Monday, December 30, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Trusty Me

I have a friend who tells me on a regular basis that I am "demanding." I maintain that I am not demanding, I just have a habit of making sure that I use whatever resources I can to get things done. And I don't like to rely on people, although that's probably not what my friend would say (he's been on the receiving end of my "demands" more than once). I usually see what I want, and then I move heaven and Earth to get it. Maybe this is because I have problems with trusting that other people will see things my way and that they won't come through for me. This means that I have trouble accepting gifts: I much prefer to choose my possessions for myself.

This also means that I'm a tough person to get for Secret Santa. Just leave me outta that, for everyone's sake.

But... I was surprised this Christmas.

We flew home to my family this year for the holidays, and since we were flying, I did not have the luxury of filling up a whole vehicle with all the shopping I usually do when I'm home. And, in an effort not to splurge on unnecessary purchases, I deliberately packed a smaller suitcase than I normally would have. There's nothing like the thought of having to physically carry the result of budget infidelity to curb your spending. I also didn't bring that many clothes with me, since I knew I'd be able to wash my clothes at my parents house. Small case, but still lots of space, and an explicit self-made rule not to shop.

The evening we arrived, my mom handed me a small bag of clothes, gifts from her and from my aunt in the Philippines. New clothes for the girl with the new body. And, to my surprise, I tried them on, and I liked them. Huh. How about that.

And on Christmas Day, I got gifts of more clothes that I normally would quietly pack away and never use them again, but again, I liked them. Every single one. And my mom gave me a handbag, one I would have never chosen (I'm super fussy about my handbags), but again, it's perfect. It is big enough to carry my knitting AND a magazine, yet slim and elegant. Huh. How about that.

Maybe my attitude changed, or maybe I was paying better attention.

Or maybe, I'm just more grateful. And maybe I'm learning to trust that people do get me, and that they really do know me better than I think.

Today, I am inspired by those people who already know how to trust others, and who probably have been able to enjoy the well-meaning intentions of others better than I have been able to in the past. Perhaps that is my resolution for the new year: to trust, and to reap the rewards of that trust.

Did I mention it carries magazines? AND knitting?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Whatever Your Normal Is

Another holiday season, and another Christmas at home with my family in Winnipeg. There are some things that never change: Christmas Day with loads of visitors and an enormous amount of my favourite foods:

And an intense, Winnipeg winter:

And of course, my yearly visit with my Winnipeg knit-buddy: Linette. You must seek out your kindred whenever you can.

We met up at the same coffee shop, both of us 30 minutes early, both of us eager just to get on with our knit-visit. We ordered our coffees, and sat in the same area we sit in every year. Before we started to catch up, Linette pulled out a box...

Linette had read my post from a few weeks ago about never having had a macaroon before, and promptly sent me a message that that was a situation she was going to have to remedy. And behold, the delicious bounty that sat before us:

Thiis is the third photo I took of them because I was so excited that my shaky hands made the first two shots blurry.

Linette bought them earlier that morning and carried these delicate tasties around with her all day around town, on buses, through downtown stores, protecting them like Fabergé eggs in a Walmart on Black Friday. That's dedication, if you ask me. I was ever so grateful, and super excited.

We dove in and each had one, biting into them in silence, and savouring each chew. We stretched them out, stopping conversation to pick one out of the box to eat in silence. And each time, we entered some kind of warp zone where we forgot where we were and what we were talking about until we shook ourselves out of the sugary heaven we found ourselves in and landed back on planet Earth. I'm not exaggerating. We were stupid lost, but stupid happy.

We chatted about our families, vacations over the past year, and of course, our yarn adventures. She told me about her recent knit retreat (of which I'm thinking I need to do sometime), and we shared our pitfalls and successes with our projects. We talked about her alpaca allergy (which makes me so sad), and her subsequent foray into silks (which makes me so happy). And then, I said, "So... how about we go to a yarn store?"

Twist our rubber arms, why don't you?

We hopped onto a bus to Wolseley Wool, and I did my customary thrice-over on the place. I lingered on this baby jacket knitted from the Little Rowan collection, which I'm thinking would be really lovely in an adult size:

The folks at Wolseley Wool are smart cookies: When we walked through the door, we came face-to-face with a table with a Christmas tree decorated in yarn accessories, and surrounded by skeins upon skeins of luxury yarns, including the infamous Madelinetosh. And it wasn't long before one of those skeins appeared in my hand and stayed there for the duration of my visit. And then it wasn't long before I brought it to the till and paid for it to come home with me:

And yeah, we'd JUST finished talking about how we were both trying to stay away from variegated yarns, even though they are sooo pretty. Gah. It'll all work out, I'm sure.

It's funny how relationships develop. Linette and I had dinner ONCE a few years ago when she and her family came to visit along with a mutual friend, and somehow, this friendship was born. But I guess that's  how also traditions are born: we find something we like to return to, and we just keep doing it until there is no question that we will do it.

And now that I've had macaroons, it would be ok with me if we added that to the tradition. It'll be like having a turkey dinner, or decorating a tree. We could just make it... you know... the normal thing.

Anything can become "normal," after all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Matching the Floor Tiles

As part of the final phase of being assessed as a kidney donor for my mom, I had two days of hospital test in Vancouver to attend. A lot of these tests involve a lot of waiting: waiting for reactions, waiting to have blood drawn at specific times, waiting with IVs in your arm, waiting for scans (usually with a full bladder) and waiting to talk to doctors, specialists, surgeons...

Knowing that this was coming up, I decided to make sure I had a project to work on in the waiting rooms that wasn't too difficult and that I could work on without a pattern. I decided that it would be nice to have another pair of fingerless mitts, and that it would be nice to work them in crochet for a change.

I started working on them a couple of weekends ago, after doing a quick canvass of my G+ followers for ideas and trawling Ravelry for an afternoon for patterns. I eventually settled on this pattern that I'd seen in my G+ feed a while back. It's in Korean, but there are a couple of good symbolized patterns there, which is my preferred type of crochet patterns.

I worked the cuff in knitted 1x1 rib, then switched to a crochet hook. I had a couple of false starts while trying to figure out which colour I wanted as the main colour and which would be the contrast colour, and I also went up a hook size to get puffier-looking stitches, but I finally came up with something I liked.

Yesterday, as I sat in the waiting room with an IV in my arm, I thought about how good it felt to crochet after so long... such a nice break from the needles. I learned to crochet as a little girl, well before I learned to knit, and the feeling of the hook in my hand was comforting and familiar as I sat there alone in the hospital. I worked on this mitt for a while, then stopped to give my arm a break and to take a few photos. It's only now that I realize how much they matched the linoleum floor in the waiting room:

I plan to work the thumb and the top cuff in white to match the knitted 1x1 rib of the bottom cuff. It's surprisingly warm, despite the fact that it's somewhat piece-y, and I look forward to wearing them while holding a nice warm cup of tea or coffee...

It was my mom that taught me to crochet, and from whom I inherited my love and appreciation of handmade things, homemade food, and vintage items. Interesting, then, that I unconsciously chose to go back to my first craft as I go through this process. My mom passed a lot of things down to me, and those things are huge part of who I am and how I view the world. She's given me a lot.

I'm hoping that, if all goes well, this can be a way for me to give something back to her. Whatever happens, I think that this whole process is teaching me to accept that what will be, will be. No amount of worrying can make the outcome different. I can only hope for the best, and try to use what I have.

And what I have is what my mom gave me: a healthy body and a love of yarn. Thanks, Mom.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: When the Rawhide is Sweeter

Each evening at our house, there is a little ritual that must be performed by the furriest of us. It is so regularly done that I hardly think of it as being strange. It is just... done.

Rascal gets his dinnertime meal and gobbles it down as per usual as we eat our dinner. Then, he waits hopefully for something extra, which, if we think he really is hungry (or he looks pathetic enough), we give him after we finish eating. Then, he gets his rawhide bone to chew on for a little while after dinner.

But he doesn't chew it... at least, not right away. First, he must begin "the hunting."

He usually brings it over to his bed, drops it in, walks away a few steps, then stares at it intently for a minute or so. Suddenly, he pounces on it, but he doesn't start chewing on it. No, he is not finished yet.

Following that, for the next five, ten, or sometimes fifteen minutes, Rascal will put on the most impressive version of hunting a shih tzu could muster, complete with growls, sneak attacks and barking. He will grab his bed and shake it fiercely (usually shaking the bone loose and losing it under the sofa for a while). He will paw and lunge and drag his bed for several circuits around the coffee table. I'm often on the floor on my yoga mat while this is happening. I've been circled many a time by this spectacle, and I'm often bumped out of pose by his shenanigans.

And then, as suddenly as it started, it will end. He will either settle down and start chewing, or plop himself down and fall asleep.

I watched him this evening, wondering why he just didn't sit down and chew his bone like other dogs do. Then, I thought to myself, "Maybe it just doesn't taste as good if he doesn't work for it.

And there, friends, is the lesson:

Rewards are sweeter if you work for them. The more you sweat, the more you get. Nobody ever gets to the top of the mountain by landing on it. Yada yada yada...

But it's a good reminder, especially when I get to the end of a long, tiring day, and I feel like I just can't do another day like that again... forget about the fitness goals, the knitting projects, the big work plans... I give up...

No, it'll be worth it. The rawhide ain't as chewy if you don't toss it around a bit first. That's what he would say, I think...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It Fought Back

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect -- Oscar Wilde
Being a chronic over-thinker means that:
  • I spend a lot of times planning things out
  • When things don't pan out, it upsets me
  • Surprises are often unpleasant for me
Therefore, it is a rare thing for me to throw caution to the wind and just pick up yarn and start knitting with it. I mean, I've done it before, but it usually entails a lot of wrestling around with the project, a lot of restarts, and a lot of mid-project research before I get something I like. That all kind of cancels out the spontaneity of the whole pick-up-and-knit thing.

But that's what I did with my most recent project. I took two skeins of yarn off my shelf that I thought would kinda go together, found a stitch I thought would work with them, and started knitting myself a cowl.

I wanted a big, comfy cowl: one that would wrap around my neck, and that I could sink my face into when the wind stung my face during chilly walks. I wanted to wear it at work in my office, which is not always the warmest, and where I often find myself wrapping myself with my knitted objects. It was a nice idea...

Except, knitting this thing was awful.

It became a chore, something to avoid. I distracted myself by looking through knitting and crochet magazines. I flirted with other projects, thinking I might stray and start another one. And I found other distractions:

I baked stuff, like these cinnamon buns:

I played with bread recipes:

But I had to finish what I started. And finish it I did.

I was fully prepared to hate this thing. I hated it as I knitted each slow, irritatingly awkward stitch. I hated the uneven look of the ends of each round (which I was probably doing wrong, but was too lazy to figure it out), and I hated the look of all the ends I had to sew in. The crinkly, foldy-upy edges annoyed me, and they annoyed me even more as each method I tried for flattening them down failed one after another. As I weaved each of the scraggly ends into the scarf, I said to myself, "I'm not sure I'm ever going to wear this thing."

So, I did what any person in my place would do: I tried to destroy it.

I brought it over to the sink and soaked it in mildly soapy, tepid water as per usual to block it. I let it soak until it was really, really wet. Then, I went over to my kettle and filled it full and set it to boil. As it bubbled away, I drained the sink, then shocked it with the hot water. I stirred it around with a wooden spoon, then I drained that water and shocked it again with cold water...

This is one of many processes for felting wool, and I thought that it might make this cowl better. There were a couple of problems with this idea, however:
  1. I'd never done it before, and therefore had no idea how long it would take.
  2. I have zero patience for this sort of thing.
After a half-dozen shocks, I got bored, let it cool, then wrung it out. I folded it and let it hang in the bathroom to drip dry, then unfolded it took it out and let it dry completely.

I forgot about it for two days.

Then, I looked at it, and realized that all that shocking, while unsuccessful for felting, actually caused the yarn to bloom in such a way that was so pleasing that I found myself... liking it. The pinky hand-dyed skein had mellowed into kind of a salmon tone, with spoldges of darker colours throughout to give it depth.

When I took these photos today, I luxuriated in the cushy warmth of it.

Even the curly edges ceased to irritate me. The cowl destined for destruction seemed to fight back for itself, and I think it has won. I already know I'll be wearing it to work on Monday.

Well then, knitted thing, you win. I guess I'll have to love you, you annoying, pretty object. I'll admit defeat this time.

Good sportsmanship, that's what I'm all about, eh?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Chasing Fireflies

Sometimes, I'll be sitting somewhere... on the couch, at the dinner table, in the car... and a question will flare up so strongly in my mind that I devote several hours to trying to answer it.

The question usually starts with, "Remember that time when you saw/heard/read/tasted that picture/song/story/dish? I wonder where I could find that again?

Last night, I was sitting on my yoga mat in cow pose, and my brain said, "Remember that song you heard on a Vinyl Cafe podcast with those two singers you liked so much? Who where they again? What was that song again?"

And thus started an hour of searching online for this two-minute song that I heard once... maybe twice before. At first, all I remembered was the girl was named Melissa.

Then I remembered the last line in the song: Where did the love go?

I'll tell you right now, if you Google "Where did the love go?" you get a result of the most melancholy stuff in the world. Don't do it if you're feeling kinda blue.

Anyway, I found it: "Night Owl" by Whitehorse, a husband-and-wife duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. The YouTube video was the best I could find of it, but I'm thinking I need to purchase more of their music. The lines near the end go like this:
Like fireflies
Fickle lights
Burning holes
Into the night
It reminds me of a summer evening. And really, on chilly winter evenings, what's more inspiring than that?

I hope you enjoy it. I'm off to knit.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I've Never Had a Macaroon

I like to think I'm an adventurous eater. I've been heard saying the words, "I'm Asian. I eat most things." And it's true. I've consumed many food items. I am a professional eater of the things most people will not eat.

But I've never had a macaroon.

I've been intrigued by macaroons since I read the play, "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen back in high school. What were these things Nora had such a craving for?

It was only a few years ago (possibly through the wonders of the internet, I can't remember) that I finally saw what a macaroon looked like. The opportunity to try one has never really presented itself (I've always found myself too full or restricting my diet at the time or something like that). They've been too much on the periphery of my imagination when it came to looking for something new to bake, and since I'd never had one, how would I know I'd done a good job?

And so, the only macaroons I've ever had were these ones... sweet little stitch markers that I purchased from Etsy from this shop a few weeks ago:

And while I was at it, I purchased these Oreo stitch markers. I've eaten enough Oreos to know that I'm better off having these in my house than having a bag of real ones. The real ones rarely last a day...

And while I was doing that, I thought I'd better purchase these penguin stitch markers... because, as much as I've never had a macaroon, I have also never had a penguin with a scarf on. Truly. I have not.

So, perhaps while my life without macaroons continues on, at least my supply of stitch markers is not wanting.

Ironically, just after these stitch markers arrived, I embarked on a project that uses needles that are far too large for these stitch markers, a herringbone cowl that I wrote about here. So, while I am finally in possession of these little sweeties, I have yet to enjoy them.The universe seems to be conspiring to keep me away from macaroons.

Oh universe, how you mock me.

The only thing for it is for me to buckle down and finish this project so I can finally get to know macaroons... to finally meet my destiny and be united with these precious little desserts.

Overly dramatic? Me? Never. I better shut up now and get knitting.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: A Violin in the Universe

My American friends have just celebrated their Thanksgiving, and that means we're diving headlong into the cacophonous madness that is the Christmas season. It is not my favourite time of year, because if I believed everything I saw on tv or heard on the radio or saw on the internet or read in the flyers, we're all supposed to be running around like crazy people buying up all the junk and getting completely stressed out over it. It's not what I think it should be about, but that's a rant for another day...

Instead, I am inspired by things coming together and falling perfectly into place, and people finding themselves doing the things they were born to do. Last week, I read this wonderful article about a violinist and her journey to the opportunity to play a rare and one-of-a-kind violin. She got the opportunity through the Stradivari Society, a special organization that is "dedicated to the preservation of and pursuit of excellence in classical music by identifying the world's most promising young artists and uniting them with the superb Italian instruments they need to help launch and sustain their professional careers"

What I love about this story is that she didn't just get lucky: she didn't have just one great audition and she didn't happen to know the right people. She was born for this: she was born on the night her father was one of the first to play Western classical music after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Maybe I'm a romantic, but I love that her destiny is being fulfilled.

And I'm not stupid: I know that she didn't get this opportunity through raw talent. She goes through hours and hours of dedicated training, complete with sore muscles, strained eyes and weary fingers. Perhaps that is what makes it so inspiring for me: every single moment had its purpose.

It gives me hope... me, this person who struggles to find a path most days, who is unsure of her reason for being, and who watches with envy those who have clear passions and clear goals. I wander through each day, trying my best when I am feeling good and struggling forward when I am not. It gives me hope to know that, if the pieces fall into place for others, perhaps it will for me as well.

This is one of my favourite violin pieces, Nocturne by Le Van Khoa, something I heard one day and never forgot. I heard it in my head as I read this article, and even if you don't really enjoy classical music, I share it in the hopes that you can at least hear the joy in the violinist's fingers. It is the sound of someone who is right where they need to be. Perhaps I am there, too. I hope that I can realize that for myself someday as well.