Thursday, December 31, 2009

Homemade Christmas, 2009 Edition

In an effort to stave off the materialistic side of the holidays, and to have an opportunity to devote time to making special items for each of my side of the family, I again made my gifts for the holidays. Now that they've been gifted, I can share the spoils.

First up, felted clogs for my dad. [Ravelry pattern link]

And coordinating ones for his new wife.

For my new step-brother, I made a Norwegian Star Hat with Earflaps [Ravelry link]. Rumor has it his head (and hair) are both large, so I made a pretty substantial hat, which I then felted because it was pretty floppy and huge when all was said and done. It's still pretty roomy on me, so I'm trusting it will work.

The sisters received bags I sewed; I liked the results so much that I am in the process of picking up the same fabric to make an identical one for myself. I made two cross-body bags and one shoulder bag, following the directions. I personally prefer the shoulder bag, pictured below, but each sister was given a bag well-suited to their needs. [Margaret Sling Bag link]

My brother-in-law received a ribbed wool hat, although he doesn't have to roll the brim like I did for my posterity shot. [Ravelry link]

Even Eric was gifted a new pair of socks, here being modeled by my youngest sister, who happens to have smaller feet, thus the bagginess around the ankles.

The best part about his gift is that I worked on them in his presence repeatedly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, including the car trip to Iowa, and the bind-off was accomplished after Eric plopped himself next to me on Christmas Eve. With all that, he was oblivious (he's so used to me knitting that he doesn't take much notice as to what I'm actually making unless I point it out to him). I was glad he didn't take note, because I wanted them to be a surprise but was running out of time.

My mom received some homemade candles (more on that later), and some knit washcloths.

Now time to share the gifts for my nieces. They're both artistic, so I made portable art cases for them [Portable Art Case link]. Here is one closed.

And here is what it looks like once opened.

There's room for a dozen colored pencils, a drawing pad, and a couple activity books. In the small pocket, I threw in Old Maid and Go Fish in their respective pouches. As an aside, I waited to pick up a blank drawing pad until a few days before Christmas, and it was actually pretty difficult to find one. Apparently drawing materials are in short supply for the holidays.

My nephew was the proud new recipient of a dinosaur play mat [Dinosaur Play Mat link]. When folded up, it's not anything impressive.

But when you unfold it, it transforms into a play mat, complete with a movable tree, volcano, and cave, along with boulders and a lake.

For other family members, co-workers and friends, I made candles. I repurposed orphaned teacups and other containers, melted down wax, added dye and aroma, and waited for them to set so I could trim the wicks. I don't have any finished photos, so here's a progress shot.

I also whipped up small tote bags to hold the gifts for the office ladies, although at the last minute, I had to switch patterns once I realized I didn't have enough of the contrasting fabric for this pattern.

And that finally concludes Homemade Christmas for another year. I didn't get things going until Thanksgiving time, but I'm pleased with the outcome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Weddings

[This was written last month, thus the November date stamp, but I'm finally getting around to adding the photos and publishing it.]

I am not objective when I see myself in a mirror. I remember when I was hunting for a wedding dress, I had trouble determining which ones I liked while wearing them. My older sister would take photos of me, and only later when I saw the pictures could I objectively determine which ones I liked.

When I began putting on weight after getting married, I didn’t notice how it was accruing until I’d see a photo of myself, and cringe as I thought, “Yikes! Is that how I look to others?” One thing after another contributed to the gain: Eric’s metabolism was higher than mine, so my natural grazing tendencies continued, but larger meals were thrown in as well; when we moved to Indiana, I was no longer on my feet teaching all day, so I was burning fewer calories; while at my desk job, sugary sweets were frequently offered, so while I have more salty cravings than sweet, I partook in the goodies so as not to offend. I probably averaged about five new pounds a year.

This weight loss – over 45 pounds since I was diagnosed last year this week – much like the initial gain, was gradual. A pound or two here or there is so little that I didn’t notice the subtle signs in the mirror. Even the smaller clothing sizes only count for so much. As a typical female, my wardrobe doesn’t consist of one size; we’re not so fortunate to have straightforward, objective numbers that correspond to clothing sizes like males do. In the past, I have had three different sizes being worn at the same time, all fitting identically but each brand choosing their own arbitrary classification for determining a size. And even with weighing less, I can still find my imperfections, so the different profile in a photograph still catches me by surprise.

At Halloween, a couple co-workers dressed up for a lunch potluck. I was helping one with her costume while someone else took photos. I wanted to see the photos later, and there was one of my back, adjusting a costume. My first thought was, “Wow! I’m skinny!” Pardon my vanity, but I’m still shocked at the transformation.

My older sister was married in February of 2008, and my dad was remarried this November 2009. While back home for my dad’s wedding, Eric stumbled upon a photo of me from my sister’s wedding, so I thought I’d offer a couple in comparison.

Here's the one of me in between bridesmaids being goofy while the bride and groom were photographed.

And here's one of Eric and me at my dad's wedding, deliberately trying to recreate the corny prom pose.

I couldn't find the exact one from my sister's wedding that Eric had referenced, but I think you get an idea of what a difference a year of weight loss makes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Things That Make Me Happy

Getting to run an errand across campus and enjoying all the fall colors and the fact that I didn't need a jacket. Creation is beautiful right now.

Watching someone on their bike riding one-handed while his other hand cradled a wrapped gift as a huge grin creased his face. His excitement was palpable.

Having someone tell me I looked stunning today at work. Today's wardrobe? Simple jeans and a sweater.

Finding a dress for my father's wedding on the first day of searching.

Anticipating a drive to Goshen tomorrow for a knitting retreat. Long, solo car rides are infrequent enough that it will be savored.

Deciding to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. A month of devoted writing sounds selfish, decadent, and exactly what I need.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Panic Begins

Today is October 24, and I have about two months before Christmas.

I've determined not to put up our tree this year. Augustine was a terror the first Christmas we had her, as she found it to be the ideal perch from which to peer out the window. We've steadily tried to break her of this habit, aided partially by moving the tree to the corner and not in front of the window, but Dante is a larger terror with more potential to scale the tree or topple it over, so I've decided to spare ourselves the headache of two cats sparring in our Christmas tree by keeping it in storage.

Plus, Dante sees it as his personal mission to scale every height in our house. He was found on top of a door earlier this week -- his weight made the door slowly inch shut, leading to The Great Fall. He's also on par to rival Clifford the Dog's size -- without leaving the ground, he can stretch to the top of our dining table, and he can "catch" the laser beam two-thirds up our basement wall.

Sorry for the cat sidetrack, but there you go.

Anyway, we have other ways of making our home feel festive, however minimally, so the nativity scene will get a place of prominence and we'll blast Christmas records, bake holiday cookies, and burn candles that smell of pine.

Now I don't tend to get caught up in the materialistic side of things, as Christmas was always a small family affair growing up. But now that many of us like to partake in homemade Christmas on my side of the family, I'm beginning to worry as I haven't yet begun on any of my projects. I think I've established what I'm making for the female contingent, as well as the nieces and nephew, although I don't have all the materials gathered yet. I'm just hoping that while I'm completing theirs, I will have an epiphany about what the perfect gifts will be for the guys. Maybe they will be equally satisfied with getting a toy identical to my nephew's?

People shouldn't read this as I'm dreading making things for my family, as it's not that at all. I tend to find great meaning in giving and receiving handmade items, but as the leaves are becoming vivid in color and clogging our sidewalks, and as the meteorologist are talking of a rain/snow mix for the weekend, it's setting in that Christmas is not far off.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Then and Now

Per Rachel's request, here are some before and after photos. I had trouble finding a photo of just me, but here's one that was taken last November at the knitter's Christmas party. This was just a week or two before being diagnosed with insulin resistance.

And here is what a difference forty pounds make -- sorry for the head chop, but I'm not adept at taking my own picture. Besides being four sizes of clothes smaller (I know!), I particularly notice the change in my face when I compare it to my work ID or license. And looking at this, I notice I need to hem my pants.

So there you go! Don't you want to join me in my insulin-resistance diet? I'm on it forever!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'll Take "Or Something" for $200, Alex

I’ve now lost 40 pounds since Thanksgiving, and I admit I wonder when it will stop, although the end is in sight. It’s certainly not annoying me because I understand my body will eventually plateau once it feels I’ve reached a healthy point, but I feel like I keep buying clothes, but “nothing” ever fits.

My favorite reaction to the weight loss was when one of our students who had been pursuing medical school for a couple semesters came back to defend his thesis. I saw him in the hallways and he glanced at me blankly and then looked away. I wished him luck, and he did a double-take. He said, “Oh, I didn’t even recognize you. You changed your hair or something.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Year

So today's one of those days where you don't know how to mark the passage of time. What's appropriate to honor a loved child all too soon gone?

One year has passed since having to say goodbye to our child. In a way, I'm amazed it didn't break us, and in a way, it's a relief. We made it past her original due date, and all the holidays without her, and what would have been her first birthday, and all the memories constantly coming to mind, and the frequent tears in private and in public, and we're still here. We feel as weak as all get out, but we made it through each day and we're both still here, both still together.

One year ago today, I was having an amazing morning. Although the doctors hadn't yet seen fit to discharge me, I started feeling more myself. The lethargy was still there, the dizziness, nausea, blurry vision, but my head wasn't as foggy as previous days and I could actually wear my glasses again with some success.

With my sister's aid, I was able to walk to the NICU, get a good report about Katherine from the nurses, and touch my little girl and get a glimpse of her eyes as she opened them. Everyone remained "cautiously optimistic," and that was catching. I was believing that this nineteen-ounce girl was our miracle child, serving as a testament to skilled doctors, advanced medicine, and a gracious God.

And no more than three hours later, we were being called back down, being asked to do what no parent should ever be asked. Take our child in our arms and say goodbye. The first time we held her was to watch as she left all too quickly.

I won't admit it's been easy. It's been a year of being fragile, feeling uncomfortable in large crowds, even when I know every individual. Fearing new relationships and casual conversations. Trying not to ask the impossible question of why. Allowing ourselves to be transparent when the need calls, and not feeling guilty when we find joy in life or when we need to distract ourselves from the pain.

I'm not sure how God is using this. And we will always miss our firstborn daughter. But scars and all, we made it.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Recently Finished Projects

Even with the (infrequent) warm weather this summer, I've still found time to create. There have been a string of washcloths, as well as a cozy for my french press -- I suggest you keep your snide remarks to yourself, as my coffee stays warm longer now!

The main theme for the summer seems to be "small," due to both weather and portability issues. To the right is the baby vest "Pebble" (Ravelry link). It was made in June, as our knitting group had a knitalong where the theme was "baby." This pattern has been marinating in my queue for a while, and while using this yarn for my french press cozy, I realized it would also be ideal for the vest. Fortunately, I had enough yarn remaining to accomplish both.

I followed up Pebble with "Cabled Baby Vest" (Ravelry link). This was the first time I used Blue Sky Alpacas cotton, and I relished it. It's soft and in spite of the yarn being loosely plied so that it can easily split, the results are quite pleasing.

I also tackled this squid hat (long story, made for a friend of a friend) (Ravelry link). I wouldn't recommend the pattern for anyone unless they're a confident knitter good at troubleshooting. Since I've made hats before and have been knitting six years, I could tell early on when something wasn't clear or correct in the pattern, but it could be a frustrating venture for someone who needs straightforward directions.

And after a coworker knit several of them, I just had to make myself a striped fish (Ravelry link). Everyone should be so lucky to have one of these happy guys in their possession.

My youngest sister is in the middle of her week-long visit, and we're spending the time living life much as usual, albeit without having to go to work. She's acclimating back to the States after having been in China for nearly a month, and I'm doing my best to help by taking her to Harry Potter as well as indulging in general crafting and a possible trip to the beach.

Here is a dress made for a friend expecting a daughter at the end of the month (Ravelry link).

And I finally got around to sewing this picnic blanket. With 16-inch squares, it came together quickly, and other than the backing, embroidery floss, and curved needles, I had all the materials at the ready.

My favorite part, aside from the happy, mismatched squares all co-habitating together, may be the pockets in the corners on the back. The intent is to insert flat rocks to keep the blanket from blowing away.

Even with the fluctuating weather, not all of the summer has been spent indoors or with knitting in hand. Here's one of my short-lived beach creations.

Mere seconds after this photo was taken, we poured water in the moat and then giants crushed our city to pieces.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Furry Dependents

Dante, while still quite skinny, has stretched out to the point that he is on track to be the length of a semi by the end of the summer. We had no illusions that he was a “pretty” cat when he came home with us, but his mangy coat has sleeked out with time, so he’s less homely than when we adopted him.

Now for his misbehaviors. He is teething, which means he will chew anything. He will wake me in the night (and get kicked out of the bedroom) for nibbling on my hair. Or Eric's nose. He will chew on mail or the covers of Eric’s books. He will crunch on wooden doorways or imperfections on our walls. He will gnaw on metal cabinet knobs, watering cans, wrought-iron furniture, and bases of rotary fans.

And he will crawl into small spaces – into baskets on shelves with little clearance, inside our recliners, underneath the nonexistent space below end tables, and in desk crannies.

While on my desk, he will cut across my laptop, or take a rest mid-keyboard, and his chance keystrokes have pulled up search boxes with the following terms: ‘apsodf’poi09888888888888asdffffffffffff.’ That file wasn’t found on my computer, much to his chagrin. I’m waiting for him to send an unintelligible email or delete my hard drive.

Our cats are still getting along as before. Dante acts as the stereotypical little brother, wanting to tag along and follow Augustine everywhere. When they come in from the screened-in porch, I still haven’t gotten over the fact that Dante will match his pace to hers as they trot down the stairs, only to pounce on her as they reach the bottom.

Augustine takes his play fighting in stride, but periodically we will hear a hiss from her when she’s had her fill or he’s being too aggressive. She won’t choose to sleep next to him, and she often takes his arrival as a sign that it’s time for her to leave – you can practically hear her sigh of disgust – but sometimes he’s caught snuggling up to her as she interrupts her nap to groom him.

And at least she hasn’t abandoned all of our rituals. For the first few weeks, she wouldn’t even cuddle with me if he was in the same room, but that has since resolved.

Dante is also acting as the bully, which doesn’t bode well since he’s already nearly her size. He will shove her away when treats enter the scene, and he’ll do his best to sabotage Augustine’s window lounging. But Augustine is deferential to him, whether out of her maternal nature or general exasperation.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Spinning Wheel Update

I thought I’d update you to the status of my spinning wheel, as I realize you’ve all been holding your breath for word on its fate.

I chose to begin my search via Craigslist, posting a help wanted ad for a handyman/carpenter. A couple days went by with no word, then someone quoted me a price of $200 minimum to fix. His plan was to simply buy a part online and tweak it to my homemade wheel, which I could do myself. His grammar and non-existent punctuation didn’t go over well with this former English teacher, so when I asked about his experience and qualifications, he replied that his grandfather used to repair 18th century furniture. I wanted to ask if his grandfather was still around to fix my wheel, but instead kindly thanked him for the quote and got rid of him by stating that wasn’t in my budget at this time.

Then someone who owned his own shop and was in possession of a couple spinning wheels contacted me. When I gave him specifics, he thought it might cost $50 to fix. He was hired!

Last month I dropped off my spinning wheel with him, and this week he sent me some progress photos that had me grinning happily as I envisioned spinning on my new wheel. I feel so fortunate to have found someone who knows what he is doing -- he’s asking me about the ratios I want! -- and takes pride in his work.

Also, as an added bonus, the spindle that you see there is one of twenty or thirty that came with the wheel, which means I can fill up as many as I need to before plying, and it was one less thing my handyman had to make.

I'm going to run to a local shop to pick up an Ashford maintenance kit and get the band and hooks to him, and I think we'll be in business before long.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Anniversary at the Fair, Part Two

While taking in the local county fair (much more akin to what was available at our state fair than my small-town-Iowa experience), I was drawn to examining the 4-H projects.

Several categories were familiar to me, like sewing, photography, and baking (although the latter was enhanced with a "Microwave Foods" portion).

Woodworking was another familiar category. Look at this roll-top desk.

And this beautiful piece was another stellar example, although compared to my fair growing up, the woodworking entries were particularly sparse and small in scope. Word has it that the overall projects had decreased in number from past years, due to the early dates of the fair as well as the hurting economy.

But I was struck with the new (or new to me) categories. Take, for instance, "Scarecrow."

Or "Architectural Model." I chose my favorite instead of the random LEGO scenes that didn't make sense to me, although this one only warranted a red ribbon.

Here's an example of "Farm Toy Scenes."

And three "Gift Wrapping" examples.

Finally, our favorite category was "Recycling," where students repurposed broken or incomplete items. Here is a bureau transformed into a snake aquarium.

Eric enjoyed this purse made from records and lined with fabric inside.

I marveled at this paneled screen transformed into a puppet stage.

Are these categories new to you as well? Or is this where I learn my small 4-H chapter was keeping me in the dark when it came to nontraditional categories?

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Anniversary at the Fair, Part One (or "I Like Ducks!")

Today marks our sixth wedding anniversary, and it coincided with the local county fair, so we partook in the festivities.

Please enjoy my participation in one of the duck races. I volunteered at Eric's urging, but he didn't have to do much to convince me:

Since my duck won the race, I reprised my role in the finals round, but all I won in that race was the honor of being doused by the little girl next to me who was urging her duck on.

In my next post, I'll share some of my favorite 4-H project categories.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Nancy Challenge

I’m toying around with an unofficial challenge, spurred on by Liz’s example. She had purchased 10 knitting and crochet books and vowed to make at least one project from each before the end of 1000 days. I keep examining the books I gained from Rachel, and I’ve earmarked several projects out of each. I don’t know if I’ll end up making one out of each book, and some books will offer several projects I want to make, but I think it will average to around that. And I certainly won’t limit myself to 1000 days – some of these projects are pretty intense and this may keep me company for lo these many years. Nevertheless, I think this is a fitting tribute to Rachel entrusting me with these books that were treasured and put to good use by Nancy, a gifted knitter. In the spirit of naming this undertaking, it will be aptly called the Nancy Challenge.

I started a child’s sweater out of Alice Starmore’s Celtic Collection, but after getting about five inches into the front panel, I am going to rip out. Turns out that I didn’t like the complementary color I spontaneously grabbed. The blue base with the white accent was too dated for my tastes, so I quickly knit up a green baby sweater so I knew how much of that yarn was leftover if I choose to stick with using a complementary color instead of switching to all blue. Turns out there’s plenty remaining, and the green should do a better job of blending with the blue.

Here’s a preview of that project with the old blue and white colors:

And here’s the green sweater I made so I could snatch the leftover yarn:

I’m also contemplating what solid color to use for the lacy Latvian socks in the Folk Socks book. I will also tackle the striped Guernsey ones so they can serve as a reminder of the delightful Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book I so enjoyed this spring.

I don’t think I’m doing too badly – three concrete projects from two books already decided, albeit still not cast on.