Friday, December 30, 2011

Plans for 2012...

In a number of different ways, 2011 was a very disorganized year. It seemed that each time I began to eek out a “new normal”, something else out of my control would change and upset whatever balance I had found.

I keep thinking to myself “Goodbye 2011! Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out and good riddance! Hellooooooo 2012!”

2011 certainly wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of fun times, Heather has shown us that age four is awesome in many ways, Todd has exploded onto the scene with his personality & charm and I am employed full-time again. As I’ve said in the past, we have a lot to be thankful for. Yet 2011 was a hard year in many ways, so it is somewhat gratifying to see it in the rear view mirror and prepare for a “fresh start”.

Out of all of the challenges of 2011, I find myself reconsidering my priorities and refocusing on the things I really want. Thinking about how I spend my time, what I would rather spend less time on and what things make me happy. I can’t say that I have figured it all out yet. It is still a work in progress, of course, but I feel like I am getting a handle on some of the changes I want to make.

I started to write about these priorities and realized that the ideas and their place in line are still forming in my head. So hopefully I will be back soon with more concrete thoughts about changes I want to work toward next year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The holidays are just adding another layer of crazy to a 10 layer crazy salad.

I need to write about it, but I’m not complaining. I know how incredibly lucky we are. I’m happy that we have two smart kids who know what they want and want to do everything themselves. (A hard job now, but will make them awesome adults someday.) I’m thrilled that one of my “problems” is adjusting to my new job and our new everyday life. I’m thankful that we’re healthy, have a roof over our head, have the food and clothes that we need, and that we can afford to get the kids just what they want for Christmas. I’m thankful for a new laptop, the ability to continue teaching at the yarn shop and the possibilities for having knit and crochet designs published in 2012. I’m thankful for my dishwasher, washing machine and dryer for making my tasks easier, even if they aren’t smart enough to fill and empty themselves.

Most of the things on my to do list are not hard, they just take time. And I feel like I am too often sacrificing sleep for the things on the list. Which I know is just as bad, if not worse, than having a messy house.

Quite frankly, a number of things are on that list now so that I can ENJOY and RELAX during my two days off at home for the holidays. On Christmas and the day after I just want to enjoy time with family and enjoy time in the house I love, without feeling like I should take a few minutes to vacuum or go through a pile. And let’s face it, if I am going to do any organizing or cleaning during those two days, my efforts should be focused on helping the kids find places to store their new toys!

I also can’t wait to give our family members this year’s pictures of the kids and to send out what I’m sure will be an adorable card using said pictures. But I still need to get through the agonizingly difficult process of picking the handful of pictures to use from the big stack that she gave us. I am thankful to know someone so talented, but my job would be a lot easier if there weren’t so many great images to choose from! (I’ll show you some once presents have been given.)

Now that I’m employed, the biggest problem we have is a cat issue. It has changed and grown over time, and I have reached a point that I just need it to be fixed…and we found someone to help us and give us a list of things to do to fix it. Which will be fabulous in the long run, but in the short term just adds another layer of items to the task list. I really wish we would have known about this person years ago…but all we can do now is move forward and figure out the right strategy for this point in time. I think it might be less complicated if we had more rooms in our house with doors. :-)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Good Weekend

Each time I tried to compose a facebook status update about how nicely the weekend was going, it was much too long for that format and it was hard to express some of my thoughts without sounding cranky. So I must need to right a blog post about it.
Friday was the holiday luncheon with my new employer, followed by a 2-hour early release for the weekend, giving me time to cross a few items off my list while I was home alone. The kids came home happy, the house was reasonable straight to be seen by someone new (this weekend’s babysitter was coming for the first time) and the homemade pizza was ready for the oven on time. Despite some initial shyness (that is Todd’s MO with many people lately and since the babysitter was his teacher, Heather doesn’t know her as well), the kids had fun and we returned home to a glowing report of their good behavior. It is always nice to hear that what we are trying to teach the kids is sinking in, even if that isn’t clear on a day to day basis to us.
R and I had a lovely dinner. The food was excellent and we covered the topics on my list. (The more that is going on, the more lists I make.) These are discussions that I find it hard to have at 9:30 or 10pm when all I want to do is relax my brain and go to sleep. I feel better now that some decisions are made and there is less pressure for us to have a “big” discussion on a weeknight after doing an hour of chores.
After we ate, we went shopping for my Christmas present – a new laptop! My old laptop has been in need of replacement for a while…and I don’t think we could have shopped for it successfully with the kids along. This time I specifically went for a lightweight model and I think it has the speed and storage to last me for a good, long while. And hopefully the battery life will live up to their promises, too.
Saturday was our activity and errand day. We went to Phipps to see Santa, and have our annual visit to see the trains and flowers. I think when the kids are older we’ll spring for a membership and try to go a few more times a year, but there are so many great places to go in Pittsburgh, this hasn’t risen up our list yet. Santa was great, as always – kind, chatty and not in a rush

Heather asked Santa for a Belle and Cinderella. Todd refused to sit on Santa’s lap and barely made eye contact with him, so Heather let Santa know that Todd wants “Christmas Lights” this year. His previous answer was “presents”, so at least his revised answer is more specific. :-) Now that requests have been made officially, the elves can get to work. And the elves are very happy that they didn’t shop early since these requests just materialized in the past week…

After lunch, we bought Heather’s first ballet outfit. She starts class in a couple of weeks. The class is run in the same building as daycare, so it doesn’t currently add any event to our calendar other than making sure her attire is clean and present on the right day. And then while the family had movie/nap time, I did some shopping for Christmas and groceries, knocking a few more items off my massive December to-do list.
Sunday was designated to decorate the house for Christmas. Given our recent mild temperatures, R had already done the outside decorating and put up some window lights. We got a lot done, especially when you consider that we usually use the long Thanksgiving weekend for decorating. 

But this is where I’m going to sound cranky. I don’t want to wish the time away. I love the ages that the kids are at now…but when it comes to decorating for Christmas I am looking forward to the kids being old enough to help without making the process more stressful. Between the random unpacking of decorations, the leaving of ornaments on the floor, the concern that ornaments will be dropped or broken, the impatience to decorate *now* and the following boredom half an hour later…I just found it making me very stressed out yesterday. I suppose that “ideally” the prep work of unpacking and putting lights on the trees would be done while the kids are otherwise occupied, but that didn’t work out this year and I would like them to really be able to help.
I have to give Heather credit. She lasted a lot longer in the process than Todd did and other than a few branches that had 2 ornaments, she did really help with tree decorating. (Todd’s fullest branch had 5 ornaments on it…) But she still required a lot of direction and she isn’t immune to the dropping problem (maybe we need to get a carpet remnant to put under the tree?).
I also kind of hate how the decorating process makes the house look so messy. I need to dust as I do the mantles and put out the knick knacks this week, and a post-decorating vacuum is definitely in order. I know that the result will be fabulous, it just felt like a lot of work yesterday, and there is still more to try to finish (hopefully) before the week is out. Part of it is internal pressure to go into the holiday with a house that feels clean. I only have two days off at home, and I don’t want to feel like I should spend them cleaning (other than maybe organizing the kids’ new toys)!
You can see how I was having issues coming up with a concise and happy facebook update. ;-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This Weekend

Things I’m looking forward to this long weekend (in no particular order):

1 – Spending time with the kids while they are surrounded by relatives and friends someplace other than our house. This means that I won’t be multi-tasking on chores while spending time with them and they will (probably) be on their best behavior because of the other people. Also, they will spend time playing with others while I sit and watch (and knit).

2 – Lots of time to knit and crochet in the car.

3 – Eating the pumpkin pie that I’m making for Thursday using my Great-Grandmother’s recipe. It is easy and it is my favorite pumpkin pie in the world.

4 – Time spent with family and friends. I expect to see some people that I really like that we don’t get to see very often. And I am hopeful for time that is relaxed and calm.

5 – Good food that I don’t have to cook. I will have some responsibility food-wise – the pie and the general task of making sure that there are healthy snacks around to keep the kids from getting hungry between meals. Also, making sure we have meals on a reasonable schedule as to not make the kids irritable or throw off bedtime. But thankfully, as they get older, the latter is better since they can mostly express when they are hungry.

6 – Not setting an alarm for four days. Yes, it is likely that the kids will wake us up before we necessarily want to be up, but it is still better than my alarm going off at 6am. And last time we were with my parents, the kids got up to play with them and let me sleep a little longer.

7 – I have a lot to do during the next two evenings to prepare for the weekend, so getting to Thursday morning should mean that my tasks are done. Hopefully.

Part of the reason I am focusing on these things is because there is a somber aspect to the weekend as well. This is the beginning of our first holiday season without my father-in-law and without my grandfather. I am not looking forward to the emotion and the sadness, but I know that it is part of the grieving process and I am thankful to have my energetic children to constantly remind me to live in the moment. There is actually something a little….refreshing (not quite right, but I lack of a better word) about talking with a 4 year old about death. It is a very straightforward conversation in that it is best to give straightforward and clear answers. The hard part is not really knowing what question will be thrown at you next.

Also, this post is to remind myself that the craziness and late nights this week will be worth it for the sake of our weekend together.

I hope, dear readers, you have a wonderful weekend with people that you love.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Chops

Have you ever found a recipe that sounded just perfect, but it took a half dozen tries to get it to really work and meet your vision? I just finally realized the desired goal last night on a pork chop crockpot recipe that I probably found over a year ago.


Ha, ha. Look – it was almost 3 years ago that is was posted, so I would guess that I tried it for the first time while I was on maternity leave with Todd. So it has taken me this long to get the recipe right *and* figure out my crockpot.

I’ve had pulled pork. I know that it is possible to get that kind of tenderness, and yet each time that I made the recipe we had meat that needed to be cut with a serrated knife and that had to be completely drenched in sauce from the first bite to the last. I knew it could be better, but it took me a while to figure out why I was having so many issues.

First, the issue with my crockpot. It is a very basic model. And honestly, I have no problem with that. I can hook it up to a timer if I need to it to start after I leave the house, I tend to simmer things on low all day while we’re at work and I have made a variety of yummy foods in it for the 4-5 years that I’ve had it. The “problem” is that the heat dial just goes from 1 to 5. There is no “warm”, no “low”, nothing specific about temperatures or that relates to the way that crockpot recipes are usually written. So this is the recipe that finally taught me that 1 is “warm” and 2 is “low”. I decided that there was enough liquid in the pot that I could afford to try heating the pork chops on 2 yesterday, and the results were perfect. Fall apart when you just look at it, perfectly cooked pork.

Second, in the past I have stuck literally to the directions in the blog post, but I found that when I emptied the can of mandarin oranges over everything else, it pushed the sweet and savory jam mixture off the top of the chops, leaving them with just a few orange slices on top and the jam mixture diluted in the crock.

So here are my directions for this yummy recipe that seems to me like perfect fall fare. The orange and clove smell emanating from the kitchen reminds me of the wassail I make for the holidays. Yum!

3-4 Pork chops (I use boneless)
2, 10.5 oz cans of mandarin oranges
1 cup apricot jam (I also like peach or a peach/apricot mixture. You can use orange marmalade as well.)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger (You could use more if you like more “kick”)
¼ tsp whole cloves

Put pork chops in the crockpot. Pour cans of mandarin oranges (including juice) over them, leaving at least 5-6 orange slices on each chop.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients, except cloves. Dollop mixture evenly over chops and oranges. Then sprinkle cloves over the whole thing. (This makes it easier to find and remove them before serving)

Cover and cook on low for 10 hours. It might not need that long, but that's the length of time I'm away from the house on a weekday.

Someday, when my kids will eat rice, I will serve this with rice because I think the rice would absorb the extra sauce nicely.

(Enjoy the picture on the original blog because it didn’t even cross my mind to take one last night.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More Kid than Toddler

Yesterday was election day. Neither R or I made time to go to the polls before work, so that meant that we had to go in the 2+ hours between arriving home from work and the closing of the polls at 8pm. This is a busy time in our house – making dinner, bargaining snacks, talking about our days, enjoying time with the kids while trying not to rile them up before bed, getting ready for bed, bath or shower, wind down and getting the kids to sleep. (That last part is still taking a bit of time with Todd, but I’m working on it and it’s getting better…)

R went to the polls while I got dinner started and gave the kids a snack (aka, something from their Trick or Treat bags) in the kitchen. Sometimes having the kids in the kitchen while I’m cooking is a disaster and sometimes it is lovely. Never can tell for sure. Last night was good, maybe just because the kids got the snack they wanted. ;-) As soon as the food had 15 minutes of simmering to go and R was back, Heather and I walked over to the polls together.

Two bits to share from this:

1) Heather and I had a nice little walk. We vote at the elementary school around the corner. Heather seems to be more free flowing with information about her day when we are walking together (rather than being questioned during dinner). And as she is still less “needy” than Todd, there are times that she doesn’t get as much attention from me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not purposefully ignoring her. But for example, in the rush of the morning routine, I am busy getting myself ready and attending to Todd’s needs. I don’t generally get up earlier than absolutely necessary, and she spends time watching TV to help her “wake up”. This combination means that the two of us don’t usually talk much on weekday mornings. Now that it is dark out by the time we get home it feels harder to make little walks like this happen, but truthfully we could still do it when the weather is mild.

2) While R was voting and I was cooking, I let the kids know my plan to go vote when daddy got back. Heather’s suggestion was that she could watch Todd while daddy and I left to vote together. She’s 4 ½. I fully expect that at some point she will be watching her little brother at home without a parent present (and she already does some “supervising” of him while we’re in a different room), but I don’t think it’s time yet for us to leave the house. I suppose I’m beginning to wonder when that will be. I certainly think that we have a ways to go…but I suppose we’ll dip our toes in the world of more independence when she heads off to Kindergarten next year. It will be interesting to see what that looks like.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Steeler Sunday

Just posting a two month old picture in honor of the Steelers game tonight...

Saturday, November 05, 2011


All of a sudden (or so it seems to us), Heather loves to draw. For most of this year she would like to sit and draw letters from time to time. And sometimes she would be willing to randomly draw in a coloring book or scribble some color in paper.

Within the last few weeks she really likes to draw, regularly chooses it as a quiet activity and draws people, animals, houses and anything else her little brain thinks up at that moment. She's also more interested in coloring and is asking us how to spell a lot more than the typical list of names she writes.

Lately, she writes
And then asks how to spell Daddy, Bapa and Grandma Sharon. Then she goes on to ask other names or other words she's read recently.

Here is one chalk drawing example from Columbus Day weekend:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Fall fun

The pumpkin picking part of our trip to the pumpkin farm was not the highlight. We were there for a birthday party. It was a lovely day and the kids had a lot of fun!

(These are just the highlights from my iPhone pictures. It is possible that, like the Halloween costume pictures, better photos exist in our main archive. But this is easier right now...)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Halloween Costumes

The good news – I’m employed full time again. Yay!
The bad news – The two weeks leading up to working (visiting family out of town and trying to prepare) and my first week of work have been super busy, leaving little time to do anything on the computer, especially to blog. Insert praise for iPhone here, which has allowed me some semblance of an online life at random moments.

But let’s jump back in to the now…Halloween!

Heather was set on being Darth Vader and Todd was not consistently set on any costume. Add in everything else going on for the last month, and it was a perfect recipe for store bought costumes. There was a little drama with Heather’s costume (the first store we visited didn’t have her size) and Todd talked about a lot of different costumes up on that big wall of pictures. Over the two weeks we talked about it we heard: Chewbacca, Obi-wan, Gumby, Dinosaur, Darth Vader, Luke, Woody and probably 10 others that I’m forgetting. On our last visit to the party store, with two days to go until his class party, he chose Buzz Lightyear.

I considered some sewn hemming for the sleeves and pantlegs that were too long, but after attempting to alter the too big Darth Vader costume that we bought originally and making myself crazy trying to get the sewing machine to play nicely with the stretchy knitted fabric…I decided that shoes would keep long pantlegs from being tripped on and sleeves hanging over knuckles wasn’t a problem. Besides, given the number of times that last year’s Woody costume has been worn, I expect this year’s costumes to see some more action during playtime, so there is no reason to hem them down too much.

I did knit Heather a Darth Vader “helmet” hat. (I never got a good picture of it when she was wearing it, unfortunately.) Masks aren’t allowed at school and I didn’t think it would stay on during Trick or Treat. The baby/toddler version of the Darth costume I’ve seen has a cute little hat helmet, so that was my inspiration. I used the Hallowig pattern from Knitty as my starting point, adding some different shaping to be more like Darth’s helmet. A crochet edging adding some stabilization to help the edges flare and I decreased in a more pointed fashion.

The hat was a little too warm for the school parties (the parties always warm, even without costumes!), but it was perfect for Trick or Treat, especially given the teeming rain that was falling all evening. Todd was able to wear a wool hat as well, under his Buzz helmet. In hindsight, a new pair of gloves for him in white would have been better than his mittens from last year for the costume, but who wants to knit white gloves for a dirt-loving 2 year old? Both kids wore Nana-made wool sweaters underneath their stretchy costumes and it wasn’t as cold as Saturday when it snowed (!), so everyone was warm and happy despite the weather. And from a” mom of little kids” point-of-view, the rain kept the hoards of big kids down, which was nice.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Work Life

I made a passing remark on facebook that I would write a blog post about the new job.

So now I sit here wondering what to tell you about it. For a myriad of reasons relating to client confidentiality (which are, in some ways, more critical in this position) as well as a personal goal to not inadvertently piss off my employer, I haven’t really written about work much. Granted, there are blogging architects out there who write in detail about their work. Even some who don’t own the business that they work for, but I’m not sure that is me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy showing off my completed projects and even took my mostly uninterested kids on a tour of one of my buildings (we’ll try again when they’re older ;-)…but I don’t think my architecture remotely relates to the reasons that I blog.

Anyway, so far the job is good. The people seem nice, the work seems similar to what was described and thankfully my first couple of projects aren’t big rush jobs. My position is new, so I think the department manager is trying to use my time to get ahead on a few things initially planned for December and January, allowing me to go a little slower to get my feet wet here. (Have I mentioned how incredibly awesome it is that this company uses Microstation, the same CAD program that my last employer used?! There are still adjustments, but I’m glad that isn’t one of them.) Any time now, there are several projects that could break that have more urgent deadlines, but I am enjoying the fact that I’m not putting out any fires. Yet.

We are still working out all of the kinks in our schedule and day-to-day life (having Halloween and related events happen in the first week means we haven’t really had many “normal” days yet.) Somehow I need to find a way to get to bed a little earlier and get a little more time to relax with TV and knitting each evening. Important for both my sanity and for getting projects finished. I have two book projects left, a waaaay overdue baby present, a design for an indie dyer, a sweater promised to Todd, several other baby presents not even planned and a few winter accessories for both Heather and Todd…which they will need very soon.

I am also quickly realizing that not making it to the grocery store over the weekend was a grave error and means that I going to have to go tonight after the kids are in bed. (It’s actually a lovely time to be in the store, just not really what I want to do at 9pm.)

But I am really and truly not complaining. I am thrilled to be working again, and my 14 months of uncertainty have given me a new perspective on work. I know that even when there are days in the future that the house is messy and I would rather be working on that than drawing floor plans, I will be thankful to be employed and be more positive about figuring out a better way to manage my time rather than just complaining about the things not getting done.

I do miss working at the yarn store, but I am still teaching a little and I have gotten to stop in to visit a few times during the weekend running of errands. If only yarn/knitting/crochet experts had the same earning potential as architects. ;-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Pumpkins

The one “craft” I did partake in for Halloween was the pumpkin carving process. The kids both painted pumpkins at school and got little tiny ones for table decorations, but I am a big fan of the carving. Part of it is my need to design and render something festive and part of it is my love of the roasted pumpkin seeds as a reward for all of that hard work.

I’ve always thought that the pumpkin carving kits you see in stores were silly, but this year I learned I was wrong. I got a hand me down set from Todd’s teachers last year and I actually remembered to use it. The downside is that the blades are really bendy and by the end of the process the two knives and one borer had broken off of their handles. But while they were still intact that worked really well for the carving and had a lot more control than the kitchen knives I’ve used in the past. I’m hoping that I can either find a sturdier set for next year or maybe find some cheapie ones on clearance to stock up. I will definitely be using those tools again. Not to mention that the scooper for getting the guts out was about 10 times faster than my ice cream scoop method (and the scooper didn’t break).

Heather helped for a lot longer this year than last – she scooped for quite a while and she drew the faces. Todd helped a little, but was more interested than watching. I look forward to a year when they are old enough to help more significantly so that four pumpkins don’t take 6 hours of work…but I am happy with the results and the two bags of roasted pumpkin seeds. J

Pumpkin #1 – Heather’s

She drew the face she wanted directly onto the pumpkin. Initially she drew more detail than I could feasibly carve and some of the features were proportionally small. But all I did was make the elements larger and simplify the lines. You could say I faithfully reinterpreted her design for the carving medium. :-P

Pumpkin #2 – Todd’s

When she got tired of scooping, Heather drew out a number of possible jack o’lantern faces for Todd and Daddy to choose from for their pumpkins. She had a variety of happy and sad faces, and Todd insisted on a sad face. Again, this is Heather’s design reinterpreted for the medium.

Pumpkin #3 – Daddy’s

This is based on one of Heather’s sketches, that was drawn onto the pumpkin by both of them. I’m not sure who added the extra eye – if it was on purpose or a chance occurrence – but daddy was very happy with Heather’s design.

Pumpkin #4 – Mommy’s

I started with a sketch that Heather had designated for me, but made a few alterations for my own preferences. This is my “ideal” face and the first year that I have been happy with the way it turned out. (Thank you, pumpkin carving kit.) Next year I may do something more different now that I have finally gotten a good basic face.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Just Pictures

Summer fun has continued around these parts - more camping, playground, playdates, ducky tour, neighborhood fair, jazz in the park, pool and walks around the neighborhood. To keep you occupied until I can put together a more newsy update, I'm going to share my two favorite pictures that R has taken this week.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Social Media Strategy

Things in the online world are constantly changing and evolving, just as many other things change and evolve in our "real lives".

When I started this blog I purposefully didn't make the name about knitting because I knew I wanted to post about a variety of things and not just my fibery life. While there will always be some overlap, I find that I want to separate my new knitting/crochet/teaching adventures and freelance work from my personal expressions online. My reason for using this blog and using facebook is about staying connected with friends and family, and about sharing personal thoughts and stories to keep in touch. And in some ways, it has become the closest thing to a baby book or journal that I have about the kids as they grow.

On the other hand, I have been using twitter mostly to connect with people in the fiber arts world and a few other Pittsburghers & friends. So twitter and my new blog will be my primary outlets to talk knitting, crochet, designing and teaching.

So if you are interested in my fibery pursuits, you are encouraged to add StructuredStitches to your feed reader of choice. But if your only interest is in family stories and personal anecdotes, there is no need to stray from this blog. :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


There is no progress on the full time job front. No job posts to respond to that are decent fits for my skills and interests, and even my recent attempts at networking have gone silent. I'll blame it on the summer and do another round of contacts in a few weeks.

But there is some progress on fibery things. I really enjoy working at the yarn shop, I've had some great experiences teaching and I have some designs in the pipeline. Some will be published by me, two will be published through an independent dyer and three will be published in books! Woot!

In addition to the design work, I'm working on a style sheet and logo for my independent designs, tweaking my class handouts and working on the launch of a separate blog for my design work.

Oh, and knitting samples for teaching. You can see today's work below. One benefit of the hours spent working at the yarn shop beyond the nice people and enjoyable discussion.

Pattern: Aviatrix Baby Hat
(free pattern on ravelry)
Yarn: Claudia Hand Painted Yarns
Color: Donna's Favorite

(Sorry. No links right now. I need to go do dishes and prepare fruit to take to tomorrow's playdate.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Swatch inspiration

I'm made this swatch yesterday with only the intent of setting a good example for my students. I knit it in the round, wider than 4" and using the stitch patterns I plan to use in the sweater. I was just getting it done so I could do the math to start the sweater. I just wanted to make headway on something on my to do list...

But, I LOVE the swatch. I played with the cables a few different ways and got ideas for both an adult and a kids version using some of these elements. And now I'm excited to cast on and play with the possibilities!

Next, to wash the swatch and see if the results of blocking change my design plans at all.

For the curious, the yarn is Cascade 220 in color "Heather".

Yes, really. That is what it is called. :-)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

9 days of Summer

This is Todd, asleep in the carrier on my back at the end of our first family trip to Kennywood. (Thank you pikkolo carrier, for helping us avoid taking the stroller to the amusement park. ;-)

Last week, R and the kids were home for vacation, and we packed a WHOLE lot of summer into that one week. Todd's expression above is pretty much how I felt when the week was over. Completely and totally exhausted. :-)

The week included camping, hiking, beach time, eating campfire food, a family 4th of July picnic, lake and pool swimming, Cars 2 (Todd's first movie theater experience, Heather's second), the spray park, the zoo, puddle jumping, a day at Kennywood amusement park and a cookout birthday party with bubbles. Whew.

Every indication is that the kids had a great time all week. They got to know some of their cousins better while we were camping and could have spent all of their time at the campground playing at the beach & the lake if we would have let them. It was hard with so many activities to keep up the usual routines and there were lots of car naps, and some bedtime issues. But the kids seemed to deal with the unpredictability well and the only "problem" was some boundary testing near the end of our break. Other than some slow mornings, the return to daycare and our normal routine has not been hard and both kids were eager to join their friends after drop-off this morning.

Our day at Kennywood was a lot of fun. Heather was ready to ride anything that she was tall enough to go on and was enthusiastic in Kiddieland. Todd was a little more hesitant at first, especially on the rides where he was supposed to sit solo. So we switched to the rides where kids and parents can ride together, and by the evening he was enthusiastically going on the kid only rides with Heather.

Heather and Daddy also rode on the Pittsburgh Plunge and the Jack Rabbit together while Todd and I found other ways to entertain himself. We may need to find another adult to take with us next year so that Todd has a riding partner for the rides outside of Kiddieland as well. This mama only rides the spinny rides and not anything that goes up and down. :-)

We look forward to more summer activities, but this past week was the epitomy of summer fun!

Bedtime stories in the tent:

First walk on the beach:

Playing at the Glendale Lake beach:

In the Mole Rat tunnel climber at the zoo:

Riding the Kiddieland version of The Whip:

Friday, July 08, 2011

In which I blog about Architecture

The first descriptor that I give in both the header and the "About me" section is that I am an architect. It is something that I worked hard for (5 years of college, 3 years of internship, 9-part exam) and something that partially describes who I am. And even the name of the blog was inspired by a quote from a famous architect.

In reality, I would more generally describe myself as a designer...and architecture is a way of doing that in an environment where I am comfortable, where I can work as a team member and where I can find both emotional & financial satisfaction.

Yet, despite architecture being such a critical part of my life, I think I have blogged more about this aspect of my life since being unemployed than I ever did in the 5 years that I was working and blogging. Some of this is due to client confidentiality and not wanting to do anything "wrong" on the internet. But beyond that, I'm not really sure why I have been so silent. There was nothing stopping me from posting pictures and information about completed projects that I am very proud of. And maybe if I had done that it would have been easier to pull my resume and portfolio together last fall. :-)

But the thing that leads me to want to write about it now, at least partially, is Architect Barbie.

It isn't actually because I have strong feelings about this choice for Barbie. For the most part, I think it is pretty cool and it seems likely that I'll try to get one for Heather so maybe she will think that being an architect is as cool as being a cowgirl like Jesse. ;-)

I've read complaints that having an Architect Barbie makes the profession seem silly or will prevent people from taking us seriously. That argument doesn't hold water with me. Would you stop taking female doctors and lawyers seriously just because there was a Doctor Barbie or a Lawyer Barbie?

Truthfully, I don't think this will be the panacea for making the profession more diverse either. There is a big problem with gender inequity in the world of architecture and the problem lies somewhere between university and licensure...a period in which I doubt Architect Barbie will have much affect.

I don't have the precise numbers in front of me (although they may be listed in the Architect Barbie link), but while the number of males and females in architecture school is nearly 50/50, the number of licensed female architects practicing today is staggeringly low. There are plenty of theories, but as far as I have read no one has yet figured out why this is the case.

In some cases, women find allied jobs that don't require them to complete the work to be licensed - these are jobs that work with architects or are related to the building fields, but since they don't require the creation of construction documents, a license isn't required to do the work. There are also women who choose to leave the profession when they have kids or who work as architectural interns for a while but never finish the licensing process.

I'm not going to pretend that I can speak for all of the women who go through the process of graduating with a Bachelors or Masters of Architecture but ultimately don't become a licensed architect. I'm sure that the specific reasons are highly varied. But I do think it is important that our industry figures out why we are losing so many talented people to other jobs. I think the building industry would be extremely well served by a more diverse group of professionals.

That said, I'm going to give a couple of possible factors based on my own personal and anecdotal experience. I would love to hear other opinions, too.


#1 - Devotion
There are many career fields where one is expected to give 120% while working. Expectations are high to work hard, to work more than 40 hours a week and devote everything you can to your job while you are there. What I think is unique to architecture is that part of the culture is about devoting "everything" to architecture.

I've heard people talk with pride about working 50-60 hours a week at an architecture firm, moonlighting on a residential project and keeping up with all of the latest industry magazines, too. Not to mention the architects who come in practically at sunset, leave after 7pm and come in on the weekends, too. It is one thing to do that in a week or two leading up to a big deadline, but that kind of devotion to architecture can't possible leave any other time in your life for anything else. Not to mention that the latter is pretty unhealthy and leaves one prone to burn-out.

I think this culture of devotion starts in school. It was an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) "rule" that architecture students should have very limited other interests while in college. Academic minors, fraternities, sororities and theater groups were discouraged. Many people participated in them anyway (thank goodness!), but I was always given the feeling that those activities should NEVER take priority over anything I had to do for any architecture class. Yes, my class projects were very important. But architecture has never and will never be my ONLY interest.

I think we are better architects when we have other interests. If nothing else, it makes us more interesting people.

#2 - Time and Flexibility
This is related to #1, in the idea that you should be so devoted to your job that it should come before anything else.

My last employer was respectful of the fact that I had a life outside of work and that as long as my work was done I was going to leave at a reliable time each day. When I was young and single, I could motor through the afternoon and early evening until I felt I was done for the day. But with two young kids and a husband who only makes Mac'n'Cheese*, there is a real need for me to leave at a consistent time each day after putting in my eight hours. I am lucky that my husband was doing daycare pick-up, but I still needed to get home to make dinner for my family and spend some time with my kids. The ever popular "work-life balance" that is hard to find.

When it was necessary for me to stay later because of a deadline, presentation or travel, I would certainly do so as needed. But truthfully, what I really needed and what I hope to find someday is the flexibility to take work home with me. Now...this may sound like a contrast to what I was saying in #1, but it really isn't. I *am* devoted to my job and I do want to do the best job possible. But to find my best work-life balance at this stage of my life, I need to leave work at the same time each day. And I know the job well enough to know that sometimes 40 hours a week isn't enough. I'm a night owl by nature, and I can be very productive from 9-11pm when my kids are in bed. I'm not saying that I want to spend all of my free time at home doing work, but if I had the flexibility to take work home as needed to get a little extra done or to make-up time spent taking my kids to the doctor or to allow me to leave early to attend a daycare party, etc, etc, finding a work-life balance would be less tricky. And I would be a happier, more productive employee.

Flexibility is important for everyone. Certainly a new father or a man with a sick parent or anyone who wants to enjoy life outside of the office could benefit from a flexible workplace. But in my experience, it is the parents who desire the most flexible benefits because having kids is all about needing to be flexible. :-)

Maybe it is just a statement about our society that there are fewer women in an industry that tends not to provide flexibility to its employees.

#3 - Values
The thing that the architectural industry most obviously promotes are iconic, unique, eclectic, challenging, obviously sustainable and sometimes egotistical buildings.

I don't think the buildings featured on the covers of the big architectural magazines are bad. But what we as architects most obviously promote to the outside world are pictures of empty buildings. Or pictures taken at such a scale that humans look like ants. Sometimes there are pictures inside the magazine with people, but rarely on the magazine cover.

Certainly there is value in architecture of the unique and the daring and the symbolic...but is that the most important thing to value? And why do we not seem to care what the users actually think of the buildings? What if there was an architectural award based on the building in a certain category that got the best results from the happiest occupants? What if we celebrated buildings for meeting the needs of the occupants and making them happy, in addition to being attractive and/or sustainable? What if we celebrated the architects as people? (My local AIA chapter used to have a feature in their magazine to interview a local architect about their hobbies, interests and favorite buildings. I found it endlessly fascinating and I miss it.)

I am a very good architect. I have happy clients. I have happy contractors. I design attractive buildings that consider the context in which they are built and often conform to it. I multi-task. I communicate well with drawings and through written & verbal communication . I can design well-integrated building features. I can pick an attractive color-fabric-finish palette. I can coordinate a set of drawings to be concise, well-organized and sufficiently detailed. I can produce an attractive document with my graphic design skills. I am educated in the many complexities of sustainable design and can lead a team through the process.

Most of the things that I am very good at as an architect are not the things that the industry advertises as what it values the most. Despite knowing that I am a very good architect, I have trouble imagining my work being recognized by my peers, nationally or locally. That particular issue doesn't keep me from enjoying my job. But I can imagine how some women might find more satisfaction in a job that values their unique skills and doesn't ignore them for not being the next Zaha Hadid or Maya Lin.

Even if it isn't about the awards, are the values of our architectural culture skewed to the detriment of those who don't thrive on designing daring or iconic buildings? I hope that the sustainable design movement will lead to the celebration of designs for their function and usefulness, in addition to how they look.

#4 - Economics
My skeptical side wonders if women are more prone to be laid off during hard economic times. I hate to even think it, let alone write it...but in our patriarchal society it isn't hard to imagine women of child-bearing age being seen as having less potential than their male counterparts. Certainly, the architectural industry is not known for fabulously long and well-paid maternity leaves and I can tell you from personal experience that pumping while traveling to job sites is a challenge. So once you are laid off, if you want to have kids, why fight your way back in for less than ideal parenting conditions?


Maybe I am totally off base here. It is difficult to discuss gender issues without falling into age old stereotypical traps and expectations. But it is very clear that there is SOMETHING going on that causes women to follow a different path then men after they graduate from architecture school. Shouldn't we figure out what those different paths are and the things causing women to go a different direction?

The sad truth is that I don't have any lasting female architectural mentors, and maybe this is a factor as well. Maybe those of us who are licensed professionals need to reach out more successfully to women as they graduate from architecture school. We can talk about these issues and about the reasons they might have for staying in the industry instead of leaving.

*Mac'n'Cheese comment is not meant to put my husband down. He just has zero interest in cooking.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Salad

I was inspired by this post to experiment a little for dinner tonight.

I REALLY need to go to the store...but before I do that I HAVE to make a list to shop - both for dinners and for our camping needs. And I haven't made the list yet. Have to do it tomorrow.

But as I was leaving the yarn shop, I realized that I haven't made grilled cheese for a while and that meal only required a quick stop at the neighborhood market for bread and fruit. Not wanting to do the fall/winter side dish (tomato soup) I tried to think of a summery side dish to go along and settled on a pasta salad...heavy on the vegetables but still much lighter than soup.

Usually, I follow a new recipe exactly (or nearly exactly) one time and then change it up on future occasions. But not wanting to shop (and having little time) meant adjusting based on my kitchen contents and seasoning it to taste as I went.

I mixed together 2 cups cooked cavatelli pasta, 1 head of broccoli (cut up and blanched), 1 diced red bell pepper and 1 diced tomato. I drizzled in some olive oil and mixed it all up. Then, while stirring, I added some salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic salt and dill. And then a little more olive oil and mixed it together well.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and had a little bit more while cleaning up the kitchen post-kid-bedtime. It was nice and light and summery thanks to the lemon juice and dill, but the flavors of the veggies came through nicely.

I think it could use a little cream cheese. I'm not sure if there is a good way to add it, but I think the flavor and just a little of the creamy texture would make this salad perfect in my book. Does anyone know - if I add the cream cheese to the pasta while it is still warm will it mix in well?

I might try it with canola mayonnaise, since I know it will mix well...but it isn't quite what I think the salad needs. Although I forgot about the parmesan in the original when I was throwing it together tonight. That would be a nice touch as well. And it might be the way I go if I bring it to the 4th of July picnic we're attending, since there will be a time delay between preparation and consumption.

I always like adding something new to the rotation...even if Heather refused to taste it...and Todd made an awful face & said "no like it!" That just means more for mommy, right?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Family Wedding

R's sister was married this past Saturday. R was a groomsmen and Todd was the ring bearer.

I'm not sure if there is anything more unpredictable than a 2 year-old as a ring bearer. :-) But he did really well. He was a little unsure in the rehearsal, but the second time through he was relaxed and unconcerned about walking with the flower girl (the daughter of the groom).

A family shot before the wedding. (Thanks for taking the picture, Aunt Wendy!)

I was with Todd at the back of the church as the rest of the wedding party processed and encouraged him to walk down the aisle with the flower girl. He seemed intrigued by the petals that she was dropping on the aisle - a new addition from the rehearsal. Once that novelty wore off he noticed all of the people sitting in the sanctuary and walked the rest of the way with his head down, refusing to make eye contact. At the end, he seemed happy to make it to daddy and be out of the spotlight. And he stayed up at the altar for the whole ceremony.

For the recessional, he was uninterested in walking with the flower girl. (I went to the back of the church, but he couldn't see me around the best man and matron of honor.) So daddy carried him while also escorting the bridesmaid he was matched with. Still pretty cute.

The weather was nice enough that the kids could run around outside the church during the receiving line and mingling. Todd seemed relieved when guests started paying attention to other people and not just him.

There was time to go home for a rest between the ceremony and reception. Instead of napping, the kids watched Gumby.

Once the (boring to them) dinner was over, R took the kids onto the dance floor and they had a wonderful time. It was pretty hard to get any reasonable pictures, but we hope that there will be some fun video to show you in the next few weeks.

They danced so hard, there had to be some breaks, too.

We left the reception about an hour after their bedtime, and even with all that dancing and the late hour, neither one fell asleep in the car on the 20 minute ride back to Grandma's house. Thankfully, they didn't fight sleep too hard and they both slept in later than normal the following morning. Not super late, but late for them. :-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Remote blogging

My previouw post was generated entirely on my iPhone while we were away for a family wedding. (Photos soon - stay tuned if you want to see the little man in a tuxedo!)

The blogging process was interesting and not too hard, but I'm not sure that I want to make it a habit. My dilemma is that I'm not spending a ton of time on my laptop these days. Usually it is just for job hunting and writing patterns & class I would really like to find a more convenient way to blog more often.

My first attempt was with the Blogpress app. It was fine, but I'm not convinced that I love the means for posting pictures. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, especially if you can blog remotely using photos on flickr instead of needing the photos to be on your phone.

Friday, June 24, 2011


So in addition to working some hours as a member of the floor staff, I am officially on the teaching schedule at Natural Stitches. I was initially just doing the non-beginner crochet classes, but now that the teaching duties are reorganized I have some knitting classes on my list as well.

So far I've had two students in each discipline and I enjoyed teaching beginning knitting a lot more than I expected to. I'm sure the enthusiasm of the students I had helped a great deal.

Up to now, all of my sign-ups have been for Student's Choice classes. It basically allows the student to learn whatever they want - including the topic of any 2-hr class on the schedule, help with a personal project or beginning knitting/crochet. I even held one Student's Choice class with a knitting student and crochet student at the same time. It was a bit of a juggle, but it seemed to go smoothly for both students.

Since I have been organizing all of these classes simultaneously, all of the class samples are in partial states of completion. My current effort is to get the samples finished, so they can be hung up in the shop to hopefully drum up more students!

Currently available:
{Class descriptions}
Student's Choice
Crochet Hat Basics
Crochet Lace Scarf
Baby Blanket: A crochet stitch sample
Crochet Baby Cardigan
Introduction to Fair Isle Knitting (hat)
Crochet Motifs and Chart Reading
Crochet Pattern and Chart Reading
Knitting Pattern and Chart Reading
Crochet Edgings for Knitters

Coming in the next few months:
(Subscribe to Natural Stitches newsletter for updates)
Putting Colors Together for knitters and crocheters
A knit or crocheted tote class
A 3-part Top Down Sweater Workshop

I have other ideas brewing, as do my fellow teachers, who teach socks, knitted lace, finishing, steeking, spinning and more. If there is a class or project that you would like to see us offer, please speak up. We are all enthusiastic to have students. We can spend hours and hours developing a new class, but it isn't fulfilling until someone takes it. :-)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Todd's toddlerhood

As I mentioned, someone in this house turned 2 recently. This little boy is charming, happy and completely adorable. And did I mention charming. There is just something about Todd that makes people smile. Sometimes it is his smile and other times it is his enthusiasm, the cock of his head, his is hard to describe but there is just something about him that is hard for anyone to resist.

Overall, he continues to be the easy-going child that he was as an infant. Which is not to say that he doesn't ever express his will or state his desires. And quite frankly, when he expresses a desire, he is serious about it. He isn't just halfheartedly telling you something to see how you react. He has decided that this request is urgent to his state of happiness. And he will stubbornly defend this need with typical toddler methods.

The positive thing that I have learned about the above stubbornness, is that most of the time he still has the attention span of a toddler. If he doesn't protest strongly, the protest will likely die down in a few minutes. If he does protest strongly, then it is time to move on to something else and come back to the issue in 5-10 minutes. After a break, it is likely that his easy-going and cooperative state will have returned. Who knows how long this technique will continue to work!

His language is really amazing. I don't have specific data points, but my impression is that his language exploded sooner and faster than Heather's, who was no slouch in the words department. At his 2 year check-up, the doctor asked if he had at least 20 words and we had to do our best not to laugh...since he had more than that at the 18 month appointment. By his birthday he was starting to use 3 word phrases pretty regularly and now (2 months later) is using 5-6 word sentences. Tonight: "Thank you [for] making dinner mommy." It is kind of amazing to me that he is talking so much, especially when you consider the chatterbox that he has for a sister. But maybe that is why, so he can get a word in edgewise. ;-)

15-21 months was a tough period. Sleep was tough and so was his level of neediness and separation anxiety. It gradually improved and now it feels like we have come out of the worst of it. Of course, we have also entered the world of toddler tantrums. But in some ways I prefer the occasional tantrum over a toddler velcro-ed to my side nearly 24/7.

Todd's favorite things:
- Doing whatever his big sister is doing. Anything and everything that Heather does is what he wants to do, too.
- Playing with and watching others play with baseballs, footballs, soccer balls, etc. If it is a sport, he is intrigued.
- Swinging at the playground. He enjoys climbing and sliding, too, but he can literally swing for an entire visit to the park.
- Playing in water - at the spray park, the pool, the kiddie pool, a water table, the bathtub, etc.
- Eating fruit. (There are other things he likes, too, but fruit is definitely eaten with the most gusto and quantity)
- Playing with his friends Will and Henry.
- All of the TV and movies that his sister enjoys. He has a pretty long attention span for it, for someone his age...which is both good and bad. :-)
- Anything with animals - books, TV, the zoo and real life visits with dogs and cats. He would be thrilled if our cats would allow regular petting and playing sessions.

For his birthday, we had a small party with his two pals and family. After the party was over, we tested the new bubble wands, colored Easter eggs and rode bikes. It was a lovely day to celebrate the little boy who made our family complete.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Have I mentioned...

...that someone in this house is 2 now?

No, I can't believe it either.

Also, spray parks are awesome when it is 90+ degrees outside and the pools aren't open yet.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Sum Up...too much to sum up

Let's start with the present work situation, shall we? And I'll bring things up from the past few months as they are relevant.

Without a clear course to follow, I feel somewhat weird at the moment. My whole life up to this point was generally about knowing what the next "thing" was. As I completed each grade, there was another grade that followed. Then college, then my first architecture job, then a serious boyfriend, then a house, marriage and kids. My career was about whatever job my firm gave me to work on next along with completing IDP (intern development program), taking the architectural registration exam, getting my license and then passing the exam to be a LEED accredited professional. There was some progress in my level of responsibility at work, although it somewhat purposefully slowed during the pregnancy, maternity leave, infancy years. (That is a subject for a whole other post.)

When I graduated from college, things were good economically, and even without doing a very thorough job search I had three job offers that spring. Given my love of designing theaters and designing for them, I ended up at the best fit for me in the area. Not that I can't find a good fit somewhere else...but there aren't a lot of firms that would hire someone just for my theater design skill set. I think that it is applicable to a lot of other project types, given the challenges of coordinating the building systems and the flexibility needed, but I don't know whether other firm owners see those skills translating as easily as I do.

I am also fairly confident that having fluent Microstation skills in an industry mostly dominated by AutoCAD is a hindrance as well. I have made it clear that I am learning AutoCAD and that I don't think it would take more than a couple weeks to feel completely comfortable on new software...but given the firms that have completely ignored my application, I think this is hurting me. Not to mention that many firms are looking for younger (read: cheaper) employees who are also fluent in BIM software (Building Information Modeling = drafting with objects that have data embedded in them) and my resume looks even less attractive. I can argue that my experience is a terrific asset and that I can learn new software in a much shorter time span than someone with 5 years of experience can be ready to manage a project themselves...but I can only argue that if I can get in the door for an interview.

So I continue. Sending out resumes with well-argued cover letters. Sending emails to firms that seemed interested in me but didn't have enough work 6 months ago to hire. Responding to job posts online. Reminding everyone I know that I'm looking for a full time position.

In the mean time, I'm offering classes at my local yarn store, Natural Stitches. And I have just begun training to work in the store part time as well. I'm working on a few submissions for knitting/crochet books and magazines as time allows. I'm also trying not to put too much pressure on myself to keep a neat and tidy household since I am pretty sure that I could turn that into a full time job if I would let it be.

And did I mention that the kids are back in daycare full time? Because of my 2-week stint as a full time employee (yet *another* story for another time), we switched them back. And due to contract/teacher ratio issues we have kept them that way at least for the time being. The end of the summer probably brings a time for "big decisions" if my situation hasn't substantially changed by that point.

Day to day, I am doing my best to make lemonade from the situation in which I find myself. I hope that somehow the outcome, whenever it might be, finds me once again in a full time job that I enjoy or doing a mixture of part time and freelance work that has the same effect.

Monday, April 04, 2011

4 years in pictures

April 2007

October 2007

April 2008

December 2008

May 2009

November 2009

April 2010

August 2010

February 2011