Thursday, May 29, 2008

I’m a ‘One-Skeiner’

“101 Designer One-Skein Wonders,” edited by Judith Durant (Storey Publishing, $18.95), is one of those books knitters ooh and aah over as others would the storefront of a Godiva store.
The photos are up-front and as colorful as a Pantone wheel in this incarnation of the growing “One-Skein” franchise. Hats, purses, ties, scarves, shawls and baby items are arranged by yarn weight, so you can ogle the selection in full, then plug in those yarns that make up your stash — or go shopping for a new skein.
Delicate fingering-weight projects begin the book: a linen Christening Shawl with a generous knitted silk border; a coffee-toned Wave stitch-patterned infant’s Jumper that will make you want to shrink down to fit in one yourself; moving on to sport weight: a flowery Ring Bearer Pillow with finely beaded fringe; mohair yarn: Chicly Chevroned “Broadway” Hat in graduated yellow, orange, purple, blue; and bulky weight: a fluted Fuchsia Felted Bowl and Two-Hour handled Handbag in eggplant with a chunky button accent.
You can even post a photo of your completed work from patterns in the book at
Each project’s designer is profiled at the back, complete with contact information. East Haddam’s Carol Martin of Farmhouse Yarn created a beret with her Lumpy Bumpy yarn in a spring garden bouquet of lapis, white, olive green, fuchsia, pink and lime.
Top of my list? Not-Your-Average Washcloths, each in mango and avocado Rowan Cotton, designed by Elizabeth Prusiewicz of Portland, Ore. She who learned to knit at age 5 from her mother in her native Poland, runs Knit Knot Studio ( — “home of the fastest knitter in Northwest”).
Do I need washcloths? Would I use hand-knit washcloths on body or dishes? Blasphemy! Mine will be grace my kitchen walls as tiny self-portraits — The “Me” series (Rowan Cotton Handknit, Sugar, Tangerine Dream, Slippery, Nectar, 7-inch).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Laughs I’ve Enjoyed at the Hands of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

In my knitting group, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is like the Keith Urban of the textile world. People make pilgrimmages to Webbs in Massachusetts, planning months in advance of her speaking engagements. They speak excitedly about her upcoming books. They quote her one-liners, laugh over her humorous anecdotes.
Her latest is “Things I Learned from Knitting ... Whether I Wanted to or Not” (Storey Publishing, $10.95). A tiny, slim volume, the book details 45 “things” or bits of wisdom. Chapters like “Knitting Teaches Generosity,” “Haste Makes Waste” and “Goodness Has its Own Reward” give no indication of the witticism, hilarity, intelligence and apt insight contained therein.
Even non-knitters will delight in her seemingly banal aphorisms which yield knee-slapping anecdotes.
You read one of her sentences and think, “I’ve thought that!” or, more daringly, “I could have written that!” But, before you get too far making those wings, Daedalus, check that pride.
Only Pearl-McPhee could spin such brilliant yarns.
From “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed”: “I have learned, from watching the thousands of kindnesses enacted by knitters around the world, that there is little a knitter will not do for her fellow human in wooly need. ... Except at a yarn sale, when the gracious and generous knitter who just went thruogh her stash and volunteered the needed skein of purple merino to a desperate fellow knitter now body-checks you into the sock-yarn display because that hand-painted laceweight she like is 50 percent off and it looked like you might get there before her.”
From “It’s Funny Because It’s True”: “Knitters entirely understand the non-knitter’s confusion about why on earth, if you need a sweater so badly, you don’t just walk into the store, pull one in your size off the rack, and be bloody done with it. ... We’re not just making clothes. Three is a reason the hobby is called ‘knitting’ and not ‘sweater-making.’ If it was just about getting a sweater, we would totally do it the way everybody else does. ... What we know and try to explain is that when you knit a pair of socks, you don’t just get clothes. You get satisfaction. You get art. ... Best of all, you get to have something to do while all those non-knitter stand around in their standard-issue store sweaters and talk about how silly knitting is.”
From “It Takes a Great Deal of Pressure to Make a Diamond”: “A few years back, in a misplaced gesture of fondness for my sister, I decided to knit a pair of kilt hose for her rather unworthy, bagpiping boyfriend. ... Fortunately for bagpipers, but unfortunately for the knitter, most babpipers have two feet, so a knitter must complete this feat of derring-do twice in order to get a pair.”
Most amusing — with laugh-out-loud certainty — is her chart: “5 things worrying non-knitters have warned me about.” It relays the absurd misunderstanding of our craft — in a style worthy of “Waiting for Godot.”
“1. Knitting needles are very pointy. I could put out my eye at any moment.
2. If I were knitting in a car and there happened to be an accident, I could be impaled or even killed by my own knitting.
3. If I’m not very, very careful, I or someone else could become entangled in my yard and be unable to elude or escape danger.
4. If I am a victim of a crime or terrorism, my knitting needles could be grabbed and turned against me as a weapon.
5. If I’m sitting and knitting in the presence of children, one of them could run into my knitting while playing and be impaled, have an eye put out, become entangled, or, heaven forbid, all of the above.”
Pearl-McPhee is those rarest of birds of the writing variety, brilliantly plumed and infinately talented — the 100-percent cashmere, 400-yard skein in the bottom of the sale bin.

Slim pickins

I used to look forward to grocery shopping — a chance to spend money, check out and sample the latest food offerings, maybe even pick up a treat or two for myself. I’m pretty good at budgeting, so spending was never a problem, and as most Americans know, we are blessed with a bounty of choices at the supermarket.
The cost of food, so long affordable for many of us, has increased very rapidly recently, especially for staples — bread, eggs, milk, butter (and my kids would add ICE CREAM! PIZZA!) — so we all feel the pinch at the check-out counter.
Still, a plague of sorts has descended upon my tiny house. No matter how many and how quickly I move grocery bags into the front door, heading to the car for more, they’re just as swiftly eaten by the two not-so-little, growing buggers-in-residence.
Where else would a jar of peanut butter last nary a week? A loaf a bread a mere four days? A gallon of milk five?
It seems you can tell a great deal about the psychology of family members, not from what they consume so much as what they won’t. It’s food for thought as I peruse the grocery store aisles, picking up macaroni-and-cheese boxes (“with the ORANGE cheese, Mom!”), fruit and vegetables (“don’t forget raisins and celery, ‘cause I love ants on a log!”), lunch meat (pepperoni is a food group for my 10-year-old), cheese (“get that orange Monster cheese”) and jam (no marmalade, mint or no-sugar will be tolerated!).
So it’s a constant dice roll whether they’ll eat the organic macaroni, turkey pepperoni, all-natural jelly, corn on the cob I try to come home with. All-fruit bars are eaten reluctantly and with much griping, after mom has been chastised to “bring home ice cream this time!”
And where else do two boys consume an entire half a watermelon in two hours? Most assuredly not raised by wolves, my sister, brother and I grew up with a sense of fairness. When items came into the household, we didn’t descend upon them like locusts, we asked if we could have some; if so, it was divided up by the number of family members who were interested in eating some. If Joey didn’t want to eat his two ice cream sandwiches for 17 weeks, gosh darnit, they were STILL his to have when he got the hankering. If dad said the pineapple juice was his for the morning, it wasn’t touched by a soul other than himself. Mom’s diet butter (generously termed) was hers. Unsalted soybeans? Hers. Pasteurized processed cheese food slices? Ours for the taking (those are still sitting there, 30 years and counting).
Perhaps the gollywhomper of them all took place late this winter. I came home from work, threw some healthy snacks toward the gaping mouths of my two offspring, and set about preparing dinner. Turkey hot dogs, corn niblets and snap peas, macaroni and cheese. Garlic bread for those interested. Dad was home just after the two boys were at the table, bickering and picking, eating and griping in between gulps of Ovaltine and milk.
I left the room for some reason or another, returning to find the dinner mostly gone. The guys had devoured their fill, had seconds already, and left mom .... dirty dishes to clean up.
“Where’s my dinner?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“I thought you ate already, honey,” said dad.
Sure, in between washing and folding laundry, sweeping and mopping the floor, I’d had my repast. Where did they think I ate? Is there a parallel place of peace I have the option of eating in?
“That’s OK,” I said. “I’ll just have grilled cheese.”
That is, if anyone left me a piece or two of Provolone, a few drips of olive oil and two slices — even the end ones — of bread.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Making the grade

Last week, I had a day that I thought was a pretty darn good one, as far as work days go. I was gathering up my 10-year-old’s sundries so we could drive across town to pick up his younger brother at preschool.
“Oh, Mom,” he said while hen-pecking the computer keys. “I got a 58 on my Civil War project.”
He delivered it like he would, “We learned about pimples in health class today.”
I tried to contain my swirling fury (anger).
I had spent the last six weeks helping him with said report, gathering research materials for him to read, record and finding a cool Web site with actual photos from the Civil War, then constructing a big board with them labeled and ordered. “Are you sure?” I asked, thinking he must be mistaken (denial). How could he do so badly?
Maybe I can think of a way to broach the idea of a second chance to his teacher, I thought. A way to boost B’s grade, because we must not have understood her requirements (bargaining).
I got on the phone. Called the principal. Too late, B’s teacher had left for the day. “Have her call me tomorrow,” I asked.
That night was tough. I grilled B. “What did she say when you got the grade? Did she give you a reason? Is there something big we overlooked? How did the other kids do?”
(“I don’t remember,” “No. “I don’t think so” and “I don’t know.”)
Our U.S. military special ops would have better luck extracting “intelligence” from bin Laden.
The next school day, the teacher didn’t return my call. My son said she had conferences on and off during the day.
With a day and a half to ruminate, I began to worry myself sick. “He’s not going to graduate fifth grade!” (depression)
Finally, the next morning arrived. “Get your book bag, B. We’re going to go in to school early and talk to Mrs. M.”
“If you did lousy, at least I want to know why” (acceptance).
B. was less than happy with the idea, noisily shuffling up the staircase to the fourth- and fifth-grade floor, and lingering outside the door.
His teacher looked up from a book she was reading at her desk, hair glowing golden, recently lightened. She looked exceptionally pretty-eyed, tanned face smiling at me — curious.
“B. told me he got a 58 on his term paper and I’m astounded. I wonder what he did wrong,” I said. “We worked so hard on it for the last month and a half.”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t know where he got that impression. I haven’t graded anybody yet. We’re still presenting them to the class.
“I have a rubrick that I use to make sure all the components are met. I won’t even sit down with that until over the weekend.”
I slunk out of the room, mortified.
Yesterday, just as surreptitiously, I learned B’s grade. Found the sheet in his book bag while cleaning it out.
In red pen, cursive: “100 percent.”
Chicken Little has left the room.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Knitting Nirvana

“One-Skein Wonders: 101 Yarn-Shop Favorites,” edited by Judith Durant and Gwen Steege (Storey Publishing, $18.95), is one of those books every knitter should have on hand. In fact, every knitter should carry it with her, as I have for the past week, in the knitting bag she lugs around on her daily rounds.
It is in turn inspiring, fascinating and delightfully laid out — with patterns grouped by yarn type. It’ll make you want to catalogue your yarn stash, if only for an excuse to visit your favorite little yarn shop for material to create what catches your fancy. Which is exactly what I did after leafing through it.
The center spread contains 24 pages of full-color photos against vibrant backgrounds — there are hats and socks, but oh, what delightful patterns they are.
The day after opening “One-Skein,” I trudged up to my craft area and sifted through my plastic totes filled to the brim with yarns stuffed willy-nilly.
All the better to knit you (forth)with, my dear, I mouthed to my yarns. This wool would be perfect for the crimson One-Car-Ride Coaster Set with artfully placed strokes of contrasting wool needle-felted onto the finished squares. The end result looks less like a place to rest your sweaty glass and more like a largish petit four embellished with a pastry chef’s touches.
There’s the crimson Fabulous Filigree Scarf, shown on a sleeveless denim bust, delicately warming invisible shoulders in machine-washable wool employing short rows. A drapey plummy Floral Mesh Shawl, airily knit in multicolored silk “as lightweight as it is luscious.”
Oooh, the Twisted Spiral Neckscarf in rainbow Noro wool, corkscrewing this way and that — much like Kyra Sedgwick’s lovely blond ringlets cascading over her shoulders. The ends are even tied off like twin pigtails. In the illustration, the scarf curves around the neck, colors blending seamlessly from rose red to pale yellow to mud brown to green, eggplant to robin’s egg blue to minty then yellow green.
And from our own state, New Haven’s Yarn LLC has submitted Shrug This in pale blush lamb’s wool and mohair, a delicate wisp of garment that is quickly knit on 10.5 (three stitches per inch) needles from the neck down. It would be equally as fetching in cotton.
Marji’s Yarncrafts in Granby has a pattern for a Super Simple Triangle Shawl in a salmony-wool-crepe finished off with a crochet edge.
The best thing of all about this book, as my editor says, who received this book as a Christmas present, is that you can experience some of the more expensive yarns because, as the title says, you only need one skein.
It seems the jam I’m in now is not what to knit from “One-Skein Wonders,” but what not to knit.
Sorry to say, but it is likely you’ll have the same experience.
See or call (800) 441-5700 or bookstores nationwide to purchase.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mother’s little helper

Ever since B began fifth grade, his bedtime has crept later and later.
I’d want him in bed by 9 p.m., but he’d not fall asleep until 10:30 p.m. on a school night.
Short of taping his eyelids down, this isn’t much a parent can do, when it comes down to it, to physically demand a child fall asleep — “NOW!”
So I asked my son’s friend’s mother for advice.
To my surprise, she had been going through the same rigamarole — the yelling, stomping of the feet, ect.
Her friend had recommended melatonin for her son.
He would take a 1 milligram pill at 8 p.m. and be in bed by 9 p.m., where previously he’d stay up until 11 p.m., midnight or later. Then, like my son, be unable to wake up in the morning despite repeated urging by his mother. He’d be late for school, she’d be late for work, and they both were screamed out and exhausted.
A mirror image of my life.
I checked on the Web, surfing for information on Google, “melatonin and children.”
What I found didn’t make me feel confident enough to self-prescribe it for B.
So I bought a homeopathic sleep aid — Hyland’s Insomnia, which says the child dose is half that for an adult.
I gave B a pill that night at 8 p.m. “Blech!” he screamed. “This is disgusting!” And promptly spit it out.
So much for “stimulating your body’s natural healing response to relieve symptoms without sedative hangover.”
B fell asleep at 10:30 p.m. that night. Was late to school for the 23rd time that next morning.
It was time to bring in the big guns.
I called the pediatrician, who recommended the same 1 mg dose for B.
This won’t work, I thought. It will taste gross, or B won’t be able to swallow it (visions of clamping dogs’ jaws shut to facilitate canine vitamin swallowing of the past danced in my head, followed by said child throwing up miracle melatonin), or some other unforseen act is sure to result.
I gave B half a 3 mg pill. “It’s too big!” he said about the pill the size of half a pencil eraser.
I cut it in half again. “Now you have two to swallow.”
Hoping it would work, I said, “Drink a little water, make sure your mouth is wet. Put the pill on your tongue and take a small gulp of water, then put your head back and swallow the whole thing like it’s a piece of pizza.”
It worked.
“Now do it for the second one.”
Again, success.
Now the waiting. I set a bedtime that wouldn’t be too protested. “9:30 p.m., B., I want you under the covers asleep at 9:30.”
No protest. I went into the other room to watch TV.
9:25 p.m. I hear the TV shut off in the other room and B begin to shuffle toward his bed, blanket around his shoulders.
“Good night,” I said, waiting for yelps of refusal.
“’Nite, Mom,” B said, and fell immediately asleep.
The next morning, he woke up at 7 a.m.
That was three nights ago, and every evening has progressed the exact same. B is fast asleep by 9:30 p.m.
Dare I say it? I kid hurtle crossed, 999,999 to go.

On a wing and a prayer

When B was 4, I was still picking out his clothes in the morning and getting him dressed, until one day he came into the living room, his little pull-up khakis on backward and his short-sleeved polo already over his head. He carefully poked one chicken arm through his right sleeve hole, then the left.
“See, Mom?” he said. “I never don’t need you!” Clearly he was delighted with himself.
I shared a laugh with his grandmother and dad later that day, repeating the adorable story.
Now T is nearly 5 and he just celebrated his own Independence Day.
There were no fireworks or cannon shots, just the hum of rubber tires gliding along the blacktop.
Yes, T is fully mobile.
It took him all of a week to master his bicycle with training wheels, every chance he got outside cruising up and down the street, lopsidedly — since those tiny wheels on each side of the rear bike tire never truly support it straight.
A couple days later, T was at his grandma’s and happened upon a little bike that had been rescued from the dump the year before from his uncle. It was pink, but T didn’t seem to care. Soon, he was pedaling over the grass at the back of the house, and coasting down the hills.
I came home from work that night and my husband said T had something to show me.
T got on the bike sans training wheels and pedaled off down the street.
Naturally, I was a nervous wreck then — and now.
T and I talked about it later that night while he was lying in bed.
“Why do you like riding your bike so much,” I asked.
“’Cause it’s cool,” he said, simply.
Somehow I knew exactly what he meant.