Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Time Out

When I sit down at the computer lately, schoolwork or working on my National Board teaching certificate renewal has been first on my agenda.  My brain has been spinning with educationalese for weeks now, and my past blog writing and knitwear design attempts seem like the work of some other person, as I can't fathom how I ever had the concentration or energy to devote to those tasks in any serious way.   Lately, I stay at school late every evening and come home unable to do much but plop on the couch to ply my knitting needles, in an attempt to assuage the stresses and tensions of the day.

I put several  works in progress aside, actually more than several (and way too many to confess here), to cast on this Sugar Grove Shawl found in the spring 2014 ssue of  Knitscene magazine.  I wanted to make something quickly, that I could send to my mother who recently had surgery.  This pattern calls for a worsted weight yarn.  I used Universal Yarn Deluxe Worsted Superwash here and was able to finish this project in the mornings and evenings in around a week's time.   

On the weekends, I've been spending time relaxing by making trips to the knitting store, visiting with friends, or busying myself in the kitchen.  So, as this blog post reflects my life, it is a bit disjointed, with no unity of purpose.  But I'd rather post something than let my blog founder, and hope that when summer comes along I'll get back to writing something a bit more unified, or maybe actually share some instructions or patterns. For now, though, I'll just share a few pictures of life lately.  

I began work on a small quilt using Downton Abbey fabric squares.  I hope my slightly misaligned blocks (in some places, anyway) won't be glaringly apparent when this project is finished.  

This is Martha Stewart's Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake.  I've made three of these delicious cakes in the past two weeks.  This one turned out the best.  Find the recipe here.  (Note:  have lots of butter on hand and don't expect your pants to fit comfortably if you make as many of these as I did in a concentrated time period.)

I went to an antiques flea market last weekend with a friend who was in town.  These are spindles from a North Carolina mill.  These items are plentiful at such sales here as the area where I live used to be at the hub of the textile milling industry, until nearly every operation moved overseas.    

It's pretty sad when you go to an antiques flea market and realize you already own enough items of similar style and vintage to open your own booth or large store.  

I couldn't leave empty-handed, so I did spend one dollar on this pretty tea strainer.  

I have been waiting to cast on with this yarn, given to me by my friend, Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse, last summer when I was in England.  I finally found a pattern that will work with this quantity and weight of yarn.  I'll share pattern details in future posts.  

In conclusion, my odd array of activities sustains me when my work days grow longer and more demanding. In addition to knitting, reading always provides an escape from daily chores and tensions.  I just finished a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien and was impressed by the very human nature of this great man, as his biographer recounted how Tolkien always had a plethora of writing projects going on simultaneously and didn't always finish what he started. (Hmmn, he sounds like a knitter.)  I've also been watching some new episodes of Call the Midwife that aired recently.  I had to smile at Sister Monica Joan, the retired nun with dementia, who had her knitting taken away from her the other night as her fussing about it was disrupting a doctor who was giving a presentation to the Nonnatus House midwives about the connection between relaxation and easier deliveries. According to the the PBS website, Joan "has an eccentric, mercurial personality, and is obsessed with cake, astrology and knitting, in no particular order."  I hope I haven't garnered a similar reputation at my workplace (although British literature and BBC productions might take the place of astrology in a catalogue of my obsessions).  Anyway, having passions outside of the daily grind does make life more palatable, and when the school year is over, I hope to regain some creative energy and productivity.  

I've been on a yarn fast this Lenten season, but did
purchase this book last week.  I love the designs by Alana
Dokhas.  Check out her blog:  Never Not Knitting.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Free Knitting Pattern: Snow Days Cowl

          I'm in the throes of writing pages and pages of reflections about my teaching along with compiling video clips, documents that serve as "evidence" of professional growth, and student work samples to submit to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in order to renew my National Board Certification.  Let's just say that the 10 or 12 hours I spent this past weekend solving a technical problem related to video submission instructions specifying that videos must be time and date stamped haven't aroused an eagerness in me to sit down in front of the computer during my spare time.  I did, however, write a long diatribe about my computer woes as a form of therapy on Sunday afternoon, but have decided to spare anyone who happens upon this blog the details of the whole mess.  Let's just say that it involved purchasing Chinese software replete with awkwardly written instructions and hieroglyphic commands, calling a techie relative several times who ultimately solved my deciphering difficulties, finally extracting time and date data from a series of videos (this process took roughly six hours), and then returning to my classroom on Monday and noticing one sentence in small print towards the end of the the vast tome of instructions I'd printed out that said that I didn't have to time and date stamp my video if I had a school administrator sign a one-page document found in a series of forms at the end of instructions.  Ugh!

          Anyway, this seems like a good week to avoid long periods of exposure to technology. Short and sweet is definitely appealing right now.  I'm including some simple instructions below to make the cowl shown here.  (I'll post a PDF pattern soon--maybe when I've submitted my Board Renewal stuff.)  A month or so ago, my friend Lauren asked me to make her a cowl and some cuffs.  The cuffs are still on the needles, but the cowl was easily and quickly knit up.  It's a perfect project to do in a couple of snow days spent home from work or school--if one has some time free from writing volumes about the effect of one's professional growth experiences on student learning!  The yarn is Lion Brand Amazing, a worsted weight, and this quick project only takes one skein.  I'm not certain what colorway I used here, but you can go to Lion Brand to check out color options.  

Snow Days Cowl

Materials:  One skein Lion Brand Amazing Yarn, 1.75 ounce, 50 grams, 147 yards, 135 meters; waste yarn for provisional cast on

Tools:  Size 8 US needles; Size J crochet hook

Gauge:  4 stitches per inch in pattern


Using waste yarn and provisional cast-on method, cast on 30 stitches.

Row 1:  K2; *K1, P1; rep from * to 2 stitches before end of row; K2.

Row 2:  P2; *P1, K1; rep from * to 2 stitches before end of row; K2.

Repeat these two rows until cowl is 26 inches long.

Remove provisional cast on and place stitches on size 8 needle

Use a 3-needle bind off to join live stitches on both ends.  Sew in yarn tails.  Block.  

I finally finished this Garter Stitch shawl, a project which uses merely one skein of Noro sock yarn.  Like the cowl, this shawl will be given away to a dear friend.  I hope she likes the vibrant colors.     

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seasons of Love

This Noro sock yarn makes a bright shawl.  

This past Friday night some women I work with headed to uptown Charlotte to go to a bar named Howl at the Moon.  The place is loud, where dueling grand pianos, electric guitars, and drums compete for attention on the stage.  It is also a spot where guests, if they choose, can use long neon straws to slurp cocktails from huge shared plastic buckets, or those less inclined to take part in such communal sipping can gulp down Jello shots.  After a week spent cooped in a trailer teaching teenagers, an evening at this loud bar, filled mostly with twenty-somethings, didn’t appeal to me, so I decided to bow out and spend a quiet Friday evening at home. 

Besides, my thirteen-year-old son needed to choose a Broadway show tune for an audition for a magnet high school he wants to attend next year, so I thought I might rent the movie version of The Producers and see if something from that work struck his fancy.  The show is funny and irreverent, and Will Ferrell is in it, factors that I’d thought might make this work appealing to a thirteen-year-old boy.  After showing a trailer for The Producers to my son, who was slouched on the couch with his hair over his eyes, and after listening to his accompanying derisive comments, I decided to change direction.  No full version of The Producers.  Threatening bodily harm, my husband and I did make James sit through video clips of songs sung by male performers from shows such as Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Rent, A Chorus Line, etc. After an hour subjected to youthful sarcasm and accompanying contorted facial expressions, though, I was convinced that maybe going out wasn’t such a bad idea, even if no song had been selected.  So my husband and I exited in a hurry, trying to shut the door as fast as we could on the teen angst, so that it wouldn’t seep out and follow us into the car.  

The Bradford pears were in bloom this past weekend.

The weather on Friday was mild, and daylight savings time had extended the hours of sunshine.  On dark winter Friday evenings, I can be found at home, knitting while watching something on television, or sometimes I read.  Maybe the fact that spring was in the air, more than my son’s attitude, had prompted this decision to go out. I don’t know.  I was still tired, however, so, rather than head for the city, my husband and I drove to a wine bar in Monroe, a small nearby town.  The tranquil little place, Hilton Vineyard, on quaint South Main Street, was just the medicine for this tired teacher and frazzled mother who can’t figure out how to get an adolescent actor  to sing  “Seasons of Love” or “The Rain in Spain.” 

          Changing my usual routine felt like officially ushering in springtime, although now it’s Monday and the temperature is in the high thirties with rain, so that night seems more like a long-ago prelude to the season, a brief taste of warmer, more relaxing days.  My knitting, too, this past weekend was inspired by spring, as I began work on a top-down T-shirt I’m designing using Patty Lyons’s techniques (learned at a class at Vogue Knitting Live), and I’ve also been plugging away a shawl made with Noro sock yarn—in brilliant colors that seem perfect for high temperatures.  Maybe in a couple of months warm weather will be here, the audition will be over, and I’ll have the energy to drive uptown to Howl at the Moon.  For now, though, working on my lightweight knitting and sipping some of Hilton’s plum wine in the evenings seems the perfect activity to see me through the next few weeks until spring break.  

This is some silk yard I've had in my stash for some time.  This top-down sweater starts with a crew neck.