Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Latest Obsession

I've discovered felting, a process of taking unspun wool and making felt out of it. My first project (at a class at a local to-die-for yarn store) was a hat. We started with unspun wool which we laid out in tufts across our template, first vertical then horizontal, in any layers since we wanted this to felt fairly thickly. Once I had my wool laid out, I had about 1" of fluffy wool sitting there looking distinctly like a bad wig or a very black yeti. I couldn't believe it would ever turn into anything much less a hat.

Once the wool is laid you, it is wetted with warm soapy water and then agitated by rubbing, VERY gently. Wool is like our own hair. It has small scales along the shaft. The soap makes it "happy" and the scales open up. As the fibers are agitated, they essentially start to tangle together. The warm water also helps the fibers to shrink. After a lot of time gently agitating, adding more soap and water, agitating somemore, over and over, you end up with thick, stiff felt. For hats, the last part of the process is to shape them over a mold and
then to continue the agitation process so that the fibers shrink and "harden" in the shape of the mold.

So first, a photo of my hat. The brim is still untrimmed and unfinished.

I have made another sheet of felt that I plan to cut with a rotary cutter into long strips and then to make into napkin rings. This one has random pieces of yarns, strings and sparkly things felted into it. I am also working on a piece that will be fashioned into a small handbag.
Another method of felting is called dry felting. With dry felting, you also use unspun wool. Using a long barbed needle, you bind the wool together. You can use this method to put designs onto felt you've already made or you can make three-dimensional items. Levi made this adorable owl and I am at work on a cat. I think his body and head look pretty good but I'm having a lot of trouble getting the shape and proportion of his legs right. Perhaps he'll turn into a lounging vs. standing cat!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

We just returned from a week in Arches and Canyonlands. The weather wasn't as we'd hoped--spring is a few weeks late arriving in the desert this year. We experienced some wacky weather. Warm the first day, then cold with fierce wind each night that blew all the dust from the desert into our cabin. The pages of our books are still gritty!

By far the strangest weather was the day it rained mud. No kidding. There had been a huge dust storm earlier in the day. The air was red with the dust hanging in it. When it rained later in the day, there was so much dirt in the air that the rain caught it on the way down and we had mud splatting on our jackets.

We drove through both the parks and saw most of the famous arches via viewpoints and some short hikes. The highlight for me was a ranger-led hike in an area of Arches called The Fiery Furnace. You can only hike there by permit or with a ranger. And we found out why. This hike gives you a true taste of the canyons. We inched through small cracks between the rocks, crawled thru other small spots like Crawl Through Arch, teetered on ledges (with a firm hand on Oliver), and scrambled over boulders.
The kids had fun participating in the parks' Junior Ranger programs. By doing a variety of activities in each park, they earned a Jr. Ranger badge for each park.

It's funny--the kids really enjoyed the parks and marveled at the sights. But, like the child who is happiest with the boxes at Christmas, Levi and Oliver had the most fun at a massive sandhill just outside the entrance of Arches. It's just a pullout on the side of the road. The hill is TALL and STEEP. Perfect for running up, rolling down, and finding sand balls to throw at your brother and friends. One day they spent 3 hours playing there while I sat in the car knitting and listening to music (after my own trip to the top!). The sandhill is their great memory from our trip!

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Obama's challenge to Arne Duncan, our Education Secretary was this: “We cannot continue on like this,” Obama said. “It is morally unacceptable for our children – and economically untenable for America. We need a new vision for a 21st century education system . . .” (www.education.com) It’s hard for me to believe Duncan's recent suggestion that schools to be “open six days a week, at least 11 months a year, to improve student performance” (Boulder Daily Camera, April 8, 2009) could be any part of forward-looking educational reform. The number of hours our children spend in school has nothing to do with the education problems in this country. Have we learned nothing from No Child Left Behind? It is not cramming more facts into our children’s heads that will lead us to success. It is not forcing them to take more tests or spend more hours sitting still and listening that will help them get ahead.

The problem with our educational system is far more fundamental than that. Our education system is based on 19th century thinking, not 21st century. We are no longer training the masses for work during the Industrial Revolution. We cannot hope to prepare ourselves or our children for the future if we cling to this outdated mode of thinking. Reform is not what we need. We need, as Obama said, a totally new vision.

Listen to what Sir Ken Robinson has to say about education and creativity:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yes, Margaret, There Is . . .

a need to adjust for altitude when cooking here. The sad part is that it has taken me about 10 months and quite a few ruined dishes to realise this. I already got the point about noodles taking longer to cook because the boiling point is lower here at 5200 feet--about 202 degrees vs. 212. Cooler water equals longer cooking time.

What I didn't get was why my muffins kept burning on the outside while being raw in the middle or why my cupcakes had a vast crater in the middle instead of a nice gentle heap on top. Or why the rice in my casseroles kept turning out raw . . . . I kept blaming it on my oven--despite the fact that my oven thermometer assured me that my temp was right. Exactly WHAT did I think my oven was doing wrong? I don't know. I guess it was the only thing I could think of to explain it!

I was asking my mom today (who lives at 8200 ft.) if she thought the altitude was the result of my recent crunchy rice casseroles. It finally occurred to me that if noodles took longer to cook on the stove top, rice would take longer in the oven--duh! Just a different boiling location! So I googled "high altitude cooking adjustments." The friendly people at www.highaltitudecooking.com told me that, yes indeedy, I needed to make adjustments for cooking above 5000 ft. They reminded me that, besides dealing with a lower boiling point, there is also the issue of lower air pressure. So foods with leavening agents in them rise "too" quickly and lose all those fluffy air bubbles before the cooking finishes. Hence my concave cupcake tops.

Now I have to figure out exactly how long it is going to take to roast that chicken.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Didn't Do It

"Mom, that door down there is making a weird noise."

"What door?"

"The one downstairs. Come look. It's scaring me."

I had no idea what he was talking about. So I went downstairs to find this scene on the left. Oh, THAT door.

Hmmm, yes, that strange noise of glass cracking that just keeps going on and on and on . . .

You can guess what stupidly parental question I asked next.

"What happened?"

And the stupidly kid answer. "I don't know." Hmmmm.

Finally says that he "accidentally" kicked a rock while walking across the living room. But it still didn't make sense to me--even if he did kick a rock, he wasn't wearing shoes and he couldn't have possibly kicked it hard enough to do that much damage.

I pondered and pondered and surveyed the scene again. Viola! I believed I had found new evidence at the crime scene:

"Oliver, did you use the slingshot?"



The next morning.

Me: "Oliver, when you used the slingshot, did you shoot a rock or one of those little metal balls?"

LONG pause with the deer-in-the-headlights look. I was sure I had him.

Oliver: "No."

Damn. At this point, it was just puzzling to me. I already knew he'd done it (he and I were the only ones at home at the time and I'm sure the dog, kittens or guinea pigs weren't responsible.)

Finally I said, "Look, I already know you did it and I already know it's broken. Just tell me how it happened."

"Okaaay, okaaay! I used the slingshot. But Mom, I was aiming for the wall but you know how bad my aim is!" Ah, 6-year old logic.

Who is the idiot that thought a sling shot was a good idea? We'll leave that for another day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Beginning of a New Year

I've changed the look of our blog and you'll see that the address is slightly altered. Part of this is due to the fact that I never was able to change the other blog to my new gmail address. After trying and trying, I figured that this was easier! The site address has changed only by adding a "1" at the end of "upsidedownfunschool."

It is the eve of Obama's inauguration, so TRULY the beginning of a new year. Adam and I watched yesterday's festivities replayed last night on HBO and loved it all. Now I can't wait for tomorrow. A momentous day. I'm proud of us today--of this country and feel hopeful again that we'll be good citizens to one another and to the rest of the world. So . . . I've put my absolute favorite rendition of America the Beautiful here:

Today is MLK day. Oliver doesn't have school and we have no plans. So far, it is 10:12 am, we are all still in our pajamas and happy about it, and have no firm plans for the day. The weather promises to be 60 degrees and sunny (again!) so I hope for some trampoline jumping and a bike ride down to the lake to throw rocks into the water (ice?) and watch the dog go wild with joy. She's a calm (if nervous) being until it comes to sand, snow and water. The she kicks into some other gear, charging around wildly, doing what I call the vacuum cleaner (leaning down and running along with one side of her head and shoulder on the ground). I am always so happy when she swims--pain-free dog bath--but then inevitably she rolls in the sand making it worse than it was before.

It's lucky I don't have to get up and out for I just mistook the oj carton for the milk and poured oj in my coffee . . . .