Monday, May 30, 2011

Binge Knitting

There is something about the summer - I know it's not officially here yet, but...- with plants growing up towards the sun and little critters running around our yard, birds flying here and there and calling to each other endlessly, butterflies stopping by for a drink, that makes me feel like doing things.  Lots of things.  All this busyness around me makes me want to be busy, and the longer days and extra sunlight give me just that bit of an extra boost I need to make things happen.  And so, in the midst of planting and watering and chopping and stacking and biking and cooking (and cleaning and working) I have decided that it is time to take up knitting.  Lots of knitting.  Lots and lots and lots of knitting.

Matty calls me a binge knitter.

If the shoe fits...

Not that I am a good knitter.  I'm not.  There are the slow and steady knitters who learn through each mistake, pulling out row after row to make their projects perfect and beautiful.  I just knit.  Compulsively.  I keep moving, through mistakes with the excuse of "I'm a beginner, and who cares if it's not perfect? I just want to get it done..."

For example:

This is my first project.  A sweater-vest for Emerson that I started making a year and a half ago.

(Actually, there were other projects before this - little knitted animals that I never finished because I never bothered to learn to seam, or stuff, or sew on eyes and tails; little knitted animals that are just flat effigies of what they really could be, because rather than complete them, I just moved on to the next, so that I could knit, knit, knit, knit...)

You can gather a full enough sense of my knitting style by solely looking at the photo above, but let me illuminate it further:

My natural ability to change colors seamlessly,
 my flawless seed stitch,
and my general perseverance when it comes to rectifying mistakes. 
Hole? What hole?

But not only is this vest unsightly, it lacks function as well.  Because I somehow added stitches throughout the entire bottom half, it's wide enough to fit around my mid-section, and I began working on the v-neck so late that by the time I'm finished, the arm-holes will be so disproportionately huge, that an elephant could step into it with ease.

My friend, who has patiently helped me through the entire process, has gone from saying it could work if you felt it, to threatening to rip the entire thing out if I bring it over to her house again.  (Usually people start with a small a hat.  Or dish-clothes...)

So as we packed everything up this Memorial Day Weekend to leave all our other ongoing projects and head to the beach, I decided to bring some cheap cotton yarn and a set of knitting needles.  Dish-clothes it would be.  (I'll continue to work on the sweater-vest intermittently when I get home.)

My goal over the weekend was not to actually make anything, but to practice knitting in the "continental" style, as opposed to the oafish adaptation of the "english" style that I have been perfecting all these years.  I figure that if I can train myself to become a more efficient knitter, the rest will come...

But after a very brief attempt on the drive up, in which I found myself completely tangled in yarn, I found myself back to my maladroit habits.  I'll try again tomorrow, when I'm better rested, but now I just want to knit.  Knit, knit, knit....

And I finished something.  Something right on par with all the other projects in my portfolio.  A very ugly dishcloth, that somehow ended up with far more stitches on one side than on the other.
I finished it that night beside a campfire.  Although I noticed that some stitches were a bit wonky, I just knit right through them. Knit, knit, must knit.  Lesson 1:  I am not a good enough knitter to knit in poor visibility whilst talking to people.

The next day I tried my hand at continental style again, and again my hands ended up in a spider web of yarn, and again I couldn't be patient.  I wanted to make something.  Anything. Knit, knit, must knit...  Even another malformed dishcloth.  So I worked throughout the day, paying attention to how many stitches I had and where my needles were going, and I did it!  I made a mistake-free, perfectly square dishcloth!
(Although it really isn't perfect, because instead of weaving in the ends, I just tied knots and cut off the extra yarn.  This dishcloth will be unraveling very soon...)

In the spirit of procrastination and rationalization, I told myself then, that instead of trying to knit in the continental style, I would instead just try to find a new way to hold the yarn in the english style, and that way I could become a more efficient knitter without putting in all that effort.  That night we left the campground and went to visit some friends at their house, so I was able to get on the computer for a few minutes to check out my other favorite knitting mentor and how she holds her yarn.

After practicing that for a few minutes - the yarn again like chewed gum in my hands - I rationalized some more and decided that as long as I could smoothly execute some more difficult stitches in my own make-shift knitting style, that I could get by with that.  It's hard to teach a dog new tricks, and if I don't have to...

So I went on the computer again, found a pattern that alternated knit and purl stitches often (which is tricky to do when you let go of the yarn in between stitches like I do) and went to bed hoping that my experiment would work.

And the next day,
it worked! (I think)  And best of all, I spent a lot of time back stitching and pulling out rows to correct mistakes.  And I didn't tie knots and break off yarn. (Next week I'm going to work on weaving in ends)  And it felt really good!  I actually enjoy making things correctly, even if it slows me down, and I learned a lot this weekend - my friend was right - by just making dishcloths.

And as for the continental style.  Bah-humbug.  I'm going to stick with my style, for good or bad.  There are a lot of people out there who have strayed from the textbook style of doing things and made it work for them.
Maybe someday I'll be a swift and nimble knitter, but for now speed really isn't a priority.  I just want to make some pretty things, and learn a little along the way.
Maybe someday I'll be able to knit a hundred dishcloths over a holiday weekend.  But I certainly hope not.  There are so many other, better things to do.

And by the way, I'm ripping out the sweater-vest.   It's time to start over.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Rainy Week

The other day, as I sat on the back deck soaking up the afternoon sun, I did something I try to remember to do often, but just as often forget:  I looked up.  (Seeing the physical world from a different perspective, especially through the eyes of a child is always something I strive for in my busy life...)  And there were the branches above me, not yet in full leaf, but pretty close.  I sat and stared for a while, watching them sway and trying to remember what they had looked like just a few weeks ago - dark and skeletal against a colorless winter sky.

The sun was glinting through so perfectly, and the photo-op was there.  But I let it pass me by.  I just sat and looked, and looked some more.

A few days later, I took this photo, for which the light was not as great, but I'm glad I did, because after that it started raining...

and raining and raining.  All week long it rained, and by the time it stopped, the leaves were out.  Everything was suddenly bigger.
I've enjoyed this spring tremendously.  It feels like the most "springy" spring we've had in a while.  One that didn't boast summer temperatures and had the proper balance of sun and rain.  It was nice to stoke up the stove for a few final days, and let the oven and the smells of spring fruit baking warm our souls.

 And luckily for us - we had rented a wood splitter for one day only- the sun came out over the weekend.
We need to get that wood seasoned, and this is the future site of the kids' swing, so...

But something about the day - I don't know if it was the mosquitoes or the rediscovery of the "game closet" - found us spending much of the sunny weekend inside.
Outside in the rain, inside in the sun.  I guess we're just funny that way...

Monday, May 9, 2011

May Fair, Short Hair

Spring is officially here!... and it is getting harder and harder to rip myself away from these progressively lighter and warmer evenings to work on this blog (especially down here in this dark and chilly basement!)  I'm sure it will seem like a godsend in the hot summer months, but right now I would much rather be outside working in the yard or sitting on the porch, or at least doing the dishes with the slider open to the world.

Someday there will be an office upstairs with an open window, but for now I will keep all conduits of media hidden away in their dungeon.  I will remain in the earth, like seeds germinating...


Lately I have been reading Amanda Blake Soule's blog, which a friend recommended me to read when I first started in the blogosphere myself.  I've read her books and am so inspired by her craftiness (I was not blessed with the "crafty" gene myself, so I am happy someone writes books spelling out ideas for me) and now I am enjoying her blog as well.  I love her short, frequent entries, and her world of sight and sound is such a breath of fresh air each day.

I'm also amazed at all the links I've discovered through her blog to the endless like-minded mothers and crafties, and mother-crafties who write blogs and raise their families and make, make, make, all the while living in this magical world of bliss.  Can life really be like this?  Or is this merely the land of blogs?

I've learned a lot about myself by watching the form my own blog is taking.  I started it as a blog to document our ever changing home, both external and internal, but I also had - I think - some of the crafty-mama vision in mind.  But it didn't take me long to realize that home renovation and crafts are not really my main deal (although I'll touch down on those things from time to time).  My friend once called this a "lifestyle blog," which for the most part is true.  I'll always be writing about my kids - because they're here - but mostly, this blog is turning into more of just me.  Me pontificating about whatever I am thinking about on Sunday evenings.  Me and the random things that go on in my head.  Me spending very little time making things, but a lot of time writing about them.  And more and more (much to some of my reader's dismay, and to the enjoyment of others) me being honest, and therefore not so full of bliss.

And so we come to Mother's Day.  A day that at our house was not filled with flowers and airy joy and images of mama soaked in rays of sunshine, surrounded by her laughing, angelic children.

No, my day went a little something like this...

But wait.  Let's back up a little first...

Two weekends ago, as I was hiking with the family, I looked on with envy at all the unfettered hikers (no enormous backpack carrying a two-year old) and thought to myself - DING! (light-bulb!) - next weekend I can be one of these hikers!  Mother's Day is my day, and I've just decided that I want to spend it hiking - hiking the full trail...hiking all day - with a friend.  A girlfriend.  And afterward I want to stop someplace and have a margarita, or two...

I immediately announced this revelation to Matt, and as I ran through the list of possible friends - there's so-and-so, but I think she's on the river this Sunday, and there's so-and-so, but I think she'll probably be spending time with her mother... -  his expression turned from supportive to hesitant.

"Most people like to spend time with their families on Mother's Day."  That was what he said.

Hmmm... I walked on in silence for a little while, pondering it over, and thought - yes, maybe it is a little odd to want to spend time away from my family on Mother's Day.  The girls are, after all, the reason I am able to celebrate Mother's Day in the first place.  And what better way to spend my day than to be spoiled by my husband and little ones; to bask in their endless appreciation... 

And so we fast forward to Mother's Day...

I wake up in the morning to the baby calling out.  I sit in bed for a long time, listening to Matty snore, wondering if I should bother to wake him up, or if I should just go ahead and get the baby.  I mean, I'm up anyway.  Maybe I'll just get up with her - quietly - so that Emerson can sleep, and when he wakes up I'll have some time to myself.

But wait a minute... it's Mother's Day.  Aren't I supposed to sleep in?  So I wake him up, and by the time he gets around to the baby, he has waken Emerson up as well.  And then they are on top of me - just like every morning.

But that's OK.  It's Mother's Day! What more could I want than my girls snuggling with me in the morning? (Some quiet time, maybe?  Sleep?)

As they snuggled, Matty goes to the kitchen to make me breakfast (not that this was his idea - I had to tell him that breakfast in bed might be nice).  After being gone a few minutes, he comes back in.

"There's no milk."


"There's no milk.  I can't make pancakes."

"Soooo... make something else."

Blank stare.

"There's oatmeal in the cupboard.  Make oatmeal."

A little while later there is a bowl of oatmeal on my bedside table.  No tray.  No flowers.  No cards.  Not even maple syrup.  Just a bowl of oatmeal.  Plain and simple.

After that, Matty asks me what I want to do today.  (Go hiking...with a girlfriend.)  It's beautiful out, so I tell him I'd like to go for a walk, or a hike, and I tell him where.  I read while he gets the girls dressed and packs a bag (to which I have to add sunscreen and sweatshirts) and we spend the next hour driving around in circles trying to find this alleged place that is "just over here I think.... it used to be better posted..."  I sit quietly in the passenger seat, listening to Emerson complain about the long drive, watching the clock, knowing the girls are getting hungry and that Ophelia will be ready for a nap soon, knowing that if I were in the driver's seat I would have directions to where we are going.  I think about my hike with a girlfriend (it would have been such a nice day for that hike...) and I start getting irritated.  Don't get me wrong, on most days I can roll with getting lost, and my husband being a complete idiot, but isn't this supposed to be my day?

I don't want to spend any more of it in the car, so I suggest we go home.

"Are you sure?  There's a park here, just around the corner..."

So we stop for a while, and as I push Ophelia on the swing and help Emerson on the monkey-bars (wait, isn't this what I do every day?) and watch other dads show up with just their kids (no moms) and people set up picnics, I start to get more than irritated.  I'm angry.

This is not the way I want to spend my day - selfish or not - and moreover, why wasn't a picnic or special day planned for me?  What is up with this thrown-together mess?  It would have been one thing if Matty had a plan, and things went awry.  This I could laugh at.  This I could enjoy.  But today there was no plan at all.  No forethought as to what I might like, or what would be special for me.  I was barely taken into consideration at all.

I spend the rest of the day at home - with the kids- doing laundry, cleaning the house, and keeping the girls from running out into the street, falling in the creek, or killing each other, (And this is different from every other day... how?) while Matty goes out for a couple of hours to run the errands necessary to complete his make-shift Mother's Day.  (Right... maybe I'll cook her dinner... but I need to go out and buy some food...)  I realize I don't have to clean, but if I don't, it will be waiting for me Monday morning - no magic elves in this fairy tale.

Matty did cook me dinner that evening, and he did do the dishes.  But by that point, it was a little too late.  A little too much like every day.  A little to much like every birthday or Mother's Day I've had over the last seven years.  No card.  No plan.  No fanfare.  Just an "oh yeah... right... you..."

At the end of the day, as I went on Facebook to take my mind of things, my emotions moved from angry to hurt.  There, right in front of me, were photos and declarations from my fellow mothers affirming how much their families loved and appreciated them; how spoiled they were; photos of the home-made cards and presents from the little ones, surprises and tokens of reverence...  I felt like I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

And there was Matty, whistling away upstairs.


Fortunately, there was more to my week than that.  It was the week of the May Fair - celebration of spring and flowers, and a time for me to realize how much the girls have "flowered" over the past year as well.

Like any event with a lot of people - and more so when one of my children has a role in the festivities - I anticipated spending most of the day split between trying to make sure Emerson got the help she needed doing the activities of the day, and keeping and eye on
who is liable to run into trouble at any given moment.
 I remember last year's May Fair being a bit frenetic, and I told myself this year I would try to streamline some things to make the day easier.  So when my friends arrived just as we were finishing lunch and spread their picnic blanket out next to ours, I excused myself quickly with a promise to catch up later - part of my streamlining technique was to get to the "cupcake walk" early, and I could see people lining up in the distance.  

(The cupcake walk is a game where the children walk around in a circle to music.  When the music ends, the children stop, and the "caller" calls out a number.  Whichever child is standing on that number receives a cupcake, and all the other children go back to the end of the line to wait for a chance to walk the circle again.  Last year Emerson spent the better part of an hour waiting, and walking, and not really understanding the purpose of either activity.)

By the time I got Ophelia cleaned up and the picnic accessories back in the basket, there was already a mob of people gearing up for their chance at a sugary snack.  I joined in the crowd, excitedly looking around for Emerson to ensure she got a place in line, when I saw her, sauntering down from the platform, cupcake in hand.

"You already got a cupcake?"

"Yeah... I was the first one... number seven."

I'm not sure which fact stunned me more - that I had missed seeing her do the cupcake walk, or that she had figured out how to get in line and deduce the rules of the game without me.  It seems like such a simple initiative and totally appropriate for a five-year-old, but it is such a world away from last year.

After securing a cupcake for Ophelia (by walking up and asking for one), we moved on to the table where children can make crowns from fresh flowers and garlands.  (In addition to their felt crowns)  Emerson chose a few flowers and ribbons she liked, and I got to work clipping and assembling, reaching over and through other people to grab what I needed, and waiting intermittently for a turn with clippers and wire - all the while trying to keep Ophelia from dumping over huge buckets of flowers, poking herself in the eye, or fleeing.

Somewhere in the middle of this, Emerson fled herself, and after dragging Ophelia off to find her, and adjusting the crown three times to get it to fit, Emerson said, "I don't want to wear mine right now," and ran off again - to do the cupcake walk one more time - and then again - this time to join her classmates in the procession through flowering boughs which led to the maypole.

I caught up with her again after she had circled the maypole once, and she glanced at me, uncomfortably, and said "what are you doing here?"

Again came the shock.  But the sting from her words (and teenage attitude) was muted by an unexpected feeling of pride at Emerson's independence.  She's not my shy, inhibited little girl anymore.  She's growing into herself and already starting to find her own way.

After this epiphany (and after Emerson realized that all the parents were sitting behind their children) I was able to sit, relax, and enjoy the maypole dancing.
Emerson was awestruck watching the elementary grades performing their dances, and I was awestruck watching her - my big girl, but still so little.  In a blink of an eye that will be her up there dancing.

But just when you think you have it figured out... Emerson goes from being a big important almost-six-year-old, to being a silly five year old, dressing-up and dancing with her three-year-old friend, Claire.
And Claire's older sister, who let Emerson follow her around like a puppy-dog for the last two years, is now more interested in spending time with Ophelia - in the role of "mother's helper"...
for a while.  Until she feels like playing with Emerson again, and Ophelia is back with Claire...

Round and round, up and down.  No matter how old we are, we all have moments when we feel big, and moments when we feel small.  Moments when we feel grown-up, and moments when we want to be goofy and young.
Fortunately, we don't have to lose the person we have always been in order to become the person we are destined to be.  It doesn't matter if we are six or thirty-six, (or ninety-six for that matter - not that I have any experience in that realm) we are always growing, retracting, growing, retracting, growing....changing.

There is a chance for my husband yet...