Friday, January 30, 2009

i'm all kinds of crazy

For the past two days, I've been hosting a business meeting in San Diego.

Since all of my co-workers also work out of their homes and are spread throughout California, we don't see each other very often. So once a quarter we get together for a few days to discuss business operations - goals for the year - and then, we try to spend some time on a "team building" event.

It was my responsibility to set up the hotel for our first quarter meeting and also, to arrange the team building event for my group. And because we didn't have a Christmas party this year, my boss told me that we should stay somewhere nice and do something fun.

So, I took his words to heart and I booked our meeting at The Lodge in Torrey Pines.

It is a five-star resort situated on the 18th hole of the Torrey Pines Golf Course, which is where the Buick Invitational will be played, next week. And deciding it was time to triumph over my fear of flying, the "team building" event that I planned was a hot air balloon trip over the beach communities of Del Mar and La Jolla.

Little did I know that 8 of my 10 co-workers are terrified of heights.

(Me, included.)

But everyone went.

Everyone had fun, but we were scared out of our wits.

Everyone felt that being together in what could be our final hour, was a great team builder.

Everyone was thankful (so very, very thankful) to be back on solid ground.

Everyone drank wine with dinner.

And everyone said that wine had never tasted so good.

Coincidentally, the hospital where my friend Deana was admitted last Friday, was 1/2-mile from the hotel where I planned our meeting, three months ago. So on my drive up to the hotel Tuesday night, I swung by the hospital with a dozen chocolate chip cookies that my husband had baked for her, Tuesday afternoon. Opting at the very last minute to spend just one night in pure luxury, Charlie and the kids drove up with me, while I ran in to the hospital to drop off the cookies and say hello. (And I'm really so glad they decided to come because the kids are a tremendous help transporting luggage.)

When I arrived at the hospital, Deana's door was closed and I could see that her room was dark. Not wanting to bother her or wake her from what I hoped was a restful sleep, I asked one of the nurses if she could just deliver the cookies when Deana woke up. But the nurse assured me that Deana was awake - she had just checked her vitals - and my visit would not be a disruption.

You know, it's funny because I don't really know Deana that well. We've communicated via e-mail for the past few years and gone to the zoo together, once. But I feel so much love and compassion for this woman. With the struggles that she and her husband, Jack, faced to start a family before adopting two beautiful little boys from the same birth mother less than two years apart, theirs is an incredible story.

I followed the nurse in to the room and there was my friend, resting under a warm blanket. Despite the fact that she was on oxygen and had an IV and was just starting to grow back her hair - which would soon be lost again with this newest round of chemo - she looked beautiful.

Radiant, even.

She told me that the cancer had returned and is in her ribs, pressing on a nerve in her back. With this relapse, the doctor's have said that her chance of surviving this year are 50%. Once she is in remission, they hope to complete a bone marrow transfer. We spoke for a few more minutes before I could see that she was tired and needed to rest.

The next day in my meeting, a mere 2,640 feet up the road from where my friend laid in her hospital bed, I was struck by this overwhelming urge to drop to my knees and pray. My arms were resting on the table, but my knees were on the ground and with folded hands I prayed, "Dear God, please heal Deana. Please make her well. Please let her return home to her children and her husband. Please allow her to grow old. Please God, please allow her to see those beautiful little boys grow up."

That afternoon when we went up in our hot air balloon, I prayed for her some more. And I prayed for myself of course, that I didn't drop like a brick from the sky. What the heck was I doing VOLUNTARILY dangling in a wicker BASKET tied to some fabric and a FLAME when I have four small children at home?!

While I was up there floating in that balloon 3,500 feet above the earth, I was struck with an idea. When we landed and I called home to tell my husband that I had survived the balloon ride and hey, what does he think about running the Rock-n-Roll Marathon at the end of May with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of Deana, it slightly surprised me when he said yes.

(Note, I'm not planning to run a marathon. Because after the past few weeks of consistently running, I've been reminded that I am not a runner and if I can make it three miles this weekend in the Surf City 5K without coughing up a lung, I will consider it a raging success. And of course one of us needs to stay home with the children.)

But I convinced my beloved husband to run 26.2 miles in just a few short months, because I'm good that way. (But he's even better.) We won't dwell on the fact that Charlie hasn't run more than three miles in over four years. In return, I have vowed to do whatever I can to help him raise funds.

Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

protecting that which is important (knitting part 3)

Before our families start calling and telling us that we need to leave the children and go away on an extended vacation, I want to mention that I'm not really hanging on by a thread.

I'm just trying to come up with catchy titles that tie in to knitting.

We're actually doing quite well despite the fact Charlie and I would both love to have another three hours of sleep at night. Or, at least seven hours, undisturbed.

The decision to take the children out of Montessori and keep them at home has probably been one of the best decisions we've ever made. Although we both definitely need breaks, we like having the kids with us during the day. In fact, I didn't realize just how much I was missing from their young lives, until I've had them home with me.

I can see that they have matured a lot in the past six months. And since the bulk of their waking hours were spent at school, I didn't really notice the changes. When they would come home from school, they were busy wrestling with their siblings and rallying for my attention. They were anxious to see what Henry had gotten in to while they were gone, and they were trying to find all of the toys that I had put away, in their absence. Which inevitably, would send me in to a tailspin because the house that I had cleaned while they were away, would be flipped upside down almost immediately.

Yet, when they are home all day, the house is in a constant state of disarray so it's not like I can see my progress thwarted. And although they still vie for my attention, they get along and play so much better than they ever did while they were in school. The love between these kids is tangible.

Now that they are home, some days we are really active.

Other days, we don't do much of anything.

But, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders not having to get the kids up and dressed and fed and lunches packed and out of the house by 8:30 every morning. Why, most mornings we're still in our pajamas and figuring out what we want to eat at 8:30.

We're not hyper efficient.

We're just taking it easy and having fun.

Now that I've had the past month to reflect on our situation, it seems to me that we live in a society that is so driven. People have schedules to be here and do this and this. And if you don't do all of those things on your to-do list, you're a slacker. If your children can't write their names and read by the time they enter kindergarten, your child is deficient. Maybe you are failing them as a parent.

I am optimistic that our children will be able to read soon. But I'm trying to go at their pace. We place some fairly grand expectations on little people. And even greater expectations on ourselves for what we should be as parents.

Now, I don't want to fall in to a coma of unproductivity, but I think there's a lot to be said for doing simple things and letting our kids be kids. For a while, I felt like I was robbing our children by not giving them a school experience.

Since then, I've decided that the hours I spend every day reading to them and baking with them and pointing out various trees and insects and teaching them how to clean up after themselves, will not hinder their acceptance to college one day. Nor will it prevent them from landing a job. Or going on to win the Nobel. Or Pulitzer.

For our family, this is what works.

But because kids will be kids, if you have kids in the house and you have invested time in to a particular knitting project, make sure that you place it somewhere it will be safe. Otherwise, you might follow a trail of yarn through your house and discover that a blanket you started over the weekend...

... has been reduced to a make-believe spiderweb.

hanging on by a thread (knitting part 2)

For at least the past two months, I've been sick.

Two months.

Eight weeks.

Fifty six days.

It started out with a scratchy throat. Turned in to a runny nose. Within days, I had a hacking bronchitis cough. A few weeks later, just when it seemed like I was starting to feel better, I would feel the scratchy throat coming on again. Then the runny nose. The hacking cough. A few weeks later. Repeat. And a few weeks later, repeat again.

My mother is forever telling me that I need to get more sleep. She even sent me the link to an article that scientifically shows people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to contract a cold.

I can't even remember the last time I've had more than seven hours of sleep at one shot. And it isn't just because I go to bed late, some nights I am in bed by 9 PM. It's because I have a baby that wakes up at all hours and screams until he is picked up and brought in to bed with us. And if I don't pick him up, he will wake up the entire house and I'll have four children (and a husband) hysterically crying in the middle of the night.

Last night, I was in bed by 10:30.

Henry started crying at midnight.

He started again at 4 AM.

I didn't go to him at midnight or at 4 AM because I was frustrated and needed to sleep, dammit. At midnight he cried for thirty minutes before silence. At 4 AM, he cried for an hour and a half. For ninety minutes, I listened to the screams bouncing off the walls and rattling around in my head. At one point, I considered locking him in the car. But no, no, that would be wrong.

At 5:30 AM, I pulled him in to bed with me.

He nursed for five minutes and fell to sleep.

But then the floor boards creaked and it sounded like there was an intruder in the house and since Charlie had left on a business trip at 5:00 AM, I was the only adult capable of protecting our small children. With my heart racing, I tried to think what I could use to defend my family.

When I woke up two and a half hours later from a sound sleep to the sound of children running through the house, I was still trying to think what I could use as a weapon within arms reach. And then I realized that an intruder wasn't in the house and wow, it's a darn good thing, because my fight or flight reflex is clearly trumped by exhaustion.

That's how my day started.

Although I strive to have breakfast served by 8 AM, today we were eating "brunch" at 10. Then, when I tried to have a five-minute conversation with my mother and the children combusted before my very eyes, I had to abruptly end my conversation and put MYSELF in time out because I truly thought I was going to lose my head.

Standing in the laundry room, I was thinking that if I put the kids in time out for one minute per year of life, then I should have a nice 37-minute reprieve. But after a mere three minutes of seclusion, the kids came looking for me. "Mommy? Mommy? You OK? You angwy? You acting cwazy, Mommy! Do you need to tawk?"

At noon, just when I *should* be feeding the kids lunch and getting Henry ready for a nap, we rolled out the door to Costco. Because we had no bread. Or milk. Or cereal. And with four more items left on our list and a shopping cart full of food, Carolyn informs me that she needs to go potty. But we can't just abandon our cart - or push it past the checkout to the restroom - so I command my four-year-old that she needs to wait for a few minutes.

Because they are relatively new to the potty training scene, it's a cardinal rule in my book that I never make them wait for more than a few minutes. But I still had to pick up milk. And cereal. And chocolate covered macadamia nuts for without them I might not survive.

So all I could think was, "She is going to soak herself in the middle of the store and I have no change of clothes and this day is totally out of control and mirror mirror on the wall, who is the crappiest mother of all?!"

Faster kids!!


We come home from Costco. I put Henry down for a nap and serve up lunch at 2 PM. The kids eat, Henry wakes up and we are out the door to gymnastics at 3 PM. While I'm watching the girls in their class, I notice that while every other child in the class appears to be following directions, mine are not.

Why? WHY? Why won't they pay attention? Why does it seem that our kids have the most energy? The shortest attention span? Why don't they settle down and listen, EVER? Why can't just once, they be the kids that hold my hand and walk in to a room, quietly, as opposed to pulling away from me, rolling across the floor and defying every word?

I look around at all the other parents and they seem relaxed. Even the toddlers waiting with their mothers while their siblings are in class, are relaxed. They are calmly sitting on laps and eating Cheerios. While my Henry is running around with his arms over his head and bouncing off the walls.


He stands up and laughs and does it again.


Then he staggers over to me and tries to shove his hand down the front of my shirt while crying, "Appwle. APPWLE!"

I hate to complain, but I'm tired. Infact, I'd insert a choice adjective to express just how tired I am if I wasn't opposed to using profanity on my blog.

Tomorrow, I'm heading off to a business meeting at a five-star resort in San Diego. I was planning to have the whole family come with me. While I worked, they could play at the beach and swim in the luxurious pool. But instead, Charlie and I are discussing that perhaps I should go by myself. Just me and my manual breast pump. Because there is no way I could survive for three days without nursing.

It's a tough situation.

Although I'm not entirely ready to give up nursing just yet, I am ready to get some sleep. I am ready to feel well again. I am ready to have my baby look at solid food as a viable and somewhat tolerable fuel alternative. As opposed to looking at me as something that exists for his nutritional and pacification needs, only.

So what was the purpose of this post?

Oh yes!

Casting on.

But wait.

Before I dive in to this, I want to add that knitting didn't come very easily to me. It took me a while to really understand and get a feel for how it works. It took me even longer to understand that if you pull your yarn too tightly or leave it too loose, it can adversely effect your creation. You need to try and stay consistent with the tension that you have on your yarn, and the more you practice, the more you will figure out what tension is right for you and the piece that you are creating.

I also want to add that although I have every confidence in you, if this is the first time you have ever attempted knitting, don't be fooled in to believing that the first item you knit will be perfect. Start small, cut yourself some slack, have patience, and don't give up. If you are anything like me, it might seem like you will never get it, but then something will click, you'll find your groove and before you know it, you'll be knitting at every spare opportunity you can find.

(Unless you are left handed. According to my left-handed friend Michelle, she cannot grasp knitting to save her life because the only people that she knows who knit are all right-handed and the technique is different. So if you are a southpaw, my apologies in advance.)

For now, just practice casting on. Cast on as many stitches as you can without worrying if it's the correct number for a scarf or blanket or pot holder (or coaster). I'll provide more details on how many stitches you will need (if you are using the same materials as me) for a blanket (or scarf) when I write about knitting. By that point, casting on should be easier for you and go rather quickly.

Lastly. I started out knitting using bamboo needles. They are small and very light-weight. If you find that you are having a difficult time with the large aluminum needles, you might want to try picking up some bamboo and having a shot with those, until you get the hang of it.

Lastly. (Lastly.) Sarah L left a comment on my post last week that if people are just learning to knit and want to do a blanket, they might find it easier to use circular needles instead of straight needles. Instead of two completely separate needles, there is a nylon cord running between the two ends that holds them together. When you are doing a big project, like a blanket, it gives a lot more room for your stitches. This makes it less likely that your stitches are going to slide off of your needles while you are still figuring out knitting.

(Good point, Sarah. Thanks for mentioning it.)

So I started out with Charlie taking photographs as I tried to illustrate how a person would cast stitches "on" to a knitting needle. And I quickly realized that people would soon be discouraged if they were to only rely upon our photographic instruction. So, I made a short video that is included at the bottom of this post.

Here you have your yarn, from your ball o' yarn.

You will tie a small loop with a knot.

Now, there are at least two ways to cast stitches on to a knitting needle. I am going to show you the way that I was taught, with two needles. But at the bottom of this post is a video that I found on YouTube where the one-needle technique is shown.

First, my two needled approach.

Place your two needles inside the loop.

Form a cross with your needles. Or X. Whatever you call it. (You'll quickly see that I make up nomenclature as I go.)

Take the yarn from your ball o' yarn (shown in my right hand) and bring it under and up over your bottom (right) needle.

Now, pull your bottom (right) needle so that it forms a "T" with your top (left) needle. The yarn will be on the bottom (right) needle, and slightly inclining your bottom (right) needle up (so the yarn doesn't slip off), pull your bottom (right) needle up and slightly over the left (top) needle, so that the yarn comes with it and forms a loop and the right needle is now on top.

Rotate the loop and place the bottom (or left side of the loop) on the bottom (left) needle.

Pull the loop so that it is taut, but not too taut, on your bottom (left) needle and pull the right (top) needle out. Now, you will have a stitch on the left needle and no yarn on the right.

Insert your needle in to the middle of the stitch and making an "X", begin again.

Here's a video depicting my two-needle technique. It looks like I have a camera mounted on my head, but it's Charlie, standing directly over me.

And here's a video depicting the one-needle technique.

The beer is optional, but with either cast-on technique, you might find it helps.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

how to have a ball (knitting part 1)

Some days, I feel like I am floating along on a cloud of bliss and nothing bothers me. Other days I feel so annoyed and so intolerable of little people, it takes only the slightest bit to set me off. Usually and quite thankfully, whenever I'm off, Charlie is on. And vice versa. On a very, very rare occasion, Charlie and I are in complete mood synchronicity.

Alas, today was one of those days where the kids were driving us both batty and it took everything in our power to not completely snap at them - or each other - or grab a bottle of scotch and start chugging.

This morning we ran out to buy a birthday present for a surprise party we were scheduled to attend today. Once we completed our 10 minute shopping errand, we walked to a local sandwich shop where we planned to have lunch. We walked in the door and while I quickly scanned the menu on the wall to figure out what to order, Charlie jumped in line.

My plan was to tell my husband what to order and then, I would take all four children to a table where we would wait for the patriarch of our family to rejoin us before enjoying our lunch, together.

But in that forty-second span of time where I looked over the menu and was relaying our order to Charlie, William started flailing his arms around and knocked over his sister. Henry started screaming and thrashing about in his stroller. And despite the line of customers that was forming around us, one of the girls who really wanted a bag of potato chips at that very precise moment, collapsed on the floor - with her dress jacked up to her arm pits - and was crying, "PuhWEEZE!!! PuhWEEZE!!! PUHWEEZE!!!"

Of course I could have just made an immediate exit and informed our children that partial nudity and temper tantrums in public will not be tolerated. But when you are a slave to convenience and you have little to no food at home because you haven't been shopping in a few days and you are suddenly fixated on a bowl of broccoli cheese soup in a sourdough bowl, the best solution might be to kneel down and between clenched teeth tell your child that if they don't knock it off immediately, they will be lunch.

We come home from our outing and although both Charlie and I would LOVE to lay down and rest, no one will take a nap or have quiet time. Except Henry who sleeps for his requisite 45 minutes and wakes up fussy and tired and demanding to be held. I've just finished wrapping the present for the birthday party and while the sound level in the house nears a dull roar, Charlie and I take turns smacking ourselves in the head with the empty roll of wrapping paper.

Usually we are packed full of solutions for keeping the children happily occupied. But today we just couldn't get our game on.

Just then we receive a phone call from our neighbor and she asks if Charlie can please find some way to distract her husband for an hour so she can put the finishing touches on her house for the party. She suspects that her husband knows something is up, but she wants him out while she welcomes guests.

Charlie wracks his brain.

Maybe they can go to the store. But that's weird, because why would two guys go shopping together? Maybe Charlie can have him come over and help him move something heavy. But, nothing needs to be moved. So, maybe he can come over and watch a game. But there are no games on today. Maybe they can organize tools. Or, I know!! Maybe he can come over and Charlie and he can watch the kids so I can go meditate at Target.

After several minutes of trying to figure out how to distract him, I suggested that Charlie take him out for a beer at an upscale brewery that recently opened near our house. My husband looked at me in stunned disbelief. Here we have a house full of crazy kids and in the MIDDLE of the day his wife suggests that he go out for beer in a new brewery?! Almost as quickly as the words left my mouth, my husband was in the car and peeling out of the driveway.

But shortly after Charlie leaves, I need to get the kids ready for the party.

A party for which we absolutely cannot be late.

I help get the kids dressed in clean clothes and tell them that while I'm changing Henry's diaper, they need to put their shoes on. Ten minutes later, once there is a new diaper in place, and I've gone to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and packed a small bag, they are all running around in their underwear with one shoe on one foot.

Freak out session occurs wherein I act like a crazy lady.

A crazy lady that knows better than to act like a four-year-old in front of her four-year-olds because good heavens, they are only four-years-old after all which is why she can do twenty things in the amount of time it takes them to do one. But that doesn't stop me.

We make our way to the party. Despite my best intentions, we are 10 minutes late. Still, we are among the first to arrive. While my husband is in a nice brewery drinking a nice beer, I'm in I'm in a house that is the least child-proof house of any house I have ever been in, in my entire life, with all four children, by myself.

In every room, there are glass tables and delicate ceramics. Antique figurines. An ivory chess set and bowls of glass marbles. There are plates of carefully arranged food with various dips at child-eye-level, and on the ground, bowls of cat food and an automatic watering apparatus that Henry thinks is a potty and tries to sit in. Within minutes of arriving, the children discover that this is a two-story house with hard wooden stairs and an open banister that lead out to perches 15-feet above the room, below.

Almost immediately, I realize that THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO BE WITH KIDS, so I herd everyone in to the backyard. The kids bee line to a dog that is poking it's head through the fence and stomping over the delicately manicured plants, jut their hands through the fence to pat it.

Henry wades in to a rose bush, dense with thorns and quickly falls down. I pick him up and he toddles over to a rusty hacksaw on the ground. Elizabeth and William clamor on top of a hammock - and Carolyn in an attempt to rock them - instead, flips them both over and they land with a CRASH on the ground.

Wailing ensues.

After thirty minutes of pure madness, I'm on the phone with my husband telling him that it is time to PUT DOWN THE BEER and come to the party. By this point, the guests that have arrived are looking at our children and saying, "Oh, aren't they adorable!" and I can't tell if they are being sincere, or blowing smoke to make me feel less conspicuous.

Regardless, I feel like I'm part of a show. A show where I need to put on a smile and pretend like I am having a GREAT time, when in reality, I'm miserable and would rather get my hair caught in a fan than chase children for another 10 minutes.

Charlie finally arrives, we shout SURPRISE! and although the party would be going for several more hours, moments later, with Henry secured under one arm, I'm making my way to the door. As if it wasn't rude enough to let my children roll glass marbles all through the host and hostess's house, I didn't even say good bye. I tucked my toddler and ran. My husband followed me home a few minutes later, with three children that I could hear screaming from a block away.

What are the lessons learned?

Until the kids are at an age where their etiquette skills have evolved to the point that they don't show absolute strangers their boogies, or ... dip their fingers in hummus and then rub them across glass tables, or .... crawl on the ground and notify a room full of party goers that the woman in the pink dress is wearing red undahwear... it's best that Charlie and I attend social functions WITHOUT our small children.

Although, it is still possible for parents with small children to have a ball.

Necessary, in fact, if one plans to knit.

(How'd you like that segue?)

Now, I've knitted before without wrapping my skein in to a ball, but it always happens that at some point, the skein will turn in to a knotted mess and I am hard pressed to get it untangled without relying on scissors. Transferring your skein only takes a few minutes and in my opinion, is well worth the minor effort.

When you take the paper off your skein, take the leading end of yarn and begin wrapping it around your fingers.

And wrapping...

And wrapping, up and over, and side to side...

Until your yarn begins to form a small ball.

Just keep wrapping, up and over ...

Side to side...

Until, you have a large ball o' yarn.

Hopefully, tomorrow I'll have some time to write about casting on and stitches.

Stitches for knitting, that is.

Not the kind that are used to close a wound.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

the best laid plans

All week, Charlie and I look forward to the weekend.

We look forward to spending time as a family and visiting random places around San Diego. Typically, I am anxious to get out of the house and do something, anything, because I'm goal-oriented that way.

Today, our plan was to go to the Zoo with a picnic lunch.

On a typical day, I would be anxious to get out and do just that.

But today it's overcast. And my heart is sad for my friend, Deana, who I wrote about with such joy, a few short weeks ago. This morning, when I came home from my run I received an e-mail that indicated she was back in the hospital. The cancer has returned and has been causing her such terrible pain that she is hooked up to a morphine IV.

This kind of stuff isn't supposed to happen to someone who has a two-year-old and a four-year-old. Instead of her mind being consumed with how to successfully transition her baby to a big boy bed, her mind is consumed with how doctors are going to treat her aggressive and rare form of cancer.

Only God knows what the future holds for Deana.

Or any of us, for that matter.

So today, all of our grand plans have been scrapped.

We aren't going anyplace spectacular, but we are doing spectacular things.

We are watching chubby legs and listening to the pitter-patter of little feet as our baby runs through the house, with his arms flailing wildly.

We are doubling over in laughter from tickling and four-year-old knock-knock jokes.

We're sitting around on the couch and reading every single Dr. Seuss book that we own.

We're listening to good music.

We're baking a gingerbread house with some leftover supplies from Christmas.

We're hugging and kissing and telling each other that we are so blessed and lucky to be here, together. Right now. Today.

Today, we are thinking about and praying for our friend, Deana.

If you can spare a good thought or prayer, I hope you will, too.

(Edited to Add: Less than five minutes after this picture was taken...

... and moments before we were to begin the process of getting ready for church and dinner out, William was knocked off his step stool, smacked his face on our granite counter tops and ricocheted off the table on his way to the ground. When I picked him up and wiped away the blood, I could see a 1/2 inch gash over his left eye that I'm absolutely certain requires stitches. Charlie is on his way to the emergency room while I'm home wondering just how badly I need [or want] to make his sisters feel. Suddenly, our peaceful Saturday has shifted. So it goes with the best laid plans.)

favorite thing friday

One of my friends recently wrote to me and asked if I was working with Restoration Hardware. Or Apple. And just out of curiousity, they were interested to know if I was making any money in advertisements off my blog.

Similar to Kim wanting to know if she could pay me for making her a baby blanket, it took me several days to realize that my friend was serious.

So, before I launch in to this post, I think it is really important to note that I do not make any money off my blog because I don't advertise or accept endorsements. That's not to say I wouldn't advertise or accept endorsements, I just haven't had the opportunity to pursue it. And my field of pursuit might be limited, since I wouldn't advertise or endorse anything I wouldn't buy or use myself.

(Although if Keen is looking for a spokesperson, I'm your woman!!)

At the moment, I'm actually losing money on my blog because I am buying iPods for strangers every couple of months and I just had to pay to upgrade my photo support site to handle the large quantity of pictures I'm uploading every week. The only reason I mention this is because I think it's necessary for people to know that I wouldn't post something as a "favorite thing" unless it really was something that I used and loved.

So, without further adieu...

One of the things that I really wasn't prepared for - when I became a mother of triplets - is just how dirty our floors would become. Before children, I would mop the floor once a week, maybe even once every two weeks, and all was good.

But once children arrived on the scene ... specifically, children that wanted to feed themselves ... our floors became so unbelievably disgusting, I was intensely bothered. Despite my efforts at wiping up spills and frequent cleaning, the floors always had a veneer of nasty. They were a haven of absolute grossness.

When the triplets were toddlers and the floors looked just as dirty as their faces after mealtime, I mopped every single night.

Every. Single. Night.

In the beginning, I used a mop and water. But it seemed that the grout on our floors would get filthy because dirty water would pool up in the depressions. And I never really felt like the floors were that clean, even if I drained and refilled my bucket with fresh water multiple times throughout the scrub fest because I was pushing dirt around.

Soon, I turned to a Swiffer, with the disposable mop pads. But considering I would go through three or four Swiffers a night, I was buying a new box every few weeks. And, I never really felt like the floors were that clean, even using multiple pads because all I was doing was wiping up the grime, not really scrubbing the floor. Plus, I didn't know what kind of chemicals I was spreading all over our floor - that the children would be laying across and licking the very next day.

Every so often, I would drop to my hands and knees with a bucket and scrub brush, and spend a morning or afternoon (or morning and afternoon if I was really obsessed) crawling around and scrubbing the floor until my hands cramped and my arms went numb. This was a great way to ensure my floors were really clean. (And an even greater way to waste an entire day.)

Just before Henry was born, Charlie hired a floor cleaning company and for $1.00 a square foot, they steam cleaned all of the tile in our kitchen and hallways. The grout, which had turned almost black, was restored to ivory and every single crevice and indent in the floor was sparkling clean. When they finished, it looked like a brand new floor. And if it hadn't cost us $400.00, I would have just suggested that we have professionals come in once a week and sanitize our house.

Sometime last year, while I was reclined in a dentist's chair watching an infomercial while having my teeth cleaned, I saw an advertisement for the Shark Steam Mop. I had never heard or considered such a thing. But while I watched in fascination as this little purple mop cleaned up floors that looked almost as unsanitary as ours, I was suddenly desperate to get something I didn't even know had existed five minutes previously.

But then, since I know that people who create infomercials are seasoned professionals that could sell life insurance to a dead man, I decided that I should do a little more research before I shelled out four! easy! payments! of only $19.95!!

During the course of my research, I saw that the Shark Steam Mop had split reviews. As in, 50% of the people who bought it loved it and the other 50% hated it. My initial thought was that the developers of the Shark Steam Mop had infiltrated the Amazon website and tried to skew the ranking. So, I abandoned the idea of a Shark Steam Mop and did more research because I was now convinced steam cleaning the floor was the best way to go.

Ultimately, I settled upon the Bissell Green Tea steam mop. Once I decided which mop I wanted, I looked high and low and couldn't find one anywhere, except on the internet. And once I ordered it, it took me almost six weeks to receive it.

Now, I actually hesitated posting this as a "favorite thing" because in order for me to genuinely love this mop, it would need to clean the floor for me. But seeing as it does a really good job when I use it, at least better than any mop that I've ever used in the past (or any product that I've found for the money), I think it definitely warrants recognition.

What I really like about this mop is that it uses steam to clean. There are no chemicals, just water. In addition, the cotton microfiber pads are reusable. It comes with two pads, which are machine washable and extremely durable. Usually, I'll only need one pad to mop the floor. But if the floor is particularly bad - I might use both. Whereas the Swiffer wouldn't work very well on certain substances - and a standard mop would require a lot of scrubbing - with the Green Tea you can just "steam" a particular trouble spot until it comes up.

It has a swivel head and a removable water canister. And although I've read some complaints that the cord is too short, we live in a very small house with a very small kitchen and this hasn't been an issue for us.

This little mop certainly doesn't clean the floors and grout as well as the professional steam cleaning company, and but I've got it down to a science. The longer you hold the lever to depress steam, the cleaner your floor (and grout) will be. And, consequently, the more steam you use, the wetter your floor will be. So, I will flip the mop over and use the dry pad to remove any excess (dirty) water that would otherwise pool in to the grout lines and cause them to darken.

Depending upon how wet the floor is, I'll also push along a rag with my foot to sop up the excess.

This mop also works well on hardwood, although you need to be cautious about your finish and the amount of steam that you use. Again, I will flip the mop over and use the dry pad on top to remove any excess water - or depending upon the level of dampness - throw down a dry towel. There might be some streaking on the floor, but that is easily enough removed by a dry mop and hardwood floor spray.

Next to owning a dog, or placing poly sheeting visqueen all over the ground, the Bissell Green Tea is probably the most cost effective and least time consuming means for cleaning a floor in a home where there are small children.

Although, now that the kids are getting a little older and enjoying "role play" I've been contemplating handing them all buckets and scrub brushes and telling them to act out the part of Cinderella.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

cast away

A few months ago, I was contacted by a woman named Kim who reads this blog and she asked if I would be interested in knitting a blanket for her, that she would pay me for. Kim was due to deliver her first baby in January and she really wanted to have something handmade for her little girl, and seeing as she didn't know anyone that could make anything, she was hoping I could help.

It took me a few days to realize that she was serious.

Since I am always amazed at the number of people that I meet who would really love to know how to knit, I was struck with the idea of posting a tutorial. My mother is a great knitter and she has taught me a thing or two about how to cast on and off. And even though my knitting skills are very basic, I love being able to create something with my hands.

Because I have a hard time sitting still and not doing something, whenever Charlie and I sit down to watch television or a movie, I enjoy knitting simple things. Hats. Blankets. Scarves. Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl. I can typically churn out a scarf in about two hours, a hat in about four and a baby blanket in about eight.

(My secret for making things fast is using fat needles and fat yarn.)

A few years ago, I was inspired by a blogger who was crocheting blankets for babies in South Africa. So, I decided to use my rudimentary knitting skills and contribute to what I thought was a very good cause. All told, I put together four care packages that consisted of a hand made blanket and miscellaneous supplies for baby and mom.

Then, I went to the post office and mailed the packages.

Almost three months later, my packages were received.

And that's when I realized that maybe it would be better to support a local charity.

Since then, I've found a cause that really appeals to me.

Project Linus is a group that makes handmade blankets for children between the ages of 0 and 18 who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need. The group has chapters in all 50 states and every month, they collect and donate an average of 350 blankets to children in shelters, hospitals or social service agencies. Seeing how much our children adore their blankets, I would love to give that type of gift to a needy child.

So here and there for the next few weeks, I am going to post a tutorial on how to knit. Sure, you could go buy a book on the subject, but this will be so much more fun. (Or not.)

The first blanket that I make will be a gift for Kim because she was nice enough to actually write me a note and ask if she could pay me for a blanket. And then because her compliment went straight to my head, I hope to knit at least one blanket a month for Project Linus.

Before you start, you'll need supplies. Shown below are 14" (35 cm) US: 15 needles (10 mm) and Red Heart Baby Clouds acrylic yarn. Both of these items can be purchased online or at a local craft store (or Walmart) for around $5.00/each.

Of course if you don't want to make a blanket, you could always make a nice scarf. Like this one I am wearing on a San Diego beach, New Year's Eve 2003.

When it was a bitter 50 degrees.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

wednesday weigh in

I've never been a dieter.

I've never been one of those people who refuses to go back for a second helping when my appetite isn't completely satisfied, or declines a chocolate eclair, all in the name of watching calories.

(Or afraid of what other people might think.)

I've never been one to eat a salad for dinner (unless I want a salad), just so I can have dessert. And unless it is really (really) huge, splitting a dessert is blasphemy in my book.

I've never been worried about fitting in to a specific size and I've never been obsessed with the scale and need to know if I weigh more or less than I did the day (or hour) before. Except of course, when I watched the scale with fascination as I lost more than 50 pounds the week after both of my pregnancies. But that was purely scientific.

It's no surprise given my love of good food, I've never been thin. And now that I seem to be growing older and my metabolism is slowing down, I might soon change my tune about sharing that triple scoop hot fudge sundae. Especially once I stop nursing and no longer have a little fat vacuum named Henry attached to me.

But here's the thing...

I don't eat much during the day.

I graze constantly and usually I graze on good things. Fruit. Nuts. Whole grain crackers. And, through experience, I've learned to not fill my house with foods that overly tempt me. Sure, I'll have a bowl of ice cream every single night of the week ... but I don't eat it mid day. And although I'll make brownies or chocolate chip cookies every so often, I can't always have that stuff in the house ... or I would be as big as a house.

The reason that I am pulling myself out of bed every Saturday morning to go running is not because I am trying to lose weight. Although, I suppose that is a nice side-effect. Instead, it's because I really feel like that little time a way makes me a better person. When I come home from exercising, I am recharged. I am ready to take on the day. I am ready to be a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better employee, a better person.

And perhaps best of all, I can eat O'Henry bars - with a side of fresh blue berries - and not feel quite as guilty.

So, how are you doing with your goals?

(And please let me know if you are able to see the photos in this post? I recently switched over to Flickr and I received a note today that the pictures in my blog are no longer visible. Which is almost as horrifying as running out of ice cream!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

how you like them apples?

I'm almost entirely convinced the reason I cannot get Henry to nap more than an hour during the day, and sleep no more than five hours consecutively at night, has everything to do with the fact that I nursed him exclusively the first twelve months six months of his life.

(And probably a little bit to do with the fact that he shares a room with his sisters that has no door and is located immediately off the kitchen.)

All along, I've been certain that Henry would wean himself at 10-months like his brother did. Or most definitely by 17-months like his sisters did.

Because ... because ... that's what babies do.

But it's been so different with Henry. All along, it's been different. He's never had a regimented schedule like the triplets did. Sure, I could have put him on a regimented schedule, but then - our entire lives would have revolved around one child's sleeping routine, which is tough when you have four children.

So at night when he would cry, I would scoop him up because I didn't want him to wake up the rest of the family and besides - they grow up so, so fast and really how much trouble is it to let him sleep next to me and nurse? Or catch a snooze on the couch while listening to his dad play guitar?

Or sleep while laying across my lap while I respond to work e-mail?

Or pay the bills?

To date, I remain convinced that he will wean himself when he is ready. Or before he turns two two and a half. Yet here we are, edging deeper and deeper in to toddler territory, and my child shows no sign of slowing down.

I've offered him food. I've offered him drink. I sit him down with a bowl of Cheerios and he tosses them across the table, tries to climb under my shirt while pointing at my chest and yelling "APPWLES!!!"

That's what he calls them.

APPLES. Like the fruit.

Which I suppose is better than William who walked in while I was getting dressed the other day and after taking a moment to size me up, declared "Mom, I really like those squishy things."

Personal boundaries? Privacy? What's that?!

I haven't seen either since I've become a mother.