Busy Thinking

I started knitting a pair of socks last night.  I love hand-knitted socks, and I have exactly one pair, so I think it’s time to take the strain off them and knit another.  I have this fabulous Austermann Step yarn, which comes “mit Aloe Vera und Jojoba Ol”.  Fortunately I still speak a little German and can translate: “with aloe vera and jojoba oil“.  While I am working my little arthritic fingers to the bone, knitting super-skinny yarn on size nothing needles, the oils are working their way into the skin, softening and moisturizing my hands.  I may be 50 but my hands look 30…




As you can see, I’m knitting on two circular needles.  Aside from looking very cool and professional, this technique allows me to try on the sock as I knit it and saves me from losing stitches when I dump the whole thing into a bag.  Since I am a loose knitter, my stitches don’t exactly hold the needle in a death grip, and I tend to see them sliding off double-points rather frequently.  That’s not to say that using double points isn’t a fierce, totally sweet talent, but I’m in love with Cat Bordhi (author and knitwear designer) for giving me an alternative.   I know that someone is saying, “Well, why not just buy your socks?”  and I’ll forgive you because that statement tells me you’ve never had the bliss of hand-knit socks on your little tootsies.



I’m right at the point in the sock cuff where I could be tempted to bind off and leave it as a beautiful ribbed wristband, but No! I will not give in to the knitting devil.  I am faithful to my sock dream. 


Knitting always gets me thinking (sometimes a good thing…).  Today, I was about two inches into the cuff when I started musing about ways to save money.  Since this is a blog for sharing important information, I thought I’d let you in on my ideas. 

  • Rent out the dog.  People who love dogs sometimes live with people who don’t, and maybe someone would like to rent her for a few hours while their dog-hating spouse is at work or practicing at the rifle range.  She would also be wonderful for sick or elderly people who want that convenient cuddle without the need to open the door for fourteen bathroom breaks a day.
  • Lease one side of the garage.  With the daughter at college, I have 70 square feet of space that will hold up to a Chevy Suburban comfortably.  I could run an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer; it was very hard to find a parking space when I lived there.
  • Plant rice.  One back corner of my yard is a swamp after every rain.  How much brown rice can you harvest in a 6 x 10 foot plot?
  • Sell hand-knit stuff.  Oh yeah, I already do that. 
  • Cut hair.  I don’t have any certificates or training, but my hand is very steady and I have a good grasp of geometry.
  • Sew badges on Girl Scout sashes.  When I was a Girl Scout leader, some of the no-sew moms were gluing them on with super glue.  Very bad form. 
  • Talk to plants.  People could bring their plants over for me to baby sit.  I love to have a conversation, and I will talk to anything.  I could charge by the word or by the minute, maybe with a bonus related to amount of growth.
  • Edit stuff.  I’ve noticed that everywhere in American writing (advertising, articles, blogs, t-shirts, signs on telephone poles) there has been great slippage in appropriate word usage, spelling, grammar, and general readability.  I have an excellent ear for proper usage, a large vocabulary and the ability to recognize that a spell checker will let many improper things pass. 
  • Call and wake up college students.  “This is your mother.  Please wake up and go to class.”  For an additional fee, I could add more specific messages:  “It’s Tuesday, time to change your underwear.”
  • Give stove lessons.  Americans have grown accustomed to the microwave, carry-out food, and eating out.  Now that the experts are saying “Eat real food,” I could teach people how to use their stoves.  “This knob turns the oven on.  You have to pick the temperature at which your food will cook; that’s the big numbers on the dial…” and “Sorry, you can no longer store your comic book collection in the oven.”

Anyway, as you can see, I have plenty to do today, and I’d better get on with it. 



Sunshine, Baby!

Have I been sounding gloomy?  I’ve been feeling the load.  I can tell because today is a major contrast!  The sun is out, and I am too.  I did three errands today, and they were all significant. 

The first errand arose from the finished turtle.  My sister (who hired me) panicked when I sent the photographs of His Perfectness, and told me to “stop knitting!” even though the little guys are crocheted.  She didn’t feel comfortable authorizing the project without holding the turtle in her hand, so I packed him up in shiny leftover Christmas paper and a sturdy box, and sent him off for review.  He is going to a much colder place and I’m not sure that’s good for turtles.  Perhaps when you say grace at your next meal you could include intentions for his safe passage.  It never hurts.

I took His Perfectness to the teeny little post office in my suburban town, a trip requiring all of 30 steps from my car to the counter.  They know me there ’cause I send all my Etsy orders from there (listen at me talkin’ like I’m just selling stuff left and right!), but they still ask if my packages contain anything flammable, poisonous, radioactive or messy.  Maybe I just have that kind of face.  My sister tried to get me to package my creature in an envelope (aaaagh! and smash his little bead feet?) and send him more cheaply, but I sprang for the $4.60 Priority Mail.  After all, I’m charging her for this little trip.  The upshot of this is that I had to stop crocheting the cute little guys and I’m still waiting for the final verdict.  Pooey.

Second errand was to VOTE!  Tennessee has it’s primary next week on Super Tuesday, but early voting is open until tomorrow.  I travelled to a community center in town where there was no waiting (yikes! is that good or bad?) and sailed in and presented my ID.  I remembered that my voter registration is in my maiden name, the same name I practiced in for years and the one that’s on my driver’s license.  It’s embarrassing when you tell them to look for you under the wrong name, and they continue to watch you suspiciously even after you correct a slip like that.  I’m afraid that one day I’ll go to vote and the election commission volunteer (always a stern older woman who scares the poop out of me) will say “honey if you don’t know your own name I can’t let you vote.”  I took my ballot to the second farthest table, as if the place was packed and someone would be looking over my shoulder.  I filled in the one oval and shuffled over to the counting machine in time to get stuck behind a woman with issues. 

THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME!  If there is one person in a line with issues (“my change is wrong”, “I forgot to get bread,” “the waiter was rude and I want to make a two-hour complaint”, or the ever-popular “I’m stupid and I’m on my cell phone”) I am always behind them.  Always.  I have perfected the bland, don’t-look-at-me-I-don’t-have-an-opinion face, and I put it on even when I’m thinking “if you say one more word I will slap you into next week”. 

The woman in front of me had voted and put her form in the machine, then claimed that the counter on the machine didn’t advance when her form went in.  She was irate.  She told us how important voting was to her.  She appealed to the volunteer in charge of guarding the box, who called over another volunteer from the check-in table.  Between them, they were one foreboding front of no-nonsense black woman.  They beckoned to me.  “Put your form in here.”  I hastened to obey.  The offended woman and both volunteers had their eyes on my previously secret vote as it slid into the machine.  We all looked at the counter.  It advanced by one digit.  “See, it’s working now,” said one volunteer.  “I am not touching this machine,” said the other.  They eyed the woman until she stopped complaining and left.  I smiled brightly as she stalked to her car.  I had done my duty for _______.  Hmmm.  Who do you think I voted for?

I evaluated my progress and decided that since I didn’t faint from fatigue on the second errand I could probably complete one more.  I had big motivation, since I thought Fresh Market had blueberries for 98 cents.  I hadn’t made a pie in more than a month, and my poor lupus-injured brain needs all the anthocyanins it can get.  Proof of that abounded when I arrived at Fresh Market and found that I had missed the 6 in front of the .98.  I shelled out the $6.98 for a pint of blueberries, and added a pack of frozen cherries and a couple of pre-formed pie crusts.  By the time I arrived home, I still had enough energy to put together a decent pie and get it in the oven.  Granted the ingredients were only fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon and corn starch, but I felt like Betty Crocker when I finished.

My evening will be knitting and a good read.  This has been a totally awesome, getting better, still functioning, lupus-can-kiss-my-big-ol’-ass day!


Coffee and Therapy

I have to laugh.  I’m watching Biggest Loser on tv.  The best-looking fat people in the country are competing against each other to lose weight.  There’s a big challenge on tonight.  They are going to walk up an escalator until they all drop.  Some of them just put their heads down and keep going.  They walk until their legs turn to rubber.  A young girl holds off three monster buff guys for a long while, eventually has to drop back.  I’m cheering for her.  This is television, but it’s life, too. 


I have a therapist that I see every three months for a half hour.  That’s long enough to catch up, renew my antidepressant prescription, and make a teeny plan.  In the past I’ve had in-depth therapy.  Life events coupled with a genetic tendency make it essential to deal with my depression and not ignore it.  I’ve taken antidepressant medication for 20 years.  It isn’t important whether it’s a manifestation of the lupus (lupus does cause psychiatric illness).  It just matters that it stays under control, that I function without the additional fatigue, hopelessness, and sadness.  None of those are part of my basic personality, but they can take control when the chemicals aren’t balanced right.  Optimism and the discernment to see what I can do, what steps I can take in the current situation, are part of my survival package.  If I couldn’t identify something positive that I could use to push myself forward, I would be lost in the craziness of this disease.   


This is the third winter that I have found myself climbing out of the black hole after a long, tedious flare.  Two years ago the flare culminated in clotting off all the superficial veins in my left arm from the wrist to the shoulder.  Last year it was all orthopedics, horrible sacroiliac joints and hips and feet.  This year the flare was the most extensive and severe of all, requiring more prednisone than I’ve seen in the course of the disease.  I don’t know why it cycles this way, but I’ve begun to expect that September to December will be rough, with the late winter and spring spent digging myself out again.  Spring and summer has meant a drastic change, with me being able to walk more than a mile in my neighborhood and travel and be quite active. 

Every time I find myself here, I start from where I am and pick out something I can do.  Right now I can dance with Ellen (1 to 2 minutes at a time) and by myself, so I’ve got a Cardioke dvd on order.  I can use my little mini-cycler for 2 minutes at a time.  They call it a “motorized cycle exerciser” but it’s a set of pedals you put in front of a chair: http://www.improvementscatalog.com/product/indoor+living/health+%26+wellness/exercise/motorized+cycle+exerciser.do?sortby=&asc=&page=I’ve just started to incorporate these into my day.  In addition, I can do an upper body workout with 3 kg weights.  I can’t do all of these all the time, but I fit them in where I can.  Right now I find that the least workout makes me very tired, so I’m also fitting in naps when needed. My sacroiliac joints can tolerate a little walking now, so I’ve begun to do some short errands.  Today I went to the post office and one section of my grocery store.  My feet are very tender after the little walking but that’s to be expected.  They are the last hold-out of flaring, the last place that I can still feel inflammatory symptoms.  Come on B-cells, there’s still a few of you that need to breathe your last breath! 

Holy moley, I’ve talked about this for 600 words and I was intending to talk about my coffee!  I have a Senseo single cup coffee maker that uses pods, and I order pods in bulk so I can get free shipping and good prices.  I’ve managed lately to get my coffee cost down 25 cents a cup (that’s like ancient times!).  Anyway, I try to order some variety, so there are six brands on my counter right now.  Today I looked at them all to see if they were Fair Trade certified.  That means the coffee grower (usually some poor family in a developing country) gets paid a decent rate for his coffee beans, enough to raise his family and contribute to his community.  Only one was marked on the box.  I looked them up on line, and found that one more was certified, and two more come from companies that have some (but not all) Fair Trade coffees.  I wrote the last two to ask about their policies. 

To me, this is an issue of conscience.  I don’t have the right to short-change someone for their products or services.  I don’t even have the right to be ignorant.  Now that I know about Fair Trade certification, I must choose products that meet those standards.   I started thinking about this when I read an article about Burger King refusing to serve Fair Trade coffee.  Further reading led me to an article that convinced me of the improvements this could make in people’s lives.  You can click on the link in the parentheses.  (This is a story about gourmet coffee and genocide. It takes place in Rwanda … | Food monthly | The Observer

Okay, we’re getting into fever time.  I’m going to set this hot appliance down and have a nice drink of fizzy water. 


Turtles-a Challenge for Turtlefat

I recently mentioned a custom job involving making turtle lapel pins.  I’ve finished the prototype and I am pleased with it.  I crocheted at least eleven turtles in the process of getting this right.  My criteria were:  small enough to put on a lapel or pocket, designed so that a pin could be attached to the back, identifiable as a turtle (but not necessarily super-realistic), shaping to show the curve of the turtle shell, and textured turtle shell.  I should note that these are my criteria.  The client just requested “turtle pins”.  It’s always good to have higher standards than your client, and it’s especially wise to start with very specific criteria. 

My first turtles were intended for felting.  After I ran a few through the process I decided that I liked having the more defined texture on the turtle shell.  However, when I tried it without felting, using a single strand of yarn produced a turtle that was too floppy to keep it’s shape during wearing.  I added a second strand of yarn, crocheting the whole piece with a double strand, and it worked much better.  The turtle shell had a tendency to go flat when I crocheted all the rounds in the same direction, so for the third round I reversed the direction and now have no problems with them flattening or turning inside-out. 

The beads were the suggestion of a friend.  I was showing her one of my early models and discussing whether to put on some feet, and she said she thought beads would work well.  So, you-the one with the permanent inferiority complex-here’s your idea, which was well worth the extra effort!  It’s amazing how important it was to get the right size beads to make this idea work.  I started with an oblong smaller bead, thinking it mimicked the real thing more, and it was immediately evident that more substantial ornaments were necessary. 

So, here’s our guy:  turtled.jpg

A closer view:  turtlee.jpg

and aerial view:


I am tickled pink!  This was a long process for such a tiny item, but it’s worth it when you produce something really satisfying.  I’m running it by the client to see if she’s equally happy.  If it passes, the next move will be to name the little guy.  I’ll need your help for that!  It needs an enduring name because I think it will be the Turtlefat collection mascot from here on.  (Turtlefat collection is what I call my group of designs, the things I sell in my Etsy store at www.Essiewb.Etsy.com.) 

I love turtles.  My daughter used to make me stop the car when one was in the roadway.  We would “rescue” the turtle, placing it safely on the shoulder or in the nearest grass.  These creatures can live to be more than 100 years old.  I’m already halfway there, 16 of them with lupus riding along.  A reader asked me incredulously if I’d really had lupus that long.  Yes, it’s real, and when I was diagnosed my daughter was 4 years old.  Just like you, I worried about whether I would live to see her grow up.  That time has come and I’m still going strong, and I’m going to pray the same for you. 

I’m feeling some peace now that this project is out of the design stage and into production.  I’ve crocheted five more of the little guys this afternoon and they’re sitting around, chatting and having tea and waiting for me to sew their little bead feet on.  So, time to wish you the same-a spot of tea, a good conversation, someone to give you beads, and…


Finishing the Organic Cotton Baby Sweater

I did it, and it’s adorable, and I’m going to cry when someone buys it.  I absolutely love how this sweater turned out.  I’ll show it to you first, talk later.organiccottonbabysweater-frontcomplete.jpgTo knit the neckband and front bands, I used my circular needles to pick up and knit stitches from the right front bottom around the neck to the left front bottom, picking up all the garter bumps on the fronts, and then each stitch along the back of the neck.  I knit them LOOSELY for that pickup row, then followed that with a wrong side row consisting of (purl, purl, knit) all the way around.  The following row (right side) I did (knit, knit, purl) to continue that ribbing.  This was followed by one knit row, and at the end of that row we’re back at the right side bottom.  I wanted my button holes to be on the right placket, so on the following row I knit the whole row but evenly spaced four yarn-overs (each followed by knitting 2 together) on the placket.   On the return row I knitted every stitch and bound off all of the stitches on the left front and neckline.  When I reached a few stitches above the first yarnover I stopped binding off and knitted to the bottom of the placket.  I knitted one more row of placket, then turned and came down, binding off.  This gives a buttonhole side that protrudes and conveniently overlaps the other front.  You can see that in the large photo above. organiccottonbabysweater-backcomplete.jpg   Here is a shot of the back. 

Here’s a photo of the neckline, which is knitted loosely enough to not chafe the back of the baby’s neck.                               organiccottonbabysweater-neckcomplete.jpg

I seamed the sleeves, underarms and sides with the right sides together.  The last issue was choice of buttons.  I wanted something in a color that occurs in nature in conjunction with this nice brown, and a texture that was also natural-looking.  I almost settled on the seafoam buttons, but I found the small squares that seemed to be a perfect fit-more subtle coloring and a wood-like appearance. organiccottonbabysweater-buttonchoice.jpg

I’ve measured the chest size of the sweater and compared it to my handy chart and it is a size 18 months.  The only thing left is to list it in my Etsy store.  If you’d like to make the sweater yourself but want to make a different size, I will rework the pattern for you for a small fee.  If you are adventurous, you can do the resizing yourself by checking measurements against your gauge.  Infants and toddlers don’t have many curves so you can make proportional changes very confidently.

This has been a lovely weekend.  I’ve had a visit from my college girl, who needed to be home for an appointment tomorrow.  The friend who carted away my goods to sell at the religious convention came home with a small check and shared our dinner.  She’s a friendly, gregarious salesperson and I’ve no doubt that my business cards are all over the state now.  I’ve survived this few days of terribly painful feet without either of them falling off, and with hardly a thought of the axe treatment.  (My friend was right, it’s such a messy way of dealing with them!)  I have a plan for continuing with a little exercise.  I’ve started to amass pieces of paper to take to my tax people.  Only a few more days of cellulitis antibiotics, and I’m still seeing improvement.  Prednisone is finally down to 10 mg. per day.  Goodness, what more could a woman want?


Organic Cotton Baby Sweater, Fast Becoming a Sweet New Favorite

January 22nd, I started the explanation of the organic cotton baby sweater which is knit from bottom back to bottom fronts, including sleeves, in one piece.  I don’t think I mentioned that my favorite source of Pakucho organic cotton is www.Elann.com, one of my favorite knitting stores.  I’ve gotten to know the owners and staff and love their selection, prices and service.  This isn’t the first thing I’ve knit from the Pakucho, but I think it’s going to be my favorite.  Here we continue. 

When we left it, we were on row 55.  We had finished casting on 20 stitches on either side for the sleeves, and were knitting up the sleeves and body continuing our knit 2/purl 2 pattern stitch.  We had about 40 rows of back, then started the sleeves.  When we reach row 68, we need to bind off the center 14 stitches for the back neck. 

organiccottonbabysweaterneckline.jpgAttach a second ball of yarn to the second side so that you can continue to keep all your stitches on one needle (one circular in my case) and knit the rows from both sides together.  On the neck edge of each of the next two rows, knit two together.  Continue to knit in pattern for 28 rows after the back neck bind-off.  At rows 74 and 96(counting from bottom of back) K2tog at the last two neck edge stitches on each side, adding a total of eight stitches to the front edges.  At rows 96 and 97, you also loosely bind off the outer 20 stitches of each side, as your sleeves are complete.  Continue to knit in pattern for 40 more rows, loosely binding off both fronts at about row 136.  This is what you have:


You can see that I added a cream colored ball and striped the fronts of the sweater; this was done because I was getting low on the light brown color, but you could make this change (or not) in any way you desired.  You can see the increases at the top front of the neck (right at the shoulder level) and just before the top cream stripe, right at the level of the sleeve bind-off.  Here is the sweater folded over but with no seams done (and on the wrong side): 


Okay, at this point we have a choice.  Remember how we bound off 14 stitches to form the back neck?  Well, we only put back 8 stitches with our increases, not enough to make the front edges meet.  Depending on our method of closing the front, we may need some overlap.  My plan is to pick up stitches along the front and neck edges using my circular needle, and knit a band that is narrow at the neck side and wider at the fronts.  You could also use your crochet hook and whip through three or four rows of single crochet, or whatever stitch you desired.  Or you could get very, very creative and stitch on some grosgrain ribbon or some other cute trim (although I kind of dislike turning a soft, organic cotton creation into something with artificial trim). 

Anyway, I’m going to work on it as I envision it, and get back to you.

At 10 mg of prednisone, some joints are hurting and stiff and I’m hoping more B-cells will die or at least quit fighting their immunological fight in the next week or two.  Meanwhile, I can knit.