Saturday, January 7, 2012

Knitted souls

If I could find a picture of a soul, I would try to knit one.  Because I think that my soul is made of knitting.

Knitting is the first craft I learned as a child (as far as I can remember).  I have very clear memories of my little 6 year-old self pulling my tiny wooden rocking chair up in front of my parents' woodstove with a little purple ball of yarn and knitting needles, on which my mother had started a scarf for me, and rocking away furiously while I knitted.  My mother went outside to get my father so he could look at me, because apparently it was really cute.

When I was in college and wanted to start crafting, I tried to teach myself crochet out of a book I got at AC Moore.  I got the gist of it, but it never really stuck, and I haven't picked it up again since.  A year or two later, however, knitting needles caught my eye and I tried that again.

That stuck.

I've never been a particularly good knitter.  I can do the basics - scarf, hat, dishcloths, Swiffer covers, iPod cases with a single button - but I'm not fancy.  And while I'd love to be able to go out in an adorable sweater, or with some really stellar mittens, and tell people that I made them, for me, gettin' fancy isn't really the point.

See, I just knit for my soul, mostly.  I knit because it makes me feel better and because the gentle repetition of it is relaxing.  I make a point to select soft, (usually) natural yarns that look nice and feel good running through my fingers.  I frequently knit on large needles because it goes faster, getting me to that nice feeling of accomplishment ASAP.  And the only things I knit for others are dishcloths and iPod covers, usually, because I prefer to knit things that I don't have to pay much attention to, and it's likely that I will still mess up.  That's fine for me - I don't mind wearing a scarf with dropped stitches, or a hat that's a bit too big - but I do want the things I give to the people I love to be as close to perfect as possible.

Knitting is a retreat for me.  It's a treat for me.  I don't usually knit gifts because I can't stand the pressure.  While at work or in school, I tend to work well under high pressure, knitting is my solace, and for me it just has to be relaxing.

When I know I'll have a hard time sleeping on a particular night, I pull out my needles and knit.  I usually have 2-3 projects going at once, so I've almost always got something that suits my mood.  And if I don't, I start something new.  Sometimes I need to focus on the knitting to distract myself from the other overwhelming thoughts of the day - so I break out the really cute monkey-face dishcloth pattern, where I have to count my stitches and remember which row to knit and to purl.  Sometimes I just need my brain to allow itself to turn off - those nights, I work on a scarf.

There's something extra-soothing about fluffy, cozy yarn and big needles, and the big, soft loops they make, that just helps me settle.  As I knit row after row, I can feel the constant pressure behind my eyes easing; I can feel my shoulders dropping and relaxing; I can feel my hands unclench as I let the yarn slip through them.

Some people get frustrated by knitting.  They're perfectionists; they have high expectations of themselves; they don't let the mistakes just happen; everything has to be just "so."  I used to be one of those people.  I used to knit everything so tight.  It was just because I wasn't relaxing.  I was convinced, for the longest time, that if I loosened my grip on my yarn, then I would totally lose my grip on everything, and it would all slide out of control around me and drop like so many stitches.  As I've continued to knit over the years, I've learned that I don't have to clench everything so tightly.  Some things, I can just ease up, and back off, and instead of falling apart, it will fall into place.

Sometimes, the only thing I can do that with is knitting.  But that's ok, because sometimes I can do it with other things, too.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Where my dogs at?

 Crazy Dog and Old Dog have a lot of needs.

For example, they need breakfast and dinner; they need blankets and soft beds to sleep on; they need pillows to rest their fuzzy heads on (I am dead serious. They both use pillows properly.); they need fresh water 4-6 times daily; and they need treats.

Lots and lots of treats.

See, Old Dog also needs medication.  He's Old, after all, so he gets a nerve-blocker and pain relievers twice a day to help with his Old Dog arthritis.  We give him these pills by putting peanut butter on a treat and then burying the pills in the peanut butter.  He usually swallows them whole.

Whenever Old Dog gets treats, Crazy Dog has to get treats.  Because otherwise, it's just not fair, and he sits and stares at us with his little Labby face and looks sooooo sad.  Like this:
Here, he was actually begging for study-time snuggles, not treats.  But it's the same look.  He gets his way a LOT with this little face.

Since we're giving both dogs treats at least two times every day, multiple treats at a time (and sometimes they get midafternoon treats, and treats tucked into a Kong or a bone), we go through a LOT of treats.

Treats have gotten particularly complicated in the last year, however.  Crazy Dog here is allergic to chicken and beef, despite the fact that most Labs could eat a battery and not bat an eye.  This didn't used to be a big problem - we had to feed him pricey, venison-based food, but he could still have beef bones, rawhides, and chicken treats once in a while with no ill effects, as long as we didn't give him TOO much.

At least, that's how it was for the first 1.5 years of his life.  Now, at 2.5 years old, his allergies have been getting steadily worse, and he's broken out in both acne (his usual allergic reaction) and rapid-growth hives (his terrifying allergic reaction) recently if he's had too much chicken or beef.

What was once an easy trip into the bulk treat aisle at Pet Life now has become an exercise in patience, as we now need to read labels carefully for phrases like "chicken meal," "beef meal,""fortified with beef broth," etc.  Since I've had some time recently, I've decided that it might just be easier to bake their treats than it is to buy them.

My mother sent me home from a recent visit to her house with a bag full of homemade dog cookies.  Now, I have also made numerous batches of dog cookies - oatmeal parsley cookies, to be exact.  They are every bit as dry and bland as they sound.  The dogs like them, but in a sort of indifferent way.

Grammie's cookies, however, had them climbing my body to get them out of my hand the minute I walked back in the door.  So I got the recipe from my mom, and I baked them a batch of dog cookies.

Grammie's Bestest Doggie Cookies
1 1/8 c each white and whole wheat flour
1/2 c peanut butter
1 c water
2 Tbl veg oil

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Show the bowl to your dog so they understand that you are baking for them.
That's for ME?!?
Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface.
My surface wasn't floured well-enough.  The cookie dough stuck to the counter.  Oh well. 
Cut into shapes, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until they're nice and dry and crunchy.
Mmm.  Doggie cookies.  I guarantee that if your pups like peanut butter, they will be climbing the walls to get to these while they're cooling.  The best part is, these are completely hypoallergenic for Crazy Dog.  Win-win. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The secret to cleaning success.

I hate cleaning.  Did you know that?

There are, in fact, few things I hate more than cleaning.  Of course, different chores and different rooms have differing levels of distaste.  For example - I would rather clean about 100 public bathrooms than sweep and mop my own floors.  At least when you're cleaning a bathroom, everything looks white and shiny and smooth and clean when you're done.  This is completely different from cleaning the floor, which looks good for about the first 2 seconds and is then promptly re-covered in dog hair/puke/mud.

On a related note, it really sucks that I hate doing floors, because we have the two dogs, who are very, very dirty, and shed like mofos.

Even though my mother is very clean and has kept my parents' home basically immaculate for as long as I can remember, I learned pretty much everything I know about cleaning from Wife, and Martha Stewart.  This isn't because my mother didn't try to teach me proper cleaning skills - it's because I made it my job as a kid to ignore, avoid, and half-ass every cleaning-oriented chore she gave me, therefore learning basically nothing.

Now I'm an adult with a house and two dogs, and since I'm the one who still gets school vacations, deep-cleaning, and regular cleaning when I'm not in school, frequently falls to me.  (In Wife's defense, this is more than fair, since I basically turn into an angry hermit for about a month surrounding exams each semester and do absolutely nothing to help out around the house.)

While I'm still pretty bad at it, there are a few things I've picked up over the last 4 years (slowly, painfully) that make my life easier on cleaning days.

1)  Always dust from the top down.  It's pointless to dust a table before you dust the shelf above it, because all the dust from the shelf is just going to fall on the table.
2)  Sweep at least twice before mopping if you have dogs, children, or you leave your own home more than once annually.  Sweeping only once just results in you making soapy mud with the mop later.
3)  Windex does, in fact, leave streaks on glass if you don't wipe until it's dry.  I have yet to figure out a way to actually do that, so Wife has learned to live with streaky mirrors.
4)  Just because an oven says "self-cleaning" doesn't mean you don't have to do anything at all.  If you don't clean the crumbled oven-ash out of the bottom after you run a clean cycle, it will smoke and set off your fire alarms or smoke detectors and make anything you bake or broil taste vaguely of charcoal for about a month.
5)  If you can't immediately identify it, it's usually best not to ask what it is you just wiped off the mirror/cabinet door/floor/wall/ceiling/fridge door/shelf/anything.  When you have dogs, there's a 50/50 chance the answer will be either poop or puke.  Just wash your own hands after and call it a day.
6)  Laundry should be folded ASAP after drying so it doesn't turn into a shriveled wrinkled mess.  (I am currently blogging to avoid folding freshly dried laundry.  I frequently fail to take my own advice.)
7)  Pet hair is magnetically attracted to corners, underneath furniture, and all other places generally difficult to reach with a broom.  There's nothing you can do about this except swear copiously while sweeping (twice).

My penultimate recommendation for cleaning, however, is something that I cannot do and few people can:

Hire a goddamn cleaning service and pay someone else to do this shit for you.

Nipple cookies

Seriously - who looks at these and doesn't think "Nipples!"
No one, that's who.  Photo courtesy of
For a wide variety of reasons, these are one of Wife's favorite cookies.  They're also one of mine, but for a different reason - these are the easiest cookies in the world to make.  And I have been busting them out like it's my job lately.

To make delicious nipple cookies (aka peanut butter kiss cookies):
1 c sugar
1 c peanut butter
1 large egg
15-18 unwrapped chocolate kisses (if you leave these wrapped and put them on the cookies, please tell me so I can laugh at you)

Mmm, kisses. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the sugar, peanut butter, and egg, mixing until thoroughly combined.  We're talking Play-Doh consistency, people.

With your hands, form the dough into roughly 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  This recipe makes about 15-18 cookies, depending on how big you like your balls (heh, heh).

I like big balls.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove from oven and immediately press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.  Let cool and enjoy.

A couple side notes.
One - before wrapping them up, place the cookies, uncovered, in the refrigerator to cool.  Otherwise, the kisses will still be melty and they'll end up smushed and stuck to the wrap/foil/container lid.
Two - caramel-filled kisses are FANTASTIC on these.  I usually hate caramel.  I really do.  I only really like it when it's an accent to something else, like pumpkin cheesecake (which is another blog post entirely).  But with these cookies, it plays off the peanut butter and just makes everything peanuttier.  Yum.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Making Curtains

Dude.  I totally made these curtains last week.

I know, I know.  I already told you that.  But now I'm going to tell you how I made them.  

First of all, I needed a sewing machine.  I didn't have one.  Wife took me out shopping last week, knowing that I'd been cruising Craigslist looking for a cheap, secondhand machine.  She walked me into Joann Fabrics and informed me that I would not be buying an old machine, but would in fact be getting a new one.  Mostly because I'm probably going to break it, so she thought I should get something warrantied.  Which is, admittedly, a really good idea.

I ended up with this one.
Not only does it come with a 10-year manufacturer's warranty, there's also a 1-year in-store warranty - which means that if (when) I break it, if it's been less than 1 year since I bought it, I can take it back to Joann's and the nice ladies at Mainely Sewing Machines will fix it for me.  Thank goodness.

We picked out some fabric that would make cute curtains for the bathroom and bedroom, since those rooms were the most urgently in need of curtains.  Really, it was urgent - if we didn't stand in the right spot in the bathroom to change, our neighbors could see us.  Which means that the neighbors have probably seen my boobies about a dozen times since we moved in, because I am forgetful.  Oops.

I spent some time cruising the Internet to figure out how in the world I would make these curtains.  I signed up for, to look at some patterns and tutorials.  And then I found one.  Suzannah at Adventures in Dressmaking broke everything down so clearly, I decided this was the tutorial I would use.

So I made all my measurements.  I carefully added in the half-inch foldovers for the hems,  THEN added in the width of my actual hem (because if you don't, apparently the raw edges will wear down and your hems will fall out, and you'll be left with a sad, sorry mess).  I cut and tore my fabric to get my edges straight; I carefully folded, pinned, pressed, and pinned again.  I had threaded my machine with a carefully-coordinated shade of teal green thread, so when the curtains finally were pinned into shape, I sat down, lined everything up - and started to sew.

And promptly jammed the machine.

Apparently, pinheads don't fit well under the sewing foot of the machine.  The result?  The hems on my first set of curtains are puckery and zig-zagged - not purposefully, like zig-zag stitching, but incidentally, since my first reaction was - I kid you not - to just swerve around the pins while sewing.

. . .

It's a damn good thing Wife loves me and thinks it's cute that I'm trying to reteach myself to sew.  I foresee lots more crooked sets of curtains in our future.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Learning to sew

My mother tried to teach me to sew when I was about 6 years old.  This is also around the time when she tried to teach me to knit, and to crochet.  None of these efforts were really successful, and I can't even remember whose idea it was for her to teach me these things, hers or mine.  But she tried nonetheless, in spite of my best efforts to thwart her.

Now, 20 years later, I really, really wish I'd been paying attention to her lessons.  I grew up wearing mittens, scarves, and the occasional sweater that my mother had knit for me, and dresses she had sewn herself on her little Singer.  The desire to be domestic didn't really kick in for me until I was about 18 and needed something to do with my spare time, other than read.  I had thought for years "Oh, I could knit if I wanted to," but promptly realized when I first attempted knitting that no, no I could NOT knit.  Thus began the painful process of reteaching myself the things my mother had first attempted over a decade earlier.

Sewing intimidated me the most.  With knitting and crocheting, all you have to worry about is a strand or two of yarn, and one or two needles.  Four, if you're feeling fancy and knit in the round.  (I am not fancy.)  It doesn't matter if you can't cut in a straight line, have poor eye-hand-foot coordination, or tend to stab yourself whenever you're near something sharp.  You just need to be able to count and make loops, really, and the yarn and needles to the rest.  But with sewing . . . well, let's just say that I lack a few fundamental life skills.  (See the rest of this paragraph.)

When Wife and I moved into a house, however, we found ourselves seriously lacking a few things.  One of those things was curtains.  There are about a dozen windows in our house - all different sizes, too - and we only had 3 curtains, none of which fit any of those damn windows.  I got it into my head that maybe, just maybe, it was time for me to learn to sew.

After all, how badly can you mess up a rectangle?

Not so bad for my first set, if I do say so myself.

The curtains could have gone way, way worse.  Thankfully, not only did they end up not sucking horribly, but Wife loves me enough to tell me repeatedly that they're really cute and they look awesome. She also told me, before I even tried to make them, that she'd be happy with whatever I made - even if that meant I tacked raw fabric up over the windows with thumbtacks.  Ah.  Nothing like setting a low bar for me to surpass.  

We'll see how long that bar stays low . . . 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Well, hello there . . .

About once a year, I start a new blog.  It's typically when I'm on break from school and have the extra time to devote to things-other-than-my-studies.

I really love the idea of blogging.  You put some words up on a page that you (kind of) designed yourself, and other people read them.  They get inside your head, because you're allowing them to do so by putting those words on that page on the Internet.  Blogs are an awesome way to be helpful; to be informative; to be snotty; to overshare; and to get your 15 minutes of fame.  They're also a great way to entertain and amuse, as well as educate.

Blogs, however, take some stamina.  You can have the very best of intentions and never, ever follow through with them.  This is what I typically do - start the blog, give it a clever name, write a handful of posts, and then once the school year or semester starts back up again and I'm forced to study for over 40 hours per week, in addition to working, volunteering, and trying to still be a halfway-decent wife, well . . . the blog isn't exactly still high on my priority list.

And every time this happens, when I start the next one, I tell myself - "This time, it will be different.  I'll stick with it."  I never, ever do.

But hey, it never hurts to try again!