Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Knitting Through the Year - February

If there is one fact on which all grandmothers agree, it is that no daughter-in-law knows how to wash wool. This may be true, but it is no reason for the grandmas to stop knitting. Do they expect their handmade offerings to be carefully preserved in layers of tissue paper and never worn? They have perhaps forgotten how often baby things have to be washed. The baby surely doesn't mind if they do become a little shrunken and yellowed. Let the grandmas keep up the supply of soft woolies and avert their mind's eye from the ultimate fate of their knitting - at least it is being used. ~ Knitter's Almanac, by Elizabeth Zimmermann

Knitting for babies is delightful even when you don't have a baby to knit for, which I currently don't. When I find a pattern I like I just knit away and stash it for future use. I generally try to knit at least a 12 month size, if not larger, which insures that my sweater will probably be worn more than once.

In true EZ fashion, I set aside her very good instructions and attempted to make the arms and chest at the same time, with extra stitches to make into steeks later on. (Steeks are where you take scissors to your knitting, cut it into pieces and then sew it back up again. It's crazytown, but a very useful technique.)

My reasons were very good. The yarn I was using (Crazy Yarn left over from the kids' Baby Surprise Sweaters) has uneven stripes, and it would be very difficult to make the stripes the same on the sleeves and the body because there are different numbers of stitches in each.

I used the crochet method of securing the steek edges, which was very easy if you are already familiar with crochet. You can also use a sewing machine if you prefer.

I think that somewhere in the process I misplaced some stitches or ignored something crucial because the sleeves are a lot skinnier than I was intending. Knitting stretches, which is good, but this might be recast as a full length infant sweater instead of a waist-length toddler sweater.

Ah well, I'll be more careful next time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

We're Adopting Again!!!

Yay for siblings! If you are new to this site, these are our three kids, aged 5, 4, and 6, respectively.
We are excited to add a fourth! (Picture by Rachael Kulick.)
WHO: A boy or girl who is younger than our youngest (at the moment 4 and a half), born in China with the same special need as our daughter, Congenital Melanocytic Nevus. We feel very comfortable with this special need and have a good relationship with a wonderful pediatric dermatologist at Emory. And it's not just about comfort level and familiarity: objectively speaking, we will be considered a good match for a child with this special need, because of our experience, which (we hope) will lead to a fast(er) match.

WHAT: Um, this seems obvious. Unless you missed the title. ADOPTION! Yay!

WHEN: Not soon enough. The process will probably take at least a year from now until we are bringing our child home, maybe longer. There are two different paths with a Chinese adoption:

1) after a family has finished their paperwork they wait to be matched with a newly listed child whose file matches their openness. (This is not a mandatory match: the parents can pray over the file and consult with doctors if desired before making a decision.)

2) at any time during the paperwork process the family can ask to be matched with a child who is on the Waiting Child List. Children on the waiting list are kids who were not matched with families when they were first listed with the adoption agency, either because they have special needs that no families were specifically open to, or because they are older (four years old is considered "old!"), or because they are a boy and the families at that time specifically requested a girl. (Side note: There are SO MANY boys in China who need families!)

It is my personal hope that we would be able to race through our paperwork (ha, ha ...) and as soon as we are done, the child that we are meant to adopt would be newly listed with our agency and we would be matched to them. This hopeful scenario would mean the shortest wait time for everyone. When we were adopting Mei-Mei, we saw her picture on the Waiting Child List, asked to be matched with her, and then we had a year's worth of paperwork and waiting before we could go get her. This time around, if we get all our paperwork done first, then our child has the shortest possible wait after they are listed, although the timing is about the same or a little longer for us. (Clear as mud? All of this is pretty confusing.)

WHERE: China. Our first experience with Bethany Christian Services' China team was stellar, and the Chinese language, culture and food are wound into our hearts and our family life.

WHY: Because children need families. Let me repeat that. Children. Need. Families. This is not about my husband and I wanting more kids. (Although, to be clear, we do!) This is not about a fun cultural experience. (Although we have been enriched by the addition of Chinese culture to our family!) This is about kids, growing up in foster care or an orphanage, never having anyone who is committed to them for forever. Sometimes never having anyone who will tell them: "You have value. You are loved."

That is why we are doing this big, crazy, time-consuming, expensive thing.

HOW MUCH: $31,000. *Gulp* Let me break this down a bit.

Agency fees (Home study, Adoption fees, Post-Placement Reports) $13,950
Foreign Country Program Expenses $2,810
Translation and Document Expenses $3,685
Program Development $1500
Immigration fees $985
Travel and Accommodation in China* $8,575
Total: $31,505

*This number is the most flexible, as it will be affected by the tourist season, strength of the US dollar, and the specific province in China that we are traveling to.

We will also be giving our child's orphanage a gift of either money or supplies, both as a culturally significant gesture of gratitude, and also to improve the lives of other children in the orphanage. In previous years this was a required part of the adoption fees, adding approximately $6000 to the cost of Chinese adoption. Praise God that the adoption officials in China have made it this much easier for children to be adopted!


If you would like to know about our continued prayer needs and financial progress, sign up for our (probably monthly) newsletter by emailing me at derkihee@gmail.com with "Add Me" or something else self-explanatory in the subject line.

If you would like to contribute directly to Bethany, send a check made out to Bethany Christian Services with "Fenn Family Adoption" in the memo line to this address:

Bethany Christian Services
930 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga TN 37403

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, send a check made out to Highlands with "Fenn Family Adoption" in the memo line to this address:

Highlands Presbyterian Church
1211 North Main Street
LaFayette GA 30728

If now is not a great time for you to contribute, but you'd like to at some point, keep an eye out for future updates! We will be doing a T-shirt fundraiser in a few months.

Thank you for walking with us on this journey! We're very excited to be on this path and excited that you want to travel with us on it!

(Picture by Rachael Kulick.)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Knitting Through the Year - January

"It is a cold and snowy January. The holidays are done with, and Twelfth Night will be any day now: what better time to embark on a long and lovely project?" ~ Knitter's Almanac, Elizabeth Zimmermann

EZ, dwelling in the cold and snowy north, suggests an Aran sweater as the perfect January project: all-white and decorated with cables and knit-purl stitch patterns. However I, who have never seen a white winter, but only the very occasional white weekend or white couple of days, chose a more colorful winter project.

The fact that I had intended to finish this project for Christmas and failed to do so may have also been a factor. Knitters beware: five year old boys take very poorly to a promise and a bagful of yarn as a Christmas present.

Mei-Mei, Twinkle and Munchkin, all with varying levels of enthusiasm.
The green in Twinkle's sweater is more prominent than this picture shows. 
This pattern is also an Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern, the Baby Surprise Sweater. It is one of the more iconic knitting patterns out there. (To the non-knitters: Yes! Famous knitting patterns! Whoda thunk?) It has only two seams, which means that you kit a shapeless blob that looks nothing like a sweater, just blindly chugging along making increases and decreases as directed. And then you cast off and sew along the tops of the sleeves and suddenly you have the cutest little garter-stitch cardigan.

This yarn is called Crazy Yarn and it is made from the leftovers from spinning solid colors. Crazy Yarn and Baby Surprise Sweater is my favorite yarn/pattern combination. I have made it two other times before this little trio, once as a 12 month size and once as a 3T, and I can probably say that this won't be my last time with this combo. There's just no version of this sweater and yarn that's not awesome.

The sweaters were finished in January, but photographed later, hence the green grass.

I love it - and them - to bits.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - December

Christmas projects!

I love them. I dive into them with joy and abandon, only to realize, mid-way, that my project to-do list really isn't reasonable or particularly possible, not if the young ones continue to demand to be fed on a thrice-daily basis and the husband continues to hope after a non-destroyed house and an underwear and sock drawer with at least a few clean items in it.

EZ knows the dangers of ambition and vision at Christmas time:

Embarking on a sweater at this late date smacks of madness, but it can be done, and done without using up too much f your precious December-time. The main thing is to make it very thick. The thicker the knitting, the fewer the stitches; the fewer the stitches, the sooner finished, right? Not finished as soon as mathematics would tell you - the fingers are not quite as agile with thick wool as with thin - but still, finished with surprising speed. ~ Elizabeth Zimmermann, The Knitter's Almanac

And so it was. Finished with surprising speed, that is. One week of knitting in the evenings and during the occasional naptime and it was done. Just like that.

I know.

Crazy town.

I had to resist the urge to cast on additional sweaters for my father, husband and brother. (You get a sweater! And you get a sweater! And yes, you there in the back! You get a sweater, too!) As soon as I expressed this urge, fortunately, the madness of it penetrated, and I backed away from the ledge. Close call, though.

The secret of this sweater is the simple, stylish shaping and the large gauge. This sweater is knit at 2 1/2 stitches to the inch, with extra bulky yarn. This was a little hard to find. My brother-in-law, the recipient, lives in North Carolina, where winters are certainly cold, but don't warrant 1/2" thick, 100% wool sweaters. That amount of wool would be very warm indeed. Also, my sister put in her bid for a sweater that couldn't be accidentally shrunk in the wash. My initial goal was a bulky superwash wool, which is a wool-acrylic blend that can be gently machine washed without tragedy. However, this proved very difficult to find. Eventually, I ended up with Lion Brand Hometown USA, which is an all-acrylic yarn, in charcoal. I used just under 10 skeins, to make a men's size medium/large.

Done like dinner.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - November

"Plans for this chapter have been scrapped in favor of describing the project on which I am currently and most actively engaged. I can think of little else. 
"The item, hot from the griddle, which I now unveil is the Moccasin Sock, the Breakthrough Sock, the Not-To-Be-Ground-Down Sock; The Eventually Totally Re-footable Sock. Call it what you will; all the above tentative titles apply." - Elizabeth Zimmermann, The Knitter's Almanac

This enthusiasm may bewilder. I will endeavor to explain.

This month's project, the Moccasin Sock, has a very unique design. Here it is, modeled by my lovely husband (who will happily comply with all manner of photographic nonsense if it gets him closer to a new pair of hand-knit socks):

Mustard and Light Gray Heather

Do you see the brilliance? No? How about this one:

See that gray sole? (Practically) every sock ever knit before now has been knit in the round, which convenient because human feet are 3 dimensional, requiring a tube-shaped sock to cover them and humans generally dislike trodding on seams. Thus, knitting in the round, whether you did it with 4 or more double-pointed needles or with two circular needles or with magic loop, was deemed to be necessary.

This Moccasin sock, however, is knit another way entirely: the leg and the top of the foot are knit back and forth, and then using gray, the knitter picks up stitches all around the edge of the foot and knits in the round on a circular or their preferred method, knitting towards the center of the foot, decreasing where necessary so that everything will lie flat, and then, when the sole is big enough, the stitches are sewn together with Kitchener stitch, which makes everything flat and smooth. The back of the leg stitches are likewise sewn together.

But why would you do this, when the traditional method of socks (knit in the round until you come to the heel, make a heel, knit in the round until you come to the toe, decrease for toe, sew closed) is so much simpler?

Here is why:

1. If you are intimidated by or simply dislike knitting using double-pointed needles.

2. If you don't have more than one circular knitting needle, or your circular needle is short. (It has to be long to use the magic loop method.)

3. If you prefer knitting back and forth to knitting in the round. Note that you will have to do a bit of in the round, but it's much less than if you were to use the traditional method. (This can be done with a circular needle if desired.)

4. If you want to use a different yarn for the sole and the top. This was, in fact, EZ's inspiration for designing this pattern: she wanted to use reinforced yarn for the sole of the foot but not the top, where it would be wasted.

5. If you only have one skein of special yarn and you still want to make a pair of socks.

Let me elaborate on that last one. If you are using sock yarn*, an adult-sized pair of socks requires at least 400 yards of yarn. Sock yarn is often sold in approx. 200 yard skeins. This yarn, Valley Yarns Huntington, a merino wool blend, was both lovely and economical but these descriptors are not often paired. If your heart is set on a yarn too expensive to buy two skeins, or if you simply have found an odd ball that you'd like to use up without making mismatched socks, this method will let you do that. You don't see the sole of the foot at all when wearing shoes, so it could be a cheaper color that coordinates, a color you want to use up, or even a series of scraps.

These are approximately men's size 10 socks, in a short crew style, and the yellow part used up nearly every bit of the 218 yards in the skein. As a side note, I would like to congratulate myself on finding such a cheery color that my husband will consent to wear. It's a great color, and almost perfectly matches a ginkgo tree in autumn.

Very difficult to get three children to look at the camera at once, particularly when you are on the way to get ice cream.

*Using sock yarn, or "fingering weight" yarn will produce socks that are "normal" thickness, suitable for wearing under dress shoes. Using worsted weight yarn will produce chunkier socks, more suitable for wearing under thick boots or as house slippers. The thicker the yarn, the fewer yards you will need.

 In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that the reason that there is only one sock in the photograph is that there was only one sock finished in November, as I was much consumed with a Nanowrimo project, Thanksgiving, and a sinus infection. However, I did finish the other sock before Christmas which was their actual deadline. I intended to photograph both of them today, using my own feet, but 'Stache wore them to work.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Let's Talk About Cake

My go-to conversation starter when I need to occupy a young child is, "Let's talk about cake." Whatever differences there may be between me and 3 year old (and there are many), we can at least agree on this much: Cake Is Awesome. It is amazing in so many different ways and flavors and there is always so much to discuss. Favorite color of cake? Favorite flavor of cake? Favorite size of cake? (ALWAYS big) Should there be layers of cake? Should the frosting and the cake be the same, or different? What are the best flavor combinations?

Today, let's talk about cake. Let's talk about Victoria sponge cake. Let's talk about Vic sponge with ganache (guh-NOSH) frosting. Let's talk about Vic sponge with ganache frosting in the shape of a HEDGEHOG, which may now be my very favorite shape of cake ever.

I made this cake and it was adorable and tasted wonderful and none of that was my doing because I was just following recipes, so let me give you the recipes so that you can do it too.

This video showed me how to make the 3-D shape, which is super simple. I couldn't find any appropriate candies for the spikes, so I just did the textured effect with a fork, which worked fine. I did the eyes and nose with a bit of melted white chocolate in a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off.

The cake is Mary Berry's Victoria sponge cake, but that recipe has the measurements by weight, which can be troublesome, so here it is in "American."

1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 round cake pans with foil or parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray/oil. Mix all the ingredients together and divide between the two cake pans, smoothing the tops so that they are flat. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before lifting out of the pan and peeling off the foil or paper.

The ganache recipe was actually a combo of this one and that one, so let me tell you what I did.

2 cups heavy cream
24 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
24 oz milk chocolate chips

Heat cream until hot but not boiling. Stir in chocolate chips until chocolatey and smooth and wonderful. (Right up until it looks amazing, mixture will look manky and weird and worriesome. If it's looking chocolatey but still has lumps, your cream may have gotten a little too cool to melt the chocolate enough. Heat it a little more and keep stirring.) Put in the fridge until cool. Using a mixer, whip for 3 minutes.

This was exactly enough ganache frosting to frost this cake, however due to an error it has LOADS of frosting. When I was shaping the hedgehog I didn't carve the back of it to be rounded, so I just added ganache to make it the shape I wanted when I got to that point. Which is a completely valid solution, but this cake already had a very thick layer of frosting in order to get the textured effect, so the pieces in the back had a truly breathtaking amount of ganache. Maybe 2 and a half inches of frosting, on a 3 layers tall piece of cake. It was something like eating a triple portion of chocolate fudge with a side of cake.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - October

It is ironic that this month, I finished the month's knitting project very early, yet am posting it very late. It was finished on the 7th, because the young gentleman it was knit for was turning two, but having finished and even having taken pictures of the project, I delayed and procrastinated and put off. Due to the magic of scheduled posting, the internet will record this post in October, but the faithful reader will know that it did not appear until almost a week later. Ah well. There are worse things than procrastination, and I would much rather procrastinate on the reporting of knitting than the knitting itself.

So, then, to the report. The October project is an "open collared pullover," more commonly known as a polo shirt. It is a classic design and deceptively simple in its appearance, for EZ warns on a few occasions that one must keep one's wits about one when knitting this sweater. And that even if one does not understand immediately, if one blindly follows the directions, all will become clear.

In describing the edging of the front, which combines a garter stitch edge with an i-cord edge, she writes:

"This is a mind-boggling operation, hard to describe, but, I hope, easy to follow blindly until you get the hang of it. You will be performing it right up to the the neckline, so get the hang of it you must, and fast, because the shoulder shaping is now going to start." - Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitter's Almanac 

(One of my favorite things about Elizabeth Zimmerman is that she writes of knitting as if she is narrating a baseball game. The knitting experience is rife with urgency, curve balls, and opportunities for valor, and EZ makes you feel every moment of drama.)

Although this is one of the more complicated patterns in the almanac, the pattern is clear and easy to follow. The garter stitch/i-cord edging is an elegant solution. Garter stitch naturally lies flat and is typically viewed as rather informal. Stockinette, which is what i-cord is essentially made of, is smooth and looks polished, but the edge are terribly inclined to curl. This combination unites the best features of both. EZ gives instructions for both vertical border, which is knit along side the body stitches, knitting back and forth, and a horizontal border, which is knit perpendicularly to the sleeve stitches.

The young gentleman's birthday was lovely. It was a brunch (All birthday parties should be brunches, I think. Breakfast food is nearly universally popular, and particularly when it is a party of young children, everyone is fresher and in a better mood in the morning than the afternoon) with cake afterwards. The boy's mother's family has a tradition of decorating the cake with a present, and I think the result is charming.