Thursday, December 18, 2008

Division and the Dessert

The other night, we had a special dessert: an Indian recipe where dates are marinated for hours in cream, which makes a sticky and quite delicious treat. There were 22 dates, the remainder of a large container that I was trying to get out of the cupboard.

Tanner (2nd in command, 6 years old as of the end of October, excellent at math, and a great eater) had not yet finished his minestrone soup. Ben (heir apparent, also excellent at math, 7-1/2 years old) had. I decided to share the dates with Ben until Tanner was done.

So, after two dates each, passing the dish back and forth across the table, I told Tanner, "That's TWO dates", and he countered by saying, "That's FOUR." He is watching this bowl like a HAWK as it passes across the table.

"You're going to get as much as everyone else, don't worry", I say, apparently unconvincingly. Leave it to me to just rip the food out of his mouth. We pass the bowl again. "That's THREE", I say. "That's SIX! ", he explodes. Ben and I start laughing.

After six dates each, I tell him, "That's SIX." "That's TWELVE! He shouts, with the conviction of a child who can add. "That's ENOUGH! No more! The rest are MINE!"

Ben and I are in paroxysms of laughter. We can barely contain ourselves, and this is simply serving to infuriate Tanner.

"Honey, I'm counting by THREEs, not TWOs", I try to explain to him in perfecly logical teacher speak.

"I'M COUNTING BY TWELVES!" He proclaims, smacking one hand on the other for emphasis.

Ben and I are now rolling on the floor. Tears are coming from my eyes, and I'm about to pee my pants. Oh I do love these two.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fibonacci Pea Cap

This is David's Christmas present. Fortunately, I don't believe he knows I have a blog.

Yarn: 1 50-g skein worsted weight (19-20 sts/in) wool, approx. 100 yards; partial skein contrasting yarn, same weight, less than 50 yards.
The yarn I used is Austermann Inka alpaca/wool.
Needles size 6 and 7. You can do this with two circular needles, or a set of four dp needles, or start with a short (16") circular and move to dps. As you wish.
Tapestry needle for weaving in ends.

Size: medium (large) size adult head.
Gauge: roughly 19 or 20 sts/4" in stockinette stitch. Gauge is not critical, as it stretches.

Using main color (MC) and smaller needles, CO 96 (100) sts using long tail or half hitch method.
Place end of row marker and join, knit 2x2 twisted rib for 13 rows: *K2 through back loop, P2, repeat from *.
Knit 1 row around. This is your fold edge. The ribbing will fold here.
Knit next ten rows in twisted rib, but staggered from the first 13 rows: P2, K2tbl, repeat from *.
Change to larger needles.
Knit next 3 rows (stockinette).
Change to contrast color (CC). Knit 8 rows.
Follow this color sequence for the Fibonnaci pattern:
MC 5 rows, CC 3 rows, MC 2 rows, CC 1 row, MC 2 rows, CC 3 rows, MC 5 rows, CC 8 rows, MC to end.
AT THE SAME TIME, when work measures 5" from fold edge, place markers every 24 (25) sts, then begin decreases:
Row 1: Decrease row: *K2tog, K to within 2 sts of next marker, SSK, slip marker, rep from * to end.
Row 2: K 1 row around.
Repeat these two rows around until there are 32 sts (8 sts between each marker).
Now, decrease every row along the four lines of decrease until there are 8 sts left on needle(s).
Cut yarn, leaving a tail.
Weave in ends. Lightly steam the lines of decrease.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Words, words, words

We are now reading The Phantom Tollbooth, a cute story about a little boy who gets to drive his toy car through a tollbooth into strange lands. The land he's in currently is Dictionopolis, where there is an ancient battle between the people who prefer words and the people who believe numbers are the most important things in life.

Tonight Tanner asked me, "Mom, which do you think are better, words or numbers?" And I replied, "Well, since I'm a poet, I would have to say words are better. And they're more about being with people."

And he said, "Words ARE better. You know why?" And I know he has figured something else out, in his adorable analytical way. He whispers in my ear, "Because numbers are words. TWO is a word, THREE is a word, FOUR is a word...", and we both giggle.

I consider how I manipulate numbers in my head: abstractions, characters that represent quantities, but represented in my verbal representations as a word that has a spelling. A number has three lives: one in the abstract, one of concrete, and one of words. I know there have been books written on this subject, and I happen to own one (1) of them, which I have not yet read ("Zero", by Charles Seife)

And I really can't fault him for his logic. He will be six (6) at the end of next month, and I wonder how long I can keep up with him.

Tanner Rides a Bike

Yesterday the Second in Command learned to ride his new bike.

I had bought it for him a week ago, because in a flash of insight I realized that he wasn't learning to ride the one he had because it was icky. It was old and rusty and the tires were flat, and I began taking it apart with intent to repair and then hit my fit of pique and rushed out and bought him a new, smaller, one.

And the next day I had offered to help him learn to ride it, and he had confided in me that he really didn't want to learn. There was a look of five-year-old fear, a look I'm not sure I've seen in him before. I asked if he was scared of getting hurt, and he whimpered, "Yes". So I called in the Heir Apparent to testify to the joy of riding a bike despite bumps and bruises. "I would probably do it all over again", he said bravely in his worldly 7-year-old way.

So I asked a friend who has great insight into Tanner's nature and he said, "Of course he doesn't want to ride it. Because he's analytical like I am, and there is no obvious way the bike stays up." Ah. Well, I can't fix this. I can fix old bikes or buy new ones, I can hold and push and provide emotional support, but physics and gravity are beyond my purview. Inveterate analytical that he is, I would simply need to leave him to struggle with the tradeoffs.

Yesterday he was fueled by joy, riding his bike, wobbling down the sidewalk, all by himself. He fell a few times, and bumped an elbow once. I got the first ride on video. Life is good.

I was there to see it.

And that was part of the decision I made over fifteen months ago. And somehow, being there to help him and see his first bike ride makes it worthwhile. At least for now. For now, this is where I need to be.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Viking longswords, now.

I am essentially nonviolent. I don't even like Bruce Willis movies, honestly. I design sweaters, I bake bread, I read the poetry of Sharon Olds and Billy Collin aloud to my friends.

I homeschool my boys.

We have nearly completed our first history "unit study" of the year, which was chosen by both monkeys as the story of the Vikings. We have read several books, translated sentences of runes, made a movie, intereviewed a man who can trace his ancestors to Vikings, handled thousand-year-old coins, worn Viking helmets and felt the heft of chainmail, and memorized years, names, customs, religious beliefs, and accomplishments.

Tonight, I have just finished designing, cutting, and sanding two Viking longswords with my friend Kevin, who happens to have a wonderful wood shop in his garage and had girls, not boys (but is now the grandfather of three boys).

I made sure we took the router and cut the very authentic grooves down the middle of the swords. These grooves were for blood.

And I know that my two monkeys will love these swords. I will give them leather strips to decorate the handles, and perhaps they will paint the blades, or paint Thor's hammer onto the handles. Also, I know that they know what the grooves were for. And I have a certain abiding, yet unsubstantiated faith, that my boys are and will remain nonviolent.

I just hope that someday they will realize that their mother stayed up late making swords for them, for their entertainment and memory of history, and because she loves them. And maybe when I'm in my dotage they will read Sharon Olds and Billy Collins to me.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Annual Review

Well, I made it. It's been exactly one year since I retired from HP. So I have an urge to capture, to enumerate, what has transpired in my life since then. That's how my brain works (and I come by it naturally - you should see letters I receive from my mother and sister! Lists, lists, enumeration, accomplishment, work).

But it's so hard to put into words. I have opened new doors, and they will continue to be presented to me; we make choices every day.

Do I miss HP? Well, sort of. I miss the people I knew through work, of course. Sometimes I miss program management. It is a skill, and perhaps a talent. But if I were to answer in a word, the word would be, "No".

Would I go back to work in the high-tech world? That is a door that hasn't been presented to me yet.

I spent this past year educating my sons: kindergarten and first grade. They are learning how to read and write and do math in their heads. We are learning about planets and rocks and cultures (we're in Spain as I write this). We play with words and numbers and believe that art is whatever you decide it is.

Life is like that as well. I suppose that is what I've learned.

I have had a few minor feelings of panic. I have new definitions of who I am and to whom I am attached and what I do with a day. Some people are thrilled to hear what I'm doing; I've also been attacked verbally by more than one.

I had a life with money that flowed like a river; now it is a trickle, deftly managed. The water is precious and it sustains life; generally we ignore it and go on about our process of learning.

Thinking on what I need most, I have worked on making new friends, talking to God, giving to my community, and being with my children when they need me most. I no longer have an adult partner, and that is different for me, harder for the children, and makes me appreciate and love my friends even more.

We have a new church, where everyone knows our name and asks how we've been when we were not present. I feel known and loved in that church; it feels as if I have always belonged there but had not reached that door. In July I will go on a mission to Guatemala with people from our new church. I am thrilled that this door will open and take thirteen of us through it.

Still I knit, and design, and teach others this wonderful craft. Next year my designs will probably appear in more publications. The trick is always balance of those things I love to do and the time I've been given.

I continue to breathe deeply of the air from the redwoods, to bake bread, to read out loud, to sing in the car, and to write poetry. I hug and tickle my boys and assure them that it will not break my heart when they no longer want to hold my hand and sit in my lap. We are all growing up in our own ways.

There is a new possibility for my future, a different career than I ever would have thought myself brave enough to attempt. The URL is here:
And you just never know, I could have a completely different story to tell a year from now.

Thank you for checking up on me! You know how to reach me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Doors Open, Doors Close

I have a mind that enjoys having a Plan B. Perhaps that was to my advantage as a Program Manager. But when I closed the door to HP behind me last May 31st, I did not truly have a Plan B. I was going to become a homeschool teacher - teaching my own sons in Kindergarten and first grade - without pay.

What I did not know at the time was that I had just embarked on the most important position of my life, where I had the potential to make the biggest impact, for the least amount of gratitude. Not a dime will come my way, not a "Thank you" from one of the kids. That's OK; it's part of the job.

Shortly afterwards, however, I attended a one-day workshop to test the waters in a new sea, a position where I could feasibly work at home AND homeschool the boys. A job that would use existing skills, and where I would not be a Program Manager; a more entrepreneurial job.

Yesterday I took an even bigger step into that sea. I have now been trained, and in four to six weeks I'll be able to show everyone a link to the site where I will be represented.

Yeah, that's all I'm saying for now. Mum's the word. This is a new Plan B.

But in December 2010, my PMP certification expires. That's two more years of homeschooling. I have some time to swim in this new sea. The door to HP may be shut, but to other doors it is still open to me as a PMP-certified Program Manager; other doors will shut in January 2011. I must have enough project management-related educational points to recertify, or my certification will simply lapse. I will never take the PMP qualifying exam again - it was awful, and by all accounts it has become even more heinous since I passed it.

I will open doors and see where they lead. I will dive into waters that were untested before. Life is an adventure, or nothing.

A friend from HP died after being thrown from her horse last week. She was young. But she was with the person and the animal she loved most. May we all be so lucky.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Don't do this at home

I bake a lot of bread. Loaves and loaves of beautiful bread, generally by hand. If my kitchen is clean and I have a day to myself, I bake bread. If I'm at loose ends, I bake bread. If I'm showing a munchkin how to multiply fractions, we bake bread. If I can't sleep, I bake bread (the case last night).

Ah, so here begins the recipe for disaster: I was up at 3am today baking whole wheat sourdough bread. I am sleep deprived. Yeah, that's it. That explains everything.

Anyway, here is my latest recipe for disaster:

Bake an artisan loaf that calls for making fast steam in the oven directly after "sliding loaves onto bread stone with gentle snapping motion" (which has never worked for me so far). Use tried and true "put pan in bottom of oven and pour water into it", a method I've even witnessed Peter Beckmann use when helping me with a wet Italian loaf one day.

But instead of using the heavy metal pans I generally use, start thinking about how much fun it would be to watch the water bubble in a glass baking dish. I have SEVERAL bread pans - use one of them. Wonder for a second or two if possibly this could end in disaster (this is called foreshadowing - it lures you into the next paragraph). Think aw, hell, I have lots of bread pans.

1. put glass bread pan in the bottom of the oven. Set the oven to 450 degrees.
2. put the loaves onto the baking stone (with great difficulty, since the stone isn't big enough for 3 loaves) when the oven is heated.
3. pour approx. 2 cups of tap water into the baking dish.

The breakage is immediate and spectacular.
To Pyrex's credit, there were no spiky shards or anything that could hurt me laying at the bottom of my oven.
These were probably be my best loaves ever. :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jared Flood's Cobblestone sweater (my version)

This used up 15 skeins from my is being modeled by my 5-year-old because its intended recipient is, so far, too shy to model it. It is a men's size XL, which meant at one point I believe I had 330 stitches on my needle. I don't believe this son will ever get that large, but what do I know?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sample Stitch Scarf

This is a sampler scarf for a group of wonderful women who wanted to go directly from learning the basics to knitting something fun and unusual. I chose only stitch patterns that look the same on both sides; however, with the yarn joins, it is fairly easy to tell which side is which.

I did not focus on having all of the yarns I used be of the same gauge, which is obvious from my sample. I believe it is important, even if the students are using yarn that will all knit up to the same gauge, to show them how their work could differ if they had chosen different yarn.

Yarn: choose whichever you would prefer to work with. My sampler is in cottons; my class all used worsted weight wool from KnitPicks. For best results, use all yarn of the same gauge (do as I say, not as I do).

The scarf is knitted in 12 blocks, each of a different stitch. Each block should be approximately square.

Cast on the appropriate number of stitches to make your scarf 6" wide (or 8" wide, if you prefer wider).
Block 1: garter stitch
Block 2: 2x2 rib (mult of 4 sts)
Block 3: seed stitch (even number of sts)
Block 4: garter stitch stripes, colors A and B
Block 5: moss stitch (even number of sts)
Block 6: reversible 4-stitch cables (mult of 8 sts)
Block 7: stockinette/reverse stockinette stripes, one color only
Block 8: vertical lace trellis (odd number of sts)
Block 9: reversible traveling (1x1 rib) cables (mult of 8 sts)
Block 10: chevron stitch (mult of 8 sts plus 1)
Block 11: 3x3 rib (mult of 6 sts)
Block 12: double seed stitch (mult of 4 sts)
Cast off. Weave in ends.

These stitch patterns can be found in Barbara Walker's First Treasury, except for the reversible cables.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seedy OneSkein Hat

I was gifted one skein of Rowan Big Wool in a knitting gift exchange, brown, and thought I could do something useful with it. Since I wear hats more than scarves, this is what I created.

Materials: 1 skein Rowan Big Wool, or similar yarn (87 yards, super bulky)
Gauge: approx. 8 sts to 4" in seed st on size 15 needles.
Needles: 1 set dp or 1 set dp and one 16" size 15 needles. Skein calls for size 17 needles, but I did not like that gauge for this hat. Please check your gauge.

CO 44 sts with circular or dp needles. Join and work around in seed stitch (K1P1, alternating rows with P1K1) until work is approximately 2.5".
Turn row: Knit 1 row. This creates a turning ridge for the brim.
Cont in seed st until work is 6.25" total.
Dec 2 sts at each of 4 points around the hat. This helps keep the pattern intact:
*(K1, P1) 3 times, K2tog, K1, P2tog,
(P1,K1) 3 times, P2tog, P1, K2tog,
rep from * to end. Total: 36 sts.
Work another row in seed st.
Work another dec row, along the same lines as earlier. Total: 28 sts. Move to dp needles here if you were using circulars.
Work another row in seed st.
Cont this decrease pattern (it may feel like the stitches are very funky and this will never look right, but persevere) until 12 sts remain. Try it on your head. If fit is good, break yarn off at about 8", pull through the remaining sts, and bring end to inside.

If fit isn't good, continue in seed st until it feels good. My hat is 10" long overall.

Take remaining yarn and create a 3-stitch i-cord until you run out of yarn or it is the length you desire. Pull the end through the last 3 sts. Wrap this i-cord into a decorative doodad for the top of your hat (mine is like two lazy 8's) and attach it using the end inside the hat and the end of the i-cord. Weave in ends.

Wear it in good health. Don't lay it down and forget it in an arboretum like I did. But trust that if you do, some kind soul will realize that this is a precious handknit, and will return it to the front desk. :-)

I will post better photos of this, I swear. The sun is not out right now and I wanted to have a photo available.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Annual Knitting Retreat: an Adventure!

My group goes to a wonderful place in the Santa Cruz Mountains every year for a retreat. It begins on Friday afternoon and ends Sunday around noon. This year was a wild ride!

I have ten acres in that area, so I'm comfortable with the driving now - even in rain - but we were in the throes of a wild storm that had just blown into California and promised to dump 6-10 inches of rain in that area in one swell foop. Neither of us had 4wd on our little cars (and my truck is already over the hill), so Diana volunteered to drive and I rode shotgun. She filled up her tank (an excellent move) and we headed out around 2pm, right after a small break in the downpour. We had both missed the "yarn crawl" that began in Sunnyvale because of the downpour and the beginnings of blocked roads around the Bay Area.

The first barrier was at Highway 17, just at the last Los Gatos exit. The CHP, who was blocking both lanes with his vehicle, was yelling at everyone to "TAKE HIGHWAY 9!" (Diana yelled back, "Is 9 OPEN?", and he did not reply) which we happily did, although we were surprised to see everyone ELSE turning left into Los Gatos. We were being DIVERTED, but nobody else was diverting. Diana and I never figured this out, although we had theories.
(N.B.: Diana is a "reformed" astronomer - she formerly taught college astronomy - and I'm a "reformed" program manager and coder, so between the two of us we have some pretty good analytical and problem management skills.)

We got onto Highway 9 and headed for our destination, soon to be stopped by barrier #2: mud slide on Highway 9. We waited perhaps 1/2 hour for this to clear. There was a digger not far in front of us, clearing the slide (although we couldn't see it). We knitted and chatted. We had wine, fruit and chocolates in our car, pounds of knitting wool and plenty of clothes and even sleeping bags and blankets, and I always carry a pocket knife. We wouldn't starve (although water other than what was dumping on our car might have been helpful), we wouldn't freeze, and my Verizon wireless service seemed to work pretty well (but her iPhone didn't). Eventually the line of cars was allowed to snake through the rubble. The water building in the streams beside Hwy 9 were becoming ENORMOUS, and we were beginning to see logs floating down and erosion of the highway surface.

We snaked our way up Hwy 9 to find a sign at what is essentially the summit, posted a bit off the road and to the right, that said, "Road Closed". The guy in front of us ran it. There were no cars coming the other way, toward us. There was no fire truck or CHP there. We decided to go for it.

A couple of miles later we ran into barrier #3: down power lines on Highway 9. There were perhaps 10 vehicles in the queue with us, all passing on information as it came. I love being around people in emergencies, they are all so considerate and helpful. We knitted and chatted and I read poetry to Diana (Billy Collins and Sharon Olds, my favorites). Eventually the word spread that it would become passable in about 15 minutes. Better than turning around, we both agreed. We waited.

We now drove over 9 to enter our destination "the back way" from what we're accustomed to. We saw a lot of PG&E, fire trucks, and CalTrans vehicles in action. Diana was now in hot denial as we came around every curve and saw blinking lights of some sort: "That is NOT an emergency vehicle", she would say, or, "That is NOT blocking our side of the road" (which was more likely).

At approximately 5:15pm we arrived in Ben Lomond, to the road our retreat resides on, and I was hooting and cheering. We did it! We made it! We were so excited.

Barrier #4 appears in front of us: a fire truck, BLOCKING THE ROAD THAT OUR RETREAT IS ON. This was a bit much for me, but Diana gathered information: there's a tree down on the high voltage wires up ahead, no we can't drive under it, no we are not allowed to WALK under it (we are about 1/2 mile from our retreat lodge), they don't know when PG&E will get here, this is not top priority for them, yes there is another way to get to this road, it's convoluted but here it is.

We turned around, I called the retreat managers who were holed up on their piece of mountain and did not have updated information or power (they said they had started the generator for the main lodge), and we told them we were coming around the back way. They confirmed the firefighter's directions. They agreed to talk us in if need be. We never knew how much cell phone coverage we would have, but this was ONE time when I was grateful for cell phones.

We had to go back through Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, and the firemen had told us that the Boulder Creek fire department would have more up-to-date information. We saw a whole gang of Ben Lomond firefighters gathered in front of the station when we left, chatting and having a Good Old Time.

We arrived in Boulder Creek and eventually found the fire station: it was locked up tight with nobody inside. We banged on doors. Nothing. Dang.

There was a small store across the street. We entered and began to ask around about getting to our destination the back way. They pointed at the guy behind the sandwich counter, who was slowly and methodically making a sandwich. He looked like a local, like someone who has lived in those mountains many years. He finally asked us what we needed, and we told him the directions we had been given by the firefighters, and he said yes, that's right. The signs may be blown down, or they may be on opposite sides of the road, or there might not be a sign, or there may be blockages or trees down. This all makes sense to me because I have land in those mountains. Diana thought he was spewing Gloom and Doom, but that's just the way things are up there. We got back in the car and began down our new path: left, left, left, then through the back end of another retreat property, then into the fire road that will lead to our retreat house. It is now approximately 5:45pm. This was an adventure!

The directions were good, the signage was good (considering the circumstances), it was VERY dark by now and the rain had a foggy quality so that Diana's high beams were not very helpful. We crept along fairly slowly, cheering when we would see a vehicle coming in the other direction (That means there is someone UP there! No blockages! Diana would say), and Diana began to hum the tune from "Peter and the Wolf". Eventually our directions took us up a steep grade on a road that was one lane at best. The dark here is a teeny advantage, because at least we would know if someone was coming toward us. There was nobody.

I noted that we didn't seem to have anyone following us, and there had been nobody from our group behind us in the queue at the top of Hwy 9. There was a distinct chance that nobody from our group was behind us. Whatever doors (roads) had opened up for the people in our event, we were possibly the last to pass.

We ended up at last, around 6:30, in the other retreat center, wandering around trying to find the "wooden gate" that enters the back of our retreat. This is where the directions from our retreat directors had become VERY fuzzy, and we were literally poking around in the dark (and also going in circles) trying to find a fire road. The director promised he would try to meet us at the gate. Woo hoo! We reached it! An old wooden gate that hasn't been used in God knows how long. I pushed open the right half, Diana wanted the other half open as well, and when I pushed it, it fell down. I laughed, it was such a fun punctuation mark to this evening. It was 6:40pm, and we had left Willow Glen at 2pm.

We arrived in the main lodge to find only one other car (two people) had made it (they had driven right up the road before the fire truck had arrived, under the redwood that was resting on the high voltage line), plus our cook Wendy (who had arrived very early in the day), who had a huge amount of a scrumptious dinner for people who would never arrive that night.

None of the remaining 24 people arrived Friday night. Many arrived the next day, after being talked through the path to the fire road entrance. There was only generator power, in the main lodge, all weekend. What an adventure!

Good thing I know how to knit in the dark. It was a crucial skill this weekend.