’s limited to one project at a time. If you’re like me and have several projects going on at once, it’s much more convenient to buy the app. Presently, I have seven projects on the app on my iPhone, and two on the app on my iPad.

So, to sum it all up, you can customize all the counters and add as many as you need per project, keep as much or as little information as you need for your various projects, the app is easy to use, and it’s inexpensive. It annoys me that before I found this app, I actually spent $10 for a physical knit counter that only counts total rows and apparently only goes forward, not back!

New old skill

My very first cables

My very first cables

If you’ve read far enough back in this blog, you will have realized that I don’t have a great view of needle knitting. Hold on!!!! Don’t yell at me yet, let me finish! I love knits. I love wearing them, I love the yarns that make them, but I have been completely incapable of sticking with needle knitting for more than five minutes at a time. As I’ve said in previous posts, my mom taught me how to do basic knitting when I was a child, but I never got any further than that. Basic knitting – i.e. garter stitch – bored me, so I never bothered to find out if there was more to it. I put it completely down. I used strong words for it, such as “hate” and “never”.

Had my mom not passed away eight years ago, she would be laughing herself to death right now (has it been that long, Mom? I really miss you…). As it is, wherever she is, she’s laughing herself sick now. Because I got myself on this slippery slope awhile back with fiber arts, and it was only a matter of time until knitting joined the list of fiber addictions. The first inkling I had that I might be in trouble was the fact that I couldn’t resist buying a set of Knitter’s Pride Dreamz interchangeable circular needles. They were so pretty, how could I pass them up? Which means, of course, that it behooves me to learn how to use them. Well, okay. Then I bought an infinite calendar of different knitting stitches. And a couple of sets of inexpensive straight needles. The slide culminated in sitting down to watch a YouTube video on how to make cables on straight needles. And now I can do them!!!

I am very proud of these! Yes, I can see where I’ve made some mistakes, but overall the cables themselves look really good, and the challenge of doing them solidified the slide down the slope. Yup, I am certain Mom is laughing herself silly at me.

I am still not a fan of garter stitch. It’s just too boring and mindless for me. I have learned that, for me, knitting mindlessly just doesn’t work. My brain has to be engaged, and garter stitch isn’t enough for that. But pattern stitches like cables are, because I have to keep track of how many stitches, am I knitting or purling in this place, have I done enough rows to cable over again, etc.

Hubby now wants a cabled scarf, so I’m going to frog this and start over without the mistakes and loose stitches and give him one worth looking at. Yeah, Mom, I can hear you now.

Once more, with feeling

Storm Kloud's Borealis North Lights, aka Vanir

Storm Kloud’s Borealis North Lights, aka Vanir

And once again, I’ve fallen behind on blogging.  You would think that, having taken a leave of absence from school, I would have kept up, but no. Somehow, I have both more and less time to blog. It’s a paradox I don’t understand. Well…maybe I kind of do. I’m home, but busy.

To bring you up to speed, first we got rid of deadbeat roommates. In keeping with the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” philosophy, I will say no more than that on that subject, other than that I’ve decided that I don’t care if we’re on the verge of having to live in our trucks, I absolutely will not have any more roommates in this house.

After that, on December 17th, we picked up our Alaskan Malamute puppy from Storm Kloud Kennel, who has been named Storm Kloud’s Borealis North Lights, with the call name Vanir. He is disgustingly cute and soft, and talks almost nonstop. This was the first time I’d ever gone to a breeder; my other dogs are rescues or strays. But we wanted a puppy this time, and a good quality one. He will be fourteen weeks old on this coming Tuesday, and is already very close to as big as two of my other dogs. The breeder thinks he will be about 90 lbs., minimum. Looking at his paws, which are nearly the size of my hand and still growing, I’m thinking he’s going to be better than 100 lbs.! He is settling in very well with the other much older dogs; there is the occasional “you’re getting out of hand, chill out” snarl, but beyond that, he’s doing well with them. House training is a work in progress, although he’s doing pretty well there too, considering how young he is.

Of course, there is also catching up on all the housework that never seems to get done while I’m in school, such as laundry. That’s a never-ending job anyway. And both the vacuum and steam cleaner both decided to break at the same time, so I’m trying very hard not to look at my carpet, lest I lose my mind. We actually tried to vacuum the living room with the shop vac. Let me tell you, that did not go well at all.

On top of all this, one of our two furnaces decided to break down as well, just before Christmas. This is the furnace that heats the children’s rooms, which meant that they slept in our room for about three weeks while the home warranty company took their time getting it fixed. That was the worst, but the dishwasher and stove also broke around the same time. When it rains, it pours. Christmas was very barren this year for the kids, but they each got a scooter, which thrilled them to no end, and hubby decided to build them a castle dollhouse. That is still not finished, but it’s well on its way, and the girls can’t wait.

I also filled out a volunteer application for a local Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute rescue. I’ve had a kind of preliminary interview, and there are a few other steps that still need to be taken, but I’m hopeful I will soon be helping out there. I’d like to foster for the rescue, but I’m already at the city limit with my own dogs, and we aren’t sure how that will affect fostering. So for right now, that’s on the back burner.

And Bryony turned four just after Christmas, which required a birthday party, of course. Her first, and she enjoyed it immensely. She had two birthday cakes: one the day of her birthday that was just for the family celebration, one of those sickeningly sweet, store-bought concoctions; and the other one I made specifically for the party the next day. She couldn’t have been more thrilled.

There was one extremely negative incident on Martin Luther King day, which involved a carload of twentysomethings yelling the “N” word at me in front of my eight year old. I didn’t respond, not because I’m that good of a person at turning the other cheek, but because I was that shocked it had even happened. It’s probably better that I was too shocked to say anything. It’s not unheard of for me to lose my temper and say something that will make things worse. Of course, I do try not to do that, but I’m an Aries, with all attendant negative stereotypes. My daughter had never been exposed to that kind of hate before – why would she be, after all? Her dad is white, and I’m black, so there isn’t exactly an overabundance of hate in this house – and she really didn’t know what to make of it. Her innocence in that respect is now gone, which is what hurt the most. I would have preferred to broach the subject of prejudice in a much gentler way, but living in what seems to be the interracial couple capital of the USA, I didn’t think I needed to worry about it this soon.

That’s life in a nutshell…crazy. It rarely seems to be anything but crazy. Thankfully, though, it’s equally rare that life takes that negative a turn.

In the last couple of weeks, I learned to crochet a basket weave type of pattern, which is very cool, picked up my naalbinding needle to practice a little, and have made myself pick up needle knitting again, in the hopes that I’ll get it. It’s very frustrating for me. I’ve mastered the long tail cast-on, and decided to try knitting socks. I thought nothing could be simpler. Um…no. It’s anything but. Every time I start to knit, I either lose a stitch, or gain one. In one day, I unraveled the stupid knitting no less than eight times. I cannot stress enough how irritating it was to start, rip it out, start, rip it out. I was so sick of it that the last time I gained a stitch out of nowhere, I just knit two stitches together as one and kept going. Were my needles not so gorgeous, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I would have ended them. But these are part of the limited edition Knitter’s Pride set of needles, in all their loveliness. Throwing them across the room was not an option!

I almost never lose a stitch when I’m loom knitting, but hand me a pair of needles and I’m as inept as it is possible to be. But I’m determined to get the hang of this. Other people can do it, so I can too. It’s just going to take me longer than I expected, and I hope my patience holds out.

The basket weave crochet was much easier. Someone posted a question on Facebook about the tutorial, which is how it wound up on my radar. The poster couldn’t figure out the pattern because the lady who did the video only spoke Spanish. I do speak Spanish, but it’s been years since it was spoken to me, so I’m very rusty. But I managed to follow along well enough to actually do it. It helped that her videos were very clear, even though I understood almost nothing she said.

So that’s it. Life continues on its insane path, and we just keep it as positive as possible. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon!

Situation: FUBAR

FUBAR is one of my favorite phrases, has been since Kurt Russell used it in Tango & Cash years ago. I won’t translate it here because of language – I don’t know the ages of the folks reading this, after all, and I am a mom, which means I’m not going to be the one who teaches someone’s kid to swear – but it sums up the present situation mighty well.

The situation is this: Now that I am halfway through my degree, financial aid has run out. Isn’t that wonderful? Between tuition costs and textbooks, I need to find another $4000 to finish my degree. School is expensive. But I don’t want to stay on disability for the rest of my life, and I don’t want to wind up working at McDonald’s either, or any other minimum wage job, which will probably pay less than I’m getting from disability anyway.

You can’t get a veterinary technician position if you have not graduated from an AVMA accredited school and sat for the VTNE, and being halfway through means that there is already financial aid money that must be paid back starting within six months of leaving school. So practically speaking, it makes more sense to find a way to push through and graduate so I can get the better-paying positions than it does to give up and settle for a crappy job and try to make the bills and loan payments on what the crappy job will pay.

More than that, it’s a matter of pride and self-esteem at this point. I’ve never finished anything, for one reason or another. Not the track record I want my girls looking up to if I want them to grow up to be strong, self-sufficient women with good educations who can hold their own against any man on any playing field. My girls are beautiful and smart, and they deserve a better role model in their mother than that. Every child does, and it’s my job to give them that.

Private scholarships and grants aren’t an option here, for several reasons, so, hubby and I have each put up our most expensive, prized possessions for sale, in the hope of being able to sell them and cover what remains to be paid of my degree. For him, it is his precious Macbook Pro Retina laptop. Computers are to him what fiber arts are to me, so I know that it stings quite a bit to have that computer on Craigslist.

For me, it’s my Schacht Mighty Wolf, my only floor loom, my Black Pearl, the loom I never even got to use because school is just that grueling. Oh, yes, it stings to have put her up on Craigslist too. But between those two items, if we can sell them, tuition and books will be covered for the remainder of my degree. I can’t ignore that fact. But this is assuming they sell.

A friend of mine also suggested that I set up a page at gofundme.com, so I did that here. I don’t expect much to happen with it. The economy is horrible, and everyone has their own issues and families to take care of, and it’s Christmastime. But, hey, worth a shot, right?

There are a couple of other very slim possibilities out there to explore before I give up. If I go down, I’m going down fighting. This isn’t just for me, or about me. This is about what image I want to present to my daughters. This is about being able to get a job that allows me to support them without sitting on a government system, without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. This is about being able to buy them clothes and toys and being able to buy them new, rather than secondhand or poor quality. This is about my kids, first, last, and always. Once you have them, almost nothing is about you anymore, except in terms of how it benefits them in the long run. Yes, it’s my education, but it’s their lives.

Feeling Froggy

The maple tree outside my studio window

The maple tree outside my studio window

A few days ago, I frogged a blanket I’d been working on using a knitting loom. I wanted to make a cabled blanket, and yes, you can do cables on a knitting loom. I had begun this project a few months ago, and when I started it, I looked up instructions for doing cables on the loom. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me until far too late that I should have asked in the loom knitting group on Ravelry. Duh.

At any rate, all of the directions I found were quite helpful in all but one thing: none of them informed me that I wasn’t supposed to be relocating stitches on every row. Fancy that.

So here is the actual deal: you mark off four stitches. The stitch before and the stitch after that group are purl stitches. Within the group, you will take stitches 1 and 2 and move them to pegs 3 and 4, respectively. Stitches 3 and 4, therefore, are moved to pegs 1 and 2, creating a criss-cross pattern. You knit the entire row, except for where you’re doing cables, in which case you do the purl, criss-cross, purl. When you’re done with that row, knit back normally. But don’t do that only once!!! That was the mistake that wasn’t addressed in the instructions I found. You have to knit normally for at least two rows, if not more, to get the cable look.  Since I didn’t know that…yeah, you can pretty much guess what my so-called cables looked like. It was a mess. And when you consider that I started the cables almost immediately, and had used an entire skein of yarn already…you get the idea.So, ticked off at the whole thing, I put it down and left it sitting. For months. Until this past weekend, when I removed the whole mess from the loom and unraveled it, and spent an hour winding the skein around my hand because I was too lazy to go and get the electric ball winder out of the closet.

I was going to restart the thing properly. I really was. I set the loom up for it. The stitch markers are in place, waiting for me to get started. I did all the math to figure out how many cables I could do, keeping them equidistant from each other. The yarn is in a ball, waiting. And I didn’t start it. I thought about it several times over the course of Sunday afternoon. As I cooked dinner, I thought “After dinner I’ll do it.” During dinner, the same thought.  After dinner, I discovered I hadn’t logged out of World of Warcraft, which sucked me in once more. Then I thought, “While I’m watching tv with the kids.” Ha. Bryony, in her infinite three-nearly-fourness, decided to act up…again…tonight, which resulted in her being sent to bed early. Which resulted in several trips back and forth to my studio with spurious excuses of the pre-schooler variety: hunger, thirst, something horribly important that has to be related to me right now, a diaper needing to be changed, etc.  Yes, my child who will turn four at the end of this month is still in diapers. Why? Because she has a big sister who likes to tease and torment her any time she actually uses the toilet, if one parent or the other is not present. If I was Bryony, I wouldn’t want to use the toilet either.

News flash: the so-called “Mother’s Curse” really does work,  and it doesn’t have to be your mother who curses you…it could be your spouse’s mother. In which case, the fact that the curse spills over onto you simply makes you collateral damage. Also, if you have not yet figured it out, the Powers That Be made babies and children irresistibly cute to ensure that their mischief does not drive their parents into killing them. Don’t believe me? Think about how often you have threatened to kill, murder, or maim your offspring.

We’ve actually tried to cut back on that. People overhearing that (usually people with no children or siblings of their own) tend to flip out. My current favorite threat involves duct tape, a ceiling fan, feet, and an inverted child. The logistics of such a feat are utterly improbable, but my children don’t need to know that. I need every advantage I can get.

But I digress.

So every day this week, I have thought about this blanket. I have looked at the empty loom and contemplated this blanket. I have gone to sleep thinking that tomorrow, I will restart this blanket. And as the week draws to a close, I have not even cast on this blanket. And I don’t really know why. Sure, I’ve had things to do: a research paper due this coming Monday, elementary school projects that really mean work for the parents, refereeing the incessant sisterly fighting…yet at some point, I had some free time, and still did not start the blanket over again. I have a very clear picture of it in my mind, assuming all goes well, so the motivation should be there, but it isn’t.

This weekend. I will get started on it this weekend!