Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Project No. 3: The Why Project

Why? Why did I never knit the other sock?

Was I scared that there wasn't enough yarn? Was I tired of orange and brown? Tired of wearing socks? Tired of giving socks away? Tired of making the world a happier place by adding to its store of homemade socks?

Had I found sock yarn I loved more? Was this sock tossed over for a cuter sock, a more interesting sock, a sock that fulfilled me more both spiritually and emotionally?

Did I set this sock aside and forget it existed? Is this an orphan sock? A sock cruelly abandoned to the streets? Is it a Dickensonian sock, an Oliver Twist of a sock, a sock that has been quietly but audaciously begging for gruel beneath my other abandoned knitting projects?

I'm going to give this sock a home and make it a match, because I am good and kind-hearted. I will find in myself the will to love all unmatched, abandoned homemade socks, no matter how orange and brown. I am going to spend a few days making this sock feel wanted and loved, because I am that kind of knitter, and because my feet are cold and the socks I got at Target are already falling apart.

Project No. 2: Finishing the Sock

This is typical: a couple of years ago I bought some lovely yarn to knit my niece a pair of socks. The socks were darling, and believing that I had enough yarn left, I proceeded to knit myself a pair from the same skein. But the yarn ran out about an inch before the toe began on the second sock.

Me, being me, I couldn't find the label for the yarn. I had no idea who made it or what color it was. Buying more was out of the question. The socks sat in my knitting basket gathering lint. I thought maybe I'd find a matching solid color yarn and finish up the second sock (no one would notice the mismatched toe, or if they did, they'd probably finding it eccentric and charming), but I never got around to it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for sock-knitting, having knit my husband a pair of socks for his birthday (a marvelous cashmere-wool washable blend in a manly hunter green) and gotten the bug again. Unlike sweaters and quilts, socks are so fast, so easy, so portable. So I went on line searching for sock yarn that I loved and that didn't cost thirty dollars per sock.

I found what I was looking for at Awesome Ewe--good ol' Lana Grossa sock yarn. Browsing around at the various self-striping varieties, I noticed a color-way that looked suspiciously familiar. It's hard to match up yarn in your basket with yarn on-line, but I thought it was worth a shot.

The yarn arrived yesterday--all the way from British Columbia, and Reader, it was a match (Meilenweit Fantasy, 4790). I can finish up the socks I've started and knit a few more to boot. I may just run down my street throwing socks at my neighbors hither and yon. Ain't nothing like a homemade sock to chase those winter blues away.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Project No. 1: The Liberated Quilt

This is my first block for my liberated quilt. I bought a bunch of fabric from Jo-Ann's, plus a rotary cutter. I came home and I cut strips of fabric. I measured nothing.

After that I wasn't sure what to do, so I made it up as I went along. I ironed quarter-inch seams and then started sewing everything together by hand. I have a 6"x6" template (also courtesy of Jo-Ann's), and used that to build my block on. When I need more fabric, I cut out more strips.

I do not swear by this method. Somehow, I'm sure I could be doing this much more efficiently. But you know what? This is the way for me, at least right now. I'm having fun. I like how my block looks. The only thing that's getting on my nerves is threading the needle, and that's because I'm forty-three and can't see anymore.

So imagine sixteen or so of these blocks set between borders of maybe dark blue fabric with white stars (that's what I'm thinking--I might change my mind) and hanging up on the wall. Imagine the audacity of calling it art.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Other People's Children

I yelled at somebody else's kid this morning, and I've been feeling bad about it all day.

Here's the situation: Jack car pools with two other kids to school every morning. Mother A typically pulls into our driveway at 7:40; Mother B at 7:50. When it's Mother A's day to drive, I hurry Jack up so he's ready on time. I do this mostly because I don't like to keep people waiting. But I also make sure Jack's ready because on the one occasion last fall when he wasn't, Mother A's child ran up our sidewalk and rang the doorbell repeatedly, banged on the door, and yelled for Jack to hurry up.

This, to put it mildly, annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Not only was it obnoxious behavior on this kid's part, but at 7:40 A.M., Will was still asleep. So this kid rang the doorbell like a madman, and of course Will snarled his way downstairs to make the morning lovely for all involved.

So, today. It's Mother B's turn to drive, and I'm prodding Jack to get ready, but not actually rushing him. I'm in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher when suddenly--Bam! Bam! Bam! RRRRRiiinnng! RRRRRiiinnng! "Come on, Jack! Come on, Jack!" RRRRRiiinnng!

Turns out that Mother A and Mother B switched shifts.

I hurry into the hallway, not exactly yelling (in hopes there's the remotest chance in the world Will has not been awakened), but certainly using a vicious, if not murderous tone of voice, half-shouting in a half-whisper, "Stop it! Stop it! Will's still asleep!"

The child looks at me, dismayed. He is a naturally super-loud kid, exuberant, and a touch out of control, but he's not ill-intentioned. I didn't say anything else to him, just helped Jack with his shoes, quickly combed his hair, and sent him on his way.

Now, when I was telling all this to my hair stylist this morning (hello color, goodbye gray!) and saying I felt guilty, she replied, "He's forgotten all about it; why don't you?"

In part, my reason for dwelling is self-serving: I don't want to be thought of as the mean mom. I try to be sweet and cheerful with other people's kids (which is probably why my own children are always looking at me funny when they have friends over, like, Who is this woman?), and most of their friends are nice kids who can take a hint, so there's no need to yell when situations start to get out of control.

I usually say something when language is used that's not allowed in our house ("stupid," "idiot," "butt," "shut up"), but I say it in a sing-songy voice: "House rule! No saying shut up, sweetie!" And I say something if a bigger kid picks on Will or if somebody's about to break something or spill something on the carpet.

But it's pretty rare for me to lose my temper the way I did this morning, at least not with other people's children. This morning serves to underscore my gut feeling that I really shouldn't be out of bed before 8:30. I'm just not constituted to deal with the world before then.

I think mostly I feel bad because I didn't say anything to this kid or his mother last time he rang the bell like a maniac. I should have e-mailed Mother A and asked her to speak to her lovely child about not ringing the doorbell out of its little doorbell socket. It wouldn't have been a big deal. He would have known not to do it; she would have reminded him this morning not to do it.

But good old conflict avoider that I am, I didn't say a word. I thought I had the problem licked by just making sure Jack was always ready.

Reading over this, it occurs to me that ever since Jack and this kid have been friends, I have tried to be nice to him. He's a nice kid, so it's not hard, except that he's incredibly loud and pretty aggressive in his play (though not mean). He and Jack and Will do a lot of light-sabering out back, and this kid's always yelling, "I JUST DESTROYED YOU!" Believe me, this is not endearing. Nonetheless, I feel a certain sympathy towards him. He's just enough of an oddball for me to be on his side.

So I guess I hate that this morning I joined the ranks of people yelling at him. I think there are a lot of people who yell at him (mostly to be quiet--honestly, this is one of the loudest kids I've ever met). While I have to admit it was satisfying at the moment to finally say to him, "Enough!", in retrospect, I wished I could have figured out how to say "Shut up," in a kind, sing-songy voice that let him know he was still among the beloved, but he could tone it down a few notches even so.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The other day someone I know slightly called to invite me to her house to drink tea and talk about writing and God. My heart sank. I like this woman, I think she's nice and funny, I enjoy chatting with her when I run into her. But I'd like to keep things at chatty and funny. I'd like to stay acquaintances.

When I lived in Massachusetts, a friend of mine from Virginia was always trying to explain the point of good manners to our northern brethren. "Most of our daily interactions are superficial," he would explain. "The post man, the check out clerk, the receptionist. Life is a lot nicer when these interactions are pleasant, and you can make them pleasant if you're polite. It doesn't take much."

I love pleasant superficial exchanges. I don't need to see everybody's broken side all the time. I know it's there. I know a lot of us are big bundles of anxiety and frustration and disappointment. Lord knows I am half the time. In fact, knowing this to be true of myself and others, I find good manners even more meaningful. Using good manners says, "I respect you enough to stop being a self-centered mess for two minutes and ask you how you are today."

So I love my little chatty relationships, but rarely do I hope they'll bloom into something more. When I was a single gal, and the chatty relationship was with a guy who suddenly got more interested than I wanted him to be, all I had to do was hint that there was another man in the picture. But what do you do when it's another mom on the playground or somebody who works in the same building as you do? Say, "I'm sorry, but I already have enough friends, and I'm not looking for any more at this time"?

For various reasons, I thought it would be unkind to this person to say no to her offer of hospitality. In fact, I got mad at myself for being such a hypocrite, since I've been doing all this reading lately about Christian hospitality and radical welcome, and thinking this is the year I'm going to invite more people over to dinner and generally be more hospitable. Yeah, I'm Miss Hospitality--unless of course you're not my type.

I mean, hospitality is a two-way street. It's not just welcoming people into your home, it's accepting their gifts of hospitality as well. I know this, I swear I do. Of course, when you live in my dreamy head, your vision of two-way hospitality involves becoming friends with some poor person down at the soup kitchen, discovering that you have a world in common despite your disparate situations.

But in real life--outside the confines of my foggy brain--life so rarely resembles an After school Special. If you want to practice hospitality, it means saying yes to the nice, perfectly average person who has been kind to you and wants you to come over and see where she lives and what her life at home is like. So I said yes to this woman and told myself, 'Maybe this will be amazing; maybe I'll learn a life lesson, you never know.' (I am always having thoughts like this--why am I such a ridiculous human being?)

Come the day of the engagement, and guess what? School is delayed two hours because of freezing rain. I can't go drink tea and learn amazing life lessons. I feel like I've been given a reprieve. I have been saved from a morning that I'm pretty sure would involve candles, incense, and new age music. I can read a book instead.

But the invitation will come again, and I don't know that I will ever be able to receive it graciously. This bothers me. I'd like to be a better, bigger person than I am. Maybe one day I will be. Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I've been meaning to put my quilt on display for awhile, and finally here it is. Ta da! It is off in Chicago now, either keeping my sister-in-law warm or folded neatly in the linen closet.

I would like to do some more quilting soon--quilting of the liberated variety, in which I just kind of make it up as I go along. Just as soon as I finish sewing on the sleeves to my brother's Christmas sweater (which I am in the process of doing now, thank you very much) ...

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I have always had pretty good luck with bread, though I can't say my loaves consistently rise as high as I would like. Having said that, for years I've been trying to make your basic rustic-type loaf without any luck whatsoever. Whenever I've tried, the loaf I usually gets tastes fine, but it's almost always too dense.

I'm pleased to report that this has changed, thanks to a recipe in the New York Times food section a week or so before Christmas. Not only does this bread require minimal work--i.e. no kneading--the recipe is very loosey-goosey when it comes to rising times (bonus: you only have to let it rise once). Between two to five hours the directions tell you. I've probably made this recipe five or six times since the beginning of the year, and I can report that the longer you let it rise, the better. After two hours you get a nice loaf, but a little dense; after four hours, heaven.

So here's my version of the recipe, which is pretty close to the paper's, only different enough not violate copyright laws.
You'll need:

  • 1 1/2 packs (or 1 1/2 Tbs) active yeast
  • 3 cups of hot water
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbs kosher salt
  • cornmeal
  • a pizza or bread stone

1. Put the yeast in a large bowl; pour in water. You don't have to let it proof, but I usually do, at least for a few minutes (I throw in a pinch of sugar, just to see the yeast bubble and surge).

2. Stir in the salt and add the flour a couple of cups at a time. Make sure the dough is wet all the way through; don't leave any dry spots.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for at least three or four hours.

4. When the dough has risen to your satisfaction, flour your hands and tear off a big ball from the bowl. The Times' article says grapefruit-sized, but I've been doing bigger than that, more like the size of two grapefruits put together. Put this ball of dough on a cutting board or something akin to that--I use a pizza board--that's been sprinkled with cornmeal. The cornmeal is very important, because this is really wet dough, and it will not slide off the board without plenty of cornmeal to ease it on its way.

5. Wrap the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. It keeps up to five days. I usually get one more loaf out of the dough. Obviously, if you make smaller loaves, you'll get more. I think it's best to use the dough within a couple of days. I've used it as many as five days later, and I don't think it rises as well. I take the dough out of the fridge at least three hours before I'm ready to bake it.

6. Let the dough rest for thirty to forty minutes.

7. While dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. When the oven is preheated, put in a pizza stone and let heat for at least twenty minutes. Put the bottom part of a broiler pan on the rack under the pizza stone.

8. After the dough is done resting, score the loaf with a serrated knife and dust a little flour on top. Transfer the dough from the cutting board to the pizza stone. Pour one cup of water into the broiler pan and close oven door quickly, so that the steam doesn't escape. Bake for around twenty-five minutes.

After making this loaf a bunch of times, I've started setting the timer for twenty minutes, and then putting some foil over the top of the loaf when the timer goes off and letting the bread bake for eight to ten more minutes, to make sure it's thoroughly baked in the middle.

I brought a loaf the other night to a meeting, and everybody raved. It looks like it came from a bakery and has a beautiful crumb.

There are so many things I love about this bread. The making of it is simplicity itself, especially given that you don't have to time your life around multiple risings, and there's only one bowl to wash when you're done. I swear to you, if you don't have a pizza stone, this bread is worth the trouble and cost of buying one. Trust me on this. It will change your life.