Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Yahoo! Avatars

Learning from Testing

This is a post I wrote for the community blog, Life Without School.

I love that homeschooling allows my children the opportunity to learn about testing without having testing overshadow actual learning.

Redemption Shrug

(imagine hearing a version of Bob Marley's Redemption Song while reading this)

I've worked through the stages of grief with this shrug - this is how it went:

Step 1 - Denial. I thought it would simply take a number of rows before I could discern the vinnland pattern.

Step 2 - Anger. Why didn't I get any help? I looked in knitting instruction books for help and found nothing to tell me how to use the diagram properly. I can't do this by myself, as with so many others, hubris was my downfall.

Step 3 - Envy. I want it to look like kvp's shrug.

Step 4 - Depression. I made a mistake and it doesn't look right. I appreciate kitmf's comment that it was a design decision, but it wasn't. It was a mistake. I'm a failure and a very bad knitter. Lord only knows what I'm doing to my kids if I can't even knit a shrug properly.

Step 5 - Acceptance. This is MY shrug and it looks fine. I need to stop comparing myself to others and my hair is going to cover up half the back anyway.

And since I'm not a Buddhist, I can't stop at acceptance. No, I ascribe to the doctrine of the Christian Church, so there must be something more....

Step 6 - Redemption. This started out as a mistake, but I will own it. I will redeem the mistake and make it a design. Thus, I have decided to flip the chart. I've knit half of it going up, I'll knit the other half going down. There will be salvation in symmetry! I only wish it was a bit closer to Easter.

Why write this now, why not just do it and post the finished picture? Because if I flame out big time I want this to document the glimmer of hope, the spark of life I once had. Some will believe, others will demand proof (after all, I'm married to a man named Thomas).

P.S. Hi Tammi! I miss you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Shrug of My Torment

I'm trying to determine whether I'm an idiot, but I'm not sure I'm smart enough to know.

Some time ago, my friend pointed out the Circular Shrug thread on Craftster. After obsessing over it, reading the posts, and looking at the pictures, I decided I wanted to make one. I ordered the yarn, the nicest yarn I had yet purchased since I often get my acrylic-blend yarns at Michael's. Well, I found a closeout on WEBS of a pretty pink in Cascade Cloud 9 - half angora, half wool. It's really nice. Unfortunately, I was not able to get to this project because I started my spiral scarf knitting binge for Christmas gifts.

After getting on Ravelry and rediscovering shrugs, and ordering yarn for a similar pattern, I looked for my Cloud 9 and thought I'd start that. Following the pattern directions, I dutifully knit a gauge swatch -- only I'm lazy and I only did a few rows, enough to get a close enough estimate so I could calculate how many stitches to cast on. Okay, done, I got my CO number and I happily knit 5 inches of 2x2 ribbing (a technique which I suffered to learn on another shrug I made). Piece of cake. Only when it's time for me to start the pattern stitch of mock rib, it occurs to me I have never done that stitch, which means I did my gauge swatch in stockinette (I didn't keep the swatch, I unraveled it and used it in the shrug. Oh, that's why you keep the swatch). BUT, you need to do your swatch in your pattern stitch or frogs will start falling from the sky. Well, maybe not that bad, but goodness knows what happens when you go off pattern and I had already done that with said earlier shrug.

The problem is I don't want to do boring old stockinette stitch for the body of the shrug. So I start searching Vogue Knitting's Stitchionary, Vol. 1 (on loan from the library) in an attempt to find something that looks interesting but not too far from st st. But, the stitches I find interesting and yet simple enough require a certain number of stitches, which I don't have. So I can't switch to those. Then I find kvp's shrug on Ravelry. The body of her shrug was mostly st st with an interesting design up the back. Perfect, I'll do that! She provided a link for the pattern. The only wrinkle is I've never knit from a diagram, I've always followed a written pattern (e.g. P2, K1, YO, P2.....), I've never used the grid. This indicates I'm more aural than visual (if you've ever studied learning styles).

The thing is, I'm not sure how to read the grid. I refer to the VK Stitchionary, since the Anticraft noted the vinnland pattern was adapted from a pattern in there. Looking at the VK stitch, which is written out, not on a grid, it instructs you to purl every other row, so you are only working the pattern on odd rows. Made sense to me. I tried to find instruction on how to read patterns or grids in my other knitting books but couldn't find anything that told me how to read the grid, they just explained stuff I knew about reading patterns, gauge, stitches and abbreviations, and needle size, etc. I also figured that if you use the pattern stitch for every row, you'd have to reverse knits and purls and it would all be so complicated.

So I start to knit, using the pattern on my knit side and purling the entire row in between. I'm digging the grid, it's really fun. Only my pattern looks longer and less intricate than kvp's and she has about 6 repeats of the pattern and there is no way I'm going to get that.

Dawn come slowly to Camp Marjorie. Turns out I couldn't find instruction on reading a grid because it's called a CHART (as noted on the Anticraft, and on the chart I printed out and have been referring to constantly. Oooh - balance tips in favor of an idiocy determination). The written out instructions on the Anticraft didn't trigger a correction in my mind because that's written for knitting in the round, not back and forth, like I'm doing. Turns out, Debbie Stoller has already explained how to read a chart simply in her book, Stitch n' Bitch, which I own! Only I couldn't find it because I didn't realize that the grid is actually a CHART. Reading a chart is different than I would have assumed. I was correct that you need to reverse the stitches, but you're also reading right to left for some rows and reading left to right for others. I feel fairly confident I would have really screwed up if I tried to read the chart the correct way.

Oh well, my knitting presents yet another opportunity for me to practice a sort of Buddhist acceptance. Only I'm a Christian and I'm looking for forgiveness and while it's similar, it's not the same thing. Part of me wants the redemption promised by Christ by ripping back and re-knitting. I cannot move forward from this sin in a state of grace because that would mean changing to the correct pattern, which would look really weird - so "go out and sin no more" doesn't work in this case. I'm stucking repeating my sin and I'm not sure how forgiveness works if you keep doing the same sin intentionally, and I'm not Catholic so I can't pull the Robert Hanssen of confessing it and then continuing (something tells me he twisted doctrine on that one, but it's not my doctrine, so how would I know?) Part of me wants to accept that what I'm doing, though different than my plan, is fine. And my hair is long and is going to cover half of the pattern anyway, and it's on my back, so it's not even like I'll be seeing it in the mirror.

Maybe I'll feel better if I stop showing everyone the picture of kvp's shrug and telling them that is what I'm doing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Knitting Journey - Ponchos

This is a bit dated, but I need to have some posts to which to link Ravelry projects. I don't think you're supposed to use the comments area as a de facto blog.

So I started knitting at the urging of a good friend of mine (who will be moving to Turkey in a few days. Guess she just couldn't take me anymore). I had been taught the basic skills of knitting, purling, casting on, and binding off as a child, so I wasn't starting from scratch. I had tried knitting during my first pregnancy and quickly grew frustrated - I don't even remember what pattern I used or how I approached it all, but I definitely did not do any background research. I just had my needles, my yarn, the pattern, and hope. Not enough hope, though, and the growing baby inside me made it's own demands, so the project was quickly abandoned. I remember being frustrated because I couldn't count the stitches when I looked at a row of knitting (it didn't occur to me the little loops on the needle are what you count! Pregnancy brain, maybe).

This time, I used the training wheels of a kit from HearthSong for a kid's poncho. I figured using a kit designed for kids would be good for a beginner. So I had big needles, big yarn, and instructions, all in a convenient kit -- no running to the store looking for this or that. I made one and it worked out well. This kit was easy to use, the bulky yarn and big needles mean it knits up quickly and knitting for my 5 and 7 year old daughters was satisfying, they were thrilled, they never noticed the little mistakes. Granted, they don't exactly take care of the ponchos, but that's the flip side of them not demanding perfection. The poncho is your basic, two rectangles seamed together. The pattern used the eyelet stitch for each rectangle. It was more interesting to do than simply knitting and purling, but it was not difficult for a beginner like me. The varied color yarn and interesting stitch kept me from getting bored. The pattern called for fringing around the bottom, but I skipped that, the kids never missed it. I made a second one for my other daughter.

Then, since I was the one who really wanted a poncho, I bought yarn and made one for myself using the same pattern. I was disappointed with it at first until my friend happy-talked me into how great it was and how part of the glory of the thing was I made it myself. I really like it now. But, alas, a poncho is fairly limited. You can really only wear it in the appropriate weather, it's not comfortable to wear it under a coat in the winter. Also, a poncho flops forward when you lean over, so it's often getting in the way (at least if you're trying to cook dinner).

Sometime during all this knitting, I started checking out knitting books from the library. I started out looking at pattern books because that's what interested me - I would mostly just look at the pictures. After awhile, I actually started reading the patterns. Later, I checked out instructional books. I like to look at books written for kids first, because it eases me into the subject. Then I started looking at all kinds of knitting books. I really like the Stitch n' Bitch series because Debbie Stoller has such a laid-back, sarcastic style - I found it very readable, but also very instructive. I enjoy cross-referencing several books - sometimes people explain things in different ways and it takes a few tries to find the one you can understand. The diagrams used in each book vary, as well, and some are easier for me to understand. Sometimes, you just need to put the books down and gain experience knitting to understand what the books are trying to teach you. Yes, you may have guessed I see a lot of analogies between homeschooling and knitting - or maybe it's just about learning generally. You can give someone instruction until you are blue in the face, but if they don't understand it, they don't understand it and you need to be able to give it a rest. Eventually, they will be ready for the information or instruction and they will understand it.

The web has lots of wonderful sites with knitting patterns and with knitting instruction. Knitting help dot com is wonderful, it has lots of short videos that demonstrate various techinques.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's a Yarn Tramp To Do?

A yarn tramp is the opposite of a yarn snob -- those who distain mass-produced, largely synthetic yarns that can be bought at major craft store chains like Michael's and A.C. Moore. I know what I am, I'm a yarn tramp, I want my yarn cheap and easy and on demand. I have about three different Michael's stores near me and I tend to frequent them once or twice a week. A.C. Moore is a little tougher for me to get to and I've only been there once, but the choice was staggering (and the sales can be fabulous -- Paton's Divine for something like $2 a skein, only Lavender Mist was left but that didn't stop me from buying 2 skeins and I don't wear lavender).

Well, I will probably never be a yarn snob, but as my knitting improves, I feel that I deserve better fiber than acrylic. So I've been dipping my toe into Knit Picks and WEBS. My first purchases were a few months ago and included an Alpaca blend yarn for my mom's Christmas gift, a spiral scarf. I thought it was a real luxury that I was getting it for her and not picking up some blend at Michael's. Well, I didn't like knitting with it and wasn't too thrilled about the product - it was scratchy and when I washed it, well, it smelled like a wet Alpaca was in my house. Next to the acrylic blend scarf I knit my friend, which didn't smell and has a wonderful tuft and feel, I felt a bit cheated.

I also bought some Cascade Cloud 9 from the sale bin and it's niiiiiiicccee. It's half merino wool and half angora and it feels like a cloud. I had put it in with my stash for a few months while I worked in the salt mines of knitting spiral scarves for those who are dearest to me and sort of forgot about it. Even forgot why I had bought it. Well, perusing Ravelry reminded me that I had bought it for this awesome circular shrug I saw on Craftster (thanks to my friend and knitting mentor, Angi). I haven't been working with it very long, but it is a pleasure.

So, as I plan future projects, I thought I'd give the on-line yarn stores another crack and buy some good stuff. For another circular shrug, I bought some Peruvian Highland Wool from Knit Picks -- yes, I did this before I realized that I had previously bought bright pink Cloud 9 for almost the same pattern. Hopefully, as I use the notebook feature in Ravelry, this won't happen again.

Here's the sad part of the story. I ordered this luscious yarn on-line and had to go by the print catalog photo and the on-line photo. "Mauve" had potential because I love mauve, but the print catalog photo struck me as more of a warm-toned rose than a cool-toned mauve. The on-line picture showed me what I wanted to see, a beautiful pink with blue undertones. The price seemed like what I'd pay at Michael's for yarn that wasn't as nice. So I bought 6 skeins. After waiting a week -- the downside of ordering yarn -- I find I don't really like the color and am considering returning it (I hate to return mail order, paying shipping twice and getting nothing for my effort hurts). But it feels so good and the color is growing on me. And the rosiness of it makes it quite different from the bright pink of the Cloud 9 and..... Maybe I'll keep it. Though I don't think I can do two circular shrugs -- but finding another project is not hard.

What's that you ask? Why don't I just buy good yarn at the local yarn store? I have two young daughters who seem especially tactile and I cannot enjoy looking at yarn when I'm worried the saleswoman is shooting me daggers and my kids are tangling expensive yarns -- yarn stores are always so small and cramped. At Michael's there is no one there to stare and no one really cares if my kids have their hands in the acrylic and they often are running up and down the aisles looking at more interesting craft supplies than yarn.

Oh, and another reason I can never slide into yarn snobbery is the aforementioned Craftster bolero. The long discussion thread includes someone talking about using cheap acrylic yarn to make the pattern as a way to see if it was something they really wanted to make. She noted that it was so easy to machine wash the garment and it came out so soft and stretchy that she was humbled. So remember, acrylic is not the enemy, you just don't need to make it your boyfriend.

School System More Powerful Than Police

Another day, another article in The Washington Post. This one continues to detail the involvement of five city agencies with the mother who killed her children sometime after pulling them out of school to "homeschool" them. The tragedy is that we all know that the school system could have saved these children by regulating homeschooling even when child welfare, social services, and the police failed. In Washington, D.C., which we all know has efficiently run agencies where tragedies like this never occur. Sorry, got distracted by a leprechaun and it's not even March. Let's turn back to the article and try to tone down the sarcasm.

Five agencies had contact with the family. Six child welfare workers have been fired for failing to respond to concerns about the children dating from April 2006, the article says. Clearly, D.C. has some problems. The article doesn't list the agencies, but I'm wondering if law enforcement is once since the article later mentions that during a visit to the home, the mom was "very difficult" with police and a social worker (just laying a foundation for my post title).

The part of the article that I love is the report of the D.C. Council meeting, which picked apart the case to determine whether this was a rare tragic occurrance, or whether it's systemic. During their analysis, council members asked why school truancy and homeschooling policies failed to follow up on these kids. From what I can see, the mom pulled the kids out of school in March 2007 and may have told someone she was homeschooling, but at least one of the schools claims it didn't know why. Six weeks later social services sends a letter to one of the school's offices asking for more information. Public school officials cannot confirm receipt of this letter.

So many mistakes by so many people. But one of the questions the Council is asking is the principal of one of the schools, who received "verbal withdrawl" from the mom when pulling the kids from school, was why he didn't ask about the mom's level of education and fitness to educate her daughters. Well, that would have saved the kids, wouldn't it have? Maybe they should have considered her mental illness, her drug use, her failure to follow-up on paternity suits that she brought -- no, her educational level and ability to homeschool her kids would have been the question to snap people to attention and to help these kids.

Okay, I'm not angry anymore, just sad. Come on, though, the school could have helped these kids when FIVE other agencies failed? Please.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Haiku for a Yarn Winder

I watch it wind yarn

spinning non-spherical balls

it makes me happy

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Shallow Learning Curve of Knitting

wow, I've learned a lot since I first cast on for one of the kids' ponchos back in September. I can actually understand how the stitches are supposed to look and identify mistakes and how to fix them (the best use of a crochet hook I've had so far).

Anyway, a quick chronology of my knitting thus far: I began with ponchos for the kids. Then I did one for me. I moved into spiral scarves. I had a couple failures before successes but I learned that a failure need not remain so. You can fix mistakes with creativity. If your spiral scarf is ridiculously long, simply seam it up the middle. It wasn't what you were expecting, but the result is nice. A parable for life, don't you think?

I'm currently in my shrug phase. I knit a mohair one that really didn't go the way it should. I changed the pattern and in my ignorance, made a lot of mistakes so that it just turned out funky. When I get to it, I'll wash it and block it (after first weaving in those threads I still haven't gotten to), then we'll see what we've got. I knit a flower to pin somewhere to cover some yarn sin.

Now, what now? I'm trying another shrug. I'm very interested in knitting flowers and I took an odd cupcake tangent whereby I acquired patterns and yarn and have now lost interest.

Oh, and I was thinking I'd try my hand at cables. Sometimes they intrigue me, sometimes I could care less.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What is wrong with The New York Times?

What kind of sensationalistic crap are they writing? Did you see the article about that horrible multiple homicide in Washington, D.C.? The mom had pulled her kids out of school at some point and claimed to be homeschooling them. As a result, the NYT used the headline Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled. Terrible, tragic, awful -- but she wasn't a homeschooler. She was a woman who took advantage of the law and pulled her kids out of school and said she was homeschooling.

If you read The Washington Post, the hometown paper for this incident, you'll find out the woman had a long history of troubles. Here's their headline - Making of a Tragedy: The Single Mother's World Included Drugs, Homelessness And Paternity Suits. Her Children Paid the Price. This was not a woman who was reading about education, going to homeschool conferences, perusing websites and chatlists and catalogs to figure out what curriculum to use. This was a woman who was falling apart. One wonders why the school-system and home education are to blame when welfare and social services failed this woman. Heck her food stamps were cancelled because she failed to update her information. Why not go after that? No, who cares if they eat, let's wait until she snaps and blame it on homeschooling.

The Post article barely mentions homeschooling. It only does so in the chronology of the mom's very sad life. It's obvious she is sick and has had bad luck and lots of troubles and it sounds like homeschooling was one of the last things she did. She certainly was not a 'homeschooler' gone bad but a very troubled woman who pulled her kids out of school.

I think it's outrageous that the Times would put it into the headline that these kids were homeschooled (make that "home-schooled"). So many of these abuse stories aren't about homeschooling, this one seems like it really has very little to do with homeschooling and far more to do with poverty and mental illness and instability in the family.

And what is Mitchell Stevens babbling about in his quote in the Times? He is paraphrased as saying that "school officials, who are required by law to report suspicion of child abuse, were society’s best watchdogs of how parents treat children." Yes, and we all know there are no abused kids going to school who aren't getting noticed and helped. Please. Mitchell, shame on you, you should know better. But hey, it's nice to see your name in the Times.

What gives, is the NYT pissed off about Huckabee? That's not our fault. Really.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Addicted to Ravelry

I know that in trying to build a readership for your blog, you should stick to one subject. Well, I gave up building a readership a long time ago - this is a diary and I'm a messy person. For those interested in my homeschooling thoughts, you'd do best to check out Life Without School. I write on a regular basis there and it sort of taps me out as far as wanting to write about homeschooling.

A few months ago, at the urging of my good friend and fellow homeschooling hottie, I decided to try my hand at knitting. It clicked, it stuck, and now I'm crazed. Knitting is great for me, I feel creative, I feel productive, I feel peaceful. And it's the perfect hobby for an unschooler like me who basically sits around watching the kids learn and tries to keep up with their questions and interests. I knit at playdates, I knit at parkdays, I knit at Brownie meetings, I knit while the kids watch a video, I knit while they read and play and learn and live. I knit, knit, knit.

I started out with a kit from HearthSong designed for kids. That worked out so well that I adapted it to an adult size for me. Then began my obsession with spiral scarves, an unfortunate affair with the Lion Brand website's free patterns, perusal of knitting books, and (thanks to the GFFHH mentioned above) visits to Craftster.

Craftster tipped me off to Ravelry, which is invitation only at this point because it's so new, but will go public sometime soon. Ravelry is too awesome for words and I will have to write more about it later as my spare time this morning has already been used.