Thursday, December 29, 2011

Coffee and Boxing... Day

Ah, holiday visits to my hometown: family, celebration, food... and more food. I've been very well-fed, and I'm going to have to do a bit of work to get back in the health saddle when I get back to reality, but I'm enjoying myself regardless.

Boxing Day was last Monday. For those that don't know, Boxing Day is a Commonwealth statutory holiday with relatively hazy origins. According to Wikipedia, it is the day when boxes of presents and goods were given to those in service positions (in boxes, presumably). It has also been said that it was the day that employers changed places with their employees (I can't see that happening anytime soon). Nowadays, it's the day when people get up at ungodly hours to go out and get a fantastic deal at the shops. The only boxes involved would be those with new shoes inside, or TVs, or some other such item. From I heard on the news, it's starting to be a bit mad like Black Friday in the United States, with people getting into fisticuffs in parking lots. Perhaps Boxing Day is becoming a better name for this day...

But not for me. There's nothing I want THAT badly, and I'm just way too lazy to get out of bed to spend the day in a hot mall with grumpy shoppers all trying to get stuff that I don't really want.

Instead, I made a date with Linette, my Winnipeg knit-buddy that I met up with last year. We were to meet up for coffee, and perhaps a bit o' yarn shopping. Coffee, knitting, yarn? That's a way better proposition to me.

So, I took the bus downtown and met at ye olde coffee shoppe with Linette, who happened to be sitting in exactly the same spot we sat in last year, in the comfy chairs by the fireplace. "Wow, I can't believe we got the same spot," I said.

"They obviously knew we needed it for our yearly tradition," she said. "Now that we've met twice for this, we can call it a tradition now."

This is a tradition I'm happy that we created, because it's always so nice to sit down with another yarnie and talk about yarnie-things... stitch counters, knitting socks, lace, bobbles (and "sad bobbles"), buttons, sewing... and other crafty things... and cooking... and bathrooms... and Kitchen Aid Mixers.

After a while, Linette produced the following item, over which I positively squealed. Seriously. I squeaked like a mouse and sighed like kettle over it:

Is that not the coolest thing you ever did see? Apparently, these have been circulating on Ravelry, but I was totally ignorant of the fact that such a thing could be made. And it's perfect. And I'm so chuffed to have one of my own. Thanks, Linette!

Unfortunately, we discovered the LYS in Winnipeg were closed on Boxing Day. Maybe that's a good thing. Could you imagine the crowd of anxious shoppers outside those doors? Instead, we wandered down to The Bay and wandered around a while. I picked up a few bits and bobs that I liked, and on the way out, we spied this:

What is hilarious is that we both were way more attracted to the box than we were about the makeup (though, it will come in handy since I am slowly replacing all my makeup for fresher stuff). The trays in the lower half can be removed, and if I use a craft knife, I could carve the spaces in the foam above were the pencils are to be a bit longer, then I can put some drawing pencils, sketchbooks and art supplies in it for easy transport. Nice huh?

And I didn't even have to get in line to buy it.

So, that was my Boxing Day: relaxed and chill, with knitchat, coffee, good company AND a box!

Ha! Now THAT'S why they call it Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Inspiration Mondays on a Tuesday: Cuteness is Crucial

Sometimes, I'm teased for loving the cute stuff. Puppies, kittens, bunnies, baby bears... anything with big eyes or fluffy fur, I'm there. A day without cute things is a day wasted, in my opinion.

And what of it? For example, here are some photos I took of Rascal when he met a group of Shih Tzus during a walk today. And they were all wearing mittens. Shih Tzus wearing mittens? Come on! That's cute!

There's no deep conversation or serious issues in this post today:  just the fact that, when you find something that makes you smile, you have a right to keep those things close to you, no matter what anyone says.

Take it from him. He's a serious dude.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Aaaaand it's upside-down...

What do they say about the best-laid plans?

I thought I would rush home at lunch today to take some photos of this cowl I finished the other day. I'm quite proud of it, because it's the first project I've ever knitted from some of my own handspun yarn. This is the yarn I spun from camel down with my takhli spindle a few months ago. I used Susanna IC's Nougat pattern - simple and quick. Since my yarn was a heavier weight than that called for in the pattern, I reduced the number of stitches and went up a needle size. Three days later, I had this soft, pretty cowl.

Except, I wore it upside-down for these photos. I guess that explains why I was having trouble keeping it up on my face.

Oh well. At least I got to wear my vintage fedora hat for something.

I inadvertently took advantage for the lack of elasticity in camel yarn by using a little more ribbing than originally listed in the pattern, and with a good wash with shampoo and rinse with conditioner, I had a super-soft finished object.

So, if you stand on your head, you get the full effect. Have fun doing that... and send photos of you doing it, if you choose to give it a try!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Inches Count

My pants fit. Yes, they do.

Since I started exercising more regularly in the evenings (as you can read about in my other blog), I've tried to do a little bit of activity every day. This is above and beyond the daily dog walk and my regular swimming schedule. And it's not always an all-out workout. Sometimes, it's a 20-minute yoga session. Sometimes, it's an hour-long cardio workout. Sometimes, it's a chapter of one of my belly dancing DVDs.

And I never, ever guilt myself for missing a night. I just know I'll do something the next day. And I never punish myself with a hard workout just because I missed a night. Something is better than nothing. I inch my way forward, and if I get swept back, I don't try to gain lost ground. I just try for another inch tomorrow.

I'm saying this because we're on the home stretch before the holiday chaos this week. I know many people are frantically trying to get all the things on their lists finished, trying to find the perfect gifts, trying to cook all the food and to remember all the relatives. And some people are totally and utterly stressed out right now with it all.

My mother is really good at dealing with a big task: she does things a little at a time. She does a couple of jobs a day until they are all done. Our house is the house upon which all the friends and relatives descend (I think there were 24 people in the living room last year), and we never, ever run out of food or presents. And it's because she's so good at doing a little at a time, even if it's a last-minute task. And if something doesn't pan out, well... so what?

I hope that everyone out there remembers the age old saying, "It's the thought that counts," and that they are all pleased enough to be around their friends and family, even if things don't turn out to be the picture postcard perfection they hope for. In reality, perfection comes from intention, not from obsession. Try a little at a time, and be ok if it's not what you planned.

That's how I got my pants to fit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For Dramatic Poses Only

Drama is action, sir, and not confounded philosophy. - Luigi Pirandello
How often do you get the "paralysis by analysis" syndrome? You know, when you overthink how to do things to the point that nothing gets done? It's my pet peeve... talking, without saying anything, discussion, without ever reaching a conclusion.

My own brain got in the way of getting photos of this shawl until today. I'd been spending a lot of time trying to think of some new way to take my photos. I thought, I should do an outdoor shot for a change. I could rig my tripod and camera, wear my new coat, pose in front of the shrubbery.... What will I do if it's cold? How will I check the shots? Should I let Rascal come out with me? Can I get him to pose?

Well, it turns out that simple is best. Just do it. Quit talking, Adriene... let the shawl do it for you.

So, here, finally, after months of work and after putting it aside to work on other things, here is my Sugar Snap Shawl made with Lorna's Laces Helen's Lace Multi, 50% wool, 50% silk. Finished size is about 7 feet long and about 24 inches wide.I am very, very happy with it. I never dreamed it would be so beautiful, like carved wood batik stamps.

Of course, I did have to try something different. I tried taking photos in the bedroom, hair freshly washed, shiny earrings, dramatic pose:

Hey, it kinda worked. I like wearing it, but... what if it only looks good in dramatic poses like this?

Man, something tells me I'm gonna have a sore neck for the next few days...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Puppy Added for Scale

A small Christmas miracle: I finished knitting my Sugar Snap Shawl. Man, this thing is epic. And it's huge. If you don't believe me, check it out:

I think it's time to move on to something smaller and less time-consuming... like a sweater! Ha!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: A Bit of Clarity

I'm a worrier. There's no point talking me out of it. I worry. Sometimes, I feel like, if there's a problem that needs solving, I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IT EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY UNTIL I CAN FIX IT.

That, of course, is totally ridiculous. Worry never solved a problem, nor did it ever bring about a creative thought. It just brings about anxiety and poor sleep, and it drives away good thoughts and good friends. Maybe it's good for bringing attention to problems, but it certainly doesn't do anything about it.

I had a weird Sunday yesterday. I had a night full of nightmares about work... the same horrible things going wrong, getting worse all the time... and I woke up feeling horrible. Then, I worried. I made lists in my head of things that were wrong, things that needed work, things I needed to fix. Then, I dwelt on them. Then, I started to worry about what others thought about my ability to fix these things.

Then, I ate a bunch of fudge. Sigh.

This morning, everything came clear, and all was well, just as it always is. It's strange how easy it can be to lose perspective when you are a worrier.

There's no use telling a worrier not to worry. It does help, though, to say, "Things will be better in the morning."

As I drove along to an appointment today, I looked at the landscape around me. There was a slight fog, a little bit of blowing snow. Unclear. Vague.

And then, the sun came out, and there was clarity, and perspective. And it was beautiful.

I'm practicing perspective and reaching clarity. Today, I was reminded that it is possible, and that, when you allow your mind to be clear, you can see beautiful things.

How sad it would be if I'd missed out on it today.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Alpaca Injection

I'm struggling to find some enthusiasm for everything right now, especially my knitting. Perhaps it's the dark evenings. Perhaps it's the hectic days at work. Perhaps it's because I've had a project hanging around on the backburner for months now. I looked at this sight on my dining table today and sighed. Birthday. Christmas decorations. Then bills.

Maybe I need a change of scenery.

We have our yearly holiday to L.A. booked for January, but I need a little something to pep me up until then. Given that I live in Canada, I can't necessarily count on the sunshine to bring me around right now, so I need to find something to inject a bit of life into me. A glass of wine? A bit o' chocolate? Another nap?

How about a bit of alpaca and silk?

OH YEAH, that's the stuff.

This bag has been sitting in my stash since last summer, and it deserves a bit of love. I'm going to spin it with one of the Golding spindles my hubby got me for my birthday this year. I have 100g of it to play with, so if I spin it fine enough, I might get a decent 2-ply skein out of it.

And no, I have no idea what I'll knit with it. The sad thing is that I haven't knit a single thing out of my handspun yet. You'd think with all these dark, cold evenings, I would've knit up every single skein in my house. Nope, sadly not. I just don't seem to have the energy.

Ah well. Maybe this will give me a bit of spring in my step and a bit of tingle in my fingers. At the very least, it will create just the right about of yarn envy in my friends.

Hehe, yeah... that just put a big smile on my face.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: The Old Stuff is the Good Stuff

Yesterday morning, I opened my Twitter feed and found this post from @ilovetypography:
To anyone who suggests that digital is more permanent: try opening some files on an old floppy disc; then open a 500-year-old book.
People who know me well know that I am a lover of all things traditional and old-fashioned. "Vintage" is the trendy word for it right now. Old stuff. Stuff from before.

Yeah, I know... there are plenty of really good new things out there: smartphones (which I don't have), computers (of which we have plenty in our home), running water (a necessity for me), central heating (this is Canada, for heaven's sake)...

But I love learning about the past... Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee is one of my favourite movies. And I don't just love Edwardian times. I love visiting historical parks. I enjoy rummaging through antique and second-hand shops. I once volunteered to do some research in the microfiche of old newspapers and was delighted to spend hours reading each and every word.

And yet, I'm not a historian. I don't know the dates of wars or all of the most meaningful events of the Western world. I can barely remember what I did last week.

It is not surprising, then, that I have recently become interested in the world of vintage goods. I think it started when I started looking for spindles, and discovered that there are some that have been recovered from old Industrial Age buildings and so forth. Since then, I've spent countless hours scouring Etsy looking at lots of delightful stuff from ye olde tymes. That's how I found this wonderful fedora hat from The Dapper Apple. I'd been looking for one for a while, and this one even fits my gigantic melon of a head.

I've also become increasingly obsessed with teacups and cafe au lait bowls. I could easily spend a small fortune shipping them from across the pond (but that fortune does not exist, sadly). A recent trip to the local charity shop brought me this little sweetie: a Noritake cup from Japan. My apologies for the blurry photo, but the kettle was boiling and I wanted to have a cuppa with it.

I'm not only interested in the genuine articles, but in vintage-themed items as well. Here is a poster from the world-famous Aaron Wood (i.e. justonescarf on Ravelry, where he is known by practically everyone). It's called The Social Media Propaganda Poster, created in the style of propaganda posters from the WWI era. His Etsy shop is full of fantastic offerings of a similar style.

During our trip in September to several US National Parks, I picked up these postcards, which are also of a similar style. They make me think of the old school screen printing techniques when you had a limited number of swipes on the screen to get the message across. I'm hoping I'll figure out a way to display these things sometime. Any ideas are welcome!

And... the pièce de résistance: this beautiful train case from the 1960s that I purchased from Merker Ferker that arrived in the mail on Thursday. I'd been thinking about purchasing one for a long time, but old ones in good condition are tough to find. As soon as I saw this beauty, I knew I had to have it. It is in splendid shape, and boy, is this thing solid! It's true when they say they just don't make things like this any more. When I compare it to the luggage I bought a couple of years ago, I know for sure that this case will outlive those pieces.

So, what's the attraction? Why not buy things brand new, for much cheaper and with much less trouble? Why not go for the slick modern style, all chrome, covered in apples or androids and shiny cases?

Well, I do buy those things sometimes. It's just that some things are worth the trouble.

I think it's because I like the idea of things having a story. That a hat has been around the world. Or a cup has been used to serve tea to a lover. Or that a necklace was worn to a ball, a poster has inspired people to action, or a postcard caused someone to dream of another world. I feel humbled to have a piece of that history in my hands, and that it will have my history as well. I feel like I've added my own little smudge to something that will endure. Even Aaron's Propaganda Posters give you a little thrill from a time when nations banded together behind a common cause.

That's a pretty neat feeling.

And you can't deny that it's a perfect way to recycle. Instead of purchasing something brand-new that has been cranked out from a factory, you can give life to something that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. And you can see for yourself the enduring value of good craftsmanship.

This is probably why I love to knit and crochet so much. These hobbies make me part of history, a person living a little piece of the past in every stitch. In my own mind, I feel like I've joined myself to my fellow human beings, grasping one hand onto the past and the other hand forward with my own yarn innovations. A human scaffold...

This is the part where Elton John sings, "The circle of liiiiiiiiife..."

It's worth asking, though: What do you do with these things? Are they just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere?

Well, the hat has been worn a few times, and I plan to wear it when the weather gets better. I've had three cups of tea in the cup since I brought it home last week. The poster has been the envy of all my fellow social media geeks. The postcards are either going to go to friends or will be framed and hung on a wall.

And the train case?

Well, what else would I use it for?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

And Then I Fell Asleep

Here were my plans for today:
  • Walk the dog
  • Pick up a few groceries
  • Make some chocolate truffles
  • Photograph my latest project
  • Write a blog post
It started off well. I had a nice sleep in this morning - not too late, not too early. I did some yoga, then made myself some oatmeal for breakfast. I schlepped around in sweat pants while I looked at my chocolate truffle recipe to make sure I had everything. Eventually, I got changed and we headed out to run some errands.

We got back at around noon, and I started making my truffles. The ganache needed some time to set, so I put a lid on the bowl and set it outside in the snow (large deep freeze, just outside my door). Then, I decided that I would head down into the basement, pop in a workout DVD and get some exercise. Yay me.

An hour later, I emerged, panting and sweating. I headed for the shower, then slurped down the soup the hubby made for lunch. After that, I dove headlong into truffle-making. Yay me.

That's when things started going wrong.

I burned some chocolate. I discovered that, despite buying extra chocolate, I was going to run out. I was starting to get chocolate every where. I was tired from my workout. I was starting to get grumpy and snap at the hubby. It was getting warmer outside, and my extra large deep freeze just outside my door was not as efficient as I'd hoped.

I put one set of the truffles in the freezer and put the bowl into the fridge and decided I'd have a rest. I sat on the couch, picked up the laptop and started surfing the net for truffle molds, as I do every year when I make these darn things.

Then, I fell asleep.

When I awoke, the daylight had disappeared, Rascal was curled up at my feet, and my slightly damp hair had dried with one side pushed upward like I'd walked through a windstorm with my right side against a wall. Hmm... I guess I'm not taking photos today, I said to myself.

I sat on the couch for a while, feeling a little grumpy because I'd wasted half the afternoon sleeping, but I decided that, darn it, I was going to try taking these photos anyway.

I busted out the hair straighteners and repaired my weird-looking head. I put on a dress, a pair of earrings and matching necklace. I even wore the appropriate foundation garments. I rigged lights, tripods and timers. I worked at it, people. The only thing I drew the line at was putting on any makeup, because I really, really didn't feel like taking it off again this evening.

So here it is: a bolero made from two skeins of Cascade Ultra Pima in silver with a handsewn ruffle made from satin ribbon. I pressed the ribbon into pleats using a warm iron with a damp tea towel in-between. The back lace panel blocked nicely, and the whole thing is hanging beautifully.

There is one teensy, weensy error on this thing, but I refuse to tell you where it is. Suffice to say that I am not going to bother fixing it, because it would entail much ripping out of stitches, and lots of blood, sweat and tears. Apart from that, I am very, very happy with it.

What you can't see is that I'm actually still wearing my sweat pants underneath this dress. And what of it? Maybe that's the look I'm going for. Maybe that was the purpose of this whole endeavour.

Or maybe I just wanted to get back to lounging on the couch. It is my weekend, after all...