Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Not the update I'd planned

One of the reasons I haven't done an end-of-the year round up is that my what-to-knit for the New Year was heavily influenced by the exciting but not ready to be public news that we were expecting our second child, a little Sylph. My head was full of baby blankets and shawl front cardigans, not something one can discuss without tipping one's hand.

I was 12 weeks on Sunday, just out of the "danger zone" of early miscarriages and finally starting to feel better except for coming down with an absolutely horrendous head cold the same day. Being pregnant means a weakened immune system and not being able to take any drugs so bad colds are that much worse. And today, finally, my dating scan, the ultrasound where they revise your Estimated Due Date by the size of the fetus. Children are strongly discouraged from attending so C stayed with Little Djinn and I set off alone, pockets carefully loaded with money for pictures of the scan (exact change only, please).

There is no fetus. I have what is called an anembryonic pregnancy - conception happened, cells started dividing, hormones went crazy, but the cells that were supposed to become the baby...well, they didn't. For now we're waiting to see if my body will spontaneously abort or I can get surgical or medical "treatment". The word abortion was never, ever uttered.

Goodbye Sylph. I know you never actually existed but we were really happy when we thought you did.

Friday, 2 January 2015

23 Months and a New Year

Happy 2015! Things continue to go well for us, but we can't wait for all of Little Djinn's classes and playgroups to start up again. The ones at the local theatre ended in early November so they could use the rooms for rehearsals and storage for the Christmas Panto* so we've been missing her favourite Wednesday class. It starts up again in a fortnight and hopefully it will be a similar mix of mellow kids. Swim lessons and soft play at the leisure centre (gym) have been on a fortnight hiatus for the school holidays; they resume next week and we have two sessions left. I want to enrol Little Djinn in the 2-3 yo swim lessons but she doesn't turn two until the Sunday after classes start so I'm not allowed. She's blowing bubbles, jumping off the wall, and putting her whole face under water to pick the ring up from the bottom of the pool and the other babies...aren't. Her friend, C, turns two this week so they'll be moving up without us.

Little Djinn isn't making huge progress on feeding herself. She eats pretty well if you give her something to do and spoon it in for her, but she's not interested in feeding herself unless it's cereal. If we leave out bowls of snack foods she'll graze through the day, but not "enough". The first half of December she ate really well, asking for food (which we had to feed her) and then she grew again and had pretty much zero interest in eating for a week and her ribs were standing out again. Getting her to feed herself is definitely a goal for the early part of 2015. I suspect we're going to have to go cold turkey on her food pouches and let her get hungry enough to feed herself but she's so slender, she can't really afford the week or more of not eating. And yes, I honestly think, based on past behaviour, that it'll take weeks of not eating for her to decide to do it for herself.

She's starting to pick up words, though most of them are missing key letters. She has a lot of "b" words like Blue, Ball, Bowl, and (light)Bulb but not the L's. She can stay Story, Star, and Stool but not that first S. She says "please" (sometimes, mostly she signs it) and up, on and off which she uses for conceptually different things like lights, wearing clothing, and stacking blocks. She gets new words weekly if not daily but you largely have to work it out from context.

Little Djinn loved Christmas. Christmas Trees are her new favourite thing and she always wanted to poke at the baubles, the lights, and the stars. We put ours up pretty early for her, a potted tree we'd bought last year and put on the table so she couldn't pull it over, and it dominated the room. Every morning she'd ask Daddy to turn the lights on first thing, then when I came down I'd turn on the snowflake fairy/Christmas lights in the windows. We had a fill-your-own advent calender which I filled with the conveniently sized 24 mini-bar Green & Blacks tasting box. Each day I'd break the little bar in thirds and LD would hand the first piece to Daddy, take one for herself, and feed me the last piece. Except for the day, about halfway through, when she ate the first piece, then, having been chided, spit it out and offered it to him. Cheers for that. We also had an Eric Carle pop-up advent with ornaments and presents to decorate a tree which she liked but sat on fairly early. I mentioned to my mother that I want to get an ornament tree advent calender like we had growing up and she offered us the one she made, but then later she said that she wants it for the Christmas Open House in her neighbourhood next year so I'll look into getting our own.

We took Little Djinn to see the mall Santa twice but, while she liked the trees in the grotto and the animatronic mice, she wasn't interested in going anywhere near Santa. Oh well, maybe next year. We let her open presents as they arrived so as not to overwhelm her, but I think present opening could have ended after stockings and she would have still thought herself the luckiest little toddler in the whole world. She's hardly let go of the two little matchbox cars she got. My most notable gifts were a tea-of-the-month subscription from the cats and an auto-brewing teapot from Little Djinn (C must have seen me blanche slightly at that one as he hastened to let me know it was a deal-of-the-day and we did not pay full retail for it). It's shiny. I'm going to be ruined for the average cuppa. C got a pie maker (like a waffle maker but for individual pies) and cookbook, and a weather tracking kit which we'll put up at the new house. The kitties got a larger litter box (Oliver is a heffalump) and mat, and a bunch of catnip mice. Little Djinn keeps playing with the latter.

We had to take down the tree on NYD. It wasn't happy inside and was in serious danger of losing all its needles. Little Djinn screamed a bit when she realized what I was doing, and was sad this morning when it was still gone, but she's largely okay with it. I showed her where the tree is outside so we can check up on it from time to time.

In non-Christmas news, her favourite things are playdough and youtube videos. She's actually learning things from her videos even though studies say kids don't, she's much stronger on her colours and shapes and that's largely the videos. This was all well and good until her first gen fruit tablet (the one I replaced with a second gen mini because it was no longer supported, I couldn't get new apps, and the old ones kept crashing) finally died so now we're having to time share mine. We're going to get her a replacement android tablet with a less than stellar battery life (we used to leave her tablet only partially charged so she'd have a built-in time limit).

In older news, we once more hosted a successful international Thanksgiving. From California we had B and K (he was in country for a conference and she was doing a semester abroad in Cardiff). A came up from London, and our down-the-road neighbours T and Miss A came around. Little Djinn was delighted to have everyone except T, with whom she didn't want to share her toys. At one point she took her tricycle away from him so I pointed him to the push-pram and she scooted over and started pushing it while riding her tricycle. It turns out he really wanted her toy police car which was perfect because she didn't care if he played with that. Clearly we need to work on sharing on the home turf.

*Pantomime, a slapstick musical comedy, usually based on fairy tales or the like. Huge Christmas entertainment over here, usually aimed at families but there are "adult" ones as well.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The World's Slowest Knitter

The esteemed Yarn Harlot recently asked Twitter how long it takes (the rest of us) to knit a pair of socks. This is a woman who is known to be a very fast knitter and can knit a pair of socks in a day which is, um, yeah. BLD (Before Little Djinn) I could knit a pair of socks in two or three weeks which means if I knit nothing but socks I could have, say, 14 pairs a year. That's not a lot of socks. ALD (After Little Djinn), well, my mother bought me a skein of Opal 6-ply (sportweight) sock yarn and Hiya Hiya needles for my birthday when I was in California in June. I started them on the 16th and finished them last weekend. This was not exclusive knitting, but they were my handbag project, the one that went with me to knit night ever week, the ones I worked on when I finished a ball of yarn for my red cardigan and didn't want to wind another ball just yet, or when Little Djinn and I were playing at the Floral Hall and I would knit as I trailed after her. They weren't exclusive but I did work on them a lot. And 6-ply yarn is thicker so it knits up quicker than the usual 4-ply sock yarn. I am the world's slowest knitter.

I am not a process knitter. I mean, I knit because I enjoy the process of knitting, but I'm not knitting for the sake of knitting, I'm knitting because I want to make things. I want to have a stable of toys for Little Djinn, a closet full of hats and scarves/cowls and gloves/mitts/mittens. I want all three of us to have a closet full of sweaters for any mood and weather. I want to wear hand knit socks every day and twice on Tuesday, and slippers for around the house. Heck, when I have knit all the things I may turn my hand to charity knitting (the kind where you make actual things for actual people, not "raise awareness" on behalf of global corporations), and things for the house like blankets, cushions, and bathmats. Heck, when I knit all the things I'll even have time for sewing because I wouldn't be thinking "if I take an afternoon to sew that toybox together I'll never finish my knitting!"

I'm already dedicating as many hours a day as I can to knitting so clearly I need to knit faster. Any way you hold your yarn and needles and get stitches is the correct way to do it, but clearly some ways are more efficient than others and my way isn't high on that list. A fellow knitter posted a review of a Craftsy course that improved her knitting, helpfully titled "Improve Your Knitting: Alternate Methods and Styles". Ms Lyons (a Lion Brand scion) talks about different ways to hold your yarn and needles (English, Continental, Portuguese) and different ways of mounting the stitches and situations where one method or another (or switching between them - two handed colourwork, knitting back and forth for short-rows rather than turning the work) can make knitting easier.

I've already noticed an improvement in my knitting, though I've only been able to practice the "new" techniques on new projects, not my previously cast on ones as my gauge has changed dramatically. One of the knitters at knit night asked if it might be faster to frog some of my extant projects and start over with the faster method and I almost had to go for a lie-down. Give up on hours and hours of work? Can't do it. I am making a big push to finish off projects so I can just switch and wipe my bad habits from muscle memory.

As a note about Craftsy, I'm a big proponent of TV;DW* and for most things I prefer to learn by reading and looking at some pictures (and doing). I've signed up for a few Craftsy classes, both free and paid-for and I don't think I've watched all of any of them. But knitting - how to make the basic knit or purl stitch - is fundamentally a movement and as a movement it helps to see the motion. So while I'm not particularly a fan of Craftsy, I found this class to be useful. Yes, you can probably look up all the different techniques as free youtube videos but you have to know to look for them and sort out your own pros and cons list for each. In the Craftsy class Ms Lyons has collated it all for me and I can concentrate on figuring out what works for me.

And now if you'll excuse me, I need to pick my next handbag sock project.

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* Too Video; Didn't Watch, a play on TL;DR - Too Long; Didn't Read.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Knitted Ted (and friends)

For Christmas last year I requested and received a subscription to Knit Now magazine, a British monthly that started exclusively with accessories and quick knits (not to be confused with simple or boring knits) which has branched out to include garments and more time-intensive projects. I'm the world's slowest knitter so I've not knit a lot of the projects (I hoard patterns and wool which I figure means I hoard dreams of projects) but when I saw Bartholomew Bear from Brown-Eyed Babs I wanted it for Little Djinn. Chris gave me the wool for Easter, a super bulky "fur" wool from Erika Knight made from something like 98% (British) wool with just enough nylon to hold it together.

I started it end of May and finished early July, though again I was in California for almost all of June, so really it took just over two weeks. My favourite thing about toys is how quickly they knit up. And there's the gratification of seeing my daughter play with them long after she'd have outgrown a jumper. While the yarn is wonderful and made a fabulous bear, I don't much fancy knitting with it again. Lovely result, but "fun" yarn isn't.

Another project from Knit Now magazine was Finlay Fox by Barbara Prime, which came with yarn as a kit in the June issue. I knit Finlay for Chris as the safety eyes aren't intended for children under 3. That lasted about five minutes. She* looks so clean in these pictures. The live version, having been taken on several adventures including a few to the park and at least one run in with a mud puddle, is somewhat dingier.

I knit her with the kit yarn which I believe is a house label. Finlay went to the October Highland Wool Festival at Eden Court here in Inverness with us and got lots of compliments. I was especially impressed that Little Djinn held her the whole time and never dropped her. Here's a picture of the kit and pattern if you want to see an example of the quality:

The third toy I knit this year was actually the first, Little Lamb from Spud and Chloe Visit the Farm by Susan B Anderson, which I knit for Little Djinn but also to enter in the knitted farm animal competition for the Highland Wool Festival in May at the Dingwall Mart**. She didn't place. She's knit out of North Ronaldsay wool (held double) for her body and Shetland wool for her face and legs. She took a fair time to knit (almost a month) because every other stitch got pulled out to make a twisty loop for her fleece. It was fiddly. Then I finished her one day before the submission deadline so I paid to have her next-day special delivered and then that evening at knitnight I found out that while the webpage still listed the original deadline, it had been extended on their FB page and I'd wasted the money. I'm still fairly irked about that (saying something on FB and not the "real" website).

Rumour has it that the contest for this year upcomming will be tea cosies. I have the pattern for Kate Davie's Sheep Carousel and planned to use the leftover yarn from my Sheep Heid, but I'm worried it wouldn't be the only one submitted (there were three of the same cow toys this year). Things to think about.

All of my toys are stuffed with Jamieson and Smith's wool filling (from which I try and pick the bits of not-fleece). Wool is naturally anti-microbrial, retains warmth, holds lots of water without feeling soggy, and fire-retardant - all good things in general but especially useful when the toys anticipate being loved by a toddler.

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* everything in our house is feminine unless there's an actual reason it shouldn't be, such as Peter the Team GB lion with a full mane. Finlay, despite the masculine name, lacks gender markings.

** hey, two Highland Wool Festivals in one year! Result! though the October one this year was, I think, under-advertised and I would be surprised it it happens again next year. That said I was surprised it happened this year and as long as it's here in Inverness I'll be attending.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Red Rosemorran

Back in February I think it was, The Scrumptious Collection, Vol 3 by Fyberspates* came out and, as there often is, a blog-tour with give-aways at each stop happened and I was lucky enough to win a copy**. It is a really beautiful book, both physically (page layouts) and conceptually (patterns) and my only problem was deciding what to cast on. I loved the Kenwyn hat and cowel, and needed a hat to match last winter's purchase of a dark teal (they call the colour "petrol" here) coat, but I saw there is a contest on the Fyberspate's rav group where the first person to complete any of the patterns in the book with the suggested yarn would win the yarn to knit any of the other patterns in the book. I had the yarn for Rosemorran in my stash and I wanted a summer cardigan for our changeable Scottish weather so I thought, Perfect! and in March I cast on.

Are you laughing yet? I'm laughing. I thought I could cast on a cardigan in March and finish in time to wear it over the summer? Hahahaha, no. I didn't work on it at all when I was in California for three weeks, and I occasionally knit other small things like a sheep for the Highland Wool Festival competition, but it was my main project and I just finished it last week, in October. Yeah, world's slowest knitter strikes again.

I made a few modifications, most notably using Custom Fit to get a cardigan that would fit me perfectly, without having to work out my own modifications to the pattern. Lazy, yes. Worth it, oh yeah. I took the basic shape from the pattern (long sleeves, crew neck, ribbing lengths for cuffs, hem, and collar, knit the stitch pattern, knit my tension square/guage swatch, washed and blocked it, then entered the size and weight along with the number of stitches and rows I needed for the pattern repeat and using my measurements, I got a custom pattern for a custom cardi. Custom Fit even estimated how much yarn I'd need (though I've not weighed the finished jumper to see how close it was and it has buttons now).

Seven months of knitting later, and I've got my jumper! There was a little problem with the buttons, namely I had eight of them and 10 button holes and when I went back to the shop where I bought them they were (gasp) sold out, but I'd used two on a cardigan Little Djinn has outgrown and I was able to find it in the retired clothing box, cut off the buttons, and add them to my jumper.

Is it perfect? No. I should have gone down a needle size on the ribbing to tighten it up. The shoulders aren't perfect - are they too wide? are the arm holes too big? Are they perfect but the weight of the jumper is pulling them down? I'm not sure. I may sew a ribbon on the inside of the button bands to add stability, and possibly under the shoulders as well. but it's beautiful and it follows my curves perfectly. So much better than I could have done on my own, even knowing intellectually how to "do the math" to adapt a sweater.

Oh, and the contest to knit the sweater first? Someone else knit it first, of course. Winning the book and having a wonderful cardigan will just have to satisfy me.

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*rav link because a quick google didn't turn up a page for the book itself and the listing on Fyberspates website isn't as good as the rav page.

** my winning strategy? I only entered once (I didn't want to accidentally win more than once), but I entered on a blog with a smaller following.

21 Months

Another long stretch without posting, I'm sorry. August was a bit of a rough month for us as Little Djinn got 8 (!!!) teeth, including four molars in one week which involved some sleepless nights and crying inconsolably. Nursing didn't help and she wouldn't let us CalPol (baby tylenol) her, and she normally asks for some whenever she sees the bottle. But she now has four in the front on top and bottom and her first four molars, 12 teeth in total. This has made nursing less fun for me and I'm 90% done, but she still very much wants to nurse so we're trying to find a balance.
We also went down to Pitlochry in August and stayed at The Atholl Palace Hotel where we got married. Some friends of C's were up for a week, having enjoyed their stay during our wedding, and were using APH as their base of operations whilst exploring Perthshire so we went down for two nights to see them and have a mini-break. Apparently there have been some changes (including a remodel of the Stag Bar) with a new manager who was there for a year before getting the boot(?), and the new new manager is going back to the way things were (the way we liked them). Mostly this upheavel showed in the restaurant which had the usual lovely food and the worst service we've ever seen. It's a good thing we were going early (6:30ish) because it got crowded one night and really fell apart. That's not going to leave a good impression with the German tourists on the coach trip who were staying the night and waiting forever for food. Otherwise it was a really good trip and C and I took the opportunity to each get a spa treatment, a manicure and facial for him and a full body massage and scrub for me. Ah, for a little while we felt so relaxed and pampered. When I win EuroMillions there will be more spa days in my future.
In September Little Djinn's playgroups started up again, swim lessons on Mondays (which we had to ourselves for 6 weeks), a new dance class on Tuesdays that sounded perfect for her on paper but she's just not keen on it, the next age-group up for her Wednesday class which is particularly nice as we know all the kids and their (grand)parents and LD is very confident doing the activities. For a while we were in a soft-play on Thursday mornings that she loved - climbing structures, bouncy castles, big soft blocks - but that was only a 6 week course and the following session was booked up, but we're in the one that starts at the end of the month so she'll enjoy that. In the Thursday we met another half American toddler. That's three of us American Moms now, and we've been hanging out after the Tuesday and Wednesday classes. IT's nice being able to talk to other people about the ways things are different from What We Knew.
Little Djinn has really blossomed in the last month or two and she's much more interested in playing with other people. Her godfather, M, came over on Friday and she clung to my leg briefly, then brought him all of her toys and told him to sit next to her on the floor, and basically decided that he's the best thing ever. After swim practice on Monday we were having lunch in the cafe and someone at the next table over started playing peekaboo with her so she got Danni Dinosaur and made him play catch with her and stuff. I think he learned an important lesson about not making eye-contact with toddlers.
She has a lot more signs, including a few she made up like drawing a circle with one finger on the other palm to ask for her favourite telly programme, In the Night Garden (it starts with a random toddler having circles drawn on their palm). She has signs for cat, spider (she tries to do the gesture for Incy Wincy/Itsy Bitsy Spider), thank you and going for a walk. She makes noises for dogs, snakes, cars, and airplanes. She says "bib" (we'd largely stopped using them until she started asking for them), "clonk" when she bumps into things, and I think yesterday she said baby. She "counts" and hums the first line of "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window". She puts on and takes off (and puts on and takes off and puts on...) her shoes and understands if you tell her that she's putting the shoe on the wrong foot. She says Uh-oh and "nee-nah-nee-nah" which is the sound emergency vehicles make here, but we've not explained that part to her yet (one of her friends says it and she's copying the sound).
Little Djinn is very huggy and kissy, habits encouraged by In the Night Garden where one of the characters has "a very kissy day" and goes around kissing everything in the garden. She also does the little dance each character does when they're introduced.
She's starting to be interested in "real" food and so far is a big fan of baked beans, bacon, and salami. She likes peanut butter and sometimes likes bread but isn't interested in peanut butter on bread. She eats fruit, fresh and dried, and sometimes vegetables. We got her some little potties because she was very interested in what we do, but while she knows they're for peeing and she knows when she needs to pee (she'll ask for her nappy if she's naked), she has no interest in the next step.
And, knock/touch wood, bed time is currently going really well for us. We need to be better about putting her to bed at a "reasonable" time, but she gets her story and we nurse for a bit and then I ask if she's ready to go sleep in her cot and she (thinks about it and) says yes, I move her over she lays right down and....that's it. She's still waking in the night and wanting to nurse (and wanting to sleep nurse which is the part I'm not fond of as I wake up sore) but I'm working on either letting her nurse for 10-20 minutes and putting her back in the cot or telling her it's not time to nurse and putting her back.
I gave Little Djinn her first haircut a few weeks ago. We dressed up at the main characters from Monsters' Inc for Halloween. That is largely the State of the Toddler. We're still very much amazed by her every day and every day she's learning new things.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Books

Today I am sad because I miss my beautiful books and my lovely bookshelves. Kariebookish, on twitter, posted a link* to an article on "styling" one's bookshelves, the gist of which was sparing use of books as decoration and significant use of negative space. I hardly know what to make of this. I've been an avid reader of books my whole life and worked in a bookstore for just over five years. I'm from the school of thought that bookcases should be stuffed, absolutely stuffed with (organized) books. And that they're beautiful.

I had a modular set of bookcases which were enough for two walls in most rooms I rented. I had enough books to fill them, paperbacks stacked and hardcovers standing proud between them. In the space in front of the books I had picture frames holding pictures of my friends, usually group shots, from some of the happiest times in my life, and knick-nacks and candles, mostly tea lights, in a range of holders. The shelves themselves were beautiful, a light pine, and for the cross beams I splurged on the wine-racks for the front, turned upside-down so they were scalloped. They were the envy of ikea interiorists everywhere.

And I left them, almost all of them, when it left. Jackie got the shelves along with my pretty much all of my household stuff (including my modal sheets. Man. Modal sheets.) and most of the books were sold to half priced books along with the DVDs for so little. They didn't want the hardcovers, you see, they don't much shift hardcovers. But I was leaving and I didn't have time or money and I couldn't take it with me, except it turns out I could have taken about six times what I did for the same price but by the time I knew that it was all gone.

I kept my autographed hardcover Pratchetts and my mother got my hardcover Harry Potters (the first two were technically hers) and the rest...I'm replacing things as I reread them and buying new ones in ebook form and I love everything about ebooks, about taking 600 titles with me on holiday, about reading on my phone or tablet or e-reader, whatever is most convenient at e moment, about backlighting and buying and reading a the next book in a series seconds after finishing the previous one, even at 3am, and having books magically show up for being pre-ordered. I especially, and this was the clincher for me who moved something like 9 times in four years, culminating in moving across a continent and an ocean, I especially love not having to box them up and carry them somewhere new.

But I miss looking at them. I miss my bookshelves, yes, my lovely bookshelves, but mostly I miss my beautiful books and how, together, they were a portrait of me.  

* I'm on my iPad, there is will be no fancy formatting like hyperlinks.