Summer Knitting

Long time, no post! Spring semester at school was CRAZY and I feel like I’ve finally come up for air! The first half of the year I was teaching only virtual learners. Things were going pretty well. Not that there weren’t some hiccups, but for the most part I felt like I had a handle on things. Then, in December I was informed that admin would be moving several face-to-face students from my colleagues’ classrooms into mine to help alleviate some of the behavior issues in their classrooms. As you can imagine, that upended my peaceful little classroom. I tried to roll with it. My co-workers essentially refused to teach virtually, and they were allowed to teach only face-to-face students, while I had to teach both virtually and F2F. Saying that it was stressful is a huge understatement. The silver lining in all of this is that my school district decided to open a K-8 virtual academy for next school year. This will be a choice for parents who, for whatever reason, want their child to continue virtually next year. As soon as it was announced, I applied and was offered a job teaching second grade math and science. I am thrilled! I learned a lot about teaching virtually this year, and I am excited about the prospect of pioneering this new frontier in education.

So, with everything going on this spring, I didn’t get in much knitting, I did manage to finish Like a Cloud, although I finished it late enough in the spring that I didn’t get a chance to wear it before the weather got too warm for a 100% wool sweater.

But, now that summer is here I have jumped right in to the deep end with my first project. I have started my Fox Paws wrap. It is undoubtedly the most challenging project I’ve ever attempted. The increases and decreases used to create the “paws” require my FULL attention and can be brutal on the hands.

The pattern is very unforgiving. It is important to catch mistakes early (or better yet— avoid them) because trying to rip back, or even tink back can be next to impossible. I am adding a life-line after every pattern repeat just to have the peace of mind. I can’t say that I am enjoying knitting this. For me, it is not fun to work extreme increases and decreases, staring at my knitting with such intensity my neck begins to cramp. However, I am very excited about the finished object. I think it will look quite stunning, and the pain I’ve endured knitting it will make the joy I feel when I finish all that much sweeter. Interestingly, possibly because the knitting itself is so unenjoyable, I’m pushing myself to finish this quickly. I am trying to complete at least one pattern repeat a day with the goal of finishing in about 15 days. This is definitely a different experience for me. Usually, I gravitate toward more relaxing knitting.

As of this afternoon, I’m about a third of the way finished. It sure does look purty!

So — would you ever, or have you ever, knit a project that you hated knitting in order to have the finished object?

Slow, but steady…

I’m making progress on Like a Cloud. I’m currently working on the main body ribbing — I probably have about 1.5 or 2 inches completed so far. Since I’ve been back to work, progress has been slow. Some days — many days — I don’t knit at all, and other days I might only get in a few rows. When I do have the chance to knit, I’m enjoying it though. The pattern is simple — perfect, relaxing, mindless knitting, and I think it will be an extremely wearable knit when I’m finished. This is the first time I’ve knit with fingering weight Cascade 220 — but it is every bit as wonderful as I expected it to be. This will likely become my new “go-to” fingering weight yarn.

Like a Cloud in Cascade 220 Fingering

This school year has been exhausting, and we’re only half-way through. I think most of us (teachers that is) are counting down the days to summer. Already. We’re all stretched pretty thin. The task — teaching in-person and virtual learners simultaneously, closing (pretty significant) academic gaps, dealing with unrealistic expectations and so much uncertainly — all with not nearly enough support, is wearing us down. Here in Texas, where schools have remained open for the most part, we are also dealing with staff shortages due to illness and quarantine and not nearly enough subs. I’m trying to enjoy my break — but there is an uncomfortable feeling — is it dread? — hanging over everything.

On a more positive note, I do have some new yarn and new projects on the horizon. I got a skein of Baby Alpaca Grande, which I am planning to use to knit Fenced In. This will be a replacement for my previous Fenced In that had an unfortunate run-in with the dryer! I also got 5 more skeins of Cascade 220 in fingering weight that I plan to use to make a Fox Paws scarf. From what I’ve read on Ravelry, this will be a fairly challenging pattern, so I probably won’t start this one until the summer. I’m super excited though!

Here’s hoping the new year brings health and happiness to us all!

The Dog Days of Summer

Handsome Ace

I’m just coming off of a little unintentional knitting hiatus. To begin with, my Lomond went head-to-head with the cat, and unsurprisingly, ended up on the losing end of the battle. Fortunately, I wasn’t very far along in the pattern, but what I had knitted was a total loss. I salvaged what I could of the yarn and put it away. My mojo was gone.

I did finish my boot toppers, and started on some yoga socks from stash yarn but wasn’t feeling terribly inspired. Then, between kid stuff (a broken hand, dentist appointments, wisdom teeth removal), work stuff (meetings and training sessions), and a short trip to Broken Bow, OK for vacation, I seemed to have very little free time.

Boot Toppers in Cascade 220 Worsted Weight

After we returned from our trip I decided I’d better make the most of my last couple weeks of summer vacation. I learned that Cascade now makes their lovely 220 wool yarn in a fingering weight. Cascade 220 is one of my very favorite yarns. It is durable, has lovely stitch definition, and is surprisingly soft. However, worsted weight wool (even sport weight, really) is too heavy most of the time for sweaters in Texas. Fingering weight wool on the other hand — that has the potential to be something I’d actually wear. I purchased 6 skeins in charcoal gray. I looked for a pattern and settled upon Like a Cloud, which is a lovely, open-front cardigan. It is totally my type of pattern — simple, but clever construction, with a stitch pattern that is easy to memorize, but that keeps the knitting interesting. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish before I start back to school in two weeks, but this may be simple enough that I’m able and willing to keep working on it once I start back to work full-time.

There is so much uncertainty surrounding the return to school in the fall. Teachers in my district return to work August 4, but they’ve pushed the start date back for students to August 26th. This is meant to give teachers some extra time to prepare for what teaching will look like this year. As of right now, the school where I teach is planning to offer both in-person and virtual learning for students. If students choose virtual learning, they have to commit to a 9 week term. We don’t know yet how many students will be choosing virtual, or how many teachers will be needed to teach those students, but I’ve applied for a virtual teaching position within my district. To be honest, I think everyone will be teaching virtually at some point, maybe multiple times over the course of the year, and I’d rather just embrace that from the start and work to make virtual learning as engaging and effective as possible. Plus, I have some misgivings about the safety of in-person learning. I know the district will do what it can to keep teachers and students safe, but the reality is that unless a large number of families choose virtual learning, class sizes will remain about the same, and I just don’t see how packing 20 kids into a classroom is a good idea.

Of course, a lot could change between now and August 26th!

A little retail therapy

Urth Yarns Uneek 3024

These endless days of same, same, same are starting to wear on me a bit. I am grateful that I am able to get outside most days for a run and am staying connected with friends, students and colleagues through apps like Zoom and Marco Polo. I have my knitting, and board games, and Netflix to help keep me sane too. But, this Groundhog Day, wash, rinse, repeat reality is definitely taking its toll. I saw a Facebook post from a friend the other day in which he shared that he’s been ordering little things (a silicone spoon, mixing bowls) on Amazon each day just for the fun and novelty of having packages arrive at his doorstep. I can totally relate, and I’ve turned to some retail therapy of my own.

This morning I placed an order with Jimmy Beans Wool. They are offering free shipping on all orders through the end of April, which is a great deal. I got a skein of Cascade 220 in a smoky gray to make a pair of boot toppers and then I ordered a skein of Urth Yarns Uneek in color 3024. I wanted something decadent, and soft and COLORFUL to help banish the monotony. I am planning to make a pair of fingerless gloves (probably Crown Wool Mitts).

Fingerless gloves are one of my go-to knits. I love knitting fingerless gloves for the same reasons I think most people like knitting socks. They are small and portable. They don’t require much yarn, so you can splurge on something special. They are quick to knit — instant gratification! And, they are practical. I have several pairs, and I enjoy wearing them all winter long. I also love fingerless gloves because they give me an opportunity to work with brighter, more vibrant colors than I would choose for a large garment such as a sweater.

I’m continuing to make progress on Derecho. I am almost finished with the waist shaping. Then, it’s on to the bottom short-rows and finally, the sleeve edging. I’m still loving everything about this project.

Work has been stressful lately. Our last team meeting ended with one of my co-workers (I’ll call her S) leaving the meeting in a huff. Tensions are high. It’s a lot of work to create digital content, and most of us are struggling to learn new platforms as well. We’ve been trying to divide up the work of creating lessons for our students, but things have been complicated by the fact that some of us want to use SeeSaw and some want to use Google Classroom. Our district has approved both, so the choice belongs to the individual teacher. Most of us (4 of 5) shared an understanding that the best way to handle this would be to create and share content (video lessons, anchor charts, etc.) and then leave it up to the individual teacher to port that content into the platform of his/her choice. Unfortunately, S seemed to be completely taken by surprise by this. We had discussed it at our previous team meeting and had been talking about it all week via group text, so I’m not sure why she was so blindsided. I guess she was expecting everything to be ready to go. She kept saying, “This doesn’t help me at all!” I’m wondering if she’s got stuff going on at home. I’ve tried reaching out to her since the meeting, but all she’ll say is that everything is “fine.” The governor just announced that schools will remain closed through the remainder of the school year, so this way of teaching has to become the new normal. I hope next week will be better!

Easter Sunday

Today is such a beautiful day. It is about 76 degrees and partly sunny. The temperature is forecast to drop quite a bit overnight, and tomorrow’s high will only be in the 50s, but for now it is absolutely lovely. We’ve had a pretty low-key Easter. Hubs did yard work in the morning and organized the garage. Older kid is working. He went in early because he earns time and a half and wanted the extra cash. Younger kid went for a walk with Ace and cleaned his bathroom! I guess you could say we are bored. LOL. I exercised and did some online shopping at ThredUP (my fav online thrift store). I also tried making whipped coffee this morning. It was…interesting. The ingredients are simple: equal parts instant coffee, sugar and hot water. You mix everything together so that the sugar and coffee dissolve in the water and then you whip it until it develops a fluffy consistency (it reminded me of marshmallow fluff) and turns a caramel brown. To serve, you fill a glass with ice and milk and spoon a couple tablespoons of whipped coffee on top. The consistency put me off a bit. The coffee didn’t dissolve into the milk as quickly as I expected and so it was kind of gloppy. The flavor was good though and it definitely had a caffeine kick!

Later hubs and I took the dogs on a walk (dogs are loving it today!) Now, hubs is making dinner and I’m sitting on the patio listening to the birds and getting ready to knit. I’m just staring the increases for the waist shaping on Derecho.

I haven’t knit much over the past week because I’ve been so busy with work. On Tuesday, we were informed that we would need to start posting video lessons each week. The expectation is still that the work is optional for students, but we need to be providing new content for those that are willing and able to access it.

Up until now, I’ve mainly been posting review activities in Seesaw. Creating teaching videos is a whole new animal and the learning curve has been pretty steep! I spent all day Thursday filming and refilming. I tried using a blank wall and masking tape to post the learning target and anchor chart, but the video quality was so poor that they were virtually unreadable. By the end of the day I was frustrated and defeated and ready to give up. Luckily, I mentioned my problems to a friend and she suggested I try Flipgrid. On Friday, I played around with some of the tools in Flipgrid and discovered the whiteboard feature. I was able to upload photos of my learning target and anchor chart so they appear on screen, and I ended up teaching the lesson that way. I think it turned out OK! Fortunately, my team and I divided up the work, each taking responsibility for one lesson, so I only had one video to create this week. And, now that I have a tool that works, next week should be better.

Well, I’m off to enjoy the remainder of this lazy Sunday. Talk soon!

When less is more.

Maxine “helping” me work.

I have a lot of feelings about this sudden transition to online learning. I am an elementary school teacher, and a parent to two school-aged children, so I’m in the thick of it. If you’re interested in some thoughtful commentary on this topic, I would encourage you to read the following blog posts that explain quite eloquently why we should be lowering our expectations for our students right now.

Sound crazy? Unprofessional? Irresponsible? It’s not. Our students and their families have so many more important things to worry about right now than keeping up with school work. They are worried about whether they, or a loved one, will get sick, or even die. They are concerned about financial security. They are worried about access to necessities, like food and toilet paper. They are grappling with anxiety and depression amid extreme social isolation.

And, of course, there is the equity issue. Some students have access to technology and reliable Internet and plenty of support at home. Some students have none of those things.

This is not a time to hold students to a higher standard. This is a time to offer support. Some students will want and need a focus, a goal to work toward. Academic work will be familiar and comforting. They may enjoy a challenge, an opportunity to push themselves and grow. But, other students will be unfocused, and frazzled, and tired. Assignments, and projects and due dates will leave them feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

So what should teachers do? Contact families. See what they need. Offer support. Provide options. It is OK to call it enrichment. It is OK to make assignments optional. This is what I am doing with my families because I think it is the right thing to do.

Of course, lowering standards, allowing for some slack in the rope, means that some students will take advantage. There will be students who are not feeling worried, who do have access to technology and support and who opt to do nothing because they can get away with it. But, so what? Once this crisis is over there will be plenty of time to get everyone back on track. Will there be great disparities in students’ knowledge and skills when we return in the fall? Of course, there always are, but differentiating instruction, meeting students where they are — this is what teachers do. It will be OK.

Be still, keep knitting…

Current sweater project – Derecho

I’m an elementary school teacher. Schools here are closed at least through May 5th, so I am at home trying to teach (second graders!) remotely, to the best of my ability. Much of the time, it feels like a fool’s errand. Only about a quarter of my class is regularly completing assignments. It’s hard. For everyone. I know.

There is so little that is under our control right now. So little that is predictable. Some of my students have a lot of support and resources at home. Some have very little of either. Parents are stressed too. I’m one of those stressed parents. My younger son isn’t exactly cut out for online learning. He’s easily distracted and easily bored. I keep finding him in his room asleep.

So, in the midst of all the uncertainty and worry, I am doing my best to focus on the positive. I am fortunate that my family and I are healthy. We made a Costco run before things got really crazy, so we have plenty of food and coffee (and wine!), and toilet paper. We have more time together. We have time to catch up with friends, old and new. Time to go for a run, play a board game. Time to knit and be still.