Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Lilac

As a plant freak, I have strong memories of the house I grew up in - my family moved into the house when I was six months old, and my parents sold it when I was twenty-three. Long, strong memories. And that includes the plants. I've gradually been planting a few of the plants I remember around the new house the husbeast and I bought last year. Nothing extreme, I don't intend to replicate the entire yard, but some iris at the corner, stuff like that. I might put in some poppies. And I wanted to plant a lilac.

When I was growing up, the lilac bush under the window of my parents' bedroom was a subject of hilarity. Well, for us it was. We kept the hilarity quiet, though, because my mother had an ongoing war with the lilac bush.

The damn thing wouldn't flower.

It thrived away, full of lush foliage, tall, green. Every few years, my little mother (five feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds) would gather her gardening tools and go to war. While the rest of us played, she'd prune the beast back so they could see out their bedroom windows. She'd mutter under her breath at it as she went. One year she was furious, got her shovel, and chopped all around the root ball, playing hell with the nutrient system, trying to spark it into action.

The next spring there were two sprigs of flowers on the entire, massive shrub. We giggled (when she wasn't looking) and Mom threatened it with her pruning shears.

So, I've been thinking my yard needed a lilac bush. They always make me smile, thinking of her, and anything that makes you smile is worth doing, as I see it.

Then spring hit, and things started blooming. There, in the bed behind the house, near our bedroom window, is, guess what. A lilac bush. Poor thing is frost-damaged like hell from the weather, but I ALREADY HAVE A LILAC IN MY YARD

Somewhere, Mom is laughing. And so am I.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ready to Rock

It's been a jolly week here at House O'Samurai. The husbeast tracked home a particularly nasty germ (I'm convinced an influenza variant) and we all got it. So, lots of sleeping and nose-blowing and all that fun stuff. The Goober was silent for a whole day because her 'froat hut'. It was creepy. She just sat there. We're all doing better now, though.

I was unwilling to track the killer germs through my local yarn store, so I hit WEBS and purchased the yarn for my sweater. (KNIT ALONG TO COMMENCE MAY 1!!)
It's not remotely what I was planning. I'd thought to knit something in a light peach-pink-orange sort of color. But WEBS didn't have anything that looked right, so I sort of squinted at the computer screen and chose a likely-looking bluish. It turned out to be a dark teal heather. Since I like strong, solid colors, it will do fine.

For those joining in, it will be a slow start with discussion of fit, planning, and swatch knitting. You'll have plenty of time to get organized before we cast on the actual sweater. So if you're still getting yourself situated, that's fine. This is going to be a leisurely kind of KAL.

There have been questions about knitting cardigans, V-necks, and other types of things. I'm considering knitting a cardigan myself, so there will definitely be discussion of methods. BE PREPARED TO STEEK. This is an EPS sweater, based on Elizabeth Zimmermann's Percentage System. She'd have never knit a sweater flat, so we won't either. I'm not as fundamentally opposed to purling as EZ was, but I'll definitely steek before I knit a whole darn sweater flat.

Maybe, after we do this one, we'll do another, top down this time, based on EPS AND Barbara Walker. Hmmm. There's a thought.

At any rate, on May 1, the knit along will begin, and I'll cover all the minute, gory details of how I do it. That's more for education and interest. The point of the EPS is being able to make choices, so I'll do all I can to accommodate and discuss them. I'm hoping everyone else shares their details, too. We'll all learn something, that's the idea.

Whee! Knitting! Brace for a hideously detailed gauge swatch! WITH MATH!

Oh, and go find a sweater or sweatshirt you like the fit of, 'cause you're gonna need it.

Monday, April 25, 2011


(If you're here for fiber content and don't give a fig about education philosophies, SCROLL DOWN!)

I've been thinking a lot about what folks have shared, over schooling and kids and related topics. I didn't expect to hit the nerve I did - I was worried about people thinking I was criticizing their children or their jobs. Apparently that wasn't much of a worry. Interesting.

I guess, what it comes down to, is that children are individual and have different needs. (Ohmigosh. REALLY?) We all seem to have figured that out, except for the government wonks who decide policies for this stuff. Some children CAN be pushed hard, and some even enjoy it. By all means fast track those kids. Some kids need more repetition and should be able to get it without slowing down the entire classroom or being criticized. And most children are fine in that zone between the other two. The old system of placing kids by skill rather than age had a lot of things going for it (so long as we didn't send eight year olds to college, I still think that's a tricky situation).

The Goober in particular is thriving with the current system we've got going. I may think some (more than some) things she's learning are ridiculous, but she's learning them. There's a lot of the curricula I think is screwy, but again, I can customize a great deal so it's no big deal. (Though... Venn Diagrams? In Kindergarten? Seriously?)

The 'creative spelling' topic came up in the comments. The school advocates it, but I don't. (Yay for customizing.) There's whole lot of "it is okay for your child to write however they want" in the parental handbook. I disagree. I'm with my blog readers, in that it's best to start the kid off doing things as closely as possible to correct. I've stressed that it's important to write like everyone else (both in spelling and penmanship) so that we can all understand each other. I've even told her that her ideas on grammar are more logical (because they are), but we still have to do it like everyone else. Obviously she's not getting things right on the first try, but we're working to get there. I don't know about neural pathways, but it just seems dumb to let a kid do things wrong without even attempting to correct. It'll make things harder later, one way or another.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts. Those of you who went anonymous to disagree with me, you're certainly free to, but you don't have to. I enjoy disagreement, especially when it's laid out coherently like it has been in the comments. It gives me things to think about. There's a HUGE difference between "I disagree, and here is why" and "YOU SUCK!" While I will always sneer at the second type of comment, I enjoy the first.


Remember the knit-along coming up May 1? We're still doing it. For now, all you need to be doing is buying yarn. Any type, any weight, though I suggest worsted-ish so you can keep up with the rest of us. I'm still planning to use Cascade 220 for an adult size XL sweater, to give you an idea. For amounts, find a pattern for a stockinette sweater using the yarn you want, and buy enough to knit that. If it seems a little on the low side, get a skein for luck.

Do we need a knit-along button? Or a group on Ravelry? I fully intend to put all directions, commentary, and digressions up here on the blog for posterity, but a Ravelry group might make it easier to communicate questions... I don't know. Everyone's always free to comment or e-mail or bug me on Ravelry or Twitter, so it's not like I'm hard to find.


Sunday, April 17, 2011


NOTE: This post is intended more as a rhetorical question, WTF kind of thing. It's not aimed at parents, children, or teachers. If you're one of the handful of legislators who decide children's curricula in this country, then yeah, feel guilty or insulted, OR THINK ABOUT THIS. Otherwise? We're all stuck in this system together and my intention is not to insult anyone. Particularly not children.

I'm - well, WE'RE - in an odd sort of limbo situation here at my house. PA Cyber, the home schooling outfit we use, is in fact considered a charter school in this state. If I were to switch the Goober over to brick-and-mortar school, it would be treated as a transfer between two school districts, not a fresh enrollment. When I DID enroll the kid, it was done in person, with all the stuff (vaccine records, eye tests, you name it) that goes along with other public school admissions. We follow the same mandated state curricula as every other public school in Pennsylvania - we just do it at home, on the computer. The Goober has an official teacher with a degree and certificate and it is not me. I do not know how other states do this. I do not know how other home schooling outfits do this. I'm sure some home-schooling parents pull it out of their ass; I'm also sure that the majority of them follow a set curricula like I do, one way or another. I'm also sure there is HUGE variance between different public schools, private schools, home schools, and even classrooms across the hall from each other.

That said, because I'm home-schooling (sorta), I'm more intimately acquainted with what the Goober is learning than most parents probably are, whose children are in more traditional schools. (I AM NOT SAYING IT IS BAD OR GOOD, I'M ABSOLUTELY NOT IMPLYING ANYTHING ABOUT MYSELF OR OTHER PARENTS. IT JUST IS.) We're chugging our way through, and the Goober surprises me regularly, with what she knows and how fast she learns new stuff. She's reading well and learning to write and having a fine time. But I keep thinking one thing.


The stuff they're expecting these kids to learn is completely ridiculous. I understand reading is fundamental and writing is right behind it on the scale of importance. BUT THIS IS BLEEDING KINDERGARTEN.

They've got these kids doing illustrated journal entries, BEFORE they formally teach them writing. This is stuff I didn't do until second grade, thirty-five years ago. Today's science lesson involved first learning what a chart is, drawing one, labeling it, then sorting animals into it by habitat. ONE SUBJECT. ONE DAY. Social studies seems to be concentrating on traditional kindergarten-level stuff like what a family is and conversing without being irritating. Science is going on ad nauseum about what makes a thing living or 'non-living'. Fine. But then they've got the kids reading and writing with no real lead-in.

When I was in kindergarten in the mid seventies, we spent the year learning social skills, basic counting, colors, shapes, and letters. There were three of us in the entire school district who started kindergarten knowing how to read, and they didn't know what to do with us and basically ignored us for the year. (We played and hung out with the other kids. No drama from administration or us.) Now? Kids are expected to know all of that going in. ALL OF IT. This was explained to me; apparently the kids are supposed to learn all that kindergarten stuff in preschool.


Kindergarten was invented in the 1800s to basically acclimate kids to the idea of school, what to do in a class room, and lay the foundation for starting real school - FIRST GRADE, AS IN ONE - the next year. Now, what, they read War and Peace in first grade? Yes, yes, I know there are all sorts of psychological and educational justifications on why we're dumping all this shit on five year old children. I've read it all, while researching home school vs. formal school. They've certainly worked out their reasons and excuses.

Meanwhile, the problems children have in school here in the US are skyrocketing. Behavioral problems, developmental problems, anxiety, depression, you name it. Depressed five year olds. Statistically it's worrisome. No, it's horrifying. (Also, these charts with "unknown factor"? YEAH THANKS FOR THE HELP. Good gourd.)

But I wonder. (Of course I wonder. I think too much.) Is the problem really the kids, or the curricula? Imagine, it seems no one has done a study on this! Shock! Yes, some kids have problems. No, I am not claiming to know specifically what an exact cause for an exact child is. But here's a thought. Maybe so many kids are having problems, because we're pushing them too hard? Sure, some kids have always been able to read early, have been great at math early, have been skilled artists early. But is it fair to expect ALL THE CHILDREN to live up to that? Mozart wrote chamber music at age five. Should they expect all kids to do that?

Most of all, is it fair to the kids to have no fallback plan when they can't live up to it?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Not knitting, but damn fine.

The husbeast is a serious gadget-head, which is probably news to no one. A while back, he got cords and stuff so we could hook my external hard drive to my TV, and further, run my computer through the TV. Plants Vs. Zombies on the flat screen. Jolly good fun. Or, you know, gigantic Twitter.
I've also been running iTunes through the TV/bass speaker setup and rocking out on the daily grind. (The Goober got in big trouble last week after throwing a fit when I switched from rock to classical.)

A couple weeks ago, the husbeast came home and found me seated on the foot stool, typing on my computer on the console table so I could blast music and write at the same time. We were chatting about it (he loves to see me writing because it means I feel pretty good and I'm not drugged to the gills) and he mentioned a cordless keyboard so I could write while laying on the couch. I replied with something like "what would make that PERFECT would be one of those gamer chairs like we saw when we were buying the living room furniture."

Next thing I know?
Innit sweeeeeeet? The husbeast, I mean, not that chair-stealing bag of fur in the picture.

I'm using the setup now to write this. Near as I can tell, there are only two drawbacks. One is my orthopedic mess; getting out of this seat will take a bit of practice, and I'm not sure it makes my shoulders happy. (Screw it. I needed more motivation to do my shoulder exercises, and HERE IT IS.) Second isn't exactly a drawback. Or not entirely. The TV screen doesn't have as much definition as my computer screen. So I have to wear my glasses to see anything I'm writing. BUT, because of the fuzzier screen definition, I can run video AND a bunch of other things at the same time. Not a bad trade off.

Now, I am going to go read Girl Genius and pretend it is IMAX for comics.

Monday, April 11, 2011

That damn finger.

I was going to try to avoid getting graphic and posting a picture of my cut finger. But, everyone had good suggestions (that unfortunately won't work for one reason or another) and my finger's not so bad, so, what the hell. Here, then, is the damn finger.
Keeping in mind that I knit Continental, it's like I set out to fuck with my ability to knit. I don't think I could have done worse with planning and deliberate effort. I was using a bread knife with serrations, with a pretty drastic sawing motion (serrations work best when the knife moves laterally as much as possible). The cut went nearly to the bone. The husbeast scoffs a bit at this (politely), but he wasn't there to see me pull the damn knife out of my finger, and he sure as hell didn't feel the teeth bumping through my skin. Blech. (The Goober, however, was mightily impressed when she saw me dripping blood into the sink.) Anyway, since it's been a week, I'm sure it's not infected, which means it will, eventually, heal just fine. It's the meantime that's making me squirrelly.

With where the cut is, I can't just ignore it. Yarn and loose fiber catch on the edge of the cut and pull it open. (And what a lovely feeling that is.) I am one of those really strange people to whom Super Glue does not stick. So that's out. Seriously. I glued it shut to do some cleaning, and the glue held for about two hours before peeling off - and you can see, that's not a spot in my finger that's bendy. Bandages, finger condoms (ha) and gloves are also out because they all fuck with my ability to control/hang on to yarn and fiber. Remember, my right hand is already fucked up, so my left hand compensates. Basically, I've got nowhere to go but bonkers.

Really, if this is the worst health crisis I have this year, it's gonna be a great year. I was just, um, a lot frustrated yesterday when I wrote that blog post. I AM able to skein yarn with a bandage on my finger, so I'll get on that. And take lots of pictures when I dye it.

Plus, I have Phineas and Ferb Band-Aids. So I'm cool. (When I bought them, the Goober informed the checkout clerk "those are for MOM". Thanks a lot, kid.)


In other news, Sekhmet has been guarding her kitten.
I don't know why, and I know better than to ask.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's this?

Could it be... potential fiber fun?
Yup. Acid dyes. I've messed with a few, not in any sort of competent way. But with this cut finger, being unable to knit or spin, well, I've gotta do SOMETHING. So I guess what I'm doing is learning how to use industrial dyes better.

There's just one drawback.

I want to knit this blanket. We need a knit blanket for the living room, and all proceeds go to help Japan, and I think it's really pretty. All good things. Figuring it was a fine time to learn more about industrial dyes, I thought I could dye the yarn, since it will look best in a variegated but it's not vital that the colors be short or long or anything in particular. Dandy. WEBS was having their sale and I've been on a Cascade 220 kick, so I ordered in seven skeins of superwash to dye and knit up. You know how regular Cascade 220 comes in skeins?


Now I've got to skein up over 1500 yards of yarn, dye it, wash it, then ball it back up, and THEN knit it. Right. Might be ready to knit by the time my damn cut finger heals. It has been a week. I took the bandage off today, thinking I could give some knitting a try. Didn't get that far. HAS NOT HEALED YET.This had better not be some Actual Problem. No sign of infection, it seems to have closed, it's just still a damn cut. Remind me I'm not 17 and cuts do not heal that fast any more. HAS NOT HEALED YET.


I never thought I relied on spinning and knitting for my sanity so much. You know, fun hobby, blah blah. IF I DO NOT MAKE SOMETHING SOON I WILL LOSE MY MIND AND TAKE THE REST OF YOU WITH ME. I've got maybe ten (short) rounds and some grafting left to do on the Goob's sweater. I have a knit-along coming up on May 1. I HAVE STUFF TO DO. BONKERS.


Buggering fuck. HEAL YOU DAMN FINGER!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What's going on.

Nothing. Nothing fibery, anyway.
This is my left index finger. Last weekend I cut it nearly to the bone with a bread knife. (The sucky part was feeling the serrations go through.) Since the husbeast keeps the knives fucking sharp around here, minor cuts are kind of rare. It is healing fine and there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage, but I've got to keep a bandage on it to keep dirt out of it. The bandages make things awkward.

It turns out that I use my left index finger for a lot more than I'd have thought. Since I knit continental, I need it to carry yarn, WITHOUT snagging on anything like, oh, a bandage. So no knitting. And drafting fiber? Forget it. Ever gotten fiber stuck in a bandaid? NOT VERY ATTRACTIVE. And I'm not going to ATTEMPT plying.

So, I started writing a novel. What the hell. We'll see how it goes. At the least, I've not gone bonkers in five whole days without knitting. That's something.

Oh, the bandaid? Curious George. I switch off between that and Hello Kitty. I haven't touched the Tinkerbell bandages. The Goober would have a fit.


In other news, Sekhmet is a fucker.
The Goober took that picture. Not bad, huh?

Monday, April 04, 2011


Meet the Hawaiian Silversword. It's actually a group of plants known as the Argyroxiphium genus. I doubt it's possible to know how many species there are, for reasons I'll explain. (Photo from Wiki Commons, very similar to one I took about ten years ago and can't find now.)

Silverswords are native to Hawaii and only grow there, mostly on the islands of Maui and Hawaii (the newest ones). They grow in fresh volcanic soil, and are in fact one of the first plants to move in after a volcanic eruption, which is why I think they should be the state flower. (The state flower is actually the hibiscus.) Silverswords are flowering plants, in the Aster family. It's assumed that some wind-borne seeds blew through to Hawaii from the Americas sometime in the last seven thousand years, and proceeded to adapt like crazy into the plants we know now. Because they flower, they hybridize like mad. Every time they think one is extinct, a hybrid turns up somewhere.

The freaky growing conditions (acidic, volcanic soil, high altitude, cool-to-cold temperatures), these little guys are always classified as endangered. They DO have limited ecosystems, and they aren't very many in number. But honestly? They grow in such incredibly isolated places that no one's really sure how well they're doing. Within those growing conditions, they seem all right.

Back when we lived in Hawaii, the in-laws came to visit. We all went on a tour of the islands, and one of the things we did was drive to the top of Haleakala, the not-quite-dormant volcano on Maui. I was a plant freak, so I was hoping I might be able to spot a silversword. I didn't have much hope, though, because they're endangered. So, we get to the summit, get out of the car - and I nearly tripped over a silversword growing right next to the parking lot. (In fact, if you look at the top picture, you can see a sliver of curb and parking lot in the upper right.) It was about the size of a soccer ball, and seemed to be thriving away.

They were all over the place, within their own little ecosystem.

You'll find that a lot with Hawaiian plants - many have VERY limited habitats, but within the habitat, they're doing as well as they ever did. Some Hawaiian plants have habitats measured in acres. Calling them endangered seems misleading, though I'm not sure what else we're supposed to call them. Really freaky? Limited? Hawaiian?

Oh, and one last bit. If you're going to remember one thing, remember this: Hawaiian plants often have very fragile root systems. So don't go tromping up to one, if you ever see one. And if you do, don't complain when a gardener jumps you. (One of my teachers regularly threatened the lives of the school's groundskeepers for driving mowers near her indigenous trees.)

Maybe tomorrow, I'll have something fibery to say. For now, I'm hitting "publish" before lightning strikes again.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Overwhelmed and freaked out.

(For anyone wanting fiber blogging, scroll down. There's a bit at the bottom.)

This week we got the first quarter of the Goober's new home-schooling curricula from PA Cyber. We'd decided to continue home-schooling next year for a long list of reasons (one of those deals where no one reason was a deciding factor, but when you made a list, it was easy to see). Due to that, facing the fact that this might not be stop-gap due to local school district pigheadedness but an actual PLAN, I shifted the plan. I went from a more traditional, on-paper system to one that's more computer-based. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, and in moments of clarity when I'm not freaking out, it STILL seems like a good idea.

Then the boxes came in the mail. We got ONE QUARTER of supplies. Not the full year, a single nine-week quarter's worth. Remember that when looking at the following photos. ONE. QUARTER. We got three freaking boxes for ONE. QUARTER.

Parent's manual, check.
Just looking at it makes me crave tranquilizers. The accompanying work books make a stack equally high, but that's okay 'cause kid's worksheets are heavy on pictures and take up space. MINE IS ALL TEXT. Give me a minute for a good old Victorian swoon.

Books? Yeah. This part BLOWS ME AWAY, in the best way possible. Let's encourage kids to read. Let's give them good books. Check.
One box was entirely full of children's books. Some are used for lessons, but many are just in there to give the kids reading material. These aren't crap books, either!
Many are Caldecott and/or Newberry Award winners or honorees, and the rest are very obviously relevant and apply. (One fave is a children's biography of Thomas Edison.) The Goober has been poring over them for three days and is totally psyched.

Another box held science lesson and other school supplies. Someone thoughtfully put it all in one of those giant fifty quart plastic bins we all use to store yarn in. There's a tool box. There's a bag of dirt and seeds and even peat pots. Two magnet boards, a two-inch-thick pile of tri-ruled kid's writing paper. The zinger?
Kid's got her own freakin' balance scale.

Mind you, this is on top of the box of supplies we got last October that contained a foot-high pile of writing and construction paper. I could open my own office supply store at the moment.

Really, the curricula is great. It's a simple, step-by-step operation that is really well done, if I'd just chill the hell out. Each day has its own little check list of computer, on-paper, and other activities. All I have to do is work through it step by step, like a really giant algebra problem.

Algebra made me freak out, too.


Otherwise. Spinning. Spinning chills me out, so I've been doing that.
I am finally plying the Steampunk yarn. This is the unadorned skein (I'm doing three, total). No beads or prickly gears in this one, so that my friend can knit collars and cuffs and other close-to-the-skin bits with it and not mangle her skin. I can't see it too well in the photo but there's a 'ply' of copper metallic thread in there with the black and colored plies.


Sekhmet has been helping me do PT.

Oh, geez. Me in my pajamas on the floor. MOST FLATTERING PHOTO EVER. 


And, um, that's about it. I'm almost done with the Goob Sweater. I'm on the neck ribbing. Once that's half-grated down, I'll graft the arm pits, darn in the ends, and it's done.I could do it in a day if I'd quit freaking the hell out.

Pictures soon.