Monday, November 17, 2008

Wow, we've got labels!

I've been blogging on and off for more than four years. When I started, Blogger did not have tags or labels for posts. I really don't know when they enabled that feature but I've finally caught on that they've got it and I'm getting on board.

I know my blog is all over the place subject-wise. I am slowly labeling my posts, but please be patient with me. I have 334 posts and it's slow going for me. The numbers may be changing rapidly as I add labels (because goodness knows I don't post with regularity).

Of course, the worst part of the labeling process is deciding on the labels. Right now, I'm trying to stick with pretty broad categories, so "homeschooling" includes my philosophical thoughts on homeschooling as well as knitty gritty booklists and how we do things around here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Allergen Labeling - Open Comment Period

I was reading on the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) that there is currently an open comment period for The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).

The FAAN website has a lot of information about this law, what it does and does not do. My attempt to summarize it is to say that it requires plain notice of whether a packaged item contains one of the top 8 allergens. What is does not require is what is known as "advisory labeling" which indicates whether the product was made in a shared facility or on shared equipment. This is important information for the food allergic because even trace amounts of an allergen (which could result from being processed on shared equipment or in a shared facility) can cause a severe reaction in some people.

FAAN says:
On September 16, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing on the use of advisory (“May Contain”) labeling on packaged food items. FDA has begun to develop a long-term strategy to help manufacturers use these statements in a clear and consistent manner, so that food-allergic consumers and their caregivers can be adequately informed as to the potential presence of major allergens.

Even though the hearing is over, the FDA is still accepting comments on this issue, so if you have an opinion, please share it with them.

FAAN has a FAQ section regarding this law and in this, state:

Will products after January 2006 have to label if the product is made on the same lines as peanuts or other allergens or remove the need for “May Contain” statements?

No. FALCPA does not establish standards for the use of “May contain ” or other advisory labeling statements or address the use of shared lines. FALCPA does, however, require the FDA to issue a report to Congress on this issue.

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the comments being solicited now will become a part of a report to determine whether and what action should be taken on the issue of advisory labeling.

FAAN notes:
FDA will be accepting written public comments on this issue until January 14, 2009. If you’d like to send comments to the FDA on this important issue, send an email to for instructions.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Accommodations May Not Be Enough for Peanut Allergy

I was reading Peanut Free Mama and she excerpted and linked an excellent post on Rocks In My Dryer. The author of the post has her own blog, Gravity of Motion. Her post expresses a lot of my concerns and feelings.

Jane Anne addresses a concern I've had recently when she writes:

I appreciate efforts by friends and family to keep David safe. There are times when I know that people have tried to avoid peanut products but I still don’t feel comfortable letting David eat the food. Without knowing the ingredients first-hand, I cannot trust that an item does not contain nuts or contain a product that has a peanut warning. I am gracious and appreciative but I cannot take any chances.

I've recently come to realize that the sincere accomodations made for my daughter may not be enough - especially in the case of cake or other baked goods. For instance, I recently learned (by reading the bag) that Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels are made in a facility that also processes peanuts. My daughter can't have them, it's not worth the risk. Hershey's also makes semi-sweet chips and they say "In instances where we have a concern about possible crossover by an allergen we take the added precaution of including an allergy information statement on the label." Well, I'm not sure I'm willing to take that risk and common sense tells me that they also make the Reese's Peanut Butter chips, so there could be a potential mistake on the line or an accidental failure to label (FAAN sends allergy alerts all the time for accidental content, I haven't seen one for Hershey's but I see it as a potential risk that is not worth it given the severity of my daughter's allergy. Other moms might make a different decision). So, we'll have to pass on anything with chocolate chips. I recently purchased several packages of chocolate chips from Vermont Nut-Free because of this concern but I certainly don't expect anyone else to go to that level of planning, expense, or trouble.

I'm also aware that until I became aware of my daughter's allergies (and for some time even after that), I was clueless about cross-contamination issues. I've read plenty of stories since then about knives that were wiped clean after making peanut butter sandwiches and then later used to cut apart "peanut-free" items (or dipped into jelly jars). It can happen, but I'm not sure a parent whose child doesn't have food allergies would even think of it (I wouldn't have). My daughter's last allergic reaction (which landed her in the ER for several hours) was to a bakery cookie. So even if I'm told that a baked good contains no peanuts, I'm still probably not going to allow my daughter to eat it.

I share Jane Anne's plea as she writes:

Please be understanding if you try to make something allergen free and the allergic person is still not comfortable eating the item. Above all, an allergic person has to be safe and cannot take risks.

I want you to understand that we do not want to inconvenience anyone; we only want to protect our child.

My thoughts exactly. I don't want to insult anyone, but it boils down to the simplicity of NOT eating an item verses risking that my daughter will have an anaphylatic reaction. It might seem sad that she cannot partake, but it would be much sadder for her to have to leave the party, vomitting constantly, get a shot in the leg, and go to the ER, where she will have to stay for 4 hours so they can be sure her reaction is not biphasic (and that's the best case scenario on her reaction. I've read enough worst case scenarios to not want to discuss it).

Dr. Wood shares his own story about breaking his "no cookie rule" which resulted in a severe allergic reaction.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yeah, yeah, history in the Making - Tell Me About the Dress!

Like many others, I am really excited about the election results. I'm not politically active (I vote, but don't do much more than that) and I don't follow much political news. I was not watching the elections results come in over the evening (but my DH was, leaving the room frequently during Iron Man to find out the status) - really, we will know by the morning, what difference does it make?

But, I saw this picture on the front page and the foremost question in my mind is - tell me about that dress! I love it in itself - the boldness of the black and red blending, the criss-cross satin sash (calling to my mind a certain shrug I recently finished). I also love it because it has the colors of the dresses the daughters are wearing (and who doesn't love the mother of two daughters?)

It's an exciting era and though I was initially seduced by Palin's hair, I'm pretty excited about Michelle's clothes.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An Election Choice Post

I was googling "coexist" and this popped up. I enjoyed reading the post about this man's election choice. It did not sound angry, it did not call anyone names or seek to villify anyone. It sounded reasonable to me (I don't necessarily agree with him, but I really appreciate him taking the time to share his thoughts). I've read so much commentary about politics recently and so much of it has been very angry. It was so nice to read something that wasn't. Plus, I always think it's cool when Christians are into triathalon training.

Halloween Candy - To Eat or Not to Eat?

I got an email from a friend warning about certain Halloween candy that might be tainted with melamine. It passed muster on snopes, but a blog post for the LA Times seems to suggest it's alarmist. What's a parent to do? I don't know, I've got a kid with a severe food allergy to peanuts, so we're probably chucking it all - except for the KitKat's that were imported from Canada (peanut-free facility -- go Canada!). I'm pretty sure my daughter doesn't like them anyway, though she claimed she might. Oh, I also have Vermont Nut Free chocolates - both purchased from Peanut Free Planet. I do question whether this was necessary.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Love It When a Shrug Comes Together

I have just about finished this shrug that was my 'shrug of torment' but may become my 'shrug of triumph.'

Long story short, I began a project from the book, Knit Tricks! that involved knitting two long rectangles. Each rectangle is seamed on the top and bottom at its ends, creating a sleeve with an opening that loops around the torso. With two of them you have two sleeves with the torso loops criss-crossing your middle. It looked cute on the mannequin in the book. Well, as I knitted, I realized this would be a bear to get on and off and it was likely that it would be hot, since the torso would be double-wrapped in knit material. So I put it down for a long time. Since I had used such cheap yarn, I saw no point in ripping it to use for another project. So it sat and sat. In my time on Ravelry, I eventually found a new pattern (the Donegal ribbed shrug) for which I could use what I had already knit. It worked, but I heavily modified the pattern leading to the philosophical question, at what point does a design become your own and not simply the modification of a pattern? Who knows.

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft, raspberry
Needles: Size 9 (I use Denise Circulars so I am constantly adapting the length of the cord)
Pattern: heavily modified the Donegal ribbed shrug
CO 60 stitches. Knit in 2 by 5 ribbing; I chose knit 2, purl 5 as my 'right' side. After knitting 10 inches for the abandoned pattern, I switched to the shrug. I decided that I would skip the cuff in the pattern (because I'm lazy and didn't want to knit extra fabric just to roll it over as a cuff. And maybe I didn't like the look, but I think it was the laziness). I was concerned that the sleeve might feel tight around my elbow and upper arm so I increased a bit once the sleeve was about 13 1/2 or 14 inches long.

Increasing in ribbing is an interesting thing. I decided to increase on the RS by doing K1, M1, staying in pattern to the 3rd stitch from the end and then doing an M1. I did three increase rows on the RS, so I ended up with 6 extra stitches (66; sort of ironic because I actually CO 66 for the first project and ripped that out). I continued to work these 66 sts in pattern for the shrug until it looked like I was coming to the opposite upper arm (I kept measuring the shrug against myself to get a feel for when that would happen). For the decreases, I decreased stitches per RS row three times (decreasing a total of 6 stitches). For each decrease row, I knit 2 together, followed the pattern until the last 2 stitches and then ssk.

The shrug ended up being 64 inches long and then I seamed up the sleeves. The sleeves are not a perfect match and the pattern does go off course where the seam occurs. If you want to plan for a perfect match, go for it. It was too much for me and I just don't care.

I decided I wanted the ends of the scarf to taper and I wanted that to be a result of binding off, so I decided I would do the scarf in two parts and seam it together at the middle (which would be at the back of my neck). At one time I thought I would simply seam the middle, at other times I thought I would save myself the effort of seaming and simply pick up the stitches and knit it out the other way. I went with picking up the stitches and knitting it the other way. Don't do this, it is stupid, difficult and you end up with a shift in your knit and purl columns that cannot be reconciled. On the up side, you get an Escher-esque join at the back of your neck. I have long hair, so it won't be seen anyway when I'm wearing it. But learn from my mistakes, just seam that sucker.

CO 58. Knit in 2x5 ribbing for about 30". Again, I measured against myself, holding the CO end at the back of my neck and seeing if it was long enough to cross my torso and meet in the center of my back. At about 30", I began decreases to keep the taper. I decreased at the beginning and ending of every row. I began with knit2together and ended with ssk. I decreased until I had 16 stitches and then bound off.

After the mess that was my picking up stitches to knit out the other way, I followed the pattern until it was about 15" from the center and then started the vertical slit in the center for the keyhole. This was a modification to the pattern, which called for a horizontal keyhole which I didn't like. To make the vertical keyhole, I knit in pattern to the center, held the other half of the stitches on a holder and knit out one side for 5 inches, setting those aside. Then I picked up the other side and knit that out to match and then joined them all together again. The keyhole was about 5 inches long and then I continued in pattern. I thought it looked floppy, so I later reinforced it with single crochet around the keyhole. This reminded me too much of a Georgia O'Keefe painting and I hated the way the scarf look stuck through the keyhole so I ripped out the crochet and seamed the keyhole. My advice is to skip the keyhole. I think I'm beginning to hate the keyhole concept, which I once thought was so clever.

I finished the other side of the scarf and followed the same pattern for decreasing and then edged the scarf and the bottom of the shrug in single crochet to firm it up and keep it from rolling. To finish the shrug, I picked up stitches along the bottom of the shrug (54 sts) and knit an inch or so of 2x2 ribbing. Then I seamed this ribbing to the scarf.

The anticipated buttonholes ended up being wrong, so I moved them. I had initially thought I would put buttons and button holes on the ends of the scarf but in holding is up to myself, it created a huge gap. But moving the location of the buttons and buttonholes will create a nice, shapely fit. It's all in the geometry, baby.

I added the buttons based on what looked best when I was fitting it. I also knit in buttonholes but found that only one of them was correctly placed. The other hole I seamed up and then added a button loop by chainstitching and single crocheting. However, when I closed the back, it had an ugly gap. So much for planning.

As an interim fix, I chained a cord on each end of the scarf, between the buttons and buttonholes and tied a bow.

I was an improvement, but I felt I could do better.

This is my final answer. I removed the buttons, kept that center tie and added cords where the top button and button hole had been. I'm satisfied with this solution. Buttons would have been fine, I really just need to put that bottom button higher.

So maybe this "pattern" stinks, but this is a 'go with the flow' garment that you fit to yourself as you knit it. No slavishly, blindly following a pattern because I'm not giving you enough of one to slavishly follow. You can thank me later. Just call me the Swedish Chef of sweater design.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Danger Lurks Everywhere for the Food Allergic

yes, I am the star of my very own action-adventure film. Or maybe I'm just a supporting actor, but since I'm the mom of an allergic child, I'll put myself as the current star and realize that she will take over as star when she is older.

As I become more aware of issues involved with food allergens, I am also becoming more scared, but I'm also learning a lot. I'm confident that as I learn more, I will become comfortable with how to keep my daughter safe. And then once I'm really comfortable, she'll be older and independent and I can worry that she is kissing some boy who just ate peanut butter or she's at a party where she is eating chicken satay (I believe there are stories for both that involved fatal reactions). We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

For the first time while grocery shopping today, I actually used my cell phone to call customer service for many of the products I was buying.

Red Baron 4 Cheese Classic Crust frozen pizza: according to the Customer Service rep (who kept me on the line awhile), this is produced in a peanut-/tree nut-free facility.

Store brand Bran Flakes cereal: (yes, this is the cereal of choice for my 8 year-old). Customer service took my name and number and said they would have to call their producer to find out allergen information and they should be able to get back to me by the end of the day. DD has been eating this for months with no problem, but I put the box back on the shelf and bought Wheaties instead -- I'll have to call them at some point.

Honey Maid Graham Crackers (Nabisco): long chat with Customer Service. Sounds like they will mark it if they think it is likely to contain nuts. She said much more than that, but I was in line at the check-out so I don't remember everything. Basically, Nabisco and Kraft are big companies and from what I have read, they are good about labelling. The Customer rep said nothing to contradict that.

I will note that it is hard to grocery shop with two kids while calling companies constantly. I look closely at labels and note that Nestle's Semi-Sweet chips are produced in either a shared facility or on shared equipment (can't remember which and it doesn't matter because, for us, it's a no go either way). I want to check with Hershey's since that was the other brand of semi-sweet chips there that was not generic. I have heard good things about Hershey's, but I need to call customer service myself.

This call made at home:
Pillsbury Customer Service: long recorded statement about allergens, referral to FAAN. Speaking to an actual rep, she directed me to the label. It's not the ingredient list (the obvious), it's not in the "contains" line underneath (obvious again), the bottom line says "may contain egg ingredients." According to the rep, that is the label that is used when the product is processed on shared equipment or in a shared facility with an allergen. Since we aren't allergic to eggs and peanuts and tree nuts are not mentioned, we should be safe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What is Safe When You're Peanut Allergic?

DD is seriously allergic to peanuts and is also allergic to tree nuts, sesame, and maybe soy.

I know I should be home baking any treat she might have but it seems so much easier just to buy packaged cookies. I'm now researching brands that are safe to eat. It involves rather strange calculations - I guess that's just risk management. It's pretty easy to avoid peanuts and maybe even peanut products, the devil is in cross-contamination.

My DD's last reaction was months ago from a chocolate chip bakery cookie, somehow it must have gotten peanuts on it or in it. Okay, so we've learned that it is stupid to feed her bakery cookies - shared mixing tools or baking sheets are enough to cause a serious reaction in our child. So we avoid bakeries - but this also means avoiding baked goods. No baked goods means no birthday cakes, no cupcakes, no cookies - nothing, not at potlucks or for snack-time or at birthday parties. I think once we get this established it will be easier, but it's a little hard for us right now. That said, her last reaction was from a bakery cookie and in the ensuing months (pretty much until right now), she has eaten bakery items, birthday cakes, cookies, cupcakes, etc. It might make one ask why restrict them now? Because maybe we've been lucky and now that we know better, how can we accept that risk when it's so easy to just NOT eat them. And really, I should just be baking cookies on a weekly basis - it's not that hard and then I have worry free snacks.

This link summarizes some study's findings regarding warnings that are on packaged goods - basically, the lowest number is 12.5% of the time items with shared equipment or shared facility warnings actually contain peanuts. Sure, it's just some study, and I think we've beat the numbers because I'm sure DD has eaten items from a shared facility more than 8 times, but maybe I'm ready to stop playing the odds.

It's not always easy to get information on packaged goods. I guess I need to be calling customer service a lot. Again, it's the cross-contamination issue. It's easy enough to see if peanuts are listed in the ingedients, but it's the possibility of cross-contamination on shared equipment or in a shared facility that causes this worry. The laws regarding labeling do not speak to the issue of advisory labels such as "may contain" or about shared equipment or facilities. The labels you see now are voluntary, just because an item is not labeled as shared facility does not mean it was not produced in one, it just means that company didn't label it. And they don't have to. This is where the equation involves factoring in brands with good reputations for labeling. (There is actually an open comment period on this law, so you might want to look into this if it's an issue that impacts you).

I've seen lots of websites arguing either for or against the safety of the basic Oreo sandwich cookie. Lots of people trust Nabisco's labeling practices. While others, as a matter of common sense, do not trust an item where one of the versions contains peanut butter since you can't really know if they are run on the same production lines and therefore pose cross-contamination risks. So, are Oreos safe? I don't know, but we've been eating them but I think we'll stop and stick to our peanut-free facility Dare cookies.

It's beginning to feel like dealing with a food allergy is something out of a Clint Eastwood movie, "so you've got to ask yourself, do you feel lucky?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Love Canada

because it seems easier to find packaged cookies that carry the label "made in peanut free/tree nut free facility."

Since my DD is allergic to peanuts and treenuts, I do not buy products that contain them or that are labelled "may contain." I also don't buy products made on shared equipment. I'm not quite sure what to do about labels saying "processed in same facility." My allergist told me I need not avoid them because it's mainly a liability label, but I've learned from other moms that FAAN reported about a study that showed that items labeled with shared facility actually contained nuts more often then items labeled 'may contain.' What's mom to do? Not buy any of them.

The problem becomes more complicated because labels regarding same facility and shared equipment are not required. They are advisory labels. So, what if one company decides to share with me that the item was produced in a shared facility but another company doesn't have any indication of what kind of facility was used? Should I assume it's peanut free? That's a pretty risky assumption for me since my child could go into anaphylaxis. What do I do?

Well, recently, I've been buying Canadian. My selection isn't large at my local grocery stores, but there is a version of a malomar type cookie called Whippets by a company named Dare. Not only do I know it's from a safe facility, my daughter really likes them. And, she can learn French from the packaging. And, I love it, the cookies are not covered in chocolate as we Americans might say, they are "enrobed."

Riddle me this - I can find nearby Latino groceries and various Asian groceries, but why are there no Canadian grocery stores? I guess the two Canadians I know do not make a large enough population to justify the cost. Or maybe it's because Canadian food is pretty much the same, except for the nut free facility thing. husband goes to Detriot on business, I should send him with a shopping list. As I'm sure you know, the nearest foreign country south of Detriot is Canada.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The beginning of the peanut allergy

I wrote this post because I've been meaning to and in response to this call for stories.

About 2 years ago, I learned that my oldest daughter is allergic to peanuts. This caught me completely off guard because she had eaten peanut butter around the age of 2 and had had no reaction that I saw. I'm not sure she ever ate much peanut butter, but I clearly recall when and how she was exposed to it (peanut butter spread on crackers given to her with my permission by a neighbor). I remember I was nervous but relieved when there was no reaction. I don't recall that she didn't like them.

I'm not sure how much peanut butter she ate later on. I think I probably bought Ritz bits peanut butter crackers, not sure if she ate them. I do remember her telling me she did not like peanut butter. She is a picky eater, I thought she was just being picky.

A month or two before she turned 6, I remember being at a playdate. The mom asked if Suzanne was allergic to peanut butter because she wanted to offer her a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. I said she didn't like it, but she might eat it because of the chocolate chips. She ate a few bites of it. Within a half hour, she told me she felt sick. I figured she had picked up a bug and we left. She threw up a few times in the car. I don't remember much more about it - I don't think she vomited when we got home. She took it easy the rest of the day and I chalked it up to a bug.

A month or two after that, I bought some chocolate peanut butter at Whole Foods. I thought it would be great if my picky eater would eat peanut butter sandwiches. I offered her a baby-sized spoonful. She asked what it was, I told her to try it. She ate it. I asked her if she liked it, she said it was okay. I told her it was peanut butter, she got upset with me and told me I should have told her. I thought she was being a drama queen (yes, I know I'm a bad mom). She threw up. Then she got very conjested. A friend of mine's son had recently had a peanut allergy and I knew about giving Benedryl, so I gave her some (or maybe it was another antihistamine I had). I watched and waited and she threw up a few times over the course of a few hours but she seemed fine by bedtime and we put her to bed (that might have been dangerous). But, everything was fine.

I think I understood at this point that she had a peanut allergy. I talked about it at a park day and another mom overheard me and told me I should take her to an allergist and get an epi pen. I really didn't see the point, I mean, just don't eat peanuts, right? How hard is that? I even said this to my mom, I think. Well, my daughter's annual check-up was soon after so I mentioned the allergy to her pediatrician who gave me a referral to an allergist. I made the appointment and we had to wait a month or so. The allergist did a skin prick test and it came back positive for peanut - she gave me a prescription for an Epi pen and a prescription for a blood test. My daughter hates blood tests and I wondered what the point was - we knew she was allergic. I saw no point. I did fill the Epi pen prescription, but I blew off the blood test. At this point, I will fault the allergist. She did not give me any information about food allergies, not even a pamphlet from FAAN. I don't recall anything she did to educate me or to suggest that I should educate myself. It seemed very cut and dried - don't eat peanuts and peanut products.

A year later, I realized my Epi pen was about to expire, so I wanted to get a refill. I called the allergist's office and the nurse was a bit unfriendly - they always fill an Epi prescription, but she noted I had not been for a follow-up or gotten the blood test. I made an appointment and went to it. I got another blood test order and this time, we did it. My daughter handled it really well (my daughter is terrible in the doctor's office when it comes to anything that might lead to pain - it's bad). The blood test (RAST test) came back showing high levels for peanut (over 100), meaning it's unlikely she'll outgrow it. It also showed allergies to pistachios, cashews, almonds, and sesame. The allergist's office sent me the results but said I didn't need to come in. This was about a year ago. Again, no education on food allergies from the allergist.

So, up until that point, she avoided peanuts or peanut products. We still had peanut butter in the house, I still bought Reese's Peanut Butter cups to give out at Halloween. The allergy had very little impact on our life. The epi pen was in my purse, so it was with her most of the time (we homeschool).

Last February, my husband (phew!) bought her a cookie at a bakery where she has had cookies lots of times. Well, from what I gather, it was on a tray that also held peanut butter cookies. She ate half the cookie and then they came in found me (I was in a museum exhibit and the bakery was a vendor in the museum). She told me her tongue was itching her. She prepared her thigh for the epi pen. I told her it wasn't necessary and gave her Benedryl. We left the building. She started throwing up in the car (ziploc bags and used butter containers make great barf bags). She got very congested. I was very worried, but I had seen this before. She was very thirsty and kept drinking a lot of water and kept throwing that up into the bag.

We got home and she seemed okay. We put her down on the couch. She seemed sleepy so we let her rest. I had forgot that you should always put a towel under a sick child. She vomited. It was a mess, so I sent her up to shower. My husband took care of that while I cleaned up the couch. When she got out of the shower, he told her to get into her jammies and get ready for bed. I saw hives developing all over her body. I had hit my watch and wait threshhold. This was a new symptom she had not had last time. Strangely enough, I had just had my first experience with hives the week before when I woke up with them all over. I had called the nurse hotline for our insurance and they had told me to go to the ER since I had hives on my face (and facial swelling), because of the possibility that my throat could close up. So, I knew a little something about hives.

Off I sent DD to the ER with DH (she picked him over me, I wonder why). I kept listening for wheezing but didn't hear any and she did not seem to be having trouble breathing. I did not give the epi because after reading the package insert, I was a bit nervous about it and I was under the wrong impression that it was really only needed if there were breathing difficulties. I was clueless about anaphylactic shock - though from what I know now, I don't think she was in it anyway. I did give the Epi Pen to DH in case. Now I have been told by the allergist that once two systems are effected, she should have the Epi. Since her previous reactions had not required a trip to the ER, I was really trying to avoid that and I know once you use the Epi, you are off to the ER. My reasoning may be flawed, but I did have reasons for the actions we took (or failed to take).

They got to the hospital and it sounded like she got a liquid steroid. They kept her for a few hours for observation (to make sure the reaction doesn't come back aka biphasic). She came home and that was that. I don't really know why I didn't look more into the issue except that the next week she was in the hospital for stitches for a serious laceration she got while playing in the front yard. I think I was just shell-shocked.

I do have some friends who are knowledgeable about allergies and it was at this point that I started asking for more information. I learned that we should not be buying foods from the bakery, the risk of cross-contamination is too great. I learned we should not be going to ice cream parlors, those scoops are used in all different flavors, they aren't cleaned and it's possible the ice cream has bits of peanuts from being scooped with a scooper used on a peanut flavor. One friend also strongly suggested I find an allergist who made food allergy education a priority and derided allergists who merely give an Epi pen prescription and send you on your way.

I'm still not sure why I didn't do more research but maybe that was all I could handle. Maybe because her allergies were so limited and obvious - peanuts are not like milk or wheat, they are pretty obvious and easy to avoid, was my thinking. My husband has a mild tree nut allergy and he doesn't have much trouble avoiding those - it just never seemed like a big deal.

After my daughter had a trip to the stables for a horse grooming and riding activity and came back with severe facial swelling and red eyes, I decided it was time for another trip to the allergist and to start learning more about allergies. Our appointment was two-fold, it was a rather delayed follow-up to her February reaction and to get testing for environmental allergens. This time, I was a bit more prepared with questions. There is a new doctor in the practice and she answered the questions I asked and she did give me a FAAN pamphlet. We had some testing done and then followed-up with more tests -- I had a whole list of questions for the follow-up visit. This was an important lesson I learned from the yahoo group TerrificKidsWithFoodAllergies -- get your questions all set and ready so you can ask the allergist at the appointment. I think I even got some suggestions for questions I should ask.

I am now vascilating between freaking out all the time to thinking it's not that big a deal. For a long time I was assuming that since her last reactions have been pretty slow moving and have not involved breathing trouble that we would have a lot of warning. Now I've learned that past reactions are not predictors of future reactions. That scares me. So now she has a medical alert bracelet and carries and epi pen and I'm informing the adults who are with her whenever I am not.

I am trying to figure out how to be reasonable in my notification to others about the allergies without sounding like a whiner or being demanding. It is becoming obvious to me that even if you tell people of the allergy, you can not be certain that they will know about cross-contamination issues. I know I wasn't aware, even when I knew I had a kid with allergies and I certainly was even less aware before I did.

So now, I'm going through an emotional process of mourning the loss of things like going to an ice cream parlor and bakery and worrying about going to restaurants. But I also realize how lucky we have been and how a food allergy is better than a lot of conditions or diseases a child could have. I've also been spared the worry and concern of having a toddler with severe food allergies. My DD is old enough to advocate for herself and though it saddens me, it also makes me proud to see her taking responsibility by carrying her Epi Pen and declining food that she knows (or even suspects) is not safe for her to eat. She actually turned down pieces of a Hershey bar that was offered to her when she was at a recent social event (which is safe - I checked the package) and later told me she knows she can't eat food that's not from home.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

By a Mom of a Peanut Allergic Kid

I've been known to rail against Newsweek articles on this blog, but here's one I really liked. Well, not an article, an opinion piece. Could have written it myself. It's very hard to find a balance between asking for reasonable safeguards and freaking out because your kid could die. Probably won't, but, well, you really don't know. And this author has not seen her child have a reaction, and I hope she never does.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Overheard from the Kids

My daughter: do you think my house is boring?

Neighbor's daughter: yes, because it's not clean like mine

I Like Knitted Flowers

I've got this thing for flowers, but it's sort of a meaningless thing because I don't have a plan. But who says you've got to have a plan? They are pretty, so I make them. They are a welcome quick hit from other long-term projects. Also, when it's hot, they are a great thing to make. I have a hard time making hats, scarves, or sweaters with wool blends in the warm weather.

I started off with knit flowers, because that's what I did, knit.

This one is the Vogue flower, from the Fall 2007 issue of Vogue Knitting. Nicky Epstein designed it as part of her Anniversary scarf.

This one comes from Pam Allen's Scarf Style, in the Floral Trellis Scarf pattern. I used this on a shrug I made.

This pattern is free, on-line, it's the Knitty Rose and I used it on another shrug.

I broke down a bought Nicky Epstein's Knitted Flowers, but I haven't made many of those patterns. I did make the Cabbage Rose, which I was most pleased with

What killed knitted flowers for me was this lame creation, also from Knitted Flowers

Now that I've taken the plunge into crochet, I'm making flowers that way and am happier with the results.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This Week in the WaPo

"Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment."

-- Cultural critic/provocateur Camille Paglia, praising GOP veep nominee Sarah Palin for "redefining the persona for female authority." Says she's still voting for Barack Obama, though.

Link - it's gonna take some scrolling

Love Song of J. Sidney McCain

Dear Dems,

Here is some rope. Kindly hang yourself on it.

Hugs and kisses,

the GOP

Palin is a Red Herring

A lot of people seem very upset about the GOP VP nominee. I know this is very dangerous to say, but I think it's great. It's energized the race and certainly stimulated this otherwise apathetic Independent's interest. I don't tend to follow politics, I don't find it all that interesting, but mainly, I don't find it reliable. Maybe it's because I took Political Communication nearly 20 years ago. It's mostly smoke and mirrors and rhetoric and much of my voting often comes down to a single issue.

I read a piece in linked by a friend. I think I've already discussed it enough with her (probably too much!) so I'll just jot down my thoughts here.

We are talking about the Vice President, right? Well, I haven't read much of history, but (other than in the case of the president dying) does the VP ever really do anything? So, if McCain were elected, do we really think Palin is going to have much influence? I can't help but think it's going to be "thanks, honey, why don't you go have some fun and stay out of the way."

Also, is there anything anyone can do about Palin being the nominee? We're not campaigning as to whether she is on the ticket. She's there. Why is she being attacked so energetically? I think these energies can be used better elsewhere and certainly more productively.

I can only see the as a piece that will be used by conservatives as evidence of how Dems cannot control their emotions, how they cannot speak coherently without namecalling, and how they are spinning their wheels. From my view, this makes the Right look good. Why would you want to do that?

What does Palin's family have to do with her politics? Attack her politics, but leave out the Down's Syndrome baby, the pregnant teen, the 3 day maternity leave. I think there is no point in arguing feminism because it seems no one can agree what it is anyway. Say why you don't like her politically and then leave it alone and go do something else.

That's my view. I think Palin is great in some ways, but I don't agree with her politically and that is what is determinative. Not the other stuff. Though I still like her hair.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What I Love About Sarah Palin...

is her hair. Never would I have guessed that a candidate for Vice President of the United States would wear her hair in a messy updo. No longer must I feel guilty for my hair when I go to the grocery store or the park. Now, if only I can get it to look as careless as she does. Unfortunately, I've only recently grown out my bangs and I'm not ready to cut them again. Besides, it's so political.

I found a couple of interesting links about her hair. One compares it to Audrey Hepburn. Another sees Sophia Loren. You know who I see? The woman from the Adam Ant Goody Two Shoes video (okay, the glasses have been updated, but otherwise, they are pretty similar).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Clip Show

here's a shrug I knit last year. I don't think I've posted anything about it on this blog. I was so upset by this shrug last year. Knitting has led to much personal growth for me. Though I look a bit ratty wearing this stuff; I'm just trying to prepare a wardrobe for my upcoming eccentric old lady phase. I plan to be really weird.

Dr. Seamlove

* or how I learned to stop worrying and love the mattress stitch

I finished the sleeves/body of my shrug with attached scarf and have started on the scarf. This feels a lot like knitting the shrug all over again because the shrug is basically the scarf with the ends seamed up to become sleeves.

I was dreading seaming the shrug. Partly because this was begun as a different project and I changed it after I had done 10 inches of knitting. I was worried the ribbing would look really weird when the seamed the sleeves. Also, I haven't done much seaming and what I have done was on simple stockinette and I don't believe I used the mattress stitch but took more of a Swedish Chef approach. Oh, yeah, and there was that unfortunate ribbing seaming incident with another shrug. Believe it or not, I learned from that and took it into account when I began this project - the original project. When I changed patterns mid-stream my whole attempt to avoid the same mistake looked rather foolish. But I laugh in the face of mistakes these days.

I read my books on the mattress seam, picked up my needle and gave it a try. The shrug was knit in 2 by 5 ribbing. I was actually able to keep the 2 by 5 look without making the seam look bulky. I was amazed. The sleeves do get a little wonky at the upper arm where I was like "I think this is going to get a little snug" so I added a couple of stitches per alternating row over 6 rows (6 stitches added). Again, I took a Swedish Chef approach. I didn't know what the heck I was doing. So maybe the pattern changes to more of a 2 x 6 or 7 ribbing at the seam, but that's not bad. And anyone looking that close to my underarms and counting stitches has some real problems. Sicko.

May I say that the mattress stitch is blowing my mind. It really acts as it's described, you sew a few stitches and then gently pull and then -whoop- it's closed up and you can't see a seam. It's supernatural.

I've got more work to do on this shrug. Not only do I need to knit the scarf and then attach it, I want to do something to the bottom of the back of the shrug. It needs something. I'm thinking that something will involve a crochet border of some kind.

And to think this project nearly caused me to bail on knitting. Far out.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hooked on Crochet

Wow, I haven't written in awhile, eh?

I have previously tried crochet, only to fail or lose interest. Well, I must have finally found a simple enough pattern for something worth crocheting and it all clicked. I made the Little Ditty Bag for my tape recorder (I use it to tape record my voice lessons. Yes, I am finally owning up to taking voice lessons. La la la la -- here that? It's on pitch and I had breath support for it, baby). Anyway, my poor little tape recorder was getting bumped around something fierce, so when I saw this little purse, which strikes me as too little to be much use to me, I thought it was just the thing. Did I mention it was easy? Very easy. Pretty much all single crochet with some increasing. I love it.

I've been pretty much trolling for simple crochet patterns and making stuff. Some are successes

others, less so

There's a weekend I won't get back. It didn't fit and I decided I liked the yarn too much for a hat that didn't fit.

what's wrong with the doll's hat? you ask. Let's just say that it was not supposed to be a doll's hat. And the back looks like Frankenhat.

Anyway, most of my on-line time has been spent on Ravelry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Flower Hat - success

Pattern: Flower Hat, modified. Yarn: Patons Melody, super bulky, acrylic. Needle size: 13

I figured I did not have enough yarn (85 yards) to complete the hat so I researched patterns for top down hats rather than attempting the gathered top in the pattern. I decided to go with a pattern I'd read for the Jamaica Pouch. Not a hat at all, but one member on Ravelry showed her daughter wearing the bag as a hat and I thought I'd try it. In the course of this research, I also came across a cast on for circular knitting that I thought I'd try. Can't say it worked out great but it wasn't a flop, either.

I followed the JP pattern for 6 rounds (42 stitches) and then did simple knitting until hat measured about 7" inches and then began ruffle instructions for flower hat. For the second increase in the ruffle, I decided to knit front and back of each stitch to increase, I found it to be less holey-looking. I did the bind off with a crochet hook because I didn't have enough yarn to bind off in the usual manner. I read about the crochet hook bind off in Stitch n' Bitch Nation, p. 113.

This is a perfect size for my younger daughter (5 1/2), too bad it was knit for my older daughter (8).

Flower Hat - failed

Pattern: Flower Hat, modified. Yarn: Patons Melody, super bulky, acrylic. Needle size: 13

I figured this would fail because I was using the wrong sized yarn. I was bored with my current project and needed to do something. It's a hat, it's a small commitment. It's acrylic and leftover from a poncho I made. I was not afraid of having to frog this.

I started following the pattern. Casting on 60 made the hat way too big (even for me) and this was for a child. I also learned that I would run out of yarn and wouldn't be able to make the ruffle.

The hat is knit top down, so what you see as the brim is supposed to be the top. The holes are for a cord to be used to gather it together. See the pattern picture, it's really cute. I thought I could salvage the hat by turning it upside down and doing a simple finish for the crown. I figured I would weave a ribbon through the eyelet holes and make a bow. It would be lovely and help tighten up the large hat. Since this hat was for my daughter, I asked her whether she would like me to do that, or to rip it and make the Flower Hat with the ruffle. She went for the Flower hat, so you can read about that here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

My First Sweater

I find myself pondering the question of why knit sweaters. You can buy perfect, machine-knit sweaters in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. Why bother knitting one yourself? If you think I have an answer, you're wrong. The reason I knit this sweater is my mom de-stashed something like 12 balls of this yarn. I think the sweater took about 6. I wasn't sure what to do with it. I'm not a variegated yarn kind of gal, but I love turquoise so I gave it a shot. What did I have to lose? A whole bunch of free yarn. And time.
After doing extensive research for an appropriate pattern and reading all about yarn and knitting, I found a pattern that worked. I needed a simple stitch since the variegated yarn creates enough interest on it's own. No lace, no cables, just plain stockinette. The yarn is half cotton, half acrylic and I was worried about it stretching out from the weight of the cotton and it's inelastic nature (I don't know whether being half acrylic tempers this much, one would think it would, but I'm not experienced enough to know.) I found a pattern on the Drops site for a bolero jacket, perfect, it has room the stretch without swallowing me up. Plus, as I'm comfortably situated in my late 30s, I'd like to show off my waist as long as I have one.
This was a pretty easy knit. I've now accepted that in knitting (and perhaps in all things), I must be willing to rip back when I make a mistake. No more "damn the torpedos, full speed ahead" (my usual m.o.). Mistakes are little signs that something is wrong and it doesn't take all that long to fix. It's just demoralizing, but before you know it you've ripped back and are moving forward once again.
The knitty gritty (there is more on Ravelry):
Needles: size 9, I use Denise Circulars
Yarn: Sirdar Spree Chunky - what's the weight, bulky? worsted? I don't know but I got gauge, which is how I found this pattern. Drops allows you to pattern search on gauge.
This was my first sweater and I've only been knitting 6 months, so I didn't bring a whole lot of information with me. It took me a few tries to understand the pattern. Based on the measurements in the pattern, I choose to make a size Large. After the first few rows, I realized it would be too big, so I ripped back and made a size Small. Even though I got gauge (and my knitting showed I continued to be dead on), this sweater was knitting out 2 inches larger than the measurements in the pattern. I don't know why, maybe it's the yarn I used, I did not use the recommended yarn. Who knows. When I finished, I felt the sweater was a little tight across the upper arms and back on the first wearing. On the second, it felt completely comfortable. Who knows what is going to happen to this thing with wear and washing.
Sleeves: Since I have so much yarn and this sweater is intended for wearing in the cool early spring, I did not want short sleeves. Because of concern for the stretching of the yarn, I did not want long sleeves. I shot for 3/4 sleeves and that's pretty much what I got. Being a newbie, I wasn't quite sure about increasing and decreasing and didn't want to bother. I had fallen in love with some bell sleeves I saw in other patterns and dreamed of doing that. But I thought I should keep is simple. So I took the widest measurement of the sleeve (where the pattern joins it to the body) and knit that the full length of the sleeve. I'm happy with how it came out. It was a lot of knitting in the round, but it was easy and I used the two circular needle method of knitting small diameter tubes. Not that the sleeve was all that small, but small enough that using a singular circular would have been difficult, if not impossible. When I first joined the sleeves to the body, I needed to work with a second circular again as I approached the arm because it was so tight in that area. After a few rows, though, there was enough room to knit on just one circular.
Neckline/Buttonband: I ignored the pattern directions to hold the 5 stitches of button band on each side while knitting the rest of the sweater. I continued to knit the first and last 5 stitches in garter. It made the top of the sweater a little funky, but I've got no problem wearing a sweater that looks handknit and has imperfections in it. It strikes me as very human. When I came to the last rows of the sweater, I changed to garter stitch so that the back collar would match the waistbands and side. I tried decreasing within the first 5 stitches of each side every other row to taper it off -- I only did this for 5 rows. It looks okay, but I could have done better. But I was not about to attempt knitting out the collar seperately and attaching it. I'm pretty sure that would have looked worse.
Buttons: I made the yarn-over button-holes but though the bolero was a little snug to button in front. Plus, yarn-over button-holes are sloppy looking (so the knitting books tell me). I decided to chain stitch some ties from the yarn. I inserted one chain through the 2 button-holes on one side and then took the other chain and inserted that through 2 places to correspond. One each side, I tied the two ends together so I can't accidentally pull the chain out. However, neither tie is sewn in so I can remove them and replace them with ribbon or some other fixture. To close the bolero, I simply tie the ties in a bow -- it creates a double-bow look because each tie is doubled.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Product vs. Process Learning

This is a link to a post I wrote on the Life Without School community blog.

One reason I love homeschooling is because the product aspect is removed in some regard. Even when there is an actual tangible product or project, doing it for the love of learning and not for a grade is a very different thing. So much of what I did for the first 20-odd years of my life was about getting someone else's approval. It's amazing to start doing things for no other reason than that you are intrigued by something. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sounds Like I'm Mean

What kind of yarn are you?

You are Shetland Wool. You are a traditional sort who can sometimes be a little on the harsh side. Though you look delicate you are tough as nails and prone to intricacies. Despite your acerbic ways you are widely respected and even revered.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Thank You, I REALLY needed that!

Maybe you've got to be a knitter or maybe just be in desperate need of comic relief after three trips to the ER in one month. I dunno, but this is hysterical! And this ...

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Rose that Saved the Shrug

In my typical bipolar knitting way, I am actually liking my Circular shrug.

I knit a rose to put on it (completely ripping off gloriana's idea -- thanks!). I'm not thrilled with how the seams on the shrug turned out, but oh well. Live and learn. Also, the shrug is a bit bulky and short. I'm blocking it now, so maybe it will come out fitted and long -- I'm pulling it for all I'm worth.

The Urge to Hook

blogging the lazy way -- cut out passages of emails to friends and post them.

So I turned to the hook -- it's probably just a passing fancy. I wanted to make Suzanne a hair scrunchie for the St. Patrick's day parade and thought I'd use the goddawful acrylic I bought to make myself a St. Patty's day spiral scarf (I'm so sick of spiral scarves. I was going to crochet this one, but then I went to the ER with hives and thought I'll just do mindless knitting while there and was able to start it and do about half of it. I'll crochet on the fun fur edging).

The scrunchie turned out okay, except I somehow twisted it -- but it's going to be twisted in her hair, so who cares? Got the pattern from Kids Can Do It Crocheting. When I get bold, I'll add the beads. Something very exciting about crocheting, all that twisting. And my knitting has helped me get a feel for working with yarn and identifying stitches. I think knitting will always be my first love, though. I don't really like the way crochet looks, especially not in clothes, which is what I like to make.

Though I may get crazy with the scrunchies for awhile.

Such a Beautiful Poem

I just wanted to share a link to this beautiful poem, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. I found an excerpt of it on an unschooler's profile page. It does read like a creed for unschoolers, homeschoolers, or anyone who is trying to make their way on their own terms.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thing 2 Lost an Upper Tooth

sort of creepy, huh? The best part was I got to pull it -- the top front tooth was much harder to get out than the bottom ones.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Temptation to Frog

So I've finished the shrug and just need to seam it. But I'm running into problems. I thought I was smart to anticipate that I'd want the 2x2 ribbing to line up for seaming, so I was sure to set it up so that 2 purls would end up next to 2 knits. But it doesn't work that way.

I was just now reading Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Knitting and she says to end one piece with 1 knit and it's seam-mate with 2 knit stitches, since you'll lose a stitch when seaming. Oooooooo, so that's why my seam looks so crappy, because I'm losing a stitch. So, it's just a seam, right? Only the seams on this shrug come across your bust, so they are front and center. Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

Kooler suggests one way of avoiding having to seam the ribbing is do a provisional cast on, knit the body and seam it and then remove the provisional cast on and pick up the stitches on a circular needle and knit the ribbing in the round (no seaming). Brilliant, but a little late for me. Though I am pondering ripping back the bottom ribbing and seeing if I can cut the initial ribbing to remove it (someone did that on ravelry with another garment, so it's possible). I guess I would cut the yarn in the last row of ribbing so I have enough yarn to weave in so the body doesn't unravel.

I could do that, but then I think, well, the body of the garment isn't all that great, so should I just frog the whole thing? I've made plenty of mistakes. I've made peace with the design on back, that doesn't bother me anymore. But, I only knit 14 1/2 inches for the body, most people did at least 18 and I now know why, it just doesn't look right shorter. I could rip back the last ribbing section, knit the body longer and re-do the ribbing, making sure I have a column of 1 knit to line up with 2 knits for better seaming, but that's a lot of work for something I don't really like. Even if it's perfect, I don't really like it. It's shapeless and sort of clumsy. I always wondered why everyone pins it in the middle. Well, it doesn't look good if it's not pinned and/or it feels like it will slide off the shoulders.

I've learned a lot making this - I'm not even sad to frog it because I got so much out of it. Or, maybe I'll wear it a little, since it's so cold and I can always frog it in the summer. Or maybe I should just block it, see what that does and just suck it up. The yarn wasn't that expensive and I'm sick of being stuck in a cycle of knitting and ripping. I re-did the left seam, so it no longer puckers like in the picture. I did some funky chain stitching and then seaming. Now I think the left seam looks better than the right, so maybe I'll re-do that seam, block it and be done.
Onward, I've got a Cherie Amour to ruin!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Adventures in Arithmetic

This is a post I wrote for the community blog, Life Without School. It tells about our approach to math. I notice that one link in the post is dead, but I will update it here.

The excerpt from my post with the working link:

I also found a great article in Book Links, a publication by the American Library Association, that lists and summarizes a number of books that help preschoolers through elementary aged kids learn about math.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Shrug Update

for all of you out there with baited breath for me to finish this thing, I feel I should tell you I don't think it's going to look like the mock-up I did in my earlier post. Working up the diagram, the knit stitches sort of frame the purls - but it doesn't look like this working down and I'm not sure how to fix it, or whether it can be fixed. I've been knitting and ripping, knitting and ripping and I'm tired of it, I'm just knitting through. It will be interesting to see how it turns out -- and I'm really glad it will be on my back!

Note: the safety pin marks where I stopped knitting up the pattern chart and started working down. You can see that the older yarn is in touch with it's angoraness, getting a little fuzzy, while the newer part has yet to fuzz.

I think I'm going to rip it back (yet again) to the point of reversal (the safety pin) and just knit it following the pattern. That will be fine, this reversal just didn't work out.

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.