Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chocolate and Handspun Wool: A Study in Time

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking. -- William B. Sprague 
And just like that, it feels like winter. Granted, we don't get the same kind of winter that I grew up with back in Winnipeg, but all of a sudden, there is a definite nip in the air, and I'm wearing my knits with regularity just to stay warm and comfortable in my frigid office. I am so grateful for all of my scarves and cowls and fingerless mitts right now: they're the only thing that help me start my workday. By noon, the heat in the building seems to be normal, so I shed my layers throughout, but I maintain that it's better to shed layers than wish you had them on.

I finished my cowl made with my merino handspun early last week. I soaked it in some Eucalan wool wash, and then added a healthy dollop of my hair conditioner because it was feeling a bit scratchy. I think it's helped, but I could have done a better job of rinsing it. Right now, it smells so much like my hair that I feel like I'm standing behind myself in line when I put it on, but I'm hoping that sensation will fade along with the scent from the conditioner. I am so pleased with the result:

I still have just over a ball left of this batch of handspun, and I think I might make it into some mittens so that I can admire the yarn even more. I haven't made a set of mittens since I moved to Vancouver Island, but if the office stays as cold as it has been, it's going to have to be a necessity...

But I digress.

I went back to spinning a some of my alpaca silk, but I got a bit frustrated with it because I couldn't seem to get a good rhythm going, so I've put it aside for now to try to make something out of this huge skein of Fleece Artist BFL that I've had for a while now:

I've pulled out at least a dozen patterns that I thought might work with this yarn. The trouble is that I'm really not sure how all the colours with work in a garment. I can't help but think that I need a simple lace pattern to break up the colours, but so far, I'm not sure what that's going to be. I settled on Pam Allen's Modern Lace Henley, as I've admired it for a while, and I thought it was simple enough to break up the pooling colours, but lacy enough to make the most of my limited yardage.

I started out with the idea that was going to alternate balls of yarn each row to try to prevent the pooling. That lasted all of two rows, and then it turned into a tangled, horrible mess. The yarn seemed to revolt against me as I tried to pull it apart. "How dare you try to control me!" it seemed to say.

How dare I indeed.

I cast on again and started knitting the lower band again. It's starting to pool now, and I am simultaneously enchanted and concerned: enchanted by the colours I am seeing, and concerned that this thing is going to turn into a big, splotchy mess. I changed my mind about the pattern and went looking for a wavy lace pattern that might work best with the undulating pools that I'm seeing. I ripped  out stitches again and again to try to make the best use of my current stitch count, but I've since abandoned that idea and gone back to the Henley pattern. I'm glad I started knitting it from the bottom up in the round: if I end up really hating it as I go, I could always bail out and turn it into a big rainbow-y cowl.

Because, of course, I need more scarves and cowls. See above for my comments about my office temperature.

As I was placing the stitches back onto my needles after my last ripping out session, I recalled someone admiring one of my handknit sweaters one day. She asked me, "How do you do that?"

"Do what?" I said.

"Make sweaters with no mistakes in them?"

I think I might have snorted. I can make a sweater yes, but I am EXPERT at putting the stitches back on my needles after ripping out hours and hours of work. If you're the sort of person who makes things by hand, I think it means that you think about time differently than a lot of other people do. You don't churn out perfect things, and you don't wait around for the perfect time to make something. And you don't feel like your time has been wasted when you have to deal with a mistake. You might shrug your shoulders and carry on, or you might pull it apart and start over, but you always know that, whatever time you are going to put into this thing, you've elected to use it for creating something, and that time is always time well spent.

Speaking of: I decided I'd make some chocolate truffles to give away as little Christmas gifts. Chocolate itself has its own schedule. It's both slow and lightning fast in the same time. You have to be patient while melting your chocolate, but if you give it 5 seconds longer than you think, it will seize up into a horrible mess in your bowl. And then, even when you get it right, it sets in no time if you dilly dally for too long.

I will admit: I would find it hard to mess up a whole batch of this stuff. Chocolate isn't something you can rip back and start over with... but at least the mistakes are delicious.

I had prepared an extra pan in case my first one wasn't enough to take all the chocolate ganache I had prepared, but it all fit into one after all. I'd spent enough time carefully buttering and lining the pan that it seemed a waste to pull it off and clean it without having made something, so I whipped up a batch of lemon slices and used the pan for that instead:

I'm not sure if that's an example of striking when the iron is hot or making it hot by striking, but in the end, the cake was warm and my tea was hot and I made them both myself, and that's all that really matters.

And here I am talking about cake again. Hmm... oh well...

Monday, November 21, 2016

Inspiration Mondays: Hitting the Reset Button

Since he won't bring toys, I will share my bike with him, and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him addition and subtraction. My little sister will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. We can all play together. We will give him a family, and he will be our brother. -- Alex
I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself over the past few days. Then I saw this video, and it was an automatic reset button for me. I needed that.

Today, I am inspired by people of all ages who look upon others and see no dividing lines: just another human being worthy of kindness and compassion, without cynicism or suspicion, "because of where they're from or how they look or how they pray."

Thanks, Alex. Back to business.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Roses, Muffins, and Merino

If you look over the years, the styles have changed - the clothes, the hair, the production, the approach to the songs. The icing to the cake has changed flavors. But if you really look at the cake itself, it's really the same. --John Oates
It was my birthday on Thursday. It sort of just came and went... I'm not sure if I'm having some kind of life crisis, but I was not all that interested in all of the birthday stuff this year. Perhaps it was because I felt like I was fighting some kind of cold all week. Thursday rolled in, and I went in early for a work meeting. People wished me happy birthday, the boss took me out for a nice lunch (as soon as my stomach was feeling better), and then I left early and treated myself to a facial and then a nap. No cake or anything. I was going to make myself a special treat, but it just didn't happen. But my folks sent me these beautiful flowers, which, despite having quite a few roses in it, are lasting very well. Flowers always bring a freshness to the day:

So, that was the birthday. 

Today, I was feeling more like myself, and after we came back for a walk during a break in the rain, I came home and made a batch of Applesauce Cake, this time in muffin format (because I didn't want to wait an hour for the loaf to bake). And you know, I'm pretty happy with this kind of birthday cake this year. Light and fluffy, simple and tasty. I think it's just what the doctor ordered:

Among all of this, I actually did some knitting this week. I've been working on making something with my handspun merino that I finished during this year's Tour de Fleece, but it's been surprisingly difficult. I was having a hard time finding a project that would work with the marled grey/white/black of the yarn. I started out trying to make Purl Soho's Classic Cowl, but the brioche stitch was just getting lost. I ripped that out and tried a few other stitches, until I resigned myself to making a plain 2x2 ribbed cowl.

I made it about an inch and a half in, and was terribly bored with it. After that, I just started to wing it: cabling and twisting stitches until I fell into a kind of rhythm. I am much happier with it now:

Making something from your own handspun means that finding the right project is much more meaningful. You need to really justify all that work that went into the spinning. This is what the stitches look like when they are stretched out a bit. I'm going to see if I can block it like this to show them off:

I've got Beef and Guinness stew cooking in the crock pot for dinner, along with some nice dumplings that are enjoying a nice soak on top. I'm looking forward to having a more normal week, perhaps with a better attitude to go along with it. Until then, I might enjoy a cuppa and another one of those wee muffins and hang out with my knitting for the rest of the evening. Tea and cakes are great company in the midst of a grey and grumpy week. Thank goodness for that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Now, With Other People's Knitting

By perseverance the snail reached the ark. --Charles Spurgeon
So, about the knitting and stuff. It sorta hasn't been working out for me recently. The intentions where there, but it's been a weird few weeks, and production has not been really happening for me. Perhaps this is the way of November: shorter days, with not much time to do much of anything within them.

This is not to say I haven't been busy. It's just that the stuff I've been up do has not lent themselves to much time to sit and do fiber-y things. Actually, that's not true: my problem was that I had changed from doing knitting projects to doing a spinning project. Recently, I've found myself away from the comfort of my couch and waiting around for appointments and classes and meetings in coffee shops, boardrooms, and offices... places where I don't feel all that comfortable whipping out the ol' spindle and having to explain to people what the heck I'm doing.

Luckily, this seems to be a time when other people's knitting have been the highlight of my days. On Wednesday, the day of my weekly yoga class, a friend of mine handed me these yoga socks, knitted by her mother. "Give them a try," she said. And they were great. This isn't the greatest photo of them, but they were comfy and warm on a cool, rainy day. It's strange: people keep giving me handknit socks as gifts. Maybe it's the universe trying to tell me to finally get on with knitting some for myself, but if that were true, why would people keep giving them to me? Perhaps I should not question and just enjoy the socks:

And then, there's this adorable baby snuggie, handknit by a work friend who is expecting her first. We talked a long time about getting her back into knitting, and a few refresher lessons and a few text message tips and a whole lot of YouTube videos later, she has produced this:

It's so darn cute that I wish I could get in there and wear it. And just LOOK at those buttons!

It's such a testament to the fact that, if you want something badly and you are resourceful enough, you can totally do this knitting thing. It makes me so happy to welcome someone into the Yarn Geek Club.

I had every intention of doing some knitting this weekend. It was Remembrance Day on Friday, so it was a long weekend for me. We headed down to Victoria for a short break. We were fortunate that the rain stayed away, but on Saturday, the wind really whipped up as we walked along Ogden Point. I got this shot of Fisherman's Wharf at a point where I had ducked in for shelter. It looks so sunny and peaceful, but I was actually just trying to avoid getting more leaves whipped into my face:

The water had white caps, and the helicopters that service the Island to the mainland were grounded:

But the waves were impressive:

And well, the knitting? Impressive is not the word I would use for it. I did wind some of my handspun for a project, which I have cast on for... and have subsequently ripped out. Impressive, no. Perhaps... "orderly" would be how I would describe it:

I best get on and start working on something, because I can't rely on other people to knit for my blog for much longer... unless... ahem... you'd like to volunteer... you know, leave me your comment below or whatever...

Right, I'll shut up and knit now. Have a good week!

Friday, November 11, 2016

What is Good

Hold on to what is good
even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is
a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when
it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you. -- Nancy Wood

It's been a doozy of a week. This time last week, I did not imagine I would have felt all the things I felt in the past seven days. I suppose we never know what each day will bring, but we live in this precarious sureness that makes us feel secure. And when that is shaken, it is more than unsettling.

I don't have the knowledge or the rhetoric to speak of the details of the election in America. I just know that it was the culmination of a very, very hard campaign to watch, even from way over here in my little pocket of Canada. So much energy put into really, really hating candidates was exhausting. You can't be isolated from that. It fills the atmosphere, it enters our lives. And I won't minimize what people are feeling about it, and what is happening all around the country. I just know that I feel sad about the whole thing.

I started taking a course about six weeks ago called Mindful Self Compassion. I took it because I was tired of living my life constantly beating myself up every day, comparing myself to others, speaking critical words to myself and about others. I was tired of burning out. Tired of being injured, and tired of beating myself up about being injured. I didn't feel alive: I was just surviving. And I wanted to be alive.

I've been learning about how important it is to stop and recognize when I am suffering: when I am hurt or angry or sad. It shocked me to see how often I felt any of those things. I've been learning that this is what it means to be human. And I've been learning to be kind to myself during these times... that there is a place for fixing and problem solving, but right in this moment, I need to give myself what I need: a breath, a walk, a drink of water... and that this kindness to myself opens myself up to all sorts of possibilities later on. It is not an excuse to turn away from the world, but a way to be better for it. And I've been learning about giving and receiving compassion. It is so easy to make yourself a martyr, but there are ways to help people and to affect change without tearing yourself apart.

A breath for you, and a breath for me.

Leonard Cohen died yesterday. Those of us who are drawn to poets and singers and writers... those people who speak the words we are constantly grasping for... we feel grief. Losing a person who brings us the thrill of bringing us to the places we long to go hurts. And it would be easy to see this as just another blow to the goodness in the world.

A breath for you, and a breath for me.

Today is Remembrance Day here in Canada. Six years ago (could it be so long ago now?) I wrote a post on Remembrance Day that remains the most read post I ever wrote on this blog. I was thinking about it as I went for a run this morning... about why people fight in wars, what it means to me. And I thought about my grandfather, and how, even among all of the chaos and the hatred and the genocide, someone took a breath and extended kindness to someone she didn't know and saved his life.

Even amongst the greatest hatred, there is goodness.

A breath for you, and a breath for me.

At 11:00am, I will take two minutes to stop and to reflect and to breathe. We will not solve the world's problems today, but I think I will continue to believe that, if I can just keep lifting the goodness up, things will be alright. Schools of dolphins have been known to hold the weakest amongst them up to the surface of the water to help them breathe. I think now is a good time to do the same. And, to quote my own words:
Remember the power of kindness, understanding, and compassion. It doesn't just save lives. It makes life possible.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Milk Bottle and a Barn

How quietly,
   and not with any assignment from us,
or even a small hint 
   of understanding,
      everything that needs to be done
         is done. 
--from Luna, by Mary Oliver
I overheard someone at the pool yesterday saying that we've had rain twenty-six days out of thirty-one this month. I don't know if that's correct, but it definitely has been a wet October. Any thoughts of drought during the summer are now, appropriately, quenched. Wet: that is us.

Luckily, yesterday was one out of the thirty-one days when the rain actually stopped. I had driven down to meet a friend at a cafe in Shawnigan Lake, where the food was delicious, and the coffee was rich. While waiting for our order, I noticed these signs. I knew these were my people:

Around the corner from from us were these sweet little felted creations for sale. Another indicator that I was among like-minded people. Seeing these made me feel like I should pull out the needle-felting kit I have squirreled away somewhere and actually give it a go... just as soon as I get all my other projects on the "to make list" finished:

About halfway through our visit, the sun broke through the clouds, and we looked at each other and declared that we should get outside. We found a trail by the lake, and just as all lakeside trails do, it did not disappoint:

We found ourselves on the road back to the cafe when we saw a sign that read, "Vintage Shop" with an arrow pointing to the right towards a side road. Well, why not, we said to each other, and up a small hill and down the road a bit, we found this place, Shawnigan Vintage Barn:

We wandered in, and well, it was another cave of treasures, waiting to be explored. It was full of lovely things, very nicely displayed, and included everything from furniture to kitchen gadgets to linens to... well all kinds of cool old stuff. And with the fire crackling in the wood stove, it was not hard to spend time wandering around:

As is always the case, I went in hoping to find something (this time, a blue pyrex bowl to complete one of my sets), but I came out with something totally unrelated. This time, it was this glass bottle, which I spied on one of the higher shelves. I think it's just a pretty as all of those pretty, trendy S'well bottles I keep seeing everywhere, and probably even more useful:

When I picked it up, I was immediately sold by the fact that it had a nice, tight, usable lid. I knew for sure I could use it as a water bottle on my desk, or to keep milk fresh in the fridge... or whatever. Lids that work are wonderful things:

I think it might part of a line of milk bottles from a company called Egizia in Italy, except it says "Made in Portugal" on the bottom. I haven't been able to find any other bottles online with polka dots, so I don't know for sure. I just know it's a charming little find that made my day.

Today was another busy day in preparation of another busy week, but I did find time to finally take some photos of my finished Icterine. In my last blog post, I was sure I was headed for a bit of a disaster because I needed to fix the bind off for the last few stitches. I thought I'd need to use yarn from another skein, but when I cut the button off, I decided I wasn't going to do that. Instead, I decided to use the last inch and half of the tail yarn and do a little sewing and weaving, and well, I'm glad to say it worked:

It turned out to be a pretty decent size:

And I am still so in love with the cables:

They remind me of the aspen leaves I saw on my walk today. The undulating shapes are so satisfying:

I have another couple of busy days ahead, but I'm trying not to get too obsessed with trying to organize and plan every single second. Instead, I spent some time in the kitchen making some good food to fuel me through it all: a batch of Greek lemon soup, a batch of butternut squash soup, a roast chicken for dinner, and, in an effort to use up some of the applesauce I made, a loaf of this Whole Wheat Applesauce Cake. I'm happy to report it was a success: surprisingly light and fluffy, and perfect with a cup of tea after a walk:

So, here I face another busy week, but I'm trying to have faith that just as Mary Oliver says in her poem, all that needs to get done, will get done... whether I force things into submission or not.

And with that, I think I'll have another cuppa...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Sample of the Ingenuity of Complete Fools

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. ― Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
I have a finished object on the blocking boards: a product of an ingenious pattern... and a bit of foolishness...

The pattern is called Icterine, from Hunter Hammersen's Curls collection. I've admired it for a while, and I was pretty excited to finally cast on for it. The result has not disappointed. Even on the blocking board, I can't help to stop and admire the cables each time I walk past:

The patterns are "curls" because of the way the fabric curls back on itself during its construction, creating a kind of built-in hook that allows you to drape the resulting shawl in a way that hangs on by itself. It's a fool-proof design, made for those of us who have trouble figuring out how to wear our handknit shawls:

Except... I have a bit of a problem. If you look at the lower left corner, you'll see a button:

I placed it there because I had about six stitches left at the end while I was binding off, and I totally completely, and utterly ran out of yarn. It was late at night, and I wanted this thing finished. "No problem," I thought to myself. "I shall place a button, and therefore I will have an extra little accessory to fasten the shawl around my shoulders."

Except, now that it's all stretched out, I think the button should be on the other end of that straight edge. I think it makes more sense to put a button there. And, since the button is placed in such a manner to hold onto all six of those dangling stitches, I'm not really sure what's going to happen if I try to remove it.

This is what happens when I try to be innovative on a late night.

I think I have a solution. While digging through my yarn stash, I came across some of my own handspun merino yarn, a yellow single spun a couple of years ago:

I'm thinking I might use a strand of that to try to bind off those last six stitches. The trick will be trying to catch them when I remove that button. I'm waiting for the shawl to dry before I do that. I might need a cup of tea and a cookie before I give it a go. Best to be prepared for all eventualities.

I only got this thing onto the blocking boards last night because it's been another long, busy week at work. I got a little bit of a respite on Thursday afternoon when I left early for a doctor's appointment. It had been a rough day, and after my appointment, I thought I'd treat myself by going to look at some pretty shoes in a nearby shoe shop (I call it "shoe visiting), and then I stopped in at a vintage shop near the parking lot where I was parked. There, I found this thing:

I have no idea what it is or what it was used for, but I stood there with it in my hands for a good ten minutes, smoothing my hands over the metal surface, admiring the etched pattern, feeling the weight of it in my hands:

"I don't know what this is, and I have no idea what I will use it for," I said to the lady behind the till, "but it is six dollars, and I've had a hard day, and I think that is reason enough to take it home."

So, I did. And I brought it to work the next day and gave it a job. Tea bag holder. New title, new use:

This weekend, I've been keeping myself busy with daydreaming about how I'm going to sort out my shawl, and a bit of spinning. I broke out a bag of roving: an alpaca-silk blend that has been hibernating in my cupboard. I brought out one of my unused spindles, and I've been happily spinning the soft, squishy goodness into a spindle-full of contentment. I'm playing around with the idea of plying it into a three-ply yarn, which I've never done before and which will take a bit of invention, since I still don't have a bobbin-holder or lazy kate to hold three spindlefuls of yarn:

After my last innovation-debacle, I'm not sure I can be trusted with any inventive ideas. At least I have about 150 grams of roving to ponder through. Stay tuned... this could get interesting...