Friday, May 27, 2016

Parenting Fail and Knitting to Match

(I finished my shawl, but haven't hung out with the knitters yet.)

First of all, I need to state that I know I haven’t failed at parenting overall. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is good. My boys are kind, smart, funny, and not voting for Donald Trump. They are the type of boys you want your girls to bring home.

That said, parenting is like teaching. There are so many variables involved that no matter how much love you put in and how many things you do right, failures are inevitable. My youngest and I are coming to the end of a difficult era—his k-12 education. Youngest has always been the child who makes me challenge assumptions. He has made me change my mind about public school being a good choice for everyone.

Even though I have always been an eccentric introvert, public school was good for me. I had rough days and some years were better than others, but I eventually learned how to manage my time around my learning style. I met and befriended people I would have misjudged otherwise. I learned how to meet deadlines and the expectations of many different types of teachers. By the time I finished middle school, I was good at school. High school was more fun than hard. I went into teaching and chose to teach in a public school because I believed in the program.

So I started parenthood with the assumption that public school was a good place for my children and Oldest proved me right. He took a few years longer to master the school work part, but made a whole lot more friends. There were hard days, sometimes hard months, but overall, I believe that the experience was more positive than negative. 

This was not the case for Youngest. In first grade, he started coming home with vomit-inducing migraines. Those have remained a regular part of his life, as have spontaneous nosebleeds. Visits to the doctor found nothing obvious and she warned against strong anti-migraine meds for little kids. We went through liquid Tylenol like a pediatrician’s office. Although Youngest’s teachers always said nice things, school was a daily fight. The year Oldest moved on to middle school, my little one was the last one to leave home every morning and he didn’t always make it. After I got an attendance letter from his school, Youngest was required to call his Dad at work each morning to show that he was awake and moving and didn’t need a grandparent to come over and walk him to school.

I kept waiting for things to get better, but middle school was almost a daily fight. Youngest would go limp as a trained protester while  I had to physically drag him from bed. Eventually, Dad stepped in and gave him a talking to for giving his sick mother more trouble and guilt made him behave better. 

But school never got easier. Youngest failed art because he had artistic differences with the teacher. He failed 9th grade math and 10th grade English because homework just seemed unjust to him.

 As a high school student he has been very helpful around the house and delightful to talk to. I hear interesting things from his classes on a regular basis. He does extensive independent research on topics that catch his interest. Youngest has learned to tough out all but the worst headache days. But most days are still headache days and he only competes assignments when he can see their value. 

My son does see and feel the world differently than the average person. He doesn’t like music. At best, he learns to tolerate things that are familiar and will sometimes find something worthwhile in the lyrics. Movie theaters are agony. As a family we watch lots of movies together on TV, but Youngest gets to decide whether or not a movie on he giant screen is worth the headache that comes after. Smells, bright lights, noise, any kind of chaos is physically painful. Although no one has ever suggested testing, and Youngest doesn’t  come across as autistic, he definitely fits some of the qualifications. In fact, a comic I found online this very week explains his situation very well.

You can find the original, longer version here:

This child will graduate. Today was his last day. But it has been a struggle every step of the way. Hopefully there have been redeeming moments from Youngest’s point of view. But there had to be a better, easier way.

With two working parents and a middle-class income, we never considered private school or home schooling, but as a professional educator and a loving mom, I really think I should have recognized that Youngest was in the wrong situation and looked for something different. 


This is an appropriate place to show a knitter fail for the same child. Youngest outgrew this homemade sweater and was ready for a man sized one. He approved a pattern and yarn color and I bought a nice, expensive cotton/wool blend that I thought would be warm enough for a winter walk to church without needing to be immediately removed indoors to avoid heat stroke. I only make men’s sweaters for love, not money, because they are huge and monotonous. As I worked on this one, I had the horrible feeling that it was getting too huge, but Christmas was too close to start over.

 The sweater ended up looking fine, but it should have fit the person who looks good in this black shirt. He was kind enough to wear it to church one time. I am really hoping it will fit Oldest who is three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier.

I am going to have to make up my own pattern to make a sweater that fits. This time it will be homespun as well. So far, I've spun a little. I have a little wool combed a lot just washed and some not even that done My plan is to finish spinning and knitting before autumn cold. I’ll let you know.


Knitting for Sale: Knits from kits

Today I am going to post two new shawls to my store. Both were made from kits I bought this year right after I left work. I had this crazy theory that I had a lot of time and I bought way more wool than I should have. Facebook knows me too well, so I get a lot of ads from yarn shops. Craftsy has gorgeous patterns and yarn go with them. 

I struggled with both of these. The lace semicircular shawl was hard because it is lace. Lace patterns look a lot like counted cross stitch. You have a specific instruction for each stitch. It's a fun challenge when my brain is working right. Since my brain was not working right and black yarn is hard to see, this one took way too long to finish. 

It did turn out pretty. It is made of 100% merino wool and is plenty soft to wear next to the skin. It could add a little warmth or a little modesty to any summer dress without getting too hot. It is available at my shop for $60.

The next shawl was very different. The actual knitting was easy, but the pattern gave me fits. The shawl was supposed to end up with five triangles in a semicircle. I could never get that shape or the  right size by following the pattern, so I added one more triangle to make it a large triangle. If I were to keep one of the two, this would be the one. I like the simple, modern look. It will be on sale in my shop for $50.

Friday, May 20, 2016

New Circles for a Square Peg


I haven’t worried about my social life since college. I’m an introvert. The daily interactions with colleagues and students at school more than met my social needs. Even staying home with my sons and husband on evenings and weekends didn’t leave me enough alone time. My schedule was so overwhelming that making time for old friends and extended family sometimes felt like a sacrifice. 

That has changed. Now I have a lot of time. I haven’t felt lonely yet, but I’m afraid that I will if I follow my natural inclination to sit on the couch with Netflix full time. Also, although I love the time I have at home with my family, they are definitely guys. Testosterone poisoning is a genuine risk if I don’t get out and find some girl time. I’ve found two groups that should help.

First of all, I’ve started to attend meetings of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (DUP). This is an easy organization for me to join. Meetings are once a month at my neighbor’s house. My mom, aunt, and grandma attend too. About a third of the people there I’ve known for my whole life.

DUP is fun in a geeky kind of way. We sing old songs, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and take turns teaching lessons about different pioneer era topics. At the last meeting, my Aunt Sue taught about the world’s fair in Chicago. Utah was applying for statehood, so the fair was a good  chance for Mormons to prove that they could be patriotic, normal Americans. The refreshments usually tie in with the theme. Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit Gum, and Cream of Wheat were first introduced at the fair, so they were offered at the end of the meeting. To make the Cream of Wheat more appealing, all kinds of toppings were available, from fruit to caramel.

I will become an official member when the meetings start up again in the fall. Then I can have a chance to prepare occasional lessons too. Learning new things and using them in lesson plans is one of my favorite parts of teaching, so I’m looking forward to it.

My other new social circle is riskier because I don’t know anyone and it could get expensive. There is a knitting group that meets at The Unravelled Sheep every Saturday. I learned about it when I signed up for a knit-along. There are classes, trunk shows, and group projects there regularly, but this is the first one I’ve tried out. We are all knitting a scarf from this pattern. 

The teacher of the class custom dyed yarn for this project. Then she worked through the pattern four or five times to work out  the kinks and figure out how to teach it. We all worked together for about five hours last Saturday. I’ve knit mine off and on since. Here is my project so far.

I’m planning to go to the store and knit some more tomorrow morning. Part of me is. Shyness and the ache that comes from stormy weather are working against me. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Knitting with other knitters is both nice and strange. I’m used to being either a lone knitter in the corner or the one teaching a friend how to knit. At the class I was just one of the group, not any faster or more skilled than the rest. Most of the people there know more than I do about knitting software, designers, and new techniques. For example, I learned how to knit a few stitches backwards in order to work more efficiently on the scarf pattern. From overhearing conversations, I also know that several of these women are very well travelled. These could be fun people to know. I just have to learn to control myself and not spend all the grocery money every time I walk into the store.


Although I’m the only person I’ve seen knitting at DUP, it is a natural place for traditional crafts. One of my favorite pattern books is Victorian Lace Today. It is full of patterns and stitches that pioneer women probably used. One example is this hand-spun lace shawl in  my shop.

Another is this piece I just started. The stitch is called a melon stitch. It is a round stitch in a square (soon to be rectangular) piece.

The knitting inspired by this week’s topic is a circular scarf made of checkerboard squares.

The yarn is one I bought because I am fascinated with plant-based dyes. This is soft, merino yarn from Mountain Meadow and it was colored with dyers' coreopsis. I have yarn of about five different shades dyed with this same plant. It will show up again in a project I have planned for later. The scarf is for sale at my shop.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cognitive Difficulties


This has been a strange, sleepy week. Most days, I’ve slept in an extra half-hour, brought Lee to school, then slept until noon. By late afternoon I have to a lie down for at least an hour. I’ve only been swimming once because I’m trying to recover from whatever has knocked me over. Also, tomorrow I have an official knitting social event—a knit-a-long, at Unravelled Sheep. I paid  a month ago and don’t want to miss it, so I’m trying to save enough energy to be presentably human for five hours tomorrow. There is a lunch break in the middle, that might just be a nap.

Since I stopped working, I’ve wondered how I ever had the time or the energy to teach. But energy is a challenge for all teachers. Pain I’ve worked with for over a decade. What ended my teaching career was what my doctors call “cognitive difficulties.” 

I knew all my students’ names before November, but could never call them up when I needed to talk to or about particular students—even the notorious student whose name I knew from trouble the year before. When I passed out papers to a class, I would lose the stack of papers before I got all the way around the room. Having a designated place to keep things didn’t matter. I lost the ability to teach and deal with behavior at the same time and was easily drawn off track by disruptions. My ineptness lessened my students’ confidence in me and my confidence in myself. 

A new evaluation system didn’t help. For most of my career, I was one of the people who could translate edu-babble into language that made sense and could be acted upon. That skill was gone. I couldn’t understand the forms I had to fill out or how to incorporate required new tricks into my teaching. Passing was impossible. Ultimately the choice was between taking disability and being fired.

It is unclear whether my fuzziness comes from fibromyalgia itself or from the drugs that treat it, but it seems to be a pretty universal feeling. A good article about "fibro fog" can be found here.

Home is generally easier. I can still operate a dishwasher and a washing machine. I don’t drive any worse than I always have. My computer is set to beep for three days straight reminding me to pay bills. Usually my screw-ups are funny or easily overlooked.


Last week was different. I was home and in charge while a contractor came to install some new doors. I was worried about the dog being scary or annoying. I was worried about the cats escaping, I wondered how I could continue to stay upright long enough for the doors to be finished. It never occurred to me that  doors could be installed wrong. I’m not sure what happened and why every interior door was installed backwards, but I’m quite sure I approved it in process and when it was finished. It was only when my husband got home and was upset that I realized they were wrong.

So it was on me to make three days worth of phone calls to schedule a reinstall (which we have already paid for) and it will be on me to greet the contractor and explain that he is making these  changes because I was stoned and/or stupid last time he was here. That will be next Friday. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it.


Apparently I need more reminders to keep me on track, so I knitted the ultimate reminder—a hat with my name on it in case I forget.

Hats are fun and fast to knit. I use them to experiment with colors and to draw pictures. There are hats in my shop inspired by visits to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. I have knit hats for local colleges and high schools. There have been hats inspired by books and movies. My best-selling hats are the ones inspired by Space Invaders and other classic video games. My Space Invaders hats are on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel and in Norway. A Pong hat went to Russia. 

Do you need to be reminded of your name? Do you want to show support for a team or company? Do you need a hat unique to you? I take custom orders. Let me know.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Selfishness of Pain

[Just a note about today. The blog is later than I would like and the pattern isn't even started. I have spent most of my day learning (again) how annoying and expensive my cognitive problems can be. That will be next week's post. I also learned that sheep are not the best hat and mitten models. See below.]


 Arthritic Prayer

Teach me,  Lord, the purpose of my pain.

Please pardon that I kneel here to complain
instead of praise Thee. Help me understand
how twisted fingers fit within thy grand
plan of happiness. Also explain
how I can serve thee better at a crawl.

What good my pain, the agony of all
thy aching children, who—broken—remain
willing in spirit.  Is this for our gain?
Then why does suffering spur selfishness?

I fear that years of agony will drain
worn spirit, sour or twist my soul, unless,

Thou grant me daily strength to rise again
and help me see some purpose in this pain. 

Pain is a selfish feeling.

In saying this, I have to acknowledge that there are many people, some of whom I’ve known personally, who seem to grow closer to God while dying painful deaths. I often wonder how they can grow holy through suffering while I become bitter. Sometimes I blame my shady soul. Other times I attribute their success to the overwhelming emotions that must come with accepting mortality. I also wonder if people who are dying have access to better pain control medications than I do.

For whatever reason, when I am in pain, it is hard to care about others’ suffering or successes. All that matters, really, is getting the pain to stop. 

I am not alone. I can justify my selfishness with  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory is that basic needs must be met before we can move up to higher levels of thought and caring. The lowest level is basic survival, physiological needs—food, sleep, air, water. Pain is primal. It is a signal from the brain that something is wrong, that survival is threatened. 

I can live well enough with what I consider the “background noise” of my usual pain, but as soon as it increases, even a little bit, I feel more like an animal than a person. Fibromyalgia causes a hot, sharp kind of pain that makes me pace, scratch myself until I bleed, and wish that I could gnaw off one of my feet to get out of the trap. Rheumatoid arthritis throbs with a  cold, dull pain that inspires an instinct to crawl under the porch or out into the woods and die. At these not uncommon levels of pain, everything outside of myself is blurry and distant, even though I know that my pain is a false alarm. The quiet voice of remaining logic whispers that I should worry about my children’s grades, my family’s laundry, next week’s lesson plans. But it cannot happen until the pain is diminished enough for me to see beyond my own survival instincts. 

Rest and drugs are the only things that bring me out of the entirely self-centered levels of pain. However, in my regular state, knitting can help me stay human and satisfy my higher-level needs, like love and personal worth. Even when I’m stuck in bed, I can create something original, beautiful, and useful. In Knit for Health and Wellness, Betsan Corkhill encourages the disabled and elderly to knit items as gifts or for charity. This helps them (us) to remain connected to the outside world and to continue to feel worthwhile.


Baby gifts are easy and satisfying creations. They are generally small, which makes them easy to finish and hard to get sick of. Babies don’t dress themselves, so the variety of colors and shapes is greater than for people who can choose what to wear. I always try to have a few knitted baby gifts on hand.

I call this week’s knitting a “Little Less Selfish Baby Hat and Mitts.”  It is a very easy pattern that can be knit during the worst of times. 

There are several things to consider when knitting for babies. The first is color. The pink and baby blue stereotypes have yet to be overcome, so I tend to avoid both colors. I choose something gender-neutral like orange, green, royal purple, or black and white. 

Size can be tricky. When giving something warm, you want it to fit the fast-growing new person during a cold season. That is why hats, mittens, and blankets are all nice. The hats I have made are stretchy and have a brim that can be rolled up for premies or left unrolled for a young toddler. The mittens will be big, and therefore big enough, long enough for the baby to grow into mittens with separate thumb spaces. With this flexibility, the gift will work no matter what time of year the baby is born. 

Fiber types are also important. In this knit, I have created items for two kinds of mothers. The red and blue hat is knitted for a mom who will appreciate that the wool is a locally-sourced, renewable resource that has been processed and dyed in the most environmentally friendly way possible ( again from my friends at Mountain Meadow Mill). She will be willing to hand-wash these items (or make the nanny do so) and willing to pay a higher price ($25). If this mom is a vegan, ask your local yarn shop owner (mine is Vera at The Unravelled Sheep) about  yarns made from cotton, flax, or hemp.

I don’t think I’ve met this mom. Most new mothers are too stressed and exhausted to follow careful laundry instructions, so the other two hats are made from soft synthetics that will survive frequent trips through the washer and dryer ($15). All three hat and mitten sets will be on sale at my shop.