Trendy knits: The Gansey

Has anyone noticed this? Over the last year I’ve seen Ganseys everywhere. OK, I might be greatly exaggerating, because when I looked back to see if I was completely making that up, I could only really remember two examples. Do two influential knitwear designers count as a trend? Probably not. But anyway. Courtney Kelley of Kelbourne Woolens designed the beautiful Seascale, which actually out-Ganseys the traditional Gansey, with a little short row shaping around the sleeve cap and the newly-invented Channel Island bind off (of which I’m a huge fan… I’ve been looking for excuses to use it in everything since she blogged about it). 

And Brooklyn Tweed did a whole Gansey collection a little while ago. Not exactly full-on traditional designs, but Gansey-inspired sweaters. 

A first draft sketch (and notes) for Tommy’s Gansey

I like old school knitting that involves a lot of rules. Actually, I’m generally a fan of rules, particularly where creative endeavours are involved. I like the way that creativity becomes troubleshooting when arbitrary limits are imposed. I want to knit a Gansey! And it’s cold out, and Tommy needs more sweaters (in part because toilet training is going so poorly. ‘Nough said.)

Yarn for the Gansey. It’s Vintage Purls Sock base, but I dyed it myself: it was one of my first attempts, and not what I intended at all, a sort of eggplant with bits of greeny blue.

Unfortunately I have three other active projects on the go (not to mention the many on hold, and the patterns I should really write up). But I want to do all the knitting at once! But no. I’ll finish one thing first. And then Tommy will get a full on traditional Gansey (with Channel Island bind off. Because I can’t resist). 

This blanket is very heavy

The blanket, and my boys. Also, zombie bedding from Etsy.

Also, the winter light is terrible, and my kids wouldn’t stop playing with the lights (I didn’t actually tell them to stop). Oh, and no, Tommy isn’t wearing any pants. I tried to avoid getting any dong in the picture. 

I’ve been meaning to post pictures of my silly blanket for a couple weeks, but our health problems continued, with a case of mastitis as soon as Tommy got his cast off (my boob, not his). This was my fifth case, so it’s old hat at this point. Actually, it’s pretty horrifying. It took me out completely for a couple days, and I felt pretty lousy for the following week, until I finished my antibiotics, at which point I spent the next three days convinced it was coming back (I actually saw a doctor unnecessarily a second time… I have to be bullied into seeing a doctor when I actually need one most of the time). 

Poor Tommy. I had promised him we could all go swimming when he got his cast off, but I didn’t actually get to the pool until today, almost 3 weeks after. Steffen had taken him twice in the interim, though, so he didn’t suffer too much. 

Toilet training was completely detailed by the broken leg. I can now say with authority that Pull-Ups negatively impacted our toilet training efforts. OK, I’m completely biased by my own ideology here. But while he was using Pull-Ups (we couldn’t get cloth training pants over the cast) Tommy got way more comfortable peeing in his pants. He doesn’t seem to know when he has to go anymore, it’s really weird. We tried to keep his pants off as much as possible this weekend (as you can see above… Steffen was trying to wrestle him into training pants to go to the pool), and at this point he’s starting to catch himself when he starts peeing, but usually not before. 

A closeup from when the blanket was about half done (coffee mug for scale). The blanket was too wide for my needles. Oops.

So this weekend sort of felt like life is starting to get back to normal. Our health is generally ok (ish), we got our major chores done, and the kids went to bed happy. I even made pancakes for breakfast (which the kids won’t eat: Miso had a few bites, but he’s on an anti-blueberry kick, and Tommy looked at them and proclaimed them “yucky”). They were delicious: buttermilk, cornmeal, blueberries, and Canadian maple syrup my mum brought us a year and a half ago (clearly we need to make pancakes more often. We also have a waffle iron gathering dust). 

Is life feeling more manageable? Not really. But I’m feeling a little better about that. Today, anyway. 

Cartoonish knitting

My friend Naomi sent me a link many months ago to an article about a New Zealand company that sells yarn and needles for what they call “XXL knitting”  (Plump & Co, for anyone who’s interested). I’m a bit of a sucker for novelty, so I’ve been looking at their products ever since, as well as various similar items in Etsy.

Their prices seem pretty reasonable in terms of weight, but of course it takes so much yarn to make anything when you’re working with 25-40 mm needles. And shipping is exorbitant for anything that comes from overseas.

Now that I have an income and more ambition than time, it seemed like a good idea to spring for enough comically oversized yarn to make a queen-sized blanket. So I pulled out a leftover ball of DK to swatch some simple knit-purl stitch patterns (thank you, Barbara Walker) to see how they look together.

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The swatch (which is itself overly ambitious)

They look pretty great (some of them, anyway).

Unfortunately, I realised that each stitch will be something like 7 or 8 cm wide (that’s about 3 inches for those who don’t speak metric). So for a blanket that’s, say, 1.5 to 2 m wide, I only need about 20 odd stitches. The swatch (which I worked as if it were a little corner of a blanket) was 53 stitches. Oops.

My current plan is to do a single diamond across, or perhaps a single chevron, and a little seed stitch on either side. Oh well. Maybe someday I’ll design a more intricate blanket in worsted or aran weight yarn.

Work/Life Balance?

I started writing a post just over a month ago about how my hobbies[1] were taking over my life, but I never got around to finishing it. Because now life has taken over my life.

At the beginning of May, I started working full-time. I think it would have been a challenge anyway to try to keep on top of keeping the kids clothed and fed and happy, and getting laundry and dishes and key household tasks done, and keeping our marriage connected, and I’m not actually sure how anyone does it.

But in addition to all that normal stuff, Tommy broke his leg the first Tuesday in May (not exactly my second day of work, but my second day as a full-time employee). That involved a couple days off work for each of us, as well as a lot more hands-on effort to take care of him[2].  I’ve also had two separate colds since the beginning of May, and everyone but me had some sort of stomach virus this whole past week. Steffen and I both have birthdays in May, which, needless to say, were non-events.

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Tommy, looking pretty bummed after a day at the hospital

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I don’t really want to whine about things, because my job is great (though stressful, because I want to excel), my family is wonderful, and I look forward to both getting up in the morning and going to bed at night in a more consistent way than I think I ever have in my life. It’s just a lot, you know? Like, I’m treading water, and I’m a good swimmer, and the water is warm, but there are limits.

So how do people actually do this, anyway? When we aren’t all sick and broken will it be significantly easier? Or perhaps I should consider working 4 days a week (I think this might be the answer).


  1. My goal for the year was to get better at photography, which I did (good enough that I felt seriously limited by Steffen’s kit lens). But then I also became mysteriously obsessed with sewing and started dyeing wool, and of course I’m still knitting, and trying to blog, write patterns, and maintain the software I wrote as an academic, none of which is actually happening.
  2. On a related note, normally I shower with the kids. It’s fun, and cute, and it offers the added bonus that I shower every day. Broken leg = cast = no showers for Tommy = less frequent showers for all of us.

The training pants study

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, but I started Fancy New Job last week (a part-time gig as a programmer at Biomatters, which I’m hoping will turn into a full-time thing if all goes well, because it’s basically my dream job), and I’ve been knitting and frogging and sewing (of all things!) and unpicking a LOT, and getting test knitters to go over a pattern, and then Tommy was sick twice last week at well-spaced intervals which meant he was home, but not actually sick (and therefore full of beans) every day that I wasn’t working. Which is to say, I’ve been busy. In the meantime, I’m less upset about our daycare’s annoyingly understandable lack of support for our toilet training agenda. Tommy will learn to use the toilet no matter what we or they do, I suspect, and seems to be pretty much still on course while he’s at home.

So as of my last (much more upset) post the daycare had just laid down the law and said that they won’t accept any cloth training pants, at least until the allegedly more absorbent pants we ordered arrived. I thought I’d test whether the ones I ordered really were more absorbent than the others (and how they all stacked up against disposables, represented here by Pull-Ups).

Method

The experiment:[1] Immerse a pair of clean training pants in 750 ml of water and wait a bit (i.e. momentarily deal with screaming children as necessary). Remove them and squeeze gently, then weigh how much water they absorbed.

What am I trying to prove? What I want to prove (because I have an agenda) is that cloth training pants are more effective for toilet training. There’s a notion floating around the cloth diapering community that if kids feel comfy and dry all the time they won’t be as inclined to use the toilet. As far as I can tell, this is entirely anecdotal, but I’ve definitely noticed that Tommy seems to pee more often in his Pull-Ups than in cloth training pants.[2] There are so many other factors, of course: he only wears Pull-Ups at daycare, where he’s less inclined to use the toilet. In any case, I guess I’m just interested in exploring whether disposable training pants are considerably more absorbent than cloth, and how well the training pants I just bought a bunch of perform compared to other cloth pants.

Known issues: Steffen pointed out that I should be doing multiple replicates. I agree, but I think there are other issues. First, some training pants have absorbent fabric outside the PUL layer[3], so they’ll absorb more when immersed than they would be able to when a child pees in them. I’ll mention this more in reference to particular results. Second, this is totally unscientific! I should be timing how long I immerse the pants, and have some reproducible way of squeezing excess water out. But well. This will give a rough idea of how much different training pants can absorb.

Results

Water Absorbed Size Used Notes
Bambino Mio 179 g Size 2 (29–35 lbs) [a]
Best Bottoms 104 g L (30–40 lbs) [b]
Tots Bots 105 g Size 2 (30–34 lbs)
Bummis 197 g L (30–35 lbs)
Blueberries 203 g L (32–42 lbs) [a]
Pull-Ups 557 g 30–40 lbs
  1. Bambino Mio and Blueberries values are too high, for the reason I mentioned above: the outer layer, which is unlikely to actually absorb pee, and if it did it would certainly wick into clothing, is very absorbent.
  2. The Best Bottoms value is sort of too low: The absorbent part of these pants snaps out, so I just tested that instead of the whole pants. Which is to say it’s more accurate than, say, Bambino Mio and Blueberries, but this makes them look like they’re less absorbent when actually they’re probably effectively as absorbent as Blueberries and more than Bambino Mio.

Just as a note, I also tested a pair of size 2-3 years undies for comparison… they absorbed a measly 24 g of water. So.

Discussion

Like many actual scientific results, these results don’t mean as much as I’m going to claim they do.

In other words, disposable training pants are insane! Holy crap, that’s a lot of pee before your kid starts to feel wet (they actually felt totally dry inside, but they were a lot bulkier after they came out of the water). So if feeling wet is at all relevant for encouraging kids to use the toilet, Pull-Ups can’t possibly be helpful in this regard. I can absolutely see why daycares love them.

The director of our daycare said that Pull-Ups have some kind of endothermic reaction when they get wet (he didn’t say endothermic, of course; they feel cold). He claimed that this is way less comfortable than the warm ‘n’ wet feeling they’d have in cloth training pants, but a) the cool feeling lasts for a very short period of time, and it’s not that cold, and b) there’s no way it’s comfortable to have a warm, wet crotch. I think little kids have a pretty high tolerance for being uncomfortable, so perhaps cloth training pants don’t actually do much to encourage toilet training, but there’s no way the endothermic gel in disposable training pants is more effective.

On the plus side, I think the training pants I ordered are pretty absorbent compared to other cloth pants. But I won’t be surprised if we make our daycare shit list again when they arrive.


  1. The experiment I’d like to do: I’d like to find a few thousand toddlers and assign them to different treatment groups for the purpose of toilet training using different styles of training pants: disposable training pants, very absorbent cloth training pants, less absorbent training pants. I’d ask the parents to record when the kids reached different toilet training milestones, and look at whether there were significant differences between groups. I’ve thought about other details, but this could get very long and boring if I went into it. This experiment will never be done. I suppose I could Google whether it already has been, but there isn’t a whole lot of science done on toilet training.
  2. Even if we go for a very, very long walk and I forget to make him use the public toilet at the library, then we continue walking all the way home.
  3. For those who aren’t as obsessed with cloth diapering: PUL = polyurethane laminate, the waterproof layer of the diaper or pants.

Daycare is frustrating

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Tommy, back when he was nearly toilet trained

I was going to title this post “Toilet training is frustrating” but then had a frustrating daycare experience that was unrelated to toilet training, and it made me realise that by far the most frustrating thing about toilet training is dealing with Tommy’s daycare.

More about that shortly. First, the other thing. I think I’ve found a job: the company I’ve been interviewing with still isn’t hiring, but they’ve tentatively asked me to work half-time until they start hiring. The hitch is that because I was convinced they weren’t hiring, I postponed our reserved daycare spot for Miso, so now I have to find another temporary daycare. The most convenient centre told me on the phone that they had a spot, but when I dropped in to look at the place and sign forms, they didn’t have a spot at all. I hate talking on the phone… I fought against my urge to email instead (I need an answer! The sooner the better!) and discovered that daycares don’t do well on the phone.

But well. The main source of daycare frustration is, as I said, toilet training Tommy. We had him home for about 5 weeks over Christmas, so we figured it was a good time to start toilet training. I looked up “toilet training bootcamp” methods: basically, you just keep them naked from the waist down for 3 days, then as often as possible thereafter for 3 months or so. The idea is that in those first few days they get to experience “waste elimination” completely, and can’t just ignore that it’s happening. As they become more aware, they quickly learn to control where and when it happens.

We did the 3 days just before Christmas, and it seemed like an incredibly frustrating failure for the first two and a half days, then it just clicked. Tommy had a few accidents within the first week, and would basically only poop at night, wearing a diaper, but it seemed like we were on our way. He had three full accident-free weeks, then it was time to go back to daycare.

Part of the deal with bootcamp methods is that you don’t put undies or training pants on your kid in the first few months. It all feels too much like a diaper, and they’ll revert to not using the toilet. So day 1 of daycare we sent an email explaining our toilet routine and sent Tommy in with no undies, no training pants. After a couple days, they asked us to put undies on him, in case he pooped: a hygiene issue. We privately grumbled, and bought a bunch of undies for week 2.

Week 2, Tommy wore undies. On Friday, he pooped in the sandbox, and OF COURSE it wasn’t contained by the undies. But other than that one accident he was consistently peeing in the toilet and coming home in the same pants he wore in the morning. They asked us if he could wear training pants. We grumbled privately, and agreed to put him in training pants on days when he hasn’t pooped overnight.

Week 3, Tommy wore training pants. Depending on which teacher he was with, he sometimes refused to use the toilet. We have reusable training pants (the training pants equivalent to modern cloth diapers: an absorbant layer inside and a waterproof layer outside), and the head teacher complained that they leak. Some are designed to hold only a bit of liquid, so the kids can pee once, but not multiple times. In other words, leaking is a feature, designed to encourage toilet use. But the head teacher seems ideologically committed to disposable training pants (she had some issues with the fact that we used cloth diapers too, but was overruled by the daycare manager, who had already told us it wouldn’t be a problem). We ordered a bunch of the most absorbant training pants we have, but it’ll take a while for them to arrive, they don’t sell them in New Zealand.

We’re now in week 4. The head teacher said yesterday that Tommy wouldn’t use the toilet at all and that the training pants we have are unacceptable and that we have to buy disposable training pants until the new ones arrive.

This sucks. I get where she’s coming from… But from my point of view they’ve taken my (conservatively) 50% toilet trained child and un-toilet trained him. Plus, she basically told Steffen that we’re being selfish and putting our ideology ahead of our child’s needs (which we are. But he’s going to inherit this planet from us, so in a way they’re his needs too. Although I don’t really think personal responsibility is the solution to preserving the planet. But this is a separate issue).

Anyway, so we bought some disposable training pants. They’re insane: this will be the subject of my next post, an experimental comparison of different training pants. Once the new cloth training pants arrive, if they’re still deemed unacceptable, we’ve decided to go back to diapers and toilet train on our own, at home, without daycare support until Tommy is 100% toilet trained… Something which will no doubt be very confusing for him and take far, far longer.

Daycare is frustrating. Grrr.

Recipe: Poblano Macaroni Bake

 

OK, so I get more likes when I blog about food rather than knitting, but I swear, this isn’t going to become a food blog. I just had a recipe that wanted to share.

Many, many years ago, when I was about 21, I think, I spent a semester in Mexico. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I’m a computer programmer, or maybe a biologist (both, actually), so how did I manage to spend a semester in Mexico? I went to a university that allowed double majors in arbitrary combinations of subjects: I chose biochemistry and spanish. You know, so I could jet off to Mexico for the first half of fourth year.

Anyway, Mexico. It was an interesting time for Mexico, and an interesting time for me. Mexico was about to throw out the political party that had been ruling the country for 80 years, and I was learning to hitchhike, and haggle, and scuba dive. And getting a ridiculously dark tan on my fair, freckled, celtic skin. And eating Mexican food, which I discovered is generally not as delicious as Tex-Mex, or Mexi-Cali, or even the Canadian approximation thereof. But the amazing woman I lived with while I was there was a good cook, and among the handful of things[1] she made for us was a baked macaroni dish with creamy sauce containing chilis. At the time, I didn’t have much idea what the sauce was (thick like sour cream, but not as sour… crème fraîche, of course, but this was 1999, and I’m not sure how common crème fraîche was among Canadian university students back then). Nor did I even know that the pasta she used was macaroni (it was the long kind: sort of like spaghetti noodles with a hole through the middle). So when we got back to Canada, my girlfriend-at-the-time and I tried to replicate it, but I don’t think we had much success[2], and eventually we lost interest.

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A mulato (poblano) chili, happily growing in a window box

So now I have a garden full of ripe chilis, including more poblanos[3] than I can really deal with, and so I thought I’d give it another shot! Plus, pasta is one of the few things Tommy will reliably eat. Or so I thought (more about this below, but first the recipe!)


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Poblano Macaroni Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 or 7 poblano chilis, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 c crème fraîche[4]
  • 1 lb dry macaroni (long or short, or whatever pasta you like for baking)
  • 150 g mild firm cheese (edam, colby, mild cheddar, Monterey Jack… I’m sure even emmental or gruyere would be nice), grated
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. Heat the butter over medium-high heat. Sautee the onions and chilis until very soft. Cool slightly, then puree in a food processor until fairly smooth (alternatively, you could just chop things more finely, but Tommy will pick anything remotely chunky out of his pasta).
  2. Preaheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Cook the macaroni according to package directions.
  4. Meanwhile, combine pureed chili mixture and crème fraîche, and add salt to taste. Stir in cooked pasta.

Place pasta–sauce mixture in a casserole dish or dutch oven and top with grated cheese, then bake for 20 to 30 minutes until cheese is bubbly.


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“I don’t like it.” (Also, he wanted to see the picture I was taking of him before I’d taken it. Toddlers are serious narcissists.)

So, yeah, it was delicious, and while it’s been a long time since I ate this in Mexico, it’s what I remember it tasting like. Tommy, however, ate about 3 bites, then proclaimed “I don’t like it,” and pushed it away. Miso, on the other hand, cried between bites because I couldn’t spoon it into his mouth quickly enough, and then finished Tommy’s portion once his was gone (this is becoming a theme at dinner time). Then both boys had banana smoothies.

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“AAAAAAHHHH I want it in my tummy NOW!!!!”


  1. She had a housekeeper who cooked lunch (the main meal in that part of Mexico) for us most days, and usually we had something light in the evening that didn’t really require much preparation.
  2. Quite apart from the crème fraîche issue, poblano chilis, which our host had used in the sauce, weren’t so easy to come by, so we wouldn’t have had many opportunities to try it properly. We probably tried anaheims, which don’t have the same smoky flavour at all. Or maybe we tried a combination of jalapeños and bell peppers, which might be better. Now that I think of it, Canadian grocery store jalapeños are often mild enough that we could have just used a whole bunch of those.
  3. It turns out both “ancho” and “mulato” chilis, both of which we have in our garden, are called “poblanos” when they haven’t been dried. Who knew?
  4. If crème fraîche is hard to come by or expensive, it’s pretty easy to make: for one cup of crème fraîche, add 1 Tbsp buttermilk to 1 c whipping/heavy cream, give it a stir, poor it all into a jar and leave it at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours. Make sure you use a big enough jar, though, or things can get a bit messy (a 500 mL jar is not quite big enough for 2 c of crème frîche, I discovered).