Family: January 2011 Archives

Well-tread paths

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The baby industry, if you didn't know, is kind of a racket. Take any average item, slap the word "baby" or "maternity" on the label, and you can mark the thing up by 200% - few will blink. It's a not just an [item] anymore - it's a special [item]. I have some theories about why people will just pay two or three times as much for something (which may have a cutesy pattern on it, but is otherwise indistinguishable from its non-baby alternative). It might be an ignorance thing at first - you walk into a store having no idea what things are supposed to cost, no idea that the pillow you're holding is really just a pillow (and not imbued with some magical baby-pleasing aura), and so you pay the fee. (No judgement there; I can't shop for spots paraphernalia, as an example, because I am ignorant of that market.) It might also be parental anxiety, particularly for first-time parents (like Sam and I are soon to be). Will we be good parents? we wonder. The pictures of smiley babies on the packaging do seem to suggest parental success is an accessory, free with purchase. Eventually, it might just be that people get used to paying lots of extra money for baby things. Or maybe it's just that there doesn't seem to be much of an alternative. Baby things just are expensive. Doesn't mean you don't need the stuff, so... what do you do?

I'm sure there are examples of companies that don't engage in this sort of hyper-markup, or engage in it to a lesser extent (I can think of a couple, actually) and that's great, but it's not the point. That there are alternative shopping venues for this stuff is nice and helps for some stuff. You know, the stuff you can't avoid buying.

Because that's our approach. Avoidance. I mentioned back in my 2011 post that we're trying to limit the number of gadgets and random baby things that come into our home, and trying to source hand-me-downs and second-hand things as much as possible. Because really, babies. BABIES! They are babies for like thirty seconds and then all of that stuff is irrelevant and winds up in the garage because they're too big to fit or are past the developmental stage where that toy is interesting. It's a lot of money sunk into that thirty seconds. A friend of ours (parent of two) said after the first kid, she and her husband almost felt like they had to have another kid, because they had all this stuff - it made all the stuff make more financial sense..

And so if every family who's had babies has this garage full of stuff, and it's for the thirty seconds babies are babies, why on earth buy all of it new? Especially the stuff with essentially no safety connotations - clothes, basic toys, monitors, pumps, etc. Baby stuff cocktail: equal parts friends and family, a splash of Freecycle and Craigslist, and a new-stuff olive (comprised of the things that really need to be new for safety purposes).

So today we met up with the main part of that cocktail - a couple friends with kids. To make a long story short, we brought home a lot of stuff:

All the baby things EVER.

We were selective - we didn't bring home a lot of stuff that wasn't on our list - but we wound up with a lot of stuff, and we didn't have to buy it. And our friends know that this stuff is being used for more than their babies' thirty seconds each, and they get the space in their garage back.

Win-win situation? Win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win, if you ask me.

Say Uncle

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Last year in March - only about three months into my knitting habit - I decided to try my hand at a really fiendish pair of gloves, Eisblume. This was sort of a symptom of my knitting disease: choosing patterns that are waaaaaaay too advanced for my skill level, which eventually just frustrate me and sit unfinished. Twisted stitches? Cables? Beaded stitches? All of these were skills I'd be learning along the way. But, I told myself, knitting techniques aren't hard - which is true. I've never met a knitting technique that actually seemed difficult after the first few times I did it.

It's a beautiful pattern, and gloves are the reason I decided I needed to learn to knit. My hands are too large for most commercially made gloves designed for women - too long - and men's gloves (which are sometimes long enough) are almost invariably too loose. Plus, gloves you can find in the men's section of most stores are boring. I don't need a pile of frills - I didn't need the cabled, beaded busyness of Eisblume - but a little embellishment or at least a little warmth is nice.

So I bought yarn and beads, and I cast on, and I started knitting. Before I even arrived at any cables or beads, though, the pattern held some new frustrations. I was working with a lighter weight of yarn than I'd ever worked with before - fingering weight, which is about half as thick as worsted weight, the stuff you usually see beginners using for scarves. The needles were thinner, too, only slightly thicker than toothpicks - 2.0mm, the US size 0. (Beginner scarves are usually on much thicker needles, more like chunky chopsticks.) Thin yarn on thin needles means a tight fabric, extra tight because of my own tendency to knit tightly. At such a tight gauge, the yarn fuzzed up in my fingers, and became difficult to slide along the needles.

When I did get to the beads (which started before the cables), that was a new adventure. There are a couple of methods for placing beads in knitted fabric. One involves simply stringing the beads on the yarn ahead of time, but this means that the beads sit sort of diagonally on only half of the knitted stitch (knit stitches are basically loops, and within fabric have two "legs" showing). The other involves placing the beads on the stitches as you come to them - usually using a crochet hook. But the beads I was using were too small for a crochet hook to go through, so instead I had to place them with a needle and thread.

Ordinary knit and purl stitches take me no time at all to work - maybe a second each. In a pattern that isn't easily memorized, reading the pattern slows that down some, but it's still a couple seconds per stitch at most. Account for the tight and slow-moving stitches, and I was moving pretty slowly. But each time I placed a bead on a stitch, that stitch took probably half a minute. Any given round, between beading and the tight stitches and juggling a cable needle (once those started) and just reading the pattern, was taking me about half an hour, and I felt like I was wrestling with the yarn and needles the whole time. I'd have to stop after an hour or so because I was frustrated and my hands would start to ache.

On gauge: you can swatch all you want in plain knits and purls, but there's no way of knowing that your gauge will translate to the gauge you'll get in a pattern with twisted stitches and cables and beads and things. There's no way to tell what your gauge will be like in pattern other than to try the pattern, and you need a good couple inches of work to really tell anything at all. I got about three or four inches into the cuff pattern - which is a good length to check gauge - before I realized that my tight stitches meant that the glove was going to be too small for me to wear, or at least wear comfortably.

And that's about a month of work.

I could keep on with them and offer them as a gift to someone with smaller hands, and that's what I planned to do - eventually. I needed something pleasurable and simple to work on, so I turned to other projects and set the gloves aside.

And they sat for the last seven or eight months. Every time I finished a knitting project or thought about starting something new, I'd look at them and consider working on them, but the thought was always fleeting. It's just too frustrating to wrestle that hard with a project that goes that slowly, knowing I won't be able to enjoy the end result myself.

I admitted my frustrations to Sam recently, and his response was immediate. "Bind it off," he said. "Let it be a cup cozy." He's done exactly that - bound off the first of a pair of Cookie A socks that he just wasn't connecting with (and was incidentally also turning out too small). His steel water bottle wears the cuff part, now.

So tonight, I did just that. I carefully bound off all the stitches, wove in the ends, and now the Eisblume cuff is a water bottle cozy. I'm glad I did it; I don't feel a pang of guilt every time I get an urge to knit something and I don't choose to work on them. Unravelling it after all that work and investment and frustration would have made me sad - this way I can still enjoy it. It is, after all, still gorgeous:

Giving up. (Eisblume cuff, now a cozy.)

And that's all she wrote. Sam continues to teach me stuff about knitting that really isn't about knitting at all.

Like, you know, stop knitting stuff that makes you miserable.

Smart guy.

Cleaning up

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Yeesh. Between being pregnant, being sick a fair bit in the last month and a half, traveling, and all the stuff that comes along with all of that, it feels like we haven't got the apartment all the way clean in awhile. I spent some time digging us out from a mess it feels like has been around since Thanksgiving. (This isn't exactly true, but it feels like it.)

Since we still had some unpacking to do from our trip to Omaha for Christmas and needed to do something (for now) with the baby things we got as gifts, I took the opportunity to pull down the bag of things that were given to us before we moved. It's now all packed up in a Ziploc storage cube and up on a shelf, at least until we make our trip to Ikea for more appropriate baby clothes storage. In the meantime, I discovered that one of the gifts we received this summer was declared by the CPSC and the FDA to be unsafe. It's a sleep positioner - an assembly of foam and cloth and mesh designed to keep babies in a certain sleeping position. I've read enough about baby bedding to be aware that even plush stuff not immediately adjacent a baby - like bumpers, comforters, and stuffed toys - are not recommended. The theory is that plush stuff near a sleeping baby poses suffocation and SIDS risks. The manufacturer has a statement on their website acknowledging the statement, and they're no longer distributing the sleepers; for consumers, they say if you wish to return the positioner, you should take it back where you bought it. No help for me, since I got it as a gift months ago. I'll be calling them tomorrow to see if I can send it in for a refund, or find a local retailer where I can return it.

Now just to finish unpacking and putting away the laundry so we can go to bed.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family category from January 2011.

Family: December 2010 is the previous archive.

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