Monday, July 28, 2008

Knitting Lessons

Last summer I was the lucky recipient of mountains of free yarn. Some of it went to the refugee knitters but much of it stayed with me as it was unsuitable for beginners and, frankly, too nice to part with. Included in this bonanza was a bag of soft yarn in the bright spring green I love. Enough yarn to make a sweater.

I might be the only knitter in he world who hasn't made herself a sweater but there you have it. Overheated hyperthyroid gal that I am, I never want to wear anything heavy. But this yarn was light and airy without being so fluffy as to invoke Muppets. I decided it was time to make my first sweater for me.

Off to a running start due to a number of days sitting beside my grandmother's hospital bed, that sweater came together in no time. And when I was within a few hours of finishing it, I realized something was Terribly Wrong. The V-necks seemed to start not at mid-chest but rather navel level. I'm sure there are women who could pull that look off but I am not one of them. I ripped and re-knit and ended up with exactly the same problem. Since I couldn't figure out how to keep from making the same mistake again, I put the sweater aside and moved on, sure that with a little time off things would begin to make sense.

But no...every time I picked it up and looked at the pattern I became entangled in the same mess. I put it aside more or less for good sometime last winter and had pretty well forgotten it until yesterday when something jogged my memory. This time when I hauled the almost-complete sweater from its bag it was perfectly clear to me what I needed to do. I'd like to say that the directions magically made sense but in fact what I needed to do was frog (rip-it, rip-it...get it? ) In less than 30 minutes, that sweater was reduced to a pile of tidily wrapped balls. And for the first time in months, I could think about that yarn without feeling guilty and stupid.

I don't know why that pattern didn't work for me but it took almost no time to look up a pattern for an almost identical sweater that's clear as day. The thing is, I enjoy knitting. The process is nearly always at least as valuable to me as the product. So even though I have a pile of yarn balls and nothing resembling a sweater, I feel like I just made a whole heap of progress.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

a birthday

Amazingly, I am now the mother of a 15 year old. I guess it isn't all that amazing since he was born...15 years ago, but it still shocks me. The Dark Lord celebrated by inviting a few of his new friends over for chili and cake. The kids were charming and I feel better than ever about this new crew of his.

I spent some time pondering an appropriate gift for my boy. He's too big for "stuff" and I'm not in a position to buy him what he wants most of all: a new computer. Instead I offered a gift of time. When questioned about how he might like to spend a day, he suggested visiting the Chinese Garden, a place I haven't visited in ages. My first visit there was shortly after my brother's death so it's a place associated with sadness in my personal landscape and nowhere I'd choose to visit on my own.

There was no reason to burden my son with all of that so off we went, stopping for fortification beforehand at the entirely too crowded and wildly overwhelming farmers market downtown. A mocha and chocolate panini is an acceptable breakfast, right? The Dark Lord certainly thought so!

The Chinese Garden was lovely though a bit overpopulated for my taste. The Dark Lord had a great time taking photos and examining details. And I have a new association with a lovely space.

I'm pretty lucky, aren't I? I'm not sure how many teens would be as happy as he was to spend a day alone with Mom.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chocolate Sorbet

Does chocolate sorbet sound good to you?

I thought "eh". It sounded thin, watery, just not worth trying. But then Deb at Smitten Kitchen wrote a rapturous post about it and I've never known her to lead a reader astray in the dessert department so I gave it a try. Yum.

It's another David Lebovitz recipe from The Perfect Scoop. It's simple as can be: sugar,water, cocoa, and chocolate. No dairy. Which means that all my vegan, allergic, and kosher keeping friends should be very happy to have this recipe. It does pack a serious chocolate punch that's as good as the chocolate you choose. I'm not very fancy--Trader Joe's bittersweet Pound Plus bars do the trick for me at a fraction of what you'd pay for the fancy stuff. But I'm sure the fancy stuff would work, too.

The reprinted is recipe is here and I strongly suggest you get started making this today. It's that good.

Proof of my Insanity

As promised, a kvetch free post. No griping about kids. Instead I bring you My Summer Project, aka Proof of My Insanity.

I am making this skirt, as shown in The Alabama Stitch Book which is full of gorgeous projects that probably shouldn't be attempted by a mother of 3 kids. But I couldn't resist. I dipped my toes in the water last month when making MonkeyBoy his one-of-a-kind bar mitzvah T-shirt. That was a quick but very enjoyable project using a pre-existing garment.

This skirt, on the other hand, is being made from scratch. I dyed the fabric myself, screwed up royally when cutting the pattern pieces, and then dyed a whole new batch of fabric which came out the wrong color. After the third and final dye session I ended up a with about 2 1/2 yards each of a deep red and a sunny gold. This time everything was cut properly.

The next step: stenciling the fabric. For this I dragged The Spouse in to cut a stencil from acetate. I mixed fabric paints to make a dark purple and proceeded to stencil the first of five panels.

Once the fabric paint was heat-set I layered red over gold and began stitching which is what I will be doing for quite some time.

Once the stitching is completed I get to do the really fun part: cutting the top layer away to reveal the sunny gold underneath. I am painfully aware that one mistake and I could cut through the bottom layer, ruining everything. I am being very careful.

Eventually, maybe in November at the rate I'm going, I'll have all 5 panels completed and stitched together, bound at the top with fold over elastic to make what I hope is a truly gorgeous garment.
Either that or I'll be firmly ensconced in the crafty loony bin.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Drama

Well you all seemed to like yesterday's post pretty well. Five comments! I didn't even know I had five readers. Thanks for the feedback.

The Dark Lord made it home in one piece and had such a great time that I suggested maybe he invite the crew over next week to celebrate his birthday. He seemed pretty pleased with that idea so I guess I did something right.

Now on to the next drama. I was very, very bad today. MonkeyBoy pushed me to my absolute limit and my behavior was ... not good. There were various causes: bar mitzvah thank yous, housework, and tae kwon do class but at his age these don't seem to be too onerous especially since he's been spending half of every day up at the high school attending an animation camp, having a blast, and making friends.

When he was working towards his bar mitzvah, I was really impressed with his sudden maturity and work ethic. I thought I was seeing a whole new kid. But now that it's over he's sliding back into his old habits. I can't get him to lift a finger around the house and he still hasn't made much of a dent in his thank yous which, as far as I'm concerned, are in no way optional.

Additionally, last I heard he was going to bail on tae kwon do. This summer his regular teacher was transferred to another site and now he's working with someone new. He doesn't like her but the only reasons I'm getting are that she asked him to re-tie his belt and told him to wash his feet. This boy wears his Crocs all summer --have you seen boy feet recently extracted from Crocs? Yuck. I'm not sure how she went about making the request but I have no doubt it was justified given that they work out barefoot. Interestingly, The Dark Lord is also in this class as a beginner and he thinks the teacher is just swell. I can't figure out what's going on here and why, after a year of work, MonkeyBoy is ready to bail.

I keep trying to talk to him about sticking it out and trying to learn what there is to be learned but it's not even up for discussion at the moment. I can't seem to reach him right now and get him to take responsibility for much of anything and it's wildly frustrating.

On a more positive note--I took all that negative energy from this morning's interactions with MonkeyBoy and channeled it into The Most Dreaded Task of All. I cleaned The Princess' room. No small thing given that she is a champion hoarder. It's far from spotless but you can walk across the room now. She decided at some point to tie endless yard of novelty yarn to almost everything in the room making a sort of sparkly but chaotic giant spider's web. That was some work to untangle but once the stray yarn was removed it wasn't too hard to get in and clean. I hate housework more than most people but I have to admit that was very satisfying.

Next up: a post that doesn't include kvetching about my kids and doubting my parenting skills. I promise pretty pictures of my current work-in-progress which is turning out to be quite lovely.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Another Parenting Test

So I have this teenager. Two, actually, but right now it's the oldest (who will be 15 next week) who is on my mind. Homeschooled until his freshman year of high school, The Dark Lord has always been quiet, independent, and not exactly a social butterfly. However his desire to attend public school grew from his need to broaden his social circle and while I had my doubts about how that might evolve at school, I let him go.

The first semester was hard but when the young adult son of The Dark Lord's animation teacher offered to start up and after school manga drawing club, my boy found his people. They had such a good time hanging out together that they decided to keep meeting weekly at the school over the summer. And then I was told that "a bunch of kids were going to go hang out at Alex's house" today. Alex, it turns out is an 18 year old recent graduate who, for reasons unclear to me, lives nowhere near us. "Don't worry Mom. Alex will drive us to his house".

Now I don't know about you but there are few things that fill me with greater terror than a car full of teen boys being driven by yet another teen. I can count at least 5 teens I know of that died needlessly in car accidents. All my crazy fears about these kids hanging out, taking drugs, and having sex all afternoon were completely obliterated by my fear of letting my child in a car with a teen driver.

The Dark Lord, needless to say, felt I was being overprotective and controlling. "Why don't you trust me?" was what I kept hearing from him. What I couldn't seem to get across to him was that it wasn't about trusting him, it was about the other kids, only one of whom I'd met. He begged me to speak with Alex who was supposed to convince me that it was all OK. He told me, quite honestly, that his mom wouldn't be home until a couple of hours after they were getting together but his sisters would be there. He assured me there would be nothing but video games and drawing. And, for better or worse, I believed him.

So we reached a compromise. I drove him over there and met the kids, who seemed like a goofy but completely harmless bunch. No slurred speech or red eyes. Only polite introductions. I invited them to come hang out at our house next week and even provided cookies and soda to further encourage them. And then I left.

Since The Princess is playing at a friend's house and Monkey Boy is at animation camp, I have couple of hours free before work to process this. It feels big, like my boy is taking an important step out into the wider world. And I'm getting challenged once again to find that balance between encouraging independence and keeping him safe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


My goodness, it's been a while since I've written. I'm very much in the summer groove. Not much has really seemed all that bloggable. But today I came across something I wanted to share.

Many of you know that immigration issues are very dear to my heart. I've been following the stories about the recent ICE raid in Postville, Iowa at the country's largest kosher meat processor. I used to buy exclusively kosher meat because making that extra effort and paying that extra price reminded me that I'm Jewish and that eating meat was nothing to take lightly.

I've stopped buying kosher meat due to the horrific stories I'd been hearing about the Rubaskin operation which supplies what little kosher meat is available in Portland. According to Rabbi Amy Eilberg's recent sermon addressing the Rubashkin raid, workers consistently tell stories of abuse and fraud, sexual intimidation, unsafe working conditions, and more.

What I can't understand is how my fellow Jews can continue buying Rubashkin meat. I stopped buying it well before the recent raid when I realized I didn't want to support large scale factory farming and the wasteful shipping of meat across the continent. My meat purchases are rare anyway so I doubt anyone noticed. But the kosher meat industry is large and growing. Surely we can demand higher standards from our food. Kosher food is identified by a hechsher, a symbol that some authority has deemed it fit for Jews to eat. I'd like to see that certification be considerably more stringent and include the wellbeing of both workers and animals. Apparently I'm not alone as there are now folks working on establishing a hechsher tzedek to be given to foods that are produced without worker exploitation.

I fully support the hechsher tzedek and look forward to seeing it on my food. There's kosher and then there's kosher.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summer Fruit Happy

Summer is here and I am in sticky, juicy, fruity heaven. Last weekend I bought some of the first peaches and apricots, 3 pounds of cherries and a whole flat of late strawberries. It's hard to declare a winner. The peaches and apricots weren't up to their full flavor yet but having to choose between the berries and the cherries would be tough.

I've seen lots of tasty looking recipes using fresh cherries but honestly all that pitting doesn't hold any appeal when I could just gobble them down as is and gleefully spit the pits out. And that's just what I've been doing, for days on end. I don't know how many more times I can hit the farmers market and stock up so I will gobble while I can.

In my cherry stupor I almost missed the strawberries altogether. I'd gotten a box here and there but when I went looking for full flats to freeze at my local farmers market there were none to be had. I headed north to another market and I was in luck. I found someone selling flats of deep crimson colored Tillamook strawberries which are highly fragrant and extremely tasty. Half of them immediately went into the freezer for midwinter smoothies. We ate many of the remaining berries as is, some went into a cobbler along with rhubarb from our garden, and I made the last two boxes into a truly special frozen treat.I've written before about David Lebovitz' fantastic book The Perfect Scoop. This man knows his frozen desserts like nobody's business. I had all the ingredients for his strawberry frozen yogurt on hand and I made up a double batch yesterday. It is so tasty. I think these were just about the most flavorful berries ever, and mixed with creamy whole milk yogurt and a dash of Cointreau--there's nothing better on a warm night. This does require the use of an ice cream maker but surely you have one by now, right? If not, the Donvier machine is simple and effective. I've been using mine for 13 years without a hitch.
You'll find the recipe here. Let me know how it goes. Also--is anyone having trouble accessing the recipes? Is the hosting site bombarding you with annoying ads? Things seem to be changing there and I'm not so sure that's where I want to keep my recipes. Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Back in February I wrote about my troubles finding the right piano teacher for The Princess. Because she is so clearly attuned to music, finding a good fit was really important to me. But I also struggled with the dilemma whether we should tough it out and wait for things to get better or try yet another teacher.

A number of parents whose opinions I value highly raved about one teacher but there was a drawback. Normally she takes kids 8 and up. After weeks of watching my daughter avoid the piano and refuse to practice, I called The Wonder Teacher up just to talk about what we were experiencing. She suggested that I enroll The Princess for a short course of lessons on a trial basis. She started last week and is so much happier. Unlike her previous situation, she isn't sitting at the piano trying to puzzle out notes for the entire lesson. There's no note reading at all so far, which I think is fine. What I do see is a variety of activities including singing, dancing, composition, and ear training. The combination seems to be working as I'm hearing more experimentation at the piano, more singing, and more questions about how music works.

In fairness, I should say that the folks at the prior music school listened when I voiced concerns and they did try to work with us. But their approach is very focused on sight reading and that was stressing my little one out. I am glad we stuck with them long enough to know it wasn't going to work for now. And I'm glad I listened to my heart and kept looking for the right teacher. I don't care if The Princess grows up to be a concert pianist. All I want is for her natural love of music to grow. I think she's finally in the right place for that and I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Supid, Stupid, STUPID

You know how it feels when you start something big? There are lots of details and loose ends that seem as though they'll never come together. You keep at it and suddenly you realize that your big complicated task might not be so big after all, and things start falling into place. You start to get into the groove, things are humming along, you have visions of your project completed quickly and beautifully and then WHAM! it hits you. You've totally screwed things up and it's back to square one.

Or maybe that only happens to me.

I've been waiting for so long to start a project from the Alabama Stitch Book. While I was busy pulling a bar mitzvah together I enviously watched other crafty types dive in and make gorgeous projects. For me, it's been all about the skirt, a stunning double layered reverse applique garment stitched entirely by hand. I wanted to make it so badly that my fingers twitched in anticipation.

Any normal person would have gone out and bought the fabric and gotten started already, but I couldn't find anything affordable that I liked. My problem was solved when one friend gave me yards of cotton jersey and another friend gave me a bunch of dye so I could just make what I wanted.

And I did. Dyeing was a kick. I had yards of sunny gold and deep almost-cranberry red finally ready to go yesterday. The Spouse was roped into cutting a stencil for me since I'm a klutz and have no business using an x-acto knife. I was ready to start transferring a design on to my skirt panels tonight when I realized that I had cut the panels with the fabric running in the wrong direction.

Since there is a grain line on the pattern and the instructions mention cutting the fabric on the grain I figure this is a pretty important step. Of course I didn't realize my mistake until I'd cut up most of the fabric. The wrong way. I was tempted to just use push on through and hope for the best but, for once, I actually thoguht it through. Because I really didn't want to spend weeks stenciling and stitching this skirt and seaming its five panels together by hand only to have it pucker, stretch, and hang on me like wet newspaper. I really do want to do it right.

So now I have to order more dye and re-dye my fabric. Luckily I have plenty left. But I have to wait. Again. Which I really hate.

In the meantime, a quick fix. I had a plain white jersey dress for The Princess which I threw in the dye pot. It came out a lovely sunny yellow but struck me as just a bit plain. So I gussied it up with a bit of embroidery using the Chinese lantern design from Sublime Stitching. Not the best photo what with all the cream cheese, but the embroidery both perked up the dress and filled a need.

Anyone out there with patience to spare, can you send some my way until I grow up?