Friday, July 29, 2016

Full Nest--Squeezing Back Together


This week my oldest son came home after a two-year LDS mission in Washington DC.

 Eight missionaries came home on the same flight and at least five of those were met by parties. There were friends, neighbors, and cousins with banners and balloons. My mom has seen people bring the family dog to missionary pick-ups.

We are a low-key family. Since we didn't want our child to be left out, we asked what he wanted. Luckily, he was fine with just us: Mom, Dad, Brother.

His mission was a great experience, but he's glad to be home and we are glad to have him. In fact, the last two days I've felt better than I have in a month.

But even the best changes come with adjustments. Our lives have been very quiet with our missionary away. Oldest is my most sociable. While he was growing up, we usually had extra boys here. Youngest is content with his own company, or whatever company big brother brings home, so we haven't had visitors for a while. Except for yesterday when Oldest's best friend joined us. Our phone calls doubled overnight.

We rearranged our house with social adult kids in mind. The boys each have their own rooms upstairs by the kitchen and living room. We have a cozy nest downstairs. That way, they can have most of the house to entertain in and we don't have to stay up (or get in the way).

Cooking and shopping will change too. My oldest is less picky and willing to eat leftovers. But he is  a healthy eater, so there will be more food to buy. Plus, our far-too-usual take-out will be about $40 per meal instead of $30.

The nice thing is, he also likes to cook. Each boy will cook one meal each week, which takes a lot of burden off of me. Both of my boys are helpful around the house and with projects too, so I have plans for them.

Right now things are a little weird. We all want to get caught up, but we don't want to be overly-demanding. We're treating our son a little like a guest. It will take a while for us all to get into complementary rhythms again.


I would like some kind of rhythm in life. After over two decades of teaching, I'm conditioned to a strict schedule, changing tasks every hour. Now I'm kind-of floaty. My husband leaves for work at 8:30 and comes home around 6:30. That is all the schedule I've got. If I listen to my body I lie in bed all day playing a jigsaw app on my iPad. If I listen to my head, I overdo it and hurt myself.


While I'm talking about my family merging back together, it seems appropriate to introduce my felting project.

 Felting is shrinking wool on purpose. With friction or temperature change, the fibers pull closer to each other.  This creates a stronger, denser fabric that is great for coats, slippers, and bags. My goal is to make a messenger bag the right size for a laptop. I figured out how big I wanted it and knit something 50% larger. It's been through two heavy-duty washings and is now roughly the right size.

Unfortunately, it is not a good shape. the grey wool felted more tightly than the white and the edges I knit in a different pattern didn't shrink enough. That makes it too irregular for what I need.

My plan is to throw it in the wash one more time in hope of getting the white to felt more. Then I need to rig some kind of frame and try to stretch it into drying in a real rectangle. I'll let you know if it works.

I also made some hats. You can find them in my shop.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Playing Pioneer

I've had a hard time composing a good Pioneer Day entry this week. I did realize that in my current state, if I wasn't considerate enough to just die, I would be left in Illinois to wait for the railroad. But I haven't always had to be wimpy. In fact, I survived a pretty rugged pioneer experience.

t think most Mormon kids, definitely all Utah Mormon kids have thought about what it would be like to be a pioneer. We've all sung the song about the pioneer children who "walked, and walked, and walked, and walked."Many of us have also been on Trek in one form or another.

Our stake went on trek when I was 14 years old. At that time the trek was run by BYU recreation majors. The main object seemed to be authenticity. Moms in the ward sewed bloomers and aprons for the girls. In a patch of Sagebrush somewhere above Tooele, we were searched for contraband, including, maybe even especially toilet paper. Instructions were that if we had to go while walking it was "does to the right, bucks to the left." Our only modern luxuries were running shoes and sleeping bags. (We may have used bedrolls, but I don't remember.)

Our pioneer families were headed by a BYU "Ma and Pa" who were't necessarily married. Family assignments were made by the organizers with the goal of making us meet new people, so in my family of about fifteen, I knew three.

Walking wasn't bad the first few hours. We sang eighties pop songs and got acquainted. But they had us do all the walking in one day--20 miles, they said--walking from about 10:00 in the morning to about 10:00 at night. We had water and were given apples at some point, but that was it. Sometime close to when we should have had dinner, I threw up. I'm sure it was some combination of exertion and hunger.

I remember blurry stars in the sky as we walked through the dark. I wondered what they would do if I died on the trail. Would I be shipped home or buried on the side of the trail?

When we made it to camp, we were given a cup of beef broth and a hard roll, then we pretty much fell where we were to sleep.

They sure look yummy.
We didn't walk very far the next day, just a couple miles to the main camp where we had the luxury of porta-potties.  We made a tent using our handcart and all of our ground cloths. We also got to make our own food. That involved catching, killing, plucking, and cooking a turkey. It really needed salt.

One of these trucks, full of supplies, followed our kids on trek.
When my oldest son planned to go on trek, I was worried, but I didn't need to be. The families were made up of ward members with responsible couples called to be Ma and Pa. Other people were called to do dutch oven cooking for everyone. Kids were placed in compatible groups by their leaders. Parents were given a schedule so we knew what our kids would be doing every hour of the day. Three days of walking probably covered 6 miles.

Though I shared all my "up hill both ways through the snow"stories, I think the modern trek experience is better. We don't need to physically suffer like pioneers to appreciate their brave sacrifices, or to follow their examples of courage through our own challenges.


Pioneer women needed to knit. There was no Walmart for socks and mittens. I learned at a DUP meeting that during the first winter in Salt Lake Valley, people knit with dog hair because they didn't have enough wool. This new pair of fingerless mitts are knit out of all-natural, undyed wool. But they include a material the pioneers didn't have access to. It is fifty percent alpaca. I don't know when the first alpaca entered the valley, but I would be surprised if it was before 1900.
I'm also highlighting a shawl that a pioneer woman could have worn. It is a Victorian pattern knit from Black Welsh mountain sheep. Both are available in my shop

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bra Burning—balancing modesty and comfort

As I sat on my bed finishing this week’s knitting, 
my sweet husband and son cleaned a
bathroom and mopped the whole upstairs. I had another bad week, with too much sitting, not enough sleeping. I have felt pretty useless, but my time-consuming knitting project shows me I accomplished something. On with the blog.


I’ve been wearing a bra since third grade without any problems. My more endowed sisters (not my biological sisters) often suffer due to gravity, but that is not my issue.

I have developed an intolerance of tightness and straps. All the small pain during the daytime cause tension through my back, neck and shoulders that grows into big pain by evening. 

Wearing a bra seemed to add to my back pain. 
My manakin and I share a problem.

But not wearing a bra makes me uncomfortable in a different way. I tell myself that I’m an overweight, middle aged lady and nobody really looks at me (except my husband who appreciates the new look). But I see nipples and I see jiggle and I feel exposed.

The easiest solution is my hand-knit sweater collection. When they are thick or used as an upper layer, problem solved. This week’s knitting is another good cool-weather cover-up. Unfortunately, this is July.

And I am long-accustomed to working in a building that could feel tropical in one room and freezing in another, so I like to know I can remove a layer.

My answer is scarves. I have developed quite the collection. I like to be able to throw one on before opening the door or running to the grocery store. In addition, they are cute,relatively cheap, and make me look a little more finished. 

Sometimes a little too finished. 

 skipped church on Father’s Day. (I miss way too much church these days and no matter how miserable I am, I feel guilty.) In the afternoon, I ran over to my parents’ house to drop off a gift. My mom was confused because I didn’t look like a sick person. She asked why I was dressed up. I had to point out that I was wearing a T-shirt and very soft pants. Throwing on a scarf was easier than putting on a bra.

After two months bra-free, both my back and my sense of modesty are comfortable. I just need to find a few more scarves to match all my favorite clothes.


I like to make up my own sweater patterns and I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time. I pictured a shrug or bolero jacket with wild I-cord squiggles for a border. But I-cord made me hesitate even after buying the soft, beautiful wool yarn.

 An I-cord is a knit tube, usually three to five stitches around. they are great as hood ties, hat tassels, and trim. They are also a royal pain. The traditional method is to knit around those very few stitches using three to four double-pointed needles at a time. It is both tricky and monotonous. 

A little serendipity saved me. I have a subscription to monthly yarn samples and gadgets. This month’s gadget is an I-cord loom. It works just like the hat looms all of you have used to knit for the homeless, but with only 4 stitches. It is still monotonous, but less tricky and more portable. I should have measured the I-cord I made for the sweater, but I thought it might discourage me. 

More than 1/4 of the yarn used in the sweater was used in the I-cord.

Getting the shaping right in a sweater is still challenging to me, so my little shrug is more like a waist-length sweater or a poncho with sleeve holes. However, I love the color and the trim. I also love the fact that it will fit many sizes of people. If you are interested in the measurements and maybe enhancing your fall wardrobe, see my shop

Next week--My Pioneer Heritage 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Patriotism (and Mittens)

I confess, I have had issues with the Pledge of Allegiance.  What other free country makes their children recite a loyalty oath every day? The only similar images I’ve seen are in poverty-stricken dictator-led countries where kids recite to a picture of the Beloved Leader.

(I blame treasonous thoughts like these on the Utah State Legislature. As a school teacher, I blame everything on the legislature.) 

It is state law in Utah that students recite the pledge daily. My lack of enthusiasm comes from 24 years of nagging adolescents to their feet and dragging them through the pledge. Nagging and dragging are not inspirational to anyone and even after raising two great kids, I only have vague ideas about how to explicitly teach reverence and respect.

So the pledge has been largely a pain, but there are always wonderful kids who save me. Occasionally, I stop scowling at  show-offs using funny voices or trying to speed recite. Then I can focus on the good kids—the majority—who are looking at the flag and saying the pledge and meaning it. My patriotism is restored (at least until the next pencil hits the ceiling.)

And there is a huge difference between our pledge and North Korean loyalty chants. It is in the language of the pledge itself. “We pledge allegiance to the flag . . . and to the republic for which it stands.” We pledge allegiance to each other and our freedoms.

Similarly, people who are in the military or elected to office swear to uphold the constitution. No one is asked to swear loyalty to an individual leader or political philosophy, but to our country and its founding principles. 

Those principles are especially important to me because, like many of my students, I am a first generation American. 

Kind of. I have an ancestor on my Mother’s side who came over on the Mayflower. But my dad moved here from Germany in 1949. Because he was only six years old, Dad became American almost instantly, so I’m really half-second-generation-American.

What that means is I was raised with a high appreciation of our country. That comes with sad stories from the old country, which my grandparents and other relatives told in abundance. They grew up in the Depression and were young parents during World War II—3 small children by the end of the war with one more on the way.

They were bombed out of their apartment building in Hamburg and became refuges for a while. But they were not refugees when they came to America. In fact, they had gone home and reunited with friends and family. A garden shelter was rebuilt into a little house. Grandpa had a good job—a job that would have given him more money and prestige than he could ever have as an immigrant with a thick accent.

But my grandparents always dreamed of America. As Mormons, we believe that America is the promised land. There is no way to separate religion from our patriotism. InThe Book of Mormon, Nephi prophecies that the Spirit of God will inspire many people to come here. Grandma and Grandpa felt that spirit. 

They also wanted their family to go to the temple together. Today there are at least two temples in Germany, in those days they would need to travel a long distance anyway. Why not go to the land of promise?

I am grateful to my brave ancestors who were willing to sacrifice for their children and grandchildren and I am grateful for this great country that inspired them.

During this troubled time and ugly election season, we need to remember that this is our promised land and that all of us have pledged, over and over, to stand by our country and its ideals.

If you can’t, it may be time to consider Canada. Americans have a proud tradition of threatening to go to Canada when things don’t go their way. July 1 is Canada Day. I try to celebrate each year by knitting a pair of mittens. (My favorite knitting blogger is a Canadian who uses each July 1 to share facts about her country. They are fun to read and you can find them here. Scroll down to July 1) 

Mittens are a good symbol for Canada because they represent the reason they don’t need a wall to  keep out hordes of unhappy Americans. Winter. Cold, dark, real, WINTER. Those of us who wear shorts in January or don’t bother with coats are not equipped for Canada. I’m currently not equipped for my own air conditioner. Right now I am typing in the fingerless mitts knit for Canada Day.


I bought a kit for these mitts during a shopping tangent at the beginning of the year. They must have been on sale, because I hate the way they look in the sales photograph. The apple green is good for showing the stitches, but it doesn’t move me.

The purple heather wool I chose for my order, however, is gorgeous, which almost compensates for the trouble they were to knit. This was tight, picky knitting that required reading a pattern for almost every row. I proved to myself that I can still follow a knitting chart, but I struggled. I struggled enough that these mittens are not quite alike enough to sell. One of my lucky friends or family members will be gifted them at Christmas time (unless I decide to keep them). I am attempting to get two matching mitts of my own design and some mittens ready by the end of the month.

If you are not preparing for winter yet, how about some wash cloths? Hand-knit cotton dish cloths are wonderful for the bath or for the dishes. I usually stick some in with my wedding gifts, and I always make more for my kitchen.

Washcloths are the perfect choice for knitting on a bad brain day or in the dark. They are also a good way to cleanse the pallet after a tough project. It takes me about 2 hours to knit one, so I am listing them as made to order. I do have a lot of red white and blue cotton, but I can work with other colors or dye-free organic cotton on request. I will be selling them in sets of three for $15 in my shop.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Looking Good: Do I Want to?


This week I filled out more paperwork for my long term-disability application and applied for Social Security disability. Now it’s all waiting, and while waiting, wondering if the powers that be will believe I am disabled. 

When I’m dressed up, well rested, and well drugged, I can forget my own limitations for a while. That’s how I taught sick for so many years. That’s why when I went to the district office to turn in my application, I walked energetically down to the insurance office and wondered (for a very little while) why I couldn’t just keep pretending to be okay.

With an invisible disability—and most of them are—it’s a hard call. If I face reality, I know I can’t work. It’s been a couple weeks since I could both load the dishwasher and run batches of laundry on the same day. My doctor believes I am sick. But I don’t look any different than when I was well.

In fact, I look a little bit better. Impulse control dies when I’m in pain, so over the last couple of years, I’ve put together a fantastic wardrobe. Then, in hopes of getting healthier, I lost sixty pounds, so I’ve got that going for me now. I can walk fluidly. I can sit on the floor and get back up again. If I had a handicapped parking pass, people would question it.

I have seen other people look suddenly, desperately ill. Often that was due less to the illness itself than to changes in grooming routines. Women who once looked perfect seemed to fall apart when they could no longer put in all the work it takes to be beautiful. If I had been well-coifed and stylishly made-up before getting sick, I would look bad now. 

My hands shake too much to insert contacts or apply eye make-up. I can’t hold my arms up long enough to manage a curling iron or blow dryer. I will soon be on a limited income and will not be able to afford to have my hair professionally colored .

Luckily, I have never had my hair professionally colored. I was low maintenance (lazy) long before I got sick. I gave up make-up and contacts in my twenties. I only used a curling iron in middle school and for a few years in college. Showering and washing my hair now counts as putting a huge effort into my appearance But I don’t have to worry about suddenly looking older, greyer, or paler.


Nope, no spinning. No yarn preparation of any kind. I’m still in recovery mode and doing very little. I hope to be back on track after the long weekend.


Yarn makers have created great short-cuts for lazy knitting weeks. Some of the best compliments I get of my knitting are for projects where the yarn does all the work. One example is called self-striping yarn. All I have to do is knit and the colors on my projects look like I did a lot of work and planning. The adult size socks (and last week’s socks) are going to be a gift, but the baby hats and boots are available at my shop.