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We are Familia FIG. We are a bi- lingual, blended family. Belalu was diagnosed at 9 months with hypochondroplasia.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Travelin´and Knittin

This was my travel car in the train from Madrid to Vigo last week. Tight quarters, but I was traveling in style with the top bunk and no one in the next bed. This view is from my bunk, in case you couldn´t tell.

On the way, I finished Julian´s bear with his Barca scarf. Here he is with my travel knitting kit. Floss to cut the yarn, a pretty bag my friend Wen Lei gave me from China that holds my needles, measuring tape, stitch holders and markers, and anything else I need along the way.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Rockin' the Holiday Gifts

Meridith and I made a gingerbread house today. I bought the house parts at Ikea (no kidding), and we put it together and decorated it. Note the gumdrop snowman to the right- isn't he cute?

It has been a busy day on the gift-making front. Here you have Julian's bear- he has yet to be named and clothed. I've decided to just go with the scarf instead of the whole football jersey, so I should be able to finish that today and he'll be ready for his trip overseas on Tuesday.

I also finished Juan's mother's scarf. Thank you to everyone who contributed their suggestions to my dilemma. I finally went with what I know- the basketweave pattern. I really like how it turned out. The basketweave is my favorite scarf pattern. Some of you may recall that I made one for Julian last year in this pattern.

Here's a close-up.

Pattern notes: I knit this with a cream 70% alpaca 30% acrylic blend, double stranded throughout on 10 1/2 handmade cherry wood needles. The ends are each six rows of seed stitch, while the rest is: three stitches in seed pattern on the ends and five boxes of four stitches each. It is not a super-long scarf because it doesn't really get that cold in Vigo, so you don't need to wrap it around your neck too many times. It is very soft and has a much better drape than the all-seed pattern would have had.

I also made some fingerless gloves in my own pattern for my sister. I took the "Fetching" pattern from Knitty.com and shortened the cable and did it throughout so it is very elastic and fitted to your hand. The yarn is double-stranded alpaca from my friend Margaret's very own alpacas in Minnesota. It is an extremely durable yarn, but super soft, so I think it will be perfect for Meridith's dog-walking activities. I also made a pair for Amy in cream alpaca- very soft and luxurious, but I forgot to take a picture. So imagine this in cream :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cookies and a new Teddy Bear

Even though I am on vacation, I have been occupied with various pressing matters over the past few days. I spent all of yesterday on the Internet researching my upcoming trip to Europe. I leave for Spain the day after Christmas, but first I have a day-long layover in Amsterdam, which I am very excited about. It is one of my favorite cities- I love the contrast of the quiet canals and beautiful traditional architecture with the modern, hip vibe of all the young people cruising around on their bikes. I managed to find a yarn store mention on the web- De Afstap, so I may pop in there to see what I can find on my jet-lagged ramblings. To the left here you can see my latest project-in-progress. I am making another Teddy Bear from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. This one is going to be for Julian, Juan's 6 year old son. I have been entrusted to make him (the bear) a tee shirt that looks like a Barça jersey. Right now I'm just working on getting the bear done before I see him next week- we may have to settle for a scarf in the Barça colors of red and blue.

Meridith and I spent the entire day out and about getting errands and last-minute shopping done. (Well, I was- she just came along- poor thing had no idea what she was in for). Living in the middle of nowhere, I don't get near commercial temptation all that often. I had intended to take a couple of hours and be home before the crowds descended on the mall and the surrounding area, but it turns out that we were gone for SIX hours! About five hours into the marathon mall trip, both us of realized that the only food/beverage product we had consumed since breakfast were a couple of pieces of peppermint bark handed out by a smiling lady in a Santa hat at Williams and Sonoma and a dixie cup of hot cider at the same local. Determined to finish up and go home, we pressed on for another hour, fueled by an almost-empty can of roasted peanuts in the backseat of my car, remnants from last week's road trip.

Upon getting home (and eating), I proceeded to bake two batches of cookies: molasses spice and chocolate peppermint. Tomorrow they will be sent to my cousin in Iraq- more of a New Year's gift than Christmas at this point. But this package has been in the making for a couple of weeks now, so I'll be glad to have it sent out and on its way. I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and not stressing too much. And for those last-minute gift knitters like myself- animo! They will get done in time. And if not, there's always birthdays :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Knitting is Frustrating II: The Hourglass Sweater

I'm finally ready to talk about my other frustrating knitting project. As you may recall, I had started work about a month ago on the Hourglass Sweater from Last Minute Knitted Gifts. The body is knit in the round, as are the sleeves, and then you attach the sleeves to the body via a raglan-style stitch as you continue to knit the rest of the body in the round.

Everything was going fine until I got to the raglan decreases. The photo probably doesn't show it well enough, but if you have better eyesight than I, can you spot the problem below?

Here are the close-ups. You may have noticed that the right side decreases in a lovely left-leaning raglan slant.

And you may have noticed that the left side does not slant to the right.

As I was knitting this, I thought that things were a little off, but I have a really bad habit of realizing that something is not going well and just knitting anyway, hoping it will straighten itself out, until it gets to the point that there is no denying it anymore and something has to be done- usually frogging and starting over. (Yes, psych 101 analysts, this tendency could probably be a metaphor for life, too.)

There could be several reasons for this problem. I was doing it in the car, with no knitting references save the pattern book. For some reason, it does not include a stitch guide, so I had to remember what exactly "ssk" entailed. I'm thinking I guessed wrong, even though the right side looks fine. My other thought was that the pattern was wrong, and there are separate instructions for a right decrease and a left, though the book implies you can do the same for all sides. I've since checked the web and I've not seen anyone else have the same problem, so whatever it is, it is me. I left Hourglass at home in MN and I'm hoping that I will be ready to rip out all the yoke and do the sleeve attachment again when I return relaxed from my month-long vacation.

I usually do consult the web before starting a project to check for corrections or just to see if other people had problems or improvements, but for whatever reason, I did not do so with this one and I have learned my lesson. I will NOT start a project blind ever again- you have it here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the road

Tomorrow morning we're leaving bright and early for Maine. It'll be a two-day trip. I finished my last exam this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. and have already turned in three of my four class grades. I got a really cool package from my secret pal today- Thanks Secret Agent Sheep! I'll post pictures of it all in a couple of days and installment #2 of Knitting Can be Frustrating, too.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Today is my mother's birthday, so happy birthday to her. She already opened her present over Thanksgiving, but since it is a panini maker and they only had carry-on luggage, she hasn't been able to use it yet. We've been having a great time making hot sandwhiches with it, though ;) (Just kidding :)

It is also the birthday of our little Mobi Ramekins. She is two years old today, which means she officially is no longer a puppy. In honor of her birthday, I am doing a little photo montage of her life with us so far.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cooking Is Fun

While I have not been very successful in my knitting attempts lately (it is actually a multi-part series of frustrations, I just thought I'd save the next whining for a few days), my kitchen time has been GREAT. I recently made stroganoff with ground turkey, making it up as I went along, and it turned out just as I had hoped. If I have a particular dish in mind, I prefer to follow a recipe because I am not that confident in my own cooking skills yet, so this was a great ego booster. Especially as it was about the same time I was having so many knitting frustrations.

I've been making a lot of salads to boost our vitamin and mineral intake as it gets colder. They've been having arugula at the store lately, which is my all-time favorite green leafy veggie. I got some radicchio, too, and added some to get a great color contrast with the green. All our salads for the past couple of weeks have been these with some variation of orange wedges, golden raisins, pomegranate seeds, avocado, roasted beets, red onion, red pear and homemade salad dressing. This week I've been tending to simpler salads with just arugula, cherry tomatoes, feta, and avocado.

Next to the salad you can see Rachel Ray's black bean stoup from her 365 meals book. I had been craving black bean soup and realized I had never made it before. We had it with salad and quesadillas with salsa. Another recent cooking experiment involved adapting chicken piccata to tilapia. I thought the lemon butter sauce with capers would work nicely with a white fish, and I was right. We had that with a risotto of mushrooms, carrots, and peas, and of course, a salad.

Lastly, as I've been indulging in my cravings, I HAD to make a batch of double chocolate cookies. Usually, I only get to have these when I buy them at a coffee shop or bakery, since had never tried to make them before. For this recipe, I consulted my Best Recipe cookbook- the ONLY baking cookbook, as far as I'm concerned. These cookies turned out fabulous. Amazing. So incredibly, dangerously good. I had to wonder if it was partly due to the Nestle baking cocoa I used instead of Hershey's, but I won't go back to Hershey's to find out. They also had chocolate chips (I forgot which brand) and walnuts. Needless to say, they are all gone already.

So, even if my knitting has not been successful, we have been eating well at the FIG household, and that is certainly more important. After all ,you cannot live by yarn alone.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Knitting Can be Frustrating: The Xmas Scarf

Welcome to a multi-part series unfortunately titled "Knitting Can be Frustrating." At the moment, I am working on a scarf for Juan's mom. I got the yarn at Loopy Yarns in Chicago a few weeks ago: it's Plymouth Yarn's Baby Alpaca Brush in a soft ecru color. I didn't realize this at the time, because I was juggling an over-excited dog, but it's 80% baby alpaca and 20% acrylic. I'm not too pleased about giving acrylic as a gift, but it is very soft. I just hope it doesn't pill with wear. I had intended to make the Daisy scarf from Rowan magazine #36, and was very optimistic about my ability to do it.
I had the whole car ride to Michigan and back last week, which would afford me ample time to concentrate on the pattern. You can see for yourself what the result was:

I have tried lace patterns before and just can't seem to get it right. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong and not sure how to overcome this problem. I must be reading a direction wrong somewhere, or I don't understand wrapping correctly- I don't know, and that's what kills me. I taught myself to knit from a book, and have mastered many a technique through written instructions, but there is something about lace knitting that eludes me. Not to be easily daunted, however, I ripped out try #1 and started again, suspecting where at least part of my erroneous ways had led me astray. Here is attempt #2:

A bit better, but I am supposed to drop a bunch of loops, and while some of them settled in just fine, many didn't. And this is the part that frustrates me- am I doing it right and they just need to settle and be blocked? Or is it wrong? It looked wrong to me and Juan and my sister Meridith, and since I had no lace knitters to consult and I already have too much stress in my life, I decided that I would only impart negative vibes into the thing if I kept working on it, which wouldn't do for a gift. So, I ripped it out again, determined to find a better pattern that wouldn't send me to the funny farm in the process. That in itself was not as easy as hoped. Most patterns just didn't work with the yarn I had, and the ones that did were.... lace. No way. I finally decided to use "Warm Fuzzies" from Stitch N' Bitch Nation, with pseudo-cables on one side and ribbing on the other.

The thing is, the pseudo-ribbing was hard to manipulate with the fat 10.5 needles required and my hands were really starting to hurt after this much had been knit. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of the many painful nights before me and I don’t really like scarves with different patterns on each side, sooooo… I once again frogged the whole project. Starting afresh, I decided to just go with what I already know, and started working a seed stitch pattern.

Two worries with this choice: 1) the seed pattern is a bit stiff, so I’m dubious about how it’s going to look when it drapes. 2) Since the cable pattern, I started knitting two strands together, but had only bought three skeins since that’s what the original pattern called for. I will probably need to hunt down more skeins to make this a proper-length scarf. Meanwhile, since having Internet access, I found out many people have had problems with the Daisy pattern and have found some helpful tips online.

So, dear readers, if there are any left after this long tirade, what should I do? Keep knitting the double-stranded seed stitch? Frog the already tired yarn once again and do a different pattern? (I was thinking maybe basketweave would drape nicely) Go back to the original pattern and try again? Any other good scarf patterns that wouldn’t require double stranding and hair-pulling? I await any suggestions, because lord knows, I really can’t look at yarn and needles right now.