Monday, February 22, 2010

Crossing the Great Divide

Sounds ominous, doesn't it?  Birth, death, menopause, what could we be talking about here?  None of these things, of course.  But we have finished February break and good riddance to it.  After a week of sickness and being in when we wanted to be out (or out when we wanted to be in, for some of us) and another break that ended just when we had rested up enough to start enjoying it, we are firmly on the flip-side of winter.  The sky was light when I walked the dog (that will last a few more weeks, until DST kicks in at its new earlier time and hurls me back into dog-walking darkness). The cold is just a little less bitter and I feel a little bit less squeezed and compressed by winter. March is just a week away and now we know we're going to make it through to spring.

I have also reached the spot on my Slanting Gretel Tee where I get to divide for the sleeves.  I have just under 50 rounds left to knit, compared to the 120 I've already been through.  You can even see the little sleeve-lets getting started.  They're the tiny little bits sticking out like ears:


I'm still not quite sure if I'll finish before the end of the Olympics; I know that it is theoretically possible, but life sometimes does get in the way of my knitting.

On Friday, when everyone was finally well enough to leave the house at the same time, we took the boys to see the dinosaur exhibit at the museum and science center.  A few years ago, they had a room full of mechanized dinos.  The moved and roared when people got close to them and they were so big they had to be brought in and taken out through the windows of the museum.  I took Nate there for his birthday and we loved it.  He kept sneaking back to the triceratops to see how close he could get before it started making noise. This time the display was much smaller and I think we were all a little disappointed.  Still, there was a designated photo spot. They even provided an X on the floor so I knew just where to stand to catch these prize winners:



Not to be outdone by fake dinos, one of the chickens laid an Egg of Unusual Size.  We dubbed it FrankenEgg and hid it in the refrigerator until we were brave enough to deal with it. 


Here it is, posing with a Perfectly Normal Egg to provide a sense of scale.


With the stresses of school and work set aside for the week, our time finally came.  We gathered around and did the unthinkable:  we cracked the giant egg.  No scary surprises inside (speculation as to the contents included predictions of dinosaurs and whole mini-chickens), just twin yolks.  We scrambled them up with a few of their friends and had a very nice lunch.


Many thanks to The Girls, shown here in a gratuitous winter pose.


I think they are looking forward to spring too, although they have at least finally learned that they can walk in the snow.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progress Report

Welcome to February break.  So far, I don't think much of this vacation (or staycation, or playcation, or everybody get sick and barf all over the place-cation).  It started a little early for us when Nate got the stomach bug in the middle of last week and missed the last three days of school. This included the pajama party on Thursday, which he was okay about, and the Valentine's Day party on Friday, which he most certainly was not okay about.

By Friday, Matty was good and sick too, although with the raging fever/crying/must-be-attached-to-mommy-at-all-times kind of sickness.He missed his Valentine's Day party too.

By Saturday night, I was starting to suffer from a milder version of both illnesses combined (although I did not make my mommy stay with me) and by Sunday night it looked like Emma was coming down with something too, although she could just be suffering the aftershock of four basketball games in one 24 hour period.  Bleah.

I'm still not feeling all that great, but after all the rest I had on Saturday (when I chose to sit down and relax all afternoon because Matty couldn't go anywhere) and Sunday (when I had to sit down and rest because I couldn't go anywhere), I just don't think I can rest any more.  So this morning I did what anybody home on vacation with four kids and a lot of sickness would do.

I mopped. 

Don't ask me to explain this behavior.  I can't.  The floor did have a few spots on it, and I generally do prefer to relax in a clean house, since too much chaos makes me edgy.  But really the house was not in terrible shape.  A little straightening up the rooms and washing a few dishes would have done the job for me on any other day. Plus, I wasn't actually feeling great.  Plus, the floor had been mopped less than a week ago by the nice lady who comes in twice a month and does all my dirty work. So why, suddenly, was I possessed by the urge to really clean the floor? Can't explain it.  The only thing I can think of is that I must be a lot sicker than I realized.

I had helpers, though. I did the soapy water mop, and the hot water rinse mop, but they get all the credit for actually drying the mop-water off the floor.  They seemed to enjoy it a lot more than I usually do.  Now the floor feels wonderfully clean . . .

which always makes me want to pack everyone off to a hotel for few days in order to keep it that way.

Despite all the forced relaxation, I was not totally idle over the weekend.  In fact, I was knitting like a fiend on my Slanting Gretel Tee.  I cast on during the opening ceremonies, just like I was supposed to.  Saturday I started chugging along in earnest, only to suffer an equipment malfunction.  The 32" cable for my interchangeable circular needles was threatening to come apart.  No problem, I switched to my back-up cable.  In the process of working the stitches from one needle to the other, I noticed that the project was growing at an astounding rate.  The lower edge of the tee, which was supposed to be 41.5", was over 46 inches.  My gauge was off by 1/2 stitch per inch, which over 232 stitches adds up to a lot of extra inches.  I could just hear the Olympic Knitting Officials:  False start; three hour penalty! Back to the starting line, please. 

And back I went. New cast on row, new needle size. Along the way, the second cable started to come apart, and I was forced to resort to a set of bamboo fixed circulars.  They took a little getting used to, but now we're getting along just fine.  Here is a picture of them from Sunday morning, just after they rescued  Saturday's work:


Here is a cable detail from the sweater that is both difficult to see and unrepresentative of the yarn colors:

I wish I didn't like it better than the real yarn color.

And here is the photo from today, showing (to the careful observer):
(1) that I have about 5 inches of sweater knit;
(2) that I am nearly 25% of the way through my yarn (I started with 4 yarn cakes, and I'm down to three plus the little knobbly bit on the end of the needle; fortunately, I am also nearly 25% of the way through the sweater);
(3) that my floor is in fact shiny clean after all my mopping; and
(4) that I can still make a smiley face out of anything.

Others were also engaged in artistic pursuits over the weekend.  We bought new watercolors, oil pastels, and water color pencils on Sunday, and I was rewarded with a great deal of fabulous artwork. 

Isabel has a thing for trees and mountains, while Emma is exploring sunsets, skies, and green grass.  I love them all; they just brighten my day.

When I uploaded the pictures from my camera, I found a few gems from Matty's birthday.  The girls decided to make him a cape and a crown.  Due to a small measurement oversight, combined with a failure to account for the effect of stuffing the crown (don't ask), the crown came out a little small, but Matty doesn't seem to mind.  I think he was pleased that we were all finally willing to recognize his rightful place in our family.  He promises to be a benevolent tyrant.

Due to a candle shortage, we had to put the number 5 on his pink cake (yes, his choice) instead of the number 4, which is more typically used to describe people of his age.  We are a forward thinking people and like to look at it as "one to grow on."

On my camera, I also found a solid photographic evidence that it is not necessarily a good thing for my children to have unfettered access to my camera.

Collage 1: clockwise from upper left:  Violin on Desk;  Carpet Sample; Dog Looking Backwards; Laptop on Desk; Random View Out Window;  Laundry; Hair.  Center: Mouse on Mousepad.

Collage 2: clockwise from upper left:  Chessboard on Floor with Body Parts; Chessboard on Floor, angled view; Chessboard on Floor, view from above; Chessboard on Floor, view from above, detail showing unusual configuration of pieces; Chessboard on Floor, side view showing unusual configuration of pieces; Chessboard on Floor, blurry view; Chessboard on Floor without body parts.

I think I'll encourage them to stick to painting.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Totally Unrelated

Here is this week's milestone, in pictures:

Look Mommy, I got myself dressed. 


I even tucked in my shirt!


And, for something completely arbitrary, here is an example of what happens to my kids' meals if they leave them unguarded for too long:


(Kosher hot, Boca meatless chicken nuggets, and crinkle fries, all pleasingly arranged on a handwoven placemat.  Presentation is everything.)

Games-mania and List-mania collide with a BANG

I.  In which I am Rudely Accosted and Publicly Shamed by a Non-Believer
True story:  I may have mentioned (fifty or sixty times) that I take my grocery shopping very seriously.  If it were an Olympic sport, I would be the captain of the U.S. team and people from my home town would line up to watch me train at the local grocery store.  Just like any serious athlete has a game plan, I have a Shopping List.  I can't imagine walking into the store without one, mostly because  I can't be trusted to behave in a store that size.  The List keeps me in check.  Just like Mrs. Googins (yes, real name, and didn't we have tons of fun with that in school?) taught us in Home Ec., I plan out the week's menu in advance.  I make sure I list any missing dinner ingredients,  I survey the pantry to see what staples might need replenishing.  I interrogate family members to find out what they've used up during the week. To streamline the process, I have even made a master list that can be printed from my computer, complete with a nice little box for recording the week's menu and some spiffy check-boxes next to all the most frequently shopped-for staples.

Apparently, this is not universal behavior.

I have always been a little worried about people seeing my list while I'm shopping.  Not in a please-stop-copying-my-paper-you-big-fat-cheater sense, but in a please-stop-staring-at-me-you're-making-me-nervous sense.  I already know that it takes a "special" kind of person to truly appreciate the importance of The List, but mostly I've been able to rely on the discretion of other shoppers.  Some are intimidated and I can see them slinking off to another aisle, but we both pretend we don't know what's going on.  Some clearly think I've gotten painfully a little uptight, but they are polite enough not to mention it to me.  So after 15 years of living within the guidelines of the Shoppers' Code of Peace and Tolerance, imagine my shock when some first-class doofus man wandered over to me in the produce section last month and shouted "You use a LIST??? I didn't think anyone used a LIST!! Bwahahahahaha!"

And now I have List Anxiety.

II.  In which I Prepare for the Knitting Olympics

Fortunately for all concerned, grocery shopping is not an Olympic event.  It's not even a demo sport,  and the proud citizens of the U.S. do not need to fret over whether my List Anxiety will cause me to choke at a key moment and bring everlasting shame to the U.S. Olympic Shopping Team.

Instead, some wild and crazy knitters have created a parallel universe in which there is an entire knitting olympics.  There are teams, events, winners, etc. etc.  The idea is to pick a project (or two, or ten) that would in some way be a challenge for you to complete between the opening ceremonies and the dousing of the olympic flame. 

I'm in.  I decided a while ago that I would take part in this little bit of knitting craziness.  In order to get ready ("train"), I cleaned house.  Not in the literal sense, which would have been an almost complete waste of time, but in the knitting sense.  I started off the year with five outstanding (i.e., not done, as opposed to really spectacular) projects, not counting my pink sweater which is in a lengthy time out due to some gauge control issues.

In no rational order, we have a sweater for Nate:


a hat for El Husbando:


socks for my mother:


and mittens for me:


Now, just one day before the Olympics are due to start, I have one project left to finish:


A gift scarf.  But it will have to wait until after the Olympics.

As part of this Total Project Smackdown, I inventoried.  What really happened was that I ordered some impulse yarn and suddenly began to feel like the entire knitting/spinning thing was getting out of hand.  This was particularly true of my sock yarn.  So I made (wait for it . . .) a list.  The list is divided by the nature of the project (knitting, spinning, quilting) and subdivided as necessary (sock knitting, sweater knitting, random knitting).  I came up with some project ideas for most of the yarns that I have, just so I could feel like I have a little direction in life. I even inventoried my handspun, on the theory that I should actually make something with all that yarn.  Here it is, after being artfully arranged by my younger daughter, whose artistic sense was offended by the way I just randomly tossed the yarn onto the bed.


To really make the list exciting, I assigned every item a number.  The theory is that when I am in need of a new project, I will pick a category (e.g., socks), generate a number (you know, roll dice) and pick that project off the list.

Please stop laughing now.

This is an excellent theory, and I stand behind the idea just as much as I used to stand behind my Shopping List until someone laughed at me in public.  Anyway, now that I am completely organized and have finished most of my lingering projects, I am as ready as I'm going to be for the Olympics, both knitting and winter. Tomorrow night I will cast on for my Slanting Gretel Tee and then I will knit like a madwoman until (a) the sweater is finished, (b) the torch is extinguished, or (c) I perish from a knitting related repetitive stress injury.

Let the games begin.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In which we celebrate an excellent holiday and win fabulous prizes

Part I:  We Start the Day in an Unusual Manner

Saturday was International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (IICBD, for those in the know).  I only tell you this because it seems that not enough people are aware of this wondrous day.  I found out about it on Friday and can now clearly identify what was wrong with the last 40 Februaries. The fact that the holiday was kept secret from me for so long is astounding.  The holiday actually originated in my hometown before I was born.  How is it that the holiday has made its way to entirely different countries, but I had to find out about it from a blog by someone who doesn't even live in Rochester? No one even showed me the clip about it that appeared in the local paper last week.  It's almost as if the world thought I couldn't be trusted with this information.  Very Suspicious.  But all to no avail.  I have found out and I wasted no time in preparing.  I bought a tub of ice cream and my kids enjoyed waffles a la mode for breakfast.


But that's not all.  We don't do things half-way here, and it was clear that something that was so good the first time around could only improve with repetition.  So we also had ice cream with lunch.  And some of us may have had ice cream for afternoon snack.  Or as an appetizer before dinner.  Fortunately, on IICBD,  Ross's Second Kit-Kat Principle* is temporarily suspended and the ice cream is just as good the second (or third or fourth, as individually appropriate) time as it is the first.  Particularly if you start adding chocolate syrup.

You might think that any day beginning with ice cream would reach its peak pretty early, but apparently the Laws of Conservation of Happiness  (LCH)** are also suspended on IICBD, leading to . . .

Part II: We Have a Winning Day

We like to win; it's better than losing. We have tried both and are pretty confident in our opinions.  But we understand that we can't win EVERYTHING.  That would be thoroughly unreasonable and, applying the LCH (see below) might even require that we experience some disappointment in order to restore balance to the universe.  This is especially true of any event involving a raffle.  I won a prize once when I was in high school, and never won another raffle prize until my 40th birthday, when I won three prizes in the same raffle. So when I bought my kids tickets for the nursery school raffle yesterday, I was careful to remind them that we might not win anything.

Ha!  People who eat ice cream for breakfast are exempt from raffle disappointment.

Take a look:


A basket of bath goodies!


A basket of candle goodies!!


A basket of dog goodies!!!


A toy excavator!   (Oh goody!)

Does it get any better than this?? Four raffle prizes.  FOUR RAFFLE PRIZES!!!!!!!

But wait, there's more!

Sixth grade basketball game?  We won.

High school hockey game?  We won.

Clearly we are on the verge of exceeding our happiness quota.  In order to bring us back into harmony, I spent the morning in Sunday School with my daughter, evaluating my beliefs about life's major issues with the help of a pile of sixth graders.  I spent the early afternoon in a nursery school budget meeting and the later part of the afternoon trying to figure out some video editing software that was much too complicated for me.  I also complained loudly about the state of my house (can't anybody put their dishes IN the dishwasher? And are socks really too heavy to be carried all the way to the laundry room?).  I feel I have done my part to restore some balance to my world.  Just to make sure, I will go back to work tomorrow and spend the day analyzing the law of government tort liability while my four year old  climbs up my office chair and demands marshmallows for breakfast.  When I  feel harmony has been restored, I will be ready to reveal my plans for . . .

Part III: I Train for the Knitting Olympics.

(pictures and story to follow!)

*Ross's Second Kit-Kat Principle (RSKKP, again for those in the know) states that, regardless of how good the first Kit Kat is, the second can never be equally good (stated mathematically as KK1 > KK2>KK3).  The principle is universally applicable to all candies larger than the "Fun-Size." Various corollaries address the extent of Kit-Kat Enjoyment Decline (KKED) based on such variables as individual hunger, proximity to dinner, and whether the subsequent candy bar was either the last in the house or was taken (by force, trickery, or outright theft) from a sibling.  The study of the effect of Halloween on the principle is a relatively recent development.  Certainly, the reason for the suspension of RSKKP on IICBD is worthy of future attention.

**Basically, the idea is that there is only so much happiness to go around, which makes a spectacularly successful day a statistical rarity.  One branch of this study actually goes so far as to suggest that any unusually large dose of happiness will be offset at some point by  Joy Cancelling Events until balance is again achieved.  The same laws explain why it is not possible for all members of any self-contained group of people (members of the same household, staff, team, government, etc.) to be happy at the same moment.  Certain poorly understood multiplier effects come into play for events involving a great deal of preparation or inordinately high expectations, such as Thanksgiving or large family reunions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In which we honor an exemplary vegetable and reap fabulous personal benefits

Today is National Carrot Day.

I kid you not.

If you don't believe me, then feast your eyes on this incontrovertible photographic evidence:


See this guy?  He is clearly celebrating National Carrot Day, and doesn't he look delighted?  

(An aside: I visited this display in person and saw dozens of bottles of what purported to be carrot juice stuffed in the ice.  Nonetheless, I am having a hard time accepting the claim that anyone squeezed a bunch of carrots and ended up with juice.) 

Here is more proof:


Ha!  I  told you so.

And if that is not enough, then here are some singing carrots who will certainly change the way you view the world.

We are, of course, long-time supporters of the carrot.  We eat many of them and are tolerant of a wide variety of carrot forms.  Tall, short, fat, thin, dirty, clean, cooked, raw, plain or with dip.  We are equal opportunity carrot lovers. We have even planted them, although the local bunnies (hooligans, down to the very last fluffy cotton-tail!) seemed to benefit more than we did.  Long have we extolled the carrot's many virtues as a healthy food. But never, until today, were we fully aware of the power of the carrot to sustain and strengthen us.

Today was one of those days that had tremendous potential for disaster.  Absolutely fraught with peril.  Much better to stay in bed and hide under the covers than to venture forth and try to conquer such a schedule. It is, of course, a Wednesday.  Wednesday means grocery shopping and grocery shopping means that the children have been asking for two days whether I have gone to the store yet.  Apparently, as soon as the chips run out, they think we have reached the Food Crisis Point and are in imminent danger of starvation. As I have mentioned before, I firmly believe that grocery shopping should be treated like a polar expedition.  Or a military campaign. Or a presidential campaign.  Plan carefully, execute faithfully.  Any unnecessary improvisation or variation is to be avoided as it will result in frozen explorers, politically suicidal remarks, or an improper snack/staple balance (too many marshmallows, not enough milk). Timing is also key. There is a tiny window of time between the end of preschool and the time that buses start dropping big kids off, just barely enough to get the shopping done.  One false step into a different store, one extended conversation with a friend you found in aisle 5, and you'll come home to find that your children had to take refuge in the chicken coop because you weren't home to let them into the house.

Today was blessed with some bonus obstacles.  First, the orthodontist appointment.  It is cleverly scheduled to coincide with the 26 minutes* allotted for a middle-schooler's lunch, thereby minimizing missed classes.  But,  again, timing is crucial. If the most-excellent braces-repair people linger too long over their tooth-related tasks, there will not be enough time to shop and we will either have to live for the week without any foods that are shelved beyond aisle 12 or we will have to extract poopy-booted children from the chicken coop and bribe them with chips not to tell daddy that we were late again.

To further complicate the schedule, the furnace quit yesterday.  By last night, we were beginning to notice that the house was a little colder than usual.  By this morning, it was 53 degrees inside the house, and it was clear that we would have to call for assistance.  The very helpful people at Isaac Heating gave us a window of 8-10 am for the arrival of the repair guy.   Could be good, could be disastrous. Timing is everything.

So now we have arrived at the Supermom Challenge of The Week: exercise, kids, furnace, orthodontist, food, complete all tasks on time and retain bulk of sanity. And it all worked.  I got up mostly on time, made sure that everyone who was planning on leaving the house was wearing clothes and had eaten breakfast, signed the requisite school papers, set up an appointment with the nice furnace repair people, did yoga, bathed and dressed before the nice furnace repair people entered the house, walked the dog, took care of the chickens, and finished the shopping list before I left the house at 10:10.  Now, admittedly, I was a little behind schedule here.  But, the furnace repair guy, after fixing the furnace, asked if I would like a little furnace maintenance.  Having blown off furnace maintenance for 5 years only to end up in a 53 degree house, I opted to mend my evil ways. So I  told him yeah, sure, as long as he could be out of the house by 10 am, time being of the essence and all that (I did eventually remember to ask how much the maintenance was going to cost, money also being of the essence).  And he really did stick to the established schedule.  And then he offered to fix a small problem with my water heater.**  For FREE.  And who is going to turn down that kind of an offer?   At 10:08 he was done and paid and I was squawking at Matty to hurry up and get his &^^$ boots on.  And he did.  And then, when I was sure we were going to have to call the orthodontist and admit that we were running late  for our 10:40 appointment and risk being told that they could no longer accommodate us so could we please reschedule, I got to school and Emma was already waiting for me.  She hopped into the car, and suddenly we were on time again.  At 10:39 we were parking (see, not 10:40 yet; we win!) and at 11:19 we were headed back to school to drop off brace-girl-- following a quick lunch detour-- and before we knew it we were at the grocery store, and we got a good parking space, and a reasonably snow-free shopping cart, and there was enough time to buy food and drive home and put it away without children having to wait in the chicken coop and, to top it all off, the bill was $50 less than usual and I'm pretty sure I bought everything I was supposed to.

How, one might wonder, is it possible to have such a day?  I'll tell you: the minute I walked into the store, I understood the source of all my good fortune.  For there was Daryl, who is paid to greet Wednesday shoppers with free food samples.  She was stationed at the entrance to the produce section, armed with tiny plastic bowls of carrots and hummous*** and she smiled and said "It's National Carrot Day!! Have a carrot!  They're really good for you."  And all became clear.

Behold the Power of Carrots.

Happy National Carrot Day to you and yours!

*Not that the appointment will take 26 minutes. In fact, it takes  15 minutes just to get to the appointment, plus another 15 to get back, plus waiting room time, plus the wildly variable amount of braces-repair time. Again, timing is crucial here.

**I have been ignoring a series of blinking lights for  months, mostly because I didn't like the way the last repair guy criticized my basement and wasn't ready to open myself up to more negativity.

***Very tasty, by the way.  I made sure to buy some for home consumption.