Saturday, June 29, 2013

Redemption in Stripes

Failure does not sit well with me, especially when it comes to things I make with my hands. I like to think I'm a pretty easy going person, but when something I make doesn't work out, I can't stop thinking about it until I find some way to get it right. It's not my greatest quality, in my opinion, but some people would call it tenacity.

I would call it obsession. Nevertheless...

I've been stalled with my knitting since I ran out of yarn for my Bottoms Up top, so I've been keeping myself busy with other projects. I thought I'd get out some of my fabric and practice some of my sewing skills, which resulted in failed skirt project which I briefly mentioned here (I don't even wanna talk about it, it irritates me so much).

And then, I found this fabric on sale at the local fabric store. The left is a jersey knit fabric that was on sale for 70% off. I think I paid $10 for two metres (nearly two yards) of it. The right one was on sale for $2.00 per metre. I also got two metres of it, which was a great deal for $4.00. I was attracted to the bold green stripe in the pattern and thought immediately that it would make a natural "belt" for a dress.

I've been thinking a lot about stripes recently, and how they can be flattering if placed correctly. I even went so far as to research the best way to place stripes, and basically, you should place the boldest stripe in a place you want to feature: either the narrowest part of your torso, or across the chest... or both, if you have different colours and different stripe widths.

And so, I kept that in mind as I used this pattern to make this dress:

I mostly followed the instructions, except that the original pattern uses one piece of fabric, whereas I cut my fabric into two pieces so that I could have the stripes hit me in the same places on both the front and the back. Note that the green stripe is placed at the narrowest part of my torso, while one of the orange stripes is placed across my chest. This gives me a few more curves to an otherwise straight figure.

I also didn't pin it against my body, because that's nearly impossible for me to do by myself (and it's also a good way to make yourself into a voodoo doll), so I used another dress of a similar shape and just pinned it on top of my fabric and cut out a similar shape. I also sloped the shoulders a bit more, because when I tried it on the first time, I thought it looked a bit too much like Britney's stewardess uniform in her Toxic video. Yeah... no. Less Britney, more Mad Men, please.

Sewing failure: redeemed. Yes!

I'd like to say it was easy peasy, but it took a few tries and a bit of seam-ripping and cutting to get the shape right. It was a one-afternoon project, though, and I'm quite pleased with the result. I'm especially impressed with how I managed to match the stripes as well as I did. I'm sure a real seamstress would have done it better, but for moi, it works. The fabric is forgiving enough to hang nicely no matter which way I stand. It's also quite amazing how well a zigzag stitch works with this fabric.

I say that like I'm a sewing expert, but I'm really just in obsession-mode. Don't mind me.

Luckily, my sewing obsession has been temporarily broken by the arrival of the skein of yarn that will allow me to finish my top. I'm thinking it'll probably be done by tomorrow evening, if I sit down and work on it.

And now back to our regularly-scheduled obsession...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Well Done, Humanity

People can be terrible, but they can also be wonderful. I was reminded of this as I watched my friends back in Alberta go through a terribly worrying time with the flooding that is going on there right now. It's hard to be away from them and not be able to help, but I am comforted by the sights of people helping to sandbag, evacuate, feed and house their friends, neighbours and strangers. They are doing it because that is the right thing to do... no payment required, so favours to return.

Thank you, people, for being so decent in this often frightening world. The image below is from the 99.5 DrumFM Facebook page.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Plus, Minus, Minus, Plus

Break-even (or break even) is the point of balance between making either a profit or a loss. The term originates in finance, but the concept has been applied widely since. -- Wikipedia
I've been thinking about integers this week. Yes, the math kind. Those whole numbers that can be more than zero or less than zero. If it's more than zero, you put a plus in front of it. Less than zero, you write a minus. And I remember a lesson back in elementary school about integers: it involved a witch and her cauldron... something about putting special "plus" cubes in that would increase the integer's value, and and then putting "minus" cubes in that would decrease it. And of course, if the pluses and minuses were of the same amount, you'd get zero.

Ahem, well... this is a blogpost about successes and failures, pluses and minuses, and trying to break even at zero. The week thus far has gone something like this:

Plus: I made an excellent dinner last night of grilled herring and zucchini with a mustard and basil dressing with quinoa on the side. I used this recipe. I didn't fillet the fish (I can't be bothered), but I did remove the heads from the fish before I took this photo for the squeamish among you.

Minus: I ran out of yarn for my current knitting project. After phoning around the yarn stores in the area, I ended up having to order another skein online so I can finish it. This is what I get for improvising and adding longer sleeves. It is my constant dilemma, this running-out-of-yarn thing.  Maybe one day I'll get it right.

Plus: I made up for the shipping by getting a couple of skeins of undyed yarn and a couple of skeins of white yarn that I've been wanting for a while now. This will allow me to try out some colourwork that has been on my mind for the past few months.

Minus: I lost my bottle of conditioner that I bring with me to the pool. I think I left it in the showers. I do this at least once a year, but sometimes I get lucky and find a bottle someone else has left behind.

Plus: I've been working out at the gym with a new exercise program. I've been feeling strong and fit and proud of myself.

Minus: My leg muscles are very, very tight. I need to do some major stretching and foam rolling to get them back on track.

Plus: I found some kale seedlings in a local garden shop. I bought one green and one red variety. I go through a lot of vegetables, and kale is always something I'm on the lookout for in the supermarket. The lady at the shop was very glad to see us buy them, since they were getting a bit root-bound in the pots. She also said it should take off as soon as it gets some room in the ground to grow, and that hers was way bigger than she wanted it to be. Kale chips for everyone!

Minus: I forgot to buy eggs.

Plus: I also found some cilantro and mint seedlings. I've never had much luck growing cilantro (it always seems to go immediately to seed), but I figured I could give it a shot anyway. And the mint is not actually in the ground in the photo below. I prefer to keep it in a pot and bury the pot in the ground, because mint has a tendency to take over and can be very hard to control. Cilantro = baked falafel and curries. Mint = our favourite couscous side dish and our favourite crab and pasta dish.

Possible minus: I found some lettuce and spinach seeds in the same garden shop. The spinach goes into my smoothies and gets used as a dinner veg. The lettuce is a red heirloom variety, which always does my heart good, since I like the idea of growing vegetables that are not mass-produced. It's a bit late to be starting them, but I'm hoping to get a longer growing season for them here, since we get cooler temperatures overall that leafy greens seem to prefer. We'll see how it goes.

Minus: I tried to make a skirt out of some pretty fabric I bought last summer during a visit to Vancouver. I cut the fabric crooked, and ended up with a skewed, crooked mess. I got cocky: it was too slippery of a fabric for me to to try out with my novice sewing skills. Sewing project failure.

Plus: I picked up some cute knit jersey fabric at 70 percent off when I dropped into a fabric store this afternoon to buy some better scissors. This is fabric I can sew with! Maybe after I work on this for a while, the other fabric will become easier to handle.

I'm thinking this week is going to end on a plus because I'm heading out tomorrow afternoon to visit my friend, Dawg, in Vancouver for the weekend. I'm excited to see him, even though we chat almost every single day online. There's no substitute for the In-Person Adriene Experience, you know.

Ah, integers and witch cauldrons. That's our math lesson for the week!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Where I Am Inspired by Milk

I elected to buy a gallon of milk at the grocery store last week. They had them on special, and it was much cheaper than buying the two-litre (two-quarts) I usually buy, and I was pretty sure I'd get through it all before it expired. That was eight days ago. As of this morning, I still had another half-gallon to go, and it expires tomorrow. That's a lot of milk, even for someone like me who usually keeps stuff like that after the expiry date... until the morning I take a mouthful of it and think to myself, "Well, that's not like milk at all."

I hate wasting food, and so this excess milk inspired me to get out my recipes and start baking. I like to use baking to extend the shelf-life of my food, because I usually make things that can be frozen for later. It's like turning back the food clock for just a while longer... cue Cher music here...

I thought, I know, I'll make those lemon poppy seed muffins we like so much. Except, I didn't have any poppy seeds. I really wanted to use that recipe because it uses a good amount of milk. I thought about tweaking the recipe and just adding some frozen blueberries instead, but I used those to make these scones earlier today (which also used up a bit of milk):

I browsed through my recipe books and through my Pinterest boards (I am a closet Pinhead, you know), and couldn't really find anything that satisfied my using-up-my-milk requirement, so I took a look at the muffin recipe I was originally going to use, made a few changes, and made these apple oatmeal muffins instead. When I make muffins, I always remember my Home Ec teacher in high school, a lady from England who tsk'd a lot and who always said things like, "Back in the Dark Ages when I learned how to cook, we didn't have pastry blenders/electric mixers/egg separators/insert-your-cooking-item-here." She taught me about the Muffin Method (dry ingredients first, then add the wet stuff, which is kind of redundant, since every single muffin recipe I've ever read is written exactly like that. At least I know the Method, with a capital M). Anyway, I thought of her while I mixed up these muffins.

And they were darn good.

In the midst of all this experimentation, I stepped back from the kitchen and realized the chaos I had created. Thank goodness I have a dishwasher now, or else I'd be super-grumpy by now.

And after all that baking, and after eating a bowl of cereal for lunch and drinking a cup of milk with my afternoon snack, I still have about a litre (quart) and a half left to use up. Tomorrow, I will be experimenting with making yogurt, just after I have sterilized the necessary tools. Thank goodness, again, for the dishwasher.

Anyway, I have included the recipe I created today below this post, for those of you who wish to use up some milk. I have called it, "Turning Back Time Apple Muffins." Enjoy!

Turning Back Time Apple Muffins
Makes 12


For the muffins:
2 cups white flour (I use unbleached)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter or margarine, cut into cubes
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup quick oats
2 eggs
1 cup yogurt (I use fat-free yogurt, but you can use whatever you want)
1 cup milk (I use skim, but again, whatever you want)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple of your choice, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes

For the topping:
½ cup quick oats
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar (I had two packets stuffed in my purse, so I used them here. You could probably skip it if you used sweetened applesauce, or use some other brown sugar)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 degrees Celsius. Grease or butter a 12-cup muffin tin. 
  2. Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
  3. Using a pastry blender, two butter knives, or your fingers, blend in the butter or margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the sugar and oats and combine thoroughly.
  5. In a separate bowl, add the eggs, yogurt, milk and vanilla and whisk together until combined.
  6. Make a well in the centre of the bowl with the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture. Using a few strokes of a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold the ingredients together until all of the dry ingredients are mixed into wet. Do not overmix.
  7. Fill each cup in the muffin tray evenly until you use up all of the batter. They will be full to the top!
  8. Divide the apple pieces evenly into each cup and push them in with a butter knife or whatever utensil you have handy.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the topping. Sprinkle it evenly over each cup.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin to cool completely on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Status Updates on Ruined Fun and Cool Old Stuff

Reporting on life in our new home:

We spent some time ruining Rascal's fun this afternoon. We discovered that he can crawl under the deck to chase the neighbour's cat. I made this discovery one damp morning at 6am, which resulted in a lot of barking, both by Rascal and me. Luckily, he made his own way back and the cat was safe, but it was unsettling. Our landlord gave us some wooden lattice to cut and screw onto the deck, and we further secured it by pulling apart some of the slats and cutting them to fit across the spaces between each step.

Peace of mind: restored.

Fun: ruined.

In the meantime, I came across some plants on sale in the local garden shop. Last night, I planted some blueberry bushes and a wee strawberry plant in the yard. I may get a few berries this year, but they probably won't really produce for another year or two. The prospect is exciting... imagine the scones I could make!

Berry dreams: created.

I've also been hanging around a local vintage shop, giving the owner a hand with organizing stuff for the sidewalk sale she had this weekend. I really just wanted to help out, but she offered me discounts off items in the shop for my time, which I wasn't planning on using. I figured hanging around there would give me my "old cool stuff" fix without emptying my coffers and filling up my house. This changed when the hubby declared he wouldn't mind having a wooden desk for the office, and I remembered one she had in storage at the shop. A few hours of sweat equity, and it came home with us today. You can see how the hubby had been working with his monitor on top of the laser printer and the mouse on the Rubbermaid bin.

Civilized office: tentative.

Of course, after helping to haul items around at the vintage shop this afternoon after the sidewalk sale, the owner let me have a few of the things she was going to get rid of that didn't go, like these tin plates. One is a pie plate, and I'm thinking the others could be used for tarts or pies as well, unless someone has some better ideas. Regardless, I'm grateful for these pretties.

Pie plans: secured.

I also spied this Foley food mill, which I snapped up in an instant. My friend, Lisa, has one, and I've been coveting one for myself for a while. It's useful for straining seeds out of jams and for mashing up potatoes, but I really didn't know all of its uses until I found this manual for 75 ways to use a Foley mill

Food squishing: possible.

As I walked away from the shop this afternoon, the owner handed me these, which I think are hilarious. I think they're supposed to be for grilling sausages on a campfire (or you could use a stick, but hey, whatever). I feel like I could spend the whole summer looking for things to grill in there... maybe bananas... toasting really skinny hot dog buns... I dunno. I could write a whole other blog about the skinny-grill-thingy-possibilities.

Summer grill hilarity: eminent.

And of course, I'm back to knitting. I finished one side of the Botttoms Up Top by Alice Bell last night. It's knit in the round from the bottom up (get it?) and then you separate the stitches to knit the front, then the back. The instructions for the front and back are the same, but after finishing this side, I think I'm going to call this one the back, and make a few adjustments for the front. It's taken me weeks and weeks to get to this point, but I feel like I could get the other side finished next week, now that I'm back into the swing of things.

Knitting mojo: returned. Thank goodness.

Report submitted for your approval. Later, y'all.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

BFF, Triple-Flavoured

Last fall, Knitty's Deep Fall Issue featured a pattern by Ysolda Teague and Stephanie Dosen called The BFF Cowl. It is a cowl inspired by "best friend necklaces," where you kept one part and you swapped the other part with your friend so that you could show the world how you two were best friends forever. The pattern was so sweet that it inspired dkzack, Tara and me to create our own three-person version.

It took some thinking to figure this out. How much yarn should we use? Would we create three rings to link together, or "one ring to rule us all?" And that decision was affected by the weight of yarn we chose: too heavy, and we'd be suffocated by our the love of our bffs... too light, and we'd be cursing them as we knitted through loads of tiny stitches...

In the end, we all chose one skein of Berroco Ultra Alpaca and decided we'd split each skein into three, chose our own stitch pattern, knit three segments, and then tradsies to make our cowls. And then, the inevitable happened: the skein sat in my stash for a few months, ideas on the backburner, with all the time in the world to get it done...

Except, I decided I would move away. And that meant I'd be away from my knitting bffs, and that meant I should work on the cowl right away. And that meant the others needed to get working on theirs as well. And gosh darn it, we got our pieces done right on time.

On the last day before I moved, I told dkzack that sewing this project together was the first thing I'd do when I arrived at our new home... after I walked through the door... and ate food... and washed myself... and maybe unpacked a little... THEN I would get on it.

A week passed in our new home before I pulled out the pieces, but I finally sat down on Sunday and sewed the pieces together. And what a beautiful result:

You'll notice that it's different from the original pattern. I sewed them as one continuous loop, because it would not work to sew the pieces into individual rings (unless I wanted to make a hugely thick BFF Headband). The blue is Tara's piece:

The purple is dkzack's piece:

And the green is mine:

I'm super-impressed with how lovely the colours are together. I have to credit the others for that, as I had no idea what colours would work. And each has a slightly heathered look to them that gives them that much more depth in person.

So now, I can bring my yarn bffs with me wherever I want. I can have Tara on my right:

Or turn it around a bit and put dkzack front and centre:

Or kinda smoosh us all together, which is the best situation, in my opinion.

I miss my girls, but I'm so grateful that they've been so supportive throughout the difficult decisions I've had to make over the last year. And it's so nice to have them with me in a way, even in spirit. 

Thanks for the Triple-Flavoured BFF Cowl, girls. Here's to bffs everywhere!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Through Perspiration

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. -- Gilbert K. Chesterton
I awoke yesterday morning, determined to drag myself out of the indulgences I had been enjoying over the past few days of house-organizing and cleaning. You can only eat so much junk food for so long. I opened my eyes and saw the light streaming into the bedroom through the blinds and said to myself, "I'm going for a run."

Running gives me lots of thinking time. I don't take any music or my phone: just me, my running clothes, my trusty shoes, and a watch to keep track of time. I prefer to let the landscape entertain me while I keep a commentary flowing through my brain.

I warmed up a little by walking briskly to my planned starting point, then I set off on a trot toward a trail I'd frequented during the previous week. It is a loop trail, but I hadn't yet traveled the entire loop, and I was keen to see what it was like. A creek cuts through the middle of it with the trail running on either side, and the lush greenery creates dark, damp sections that suddenly break into sun-dappled clearings of ferns and flowers. The photos in this post were taken the week before during a stroll, not during this run, in case you were wondering.

As I approached the loop, I noted other runners heading the same way. They ran onto the trailhead and turned right, following the route I'd taken the week before. Since I was in an exploratory mood, I thought to myself, "I think I'll turn left and see what happens."

I immediately began to descend down a path studded here and there by a stones and tree roots. I slowed down to take the stairs that had been built into the ground. They took me deeper and deeper into the valley carved by the creek. I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy coming back uphill at the end of this, I thought, but then I remembered that the other side of the loop had a gentle downhill slope, which was an encouraging prospect. That meant that I would be going uphill near the middle of the loop, and the end part would be relatively easy.

On and on I ran, eventually running right next to the creek, enjoying the changes in light and in scenery. I glanced at my watch and realized I was approaching the halfway point of my planned 40-minute run. I looked around and figured that, since I'd been running uphill for a while, I was probably reaching the halfway point of the trail as well.

After a few minutes, I ran past a sign that said, "1 km" and I wondered why I hadn't seen any other distance markers along the way. I reasoned that I was probably too distracted keeping my footing on the trail, which was becoming muddy in places, and I didn't want to slip and sprain an ankle so far away from home. I then emerged from the trail and found a highway, which I'd recognized as one I'd driven on the day before to get to the supermarket which I'd deemed "too far to walk to." Hmm...

I turned and kept following the trail, and after a few more minutes I found another sign that read, "1 km." Well, that's confusing, I thought to myself. Maybe they just marked every kilometre. And after a few more minutes, I came across a sign that read, "2 km." And soon after that, I emerged onto a road right next to the supermarket that I'd been to the day before... the one that was "too far to walk to." I wondered how the heck I'd ended up there, but I figured that I'd finally hit the halfway point and would be heading homeward soon. I was already at 35 minutes of running, but I thought I could take a break when I returned to the trailhead and stretch at the bench there for a while. That wouldn't be too far away now...

Except after a few more minutes, I realized I was still running uphill, and that that meant my endpoint was nowhere near. This was not a good sign. The homeward bound trail should have been downhill. I swallowed the fear the started to well in my throat. I had been running for nearly an hour by this point, and I finally slowed to a walk to drag myself up a few more hills. I wondered if the hubby was worried about me. I wasn't afraid of being lost, but that I'd run out of energy. After five minutes of walking, I passed a sign that read "3 km." Ah, I said to myself, They must have been counting downwards on the way in, and they're counting back upwards on the way out. I gritted my teeth, determined to get home, and I set off at a trot again, up and down more hills, around more trees...

It wasn't for another 10 minutes that I came across the weir that told me I was on the right path, and that the trailhead was not far away. A sign that read, "4 km" confirmed this for me.

And when I emerged from the trail after passing the "5 km" sign, I decided to keep on running until I reached the community centre. I knew my body could handle it; it was my mind I needed to keep egging on. After that, I knew it would be a 20-minute walk home. And as I walked home, I felt grateful that I'd had the good sense to wear long sleeves and a hat to keep me from getting a chill from all the sweat that was pouring out of me. I met the hubby on the way home from taking Rascal for a walk, and I told him of my adventure. In all, I'd been running for just over an hour and had covered just over 11 kilometres, which is a distance I hadn't run since last fall. Unplanned, but kind of thrilling to know. I'd already decided that, rather than dredging it up again later as a huge, scary inconvenience, I would pocket the whole experience as a fortunate adventure, one in which I'd learned a lot of lessons...

Like why all the other runners turned RIGHT at the trailhead. They probably ran for a few kilometres, then turned around and went back. Pssh. Wussies.

Oddly (or maybe not so odd for me), one of the thoughts that came into my head during this ordeal was that I had a skein of yarn that had colours that matched the ones I'd been seeing throughout the run. It's a skein of Fleece Artist that, ironically, is referred to by my yarn friends as the "frickin' kilometre of yarn." After all those signs telling me how many kilometres I'd covered, I couldn't help but think that I'd run the equivalent of eleven of these skeins of yarn in distance. That's almost seven miles, for those who haven't done the conversion yet. Equally ironic is the fact that the colourway is called "Rainforest," which is technically what I ran through yesterday.

It's been languishing in my stash for a couple of years now, and I think that it's finally time for it to become something. Talk about inspiration, huh?

You could call it inspiration through perspiration... nyuk nyuk...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Wee Tour

They say that life has a tendency toward chaos. That must mean that putting our house in order is the most unnatural thing in the whole world. And that must explain why I am so tired: working against nature will do that to you.

I've learned a few things over the past few days:
  1. The first piece of tape you rip off the box is always the one trapped underneath all the other pieces of tape.
  2. I am way more uptight about the placement of furniture than I am willing to admit.
  3. You can cut a box spring to make it bend around corners, which is especially useful for bringing them upstairs. We learned how by watching this video.
  4. There's nothing like a spoonful of peanut butter to keep you going through a few more boxes.
Most of our stuff is unpacked and in order now, but the hardest part for me was trying to figure out where to put things in this new place. We were in a very different position with our last house, in that we moved in with very little furniture, and we were able to find bits and pieces that worked in that particular space. Bringing our things here was like trying to fit several large pieces into the completely wrong puzzle. I kept finding myself saying things like:

"I bet I could fit that in there if I tried."
"I wonder if I could find a basket in the dollar store for that."
"I'm having a look at kijiji for a new table."
"We've got a saw around here somewhere."
"I guess we don't need those anymore. How are we going to get rid of them?"

Yesterday was a great day, because all of a sudden, all of the pieces seemed to fit. I was super excited to find this basket and this old cheese box in a local vintage shop, which were perfect for blankets, my fabric cutting board,  and my shawls and scarves. They also help to hide the myriad of cables that go behind the tv stand.

I was even more excited to find the little trunk to the left in this photo.

The cushions make it look like an inviting seat, but it's not really for sitting. I'm using it to store my fabric. That little bit of cloth on the right is to keep it slightly ajar to let the fabric breathe.

We already owned the shelves next to the trunk. It is now where my little collection of vintage tea stuff lives:

And it's also where I am keeping all my cookbooks, as well as my fleece and roving for spinning:

And the phone table in the living room now has a yarn bowl, which was a wedding gift that sat in a dusty corner in the old house:

Our bedroom is large enough to house these bookshelves. This is what I wake up to each morning:

These are my two favourite shelves:

And the best bit? I get my OWN CLOSET.

Yeah, all my clothes fit in there, along with my vintage luggage collection, and what else? The rest of my yarn, naturally!

Cottons and laceweight on the top shelf:

Sock/fingering weight yarn on the second:

Alpaca and alpaca blends on the third:

Worsted/sweater yarns on the bottom:

Now that it's all in order, I feel like I can finally sit down and knit. Ahhh... it's like getting a nice, cool breath of fresh air into my weary, sore body.

But first, I'm taking a leaf out of Rascal's book and taking a well-deserved nap. Later, all!