Turning two

Published on Wednesday August 29th, 2012

I’m back!

And with that preface, I’m just going to dump out the news of our last two months. (Right after I apologize that there isn’t actually any knitting when I promised there would be. I don’t have pictures of Jolly in his cute Baby Surprise Jacket and I’m not even sure it fits anymore, but if you’re a knitter you’ve seen umpteen hundred of them, so just picture one in Noro Silk Garden Sock with a baby filling it up and you’ll have it exactly.)

The children and I had three lovely weeks up home with my parents, with Mr. G in and out as work allowed. Some highlights:

Knitters, note that the Minni jacket in size 6-9 months fits perfectly now!

Our Ada is two! Two means lots of new words and new charm and new willpower, as everyone who’s had a two-year-old could certainly have told me. Two is for somersaults. Two is for near-perfect sentences: “I find purple shell for you, Granny!” Two is for swinging on the big-girl swing that Granddaddy erected on the lawn and holding tightly so you don’t fall down. Two is for “NO!” and “MINE!” Two is for “Ada Lillian do it SELF.” Two is for singing songs. Two is for imaginary cooking and imaginary napping. Two is for running and jumping and throwing sticks in the pond and wiggling your brother’s tiny toes and brushing your teeth with toothpaste: “Eat it? Noooo! Rub teeth. Spit sink!” So many things to practice. So many things to try.

We visited my friend Elsa’s horses. The mustang colt was especially friendly. Ada was unafraid and is still talking about the experience: “Baby horse… tickle you bottom… wiv… whiskers!” The cherries from Elsa’s orchard rank equally high in her memory, it must be said. Later we watched some Olympic dressage; Ada clapped for the dancing horses and fed them peas through the television.

The beach. Our beaches are rocky, not sandy, and there seems to be a general compulsion in small children to send all the pebbles back into the sea. My mother coached Ada on her throwing technique so fewer of them would fly off at surprising angles. My girl waded happily into the frigid water and didn’t mind when her clothes got wet. I think I can safely bet it was the first time anyone ever danced the hula hop in the Salish Sea.

Swimming in the lake with the fish who investigated Mama’s bare toes. To hear Ada tell it, sitting on a towel and eating puffs afterward was just as rewarding. (Do you spot a theme emerging?)

Visiting — all too briefly — with our New York family, who made the arduous flight out with their own two-year-old. The little girls played duets on the piano, alternately shared and argued over toys, and kept the house bright with noise and action. Alas, they didn’t alter each other’s habits for the better in the realms of napping, bathing, eating, or going to sleep at night.

Trips to the farmers’ market for raspberries, tomatoes, snap peas, and pizza, plus music and dancing. A friend told me she’d overheard some tourists asking whether the market was real, apparently thinking it was too folksy to be authentic. Five-week-old Jolly was mistaken for a four-month-old.

Evenings of good food and good chat in the tiny cabin of a friend who’s building a straw bale house, catching up with dear people I see too seldom now.

An expedition to the tank at the marine labs, where Ada got to roll up her sleeves and touch the sea stars and urchins. Our friend Aimee gave her a plum afterward, so you can guess how the narration goes.

A new haircut for Mama.

Many pairs of loving hands to bounce and cradle the baby, who gave me his first smiles on my birthday and will now grin and coo irresistibly at anyone who wants to tell him how handsome he is.

So life is sweet here — not without its maddening moments when I turn to Mr. G and mime a Munch-ish scream over our daughter’s head, but as a sage mother of four grown children pointed out to me, if they were perfectly compliant all the time they’d be bland, and who wants to raise bland people?

Next up: Sewing! With pictures and everything! And then knitting. For real this time.

The first day of summer

Published on Saturday June 23rd, 2012

In short (which he isn’t), he is here!


Jolyon Gregory, two days old

Our little man finally decided to join us in the beautiful summer sunshine on 21 June. He was nine days late and we had planned to induce labor at 6:30 that morning, only to receive a call from the hospital that they didn’t have any room for us. The solstice had apparently inspired a great number of babies to head south. But by breakfast time I knew ours was coming of his own accord, so the nursing staff promised to set up a bed in a spare operating room or a broom closet for us if necessary. In fact, they were able to make ready an actual birthing room just as we arrived, and although we were disappointed in our hope of a second water birth, our fine healthy son made his entrance without complications at 2:42 in the afternoon.

At 8 pounds and nearly 14 ounces, he is not exactly enormous, but we calculated that he is 43% more baby than his sister was at birth. His head is 14.5 inches around and he managed to wedge one of his man fists between it and his surprisingly muscular shoulders, so he did a bit of damage on the way out and Mama lost some blood, but the healing is going very well and we’re lucky to have two sets of grandparents aboard for extra help. Jo proved himself a champion feeder right away and Ada is taking the whole thing quite gracefully, eager to help Baby Bruddah find milk when he cries and supplying wipes for his diaper changes. She has given him gentle pats and hugs and has counted all his toes.

And so we are four! Mama needs to cast on some much, much larger hats…

Hasty portraits

Published on Sunday March 18th, 2012

In the midst of another afternoon of work, laundry, nose-blowing, and tea-swigging, I noticed some pretty light in our bedroom. I threw on a skirt, bundled my scraggly hair into an arrangement that could sort of bear passing scrutiny from one angle, swept all the magazines off the top of the dog crate, prodded my husband out of bed, and thrust the camera at him. Because a gal’s got to take a chance to shoot a new sweater when she can. We didn’t even get to a pose that would show you the back before Mr. G had to croak his way through a business call and I had to pick up our daughter from school, so you won’t have seen the last of this cardigan, but for now… it’s something, anyway.

This is the Mitered Cardigan from Knit One Knit All, the new compilation of previously unpublished Elizabeth Zimmermann designs in garter stitch. The yarn is Fleece Artist Merino 2/6 in a grey that makes me think of gulls. It came accidentally to the knitting shop where I used to work and the owner let me have it at cost rather than paying to ship it back; it’s been resting in my stash ever since. It was lovely to knit and I’ve still got several skeins left to play with.

Like so many of the wild and wooly ideas born of EZ’s fertile brain, this cardigan is unique. One knits a long strip of garter stitch, turning corners according to the instructions, to construct a sort of cardigan frame. Then one fills in the torso and adds sleeves. It’s not for beginners, those who fear math, or those who shun gauge swatches. As experienced as a knitter as I am, and as careful as I thought my calculations were, my sweater wound up about two inches shorter than I’d expected because I didn’t take the time to make a swatch that really mirrored the construction of the sweater. If you want to make this yourself, I encourage you to first knit an actual mitered corner in garter stitch, pick up stitches along one interior edge of it, and then work stockinet back and forth, saddling those stitches to the vertical edge of the garter strip. Only by measuring the resulting compression of the garter stitch will you be able to get the fronts of your cardigan the length you want them. And it’s all or nothing with this sweater — there’s no way of employing your usual tricks to solve fit problems after the fact. You’ll pretty much have to rip the whole thing if you don’t get it right the first time, or at least be willing to chop it into pieces and graft them back together with fabric added or removed as necessary.

When I started knitting last summer, I had my own bright ideas about improving the fit that weren’t entirely well advised. I added too much waist shaping, for one. Well, I added my usual amount of waist shaping, but my gauge was tighter than what I’d swatched; the result was too snug a fit at the waist. And then I went and grew a pregnant tummy, so it will be six or seven more months before I’ll know whether I can actually button my cardigan all the way down. I also thought I’d get a little fancy with some extra fabric at the bust and then a pleat to gather it back in. The extra fabric was a good idea; I’m not crazy about the pleat, which isn’t really big enough to look like more than a pucker. I’ll do that differently next time. I love everything about the fit of the sleeves, though.

The sweater looks pretty much identical in all the pictures we took, so it wasn’t a very successful effort as a documentary of things knitted. (It also hasn’t been blocked. Oops. I promise the fabric will be smoother next time you see it.) But just after we staged this impromptu shoot, my friend Kristen began writing a series on the male gaze in knitwear photography, and from that perspective I find scrolling through our pictures rather intriguing. The post I’ve linked is about the spouse as photographer — apropos for me because hardly anyone else takes pictures of me. The top photograph is a view of myself I never see. But my husband must see it all the time as I’m concentrating on a set of complicated stitches, reading a book, working at the computer, interacting with our small child… I suspect I spend a great deal of my time gazing downward. Is my brow usually more furrowed? Do I look less tranquil? Very likely. The next snap is one I wouldn’t post unless I were thinking about what the camera captures, but it’s the girl I see in the mirror these days: two months of illness and two trimesters’ worth of weariness in the shadowed eyes, a weak smile that doesn’t reach beyond the lips. Her face isn’t even quite in focus, although the sweater is — truth inadvertently revealed by a fixed-length lens. This girl is spread thin and not living fully into herself. I’d like to see the back of her as soon as possible.

In the presence of a camera held my someone other than my husband, I imagine I’d have been artificially perky, more conscious of the self I was presenting, more eager to please the viewer.

This is the one I’d choose as the most flattering presentation of myself — letting the light make the best of my cheeks, my brow, my mouth, the downcast gaze hiding those ugly shadows and puffy lids and projecting poise and serenity too often absent in my life as a young mother. And then there’s this one, which is my favorite…

… because there’s more of me in it. It was taken before the two where I’m looking down but after the tighter, tireder shot. I’m about to say something tart to my husband, who’s just told me my belly looks distracting and I need to cover it with my hands and also put my shoulders back, which I’m going to do because he’s right even if he isn’t always tactful. The flare in my nostrils and the tightening of my lips and jaw rather spoil me as any sort of inviting picture of womanhood, but they’re true. And because my husband-photographer loves me in spite of my broad saucy streak, he gets to capture that.

And it’s probably not inappropriate to wear a saucy expression while modeling an Elizabeth Zimmermann sweater… I like to imagine that great lady could answer back with the best of them when the occasion required. No one who wasn’t a little bit flippant could have turned the knitting world on its head as she did. Mitered Cardigan being an accurate but unpoetic name, I’m calling mine Heart Elizabeth. Because I do. In sickness and in health.

The long soak

Published on Monday March 5th, 2012

Bronchitis. Sinusitis. Busted ribs from so much coughing. Stomach virus. That’s been our existence since January. This morning Mr. G fell down the stairs and simultaneously bumped his head on the door frame, which pretty much sums it all up. I have a new sweater and a new hat to show you, but putting my face within reach of a camera has seemed like a laughably poor idea. I think we are all finally on the mend, but outside there’s steady rain, and the photographer is still in bed with his cough and sore muscles anyway. So today you get Ada in her comical (but very effective) rain suit.

Apparently we’re not quite a size 2T yet. But getting another year’s wear out of this will be no bad thing. It’s the perfect protection for those times when you need to plop down on the wet sidewalk and exclaim over a “wom” braving the trek across to the dirt on the other side. (Then Mama picks it up and we admire its pinky-brown squiggliness before Ada directs its careful placement in the “gwass,” safe from wheels and boots.) The rain suit is made by a company called Tuffo, if you’re interested.

Speaking of boots, my girl is thrilled to have a pair she can put on by herself. She clomps around the house in them just because she can. I’m delighted her feet finally grew big enough to fit the smallest size. It took her a little while to get accustomed to the little heel on these; she looked just like John Wayne climbing off his horse and swaggering into a saloon the first few times she tried to walk in them.

The long soak of the Northwest winter isn’t over yet, but there are daffodils starting and fat buds burgeoning on the magnolias. The hellebores are at their plum-and-ivory best. The red currant is unfurling its new leaves and fountaining pink blossoms at once. Spring is so close we can smell it.

It’s hard to believe that this new season will be capped with the arrival of another child in our family. Pregnancy is a wondrous time (and I’m fortunate that it’s pleasurable for me, health wise), but it’s very different when there’s a first baby already absorbing all the focus and energy you can give. Carrying Ada, I could turn inward and revel in every fluttering movement, submerge in my imaginings of who she’d be and who we’d become as a family of three. The new baby seems to sense already that there’s competition for Mama’s attention. This child knows kung fu. Ada kept her head down and pranced back and forth across my abdomen; this baby rolls and flips and unleashes breathtaking flurries of sharp blows. The common response when I tell people this is, “Oh, it must be a boy!” I have to raise my eyebrows at that. If there were any scientific evidence that boys are more active in the womb, wouldn’t we all have read about it? And whence this notion that boys are more active at all? I work at an elementary school. I watch the children at recess. Yes, boys are generally the ones playing football and soccer. But the girls are fearless and nimble as monkeys leaping across the bars or practicing flips and cartwheels, and I see both sexes racing across the grounds in games of Tag or goodness knows what imaginative play. I ran as swiftly and climbed as high and played as hard as anyone when I was a child. Three more months will tell who this baby is; I’m not making any judgments in advance. But I’m trying to steal moments to soak in his or her lively presence.