Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pink and gray striped sweater

A few years ago, I treated myself to a five-skein kit of Rome by HPKY. This is a beautiful, soft single ply yarn.

This particular kit was supposed to be for making a striped triangle shawl. But I hate triangle shawls. Since I love the colors, I bought it and assumed I'd figure it out later.

The yardage worked out well to make the Flattering Shaded Tunic, a Lion Brand pattern. I thought I could produce some nice stripes to mimic the variegated pooling in the original pattern, simply by alternating the color skeins knitted up.

I really liked knitting this sweater. The colors were fun and interesting, and the yarn is super soft. Some people don't care for single ply yarns, but I think they're my favorites.

Sometimes it was slow going, as the pattern was almost all flat stockinette stitch except for some shaping, and some ribbing on the edges. It took me a few months to knit the body of the sweater, but I was pleased with the look of the random stripes:

And then, once I had finished it, there were so many loose ends that I let it sit folded on my coffee table for an embarrassingly long period of time. Sigh.

I also made one change to the pattern - I switched from knitting to purling when doing the turtleneck section so that the stitches still looked like knit stitches when you flipped it inside out. 

Wore it to work today paired with a soft gray blazer. 

Pretty much have to wear a blazer with it because it's bare-armed. But that's fine. I hate sleeves anyway!

I'm not going to count this as my "sweater that actually fits" under my 40 before 40 list because I had already substantially finished it over the summer. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Letter of support to Muslim teens

In the week since the election, a Facebook group has formed of over 100,000 American lawyers dedicated to fighting the backward, hateful, uneducated policies of Donald Trump. (Want to help working class people? Fine. Want to create a Muslim registry, appoint a white supremacist, discriminate against minorities, or kill the environment? We will fight you.)

During this planning phase of the group, there has been more strategizing than action. But one lawyer posted a request for letters of support to Muslim teens he works with at a community center. I can do that, I thought.

After I sent him the letter, I thought I'd post it here for all to read, because really it applies to all of the minorities that white nationalists are attacking. 

Without further ado...

* * *

November 18, 2016

Dear Muslim brothers and sisters,

A bunch of American lawyers – about 100,000 of us, in fact – have banded together on Facebook to strategize about recent events, and to prepare for future struggles. One of them posted to request letters of support for Muslim teens at a community center, so I am writing to you today.

The first thing I want to say is that I am sorry. I am so, so sorry for the message that some Americans have sent you this month and in recent years. I am a young(ish), educated, well-traveled professional living in a blue state in one of the bluest cities of America, so I don’t fully understand what is going outside of my bubble. But I am sorry that it has happened. 

My explanation is unlikely to give comfort to you at this time. I think humans fear the unfamiliar, and they love easy, black-and-white explanations. Those two aspects of human nature can be overcome if you have an open heart, if you feel safe, and if you are able to see the gray areas of the world. Too many Americans right now are uneducated, not well traveled, too fearful, and increasingly desperate for an improvement in their situations. They have been fed fear for years, and so they were able to swallow the message of hate.

The ultimate results of the election, however, have produced plenty that’s worth keeping hope alive for. The type of people I just described are the minority. America is becoming more educated and more diverse. Most American voters didn’t vote for Donald Trump – and now more and more of us have been awakened into political action the likes of which America has not seen since the 1960s. The 100,000+ lawyer group I mentioned earlier is one example, and an influx of donations to nonprofit groups is another. Americans are waking up, and we are fighting.

Remember with pride that you make America great simply by your presence. Thank you for being here, and thank you for fighting with us. I will defend your rights as fiercely as I can. I will protest nonviolently, I will write, I will call, I will march, and the haters will have to literally kill me before I allow one minority group to be oppressed. I am lucky to count LGBT folks, brown folks, and religions of all stripes among my family, friends, and coworkers, and I will fight for you all.

I am including my email below in case you want to write back. I am really, truly interested in what you have to say.

With all the love in the world,

Valerie Sherman
DePaul Law ‘09
Chicago, IL
[email obviously redacted, but feel free to post in comments]

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

40 before 40

Longtime readers of this blog will remember my 30 before 30 list. The list was accomplished with mixed success, although since I turned 30 I did two things I hadn't completed by the age of 30 (get scuba certified and run a 5k). 

It's interesting to look back at that post now as a time capsule - I was on the edge of starting the job that would take me to great places in gift planning at Northwestern University, and I was feeling very thankful for everything I had in my life. (And I didn't know that the next two years would be the most challenging I had ever faced.)

I decided to create an aspirational list for my next big milestone - 40 before 40. It'll be a similar mix of fun and challenging, and will also be a good time capsule of this life era for me. (I also have six years to do it, so the list is both longer and contains some big ticket items.) 

And don't judge me that it sounds very self-centered - I am trying to list items that require me to depend on nothing and no one else, just my own actions.

Without further ado...


1. Scuba dive in the ocean (Panama? Hawaii? Both?)

2. Stand in Red Square in Moscow

3. Travel to Turkey

4. Visit the Taj Mahal

5. Tour the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL


6. Eat at every taco joint on this list

7. Make chiboust

8. Eat at Calumet Fisheries

9. Eat at every Chicago restaurant on this list

10. Visit Al Bawadi Grill and The Halal Guys


11. Read War and Peace

12. Crochet or knit a sweater I actually like and wear

13. Practice flute and perform someplace publicly

14. Finish the Time-Life World War II series

15. Participate again in NaNoWriMo

16. Complete wine cork tray craft project with saved up corks


17. Complete an Olympic distance triathlon

18. Complete a half marathon at 10 minute mile pace

19. Complete a 5k in under 30 minutes

20. Develop a meditation habit (at least 15 min. / day)

21. Get back to Salzburg weight range


22. See a Bears game, Bulls game, and Blackhawks game

23. Visit historic Pullman neighborhood

24. Kayak in the Chicago River

25. Take another Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise

26. Tour new yarn shops of Chicago, like Knit 1 LLC, Nina, and Sister-Arts Studio


27. Remain annual fund donor at alma mater institutions (Illinois State and DePaul Law), as well as employer (Northwestern University)

28. Give $100 to the drum bum

29. Serve on a charity's board

30. Earn a volunteer award somewhere

31. Do one race via Team in Training


32. Speak at a development conference or symposium

33. Author an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

34. Speak at DePaul Law about nontraditional legal careers

35. Figure out my next career step


36. Start a diary in 2017 and keep it every day afterward

37. Watch Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove back to back

38. Watch Seven Samurai and eat sushi

39. Get another tattoo to expand one of my existing ones

40. At least once per month, see a member of my family

Thursday, November 10, 2016


The election results this week have me heartbroken. I have had an almost 48-hour break from all news and social media, and I think I'm ready to jump back in.

A lot of my friends and I are talking with each other about what to do now - how to keep our nation progressing, healing, and talking. It's more than just posting rants into your Facebook silo - it's about changes you can enact on your own.

Here are some ideas of things we can do RIGHT NOW in our own lives:

1. Vote with your wallet

We cannot count on Congress or the White House to legislate according to our wishes, and that is especially true for the next four years. If you care about clean energy, discrimination, food safety, animal welfare, climate impact, or any number of issues - do your research and vote with your wallet.

This creates real change. If we can get McDonalds to start buying cage-free eggs, or if PETA can get companies to stop testing on animals - we can do this.

Also, support the arts. Support local businesses. Support scientific research. God knows Congress won't be allocating many resources to these things in the next few years...

2. Get healthy

Unfortunately, we don't know what this election is going to mean for health insurance coverage, although people suspect costs will rise whether or not the ACA is repealed. We need to get healthy so that we have less health care costs on ourselves, but this will also help overall premiums to go down, too.

There is also the issue of reproductive rights. One of my friends is suggesting that people get an IUD to ensure that they are covered, birth control-wise, for the next four years. 

3. Use your voice

I think a lot of people wish that they had been a bit more outspoken in this election - especially outside of their Facebook friend circle. We need to not be afraid to call out bullying, in person or on social media. We need to call people out on racial or homophobic slurs. We need to contact our legislators and executive officials in email, Twitter, phone calls, and letters to get our voices heard.

I think we also need to not be afraid to be more openly liberal anymore. Bernie helped with this, but I still feel like Planned Parenthood and other social service organizations have a bad aura around them. They shouldn't. We should volunteer and donate to these organizations, and then share that on social media, too. Normalize liberalism. 

Trump's style of casual racism is not the "silent majority" in America. Although he won the Electoral College, he didn't win the popular vote and I don't believe all of his voters support his controversial statements. 

We - the reasonable people - are the true silent majority. Get your voice heard. 

We can do this.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Gnome Chart Pattern

There are times when you really don't know what to make someone for a baby shower present. Other times, you know the perfect thing to make. This is one of those times.

A high school friend of mine and his wife are pregnant, and he happens to love garden gnomes. People have given him many statuettes of gnomes, and I have crocheted two gnome toys for him previously (2009 and 2012). I decided to make him a baby blanket on a gnome theme, basing the motif from the 2009 gnome pattern.   

As you can see, the pattern (allowing for two blank spaces on all sides of the gnome) is 28 x 32 stitches (single crochet or knit). I really tried to make it perfectly square, but he started looking all funny.

I'm going to post the final blanket later, but here's how some of the motif squares have been going. I'm using the intarsia method of changing colors, and I'm crocheting instead of knitting, but you could knit also.

I'm shooting to make every gnome square different, but keep to the same color basics. Don't want to get too elaborate, or you miss the sort of elemental forest feel for the gnomes. My colors are brown, red, blue, light green, yellow, and white.

The other thing is that you can do this blanket in two ways - (1) crocheting each square individually, then sewing later, or (2) by crocheting the whole thing at once. Both methods have positives and negatives.

I opted to crochet the whole thing at once because I hate sewing and wanted it to be as smooth as possible with no seams. I am doing four squares by four squares, adding a four-stitch and four-row border around each square. (Full written pattern for blanket to be published later, which I will link to here.)

Also, only every other square has a gnome. The other squares are blank for sanity's sake (and not to be too busy). If you do this, you have to plan fairly well so that you don't end up in a bind with your colors. 

I finished my first row repeat yesterday, and you can see what a glorious mess it is. I crocheted this in a group, and they all made fun of me for how complicated it became (and for taking up half of the table). But I'd still rather do this than sew.

I'll post progress photos and a finished version later! I'm really excited so far, though.

Other ideas for using this chart:

  • Pillow cases
  • Sweater front
  • Back of glove
  • Hat
  • Potholders
  • Bibs   

Friday, November 04, 2016

Hot Chocolate 15K

This weekend I did the Hot Chocolate 15K with about 11,000 of my closest friends. Man, it was crowded. Here are some thoughts.

Packet Pickup

The packet pickup at McCormick was a bit of a shit show. Getting the packet was easy once you got there, but it's always challenging to find where to park over there, and parking was $10 no matter how long you stayed. This is in contrast to the Shamrock Shuffle pickup in 2016, which was free for a short park. Boo!!

This is also the point at which I started to think that the people who do this race as a 5k are out of their minds. Way too much work for packet pickup for a race of that length.


This was my first race where I deliberately tried to follow a pacer to stay on track. In my case, 10:30 was a bit of an aspiration for 9 miles, but I thought I'd try to follow her as long as I could. This helps me because I have trouble keeping myself on a challenging pace unless I'm on a treadmill.

I was able to hold with the pace group until about mile 5, at which point I let them get a bit ahead of me. After mile 6, I lost them entirely. But the good pace in the first half meant that the overall pace ended up being pretty great for me. Woo hoo for my first 15k!

Post-Race Party

This is probably the biggest draw for this race - and probably the reason that women outnumber men so vastly on this course. You get a cup of hot chocolate, some liquid chocolate fondue, and some dipping items (pretzels, marshmallows, rice krispie treats, banana, etc.). It's a popular race, so I thought, let's try it. 

OH MY GOD. What a mob. In following the crowd toward the post-race party, I felt like I was in a zombie horde. Plus, why was it so far between the finish line and the post-race party? I can only assume that they are trying to pull the masses away from the finish line so that the crowd doesn't back up. Still, the Shamrock Shuffle has as many people and they are able to get their beers in Buckingham Fountain and get the hell out of there.

Another thing: the 5k people completely overwhelmed the post-race area, which was a muddy crowded mess. I could barely find my coworkers, one of whom had spilled hot chocolate all over herself after being bumped by someone. Dave had completely abandoned the idea of trying to meet up in the runner reunite area, instead hiding out in the relatively open area of Buckingham fountain. 

I'm not saying a 5k is not a big deal - I don't want to become a running snob that looks down on 5ks. But good lord. This race is full of people who aren't normally in the other well-run, higher distance races in Chicago, so I think they don't really know what to do.

Final Thoughts

I have spent a lot of time in this post comparing the Shamrock Shuffle and the Hot Chocolate races. I think the comparison is justified because the Shamrock Shuffle seems to be the "opener" of the Chicago running season, and the Hot Chocolate is becoming the "ender." Plus, about the same number of runners participate in each race. 

I think the trouble with Hot Chocolate is that it blends two worlds - the more serious runners and the not-very-serious runners. With a more serious race, you can offer great swag and the experience is not too diluted by crowds, walkers, etc. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Peru, Day 8 and 9: Brief tour of Lima

I never thought that Lima would be my favorite part of the trip - I had heard Cusco was more enjoyable from almost everyone I knew who had been to both cities. And as predicted, it wasn't my favorite. 

The books I read talked about the crime problems there, so we were constantly on our guard (even without the armed guards on every street corner after dark). I also felt a lot more of the colonial influence of Spain on Peru here than in Cusco, where there is much more pre-colonial culture. 

Still, we had some interesting visits. Our hotel, the Gran Hotel Bolivar, is a grand old dame where the pisco sour drink was allegedly invented. The lobby had a striking stained glass cupola (see at right). And by this point in the trip, I was able to converse a lot in Spanish with the hotel staff. 

On the afternoon of Day 8, we were able to see the Covento de San Francisco and its fascinating catacombs. It was probably my favorite thing that we saw in Lima. It killed me not to take pictures inside, because the courtyard and cloisters were amazing, as were the arranged bones in catacombs. 

Also, there was a hilarious moment at the end of the tour, the guide said simply, "OK guys...that's it. It's over." Well then.

We had a really enjoyable Italian-Peruvian fusion dinner at Tanta in the El Centro district. Apparently this chain was begun by Gaston Acurio, founder of modern Peruvian cuisine. And apparently there is one in Chicago. Guess we'll have to go!

On Day 9, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and visited the Iglesia de San Pedro, which had gloriously ornate altars and decorations.

I think I might have been all churched out at that point, though.

On our way back to the hotel to leave, we passed by a supermarket. I love perusing supermarkets in foreign countries, because you get to see how people really live. 

Of course, tons of potatoes. I should have bought some Inka Corn. DAMNIT.

Well, that was my trip to Peru. It was really fantastic, and I'm so glad I went. If you are thinking of going, go. If you can't do a full hike, get a train. Just go.

I'm planning on doing a post later with all the Incan doors I took pictures of. What glory. And now I'm off to buy some Inka Corn on Amazon.