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.