Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Somewhat handmade Christmas

Now that everyone has opened their gifts, I can share my handiwork. The cabled mittens on the left went to my sister-in-law. It was a really fun pattern from Ravelry, quick and easy to knit. The socks went to my brother-in-law, my usual 3x1 rib pattern. Stretchy and functional. The yarn is Opal, purchased at my weaving shop before it closed this summer. Very fun knits, those two.

And then I violated one of the Yarn Harlot's rules of holiday knitting. I knit for someone who doesn't appreciate handmade things. Actually, my sister's daughter may very well appreciate the little bundles of joy I gave her in the form of a bunny and a monkey, but my sister did not. Lesson learned. Ordinary plastic stuff is better. The monkey was a really fun thing to knit as well, although next time I'll do the smaller version to shorten the boredom of the arms and legs. The pattern came from Blue Moon and featured an afterthought heel for the mouth and butt. Much fun.

And then came the fleece pajamas for my kids. This was extremely difficult as I'm not good at sewing and the kids are with me all the time. One of the few drawbacks of homeschooling is that you can't sneak in a handmade gift too easily. But I kicked them out of the house or banished them to other rooms to get them done. And now they are matching, except for the dots I put inside as labels to help in the laundry folding.

All in all, I've had a very creative year. It was one of my resolutions last year to do something creative each day. And except for the few weeks surrounding my father's hospitalization and major life change, I managed to do just that. I feel better for it and hope to keep up the habit in the years to come. All told, I knit seven pairs of socks (and I'm on the 8th), a hat and gloves, mittens, a lace scarf, a failed sweater for Mark, a bunny and a monkey. Need to update my Ravelry notebook, which is really handy for notes. That and I sewed the Halloween costumes, pants for Small, the pjs, and did some paper crafting. It's really healthy to keep the creative juices flowing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crazy Weather

We've had some really wild and crazy Christmas weather. It was a weather stress week for us. First, the Sunday before Christmas was -8 degrees. It warmed up to -5. The house temperature was 64 degrees and the furnace struggled to keep up. Then it just quit. The hugely expensive furnace that cause us to redefine our relationship with credit a mere two years ago. Not heating. Luckily, I had signed up for the service plan the last time it stopped and we had a guy here at 7 p.m. on a Sunday to fix it for only $65. He showed Mark how to hit a button on the electrical panel when it's windy and it stops again. Our front door and many windows had a thick layer of ice on them.
Then we tried to get to East Peoria for Mark's family's celebration on the Tuesday. It had warmed up to the 20s and was snowing in the morning, but was supposed to end by early afternoon. We watched the radar as it remained stubbornly showing snow and decided to head out anyway. I guess Blagoevich has siphoned off all the snow plow money as I55 was almost a parking lot. It took us an hour to get to Weber Road (about 20 miles) when we decided to turn around.

We started again on Wednesday, the roads were clear south of the Chicago Metro area, but it was extremely windy. The central part of the state had already experienced an ice storm, parking lots were skating rinks. It was warmer, so some snow and ice was melting, but it froze overnight. We made it, but it took much longer than usual. New DS games helped to entertain the kids in the back seat.

Thursday morning was clear and sunny, not a problem making it to Indiana for my family's celebration. That night, as we slept, it started to rain. Mark got up early on Boxing Day, Friday, for a Starbucks run, I fell back asleep, dreaming of good coffee. He came back in a half hour later and said the roads were closed except for emergencies and everything was a sheet of ice. I said "Starbucks is an emergency" and them came to reality as I drank my tepid warm water they call coffee and watched news coverage of trucks spinning on the ice. The news coverage was sobering, but reality didn't truly hit until I learned my brother in law was sitting on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck for my father's SUV. The first tow truck spun out while on the way to get him, he said the roadside was just littered with SUVs and pick up trucks in the ditch.

And then it started to warm up and melt. This was the view out of our hotel window. We spent the whole morning in front of the fire, knitting, playing, running around - ours were the only children in the place.

We went out to lunch in the rain. It rained and rained and rained. Boxing Day was on hold. My sister's rental Hummer slid down the sand dune on the way to the grocery store. She gave us word that the town had salted and she felt we could make it up. The driveway was clear. I had spread 50 pounds of salt before everyone else arrived and chipped away at the ice. The brothers-in-law and grown nephews cleared it completely while we were there. The town does not believe in salt, it's not good for the vegetation. They had never seen ice like this before, a layer of sand over an inch of ice makes even the sturdiest of four wheel drives wobbly. We tried, but couldn't make it up the sand dune leading to their driveway.

It rained and then it fogged. Freaky fog, really dense patches. We drove back to the hotel slowly and slept to the sound of more rain. Saturday morning, on the now successful Starbucks run, Mark fell in the parking lot that had become a swimming pool and was soaked to the skin. It poured all day. We came home to a flooded back yard, but at that point were too weather weary to snap a photo. This one is from today.

Because it was in the sixties on Saturday, all our snow melted. On top of that we had two inches of rain. With the giant addition next door a few years ago and the new giant addition behind us, our available land to soak up rain has turned into concrete and is flowing into our back yard. Our sump pump is going every few minutes, and has been for four days now.

I'm looking forward to a few days of drying out. Sunshine, no snow, no rain, no salt, no weather.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Learning Science

I meant to respond to a post on one of my homeschooling yahoo groups about science classes, but never got around to it. Now the thread is probably long gone, but I've been thinking about how we learn science ever since. The author of the post was looking to organize a science class for homeschoolers and was wondering what other parents were looking for.

I've been through many stages of worry over science for my kids. And the more I've watched them, the more I've come to realize that all one needs to learn science is an inquisitive mind and the opportunity to follow through on interests - i.e. a parent who can facilitate their investigations. Maybe I just have easy kids, after all, they ask for museum memberships for their birthdays and Christmas. Or, more likely (as "easy" never pops in my head when am looking for an adjective for my three), they are learning in a natural way.

An example. We went to the Field Museum a while back and spent 2 1/2 hours in the Evolving Planet exhibit. Small is very into dinosaurs. Medium and Large pushed every button, read everything that interested them, talked to the docents, had a great time. That lead to checking books out of the library and watching the excellent 9 hour PBS series Evolution. When I asked if they wanted to watch an episode one night last week, Large said "We're watching evolution all the time." He got the message. Very cool.

The same thing happened with our study of the human body. As my Dad's Parkinson's' and Mom's dementia progressed rapidly this summer, they were naturally inquisitive about how and why it was happening. More books from the library, more DVDs from Netflix, a wonderful CD ROM series, also from the library, and they now know more about the body than I could hope to remember.

Science may be in their blood, but I have to believe it is in every child's blood. My father is a renowned physicist, my brother has a PhD in Physics and is working in particle charged optics, Mark has a BS in Physics and MS in Nuclear Engineering. All three of them will tell you they were bored to tears in science class. My father learned more watching his grandmother's soap bubbles, my brother learned more at my father's knee and my husband learned more by following his interests to what I have called, on occasion, an obsessive end. A few museum memberships and a willing parental tour guide are all a child needs.

As teenagers they may head off to community college for the nitty-gritty paper and pencil work, and the nearly impossible to do at home lab work. Classes can be a soothing balm for worried parents, I've been down that road a few times. We feel inadequate in our ability to teach them "all they need to know" particularly in Math and Science.

For now, I've let go of the control/panic button. I've learned to do less teaching and more orchestrating, we are all happier for it. Museum memberships last a whole year and are cheaper than classes for three kids. They have the interest and need only the nourishment of their curiosity.

Monday, December 15, 2008


For the knitters out there, and I know you are out there, here's a funny, short movie to take your mind off your holiday knitting stress.

And now, back to the Christmas knitting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That was cold

Really, really cold. We took our Roots & Shoots group out to work at the Ted Stone Forest, one of the many Cook County Forest Preserves. We've been working there for over a year now, it's our on-going, long term project serving the environment. The boys (and my girl) truly enjoy cutting down invasive brush, freeing space for majestic oaks and a widening prairie. They love using real saws and loppers, aren't quite as excited about dragging that cut brush to the pile, but generally work hard and have a good time.

And then there are the hot dogs. This work day it was in the high teens, which was fine as long as we were moving. But after an hour or so, the kids were ravenous and the little fire had been heating nicely. It was much too windy to burn any of the big brush piles. I had 8 boys, 3 adults (it's good to have a high ratio with saws and things in the midst) and 32 hot dogs. Some of the boys brought their own hot dogs, so the count is really higher. Those hot dogs vanished. One fashioned a nice trident hot dog roaster with his pocket knife, and ate three at once. Others used the much more efficient grill, or single ended sticks.

Then came the marshmallows. Into the "oven of doom" as one hilarious boy kept calling it. Sticky, black, brown yummy marshmallows. That was our only real injury, marshmallows in the hair. And it mainly happened to my children, those of the long hair tendencies.

It was another beautiful day. But standing around the fire, I felt my age. And lost feeling in my toes (double socked!) and fingers (ski gloves!). Walking back to the car, I could barely grip the walking stick I brought along for stability. Kids don't feel the cold the same way we do.

See, it isn't all knitting around here!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shameless Plug

If you're in town this week, or near Oak Park, please head over to Pleasant Home (at the corner of Pleasant and Home). This wonderful old house is holding it's annual artisans sale with some of the proceeds going to the upkeep, restoration and maintenance of this historic treasure. I have a few silly things in the sale, but there are many, more serious artists involved.

The sale starts with an open house on Sunday, December 7th from 1 to 4 and runs all the following week. You can visit an historic landmark and finish off your holiday shopping in one fell swoop!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Big-ish News

We interrupt the gift knitting marathon for an announcement. The other night at dinner, we had to bring out the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED at the dinner table was such a staple of my youth and early adulthood, I am elated the kids have reached the point where we could continue this tradition. The word we looked up - hobbledehoy - is pictured, our OED is the teeny-tiny print kind that required a magnifying glass. I remember looking up words without glasses as a kid. Now that was a long time ago.

Judging by my history, one of our children will now learn to swear emphatically and use this skill during long discussions of foreign policy. The resulting door slam wont be as effective as in my youth because of the distance between the bedrooms and the dining room, but that is just a small matter.

Almost done with the last knitted gift! I'll have to post pictures after the holidays.