Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cook vs. Wool

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. -- George Eliot
I like autumn. I like the word autumn... I like it better than "fall." Autumn is a tall, slender woman with soft, dark brown hair and green eyes who walks through the forest and runs her fingers through the leaves to change their colours and rustle them loose. She chills the air at night so you can sleep with the windows closed, and snuggle under the covers, and drink dark cups of tea in the mornings.

"Fall" is what happens when you trip.

I felt autumn today. I felt it when I woke up this morning... or rather, when I struggled to wake up this morning. I was feeling pretty groggy, and I had a slight sore throat, which was enough to ditch my Sunday run. I felt it when I went out for a walk instead... when I felt the sun on my face, lower in the sky than in the summertime, and when I felt the chill in the breeze as I walked on a newly discovered path, edged with trees on either side. I swung my arms back and forth at the same time and clapped my hands together as I walked along to keep my hands warm, and also because I live in an area where cougars and bears live alongside. It's best to make sure they know you're there.

It's best not to celebrate autumn by becoming someone's dinner.

And, since it's cooler outside, autumn also stirs me into action in the kitchen.

I made vegetable tarts on puff pastry with zucchini from the garden and with tomatoes from my coworker, with a layer of wholegrain mustard and caramelized onions, sprinkled with basil and thyme:

I made fresh pita, which smelled so good...

... that I'd already ripped pieces off to stuff into my mouth before I stopped to take this photo of my lunch: a yam, bell pepper, onion, and egg hash with a scoop of salsa on the side:

And after that, I made regular banana oatmeal snacks, two breakfast smoothies, and a lentil and spinach curry.

Autumn makes me busy, I guess.

And it also makes me fall in love with my yarn stash all over again, especially the warm wooly wools and the soft, fluffy alpaca blends. I'm still working on this skein of hand dyed alpaca yarn from Twist Yarns in Manhattan Beach, California. Every time I stop to look at it, I delight in the subtle colours of green, brown and red.

It's so beautiful that, even though I'm eager to get it finished, I'm almost relieved to see that I am only about halfway through the skein, and that I get to enjoy the feeling of it sliding through my fingers a little longer. You know it's good when you don't want it to end. 620 yards of delight. I've run many, many more yards than that, and I'm not sure I've enjoyed a distance quite so much as this one.

It's turning out to be quite wide, and I'm somewhat hopeful that I can turn it into a shrug somehow, just because I think I might wear it more often than if I left it as a rectangular stole. Even so, I am looking forward to feeling the softness along my arms, however it ends up:

Autumn is also a good time for me to catch up on movies and downloaded shows and podcasts, which are really just another excuse for me to sit down and knit. And what of it? After a long, hot, dry summer, I feel quite entitled to sink myself into a layer of soft, warm loveliness. And later this evening, I will...

Just as soon as I finish cooking the pork chops. And prepping the fish for tomorrow. And the potatoes.

Hmm, food vs. yarn. Not sure I wanna be in the middle of that battle...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mutant Cukes, and a New Top

Jet lag last night was like bad shrooms. When my dad asked what that meant I told him its like being in a musical you don't want to be in. -- Lady Gaga
Man... jet lag really, really sucks. And it was really bad this time. I'm usually over it in a day or two: a couple of super early 3am mornings, and then a couple of nights of being awake for an hour in the middle of the night, and a couple of tired days before feeling normal again.

Waking up at before 5am every day for a week is like living in your own version of Dark City. There you are, lying in bed in the dark, trying not to look at the clock, rolling through every single thought that enters your brain. And, of course, because it's dark, and because you're jet lagged, they're thoughts that make you crazy.

"I should get the zipper of that boot fixed. Or maybe I should get a new pair. Or maybe I should get brown ones. Chocolate brown ones. Or maybe grey..."

"If I get up now, I could clean the bathroom. No, that's stupid. I could clean the fridge instead. Maybe see if there's any peanut butter..."

"I wonder where I left my knitting bag? I think it's in the car. Is it in the car? Did it fall out? I better get up and check. No, better not. I heard there was a bear-sighting near here. Black bears. Are you supposed to fight back with black bears or play dead? But maybe I could bring a piece of meat or something... you know, throw it the other way. I'm pretty fast. I'd have to wear running shoes... and maybe a bra..."

Miraculously, I made it to the weekend, and last night, I managed to stay awake until nearly 10pm. And, even more miraculously, I stayed asleep until 6am. It's like I'm a real person.

One of the things I worked on in my brain during those early mornings was what I was going to do with this top:

I actually finished it while in Belfast after all. I happened to stop at a store that sold crochet hooks, so I bought one and managed to put it together using slip stitches, and then added some single crochet stitches around the sleeves to finish them off.

It's pretty comfortable: very light, very airy.

And the uneven hem isn't all that noticeable, as long as I resist my habit of tugging on my shirt hems every three seconds:

I'm not so sure how noticeable the linen stitch bands are, but I'm glad I put them in. They give the garment a bit of structure, especially when the rest of the fabric floats about so much. Somehow, I managed to make this side slightly differently... when I matched up the corners, this side was a little droopier in the centre, which made a natural front neckline:

And the back neckline was perfectly straight, which sat nicely on my neck:

The weather has turned here, and we've had some cool, rainy days. This means that I might not wear this much until next spring, but I might wear it under a jacket or blazer or something. I'd hate to have to wait that long to wear it.

In the meantime, I'm glad for the cooler weather. It means I can do a bit of cooking inside the house. I'm going to make something with these zucchinis that took off in my garden while we were away. They're mutant things, aren't they? Like something out of a trippy dream:

They'll go well with these funny-looking cucumbers my friend gave me this week. Yes, they're cucumbers, seriously. Weird, but given my jet laggy week, maybe not so out of the ordinary:

I'm off to get a cookie. I'm sure there were two of them in the cupboard... I think one said "Eat Me." Just as soon as I get some tea for the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter. Tea, anyone?

Oi, I need a nap...

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Travelogue: Practical Experiences

It's starting to feel like I've been away for a long, long time. That's always a good sign: it means that I'm actually resting. I love looking at the days left before returning to the real world and realizing that I can sit in this one spot for a while longer.

We moved on to Stockholm on Wednesday. We had an early morning, followed by two flights and a couple of hours of wandering lost in the Stockholm public transport system before we arrived at our hotel. Planes might be fast, but I'm still hoping someone will invent a teleporter someday.

Still, the journey had some highlights, like seeing this gigantic bar of Toblerone in the duty free shop in Heathrow Airport:

I intended to knit while we traveled, but my brain would not allow it. Instead, I dozed. When I wasn't dozing, I read magazines: Runner's World, for when I return to real life and to the need to wear trousers that fit properly. Yes, I eat everything under the sun when I'm on vacation. No, I feel no guilt about it:

And my other magazine: Practical Sheep, Goats, and Alpacas. I saw it in a bookstore in Belfast, and just had to bring it home. It's full of information for those who tend herds of fibre-bearing animals. It many come in handy some day. After all, it doesn't say "Frivolous Sheep, Goats, and Alpacas," right?

Anyway, we arrived in Stockholm to Motel L, which is far more modern digs than we're accustomed to, but it's clean and comfortable, quiet and pleasant. It is all satisfyingly symmetrical, for a closet perfectionist like me:

We walked into Gamla Stan on Thursday, or the Old Town. It is as you would guess: old. We had no agenda, apart from exploring and enjoying the sunshine. I had bookmarked a couple of yarn shops on my phone, but wasn't particularly aiming for them. I was happy just to see what happened.

We came across lots of old, beautiful buildings. I just bought a copy of Knitting Architecture, by Tanis Gray, which I love because I'm often inspired by buildings when I'm knitting. The buildings here will be fodder for many projects to come, I think:

I loved the tight alleyways:

And I saw a shop filled with the most amazing handmade treats:

And we came across the most tightly packed shop of maritime collectables I'd ever seen. There was even a souvenir collection of letters from Swedish survivors of the Titanic. Given that the Titanic was built in Belfast, I thought that was a neat connection. I didn't buy a copy, but I might order it from them someday:

And, purely by chance, we chose a path that brought us to two yarn stores. First was Sticka, which was a beautiful little shop: light and airy with a selection of yarns from the area. I bought this skein of BC Garn yarn from Denmark, which is just south of Sweden. I loved the thick and thin spin of it, and I've already started daydreaming about stitches that will show them off.

The second shop was called Anntorps Vav. When I entered, there were three woman chatting in there. One was someone I assumed was the owner, who was working on a beautiful sweater with what looked like some multicoloured handspun yarn. The sweater looked like Elizabeth Zimmerman's Adult Surprise Jacket (has it really come to the point that I'm recognizing patterns just by the look of them?). The other two woman were older, and one spoke to me in Swedish. When she could see I couldn't understand, she mimicked knitting motions with her hands, and I exclaimed, "Yes! I knit!" She nodded in approval and smiled. It was a nice moment.

I walked away with a nameless yarn that was in a bin marked "Made in Sweden, 100% wool." The owner told me it was about 300m (about 320 yards), and it's a two-ply, coarse yarn in fingering weight. I think it will make a beautiful lace shawl, which should really hold its blocking. It was the only skein in this red colour. I tried to stay away from getting yet another red skein, but why resist?

The next day, we took a boat tour through the city, and I took tons of photos of even more beautiful buildings:

And then we left the central areas and entered the Ecopark:

And even managed to get a photo of a ubiquitous boat dog:

Today, we hung around in the area of the hotel. One of the most interesting things about Stockholm is that has the incredibly old juxtaposed next to the most incredibly modern, cutting edge stuff. The neighbourhood is an experiment in green architecture, with modern water recycling facilities, with roofs planted with grasses and fountains running with recycled water:

And shops filled with the latest fashions, and hip, modern toys for all ages. The best toy I saw was this one, naturally:

I also got to see a good friend of mine who I've known since before I finished university. We started out as "email penpals," and I'm amazed we've stayed in touch for this long. It was so, so nice to see him. It was lovely to just fall back into conversation, just as if we'd left off from one yesterday. It goes to show you how good friendships never wear out.

We fly back tomorrow. I'm looking forward to being home in our own surroundings, but I'm grateful to have had the chance for a change in scenery and to visit with so many of my friends. It'll be another long plane journey, but I'm feeling rested and content. I'll have plenty of things to daydream about during the trip: fun conversations, future projects... 

And of course, practical sheep. Always practical.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Cleverness Via Holiday

“What shall you do all your vacation?’, asked Amy.
"I shall lie abed and do nothing", replied Meg.” --Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
It's been so nice to be on holiday. I've been away from work more than normal this year for family emergencies, and while it's nice to see your family in those situations, this is the first true holiday we've actually had since a short break in California in January. And while we're still doing a lot of visiting and catching up with family and friends, it's been a very, very good brain break for me.

We've been in Belfast since last Sunday, and so far, it's been a lovely visit with the hubby's mum. It took me a couple of days longer to get over my jet lag this time, but even as I lay awake in the middle of the night trying to convince my brain that it really was night time, it felt good to know that I had nowhere to be in the morning anyway.

I have a very bad habit of hurtling towards my vacations in a mad rush of things to do and things to deal with at work, until I come crashing home, where I throw whatever is on my briefly written packing list into a suitcase, and then jump into the car for the airport. I managed to pack a swimsuit, a party dress, two pairs of heels, my gym clothes, and a couple of sets of everyday jeans and tshirts. No pyjamas. Tons of underwear. Two knitting projects. Barely managed to remember my toothbrush. But I had a passport, a ticket, and my credit cards, so it was not a bad job in the end, really. And it gave me an excuse to go shopping for some pyjamas, even if it was at Primark (the exchange rate is crap for me, ok?).

My most favourite thing to do on holiday is to get up and have a warm drink and sit on the couch with nowhere to be and no one to answer to. Cindy-cat joined me this morning. She hates getting her photos taken, but seemed to tolerate my presence while she did her Sunday morning crosswords:

Morrisey, the neighbour's cat, makes his ghostly appearance at the kitchen door each morning, hoping to mooch a bit of food while we're not looking. He hasn't managed it yet since we've been here, but persistence can be rewarding:

The weather has been decidedly... Irish, shall we say? I lived in Belfast for six years with the hubby, and I can't remember the summer being THIS wet and cool. Apparently it has been a cold, wet summer, even for Northern Ireland. We had a nice day yesterday, though, and went out for a walk in Botanic Gardens, where the flower beds are just finishing up for the year:

It's also been nice to get a break to really daydream about my projects. I walked past this sweater in the window of a souvenir shop in town the other day, then turned back to go and look at it again. It's quite a clever design, with an assymetric front and two shades of grey that highlight the lines. I was half-tempted to go in and buy it for myself, but my knitter's guilt and crappy exchange rate prevented me from pulling out the credit card.

And my own projects... well, they're sort of moving along, albeit slowly and gingerly. I was halfway through the second side of my top, when I realized that if been working the decreases wrong. The two, neat rectangles that I was trying to make are actually two floppy kite shapes, which explains why the first side wouldn't block properly for me. I made this realization mid-stitch one day... I froze still as my mistake dawned on me, kind of like when you realize a bird just pooped on your head. I lifted each piece up and looked carefully at the dimensions, and then I shrugged and kept knitting. What more could I do? I had already sewn the ends into the first side, and there was no way I was going to rip all of that out and start again.

I finished the second side the other day, and spent all morning trying  to put it together yesterday, but I think that might be easier to do when I'm at home with all my tools near me. This one is going to be a heck of a hack, I think.

In the meantime, I dove into my second knitting project to keep me going, which is going to be a wrap of some sort, I think. I'm using a beautiful hand-dyed skein of alpaca that I bought on a trip to L.A. a few years ago that has been begging to be made into something. I'm struggling a bit with it, because I forgot how fuzzy alpaca yarn can be, which means that anything remotely intricate is out of the question. The subtle shades of brown, red, and green in the dye job deserve a simpler pattern anyway. It's interesting how the yarn tells you what it was made to be, even when you're trying to force it to be something else.

We could take a lesson from yarn sometimes, couldn't we?

Anyway, we're here until Wednesday morning, and then we'll fly to Stockholm, Sweden for a break on our own, and also to visit with a friend of mine who lives there. I may have mapped out a few yarn shops in the vicinity. Who was it that said that souvenir yarn doesn't count as yarn stash? A wise person, I'm sure... someone with the name E. Nabler or something like that.

Oooo, I'm so clever when I'm rested, aren't I? Wait'll you see how clever I am by the end of my second week off. I bet you'll be amazed...

Ahem, I'll shut up now and get a cup of coffee...