Thursday, April 30, 2020

Three Ways to Pass the Days

Well friends, we've made it to the end of April. It seemed to be a very fast month for me, especially in comparison to the glacial pace of March, but I suppose a large part of that has been all of us adjusting to our routines. Rainbow has school online and assignments to complete, and the past few weeks, they've added "lunch" (a special Zoom session with just a few kids and a teacher), "recess" (unscheduled class Zoom sessions), and even sessions with the specialist (e.g, art, music, library) teachers. She still has her moments, and she's still spending more time in front of screens than I'd like, but she seems to be doing better now that she has of a structure to her day and more opportunities to connect with her friends.

I've also settled into a new schedule of sorts. I've been able to adjust my wake-up time to be a bit later now that my commute to work onlyinvolves walking up a flight of steps to my bedroom, and that also means I've had more time in the morning to enjoy my coffee and catch up on blogs and email. I've been working through lunch most days so that I can take my break at the end of the day, and that when I go out for a run or a walk as the weather allows. I've also been showering before dinner rather than when I wake up in the morning, and I've fully embraced the makeup-free, wild hair look. On the rare occasion that I've put on makeup or blown my hair dry, it feels like a treat.

Today I'm joining Carole and friends to talk about three things that are getting me through these strange days. There is my job, of course, but things are strange there, too, and even when I'm busy, work is only a temporary distraction.

1. Fibery things
My knitting mojo is still here, and I've been working diligently on my shawl design sample just about every evening. I can see progress -- the end is in sight now. I'm also finding a lot of joy in working on Rainbow's crochet blanket for at least 15 minutes a day as part of the 100 Day Project. It's been and excellent project during conference calls, which I have several times a week now. Yesterday I joined in the second color of Felici.

The colors are a little loud for me, at least mixed all together like this, but Rainbow likes them, and that makes me happy. I certainly feel good about using up the stash.

I also finished a pair of socks for her earlier in the week that had been on the needles a while and which I'd kind of forgotten about. It wasn't much effort to finish them up in the end.

These were knit toe up using the Fish Lips Kiss Heel template, though I worked the heel a bit differently, using garter stitch and actual wraps and turns, just to try something different. The yarn is Fibernymph Dye Works Bounce in the colorway Gimme Some Sugar (Cookies), which came in the last shipment of Lisa's Just Desserts club last year. It came with a matching mini skein, which I used for the heels and toes at Rainbow's request. I didn't ask her if she wanted the stripes to match until I was starting the second sock, and though I wound off some yarn to get to the same color in the stripe sequence that I'd started the first sock with, it was sheer luck that the stripes matched up so perfectly.

As you've no doubt seen, I've also been doing a ton of spinning, mainly because my "office" is my spinning corner in my bedroom, where I have my comfy chair set up in the corner with my wheel in front of it and my laptop sitting on the end of the radiator next to me. I have found that I'm able to spin while reading a Kindle book in addition to the usual things I do while spinning (watching a podcast or something else online or listening to sometime).

2. Exercise
My job is very sedentary -- I sit at a desk most of the day -- but I live close enough to my office that I've almost always walked to work, which means I was used to getting two 15-20-minute walks a day. Now that I'm working from home, I definitely miss those walks, so I've been making a point to try to exercise every day if I can (the weather doesn't always cooperate with me). I've been running a lot and yesterday officially hit 60 miles for the month, so I'm feeling pretty good about that. But getting fresh air and seeing other people out and about has been just as uplifting as the endorphins, so I feel extra good about making it a priority.

3. Reading
Several weeks ago I was having trouble focusing on books, but I think the key to getting my focus back was reading something really excellent, and my recent finishes did the trick. I haven't gotten a bingo yet on my card, but I'm definitely filling up more spaces.

Right now I'm in that wonderful yet horrible position where I'm reading two books I'm really enjoying -- one on Kindle, one on audiobook -- and am frustrated that I can't enjoy both at the same time. The Kindle book is Apeirogon, which came highly recommended by Kat and is really unlike any book I've read. I'm not even halfway through and can already tell that it's going to be a 4- or 5-star book for me. The audiobook is Mary Beth Keane's Ask Again, Yes, which I picked from available audiobooks from the library when I was looking for something new to listen to while running. Though I didn't love Fever when we read it for our virtual book club, I did enjoy Keane's writing and had heard good things about her most recent book. I'm almost a third of the way through it and am really enjoying it as well.

So now you know how I've been getting through these pandemic days, and I'd love to hear what you're doing to keep you sane and calm and healthy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

One Little Word, April 2020

I don't know about you, but I'm in a bit of denial about it being the last month of April. For all that March seemed to last eleven-billionty years, April has flown by. I'm not sure if I'm happy about that or not, but I suppose at this point every day that passes is one day closer to whatever needs to happen to get us back to something resembling normal life.

Today I'm joining up with Honoré and friends to look back at how my one little word for the year, savor, has been playing a role in my life over the past month.

Last month I mentioned that I thought I'd been pretty smart in my choice of word for the year, even though at the time I picked it, I couldn't have known how drastically life would change. I couldn't have foreseen just how much I'd be focusing on small things in life and getting so much joy out of them. Since we started staying at home, I've joined many of you in keeping a "pandemic journal," reflecting nearly every day with a brief entry (and sometimes with a longer one). Following Mary's lead, I've been listing, at a bare minimum, three things I've gotten done that day and five things that have brought me joy that day. Those five moments of daily joy are where I'm finding what I'm really savoring in my day-to-day life now that I'm spending so much of it at home. These have been things like sunshine, working on sewing masks with Rainbow, watching TV with the Mister in the evenings, or joining Zoom calls with other knitters. They seem like such mundane things under normal circumstances, but in the context of my much smaller world, they are true delights.

One thing I know I wouldn't be savoring if we weren't under stay at home orders is running. I've gotten to the point where I truly look forward to being able to get outside every day that I can (provided the weather cooperates). At the beginning of the month, I challenged myself to run the number of miles in a marathon by the time the Pittsburgh marathon (now canceled) would be held on May 3. I don't really consider myself much of a runner, but the Mister and I generally sign up for two local 5K races in the early fall, so when the weather starts to get a bit better at this time of year, I usually start training. Because my weekday schedule is usually packed, I typically only get to run on the weekends, but working from home has actually saved me time because I'm no longer commuting and I can work through lunch and shift my lunch break to the end of the day (4 p.m.), allowing me to get out for a run or walk at that time. I've been tracking my runs the old-fashioned way and here's where things stand as of this morning:

You may need to embiggen the photo to see it, but I didn't just hit a marathon in running miles this month -- I've actually run the equivalent of more than two marathons. If I can squeeze in one more run before the end of the month, I'll hit 60 miles. I also hit a new PR for my 5K time yesterday with a time of 25 minutes flat, which is crazy fast for me. I almost can't believe that it's me who's done all this -- and that I've done it willingly -- but in truth I am feeling really proud of myself, and I know that all this time moving my body has been playing a huge role in keeping me relatively calm.

I have also really been enjoying the time I spend each day working on Rainbow's crochet blanket as part of the 100 Day Project. I spend 15 minutes on it minimum each day, and today I am ready to join in the second colorway of Felici.

Because we are doing okay financially (meaning we're both still working full time), I've been trying to support some small businesses with purchases where I can. Over the weekend I decided to order yarn from Fiber Optic Yarns for the Casapinka LYS Day pattern, and in some small miracle of the USPS, it arrived yesterday.

Did I really need this beautiful MCN yarn? No. Will I savor it as I work with it? You betcha.

Finally, I've really been savoring my reading, especially the past couple of weeks. After reading a few books that were just so-so, the last two have been really excellent. After The Ten Thousand Doors of January, my library hold came up on the next Inspector Gamache book, A Trick of the Light. I finished it yesterday and so enjoyed it. I put it on my SAH Bingo card under "a comfort read" because that's what Louise Penny's books have become for me. I love getting back to those familiar characters and inhabiting the world of Three Pines again. I've already got the next book on my holds list, though it'll be some time until I get it, and I started reading Apeirogon last night. I also borrowed the audiobook of Ask Again, Yes yesterday to listen to while I run, though I had a technical snafu when I tried to start it and only got a few minutes in. I'm excited to get into both of these books in the coming days.

I'm off now to see how the rest of you have made room for your one little word this month. Stay safe, friends!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Anything But a Nightmare

My pile of pandemic-spun skeins has grown bigger in the last few days. After spending a few days spinning up all the singles, on Friday morning I plied them all. I let the yarn rest on the bobbin overnight and then skeined and washed it yesterday. I wish the lighting were better to show you how stunning this yarn is -- these photos just don't do it justice (thank you, rain that will be here all day!).

This yarn was spun from a set of batts that I bought at SSK when I attended back in July 2017. One of the classes I took at the retreat was on spinning batts with the extremely talented (and delightful) Jillian Moreno, so it seemed appropriate to pick up some batts at the marketplace from Liz at Hobbledehoy, who is not only a talented fiber artist but also an extremely nice human being who I became friends with at the retreat. She called this set of batts "Nightmare batts" for some reason known only to her. They contained a blend of organic Polwarth wool, bamboo, yak, silk, and a touch of sparkle. Does anything in that list sound like a nightmare to you? Me, either!

There were three batts in the set, so I spun each onto its own bobbin. The singles were spun long draw, to match the woolen preparation of the fiber, and then plied into a traditional three ply. Fresh off the wheel, the yarn appeared to be in the area of heavy fingering to sport, but then it had a bath and the magic happened: One of the signature characteristics of Polwarth fiber is that it often poofs up when washed, and that's exactly what happened to this skein -- it bloomed into a super squishy DK/worsted.

I love how the fiber prep combined with the method of spinning results in a more rustic yarn that's a little more inconsistent -- I think it adds great character to the yarn. I have about 265 yards, so enough for a smallish project, and I'm fairly certain that a purple-loving 10-year-old is going to claim it for something for her.

I've already lined up the next spinning project, again dug from stash from a couple of years ago. I'm not 100% certain what it is, though I know it was a HipStrings club shipment and I think it's the August 2018 shipment that contained a blend of BFL and Shetland in natural colors. It came in the form of four bundles of fiber, and as you can see, I've split each shade into three portions.

My plan is to spin another traditional three ply and do it as a natural gradient, so each ply will use one bundle of each of the four shades. My splitting and spinning are just inconsistent enough that the transition between the shades is likely to be in a slightly different spot in each strand, which should result in more subtle transitions. I haven't weighed the fiber yet, but I think I have 2 oz. of each shade, so I should end up with a pretty sizeable skein when I'm done (I'll have to break out the long-ignored miniSpinner to ply it all!). I think it'll make a fantastic and cozy shawl -- but first things first. I'm planning to start on the spinning later today, and though I've been on somewhat of a tear through my fiber stash, I think this might take a little longer to get through than recent skeins.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

In Which My Mojo Returns -- Mostly

Thursday already? The weeks are starting to go a little faster now, which I suppose is a good thing. Work seems to be getting into a more regular rhythm, and I am filling in the less-busy times with crafting and reading. (In addition to not having to worry about putting on my makeup or doing my hair every day, I'm finding a really nice perk of working from home is that I can fit more crafting in, especially during meetings, where now I mainly just have to listen in and no one can see what I'm doing with my hands.)

My spinning mojo has been high this whole time, and I'm seeing it as a good way to work my way through a lot of stash. This week I'm spinning up those gorgeous purple batts that have been in the stash for nearly three years. I'm now on the third and final bobbin of singles.

Crochet, of course, has also been a fairly constant companion. As part of the 100 Day Project, I've been working on Rainbow's blanket for at least 15 minutes every day. It's actually been a fairly good project for my biweekly team meetings, which tend to run about 15-20 minutes. Yesterday I joined in the second ball of Felici, so progress is being steadily made.

The best news is that knitting mojo seems to be back! I've worked on my shawl the past couple of days (but I'll spare you a photo because it doesn't look much different from the last time you saw it), and I also pulled out Rainbow's socks, which I'd kind of forgotten about.

The green stripe I'm about to start should be the last one I have to do before I'm ready to start the heel, so I feel like this pair is in the home stretch. I can work on these while I'm reading or in a meeting because (with the exception of the heel) there is no patterning or counting to pay attention to. Though I was thinking of laying off the sock knitting for a while because my drawers are overfull at the moment, it occurred to me that I can knit socks for holiday gifts now and just put them away for the time being, giving me a very good excuse to have a sock on the go all the time.

Perhaps what I am most excited about right now is that I've been able to focus on my reading again -- and I suspect what did the trick is the amazing book I finished earlier this week.

I know quite of few of you have already read The Ten Thousand Doors of January, so I probably don't need to tell you that it's amazing. This book had me hooked from the first few pages. I found it to be so beautifully written, and for me it's always a real treat when a book not only tells a good story but also gives you ample reason to admire the craftsmanship of it. There's an element of magic to the story, so if that's not your thing, you might not enjoy this book, but I adored it. It reminded me a lot of Erin Morgenstern's books, both in terms of themes in the story and the way the story is put together. I'm fairly certain that I noted in my Goodreads review that this was one of those books that I simultaneously wanted to race through and also never end. 5 stars from me!

In a case of "it never rains but it pours," all my library holds seem to be coming up at the same time. Fortunately Libby, the app I use, has a feature where you can delay delivery of your hold for up to 30 days, so I've now done that with three books. Yesterday I finally started one of them, A Trick of the Light, and I've gotten a couple of chapters read. I'm anxious to get through it because Apeirogon and Blue Lightening are coming soon!

As we head into another weekend, I wish you all the reading and crafting mojo you can use right now!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Different Kind of Stitching

It's Wednesday, not one of my usual days for blogging, but I felt like putting up a post today, so why not? I'm joining Kat and friends for Unraveled Wednesday.

Usually the stitching I talk about here is in the form of knitting, though occasionally there's some crochet or embroidery. But the times being what they are, I decided to try some stitching of another variety over this past weekend and pulled out my very old sewing machine (not quite antique, but I've had it since I was in high school, I think, so it's certainly not from this century). I wanted to try my hand at making face masks, for obvious reasons, but I'd also been meaning to try sewing a project bag for about two years.

For the face mask, I followed this pattern/tutorial, which I'd thought looked pretty straightforward for a non-sewist like me but which I've since been informed is actually not very easy. I guess that's why the first attempt looks so amateurish:

The first one was made in Rainbow's size and used some quilting cotton (the white with polka dots) and some old pants of mine that no longer fit. The white fabric was meant to be the outside originally, but the black ended up being larger and so we flipped it the other way. Because I was still figuring things out, there wasn't enough fabric at the sides to make channels for the ties, so I cut out extra pieces of fabric and added them after the fact. The tie is actually a strip of an old T-shirt that had holes in it. The end result of this sewing, which took longer than I'd like to admit, is serviceable but not very attractive.

Last night I was ready for a do-over. I'd come to the conclusion that part of the difficulty in the first attempt was my fabric choice; both fabrics were on the floppy side, and the black was especially difficult to work with because I couldn't see any lines I'd drawn on it to cut out the pieces. So for attempt number two, I pulled out an old ripped bed sheet and a pillowcase from a sheet set from my teen years (one I never liked, mind you). The sheet was plain white, so I told Rainbow to have fun with some fabric markers to make it a bit more cheerful.

Can you see the improvement? I knew what I was doing this time and also how to adapt to the issues I had with the first mask. Instead of straps, I used hair elastics for this mask (though I can always do straps later). I also added a little pouch to the inside so I can add a nose wire if I want, and the sides are still open, giving me the option of sliding in some sort of filter. I'm pretty proud of myself for doing this, even though I know there's still plenty of room for improvement. I plan to make some more for the immediate family, and though Rainbow can't do that much to help with the actual sewing, she can still help by prettying up the fabric, which she seemed to enjoy.

After the first mask, we also worked on a project bag using this tutorial. (And when I say "we," what I really mean is that Rainbow told me which fabric she wanted where and I did the measuring, cutting, and sewing.) This project was much more successful.

This bag uses three different fabrics. The purple at the top of the exterior has the same unicorn and rainbows design as the bottom, just in white outlines, and the interior is pink with gray hearts (it's the same as the fabric used for the scraps). Though the fabric I used is probably not the highest quality or the best for this sort of thing, it worked well enough, and I am really happy with this bag -- especially considering that I measured and cut it all in a rather haphazard way (with a ruler, pencil, and scissors). I'm particularly proud of the drawstrings, which were probably the most challenging piece. I can definitely see myself making more of these in the future, though I'll probably wait until I can get my hands on some better fabrics. Rainbow has naturally claimed the first one and is using it for a gift she is knitting for one of her teachers.

These sewing successes (because while they're amateurish and sloppy to those of you who know what you're doing, they're still successes for me) have really grown my interest in learning to sew properly. I've been interested in making clothing for a while, but I really want to do it right, by taking classes and learning about fabric and techniques. I know there is a sewing studio not far from my house, so I'm definitely going to look into some classes once we're able to do that kind of thing again. If you are a more experienced sewer and have any recommendations for me in the mean time, let me know!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Welcome Diversion

I know I've mentioned recently, perhaps more than once, that my knitting mojo has dropped since we started staying at home. I'm not sure why, as knitting has always brought me such comfort in the past (in fact, the only time I can remember not wanting to knit before was when my appendix decided it needed to come out). I've been doing a lot of crochet and spinning, but I missed my love of knitting -- I just didn't feel like me without my needles in my hands every day.

So when I realized I really needed to knit a baby gift, it was just the kick in the pants I needed. A dear friend of mine had a baby late last week, and as this friend is also a knitter, I could not let the occasion pass without making her something. Though I usually make larger projects for new babies so that they'll be able to be used longer, in the interest of time, I decided to go with newborn-sized items that could be used right away. If these look familiar, it's because I knit them as a set for another last fall.

Pattern: Newborn Vertebrae by Kelly van Niekerk
Yarn: Fibernymph Dye Works Bounce (80% superwash merino/20% nylon) in That's Not Even a Word!, 0.6 skeins/240 yards
Needles: US 2 (2.75 mm) and US 3 (3.25 mm)
Started/Completed: April 8/April 17
Mods: cast on/picked up additional stitches under the arms

This is a very popular pattern, and with good reason, because it's adorable, quick to knit, and easy to execute. My only modification was done to make things a little easier for me. The pattern does not call for casting on any stitches under the arm when you split off the sleeve stitches, but I cast on two stitches under each arm because I've found that not doing so stresses that point a bit too much for my taste. So I added those two stitches under each arm and then then did two decreases to get rid of them on the next right-side row. Similarly, instead of picking up one stitch under each arm when I started the sleeves, I picked up five and then did two sets of decreases on following rounds. This helped to close up holes at the underarm a bit. And yes, I did wind off the yarn when I started the sleeves to get them to (more or less) match. I was about a round off, but I'm not sweating that too much.

Of course, I had to make the hat to go with the sweater.

Pattern: From Where You Were Plucked by Corrie Willard
Yarn: FDW Bounce in That's Not Even a Word!, 0.24 skeins/96 yards
Needles: US 1.5 (2.5 mm)
Started/Completed: April 17/April 19
Mods: none

The last time I knit this pattern, I kept making stupid mistakes -- through no fault of the pattern; it was just me being overconfident I knew what I was doing and not actually reading the instruction. This time, I made sure to read and follow the instructions and had no issues (well, I did miss one decrease in the final decrease section, but that's because I was knitting while drowsy, and it wasn't a big deal). I've been known to refer to this pattern as the rude baby hat because when you finish knitting it, the long tube that forms the topknot looks a little like, well, um, genitalia. (Sorry. Once I saw it, I couldn't unsee it.) It's extremely cute when it's tied up, though, so try not to worry about that.

These items are now ready to be dropped off for my friend's sweet baby girl to use, and as we can't meet her in person, I'm thinking of them as a virtual hug for this little one.

I've been continuing to work on Rainbow's crochet blanket as part of the 100 Day Project for at least 15 minutes every day, and I'm getting close to finishing up the first skein of Felici. She is delighted with how it's working up, and I'm enchanted with how the self-striping is working up.

Now that the baby knits are off the needles, I have decided to hunker down and finish up my new design sample. I was really excited about this idea when I first got it, and I can only blame COVID-19 anxiety for diminishing that.

There's no excuse for it being on the needles as long as it has, so I am hereby committing to getting this done ASAP -- hold me to it!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Quick and Moody

I think I may have set a new record for myself in spinning up a new skein of yarn. I started on Tuesday, had three bobbins of singles on Wednesday, and had a plied skein on Thursday. It's dark and moody and I surprised myself by loving it, because I wasn't hugely in love with the fiber.

This was December's shipment from the Southern Cross Fibre club, a colorway called Midnight Garden on Falkland. For reference, this was the original fiber:

I split the fiber into thirds by folding it into three more-or-less equal pieces and pulling it apart at the folds. Then I tried to maximize the color mixing by using those tear points to determine the order of spinning of each segment. In other words, if I tore the fiber apart at a red section, I made sure that one piece of the fiber started with that red and the other piece ended at the red. I think I was pretty successful; there's a lot of spots in the finished skein where each ply is a different color.

The finished yarn is in the DK/worsted range and approximately 158 yards. That's of course lower yardage than you'd expect for the amount of fiber compared to a commercial yarn, but that's because I spun it worsted, thereby condensing the fiber a lot. That makes it harder wearing, but also means that the fiber doesn't go as far. Still, I'm very pleased with this skein because it is more consistent, so it seems I am getting better at spinning thicker yarns.

For my next spin, I decided to go with something completely different. I pulled out these beautiful batts that I bought from Liz of Hobbledehoy at SSK in 2017. They're a lovely, soft blend of organic Polwarth, bamboo, yak, silk, and some sparkle. Liz labeled them "Nightmare" batts, but really they're anything but.

There were three batts in the package, so it seemed the most sense to spin up each onto its own bobbin and make a three ply. Because batts are a carded prep and have lots of air in them, it made the most sense to spin them woolen, so I'm using a supported long draw.

If you're not a spinner, the easy way of explaining this is that in a woolen prep, the fibers are going every which way, and when you spin them woolen, you preserve that fluffiness. You can probably see a difference between this and my usual bobbin shots. The singles are much more matte and fuzzy in appearance. But they're also a heck of a lot faster to spin, so I'm hoping this project will progress rather quickly. When I do finish it, I have a strong suspicion that a certain 10-year-old will want to steal it for herself.

The weekend has been a fairly good one, though as usual it's gone much too quickly. This evening we're meeting our neighbors for our weekly toast and checking in on everyone (we usually do it Friday but postponed it this weekend due to rain). Then Rainbow and I are going to use one of the frozen pie crusts in our freezer to make an apple galette for dessert tonight, and this evening I'm planning on curling up with my granny square blanket and my knitting to watch Call the Midwife. I went for a 4.1-mile run this morning and I'm pooped! I hope you're all well and that your weekend brought some relaxation and a good rest from the normal stress of the week.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Three More Bobbins and Other Signs of Progress

I'm once again joining up with Carole and friends this Thursday with three project updates.

First, though, I want to thank all of you who offered sympathy, commiseration, and advice about the lice debacle. I think we've finally got a handle on the laundry at this point, and Rainbow and I have been settling into a daily routine where in the late afternoon, once she's finished with school for the day and had a chance to relax a bit, we comb through her hair and then she takes a shower. Yesterday I saw only three nits and she reported that her head was much less itchy, so I think we're headed in the right direction. We'll continue to be vigilant and inspect her head daily, but I'm no longer freaking out about it. The Mister and I also seem to have avoided catching them from her, though I haven't managed to avoid the psychosomatic itchiness that comes with the mere suggestion of lice.

I am continuing to find it difficult to focus on any one particular project, but I do seem to be making some progress as I flit between them. Spinning seems to be the easiest at the moment, and after starting a new project on Tuesday, yesterday I somehow found myself with another three finished bobbins of singles.

As with the last spin, I'm doing a traditional three ply that I expect will come out in the DK to worsted range. This is another Southern Cross Fibre club shipment, last December's Midnight Garden colorway on Falkland. Though I simply split the fiber into thirds, I did a little more color planning this time around and made sure that each section started and ended with a different color so that the colors would be fairly mixed up in the plying. I'm planning to ply as soon as I post this, so we'll see how it works out.

I've also been continuing to work on Rainbow's crochet blanket as part of The 100 Day Project, and though I'm not quite back to where I was when I ripped back, I'm getting very close. Yesterday I finished up the center block and joined in the second skein of yarn again.

Nearly all my knitting time has been on the Newborn Vertebrae, which is almost done. Good thing, too, because the friend I'm knitting it for was supposed to be induced yesterday, so there will be a baby who needs it very soon.

Obviously this is going to need a good blocking!

I worked on the ribbing around the collar and fronts yesterday while reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which I am just loving. I'm about a third of the way through it now and am simultaneously trying to speed through it (because my next hold is coming soon) and savor every word. It's really beautifully written and reminds me a lot of Erin Morgenstern's books.

I'm looking forward to another weekend, though of course we don't have any big plans. I'm hoping to try my hand at sewing some face masks, and Rainbow and I are getting very close to finishing up the 2,000-piece puzzle we've been working on for the past several weeks. I'm also thinking about doing some baking, perhaps some brownies or a galette, seeing as we have ingredients for both on hand (thanks to my mother for the latter; the last time we had dinner with my parents, she gave me a package of frozen pie crusts).

I hope you also have something nice to look forward to this weekend and that the rest of the week goes smoothly!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Pandemic Parenting: It's Not for the Faint of Heart

Like everyone else with young kids, I've found the past month to be challenging. For the first two weeks, Rainbow was on spring break and could do whatever she wanted, but as we were both busy with work, she complained that she was bored and felt ignored because we couldn't hang out with her. Now she's into her third week of virtual school, which gives her a schedule and things to do but has its own challenges, often in the form of technology not working as it should or as we want. Late last week, our governor announced that schools in the state would be closed through the end of the academic year, and that brought sadness over the end-of-year traditions she would miss (her school is divided into three levels -- Lower School is preK-4, Middle School is 5-8, and Upper School is 9-12 -- and the last grade in each level typically has a graduation of sorts).

We've been dealing with the emotions as best we can, but then we got another curve ball thrown at us last night. Rainbow had been complaining about her scalp being itchy for about a week, but it wasn't until last night that I spied something crawling through her hair. You know where this is going right? I feel awful that it took me this long to realize what the issue was, but in my defense, I never had lice as a child and wasn't familiar with what to look for. Also, I didn't think it was possible to get lice if you haven't been around anyone else for a month. I suppose my child is just exceptional in every way! In any case, last night I found myself combing through her hair at about 9 p.m., way past her bedtime, because the thought of waiting until morning to do it gave her the heebie-jeebies. (I can't say I blame her, though!)

So today, in between all the work I have to do for that job I still have, I have many loads of laundry to do and will have to inspect her head again. I expect that will become a daily practice as well for at least the next week. And though dealing with this is a pain, I am extremely thankful that it's relatively minor compared to what it could be -- we are all still healthy, after all.

Knitting and crocheting are continuing, as always. Over the weekend, I ripped back a lot of my progress on Rainbow's crochet blanket because I realized that I was increasing too rapidly and winding up with a ripply edge. I'm not quite back to where I was, but I've been working on it at least 15 minutes a day and it's slowly getting bigger. This is a marathon, not a sprint, right?

I got quite a bit of the Newborn Vertebrae done during the Zoom knitting group that Mary hosted on Sunday and finished the body yesterday -- after knitting about two inches more than I needed to because I did not read the directions very well and was measuring the body from the wrong place. At least it's small!

As you can see, I've already started picking up for the front bands/collar; I decided to start it with the last stitch from the bottom hem to avoid having to weave in two extra ends.

Among my accomplishments from the weekend were my first two finishes for SAH Book Bingo. First, I finished listening to Anne of Green Gables, which had been my running listen, and it was just as good as it always has been. I put it in my "Re-read a childhood/YA favorite" square. I also finished an Amazon First Reads book from a month or two ago called In an Instant. It was just okay, but then I didn't expect it to be anything amazing and I mainly only read it because I needed something to read while waiting for my next library hold to come up. That one did on Sunday, and while I'm only in the second chapter of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, gosh, I am really loving it! I also started listening to Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come while I run. As an extreme shy introvert, it seemed right up my alley and has thus far been interesting to listen to.

I hope the start to your week has been less dramatic than mine! I'd love to hear what you're crafting and reading in the comments.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sometimes Stress Is Good

Stress and generalized anxiety seem to be the new normal state of existence for me. I'm a worrier in general, especially when the health of my loved ones is an issue, so you can imagine that the current pandemic is not great for my mental health. Luckily, I have years of therapy behind me, so I have strategies for dealing with this kind of stress, and I've been taking medication that helps me to feel like I'm on more of an even keel. But these times are extraordinary, so I've been finding I need a little something extra now and then to work out the nervous energy.

Running has been helping a lot. I started out the month with the goal of running the equivalent of a marathon, and as of yesterday, I've completed 23.8 miles. I've actually gotten to the point where I'm looking forward to and enjoying my runs! Physically, they're getting a bit easier: I don't get winded as fast, I feel less sore afterwards, and I've been able to run for longer. Yesterday I even ran 3.6 miles without stopping and recorded my fastest ever 5K time (27:27, if you're interested). Now, I don't think I'll be running a marathon anytime soon, but it feels good to move, to be outside, and to feel physically exhausted at the end of the day rather than emotionally so.

In the past week, I also did what I kept referring to as "stress spinning." Basically that meant really fast spinning -- treadling probably a bit too fast than was good for the singles and noticeably thicker singles that what I usually produced. But it scratched an itch to create and to create something quickly, and frankly I'm not at all sorry I did it because I ended up with some beautiful yarn!

This is Southern Cross Fibre organic merino in the colorway The World Spins. I had split the fiber into thirds and spun each third onto its own bobbin. When the first bobbin ran out, I wound off the singles on the bobbin left with the most into an Andean plying bracelet (after the last disaster, I wasn't about to let it defeat me!) and continued on until the second bobbin ran out. There were still singles left in the plying bracelet, so I continued to ply until they were all gone. Then, when I wound off the yarn, I broke off that little bit of two ply and made it into its own tiny skein.

The main skein is roughly worsted weight, which is way outside my normal comfort zone. But it's certainly dense. David's club shipments are typically 110 g, a tad under 4 oz., and this skein is only 165 yards or so (compare that to a typical commercial worsted weight yarn, which is usually about 220-ish yards for the same weight). I was not at all surprised, given that this was spun worsted, which squeezes the air out of the fiber. And frankly I love how it looks so much, I'm only sorry I don't have more because I'd like to have the options that come from having more yardage. But I won't complain.

The fiber was predominantly blue and green, but here and there were spots of dark purple that turned a little brownish, and I love how you can see them in some of the plies if you look closely. It's this kind of thing that makes spinning handpainted fiber such a joy.

I had such fun with this spin that I think I might do it again with another recent Southern Cross Fibre club shipment that's been sitting next to my wheel! I don't know if I'll have as much time to spin during the day this week (the start of last week was fairly slow), but at the very least I can get in some time during meetings.

I hope you've had as good a weekend as possible, given the circumstances, and if you celebrate, I wish you a very happy Easter. Let's continue to channel our stress and anxiety into things that bring us joy!

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Three New Projects

It's Thursday, so I'm linking up with Carole and friends to talk about three things. This week for me, it's three new projects that have been started this week.

First up, the new blanket for Rainbow, which I'm using for my entry for the 100 Day Project:

I probably have enough yarn to do another round or two in this color before joining the first skein of Felici. Rainbow and I are both happy with my progress.

I only worked on the blanket for a short time last night because I really needed to cast on a new project in the form of a baby gift. A dear friend is due to give birth to her first child in the next week (or, really, anytime), and though I've been planning to knit her a gift, I've been putting it off. There really isn't much time left, so last night I finally cast on a Baby Vertebrae using some Fibernymph Dye Works Bounce from stash (the colorway is called That's Not Even a Word! and is inspired by the colors of the Scrabble game board).

I plan to make a matching hat to go with the sweater, much like I did the last time I knit this pattern.

I also started a new spinning project this week, and thanks to a relatively quiet start to the week at work, I've already completed two bobbins of singles and am about halfway through the third. I'd hoped to be able to finish that bobbin yesterday and ply today, but then I got sent a rather large document to work on, so it'll have to wait for evening and weekend spinning.

I am still reading, a little, and have about two hours left in the audiobook of Anne of Green Gables plus maybe a couple hundred pages of In an Instant (but I've only been reading that for a few minutes each day). It's a quick read, so I can likely plow through the rest if I find some dedicated reading time. I've also got my bingo card -- or at least my first one! -- printed out and ready to go!

The other way I've been spending my free time, often by working through lunch and taking my lunch break at the end of the day, is exercising. I've tried to get outside every day, weather permitting, and I've been alternating between running and taking long walks. When I set the goal of running the total number of miles in a marathon this month, I thought it was a pretty lofty goal, but apparently I like to overachieve. As of yesterday, only eight days into the month, I'd already run 16.5 miles. So I think it's fair to say this is one goal I should have no problem achieving. I can't say I'm really enjoying running yet, but it's done good things for my anxiety level and I know it's important to staying healthy right now.

Last night was the start of Passover, and like many other Jewish families in the world right now, we held our seder via Zoom.

My mother was kind enough to do all her regular cooking and pack care packages so that all the local attendees had food for dinner and haggadahs to follow along in the service. We got out our seder and matzah plates, both of which were wedding presents and have only been used once before. While it was sad not to be with all our loved ones, I am so thankful that technology has enabled us to continue our traditions together, albeit socially distanced.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

One Very Big Finish

I have a really big FO to share with you today. It really deserves a great photo shoot, but sadly it is dark and gloomy here today. I did try to edit my photos to brighten them a bit, but I'm not an expert in digital photo editing and I fear these photos will not do this project justice. I promise that the next time the sun comes out, I'll try again.

In any case, thanks to all the comfort that my crocheting has brought me since this public health crisis started, I am delighted to tell you that my granny square blanket is officially DONE.

According to my Ravelry project page, I started this blanket on August 11, 2019. I had grand plans of finishing it by the end of the year, but of course that didn't happen. I didn't really use a pattern for this, just found instructions for starting a granny square online and kept adding on to it. It's made entirely of Fibernymph Dye Works yarn. The very inside is leftover Bedazzled (75% superwash Merino/20% nylon/5% Stellina), but the rest is Lisa's Bounce base (30% superwash Merino/20% nylon). I started out using leftovers from previous sock projects and eventually also incorporated Lisa's holiday mini skein set from last year and some other mini skeins I'd collected, either from sets or that came as contrast skeins with sock sets.

As I ran out of each leftover or mini skein, I used a Russian join to connect the next one. This meant a little bit of bulk as I came to each join but only two ends to weave in at the end, and when you consider just how many small bits of yarn I used, that's a lot of finishing work I eliminated!

I finished off the outer edge by doing a more solid round of double crochet and then working the final two rounds in single crochet. It's still curling up a bit, even after going through the washer and dryer, but I really don't care.

So how big is it? That's a little hard to say because this stitch is so stretchy that I could measure the blanket's dimensions and come up with different measurements each time, but for scale, here it is on top of our queen-size bed:

I thought this was big enough given that it's mostly likely going to be used as a throw (the Mister runs warm and never needs an extra blanket on top of the bed).

There are certainly a number of mistakes in the blanket, many of which I "fixed" in ways that are clearly visible, but this wasn't meant to be a show piece. This was meant to be a comfort project in every sense of the word, and I can tell you now, as I sit with it draped around my shoulders, that it is just that. It's cozy and cheerful and provided just the comfort I needed as this very anxious time in the world started. It also used a whopping 3,502 yards of yarn -- yes, you read that correctly! I pretty much depleted all my FDW sock yarn scraps, and that feels very good.

And I haven't gotten the crochet bug out of my system just yet. Rainbow has already tried to steal the blanket several times, so later today I'm going to be starting a new one for her. I'm joining in on the 100 Day Project for the first time because it's very much looking like we'll be staying at home for the foreseeable future and I know I could use a little comfort from crochet to get me through each day. Last night she picked out yarn to get me started:

The blanket will start with the leftovers of my I've Got Sunshine socks and then move through eight skeins of Knit Picks Felici I already had in stash. Once I get through those, we will decide if the blanket is big enough and, if not, dig through the stash for something appropriate to add. Rainbow has requested a tighter fabric for her blanket, so I'll be doing pretty much solid double crochets around, more or less like Casapinka's Blanket of Calm pattern. I really can't think of a better name for a project right now!

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Stress Spinning

If you need proof of just how much nervous energy I've been channeling into spinning this past week, well, here you go:

That right there is the Southern Cross Fibre Corriedale I was working on all week. I finished the last of the singles on Friday and plied it yesterday. The finished yarn is a light three-ply fingering weight, and I have approximately 391 yards.

There would have been even more yardage, but I ran into a bit of a snag -- literally. When the first bobbin of singles ran out, I wound off the singles on one of the other bobbins as if I were going to Andean ply, so that I could ply from both ends of that bobbin (so to speak) and the third bobbin. I must not have been paying enough attention when I wound off the bobbins onto my hand, though, because I ended up with this:

I futzed with it a bit but ultimately decided I didn't want to cut off the circulation in my arm and broke off the singles. So there are singles left that I couldn't ply, but I'm pretty satisfied with what I have. And I've already picked out my next thing to ply -- organic Merino, also from Southern Cross:

The weekend seemed to fly by despite not doing much. I did manage to get outside both days, on a run yesterday and a long walk today, and did my usual cleaning chores around the house. Rainbow and I spent some time working on the 2,000-piece puzzle we ordered at the very beginning of our time at home. We also spent nearly all day yesterday (though very little active time) making a sourdough challah:

Rainbow, after a little instruction, managed a four-strand braid that looked pretty professional, if you ask me!

Although it looked very good and had a great crispy crust, we found it to be very dense and a little dry. I might try it toasted with a little jam or Nutella, though!

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Three Indulgences

Today I'm joining with Carole and friends to talk about three ways I'm being kind to myself during these stressful times.

1. I'm journaling.
I used to write in a journal all the time as a tween, teen, and young adult, but I got out of the habit. Since this past weekend, I've been taking a few minutes each night before bed to look back on the day and, at a minimum, note three things I accomplished that day and five things that brought me small moments of joy. The accomplishments don't have to be huge, earth-shattering things; sometimes it's as simple as "I went for a walk" or "I did a load of laundry." When you're just sitting at home day after day, it can get to feel like you're not getting anything done, so this is a very easy way to see that things are getting done and I am being productive. Similarly, the moments of joy aren't necessarily big, exciting things but things I might have overlooked normally. Some recent entries have included "working on a puzzle with Rainbow" and "adding a mini skein to my granny square blanket."

2. I'm exercising.
I mentioned yesterday that getting outside to exercise feels like a treat now that we're supposed to stay in as much as possible, and I never thought I'd say something like that! I've been mainly going for long walks (and taking my time to notice small things around the neighborhood instead of getting wrapped up in my thoughts), but yesterday I started running again. I managed a total of 2.5 miles, so just 23.7 left to hit my marathon goal! The endorphins you get from exercising are a real thing, not to mention the Vitamin D from sunshine. It also felt really good last night to be physically (as opposed to emotionally) exhausted.

3. I'm using the good stuff.
You know how when you have particularly precious stuff, either because it's expensive or limited in quantity, you tend to store it away and never use it? Now is the time to use it! I'm sure many of you are suffering from extra dry hands these days like me, exacerbated from all the extra hand washing, so I'm using the good hand lotions:

Doesn't every woman have some of these little gift-size tubes of fancy lotions they've received as gifts over the years? Now is the time to use them -- your hands will thank you! Similarly, use that special skein of yarn or braid of fiber. Eat that special chocolate. Open up that special bottle of liquor or wine (if I can get some tonic water and lime, I know I'm going to be opening the special bottle of gin!).

I hope the rest of your week has plenty of self-care. Stay safe, and catch you here again on Sunday, when I should have a new skein of handspun to show off.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

My Mission: Do Not Unravel

I have a history of depression and anxiety, and giving my natural tendencies, the current state of the world would normally be something that would push me over the edge. I am really thankful right now that I have coping strategies I've learned from therapy and that I've been taking medication to help take the edge off. Even so, I'm sure that I'm not alone in feeling more anxious and sad than usual. I know that if I don't take an active role in combating those feelings that they will overtake me, and that's not an option right now. So I am choosing to focus on taking steps to ensure that I stay healthy -- both physically and mentally -- and to focus on the good things that are still there.

In yesterday's post, I talked about things that are bringing me joy. Even though I've found it something of a challenge to knit, my stash still brings me a lot of joy, and I've had a little bit of enhancement over the past week that's been extra joyful.

As you can see, these are all from Fibernymph Dye Works, which I suspect will surprise exactly none of you. Lisa is a dear friend who happens to dye yarn that I love working with, so I am always happy to buy yarn from her (not least because she lives close enough to me that shipments from her generally make it to me in one day). I actually only purchased one of these skeins, the one on the far left, which arrived yesterday and is her special ninth anniversary colorway. The other two skeins were prizes from last year's Monthly Makes programs.

Reading is generally a good way for me to get out of my head, and though it's been harder to focus on what I'm reading lately, I'm still managing a little. I finished the next Read with Us book, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, on Monday. I didn't really love it and in fact found it rather sad, but perhaps I'll appreciate it more once we start discussing it as a group. I turned next to something comforting, inspired by Katie, and decided to listen to the audiobook of Anne of Green Gables. I've read it before, of course, but it's been a while, and as last week I binged my way through the newest season of Anne with an E on Netflix, I've been wanting to escape to Anne's world again. It's been an absolute delight. Last night I also started one of the freebies I had in my Kindle library because I wanted to read something for a few minutes before bed, so I picked In an Instant at random. I've only read one chapter so far but it seems like it's only going to be so-so.

Exercise is always a good idea (gotta love those endorphins!), and it actually feels a bit like a treat now that it's one of the few reasons why we can legitimately leave the house. I've been trying to take a long walk every day, at least when the weather permits, but yesterday I realized that it was going to be the first day of April today, and April is typically when I start running again -- and then I had a somewhat crazy thought. I have no desire to run an entire marathon, and the Pittsburgh Marathon has already been canceled for this year in any case, but a fun challenge to myself might be to run enough miles to add up to the equivalent of a marathon by the time the Pittsburgh Marathon would have been held (that's Sunday, May 3). So today I slept in a bit and skipped my morning shower, and later today I'll be heading out for my first run of the season. I'm putting this out there publicly so I can be held accountable to more than just myself!

Finally, one additional strategy to ward off the feelings of helplessness that so often accompany depression and anxiety is to do something useful and productive. I love to bake and have often wanted to learn to bake bread, but yeast has been sold out at the supermarket. So what's an aspiring baker to do? Start a sourdough starter! I started the process on Monday and wasn't feeling too optimistic, but this is what I discovered when I went downstairs this morning:

Houston, we have fermentation! Clearly this jar was not big enough, so my starter has been transferred to another container. I've still got several days until I'm ready to make bread, but I'm happy to see that things are moving in the right direction.