Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Problem with Miracles

I discovered yesterday that my wallet was missing. I realized it just as I was leaving the house to head into town to get the car serviced and to do some shopping. I have back up credit cards stashed away, and I grabbed those on my way out the door while my brain frantically searched through the previous 24 hours until I figured out what had likely happened. I'm pretty sure I must have left it behind at a coffee shop the previous morning.

It's a humbling thing to lose your wallet... a humbling and upsetting thing. I think I've only done it once before, and after cancelling my credit and debit cards, I found it again in my bedroom, stashed under my pillow, of all places. This time, I have not been so lucky, but at least it is relatively simple to cancel cards and check transaction records to ensure nothing is amiss. I lost a bit of cash (I almost never have cash - it figures now would be the time to lose the wallet), but I think I'm more upset that I made such a blunder. I did go back and ask if it had been turned in, and I've called a couple of times since, hoping for a miracle. Nope.

Stupid coffee... tripping me up. 

I had a disturbing dream last night: I dreamed that Rascal came back. I went around telling everyone what a miracle it was. And when I woke up, I was so sad.

That's the thing about miracles: they're not really things you can depend on.

I had lots of time to muse about these things during my run this morning. I counted the losses: the cash, and the fee to replace my driver's license... and even my Rascal. But apart from that, I am intact... and still lucky.

Lucky enough to go to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island last week:

... and lucky enough to see another spring:

After my run, I came home and cut up the energy bars I made yesterday:

And then I made some almond and blueberry muffins while I mused a little longer:

I thought about the person that must have my wallet... and maybe I won't ever like that thought, but I hope that person enjoyed the cash. And if they used it to go on a bender, I hope they emerged from that and figured out how to move forward a bit.

Today, I'm grateful to have my home and my family and the time and space for my creative projects. Tonight, I'm working on using up the rest of the Fleece Artist yarn leftover from the hat I made a couple of weeks ago. I'm using Bristol Ivy's Sallah, which is a pattern I vaguely remember someone suggesting for that yarn. Whoever it was, you were so right. I'm loving it. Given how many patterns I've tried with this yarn, that is a miracle in and of itself:

Ok. I'm going to leave it behind me now. Onto the next miracle... whatever it turns out to be.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Like a Cake

A party without cake is just a meeting. -- Julia Child
Sometimes, cake is just the very thing that turns things around.

After finishing my Slipstream Hat last week, I decided to cast on for a matching cowl, despite my unease about the suitability of the colourway to the pattern. In the end, the universe took charge and made the decision for me: I discovered about two inches into the pattern that I had twisted the cast on and was putting all sorts of energy into a completely useless moebius strip of wool. I thought about ripping it out and starting over, but I decided that it was time to put that yarn into another timeout for now.

That's rejected project #3 for this yarn. I'm starting to get a bit weirded out by it all. Maybe it's just not destined to be anything.

I'd had a hard week: lots of work piling up on me at the office, and a niggling cough that grounded me from my workouts was making me feel grumpy and unsettled. My messed up project tipped me over into downright depressed. I hit the sack early on Friday night just so I could keep my grumpiness to myself.

On Saturday, after a long night's sleep, I finally got around to baking a birthday cake for the hubby (his birthday was two days before that, poor man... at least he's patient). 

I made him a glorious cake: not much to look at, but oh my goodness is it good.

It's a cake I've made before. I call it the Orange Semolina Cake, but until I found the recipe again online, I really couldn't remember what it was called. I don't make it often, but when I do, it's hard to wait for it to be ready. In fact, the last time I made it, I yelled at the hubby for cutting a piece before it was ready to eat. I could hardly blame him: it's made from semolina and ground almonds, with dried apricots interspersed in the batter. It's heavenly as it bakes, but then after you take it out of the oven, you turn it into the most sinful treat by pouring over a syrup made from orange juice. 

It's slightly more photogenic as a cut slice. But seriously dudes, it's so good, I don't even care what it looks like on screen:

And then, after I ate my cake, I felt inspired. I sprang up and went to find a skein of Malabrigo Rasta that was gifted to me by my dear friend, dkzack. A day later, I had this:

It's a version of Breean Elyse Miller's Herringbone Neckwarmer. It was just the ticket to get me out of my knitting purgatory: thick needles, thick yarn. My needles weren't quite big enough, but I cast on extra stitches to make sure it was extra cushy and comfy. Even with the extra stitches it was just the kind of instant gratification I needed.

It even looks a bit like a cake, no?

We've had a very mild winter here, but even so, I'm going to make sure I get lots of wear out of this, even if it's only to keep the morning chill off my neck. And why not? Who wouldn't want a bit of cake every morning?

Ah, tasty goodness....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Yarn Friends Just Get It

There are some things that my yarn friends just... get. At least, all the  friends I have do. Most of my yarn friends like to cook... or at least, they have the same appreciation for a home-cooked meal. My yarn friends enjoy a comforting hot drink of tea or coffee. And they all seem to have a generosity of spirit that make me so grateful that they are part of my life.

Today, I made a HUMONGOUS batch of vegetarian chilli for the first time. We had some for lunch, and then I packed the rest away into the freezer for the next two weeks of lunches. I mostly followed the recipe, except I added more chilli and some taco seasoning, ditched the sugar, and left out the black eyed peas. I also added a chopped up package of extra firm tofu. And yes, that's how I follow  a recipe. It was SO GOOD.

And I also made cornbread for the first time with a recipe that someone I follow on Google+ gave me. I mostly followed it, too... except I made mine without the cheese and onions she puts in hers, and added some sugar to make it a little sweet. It was also SO GOOD.

And knowing those two recipes worked makes me so happy because my knit friend Winnipeg is coming to visit, and they'll be great dishes to make together. That will be SO GOOD, too.

Because she's a yarn friend. She gets these things.

And the other day, I got a wonderful package in the mail from my blog friend, YarnKettle. We decided a couple of months ago that we'd do another tea swap. I sent her a couple of bags of some of my favourite loose teas, and in return she sent me this lovely tea cup:

And one or two bags of tea:

AND a skein of beautiful sock yarn:

AND... a cute little tiny handknit sweater that she made of her OWN handspun. Geez Louise, how nice.

And it's all so lovely. For someone who lives on the other side of the continent from me, she sure knows when a yarn friend needs a lift. So many thanks, friend.

But today, I need some help from my yarn friends. I need some opinions.

I finished this hat the other day. I'm not so sure about it. It's Slipstream by Louise Zass-Bangham, which you can buy as part of an ebook that includes a matching cowl and mitts. I made it with a skein of Fleece Artist sock yarn that I've tried about three different patterns with. I felt good about this one... but I'm just not sure. It looks great from the top:

Not so sure about the rest of it. I have worn it once or twice, but maybe it needs blocking.

But the stitches are interesting. So what do you think? Yay or nay?

I guess I'll grow to love it. I better... I just cast on for the matching cowl. Heh. This could be interesting.

That's something else my yarn friends would get, too: the madness of making TWO things from a pattern you're not so sure about. It's nice to have company with similar crazy people. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

Later, my crazies.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Inspiration Mondays: A Bow to the Tools

At the end of the New Year’s festivities, just as the hard work of the coming year is to begin once more, women gather at Buddhist temples with their worn-out pins and needles to offer them up in large blocks of tofu or jelly, adorned with ribbons and accompanied by the prayer chants of the temple monks. They show their gratitude and reverence for the collaborative work these things put into the labour performed by the human women. It is not only a utilitarian bond, but a personal and affective one, as well, a sympathy sutured by confidence and secrecy, as many women put their painful thoughts and feelings into the tools and entrust them to the gods. 
-via The Presurfer

A few months ago, I read about the Japanese festival called Hari-Kuyo. On February 8th each year, many Japanese participate in the funerary rite for dull and broken needles.

Why would you do this?

I think Nicolas S. Anderson describes this best in this post, where he says:
When it comes to consumer electronics especially, we show no gratitude to these things that we lusted after in the weeks before their launches, that we had been told and then believed would make us better workers, better and closer friends, more intimate and considerate sons and daughters and moms and dads... 
...What would it mean to ritualize the disposal of old, obsolete, or worn-out objects? Rather than dump them in landfills or send them for scrapping in some toxic village in Southern China or West Africa, what if we thanked with praise and reverence and ceremony in the yard or at a nearby church or temple?
Those of us who frequent the thrift shops and antique malls and vintage shops, poking at the tables filled with little... things... tools, booklets, clips, cups, saucers... marvelling over old tables and chairs and plates... I think this is what we feel when we see them.

We revere the things that stand the test of time, and we respect what they have brought to the world by their existence.

So, in my own celebration of Hari-Kuyo, I pulled out some of my favourite used tools that I use regularly in my home, and took a little family photo of them. I came upon them all in thrift shops and vintage stores, and each time I found them, I felt like I'd found a treasure. I am grateful to be lucky enough to have them, and I am happy each time I get to use them.

Thanks, guys. You do a great job.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

To Make

Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb. -- Oprah Winfrey
I've been kind of whiney as of late. I'm not proud of it. I don't like whiney people, and so I really don't like myself when I become one of them. But I whined.

I've been whiney because I've become painfully aware of how many things there are to do each day. So many things to work on, so many things to make, so many things to wash and clean and fold and get ready. And I whined to the hubby about it once last week before I hauled myself up out of the couch to go make dinner.

"I guess I better go make dinner," I said with a big sigh.

"You could always just eat ready-made meals, you know," he said.

And yeah, I know I could. I could stop baking my own bread and buy a few loaves. I could stop making big batches of food for my lunches and packing them away in my own containers to freeze, and I could stop making my own granola bars and muffins and vegetable cups and breakfast smoothies, and just buy it all. It would be easier. Someone else would do it for me.

I was still feeling sorry for myself when I got up this morning and went out for my run. I knew I'd come home to my Sunday list of jobs: making bread, making breakfast smoothies, packing lunches and snacks and whatever. So I ran my scheduled 8 kilometres and came home and ate my cereal and brooded a bit before I showered and got dressed. I walked back down to the kitchen and opened up a recipe book to make these Hummingbird Muffins for the first time as a new weekday snack.

I measured and whisked and mixed and poured and sprinkled and then put them in the oven. I washed bowls, wiped counters, and then got out my blender to make a couple of breakfast smoothies, then chopped up my veggies for my vegetable cups, and then packed my lunchbox for tomorrow. And then the oven timer beeped and I took out the muffins.

Holy sheep, are they good. They are shut-up-and-just-eat-em good.

The hubby was out for most of the day, so I took myself out for lunch, then went for a walk down to the water.

I saw this burned boat, which I vaguely remember hearing about... I can't remember from whom or when they said it, but I wasn't surprised when I saw it. It made me sad, but it was strangely beautiful...

And then I walked down to the marina and took out these two tea towels that I ordered from the artist behind one of my favourite blogs - Lucy King, of The Bowerbird. I just love what she creates.

I even took a muffin with me and a cup of tea from the marina boat house, except I'd had such a good lunch that I couldn't eat the muffin. And then I sat in the sunshine and did some knitting for a while.

It was strange to be there without my Rascal. We often went there together.

And then I went home and made some bread...

... because I realized today that no, I don't have to make these things... but I it's not that I have to. I need to. It's inside of me to make and create... I like tweaking and figuring things out, and the challenge of making a muffin healthier and tastier at the same time, of making a sweater fit, or finding just the right stitch pattern for a skein of yarn I've been holding onto. And it's a privilege that I can choose to do these things, that it is not an obligation or a necessity. It's a choice.

And I choose to make.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cheat or Genius?

Sometimes, I can't decide if a shortcut is cheating, or if it's actually a new technique in the making. I know a lot of software programmers who have taken tedious, repetitive tasks, and finished them instantly by writing a script to automate it. Is it cheating? Or is it just... a new way to do things?

In my last blogpost, I was struggling with a rolling edge on my current sweater project. I knew that the only way to really get it to settle down would be to wet block the crap out of it. Trouble is, I really couldn't face soaking such a large cardigan and then pinning it all down. It was a long weekend this weekend, so I decided I was going to get it done, come hell or high water.

So, I automated it.

This is a photo what I am going to christen "The Blocking Roll." I took the lower edge of the cardigan and folded it to the inside, then slowly rolled it into one big roll. I then skewered it with a couple of knitting needles.

Then, I draped it over the sink into some soapy water (wool is hydrophobic, and needs a bit of help to get it wet. Soap helps the water to be transported via capillary action into the wool). I let it soak for about 20 minutes. I draped the roll near the heater and let it dry for a few hours...

Then, I unrolled it an laid it out onto the floor with the lower edge folded to the inside of the cardigan. I let it dry overnight. This photo shows it already dry, but it's still folded to the inside of the cardigan.

The next morning, I laid it out flat with the button bands touching and the bottom edge turned back down into the final position. I then sprayed the button band with water and patted it down so that it would lie flat. Each time I walked past that day, I sprayed and patted the button band a bit more. It was a nice, gentle way to block a sweater.

I baked my weekly loaf of bread. The heat from the oven helped the sweater to dry.

Once it was dry, I set about figuring out how to put some buttons on this thing. I was on a work trip this week which resulted in an impromptu trip on one of the local ferry boats. While I was sailing across, I wandered through the gift shop and found another sweater that had an interesting button closure. I stood there, entranced, examining this thing carefully... which is weird if you're not a knitter, but the others totally get it. I didn't want to copy it, but I was inspired...

I went to the inner edge of the button band on the wrong side of the fabric, and I used a crochet hook and slip stitched along that edge. Once I reached a point where I wanted a button loop, I chained 6, slip stitched it back into the same stitch, then continued on with the slip stitches until I got to the next button loop location.

After that, I pulled the loops through to the right side...

After years of sewing buttons on, I've figured out that the best way to make them sit in the centre is to actually sew them off-centre, closer to the inner edge of the button band. The loops are on the opposite inner edge of the band, and they tug the buttons perfectly to the centre. It's nearly invisible... can you see the button loop under the button?

I can safely say this is the best button job I've ever done.

It gives me the option to close the cardigan... if not all the way.

But I think I still like it better left open.

I am super proud of this sweater. It's light and airy, made entirely out of merino/cashmere/nylon sock yarn. I would have never dreamed that I'd knit such a long cardi with such skinny yarn, but I think knitting it in stripes actually helped a lot. Each stripe seemed to make the time pass more quickly, rather than facing endless rows of stockinette stitch.

Still, I think I'm going to work on a smaller project next... I'm due for some instant gratification now...

Except I've chosen a hat knitted with yet more sock yarn with size 2 needles. Yes, I know the definition of insanity. You only wish you were this crazy, baby!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Unruly Sweater

There are rules.

And there are reasons for rules.

And it irritates me to no end when someone breaks the rules.

And the rule breaker? This sweater:

I was coasting along with this thing... stripe after stripe, inch after inch, every single colour change managed, every single yarn end woven in. I got to a length that I liked, and thought, "Woo yeah. Time to knit the edges."

That's when all the chaos started.

Rule: Stockinette stitch rolls along each edge. Working edges like i-cords, garter stitch, ribbing or seed stitch will prevent this from happening.

I liked the idea of an i-cord. I don't like knitting them (I'm not very good at them, and they're time-consuming), but I liked the idea. So, I started working an i-cord along the bottom edge... but it wouldn't stop rolling. And the thought of slogging through an entire edge of something that might not work did not appeal to me.

So, I ripped back and picked up a crochet hook. I worked one row of half-double crochet stitch on the wrong side, and another row on the right side. It was a nice idea. I still have to work the edges of each of the fronts of the cardigan, and working a crochet edge would mean I wouldn't have to do the laborious job of picking up a gazillion stitches with a knitting needle.

But it rolled like Proud Mary.

I ripped back and knitted a seed stitch edge. It's a promising edge.

But well... yeah. It's kinda rolling.

I didn't rip back. I decided that I'm going to use a tried-and-tested blocking method for blocking rolled bottom edges on a long cardigan like this one:

I'm gonna sit on it until it stays down.

And no, I didn't try knitting a ribbed edge, mostly because ribbing tends to pull the knitting inwards, and I wanted the bottom edge to be more flat. But if this sweater is anything, it ain't flat.

I've gone ahead and picked up the gazillion stitches along each front edge and the neckline and I am currently working through a seed stitch edge for it. After that, I'm considering knitting a belt for it... but we'll see how sick of this thing I get. If I have to discipline this sweater anymore, it's not going to be pretty.

I better get out my stick.