January 2010 Archives

2010: The Year of the House

I haven't talked about it much, but during most of 2009 I was thinking about my house.  John and I bought our house in 2001 in a neighborhood in Chicago called Ukrainian Village (for those of you who aren't familiar with Chicago, it's a city of neighborhoods, and if you ask most people where they live, they'll tell you the name of their neighborhood).  When we bought, life was still unsettled, uncertain. We'd only been married for a little over 2 years and we looked at the house more as an investment in an up and coming neighborhood rather than someplace we planned to stay for a long time.  That said, we decided to go with the house option rather than a condo, assuming that if we liked it, the extra space would give us more flexibility and possibly room for a family.

Flash forward to now... we've been here almost 9 years.  The neighborhood has just gotten better and better with the passage of time.  We did start our family here.  We still don't know if we are living in our "forever home", but it is clear that for now, this house is where we are.  During 2009, it really started to hit me that in many ways we had never really moved past thinking about the place where we live as "our house".  By now, shouldn't I think of it as "our home"?  But it was clear that I didn't.  Only in a very few places had we done anything to really mark that it was ours.  I'd hired an interior decorator to work on the small powder room on the first floor.  John painted Z's room a lovely pale purple.  We'd hung a few bits and pieces on the wall, placed a few photos here and there, but other than that, I realized that I would be hard pressed, as a visitor, to identify who lived in this house.   I felt a little sad, for both me and our house and decided that it was time to give the place a bit more character and give us a place that felt like home.

To get started, I focused on our master bedroom and our guest room.  I made a decent start, but for a variety of reasons just couldn't keep myself focused.  And then Julie decided to talk about a project she wanted to tackle on her blog: A Room a Month.  The idea behind this project is to identify 12 rooms in your house and, each month, try to tackle some of the things that would make you happier about the room, make the room a better place, or just need to be done.    Maybe you don't get everything done, that's okay, but for one month you focus on the issues with that room.  For me, for one month, I'm going to think about what I need to do to make any given room more a part of my home and a place I want to be and less just a random piece of house. 

So, to kick things off, here are, in no particular order, the rooms that I want to focus on during the year:

  1. Master Bedroom
  2. Z's Room
  3. Guest Room
  4. Living Room
  5. Basement Bathroom
  6. Master Bathroom
  7. Office
  8. Office Bathroom
  9. Kitchen*
  10. Dining Area*
  11. Family Area*
  12. Main Floor Powder Room
  13. Laundry room
Yes, I realize that I've already violated the whole 12 rooms 12 months thing by having a 13th area.  Mostly I couldn't really decide between the powder room and the laundry room.  They'll be a bit of a dealer's choice throughout the year, depending on my mood (and finances, since the laundry room could involve and equipment upgrade).

* The kitchen, dining area and family area are really all part of one large room, but because the things that would make them better are really very different things, I'm separating them out.

The area I'm going to start with (I think, this may change as I continue to think about it) is the Family Area.  This is a part of the long, high ceilinged rectangular space that holds our kitchen and dining area as well.  This is the area that Z plays in and that has started to accumulate most of her toys and books.  It needs the following:

  • Additional storage unit for toys (Ikea here we come!)
  • Small book case for better book storage
  • Small couch/loveseat to make a sitting area to go with the rocking chair that is already there.
  • Paint for the wall.
  • Some artwork that works both as family friendly and mostly adult, since the room is still home to the kitchen and dining area as well.
On Wednesday, I'll post some pictures of the space and start to talk a little more about what I'm thinking about for it.
Before I start talking about this room, I'd like to talk a little bit about the challenges inherent in my house.  A standard Chicago city lot is 25' wide by 150' long.   Houses tend to be long and narrow -- the house is roughly 18 foot wide as there must be 3' on either side of the house.   Our house is on a road that runs east-west, so the long dimension of the house runs north-south.  We're on the south side of the street, and our best light comes into the south side of the house. 

Our main floor is composed of only two main rooms, the living room area takes roughly the front half of the house, while the kitchen, dining, family area comprises the other half.  The ceilings are tall in both rooms.  I think they are 10' in the front part of the house and 12 in the back part, since there is a step down from the front to the back level. 

The play area is essentially part of the back area of the first floor.

  This is the view of the western half of the room where Z's play area is located.  There's a fireplace at one end and the sliding glass door out onto our deck.  The floors are all hardwoods and all the walls are still (sadly) white.

20100104_PlayArea2.jpgThis is the same half of the room, only facing north (the rocking chair is for reference). The door is to a small pantry.  The window faces onto the deck of the apartment building next door and we don't get much light through it.

20100104_PlayArea3.jpgThis is a better view of the toy storage.  We are using an Ikea storage system because it is relatively inexpensive, flexible and the bins are cheap to replace.  And, yes, that is a real keyboard in her toy stash.  She loves "sending email" to people.

So, what do I want to do here?


I think the secret to me making this work is for me not to get over the top ambitious. For instance,  I would love to paint this room (even just this wall), but I don't think that it's realistic to try to do that in the dead of winter.   Instead, what I want to focus on is organizing her area better and making the space into a place where we can hang out better.  You'll notice there's really only one chair (the old rocking chair) that doesn't belong to our main dining room table.

My goals:

  1. Get a second toy storage frame so that the two can be placed back to back and Z can have an area to play on top of (this may be a little challenging since it's out of stock at both local Ikea's with no restock date... but I will persevere).
  2. Replace the toy bins and label them so that toys like Legos and Tinker Toys have a dedicated storage area -- hopefully this will also help others get the toys back to the right place.
  3. Get rid of the metal crates and get a real book case of some kind for her books.
  4. Cull out old toys she doesn't play with and find a place to donate/share/recycle.
Seems reasonable, I think.  If I get really ambitious, I might consider art for the walls... but I think that needs to happen after the painting!

New Toys!

I just realized that I was so excited about the room a month project that I completely forgot to talk about a few holiday gifts that are currently enriching my life.  My dear sweet husband and my little girl got me this:

I've been wanting a Kindle since Amazon first brought them out on the market, but John wanted me to wait until the second generation came out -- just to be sure.   Julie got one and had nothing but great things to say about it.  My mother has one that she won't be parted from.  And I worked with my sister-in-law to get my brother one for Christmas (and, yes, he loves his, too).  It's really hard to be involved in the procurement of a tech toy that I lust after for someone else, and watch a bunch of other ones be enjoyed by people I know without having one of my own in my hot little hands. 

Needless to say, I was more than a little psyched when John handed me a nice little box and I found myself in possession of my very own Kindle. 

Since Christmas, I've downloaded two books (I will somewhat embarrassedly mention that they are Dragon Age related books...high literature maven I am not) and can say I lurve lurve lurve this device.  The text size can be adjusted, images in books can be zoomed and rotated, and the interface is mostly intuitive.  Reading a book electronically with the Kindle takes away none of the pleasure of reading a book, and it's great to be able to take electronic notes and use the dictionary as I read along.  But what I like best is the knowledge that not only is it a fun toy, it's also helping me reduce clutter.  I love books, but not every book needs to become a permanent part of my household (and I am dismal when it comes to getting them to used bookstores when I am done with them) -- so many I enjoy but know I will never read again.  The Kindle makes that a problem of the past.

The Kindle even has some nice features for knitters -- you can download PDFs onto the device.  Think about the potential for taking multiple patterns with you on vacation without having to carry around a bunch of paper that can get lost.  Good deal, is what I think.

Reading books on the Kindle also has another good side effect, at least for me.  When I read books, I'm a flipper and a spoiler.  I wish I wasn't, but there it is.  I can't resist flipping ahead a bit to see where the story is going (especially if I'm getting invested in a character and need to know they're going to be okay -- or not -- in the next pages).  I'm not sure why I do this... perhaps it is just that I don't like uncertainty.  The Kindle makes that much harder for me -- and I think I'm enjoying the books I've read so far just a little bit more because I can't cheat and flip about as I read. 

All in all, this is a wonderful and useful toy on a number of levels.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who likes to read, especially if they spend a lot of time mobile and need to lighten their load up a little bit. 

An "A" for Aspinwall

While I've been busy thinking about play area redesigns and diving into my Kindle, I've been getting a little bit of knitting in as well.  John has been playing Mass Effect and I figured there was nothing more appropriate than working on a sweater for him, while he played a game that was entertaining me.

20100110_AspinwallProgress.jpgWhen last I talked about swatching for this project, I indicated that I was having problems getting gauge.  In the end, I just decided that to get the row gauge required, the fabric would be too stiff and would likely consume way too much yarn.  So I settled on the 4.00 mm needles that the designer suggested because even though I didn't get row gauge (fewer rows/inch than suggested), I had a fabric that I liked.  And,all things considered, I decided that having the right fabric was more important than adhering to a strict gauge measurement, especially since the general instructions for the half brioche stitch section work out to "knit straight for a certain number of inches".  I did end up knitting about a half an inch more to compensate for lost length when the fabric is stretched to gauge, but that was easy enough.

I enjoyed knitting the two color band a great deal.  And it was even more rewarding for me when John took a look at it and said "hey, I like that"  (translation: I might actually wear this sweater).  I'm also very pleased with the way the colors work against the main colorway that I selected.

20100110_AspinwallDetail.jpgClearly, it needs to be blocked out a little bit.  Even once that happens, though, because the yarn is a a slubby yarn with a inconsistent "diameter" this pattern will still look a little more uneven than if I was working in a differently milled yarn.  But I think that the rusticity of the yarn adds a bit to the masculinity of the garment, makes it a little more comfy and casual, which fits well with John's aesthetic.

The sweater is worked in the round up to where the sleeves are joined.  Then the sleeves are worked and connected to the body to build the yoke of the sweater (it's kind of a bottom-up raglan construction).  Last night I cast on for the first sleeve.  Of course, even though I thought I had every size DP needle available, it turns out that I didn't have 4.00 mm needles.  A quick trip to the yarn store solved that problem (if you got Vogue Knitting this month, you can see a little article on Nina's) and got me on my way.  Of course, I didn't pay attention and the US 6 needles I bought were 4.25 mm instead of 4, but since it was only 2 inches worth of cuff knitting, I didn't see the point in worrying too much, especially since John likes looser cuffs anyway.

Beyond the status discussion, I am really enjoying working on this garment.  The half brioche stitch is an easy stitch to work with, the yarn has wonderful hand, and the colors are rich and saturated and very nice color therapy for the Chicago winter. The fabric is soft and friendly and I can tell John will enjoy having this fabric against his skin. I have also been pleasantly surprised to find that the deep red yarn does not bleed... in the past, I've had yarns in this color range be a little leaky, so it's nice not to have this yarn rubbing off on my hands.  It's also nice to be focused really on just one garment at the moment.  I promised John that he was going to wear this sweater before it started getting too warm out!


Absent on Wednesday.  No pictures today.  My fingers have been quiet. 

I was going to show you the lovely color gamp warp that I just started on, but it's much less impressive to imagine when one forgets one's camera.  Suffice it to say, it was a pleasure to measure off my warp and touch a whole rainbow of colors on a grey January day.  I'm quite excited about this project, because the gamp will result in a blanket (roughly 40" x 50" in size) and I'll be working on a dobby floor loom -- the loom I had so much fun working on for the last couple of weaving classes is now ready to weave!

Having finished off the two Dragon Age novels (The Stolen Throne and The Calling ) on my Kindle (which were better than I expected and entertaining if you are also interested in the back story to the game, but probably not worth your time otherwise) I'm now going back to one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Stephenson.  I downloaded The Diamond Age this morning and am moving from swords and sorcery fantasy to cyberpunk and nanotechnology -- a bit of literary whiplash there, but the trial chapter drew me in, and so I go.

Other than that, I am trying to figure out how to cope with the 2 year old's main weapon -- refusal and screeching.  How, oh how, do they manage to hit the perfect pitch for creating the maximum disturbance in their mothers, and combine that with resisting absolutely any request, even simple ones like putting on socks?  My child is lucky she has two parents right now.  While she has a remarkable knack for being incredibly cute, she also pushes my buttons faster than anyone I know (and given some people that I know, that's saying something).   Any experienced mothers with suggestions (I've already figured out the glass of wine option, but that doesn't seem like a good plan at 10 in the morning) are more than welcome to share their secrets!

With a little luck, this weekend there will be couch surfing and sleeve knitting.  Or else there will be pictures of yarn on Monday... you have been warned.


As John works his way through Mass Effect , I'm working my way through his sweater. it's actually quite a lot of fun watching someone play a cinematic video game on a ginormous movie screen.  The only bad part about it is that I have much more sweater to knit than he has game left to play.  It is perhaps a good thing that Mass Effect 2 is supposed to drop on January 26th.

  20100117_AspinwallSleeve.jpg Aspinwall is knit as a variation on a bottom up raglan.  It's knit in the round from the bottom to the the midsection, then both sleeves are knit and joined and the yoke of the sweater is knit up from there.   This is the first of two sleeves (the second is cast on, but not so interesting to look at, at this point), knit in the round on DP needles.  While I do like color work, I really don't like doing it on DP needles... so fussy keeping things moving.  I find myself constantly dealing with re-setting my yarn as I move from needle to needle.  But that's a relatively minor niggle. 

I really enjoyed reading the comments and suggestions on Friday's post.  I think I'm going to have to learn to take a few more deep breaths and remind myself that no matter what, once this phase is over, I will probably look back and miss something about it and not remember so much of the willful craziness.  We do try to give her choices about things, when we can. But somethings just don't come with choice options...  How do you explain to a naked two year old racing up and down the hall way that  diaper is a non-negotiable? 

Which is not to say that she doesn't surprise me, in a good way, sometimes.  On Saturday night, after fighting everything from her bath to her diaper to getting her pajamas on, she up and declared she wanted to go to bed -- before her normal bedtime.  Okay. Into bed she went.  Then she indicated she wanted a book.  Okay.  One book in bed with the kid.  And then she quieted down immediately and we didn't hear a peep out of her until morning. 

Clearly, parenting is a journey. 

Rainbow Gamp Warp

It appears I'm not doing too well with Wednesdays lately.  But at least I can brighten up Friday with the warp from my next weaving project.

20100121_ColorGampWarp.jpgThis is the beginning of a color gamp blanket project.  It will be 40" wide by 50" long and will use a huck lace weave structure.  I'm warping it from the back, and what you see here is inch wide units of 3/2 cotton yarn getting ready to be pulled forward in preparation for threading the heddles.  I'll be doing this project on an AVL dobby loom -- which has me completely geeked out because it's as if weaving and computers have intersected in one project.

Next week I hope to get the heddles threaded and to start sleying the reed.  I can hardly wait to start weaving on this project and to watch all the different color combinations come together !

Must. Quilt. NOW.

Somewhere around mid-afternoon on Saturday it struck me: I absolutely, positively had to start working on a quilt.  Where this notion came from is unclear.  Perhaps it was from tucking Z under her quilt every night for the past year or so?  Perhaps it was seeing my first quilt draped over the back of our love seat everyday?  Perhaps it was just the feeling that it is winter and, thus, time to make blankets?  Clearly the ways of the crafter's brain are sometimes unknowable, even to herself.

I was working on my Blooming 9 Patch up until about April, 2007. I started this quilt as a part of a workshop at Quiltology, back when I was both pregnant and still had free time to devote to going to a Thursday morning quilting session.  The quilt was ambitious from the point of view of it's final size (it's meant to cover a queen sized bed when finished), but I was completely inspired by the opportunity to dive into a color study focused on batik fabrics in reds and yellows -- colors that I still consider out of my normal range.  This project stalled for a couple of reasons... a new workshop (the one that would result in Z's crib quilt), anticipation of my daughter, and the fact that it was a large project that required reasonably large blocks of time in order to do enough so that i felt I was accomplishing something.   But many quilters I know told me "All quilts have their time.  You'll know when it's time to get back to them."

Since Z was born, quilting, overall, seemed to go by the wayside.  I missed sitting down with my sewing machine, but hot irons, sharp scissors, pins and a need to focus on making nice seams were all incompatible with Z's infancy, and this became even more true as she started to become mobile.  Everything got pushed to the back of the shelf so that she wouldn't get hurt..  and that just made it too much hassle to think about.  She's still rather inquisitive, but, now, she occasionally responds to being told she should leave things alone. 

Saturday afternoon naptime gave me a delightful three hours of pulling things out, setting things up and just generally getting back into the swing of the 9 Patch project.

20100124_Blooming9PatchStri.jpgit was nice to find that I had already sewn together a significant number of the component strips, and even nicer to take them out, iron them and look at how the colors worked together.  There's something distinctly satisfying about pulling out a 3 year old project and still being happy about one's color decisions. 

20100124_ColorStudy.jpgIt took me a few minutes to review the pattern and component parts, but I found that, in spite of the long hiatus, I didn't have much difficulty getting back into the swing of this project.  Amazing how much muscle memory just takes over sometimes as I started seaming squares together.

20100124_9PatchPiecing.jpg I have modest goals for making continued progress on this project.  Weekday time is limited, so I am hoping to dedicate weekend afternoons to it.  I still have 7 long strips to piece together from component squares.  Then all the strips have to be seamed together -- which will probably be the most challenging part since it will require much pinning and fiddling with edges.  But one of the very nice parts about this project, is that because of the way the fabrics and squares blend together, little problems should become relatively invisible in the finished project. 

Welcome back, Quilt Mojo!  I missed you!

I Got Nuthin'

For a variety of reasons that probably wouldn't even be interesting to my mother (okay, maybe they would, but probably only to her), I'm pretty much empty today.    But I did find something cruising blog land that totally made me laugh out loud, so I thought I would share it with the rest of my compatriots who are out there searching for the perfect cup o' Joe.

How to Brew a Good Cup of Coffee from Ben Helfen on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend folks.  And if you happen to find a good cup of coffee, tilt back a cup for me, eh?


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