Sashiko Baby Quilt

I have been reading a lot of quilting books lately- my natural inclination when I learn something new is to start with books. I’ve gone through a good portion of the shelf in the library, and probably need to buy this one, “Japanese Country Quilting” because I have checked it out three times, now.

Introduction to sashiko embroidery/quilting.

 I have hesitated admitting I’m learning to quilt, actually, because I already knit and garden. Quilting makes it the little old lady trifecta. (A thousand pardons to any of you reading this who do all three and don’t think of yourselves as little old ladies. Just wait until you take up geneology, and start using phrases like “a thousand pardons.”)
I’m working on a baby quilt which is kind of a pattern sampler of Japanese stitches in dark blue.  The quilt itself is whole cloth, instead of being patchwork. It is pale blue on top with a yellow flannel backing. My greatest hope is that the baby-to-be-named-later chooses this as his favorite blanket… For hand quilting, it hasn’t taken as much time as you’d think, and it is certainly easier to rip out when I make mistakes. When I have tried to machine quilt, it just goes too fast, and I lose control.

Some of the dozens of traditional patterns in the book.

The next step will be to sew on a binding, which is pretty much my favorite part of quilting.

I have another baby quilt in mind, and actually have the fabric for it. Ack! I’m a quilter! 

Organizing the Piano

In order to put out Christmas decorations, we have to clean. The girl wants to be in charge of the Christmas village, which consists of two newspaper offices and a spooky castle. As we start clearing off the piano, I am realizing that one of the reasons it hasn’t been cleaned before is because of some unfinished business. There is a big basket of sheet music that dates back to when the girl took piano lessons. I mean, it dates back to when the girl quit piano lessons.
So much clutter is psychological- I had wanted piano lessons as a kid, but never got them. The girl started out liking lessons, then hated practicing, hated lessons, hated me. There was a lot of yelling. We hosted her final recital, she did a beautiful job, then she quit, and I had (still have) a lot of mixed emotions. The basket of sheet music contains her Suzuki book 1, the Suzuki book 2 that I bought, hoping she would change her mind, notebooks that I took notes in about what she needed to practice, flash cards, envelopes with prizes she could win if she practiced 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours…
I am tempted to put the whole pile in a box to be dealt with at some later date. No. Must deal with now. Wish me luck.

OK. It is later, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I went through the basket while the girl dusted the piano. I got rid of some bad memories, and was able to pull some Christmas music to the front of the basket. We pulled out a vintage linen tablecloth to represent snow, and she set up the buildings, plus the spooky castle on the hill. Then she actually added to it, making some houses, and an ice skating pond. In a perfect world, she would then sit down, pull out some Christmas music, and start playing piano. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I guess I can dream.

No, there was no tornado...this is just how the living room looked before. It is much better now. At least the top of the piano is organized now...

Rustic Apple Tart and Hand Pies

Hand pie- it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

These could have stayed in the oven for another five minutes for that golden brown deliciousness.

Worlds collided today when the girl brought home My First Cookbook, which  has a pastry recipe, and I picked a zillion apples from our tree. A surprising number of them weren’t wormy.

Look how many of them don't have worm holes! We don't spray or anything, so worms are the rule rather than the exception.

I chopped enough for a crockpot full of apple sauce, and a pie. Then the girl’s recipe turned out to be for tarts, and I said, what about hand pies? Hand pies, she asked, did you just make that up? Ummmm, no. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere.  So, we’ll cut circles, put in apples, then fold them over.  The circle we chose to use was the ring from a half gallon sized canning jar, which made lilliputian sized pies…They’re very cute.  The girl made pie crust for the first time, and we actually should have asked Grandma or Great-grandma for lessons, because I think I’ve only made pie crust twice before in my life.  The girl did a good job, though, it’s nice and flaky.

Baked them for a surprisingly long time- I guess I’ve learned something with this project, because I keep saying how surprised I am. It took about 25 minutes at 350, which was enough to brown the bottoms and lightly brown the tops. The apples are still a touch crisp, so it could have gone even longer. We had enough for 6 half moon shaped pies, and I rolled the scraps into a freeform circle, dumped the rest of the seasoned apples into the center, then folded the edges up over it, into a rustic apple tart.  “Rustic?” she says, as if that isn’t a real word. Rustic is totally a word! The rusitc tart held together beautifully when cooled and sliced.

Promise me you'll eat this with ice cream.

Rustic apple Tart

3 cups sour apples, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon flour

your favorite pie crust recipe, or whatever instant pie dough solution you like best.

Toss the apples, sugar cinnamon and flour together in a bowl. Roll out the crust and cut reasonable-sized circles. On reflection, the canning lids, about 3 inch diameter, made very small pies. Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet, fill with the apple mixture, fold over and bake for 25 or more minutes. For once, we forgot to put sprinkles on top, but sprinkles would have been good.

For the rustic tart, I was recalling something I read in Cook’s Illustrated a year ago, so there are probably better sources of instructions. Roll out the dough, place apple mix in the middle, with a good 2 inches of border. Fold up the edges and crimp it, then bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  Because the top is open, it is easier to test these for doneness- just stab an apple with a paring knife to see if they are soft enough.

First grader’s reading goals

I joke that we home school in our family, and then in August we send our kids to the neighborhood public school. Truth comes out in a joke- I am a teacher and general know-it-all, DH is a journalist and general know-it-all. Our kids are becoming know-it-alls. It is nice that we have separate but overlapping fields of knowledge. Actually, you could draw a Venn diagram

Plants, food, language, linguistics, literature, mythology, show tunes, food, plots of old movies, history of Tudor and Stuart dynasties

Weird pop culture references, 80’s sitcoms, the time travel paradox, Star Trek

Astronomy, geology, geography, physics, music, pop hits of the 80’s, obscure college bands of the 90’s, Star Wars, AP style, computers


This shows precisely how nerdy I am, that I would draw a Venn diagram about my nerdiness, but not know how to make the Venn diagram show up on the web.  It looked okay on Word.  I’ll have to figure out how to do it in an illustration….

            Our kids have interests and knowledge areas of their own, including Legos, art, dinosaurs, insects, zoology, the Littlest Pet Shop ‘verse, but I don’t know how to make a Venn diagram for the 4 of us, even in Word, much less make it show up on the web. 

            All summer we read, talk, go to museums. There is a lot of lying around, playing with Legos and riding bikes, too, but just by the nature of who we are, there is a lot of learning going on.

            The girl started reading before kindergarten, and hasn’t stopped. She reads, and re-reads, she complains about movies that get the book wrong. She cruised through the Harry Potter series in about 6 weeks, came up for air, then started at the beginning again.

            For a while, the boy seemed to think that reading meant sounding words out, and he hated it.  Last summer, he was recognizing words on packages or on signs, and I would compliment him. I would say, “Good job reading!” and he would say, “I wasn’t reading, I just saw the word and I knew it.” He sounded so disgusted with me, but it was just that he didn’t know that is the definition of reading- seeing the word, and knowing it.

            Going into first grade, he thought he was a bad reader, because his sister is so good, and the books that he is most interested in, like “The Dinosaur Encyclopedia” are too hard for him to read on his own (I have learned a ton about dinos, because I have read the stupid thing aloud to him so much, but it doesn’t really stay with me, so I didn’t put it in the diagram as an area of expertise)

On the first day of first grade, when they were testing him in reading, the tester had to go find more books to get one at a challenging enough level.  He is mostly bored by the books at his level- he wants me to read the dang dinosaur encyclopedia again. or lately books on Greek myths that I have brought home from my middle school.  He thinks he can’t read because he can’t read those, and he already knows everything in the first grade books.

9 weeks into the year, we have our first conferences this week. I wonder what we’ll learn. What are your thoughts about homeschool, public school, unschool?

Knitting socks and lessons learned

The yarn harlot has written about a self imposed sock club( for those who don’t know, a sock knitting club is where you sign up and buy a pattern per month and the yarn to complete it.) Anyway, the yarn harlot had a closet full of sock yarn, and a stack of books with patterns bookmarked, so she created her own sock club, putting copies of patterns she wanted to try into Ziploc bags and choosing sock yarn to go with them. Every month she pulls out a bag and blogs about the results.  I was inspired to do kind of the same thing, although without the Ziploc bags.

Oooh la la, look at those socks.

For the month of June, I chose a wavy lace pattern called Old Shale, from the Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook and some great kettle-dyed hot pink sock yarn from Knit Picks   

            June was vacation month- I got out of school, spent a couple of days cleaning and packing, and then got on a plane to Boston.  I started the first pink sock on the way to the airport, worked on it at DIA after we checked in. I checked my toolkit with my luggage, so I didn’t have a measuring tape.  I used a 4×6 index card that I had copied the pattern on to measure my progress, and when I had a 4 inch cuff, I started the heel.  This detail is important.  I turned the heel as we flew over the great lakes, and cruised down the instep.  How far is it from Denver to Boston? Slightly less than 1 sock.

            I knit more as we wandered around Massachusetts. We found the hotel, got pizza, went to the science museum, rode the T, walked the freedom trail. My production slowed considerably, until we drove to Mount Washington and I finished the toe.

            I started sock number two. We assume that socks will be twins. Commercial socks are usually identical, handmades are sometimes fraternal.  I worked on the ankle of of pink sock number 2 as we drove down the coast to Providence- we started at Salisbury, which is near Cape Anne, and drove down and through Gloucester, Salem, Boston. At rush hour it began raining, and we struggled with reading road signs through trees in the rain. Quincy, Braintree- ooh, John Adams was from there!  Bad signage made the drive stressy- DH drove, the kids slept, and I kept knitting. Knitting is good for stress.  I kept thinking “one more repeat, and I’ll measure.”  I fished the index card out of the bag…4 or 6?  Which edge had I measured with? I somehow remembered 6, but when I compared it to sock number 1, it was 4. So my second sock was about an inch and a half longer than my first. Drat.


  1. a pair of unmatched socks.
  2. make a third sock to match the second, then hope there was enough yarn for a fourth to match the second.
  3. rip out one and a half inches of lace.


Great color, too bad they aren't the same length.

I chose option C- I took a photo first, there in the twilit car, in the rain, in Rhode Island. Then I figured out where to rip back to and unraveled- 2 hours of knitting gone in 30 seconds. Then I carefully picked up the stitches, counted them twice and made the heel and kept going. It’s a great pair of socks. And maybe I learned something from making it.

I’m an English teacher, and a writer, so a big part of me wants this to be a metaphor. Wouldn’t it be great to get a do-over in life- rip out and pick up…it’s painful to admit a mistake, but freeing to fix it. Another part of me says, “it’s just a sock.” So it is just as likely I didn’t learn anything.

It’s not depreciation, it’s self-deprecation, idiot! er, I mean, Self Deprecation and Giftedness

bedside reading

A selection of books by my bed.

My daughter is ten, and in the gifted and talented program at her school. A few years ago, when she was first being tested, I told my sister in law, and she asked if my husband was gifted, and if that was where she had inherited her intelligence…I realized that I had done too good a job hiding my light, as it were. Covering, acting like I wasn’t as smart as I am…

Actually, I have spent 40 years swinging pendulum style from showing off knowledge, back to acting normal, then exploding with brilliance, then faking idiocy. In the 80’s in a small town, it wasn’t okay for me to act smart. I remember hemming and hawing at Trivial Pursuit questions pretending the answer wasn’t obvious, sitting on my hands in Spanish in junior high. It was absolutely not appropriate for me to get better grades on Spanish tests than the Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish at home- they were mean to me because of it. I didn’t stop trying, I just tried to be less obvious about what I knew. Other people who grew up with me may argue, perhaps they were super-intelligent and felt their intelligence was nurtured by their peers. No one else has lived my life, and being super genius was not the way to go, most of the time for me. I developed a “self-deprecating” style in the hopes that people would like me. It doesn’t always work.

Inside, I’m still nerdy, and desperate for people to like me, or at least not hate me.. I sometimes wish I could be that person who thinks, if they don’t like me they can f— themselves, but I’m just not. See, I can’t even cuss on my own blog, I’m so desperate for you to not be offended. So, the pendulum swings again, and I listen politely while people explain things to me that I already understand, then I show off, explaining how linguists use a phonetic alphabet to transcribe people’s accents, or that the Rosetta stone is actually in the British Museum. Then I make a joke, put myself down before anyone else gets a chance to. Those boys in junior high Spanish were mean as a form of social control- they didn’t want to feel bad themselves, so they made me feel bad.

At least I have chosen a job where my intelligence is mostly rewarded. I teach, and that is a job where I can be a know-it-all. I’m supposed to be an expert, if not a genius, and so I mostly fit in here.
As an adult, I have found circles of friends who like me for me, a husband who is my peer. I am so lucky. The pendulum doesn’t swing so far that I am afraid of falling off anymore.

Knowing this, I worry for my daughter. She is, as I said, also gifted (she gets it from both of us, dammit…)and I see her crazy pendulum swings now, in upper elementary, and wonder what middle school will be like. When she gets an answer on her homework wrong, she’ll hit her forehead with the heel of her hand, chanting “stupid,’tupid, ‘tupid!” Then the pendulum swings again and she says, “actually, Mom…” and correct my misconceptions. She recently learned the word misnomer, and went around using it correctly. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus is actually a misnomer, it isn’t a circus that flies…”

I wish her grace- the skill to gracefully show what she knows without appearing snotty, I wish her confidence, not arrogance. How do I guide her? Her G.T. teacher, herself a gifted person who is the mother of a gifted girl, oddly isn’t much help…she has just come through the teenage years and wonders how she survived, I think. Conversations in the teachers’ lounge usually turn into parents bragging about how smart their children are, a round robin story topping festival. Not helpful, when I want my little girl to grow up happy…

I shared the story about my sister in law not having noticed I was smart with a colleague, herself a gifted woman. She laughed. In my voice, she said, “Oh, see, I’ve been hiding the fact that I’m smart around you because I didn’t want you to feel baaaad.” She had also spent time covering up her intelligence, but she had realized that she could be one of those people who says F you. She knows who she is, and and she isn’t going to act any differently just to make other people feel comfortable. She probably even can curse on her blog. I’ll just stay here on this pendulum until it slows down.

photo credit, Jeff Stahla

If this is how she is after a carnival, imagine her on a bad day.

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