Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Disappointments All Around

Sadly, I have no pics for this post. Disappointment #1? lol

Disappointment #2: The acreage we have been pursuing is going to be taken off the market. The owners also have an adjacent property with an old old farmhouse on it that resides on 1.5 acres of the total plot they own. Over Christmas apparently the pipes on this farmhouse froze and it was bad enough that they've now decided to rip down the home. They plan to take both houses off the market, tear down the old farmhouse, then sell both properties as one. However, it won't be the simple difference between a home on 12.5 acres versus a home on 14 acres. Oh no. It will be 14 acres with a home AND a . So the home we were looking at for under $150k will shoot up over $200k. At least, that's our realtor's best guess. This suddenly puts it out of reach. Bummer, huh?

Disappointment #3 and what this blog post is really about....


Yep, I'm actually going to gripe a bit about yarn, local yarn stores, and big box craft stores.

A few years ago I became a yarn snob. I got a taste of good yarn and I couldn't go back. I just couldn't do it. So I found frugal ways to afford good yarn, like recycling sweaters...which is how JL Yarnworks got it start (selling recycled yarn on ebay). JL Yarnworks grew and grew and now it keeps me in some pretty nice yarn. I may not get everything I want, but I really can't complain.

Shortly before Christmas, in a moment of what-the-heck-can-I-make-my-friend-while-sick-and-loopy-but-still-make-it-nice-itis, I ran into my local yarn store. I scoured the yarns I could use for a drop-stitch scarf...something fast, yet pretty, and not too difficult. They had several new yarns since the last time I'd ventured in, so I poked around and looked at everything.

Why the heck is there sooo much acrylic invading my local yarn store? It's bad enough to see something at Michaels or Hobby Lobby that touts itself as being cashmere or alpaca or mohair and realize it's 50-95% acrylic. But I don't expect to deal with that same kind of rubbish at my LYS!

Now, don't get me wrong. I know that acrylic has its place. I really do. I have a large stash of Caron Simply Soft for amigurumi. I realize that it's a nice sturdy washable base that can be blended into other fibers. Wool-Ease and yarns like it are great for certain projects and especially for knitters who are on a budget and still want a taste of the good life. But these are big box brands. I like many big box brands actually. Despite my larger knitting budget of late, I'm still a frugal knitter at heart. That's not what I'm getting after at all.

When I visit my LYS, I have certain expectations. One is that my snobbery will be rewarded with all kinds of delectible delights of the fiberly kind. Sure, they'll be expensive, and possibly out of my budget, but I can still hold them and pet them and tell them that someday they will be mine.

But to go into my LYS and pick up a $15 skein of yarn....$15!!!....and find that it's more than half synthetic? And not really mixed with anything grand? What?!?! If a LYS wants to offer a little bit of everything to suit all palates and pocketbooks, I am ALL for that. In fact, the original dream behind JL Yarnworks was to open an Average Joe yarn store. A catch-all yarn store for those fed up with big box stores, but not ready to hand over their yearly salaries to the super snobby LYSs. But it has to be priced accordingly, right? Give a newer knitter (or someone with a huge project) a nice wool/acrylic or cotton/acrylic blend at a good price. I have no problems with that. Plymouth Encore? Good example of that. It just seems like now my LYS is trying to pass off this type of fiber as snobbery and snobbish prices, and the fiber really isn't that great.

While at the same time, the big box stores seem to be getting MORE wool and mohair and all that. Now, first a disclaimer. I *did* buy some Trendsetter Dune for my friend's project. And it wasn't cheap. But it was perfect for my project and the colors were perfect for my friend. Plus, I was in a hurry with Christmas and all. But let me use that as an example.

Trendsetter Dune ($15 for 50g and 90 yards)
41% Mohair
30% Acrylic
12% Rayon
11% Nylon
6% Metal

And let's compare it to a couple big box alternatives:

Moda Dea Gleam ($9 for 50 grams and 76 yards)
42% Nylon
35% Kid Mohair
18% Acrylic
5% Polyester

Lion Brand Moonlight Mohair ($9 for 50g and 82 yards)
28% Mohair
9% Cotton
6% Metallic
57% Acrylic

Are we seeing any similarities here? What makes one of these yarns a snobby yarn worth $15 and the other two crap big box store yarn for $9 ($5.40 if you use one of the frequent 40% off coupons often available)?

I don't have any answers. These are just the things I've been pondering lately. And just something for us all to think about in general. Personally, I think I'm going to stick with the big box brands when they are A) comparable in quality, B) priced much better, and C) when the LYS version doesn't support an individual artisan or small local cottage industry.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Best Christmas Ever!

Mr. Yarnworks and I were soooo excited when our first Christmas with a child came around. Miss May was 11 months old and we were sure it would be movie-worthy.

Oh how naive we were!

Miss May couldn't have cared less. She opened one present, then refused to open anything else because she was too busy playing with the first toy. It was such a let down for Mr. Yarnworks and myself, who had invested so much emotional energy into trying to make everything perfect.

3 days later, Mr. Yarnworks deployed for Iraq, and he was still gone for Miss May's second Christmas. She still didn't quite get into the presents thing as much as I did. Ah well.

Miss May's 3rd Christmas was a bit better, but she still wanted to play with each gift for an hour or so before moving on to another gift.

Our 4th Christmas, we had both Miss May and Miss Kate. Miss May was a bit more into the whole Christmas experience, but obviously Miss Kate was too little to understand any of it (she was 7 months old and visually impaired...kind of a difficult mix, since she couldn't even coo at the Christmas lights).

Our 5th Christmas, Mr. Yarnworks had been in another state, getting ready to deploy again. He'd been gone since October, and our Governor decided that his unit needed to come home for Christmas. The community raised the funds, and we didn't even have to pay for his travel. What a wonderful Christmas gift! Miss May was into Christmas, into having Daddy home, but Miss Kate was still a bit young to appreciate it all.

This is our 6th Christmas with children. And they get it!!!

Last night Miss May went down the checklist: cookies and milk for Santa, carrots and water for the reindeer, note for Santa pointing out that she'd left him cookies. She then lectured Miss Kate on the importance of being nice and going to sleep so that Santa will come.

This morning, the girls miraculously woke up on their own at the same time (and not at the crack of dawn...a Christmas miracle!) and their eyes turned into saucers as they walked into the living room. It was absolutely perfect. Each gift was opened with delight and awe, and each was followed up with some exclamation like, "Thank you so much! I love it!" or "It's perfect!" Stuffed animals and dolls were hugged tightly.

But better than that, our oldest now gets just as much joy out of GIVING. She helped Mr. Yarnworks pick out my Christmas gift and was THRILLED when I told her how much I loved it. And despite many bribes from Mr. Yarnworks, Miss May DID NOT reveal what we got for him. She held out for over a week. Amazing for a 5 year old who was offered treats and money, no?

This was also a year that we could afford to give the girls everything we wanted to. That is a blessing in itself. Not to mention that Mr. Yarnworks made it home safe and sound from his second tour in Iraq this year. It turned into a very good year indeed.

From our house to yours, we hope that your Christmas was as magical as ours! May the new year bring you everything you need to find happiness.

Our Dreams May Come True Sooner Than We Thought

Mr. Yarnworks and I currently rent a nice home that suits us fairly well. It's not our dream space, but it works. Ya know?

We're not quite ready to buy a home again (after a money-pit of a duplex a few years ago), but I still check the listings weekly just to see if our dream home has popped up at a bargain price.

A couple of days ago, I found this home. First, the bad news. It all began as a double-wide and has been added onto.
The good news: It has 2 traditionally built additions, totally 3100 square feet. It has a 1600 square foot unfinished walk-out basement. It comes on 12.5 acres not horribly far outside of town...and it's in a direction in which the town is growing. The main space has 3 bedrooms with a total of 4 walk-in closets. The additions are primarily office space! The former owner ran a business from home. Sounding familiar? Now her business accepted customers, so there's a reception area, a bill-pay window, a half bath with a restroom sign on it, and all that. hehe. But that part of the house is 1000 square feet. It also has a 4 stall garage, with only 2 garage doors (a 3rd in the back for drive-through access....the rest is just workspace. And it has a HUGE barn in pretty good shape. It's even already partitioned for animals. Everything is vinyl (the fence, the deck, the siding). The 2 furnaces and AC units (to handle the additions) are all high-efficiency. And as far as acreages go, it's cheap. So cheap that with a little haggling, it might be within our price range. Which, for 12+ acres and so much living space is practically a miracle.

Despite our fears about buying a double-wide, we think we are going to try to make an offer. Obviously we need to secure financing first in order to make that offer. The space fits us very well and would allow JL Yarnworks ample space to grow. I've already picked out 2 offices in the house plus a bit of garage space for a dying station. And with that kind of land? Does anyone else see sheep in my future? hehe. If not, at least a huge garden and hours of canning area ahead of me!

I told my husband that this is what I want for Christmas. He still got me something else anyway. (He's that kind of guy!) But he's already submitted all the info for a VA loan voucher and we have plans to talk to the bank very soon. We also need to do some legwork to find out costs of utilities, property taxes, insurance, etc. before we can commit to anything. We've already set our personal "walk away" limits. We are both already a bit emotionally attached to the idea of living here, so we need black and white rules for ourselves.

If anyone has advice on living on an acreage, living 25-35 minutes outside of town in a blizzard-prone area, homesteading, gardening for year-long surplus, etc, please feel free to let me know. I think I need a mentor!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last Minute Gift: The Drop Stitch Scarf

Starting to panic that all your Christmas knitting isn't quite done yet? What can you possibly make in a day or two? Or, hour or two?

A Simple Drop-Stitch Scarf

  • 1.5-2 skeins Trendsetter Dune Color #113 Country Meadow (41% mohair, 30% acrylic, 12% viscose, 11% nylon, 6% polyester), 90 yards per 50g skein (or any yarn that drapes reasonably well)
  • Size US13 needles (use Size US15 or larger for thicker yarns)
  • Tapestry needle or crochet hook for hiding the ends

Gauge: relatively unimportant


CO 12 stitches

Row 1-4: Knit

Row 5: K1, *YO twice, K1, repeat from * to end

Row 6-9: Knit

Repeat rows 5-9 to desired length.

Bind off.

Add fringe if desired. Tuck in ends.

Shown below in Moda Dea Cartwheel 100% wool (much less expensive than Trendsetter Dune and more readily available at stores like Joann), using size US15 needles.

Go raid your stash! See what you can find!

Ladies and Gentlemen: It's Cold Outside!

Mr. Yarnworks went out to shovel. And came back looking like this.

My apologies to Mr. Yarnworks for the unusually close photo, but it was necessary for effect.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


My Grandma Helen was the original knitter in my life. She refused to teach me to knit though, always telling me I was too young to learn. Incidentally, it was my other grandmother that ended up teaching me (on sharpened pencils no less) to knit around age 8. Of course, I put my knitting down and didn't pick it up again until I was an adult.

But when I think of knitting, it's my Grandma Helen I remember most. I remember hearing about her finishing the Master Knitter program (I'm guessing just the first portion). She was the craftiest person in my family. She always had some sort of handiwork in her lap.....knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery....

She had an entire closet in the guest room (where I used to stay) devoted to craft supplies. Yarn, ribbon, shells, and sequins adorned almost every craft project I created in her home. And I created many!

We were two peas in a pod, but distance kept us from truly learning from each other.

A few years ago, Grandma Helen stopped remembering things. She mixed up people's names, and even forgot that she'd ever had children...much less grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was around this time that I truly became passionate about knitting. It saddened me that I couldn't talk to her about it. After all, she was the expert in the family, and knitting is a tradition that used to be passed down from one generation to the next. Knitting loses a special something when it's learned from a book. I missed that, and I missed her. The one person that would understand my knitting frustrations and triumphs.

I haven't talked to my grandmother in a couple of years. She lived in Colorado, and someone introducing themselves as her grand-daughter on the phone confused her, so I stopped calling, not wanting to frustrate her. Eventually my aunt removed her phone altogether. I mentally said my goodbyes to the grandmother I'd once known, finding peace in knowing that her Alzheimer's (for the most part) didn't bother her. She was happy, finding the simple pleasures in life, over and over again for the first time each day.

This morning, my Grandma Helen passed away in her sleep. She was truly an exceptional woman, and I will miss her dearly.

Goodbye, Grandma.

I love you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trains And Christmas

Two Fridays ago, we were blessed with a unique opportunity. As part of a military appreciation program put on by BNSF Railroad, we were invited to ride on a vintage passenger train as a family! We snatched up the oportunity, unsure of when we'd ever get this kind of chance ride on a train with the girls.

See? I'm always missing from the photos. *Sigh* Actually, there's a full family pic of me inside the train, but I'm gonna be selfish and not show it. lol. It's my blog and my right to protect myself from bad pictures. :)

This was our view as we awaited departure. Another BNSF train.

The BNSF staff was truly wonderful. The girls got coloring books, paper conductor hats, string cheese, pretzels, cheese crackers, juice, soft drinks, and the family got a very pretty train Christmas ornament.

We even got a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Miss May was very quick to tell Santa exactly what she wants for Christmas!
It was truly a memorable evening. Thank you so much to BNSF for everything!