Sunday, August 23, 2015

Finish It Up Mode

We are getting ready to leave for another trip in a week. That means that we're on Finish It Up mode. Anything that has been started or opened needs to be finished, or else it gets tossed. Since I hate wasting stuff, t's the kind of challenge I like. The fridge is currently a delicate balance between enough and too much. Never has spinach been so carefully rationed.

The thing is: Finish It Up mode is a bit like running downhill. It's fun, but it all happens so fast, and it can get a bit out of control.

Last weekend, I had a few nectarines that I needed to use up. They'd become so ripe that the fruit flies were having a convention around the crate they were sitting in, so I brought them in, peeled them, sliced them, and then made a coffee cake. I used an angel food cake pan because I figured it would bake faster, and I thought I was being smart because I could pull it out by the tube, but it was a bit tougher to get it off the bottom than I thought. Still, it looked good, and tasted even better:

I took one for the team and ate a slice, and it was easier to get it off the base after that. It was an excellent cake, and we finished the last slice today.

Fruit: complete.

This is a common sight in our bathroom: the almost-empty-but-not-quite-we-can-get-another-few-days-out-of-it tube of toothpaste sitting next to the ok-that's-enough-already full tube of toothpaste. I admit that I can't let go of a tube until I know I have managed to get every single drop of paste outta that thing. And it's better to take a brand new tube when traveling than one that might run out while you're on the road. I threw out the empty tube this morning. 

Toothpaste: complete.

Some things just aren't getting with the program. The butternut squash plant I've been nursing all season surprised me last week by finally showing some promise, just as I was about to give up on them. Now, I can't decide if I should be happy or disappointed. I'm going to have to find someone willing to dump a bit of water on them so they have a better chance. I hope they make it to full size while I'm away, but I'm not so optimistic. But darn, they are cute:

Squash: pending.

Of course, sometimes, when you're trying to use stuff up, you only end up with more stuff to work through. Case in point: this week's lunch, a vegetarian chilli, made with three different cans of beans, a cup of cooked quinoa, some corn, and a big can of tomatoes (based on this recipe). I decided to throw in the last few chipotle chilis in adobo sauce that has been languishing in the fridge for a while (I hope I'm not going to regret that, but the first few taste tests haven't blown my head off yet). 

Perfect lunch recipe, except I have about three too many portions for this week. The freezer is full again. Not such a bad thing in the long run (it'll save me making a few lunches when I get back), but goes against the Finish It Up program.

Chili: frozen. (Is that an oxymoron?)

And well, I have my knitting project to contend with. I've got one side complete, and the second side is more than halfway done. I'm trying to focus on it: I really want to get it done before we leave, but man, it's gonna take some pushing. It's not helping that I'm also trying to figure out what kind of project I'm going to take with me to work on while we're traveling. Planning future projects are the worst thing for Finish It Up mode.

Knitting: priority case. Better get on it... later skaters.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

From People Only Briefly in Your Life

“That's the ideal meeting...once upon a time, only once, unexpectedly, then never again.” -- Helen Oyeyemi
I attended a funeral last weekend. It wasn't really anyone I knew. I'd met the person once: he was a fellow employee that worked at one of our remote construction sites. He passed away unexpectedly, and when my boss sent the email with the news, I was sad. He showed me a simple kindness once, on the first day I met him on that work site: he handed me a pair of earplugs. And I thought that that was kind. He knew I was an office worker, and that I wouldn't have thought to bring ear protection. I can't even remember if I ever talked to him, or if I ever saw him again.

And then, he was gone.

I attended with another coworker on behalf of the company. His cousin, another employee, had been in contact with me the week before to extend the invitation to us. We had taken up a collection, which turned into a large donation and a bursary for others working towards the same trade certification. I felt like it was only right to attend in person.

He was a native person, what we refer to as First Nations in Canada. He was proud of his culture, and would have wanted everything to be done traditionally. I learned a lot that day. I learned about how he had quietly purchased tools for a coworker when he couldn't afford them, only asking that he pass on the kindness... how he loved rap music, but refused to write lyrics that were demeaning to women... how he was so, so proud to be a carpenter, because that's what the men in his family did.

I learned a little about the traditions of the Coast Salish Peoples. Many people carried around small drawstring pouches, in which they carried coins. I looked at them with great interest: they were all knitted or crocheted in different colours. The family circled the casket and placed coins in a pouch worn by the person officiating the ceremony, and then later, to other people who had helped put the day together: the dancers, the singers, the pall bearers, the people who organized the lunch. Others that attended the service took coins from their pouches to give to the family, and one person noted down their names. "We write it down so that we remember who helped us," his cousin said. "And then, when they are in need, we remember to help them."

The First Nations of the Cowichan Valley are famous for their knitted sweaters. I remember reading about it at a museum in Cowichan Bay, and I remembered taking a photo of the panel below. Since then, I'd been interested in knitting a version for myself - I just haven't gotten around to it yet:

The pouches I saw were either knitted using their two-coloured stranded technique, or crocheted, also in multiple colours. I saw snowflake patterns, birds in flight, wolves in profile. I didn't take any photos (it seems wrong to take photos at a funeral), but I couldn't help but study each one I saw carefully. I asked one of the cousins who made them, and she said, "They just appear... people arrive at our houses with bags full of them. They are just always being made."

And well, that's just the way it is. They are made by people who make them because that is what is done.

When I got home, I pulled out some of my own yarn and started to crochet a pouch, just to see if I could do it. I think I might try a stranded knitted one sometime... just because I want to. It is what I do.

When we were at the gravesite, I learned another thing: It is unbearably painful to watch a mother standing at the gravesite of her son as they are lowering him into the ground. It's during those times when my senses are extra strong... as my eyes prickled with tears, I looked up and saw hawks circling near by... and I watched them as they came closer and closer. I became aware of the slience in the graveyard, even with all of the people there. I wondered if the hawks knew that we were letting go of someone, and if they were there to help his spirit on.

I am glad I went. I am glad to have known this person. And I will remember him as I knit.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Shrooms, Strawberries, Lakes, Knitting

Long weekends.

If it had been been any longer, I would have started worrying about all the stuff that would pile up in my inbox and on my desk when I came back. Luckily, a long weekend is just the right length when you're not technically on vacation and you're still expected to turn up as a useful human being upon return. Three days, trois jours, รง'est suffit, pour le moment.

Saturday was nice enough. I went out to explore a market with a friend, found a new place with "hippie food" for lunch (read: gluten-free, vegan stuff), and then came home for a nap on the couch. It was a hot day. I found out that, if you rest your bowl of frozen strawberries and mangoes on your tummy, it cools you off nicely while you eat it.

On Sunday, we went to Gordon Bay on Lake Cowichan for a swim. I've been there a couple of times, but this was the first time we were actually going to brave the water. It was nice and warm, a nice change from the sea water we usually swim near our house. The photos are from around the corner from the actual beach, were there were plenty of families all swimming and splashing and paddling about. Still, for a long weekend, there was plenty of space for us to swim, and then to relax afterwards with a couple of sandwiches for lunch.

At home, my mini mushroom farm decided to take off, just as I'd given up on it. It was growing mould instead of mushrooms (that is really not the same, science fans), so I'd taken it outside, scraped off the blue fuzzy stuff, and then left it on the deck where it was promptly forgotten until the hubby noticed little nubs of mushrooms growing on it on Friday night. It doubled in size, seemingly every hour, until I decided to pick them on Sunday, when it looked like this. They're leaning slightly to the left, because they're sitting next to the patio door. I didn't think mushrooms liked the light so much:

They looked even cooler underneath. I never thought I'd be the sort of person to peer under mushroom caps. It seems so rude, somehow.

I'd forgotten how freaky fungi can be. I keep glancing at the box to see if they've popped back up again, like alien Children of the Corn/Shroom beings. So far, they have not returned... yet...

I'm afraid I've hit second side/sleeve/sock syndrome, where I'm enthralled by finishing the first side, but the thought of knitting the second one makes me sigh and grimace a bit. I think it's partly because I'm worried about getting too bored with it, and partly because I'm worried the second one won't match. That's what happens when you wing it and don't write down what you did. I can't even remember how I started the first one.

Knitting a yarn with long colour repeats also comes with its own dilemmas. I had to join a new ball halfway through, and wrestled with the idea of interrupting the gradation. Luckily, I had a ball that started at the right spot... but then about two thirds of the way through, there was a knot... a KNOT... and the colours skipped tragically from stormy grey to stark white. After a bit of muttering, I decided to wind the yarn to where the yarn matched again. It seems have worked out pretty ok. This is the wrong side of the fabric, where you can see some of the ends before I weaved them in. Not a bad match.

I decided I'd block it before I started the next side, but when I squeezed the water out and lifted it up, blocking it harshly into a neat rectangle seemed wrong... soI left it loosely spread on out on my blocking boards on the deck. It seemed to be showing me what it was going to look like in the end: light and airy and comfortable. I felt like it needed to stay like that for now. I'm hoping I won't regret it when I actually get to seam it together.

I'm also hoping that the linen stitch bands will be noticeable when it's done. As it is, you have to be standing pretty darn close to see them. I was looking at it this evening as it hung on my drying rack, and I really like the look of them. Maybe some things are better kept subtle and close to you, rather than being broadcast in a ten foot radius:

So, tomorrow: back to work. Lunches are made, smoothies are blended, gym bag is packed. Only four days until my next weekend. I seem to have reached a point this summer where my crazy busy season is just... accepted. I haven't stressed too much about it, because I've reasoned that things will either get finished or they won't, and it's not for lack of trying. Que sera, sera, as they say.

That's two languages for one post. I think I'd better stop here before the pig-Latin kicks in. Night all.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ice Cream, If I Must

If you have no time to rest, it's exactly the right time. -- Mark Twain
Perhaps ones of the hardest realities I face is realizing that I can't do everything in one day. Maybe it's the result of a life of trying to be a perpetual over-achiever: I feel that I must do it all, do it right, and do it better than anyone else has ever done it.

And then the reality fairy comes along to kick me in the butt to remind me that that is such a vain existence. I'm not perfect, and it's vanity to believe that I can be perfect through sheer force. Sometimes, things just are what they are.

I had a somewhat frustrating week: Things I thought I'd fixed got a case of the gremlins and un-fixed themselves, and a pile of work is slowly making its way towards me with the slow, deadly creep of a lava field. One of the highlights was Thursday afternoon, when I was supposed to make a presentation to a group at a meeting... I'd prepared all week, made some great slides, spent quality time preparing, only to have two-thirds of the audience get up and leave because the organizer took a break just at the point when it was my turn to talk. I'll admit: I pouted. I was angry, and I was tired. I can't guarantee I was a gracious as I could have been with the organizer when he apologized to me later. Whatever.

At least I got a free lunch and piece of chocolate ganache cake.

Since then, I've just been resting: took Friday morning off from the gym, and then just coasted the rest of the weekend. I skipped my Sunday morning long run, which, in the past, would have riddled me with guilt and constant verbal justification. But seriously: screw it. I was tired. I needed a reboot.

The rain has been helping. We're still in drought, but we got a few hours of rain this weekend: some of the first real rain the Island has seen since April. The brown fields are slightly soggy. The fires may slow down, I don't know. It was dark enough and cool enough to nap this afternoon, and when I awoke, the sun was shining again.

It was like I woke up on another day... like a freebie extra weekend day.

I'm usually so driven to pack so much into my time, but I don't know what it is right now. Perhaps part of it was a reminder from a video I happened to catch last week about the difference between "urgent" things and "important" things: Urgent things tend to be for other people. Important things tend to be for yourself... and they tend to be put last. The trick is to put the Important things first, because the Urgent things will always get done anyway.

So, I took naps, read some magazines, ate some cake. I actually made time to make an appointment with a different hair stylist to fix the run of terrible haircuts I seem to be living through these days. We went out a couple of times to pick blackberries. We downloaded Series One of Alias, which I've been wanting to watch for ages... Jennifer Garner is so awesome. I totally want to be just like her. I don't know what Ben Affleck is thinking, honestly.

And I knitted.

I'm about halfway through the front of my latest experimental top. The trouble with using yarns with such long, gradual colour runs is that I am compelled to ensure the pattern remains unbroken. I seem to have been lucky enough with my choice of yarn balls that this seems to be working out, even as I finished one ball and started another.

I'm hoping the two remaining balls I have will be just as cooperative. I actually bought the darker one, believing it to be a different colourway from the lighter one. It was kind of a cool surprise to realize they were the same. I'm still sort of haunted by the possibility that I might run out... but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I think I'll go and knit some more. And I think I'll have some ice cream, too. What the heck, right? And tomorrow, I'll be ready. And I'll have half a knitted top, too. I'd call that pretty productive for a non-productive weekend.

Happy rest day.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Tea Party and Two Dishcloths for a Top

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where -" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"- so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Today, I did a cool thing: I went to a tea party.

Ok, maybe cool isn't the best word for it. It was really hot out today, and it was a sweaty time, but it was fun and unusual.

We leave near a place called the Teafarm, and each summer, they host a Mad Hatter Tea Party. You wear a fun hat, or dress up as someone from Alice in Wonderland, and you drink tea (both hot and iced) and get scones and cake and fruit and play croquet, and well... it was fun.

It was a good time, and a nice opportunity to catch up with friends and enjoy some nice tea. We went and played "croquet" i.e. we hit big rubber balls through huge croquet hoops with mallets. I was thinking that this was just my kinda sport until my ball popped on a thorn from a blackberry bush. I don't think that's how you're supposed to do it, but I'm not a professional.

Each of our settings had a little place card with a quote. I liked mine: "I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then."

And it's true: The older I get, the more I realize how different a person I am. There are things I can do now that I never used to be able to do, and there are things I tolerate now that I couldn't tolerate before. And... there are things I used to let people get away with that I won't anymore. And there are things I do now that I wish I didn't do... but going back to what I was is not an option I'd ever take.

The Mad Hatter was mad... but maybe madness allows wisdom to come through without the coating of self-consciousness we all put on things we say.

As always, I brought home a little bit of tea, even though the hubby said I wasn't allowed (the cupboard is kinda full). But in the end, he'll enjoy it just as much:

I brought along my knitting, but I didn't work on it. It turns out I don't knit well in the heat. But it's an interesting project. I'm experimenting with some cotton yarn at a light fingering weight from Schachenmayr called Tahiti. It's in this lovely gradient that goes from dark charcoal grey to bright white. I'm trying to make a tunic out of two simple rectangles, inspired by a pattern from this summer's Interweave Crochet called the Summer Marsala Tunic. I'm trying to knit the front and the back on the bias, from one corner to the other, like two big, rectangular dishcloths. 

I giggled when I looked at this photo, because, when people ask me what I'm making, sometimes I say, "A thong," just to be silly. This photo looks like a big pair of underwear. It's the heat. It makes me stupid. But anyway...

I started out with much smaller needles (3.25mm or size 3), but soon fell back to my favourite size 6 needles, as it made for a much nicer, floatier fabric. I'm also throwing in a strip of linen stitch at intervals, because I like linen stitch, and I felt like it needed something else to make the texture more interesting.

I'm not sure how it'll turn out, but I'm optimistic that it'll be something wearable. I won't know until I'm done, and if there's one thing I've developed over the years, it's the tenacity to finish the projects I start. You never know what you'll get out of experiments, but you always get SOMETHING. It's just as the Cheshire Cat says: You're sure to get somewhere if you keep walking long enough.

I think I'll make a cuppa tea now.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Weekend Winging-It-Win

The trouble with leaving me alone with a bunch of clothes that you've told me are on sale is that I'm going to try them on. And the trouble with me trying things on is that I'm either going to hate everything I put on, or I'm going to love everything I put on. Both of those situations are good and bad.

What I mean to say is: I was waiting for my turn at my esthetician's salon on Friday afternoon. She sells clothes as well, and she had a bunch of them on at 50% off because she is clearing them out. They're generally not the sort of thing I wear, but I'd had a rough day, and I thought I'd play around a bit and see what I liked.

I was heading towards the hating-everything-I-put-on stage, which I was ok with, when I saw this dress on the hanger:

It was unremarkable to me when I first looked and it, but I approached it, lifted the skirt, and thought it was a lovely colour: a wine red with a ruffle down the front that opened into a slit. All of her clothes are a bamboo-cotton blend, so I tried it on. Long story short: it came home with me.

I tried it on again when I got home, and I thought it needed something... something around the neck...

I woke up the next morning and lay in bed thinking about it. I got up and started looking around online for some inspiration. Later that morning, I made a trip to the yarn store and came home with some silver crochet cotton and a couple of small steel crochet hooks.

After a few false starts and a lot of thinking, I made this:

I winged it from a few photos on line and with a little help with a crochet motif book I picked up last year.

If you look closely at it, there are some glass beads in each little "leaf." I wanted to give it just a hint of glitter:

I tried it on and wasn't sure about it, but then I put on the dress and put my hair up, and I knew it was exactly what I wanted:

Now that's what I call a winging-it-win.

The leaves kind of stick up sometimes, and sometimes they are turned inwards and outwards, but I don't mind that so much. I just like the trailing look of it along my neck. I'm pretty proud of it, and it was a nice little weekend project.

It wasn't the only weekend project, but we'll get into that another time:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Long Run, A Little Dog, and A Shawl That Looks Like a Slug

Great people do things before they're ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you're afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that's what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that's really special and if you're not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself. -- Amy Poehler
It's taken me all week to recover from my first half marathon. It's also taken me all week to decide how I felt about it all. There was a lot to think about.

But I'm getting ahead of myself: Last Sunday, I ran a big, long run in Vancouver on the morning of the second day of a heat wave.

The hubby drove me to the drop off area, and I cried a little because I was scared. It was hot for 7:30am. Heck, it would have been hot for 12:00 noon, and it was only going to get hotter. I made sure I drank a lot before I got to the site, made sure I used the porta-potty when I got there, then drank some more. I stood in my corral, and hugged a lady who told me she was terrified. I was terrified, too.

The pack started moving forward, and soon, our feet touched the starting line, our timing chips fired, and we started running. It was hot... humid hot. I could tell that my sweat was going to come, and that it might not evaporate the way I needed it to.

The first 10 kilometres were pretty good. When you enter these races by yourself, you find yourself just looking around and listening to the people around you. Some people chatted away to their running partners, and some were like me... just running along, breathing in and out, listening.

And then the hills came, and it became a moment to moment kind of experience. But I didn't panic, and I didn't crash. It was slow and steady. I drank fluids as often as possible, fuelled myself with chews and with my energy drinks like I planned to, ran through sprinklers when I could, and poured water over my head at each aid station after the halfway mark.  Somehow, I ended up running next to a guy dressed up as Elvis for the second half of the race (unless I was really hallucinating, but I can't say for sure). The hardest part was crossing the heated concrete of the Burrard Street Bridge. The city closed half the lanes to accommodate us, so it was full of cars with very ticked off people. I remember the heat shimmering off the concrete, up into my face, drying my sweat at the same time it was produced.

Eventually, I got to the point where I was searching for the finish line. I wanted to be finished. My eyes strained over the bobbing heads in front of me, and when I saw it, I started to pick up speed. When I watched the video at the end, I found out that was actually sprinting. I didn't know I could do that.

And when I got to the end, someone put a medal around my neck. Someone handed me cups of water, which I drank greedily. I walked through the crowds over to the tents, and found the tent for The Kidney Foundation of BC and the Yukon. I'd never met them before, but they knew I was coming. People I never met before took one look at me, read the name on my bib, and put their arms around me to hug me.

Through the generosity of my friends and coworkers, I raised $3,761.17 to help them support other families, just like they supported me.

I met a woman who had run the 5k that was running parallel to my race. I was admiring her running shoes, and she told me that they were a gift from her son, who was in the hospital waiting for her and her husband. "He's doing dialysis right now. I wanted to give him my kidney, and we were a match, but the anatomy of my kidney is too complicated for him to accept."

And I told her that everything would work out... that everything would be fine. And I thought about all that time I spent running that morning... about how he was in the hospital waiting for his mom and dad the whole time.

The run was hard... but the tough part for me was over.

My final time was slower than I wanted to be, but I had to make a decision near the beginning of the run: run to the program and risk being seriously ill afterwards, or run it as smart as I could and see what happened. And what happened was I finished it with no pain, and without getting heatstroke.

I found the hubby, and I got into the car with my sweaty clothes, and we drove towards the ferry terminal. We found a leisure centre, where the woman behind the desk watched me stagger in with my race bib still pinned to my front, and let me in for free to let me take a shower.

We went into the port. We were too early for our boat, so we went and relaxed at the Starbucks. A woman left her dog with us while she went off to run errands. He was a cute little surprise.

On the boat, I took out my crochet project, and finished all the yarn. The second half the pattern was confusing, and it didn't match the first half: the decreases weren't working out properly. But I decided that it was just like my race: not quite how I imagined it, but still a pretty good result...

... even though it kind of looks like a striped slug.

The stitches are quite striking.

It took me all week to feel normal enough to actually block it, and it's so hot right now that I only managed to throw it over my shoulders for a couple of bathroom selfies before it was too uncomfortable to wear. I think I might use it to fend against the A/C chill of the office this week.

So, how do I feel about all this?

I wish I was faster. I wish I had felt more prepared. I wish I felt lighter, that I felt more like a real runner.

I wish I knew how hard the week after was going to be. I've woken up each night feeling hungry and sore, with aching muscles and swollen feet, feeling lonely and depressed and disappointed that I wasn't faster.

But... I'm glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself: about what happens when I am faced with a long stretch of road that I'm supposed to run on. And I'm proud that I took it on. And no, I won't do it again. It's not my distance... too long for me. And maybe that's was the point. I needed to learn that I can't plan every single thing to my advantage. I can't calculate everything into submission. It was a race that didn't quite go according to plan.

But it's a freakin' cool medal.

I bought new running shoes the other day, and I signed up for another race: a 10k in November. And you know... now that I think of it, I'm proud that 10k is an easy race now. I know how to do that.

And I'm glad I can go back to my yarn and spend a bit more time with it. I spent some time last night, day dreaming about what I was going to make next. I feel like I've come home and found and old friend waiting for me.