On the Needles : Stepping Stones Socks + A self-challenge

Once upon a time I was a new baby knitter. I had just married, had no clue what my career direction was going to be in life and was trying to settle down into a new town. When I realized there was a wonderful yarn shop {Mockingbird Moon} a door down from where I would occasionally grab a coffee I finally got the courage to go in and immediately fell in love.

Puppy love.
Love that makes you do stupid stupid things like knit with baby alpaca fingering weight yarn when your only previous knitting experience came from the extra bulky skein you got at the big box store. {For non knitters - starting with fingering weight yarn is the equivalent of a teenager immediately deciding to race in the INdy 500 as soon as they get their driver's license,).

However, I persisted and got pretty good. For the first six months I was making hats (easy), experimenting with colorwork (not so much) and even tried my hand at lace (not so much-er). And then summmer came and, like Sandy and Danny I realized I was merely in the throws of a fling. Only the opposite season {because knitting in hot humid arkansas weather is...ugh.}


It was during this first fling though that I bought the book "The Knitter's Book of Socks" by Clara Parkes. I've since learned that Ms. Parkes is kind of a huge deal in the knitting world but at the time I was simply enamored by the cover and the thought that one who knits should probably learn how to knit socks at some point.

Long story short: I knit this pattern in a totally different multicolor crazy yarn. There were precious and then they accidentally got put in the dryer and I spent way to much time making myself feel ridiculously guilty.. I then put away the sock book because obviously I was not a responsible enough adult to handle the making and not shringking of socks.

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Fast forward four years later and the beautiful book called out to me again. Again I found myself in Mockingbord Moon with beautiful fingering weight yarn {deatails below} and tiny little needles and a desire to give it another try. 

And try I did. I don't remember the exact details but I vaguely recal that I had a one-osh year old who put evrything in his mouth. And then down somewhere... with not particular rhyme or reason behind the somewhere.

I am a somewhat grown up adult and have a habit of doing this annoying pick up/ put down/ no rhyme / reason ting myslef so I understood it. but it turns out that when our powers combined I went a bit crazy. I finished one sock and I misplaced a second of five needles (one generally needs five needles to knit socks} and I gave up.

For a year, the one sock and one cuff languished in the dungeon that I refer to as my craft closet because I didn't have the desire to go buy another set of tiny needles only to be annoyed again.

Until I did.

Two year olds are slightly better at understanding the "mine" vs "yours" component of ownership and the yarn was just so pretty. 

The best part is the process that had taken me weeks of frustration for the first sock took only a few days. I actually started working on them on a Sunday evening that Ryan went off on a work trip and was done by the time we were both on the Oregon coast less than a week later.

And as I carried and read this sock book with my across the United States I realized I really wanted to knit my way through this book. Socks are portable. They're a small project but each are challenging in it's own way. Through this book I will be able to practive cables and lace and increases and decreases and reading patterns and charts and figuring out the mystoery of actually making something that needs to fit onto a human body part.

I realized that socks will make me a better knitter and that is my goal.
Plus they are ridiculously cute.

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  • Yarn: Hedgehog Fibres {I dare you not to go to this site and not buy all the things}
  • Color: Fool's Gold
  • Pattern : Stepping Stones
  • Source: Knitter's Book of Socks, Clara Parkes
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This is pair one. I have finished but not photographed pair two. And apir three (mentioned in this previous post} is currently a solo sock with my goal to finish them by thanksgiving... which is officially seven days away from my writing of this post. {Oh, and I'm recovering from eye surgery. Remember the Indy 500 example above?What do I get myself in to?} 

That may or may not happen. 

But when I does, I will let you know. 

In Praise of : $1000 Socks

Conversation with My Hair Stylist

Me: I'm knitting my brother a pair of socks for Christmas. I think I will put a price tag on them:

  • Cost of beautifully dyed wool : $40
  • Hours spent knitting beautiful wool : 20 {at least}
  • Approximate cost per hour of my skill level: $25-ish

Wholesale cost of socks : $540
Retail price of socks: $1180

The tag would go on to read:

"These are expensive socks. If you don't have the decency to hand wash them and I hear that they were shrunk in the dryer, I may never speak to you again.
Love, Your Big Sister."

The beginnings of said socks.

The beginnings of said socks.

We went on to laugh about how lots of people don't fully realize the time and effort and energy that goes into a handmade item. And the fact that there is no way to make truly "affordable" homemade gifts. As women who have both been in business for ourselves we then concluded that knitting was not the business to be in.

Me: Which is why I think I want to get more into knitting. Because it's not a business model. It's not something to be monetized. It's not a thing that one makes a small business plan like every other creative thing I've tried to do since I was a kid trying to sell friendship bracelets on the playground.

Her: {Sarcastically kind} That's a novel thought- not doing something for the money but for the sheer enjoyment.


That conversation happened earlier this month. It's been brewing around my brain for a while but it took a bad joke about thousand dollar socks to really solidify it. 

The thing is, when I again became a full time stay at home mom earlier in the fall, I was on the precipice of some major creative burnout. The tea towels were selling really well and I had a customer base that was really excited about it and ideas about how to really work with the seasons and wholesale potential. All good creative juice things.

But I wasn't enjoying it.

The numbers weren't adding up (my profit margin wasn't too good) so I was spending lots of admin, marketing, production time and had hardly any creative time. While I loved going to my local farmer's market once a month, I knew that my family situation (busy executive husband, cute but energetic toddler) wasn't at a place where I needed to be on the full time craft fair circuit. 

So when the Universe forced me to put down the paint brushes to take care of my son, I did so willingly. There was no kicking and screaming and resisting. There was a transition period where my introvert-ness had to become more used to constant toddler chatter but that was it. Once we both adjusted to out new schedules life went, and currently is, going just fine.


And I am knitting. I described it to my brother {same as above} as the perfect toddler mom activity. I knit while he plays or naps or chases the dogs or eats whatever cereal he's obsessed with today. I knit before his gym class starts and I knit in the ten minutes before I pick him up from his twice a week morning pre-k program.

This knitting is "doing" and "making" in a similar vein that painting was to me. It's fills the place in my heart {soul? brain? hands?} that knows that I'm a maker and a learner. I am the person that loves a creative challenge and both painting and knitting do that for me. Both require me to stop and think through various sets of steps at times, while other times, repetition or muscle memory or the muse is able to go on autopilot and I'm able to soak in an audio book.

But where painting was sedentary knitting is mobile. Where painting required drafting, knitting asks that I follow someone else's pattern. 

Right now knitting {doing it, getting better at it, pushing myself to learn more about it} is where my creative brain is. Right now, making for the sheer enjoyment of making is where I'm at. 

And that is a wonderful place to be.

In the Kitchen : James Beard Ragu Bolognese

You know what I really like? A meal at home alone. 

A simple luxury. Whatever food I want, as complex or simple as I want, reading whatever book I want, with absolutely zero screens involved, because that's what I want. 

But, being a stay-at-home, this tiny life goal becomes immensely more challenging mostly because there is a small human needing your attention every six and a half seconds. However, when the stars line up and I'm able to find the perfect alignment of naptime, errands, and leftovers this is my go-to luxury meal for one. 

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You can find the original recipe here. Apparently it's a James Beard classic, which to me, means that it sounds fancy but is inherently classic and delicious. One cannot add to perfection but I will give you my thoughts on the process.

  • The last two times I've made this I've sliced into my thumb trying to chop up the bacon into tiny pieces. It's delicious with bite-size (less liable to knife thumbs) pieces. Don't worry too hard about those tiny tiny pieces. 
  • I'm hardly ever precise on the exact number of vegetables. It's still always good.
  • The browning the vegetables part used to take me FOREVER. Then I realized that I had my heat way too low, so I cranked it up to medium high and the recipe is better for it. Actual carmalization matters y'all.  
  • Yes, this recipe calls for liver. You may think, "Liver is disgusting. I should just leave this out." That would be a bad idea. Seriously, don't do it. Here's the trick- Dump the livers into your food processor and let it spin for a few seconds. By doing this, the liver turns into a paste which, through the magic of cooking chemistry, makes this recipe the silky gourmet treat that it is. 
  • Every time I make this recipe I think, "This is too greasy. Why is there so much oil/ fat substance hanging out in this pot?" And every time I'm pleasantly surprised when it actually works out. 
  • Go easy on the salt. The base of this recipe is bacon so it's easy to salt things like you normally would having forgotten that you started out with lots o' salt. 
  • This bolognese is a spoon recipe. I have no clue how real Italians eat their ragu bolognese but I like to boil some orzo and eat the whole thing with a spoon. 
  • The recipe says the cream is optional. Though it is undoubtedly delicious without the cream, it is definitely not optional. 
  • The recipe calls for parsley as garnish. I prefer a ridiculously super simple tomato "salad", because it cuts through the richness. 
  1. Halve a handful of tiny tomatoes.  
  2. Season with salt and pepper.  
  3. Add a splash of olive oil and a smaller splash of balsamic vinegar.  
  • This recipe is perfect for: rainy Sunday afternoons, dinner parties (don't mention the liver), and the aforementioned luxury solo lunch. 

Book Review : Anna and the King of Siam {Part 1}

The saying goes "The book is always better than the movie," but what about the play?

When the local performing arts center, Walton Arts Center announced that they would be having a book club attached to their 2017-2018 Broadway season I knew I wanted to take part to answer that question. I hope {fingers crossed} to read the book and then watch the performance of at least four shows when they come to town. 

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The first book is Anna and the King of Siam with the play being Rogers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

First thoughts:

Good gracious was I intimiadated.  Call me shallow but I get frustrated ridiculously easy when there are too many "thous" and "therefores" and the author starts referencing world events that may have been common knowledge at some point but isn't at this point. Fortunately for me, this wasn't the case. Though the events of the book take place in 1860 this compilation / rendition of Anna's story was written in the mid 1940's. This makes it immensely easier to digest and the author does a wonderful job of giving context and backstory. Within the first five chapters I was hooked and ready to hear about the adventures this smart but stubborn woman was about to undertake. 

Synopsis:

Anna is a newly widowed mother of two who takes a job teaching the King of Siam's children (and many wives) the English language and European customs. In the process she learns the intricacies of Siamese court life and the people within. 

Reading thoughts : 

Reading, to me, is always an inexpensive ticket to a faraway land. But this particular ticket in book-form had a special time traveler aspect to it as well. Not only did I get to felt the oppressive humidity of a Bangkok summer but I got to experience it while wearing all the layers of clothing {think hoop skirts} of a proper English lady.

I felt that there were three main parts of the story: the description of place and people, the explanation of Siamese custom, and the individual stories that ran throughout. Other than a particularly dry section that explained French aggression, I really found that each of those three parts interlocked and depended on the other. Without the detailed explanation of the Siamese custom of harems one would not be able to fully comprehend a city of 9,000 women that lived solely within the walls of the palace. And without the lush details given of the scenes and streets within that city, the individual intrigues would not not been so personal.  

Personal, that's what these stories truly were. I would find myself wondering,

"What would I do if I were suddenly the disgraced wife of the king? Would I throw myself into study or would I try to escape?"

"What would I do if I were the favored wife and saw a young concubine misbehaving? Would I try to help her or would I leave her to her own undoing?"

"What would I do if I were a young single {poor} English school teacher and the most powerful man in the country (tyrannical despot though he may be) wanted to marry me?"  

Perhaps it was this sense of the personal that gave it such an immediacy to me. This wasn't the story of women almost two hundred years ago. This is a story about women.

Poor women and rich women. Kind women and evil women. Brave women and otherwise. Loyal slaves. Despicable mothers. Rowdy teenagers. Women who loved and married and miscarried and sent their children to better circumstance however possible.

Women of all sorts who were simply trying to do the best with what that had been given. 

The end of the book has the main character speaking to a minor character years after the story takes place, where the main character is lauded for the having achieved her goal of influencing the direction of an entire country through the education of one young prince. And, though it sounds trite, isn't that what we all want? "It was hard but it was worth it. I changed the world for the better."

After reading / Before the play:

I'm excited to see the visuals the theatre makes happen with this story. "Lush" and "decadent" are two descriptors I would immediately associate with the setting of the book. Another is "expansive". A city within a palace that holds 9,000 women?!? How is that even possible to put forth on a stage?

This makes me think this will be more about the relationship between the main character and the King. I understand that. I mean, it is the title of the book. But the truth is, the wasn't the thing that most interested me.

Yes, it was the string that connected all the other events. If she wasn't having a {mostly disagreeable} relationship with the King none of the other things would have happened in her presence or sphere of influence. However, to me, her relationship with him wasn't the transformative thing that generally moves a story forward. So I will be interested to see how they make that happen on stage as well. 

Logistics note:

I'm publishing this on Friday September 29. I will be attending the play on Tuesday, October 3 and the associated book club on the 9th. I will write a follow up post after I've both seen the show and attended the book club so that you get to enjoy the breadth of this experience with me. 

In Praise of : My Old Lady Yoga Class

"Legs up the wall is a restorative pose," the yoga teacher says. "While you can't gain back lost sleep..."

"I have a two-year old. Watch me." I mumble under my breath and hear a giggle beside me. 

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I am in my weekly yoga class. That's a sad admission, isn't it? I go to the gym exactly once a week and it's to my old lady yoga class. Sam gets the chance to "play with his friends". i.e. childcare and I get to stretch my body and relax (a very small bit) of my mind. 

In this class I likely burn no calories.

In this class I am surrounded by women who are 20 years my senior.

In this class I don't sweat.

In this class the only time I get light headed is if I rise out of forward bend with too much enthusiasm.  

In this class it's not about doing better or faster or stronger.

In this class it's not about what the rest of the world seems to constantly pressure me to do.

I adore my Old Lady Yoga class.


I attend yoga at the Bentonville Community Center. You can find their fall schedule and other fitness classes in Northwest Arkansas here

In Praise of : Trike Theatre

The first time I saw a theatre performance I was seven and my mom had taken me to the largest city in 60 miles and we watched the Nutcracker performed in amazing costume behind gilded gold parapets and heavy velvet curtains. I was astonished. And in love. But because of the dearth of theatre experiences in rural Arkansas it would be five more years before a cross country school trip introduced me to Cats on Broadway. 

I've been thirsting for theatre ever since.

That lack, the desire but nothing with which to fill it, has given me a deep appreciation for the kid's theatre activities available in Northwest Arkansas, specifically Trike Theatre. 

Unlike the gilded performances of my memories {is that a Cats pun?} Trike puts theatre closer to the everyday grasp of children.

The theatre of my childhood was a once in a lifetime experience.

The theatre that Trike offers teaches children that plays and performances and musicals are simply stories and that everyone loves a good story.  

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Sam is now two and a half and we've been to three Trike performances. Every time I work to get there a bit before the scheduled performance time because interactive storytelling is where Trike Theater excels with toddlers. 

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The most recent performance was Cowboy in the Kitchen and the pre-preformance activity didn't disappoint. The staff informed us that it was Cosboy's birthday and that we were welcome to make cakes {playdough} and a birthday card {construction paper and crayons} for him. There were also a table full of cowboy books to get us in the spirit of the day. 

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When chef's assistant came to get us, she let us know that we were invited to be actors in this performance and would be helping Chef make a surprise birthday cake for Cowboy. From there, Musican and her ukealaylee, led us into the "theatre" (an empty gallery space)  where we were invited to sit on the "kitchen floor", where the performance would take place. 

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From there, the audience was asked to sing, shake, and sprinkle- all to advance the cause of throwing Cowboy a surprise party.  

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Recently, an older lady asked me what I did for a living.

"I don't have a job. I stay at home with my two year old," I replied.

"Oh honey," she said, "you work."


Northwest Arkansas in general and Trike Theatre specifically make this work that I do a bit easier. And for that I am so very greatful.