FO: Comfort Fade Cardi

To begin with, I’d like to thank Amazon Prime Video for releasing the first seasons of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan the weekend that I started knitting the 102 row collar of this sweater. I don’t know where any of us would be without you. I’d also like to thank Netflix for letting me binge The Office while knitting and Emily Blunt for letting the rest of the world ogle her husband. He’s not to hard on the eyes.

Now on to the sweater, I’ve wanted a Comfort Fade Cardi of my own since Andrea Mowry released the pattern last fall. I knit it for a friend earlier this year-although that one was monochromatic. The pattern is well-written and straightforward. It’s an easy knit and relatively mindless, which is great when you’re watching a really intense movie or TV show. Jack Ryan is intense, kids. (And also, his face is distracting.)

I like the fade method that Andrea uses in the pattern, but I decided to use this pattern to help use up some of the seven skeins of slate gray Tanis Fiber Arts yellow label in my stash. My initial plan was to make a striped sweater using the aforementioned slate gray along with the one skein of spun sugar yellow label. But then I saw a friend wearing a sweater (presumably store-bought) with white as the main color and several different colors of stripes. And I fell in love. I wanted a sweater like that, and I decided that I’d make my Comfort Fade like that.

Slate gray became my base color, and I used three and a half skeins of that. The first stripe is the spun sugar that I loved and wanted to use with the gray. Then I bought two skeins of Hedgehog Fibers Merino DK-one of cheeky (the second stripe) and one of cheeky (the third stripe).

I modified the pattern a bit here and there beyond the color combinations. I worked the hem of the body in stockinette rather than ribbing. It may curl up more this way, but I’m not particularly keen on the way the ribbing would have looked. I also cast off using a different method than recommended-again because I preferred the look.

I’m really thrilled with the way that it all turned out. I love the way that each of my contrast colors plays withe slate and the way that they contrast against one another. I love the way that cheeky and slate work on the collar. But oh man…that collar was a doozy to knit. It’s not hard to knit, but it took a long time. I had half of the stitches on one circular needle and half on a second so that I could keep track of everything. And then I had a piece of paper that told me what row I was knitting and how many more rows I needed to knit in either short rows or long rows. It was intense. The final product is gorgeous, but it was an intense week of knitting that part.

This definitely isn’t a sweater that I can wear with every outfit in my wardrobe.  I’m not sure how it will look with some of the blue that dominates my wardrobe. But I know that it will add a needed pop of color to my more neutral outfits. It’ll also be that warm snuggly hug that I need during the winter. (Both of the yarns that I used are QUITE cozy.) And I can wear it either with a nicer outfit (church or work) or for more casual occasions.

Now, I’ve said that I really like this pattern and Andrea’s patterns in general. So, would I knit it again? After the numerous hours that I’ve spent pondering the attraction of John Krasinski’s face…errr, watching his TV shows…this week, I’m not sure. That collar took a long time. It’s gorgeous, and I love it. And I might need another one of these sweaters. But it’ll be a while before I come back to it-and not just because I have other things that I want to knit.

That said, I’ll be back to ogling John Krasinski’s face again soon. It’s a nice face.

Raveled here.


Nice and Good

Growing up, I regularly heard people encouraging me (and my peers) to be nice. Be nice to her. Use nice words. Let’s just be nice. He’s a nice person. She’s trying to be nice. I didn’t think much of the word. It was just a word that people used.

But then one day, Sir Ian McKellen changed that for me. Sir Ian was describing his Lord of the Rings co-star, Sir Christopher Lee. “He’s a nice man,” Sir Ian said before pausing. “That’s a terrible thing to say.”

I paused. Nice is a terrible thing to call a person? But I thought that nice meant, well, NICE. It’s pleasing and agreeable and good. Everyone is always telling us to be nice. What’s wrong with being nice?

So I looked the word up.

The first two definitions aren’t terrible. They’re what I was used to. But let’s look at the third one. “Showing accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy.” That’s what Sir Ian was talking about. But if you keep reading, it gets worse.

Delicacy, finicky, and fastidious are all words that come up. These aren’t things that one wants to be called. But, according to the dictionary, that’s what being NICE is.

Now, you might be wondering why I’ve been thinking about this?

Blame Steven Sondheim.

For various reasons, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to Sondheim’s Into the Woods over the past several months. And when I’m not drooling over Meryl Streep’s gifts or Chris Pine’s partially bared chest, I’ve noticed a few things.

Little Red Riding Hood is the first one to really bring up the topic when she determines that the Wolf seems nice but despite that exterior is not actually good. Nice, according to Red’s presentation, has to do with appearances and the exterior. Good is what lies within a person. The Wolf had a charming or pleasing exterior, but he meant no good to Red or her grandmother. He used his niceness to manipulate others into doing what he wanted.

The Witch continues the conversation near the end of the play when she says “You’re not good. You’re not bad. You’re just nice.” Nice doesn’t solve problems-and these people are facing a giant problem. Nice might seek to place blame, but it doesn’t get rid of the problems. It doesn’t matter how it started; what matter is THAT it started. “I’m not good. I’m not nice. I’m just right.” The Witch sees the problem with being nice.

Nice is superficial. As I said when discussing Red’s song, it’s about appearances. Nice isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be, but it is superficial. It’s agreeable. It’s tactful and accurate and delicate. Those are useful things at times, but they don’t get rid of the Giant’s Wife. One of the themes of Into the Woods is the difference between the surface and the heart. Prince Charming says of himself at one point that he was “raised to be charming not sincere.” I once read or heard an interview in which Chris Pine (who plays Prince Charming) describes his character as two-dimensional.

Nice is fine for two-dimensional situations. But real life, as Pine seems to be aware in his commentary on his character, is not two-dimensional. Real life is multi-faceted. It really doesn’t matter whose fault it is that the Giant’s Wife has come out of the clouds. It’s not only one person’s fault. There is plenty of blame is spread around.

That’s real life. It’s multi-faceted. Most people are not just good or just bad. Nice isn’t always the answer because the heart of a person matters far more than the surface appearance. Inside, we are all imperfect. We are all to blame for some thing in this world. We all make mistakes. We all do and say things that hurt others. The scene from Wonder Woman linked above is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Steve Trevor (played by the above average Chris Pine) tries to explain that right and wrong are not simplistic things. Every person is responsible at some level for the darkness in this world. Maybe he personally didn’t cause World War I, but that doesn’t mean that he has led a life without any error or any harm to others.

That’s real life. Unlike Prince Charming, Steve Trevor is a sincere man who is trying to do more good than ill as he goes through life. He wants to leave the world a better place than he found it. But he also understands that human behavior and motivation are not black and white. Nothing is simple. Nice is not the answer. Tact has its uses. Accuracy has a place. Throwing the blame on others can feel good for a while. (NB: There’s a whole post about Ares that I could write from this point, but that’s for another day.)

But at the end of the day, we’re not meant to go through life like that. We are meant to leave this world better than we found it. That isn’t easy. The end of Into the Woods finds the main characters trying to figure out how to move forward with their lives. Their world has been changed by witches and magic beans and giants. But as the deceased Baker’s Wife reminds her husband, we do not move through life alone. No one is alone; we have friends, family, and other networks to help us to through the good and bad of life. Our lives impact those around us.

We need to think about how our lives impact others. Our actions and words impact others longer than we may realize. Niceness often is only beneficial in the short term. While it can be difficult, it’s important to think about how words and actions impact others in the long-term.

NB: I know that this post may make me seem like a huge Chris Pine fan. I assure you that it’s just mere coincidence that the two films that had the best support for my nice versus good argument also featured Chris Pine.

FO: So Breton

I love Breton style sweaters, and I spent a long time wanting to knit one. About a year ago, I got my hands on three skeins of Plucky feet in a gorgeous color named Wentworth after Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Captain Wentworth was in the Navy, so I thought that these might make a good base for a Breton sweater. Then I started digging through my (too extensive) stash of Plucky Feet, and I found a yellow-leaning tan skein Great Outdoors that I felt contrasted well with Wentworth. I then decided that So Faded by Andrea Mowry, a pattern that I’d knit and loved previously, would work as a guideline for this sweater.

I cast on. And then I got distracted by another project for a friend. And then along came a few test knits. And other things distracted me too. But in early June, I decided to buckle down and focus on finishing my sweater.

So Faded is a great pattern. Andrea has created a beautiful pattern that is easy to follow and easy to adapt. I love my faded version, and I have a feeling that I’m going to be equally fond of my Breton version.

I did make some modifications for this. Instead of ribbing on the hems and neckline, I knit an i-cord. I felt that it added a cleaner edge. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ribbed edges, but I love a clean i-cord.

I’m really pleased with this sweater. The colors play well together. Plucky Feet is a great yarn for a lightweight sweater; it’s nice and cozy. I’m looking forward to getting to use this when fall comes…but don’t worry, fall; you don’t have to come just yet.

Raveled here.

Catalina’s Summer Reading List

“Ms. Hendricks, I’m not looking forward to summer.”

“Why not?” 

“I don’t like summer,” the third grade girl replied blandly.

“Why not?” I repeated myself. 

“I like learning. I don’t want to stop learning.”

“You can still learn over the summer. You can read.”

Catalina looked at me. “But what should I read?”

“Do you want me to make you a list?”

She nodded eagerly. “I read The Wizard of Oz. I liked it.”

I sat down with a pen and a notecard. “You’re nine, right?


“Give me a couple minutes while you guys work.”

In the end, I made her a list of ten books. She’s a smart girl, and I wanted to give her a list of books that will encourage her to grow into a strong young woman. I thought I’d share this list with the internet in the hopes that it might help and encourage some other book-loving young women.

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye

I was introduced to this book when I was eleven, and it has long been a favorite with me. I cannot speak highly enough of this book.

I’m not much for princess stories (although Catalina is), but I love this princess story. Amy, the titular ordinary princess, was cursed at birth with ordinariness. That is to say that she is not the stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed demure princess with pink cheeks. She’s much more “normal” looking. She isn’t perfect in personality or appearance. But over the course of her story, she comes to learn the value of ordinariness and what it really means to be a princess.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

When Catalina asked for book recommendations, this book just jumped into my brain. All I could hear was Meg Ryan’s voice saying “Streatfield, Noel Streatfeild..start with Ballet Shoes.” Here’s the thing that I love about this book. It’s about helping your family and achieving your dreams. It also doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole girls into traditional roles, but it tries to encourage girls to pursue their talents, their strengths, and their dreams.

(As I was describing this book to Catalina, her group-mate Eva kept asking “Ms. Hendricks, can I read that too? Can I read it?” Sure, Eva; you’d love it.)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This book was a favorite of mine as a child. I’ve always enjoyed a good fractured fairy tale, and this is definitely a favorite in that genre. It is both insightful and funny. The greatest strength of this book is that it reminds girls that they don’t need some charming prince to save them; if they look inside of themselves, they can find what they need to save themselves.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

A girl with magical powers who isn’t afraid to use them? Count me in. I love a few things about this book. One is the fact that Matilda loves to read. Another is the fact that she doesn’t just use her strengths to help herself, but she also uses them to help others.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Both boys and girls look awesome in this book, and they fight in different ways. Regardless, I think that Lucy Pevensie is a valuable friend for any young girl. Eva commented, “Oh, I like witches!” when I said the title, but I cautioned her that the witch is the villain of the piece.

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

I love Ramona Quimby. She’s just the best. She’s spunky, and I think that all girls need to meet good girls like Lucy Pevensie and brave girls like Ella and Amy, but they also need to meet spunky girls. This book features my favorite Ramona story-The Tiddliwinks Story, but really all of the Ramona books are excellent.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.

If I ever write a book on the subject of How I Got to Be This Way, Pippi Longstocking is going to be a heavily featured subject. She made me want to be a pirate. She also inspired me to call multiplication “pluttification.” I wanted to be like her so much that I once (for five all-too-long minutes tried to sleep with my feet on the pillow and my head under the covers. Pippi is a spunky girl. She doesn’t fear much of anything, and I think she’s a good role model for a girl who needs to realize her own gifts and strengths.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

I liked the Julie Andrews movie. I thought these books were The Bomb-Diggity. I read all of them multiple times as a child. Mary Poppins didn’t take anything from anybody, and while she wasn’t the nicest or sweetest person on the planet, she was good. She taught the Banks children to be good people, and I think that’s to be respected. I want each girl who I teach to learn to stand up for herself and for others. I think that Mary Poppins provides an example of striving to do what is best for others.

That’s the list that Catalina is starting the summer with. I also tangentially recommended the Harry Potter books, Heidi, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. But I didn’t want to overwhelm her. What books would you recommend to a third grader heading into summer?

NB: It ought to be said that neither Catalina nor Eva is the real name of any student with whom I work.

Cooking as Stress Release

When I was in grad school, I used to bake bread during finals week. It was a way of handling my stress. These days when I’m stressed, I’ll find myself exploring cookbooks and Pinterest looking for new recipes to find and ways to let off steam culinarily. In all honesty, that is a large part of the origin of the Harry Potter birthday cakes and my current “Baking with the Saints” project.

I was thinking about this as I made Draco Malfoy’s birthday cake. Now, I’m not a big fan of Draco; he isn’t The Worst Person Ever, but he’s not exactly my kinda guy. Regardless, I make the man a birthday cake every year. Now, I’ll admit that part of it is because I like making “my father will be hearing about this” jokes. But that’s not all of it. I don’t just make this cake because I want to make jokes about Draco and Lucius.

Far more of it comes from the peace of mind that I draw from putting the cake together. For me, there’s something calming about mixing butter and eggs and sugar (and the other ingredients) in a bowl and watching it all come together. I love see the ingredients come together and change into something new. It’s almost magical.

At the end of the school year, there are countless little unpredictable factors in my day. But when I come home at the end of the day, I know that if I mix a cup of butter (or dairy-free butter) and a cup of sugar in my KitchenAid, it will cream. And then if I add more ingredients to that, it will form a stable cake batter. Because I’ve been baking for a while, I know that my oven and dairy-free butter mean that I’ll need to adjust baking times on certain recipes. Those are predictable things. I know what I’m going to get as an end result.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I know that I find that uncertainty is one of my biggest sources of stress. I don’t like when I don’t know what is coming next. I think that I’m pretty normal in that I like to know what’s coming next. I’m not a huge fan of surprises or uncertainty. I like predictability. I like knowing that if you firmly mix up two cups of butter they’ll soften and loosen into a crucial part of a beautiful brioche.

Baking also allows me to play and explore. Over the past two years, my Great British Bake-Off obsession has led me to try numerous new experiments in the kitchen. I never would have tried to make a brioche filled with mushrooms and spinach or one filled with basil if I hadn’t been inspired by GBBO. It’s safe exploration, but it’s exploration nonetheless. I rarely make anything that I’m not sure won’t work out at least reasonably well. (The batch of chili that I put a fruity beer into about five years ago is an outlier. That was awful.) But even when I’m not sure exactly how things will turn out, my previous experiences in the kitchen give me some assurance that things will work out for me.

There is a level of predictability in the kitchen that I don’t often find in stressful season of my life. For a long time, I didn’t know if or when my car would ever get fixed. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get married. My job is great, but I’m tired and run-down at this point in the year. All of those areas contain a level of unpredictability. But I know that warm (but not HOT) water will activate yeast and butter can slacken and I can bake beautiful things. And some days…those are a few of the only truths that keep me from totally losing my mind.

FO: The Oban Sweater

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a Thea Colman pattern. I love a good warm pullover with cables. So when Thea gave me the opportunity to test her new Oban sweater, I was thrilled. The cable pattern and styling of the sweater was right up my alley.

I bought ten skeins of Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter in Fossil and knit the sweater as written. I’d heard good things about Shelter, and I really wanted to use it. As one of the owners of my LYS said, a Brooklyn Tweed sweater is the sort of thing that you save your money and frequency points for. Shelter worked beautifully well for the sweater. I can’t say enough good things about the way that Shelter cables.

The only “glinch” I encountered is that my gauge is a bit tighter than written, which made the sweater more fitted than it’s written. I can’t really complain about that because I prefer my clothing to be more fitted.

The cables are easy to memorize and the pattern is really easy to follow. I especially appreciate the detail with which Thea writes her patterns. They’re detailed and easy to follow.

Overall, it’s fun sweater and moves relatively quickly. The only impediments that I had in my process came from person conflicts rather than anything in the knitting process.

Raveled here.

Convenience and Experience

I was recently talking to my roommate about the difference between a friend of ours and myself. The friend and I have both obtained new cars in the past few months. She bought hers from Carvana; I went to a car dealership. We were both eminently satisfied with our method of car purchase. Similarly, this friend prefers to have her groceries delivered; generally speaking, I really like going to the grocery store. I don’t object to my friend’s method of getting things, and she doesn’t have a problem with mine. The question that I found myself pondering is why we prefer these different things.

My roommate’s comment was that our friend likes the convenience of not going to the grocery store or the car dealership while I like the experience of being in those places and physically interacting with people and things prior to purchase. Now, my friend has a busy life, and I can see why she values convenience. There are also situations in which I actively seek out convenience. (Hello, Amazon Prime purchases of whiteboard markers!) However, my personal preference is to seek out experiences rather than finding the most convenient way of doing things.

Ultimately, this is a matter of preference. There are no rules that say that one way is better than the other. And I know that there are situations in which my friend would choose experience over convenience and I would choose convenience over experience. It’s a spectrum. There are times when you need to choose convenience over one experience so as to allow you to have another experience. There are experiences that some enjoy (me in the produce department) that would frustrate others. Some people don’t feel an intrinsic need to sniff and squeeze every piece of fruit they buy or do an in-depth examination of 94% of the onions in the bin before choosing one. That’s a preference.

To me, the important thing is that we’re not allowing life to pass us by. I get something out of interacting with the grocery store. (A couple of weeks ago I got a new strawberry plant out of it.) I’m the kind of person who thinks that going to Target is fun. (Going to Trader Joe’s is an honest-to-God adventure in my book.) It adds something to my life. But not everyone feels that way. Not everyone enjoys those experiences. Not everyone has time in their daily lives for those experiences. Do you think that a working mom has time to wander around Trader Joe’s or Target? I work full-time but have no children, and I have to plan those things into my life carefully. Different experiences have different values in different stages of life. A stay-at-home mom would not enjoy scrolling through Teachers Pay Teachers the way that I do.

Enjoying experiences looks different for different people. Convenience looks different for different people. The important thing is to figure out for yourself what really matters for you. What conveniences do you need? If going to the grocery store is just going to drive you out of your mind but a local delivery service works for your lifestyle and budget, then go for it. What experiences make you feel more yourself? If spending thirty minutes in a peony garden or snuggling a friend’s baby is going to calm you down at a stressful point in the year, do it. If getting a manicure will help you hold on to your sanity, make it happen. Then, prioritize those things. Make sure that you’re able to fit those things into your life. There is enough stress in your daily life. Don’t put more stress in your life than you need to. Find the experiences that make your life flow more smoothly and peacefully. Find the convenience that keeps you from losing your cool. Don’t force yourself to do things that will only make your life harder than it needs to be.