Monday, December 22, 2008
Last year I first tried my hand at making some découpage ornaments.
This is a fancy French way of saying that I glued some stuff on glass balls from the store. No, the balls weren't hand-felted from locally-raised sheeps' fleece or anything, they were just on sale after Christmas. They also turn up in the thrift stores right after Christmas, which is a good way to both be more green, and to stock up if you're one to plan holiday projects 11 months in advance.
Anyhow, last year I really had a great time with it, and decided to do it again this year. This is a fun project for one evening at home with some hot chocolate and a new album of holiday songs. It's a very kid-friendly project, as well.
Last year I made a set of Darth Vader ornaments for a friend, made with dark purple glass balls, and Vader pictures from a comic book. This year I decided to use drawings I'd done myself of little crafty scenes, and a couple of boxes of silver balls, to make ornaments as little gifts for my friends.
Here's everything you need for this project:
1. A box of ornaments; 2. A set of small drawings (small enough to fit on your ornaments, which is pretty small); 3. Mod Podge glue and a paintbrush for applying it; 4. Colored pencils or crayons; 5. Scissors; 6. Glitter (optional, but why would anyone skip the glitter??).
Just color the little pictures and cut them out carefully. Don't use markers to color them - the glue could make the colors run. Crayons or colored pencils work best. When trimming the pictures, I like to cut away as much white space as I can - this eliminates paper wrinkles when you glue them onto the ornaments.
Paint the back of a picture with Mod Podge, and then carefully place it on the ornament. Don't worry if it doesn't lie flat at first. Paint over the top of the picture, smoothing it down as you go. There will probably be some minor wrinkles - just try to keep them in the blank spaces rather than in the drawing itself. Flatten them down with the handle of your paintbrush, and make sure that everything is lightly and smoothly painted over with glue.
Sprinkle lightly with glitter. Really, a light touch is plenty here. The ones I did when I was generous with the glitter don't look half as good.
That's it! You can do a whole box of ornaments on one mug of hot chocolate if you're quick.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
little sprouts getting started in the greenhouse last February
It made me really miss working in the garden, and it made me start fantasizing about getting the garden ready for spring, and what varieties I want to try to grow this year. Listen to some of these:
"Considered by many to be the most divine and flavorful melon in the world. Smooth round melons mature to a creamy grayish-yellow with green stripes. Sweet, juicy, salmon-colored flesh... Ripe melons have a heavenly fragrance."
"Beautiful, blemish-free 6-7"-long paste tomato, rich full flavor unlike most other banana pepper-shaped tomatoes. Productive plants. Very few seeds, excellent for processing, especially good for salsa."
I will definitely be ordering both of those. And the names of these varieties! There are tomatoes with names like Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Hungarian Heart, Red Fig, Nebraska Wedding, Blondkopfchen, and Wapsinicon Peach; corn varieties called Bloody Butcher, Strawberry Popcorn and Blue Jade; and beans called Dragon's Tongue, Charlevoix and Tiger's Eye.
Who can think about wrapping Christmas presents when there are garden plans to be drawn?
Come to think of it, seed packets would make some pretty great stocking stuffers... I wonder how long these take to deliver. Who wouldn't like to find a Rat-Tailed Radish in their Christmas stocking?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
This has been my busiest December ever! It's mainly my job keeping me hopping, but some other things, too. We've hosted a bunch of stuff at our house -- Thanksgiving for 14, a going-away party and a few houseguests here and there... but there has been a little fun-time mixed in.
Last weekend I took a lovely trip down to Seagrove, North Carolina's pottery capital, to see what some of our favorite potters were up to.
Ben Owen was bringing scads of Chinese Red pieces into the shop in preparation for a kiln opening this weekend.
We stopped at another kiln opening for David Stuempfele, whose work I had never seen before. I loved it! His pieces are huge, unglazed, wood-fired, organic and so inviting.
I wish I had a giant house in an open field in the middle of a forest, which would be very spare and have his beautiful pieces placed here and there, ever so perfectly, all around the space, indoors and out. If you're in North Carolina, David is having another kiln sale this weekend - it's worth the trip. [more photos from his kiln]
On a sad note, we went by Chris Luther's - one of our favorite potters - and learned that his studio had burned down in a fire during the Celebration of Seagrove Potters a few weeks ago. He still had a few pieces for sale in the shop (and we bought all we could!). Chris and his wife told us about how the community has pulled together to help them out. Ben Owen is letting Chris use his kiln to complete a commission he was working on during the fire. We were really inspired to hear about how all the potters in the neighborhood were pitching in to make sure that Chris and his family are able to rebuild soon. I am looking forward to going back in the spring to see what has risen from the ashes.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
my sister made this adorable gingerbread house last year
It's time to go get my favorite Christmas shopping done. I know, I'm not usually one for store-bought gifts, but these are important.
A few years ago, in the pursuit of meaningful and useful gifts for family members, I decided to try giving them gifts to other people. So for each person, I picked a child's name from the Angel Tree at the mall, and bought a coat, some clothes and a toy for a needy child. I wrote about the process last year on Sew Green.
This year I have five children to buy gifts for (ages 2, 5, 8 and 9). I hope they like their presents!
Friday, November 28, 2008
the little squirrels are made of painted shells and lentils
I am grateful for a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends yesterday. This was the 6th year we've had a potluck at our house for anyone in town whose family is far away. It's always so much fun -- a huge feast with board games that go well into the night.
This year I got a chance to use my new little placecards - aren't they cute? They were a gift from a lovely older lady at a church auction in the spring. We don't have enough space at our table to ever use real placecards, but they were perfect for labeling everyone's potluck contributions, especially because we had both vegan and gluten-free guests this year, and the little code V's and G's made it easier for everyone.
I was too busy cooking and eating and having fun to remember to take pictures, but I did want to share a recipe with you. Making Thanksgiving dishes that everyone could enjoy was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the vegan & gluten-free challenge so much this year. I was really happy with the mashed potatoes, and they are such a cold-weather staple, I know we'll be making them again. So here's the recipe, to enjoy at your winter feasts:
garlic mashed potatoes
vegan and gluten-free
3 lbs red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 head of garlic
1/2 cup vegetable broth
Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 350.
Bring a big pot of water to a boil. While you're waiting for that, place about 6-10 cloves of peeled garlic into a very small baking dish, with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the dish and the garlic (you can use more or less garlic, depending on how garlicky you like your potatoes). Put the garlic in the oven to roast while you're doing the rest. It should take about ten minutes, so keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it doesn't burn while you're busy with other things.
Cook the potatoes for about 5-10 minutes in the big pot, until nice and tender. Drain.
Place the potatoes in a big sturdy mixing bowl and add about half of the veggie broth. When the garlic is nicely golden, pour the garlic and its oil over the potatoes. Add salt and pepper liberally.
Get out your masher and start smashing the garlic and potatoes. If it needs more liquid, drizzle in small amounts of veggie broth - don't overdo it. Taste the potatoes and see if they need a bit more olive oil - another tablespoon or three won't hurt. Keep mashing and adding veggie broth (if needed) until your potatoes are at the consistency that you like. You can also use a hand mixer if you prefer your potatoes whipped.
Serve right away, or keep warm in the oven in a baking dish until the rest of your feast is ready.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I couldn't stick to my sweater-knitting pledge - not when I had big balls of batting waiting to be needle-felted into a pony!
Just look at those sweet eyes - who could resist?
I really enjoyed making this pony, though it was fairly time-consuming. It came from a great kit from Peace Fleece. I don't usually make things from kits, but I'm so glad I ordered this one. For one, I love Peace Fleece and their mission of promoting peace through trade in traditional arts. But this was also a technique that I'd never heard about for toy-making.
First, you make a frame of paper and wire, then wrap it in the batting, and then poke-poke-poke with the felting needles. It creates a really good structure, which I've often wanted to be able to do better with softies. And I love needle-felting for its sculptural and decorative qualities -- I could have gone on detailing this thing forever (which is partly why it took me so long to make).
This was the first of two horses that come in the kit. This one's for my mom, who is a horse-nut. I haven't decided yet whether I'll make the second one some time soon (like when I have half a weekend to kill -- ha ha!), or save it for a fun between-knits project next year. This really was a perfect break from knitting projects. And now I can get back on the sweater-knitting horse and try to make some progress...
Friday, November 21, 2008
I have been feeling so uncreative lately. My biggest creative act each day seems to be coming up with a new hot beverage to drink (this one is hot spiced cider).
During our staff meeting yesterday, we all shared our dream hot beverage ideas - if we could have an endless tap in the office dispensing our dream hot beverages all day.
J: Hot spiced cider, but not as sweet as regular cider, with some caffeine - perhaps a bit of black tea mixed in.
A: Glug -- a hot mulled wine and brandy concoction.
me: Home-made chai with just a little honey for sweetener, and a tiny shot of vanilla syrup.
B: Mulled cider!
Can you tell we're adapting happily to the cooler weather? It's been a bit colder than normal for us this November. This morning I woke up early and went outside to enjoy the sunrise through snow flurries. They're still falling as I write this. I love how they look against a dark background of pine trees, with no sun yet to reflect from them.
But on the uncreativeness thing... it seems to be a serious condition. I can't seem to knit for more than a few minutes. Whenever I want to bake something, I can't decide what and wind up ditching the project. This is very problematic with the holidays approaching!
The bright side is, I've had lots more time for reading, so I'm devouring books. One that I just read is A River Sutra, by Gita Mehta. She is one of my favorite writers of non-fiction essays, but this book of interwoven stories was just wonderful. I love books that take you away to another time and place, full of interesting smells, tastes and people. It was a heavenly read.
I just finished Atonement, by Ian McEwan. I know, I am so behind the times. But this is why I never go to the movies -- I really will read the book one day. I can't imagine the movie could have been anywhere near as good as the book. It was absolutely riveting. I couldn't put it down, and read the whole thing in about two evenings. When I did put it down, I couldn't sleep, and had to get up again to keep reading. I was fascinated by the narrative technique, which I won't spoil by giving it away, but it was just wonderful. I had trouble picking up a new book to read, because I was not ready to be done with this one and leave its world behind. I can't imagine anything else being as good.
I had to wait a few days, but I just started an Andrea Barrett book, the Forms of Water. Hopefully it will distract me from missing the characters in Atonement.
What are you reading (or creating) these days?
Monday, November 10, 2008
Holiday knitting time is so full of choices.
Do I work on the obligatory sweater every waking minute, which it will almost certainly require to be done before Christmas, or do I work on all the other little projects which could actually be completed one by one in the same span of time?
So far, I'm shooting for both.
The lovely sport-weight alpaca yarn shown above is Touch of Twist Peruvian Alpaca, which I bought at Maryland Sheep & Wool for the express purpose of knitting a special Christmas gift for someone who is now in the habit of receiving a sweater every year... if I had any sense, I would not be knitting a man's large sweater on size 3 needles on a deadline. Or I would have started a little earlier.
As for all the little projects... they are all so charming and giftey. And since none of the intended recipients will read this blog, I can show you what they are: Boo the Bat from Mochimochiland, some Peace Fleece Felted Horses, a handy-dandy lunch bag, Brooklyntweed's Druid Mittens, and maybe even some fancy Komet socks if I can squeeze them in.
Aren't all of those projects so much more appealing than 7,438 rows of stockinette stitch on size 3 needles? And yet... tradition is tradition. So I joined NaSweKniMo for inspiration (yes, this is Knit-a-whole-sweater-in-a-month month - thank you, sadistic aspiring novelists). I'm going to do my damndest to finish this thing in the month of November... but come December 1st, it's knitted bats and felted ponies for me!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
"...There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.
But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.
This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.
Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.
In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.
Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.
And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
Read the full text of Barack Obama's acceptance speech here.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I am fighting off a bit of a cold. Feeling lousy always really makes me appreciate a hot cup of something nice, especially in the morning.
I like my tea piping hot, just barely cooled from the way-too-hot-to-drink stage. On a cold morning, I love to guzzle a whole cup of hot hot milky tea and feel the hot liquid warming me all the way down to my belly. Unfortunately, hot drinks don't stay that way for long in cold weather. Shari's chilly post the other day made me think about all the goofy (perhaps slightly compulsive) tricks I use to try to keep my cuppas hot.
I'm always looking for the most space-aged vacuum-sealed thermos. I always rinse my mug with hot water before I put the tea into it. I never let the tea steep without something covering the top to hold in heat. Usually it's a saucer of milk, because my hope is that the milk will warm a bit too, before I stir it in. When we go camping in cooler weather, I keep my thermos mug inside my coat whenever I'm not drinking from it. Maybe I should start doing that at home, too...
Once, my grandmother gave me this amazing little gadget: a beverage warmer. It's sort of a mini hot-plate that sits on your desk like a coaster and keeps your cup of tea or coffee nice and hot. I don't know what happened to mine, but being reminded of it today... perhaps it's time to order a new one.
Now that the weather is getting serious about it being fall, I am really interested in any other hot beverage strategies that you all have to share. In the mean time, I think it must be time for a cup of tea.
Friday, October 24, 2008
My theory about this is that it seems too hard to keep up the stitch pattern, when you keep increasing stitches along the raglan seams every other row. Hm. I started puzzling over how one would carry the stitch pattern across those pesky ever-growing seams. Could it work? I decided to consult The Oracle (also known as Barbara Walker's classic book Knitting from the Top).
The answer is an emphatic yes, and though I didn't quite understand Walker's explanation, her hints were good, and eventually I found my way. So here's what I learned. You can use this technique to design your own garments, or to adapt an existing pattern for a top-down garment that was written in stockinette stitch, and make it fancy.
There are a couple of important things to know. First of all, you don't actually carry the pattern across the raglan seams. You start the stitch pattern over afresh after each raglan seam. This flash of insight made the whole thing work for me. The rest is just logistics.
But a second, and really important point, choose your stitch pattern carefully. Choose a stitch pattern with relatively few stitches in the repeat. A 14-stitch repeat won't look very good. A 3- to 5-stitch repeat will work just fine.
Let's use a sample pattern and walk through how to do this, step by step. We'll make a simple top-down baby's cardigan, except we're going to dispense with the plain stockinette stitch, and knit it up in a pretty stitch called "elongated rib check."
Elongated Rib Check (multiple of 4 st)
Rows 1-6: * P2, K2; Repeat from * to end.
Rows 7-12: *K2, P2; Repeat from * to end.
Here are the original directions for casting on (these should be familiar if you've ever knitted a top-down cardigan):
Beginning at neck edge with a 24 in. circular needle, cast on 2 st, place marker, cast on 10 st, place marker, cast on 16 st, place marker, cast on 10 st, place marker, cast on 2 st. You will have 40 st.
Odd rows: Kfb, *Knit to 1 st before M, Kfb, slip M. Repeat from * to end, Kfb the final stitch (inc 10 st total).
Even rows: Purl across.
Repeat these two rows until there are 22 st between the back markers.
At the end of this last increase row, cast on to the end of the needle 3 st.
Next row: Purl to end, cast on 3 st to the end of the needle.
Continue increasing as before, except without increasing on the first and last stitch of every row (inc 8 st every odd row).
Here's the step-by-step to transforming this top-down stockinette sweater to a top-down sweater with our chosen stitch pattern:
1. Supplies. You will need lots of stitch markers in 2 different colors (color A and color B).
2. Take notes. Keep notes on how you modify the pattern so that you'll be able to adapt as you go along.
3. Knit a swatch. This is no joke! You need to knit a nice big gauge swatch in order to a) learn the stitch pattern and get comfortable with it; and b) check your gauge, since it is very likely to be different from the sweater's stated gauge in stockinette stitch. You may need to adjust your needle size accordingly.
4. Casting on: As you cast on, you may need to modify the number of stitches in each section in order to accommodate the stitch pattern. Since the stitch pattern in our example is a multiple of 4, each section should contain a multiple of 4 st, plus 2 (one for each increase stitch).
If the front sections are just a stitch or two each, as in our sample pattern, adding too many stitches will mess up your sizing. In this case, you will just ignore those sections for now, and do not begin the stitch pattern until you've knitted enough increase rows that there are enough stitches in the section for one pattern repeat + 2 extra stitches. So for our example:
CO 2, Place marker A, CO 10, place marker A, CO 18, place marker A, CO 10, place marker A, CO 2. You will have 42 st. Make a note of the fact that you modified the instructions to have 2 extra stitches between the back 2 markers.
after casting on - looks just like any old top-down sweater.
5. Knitting in the stitch pattern. As you knit along, you'll start the pattern row over in each section. But you also need to differentiate between the stitches that are used only for increasing, and the stitches that can actually be knit in the stitch pattern. So as you knit row 1, you'll add a second set of markers, Marker B.
Row 1: Kfb, place marker B, Kfb, slip marker A, *Kfb, place marker B, patt to 1 st before next marker A, place marker B, Kfb, slip marker A. Repeat from * to final marker A. Kfb, place marker B, Kfb of last stitch.
Row 2: Purl to marker B, *Purl to marker A, purl to marker B, patt to the next marker B. Repeat from * to final marker B. Purl to end.
after row 1 - 2 sets of stitch markers (A is red; B is blue)
6. Maintaining the pattern as the sweater grows. On every increase row, you'll gain more stockinette stitches in the little sections between marker B and marker A. Once there are enough of them, you can add them to the pattern section by moving the marker. In this case, you will need 5 stockinette stitches (a multiple of 4 + 1). Once there are 5 stitches between marker A and marker B, on the next increase row, carry the stitch pattern through those 4 stockinette stitches, moving the stitch marker 4 places and leaving one stockinette stitch behind for the increase.
7. The front edges. In every top-down sweater, there's a point when you stop increasing on the first and last stitch of every row, and you cast on a few stitches at the needle tips to make the front edges meet, across the low point of the neckline. This is the final part of the sample pattern, above. This is the final adaptation you'll have to make. Our sample pattern says to cast on 3 stitches. You should cast on as many stitches as it takes to complete a pattern repeat, as close to the recommended number as possible.
So if you have, say, 20 stitches in your first and last sections (NOT counting the stockinette stitches between marker B and marker A), you would cast on 4 for a total of 24 stitches, which is a multiple of 4.
If you're making a crew-neck rather than a cardigan, you'd be joining the front edges here. In that case, cast on the correct number of stitches to make the stitch pattern flow correctly from one side to the other when joined, sticking as close to the recommended number of cast-on stitches as you can.
From this point, there's nothing else special that you need to do - just continue the sweater as directed, taking any of your modifications into account when stitch totals are given, and transforming the little growing pockets of stockinette stitch between your markers into fancy-stitch as they pile up.
I know it might sound weird to have these areas of stockinette stitch breaking up your stitch pattern, but in a finished garment you really don't see it. I used this technique in the Plum Blouse that I finished recently - here's a close-up of the shoulder seam. If you were to use a stitch pattern that required a 18-stitch repeat, it would definitely not work. But for stitch patterns that use a 3 to 5-stitch repeat, this is a great way to make a simple top-down design a lot more interesting.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Fried dough! Deep-fried pecan pie on a stick! Grown men carrying giant stuffed Tweety-birds! These are the unmistakable signs of the State Fair, which happens every October whether you're ready or not.
I find the noise and the crowds at the fair a bit overwhelming, so most years we don't go, but this year we had a friend visiting from out of town, and being a farm-boy-turned-big-city guy, he needed a trip to the North Carolina State Fair.
Here's a list of all the things we ate, between the three of us:
hot apple cider
...and then we came home and ate dinner. I'm not sure how. I still feel a bit queasy thinking about it.
My favorite part, as always, was the livestock barn. Especially the cute baby animals.
this little guy stole my heart
We saw the Grand Champion Steer, the Grand Champion Hog, and the Grand Champion Turkey (who didn't look well at all). The Grand Champion Wool Sheep and the Grant Champion Meat Goat were still to be crowned. There was a giant, giant sow suckling about a dozen little piglets, who all seemed to think that she was both a food source and a trampoline. HWWLLB was taken with the rabbit barn, and kept pointing out which breeds he thought would make particularly good pets for us.
There were oodles of families mobbing the animal barns and ogling the livestock. I always wonder about what parents tell their little kids who ask questions about the cute baby animals. It didn't seem like most people were talking about the fact that these guys were destined to become hamburger. Actually, most of the livestock really didn't look very appetizing at all. Except for that Grand Champion Steer... he did kind of look like a walking prime rib platter. And that's coming from a vegetarian.
Our one mission for the trip was never fulfilled. HWWLLB desperately wanted to try a deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick, and passed up many other deep-fried desserts in a single-minded pursuit of his conquest. Alas, he never found it, and went home having hardly eaten anything deep-fried at all.
On the bright side, we did get some heavenly goat's milk soap from Three Waters Farm, which isn't the same as a deep-fried dessert, but is really good in a different way.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I finally finished my summer knitting project: Plum!
One year I will get smart and knit summer things in the spring, and fall things in the summer, so that I actually get a chance to wear them when the weather is still appropriate. We're having a warm October day today, perhaps the last for a while, so I grabbed the opportunity to wear this, now that I finally got around to finishing and blocking it.
I love it!
The yarn is Callista, made by elann.com, and it's a great summery blend of cotton, linen and rayon. The rayon is a slightly darker, shinier ply wrapped around the softer, earthier cotton/linen blend, so the color has some nice depth and texture to it.
The stitch pattern is a purl-twist that makes it look extra-fancy, though it's really pretty simple. Same goes for the points along the neckline.
I knit this blouse top-down as a way to learn how to maintain a fancy stitch pattern when you're also constantly increasing along the raglan seams. This is something I've always wondered about, and discovered that it was not as complicated as you might think. I'm planning to post a tutorial on it some time soon.
This is probably not a design that I'll be writing up as a pattern, because I was doing a lot of adjusting on the fly and really didn't take good enough notes, unfortunately. I'm really happy with the styling and how it came out overall. I need to enjoy every moment of wearing it today -- it may not come out of the closet again until spring!
Friday, October 03, 2008
It's been years and years since the last time I kept a journal, but I've returned to the practice lately. The blog is kind of like a journal, except so totally public. Some folks can write their deepest feelings on their blogs, but not me. I am much too private about myself for that.
All through high school and college, I always kept a journal, where I mainly kept a running commentary of boy-related drama (there was no actual romantic drama going on, so it took a lot of creativity for me to cultivate as much as I could inside my head). But I also wrote about books I was reading, places I visited, fears, hopes, and drew a lot of pictures.
For my break in August, my co-workers gave me a beautiful journal. I wrote about what I was reading, things I was learning in my daily yoga practice, hopes, fears, and of course, drew a lot of pictures. I had filled it up by the end of the month, so in September, I bought another journal.
My current practice is to write in it every night before going to bed. Sometimes I have something to get off my chest and write for pages and pages, but other nights I'm too tired to string a coherent sentence together. Either way though, I always make a list. My nightly ritual is to make a list of five things I'm grateful for. It's interesting how much it changes from night to night, and how many things repeat over and over.
Here's my gratitude list for this morning:
- hot tea on a cold morning
- knitting with wool again
- close friends
- the joy of friday morning, with the wide horizon of potential stretching out in front of you before the weekend.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Oh, help me, I am so distracted!
I love fall weather. Apologies to those of you who are mourning the passing of summer... I know it hurts. But I love fall more than any other season. I have a bad case of fall fever this week.
There is much work to be done, but I can't help gazing out the window at the brilliant blue sky, especially whenever a few stray dry leaves blow across the view. I find myself envious of folks in cool climates who already have apples and crunching dry leaves underfoot, and I can't help compulsively checking their blogs and Flickr pages every few minutes to spy on their crisp days while I should be doing something productive.
Most of all I want to knit. Sweaters! Tweedy wool in fall colors! Scarves! All of this while drinking tea and sitting outside somewhere in a snappy breeze that whips my hair and turns my cheeks pink. Want to join me?
There are so many pretty, wooly, silky fall colors in my stash calling out to be knitted. And yet I am stuck with spreadsheets and sundry obligations. Must be patient... sooner or later it will be time to play.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I was working on a design for a little girlie jumper with some luscious Blue Sky Alpacas Skinny Dyed, but that went bust. I thought I'd learn to use the 2-way cast on and knit it from the (invisible) shoulder seams down... that was a mistake.
Then there was my sudden and overwhelming desire to knit a pair of socks with little intricate vining cables all over them, á la Shedir. On my way out the door for a trip, I printed out this pattern from Knitty. All I can say is sick! Evil, twisted and sick! That's my assessment of this unfortunate sock pattern and its four (yes FOUR) cabling charts with their partial repeats and non-memorizable cable designs. After half a dozen rip-outs and do-overs, I gave up on them, and had to spend three whole travel days with no knitting. [shudder]
I did manage to finish a baby sweater recently for a gift, but it was another Super-Natural Stripes, and seeing as how I've knitted one or two (or three) of those in the past, it hardly warranted a photo, let alone a blog post.
So that leaves me with the ongoing saga of the Plum Blouse. This has actually been a great knit. It's always hard for me to spend time working on a knit for myself, when there are so many gifts and design projects that want finishing, so it has proceeded pretty slowly. This is one I'm designing myself, but not for publication, since my notes stink, and I would have serious trouble trying to come up with directions for any size other than my own. Trouble is, I'm stuck. I have everything done except the sleeve finishing, and the collar. And I don't know yet what I want to do with the collar. How fancy should it be? This is a sweet little blouse with girly details, and I'm afraid of getting too girly (or I won't wear it), but I want to be consistent and carry the styling through. So there it sits while I ruminate on it. Got any suggestions?
I'm also feeling the need to get started on Christmas knitting, just as the weather is finallly getting cooler, and sitting down with a big pile of alpaca yarn seems like an okay thing to do. I'm trying to keep my list of holiday knits manageable this year, but there are so many things I want to knit... decisions, decisions.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Today we went to a place we visit all the time, the North Carolina Museum of Art. It was a bit special today, because HWWLLB's parents were with us. I followed them into the European gallery, a section I would never visit on my own, because in my opinion once you've seen a dozen or two hunting portraits, you've seen them all.
But there was a wonderful surprise waiting for me there amidst the portraits in the Spanish section: this photograph.
Thomas Struth's Museo del Prado 5 is a wonderful photo of schoolgirls in front of Velázquez's Las Meninas in the Prado in Madrid. One of my favorite things about this photo is how the viewers of the photograph are reflected in the mirror at the back of Velázquez's painting (where he had intended to reflect viewers of the painting). Struth's view plays so beautifully with all the tricks in the Velázquez. The longer you look, the more you find, and I kept laughing and jumping up and down whenever we noticed another parallel between them, like the girls in funny costumes in both pictures, or the viewer at the edge of the frame in the Struth.
The coolest thing about seeing this photo by chance, is that I once met Thomas Struth by chance in a museum in Budapest several years ago while he was working on this project (the museum photographs series). We were talking in German, and I had recently been living in Vienna and had developed a pretty gnarly Viennese accent. I remember he got annoyed at me because when he asked whether I was from Vienna, I told him no, from North Carolina in the U.S., and he clearly thought I was messing with him and told me he was from Florida (he's actually from Düsseldorf). He didn't tell me his full name (not that I would have recognized it, because I'm just not that hip), and I remember at the time thinking that his project of taking photos inside museums was kind of goofy when he explained it to me. I remember later telling my traveling companion that it sounded like a great way to get your around-the-world trip paid for.
Anyhow, I always remembered that random meeting, though it never occurred to me that I might get to see any of his museum photographs, or that they would be so wonderful. Turns out the guy's a genius! And one of the museum photos is hanging in my very own backwater hometown art museum, to boot. I'd really like to see a larger show of his work some time. But for now, it was a delight to find this photo right under my nose.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
to abstain from
One thing that I learned about during my recent break is stillness. On a 5-day retreat at the end of the break, I discovered a very deep well of stillness and peace inside myself, something that I really didn't know was there. At the retreat they taught us practices like meditation to access that stillness. I also learned to practice silence, meaning to abstain from speaking for a certain period of time, which could be an hour, a day, or even a few days. I read about someone who pursued a year-long practice of silence. I chose to practice silence for one day.
Before trying this, it was very hard to imagine what it would be like if my mind were less full of distractions. My mind is always full of distractions. Even in yoga class, I am frequently working through a problem, creating a grocery list or fretting over something I might have done wrong.
When I feel lonely, silence is very challenging. In those times I frequently turn on the radio, or chatter at Simon (our cat). I do really enjoy being quiet together with someone I'm close to, like HWWLLB, my sister, or another close friend. It's so wonderful to spend time with someone that is so comfortable, you don't need to fill up the space with sound.
Here's something I wrote in my journal during my day of silence:
"It seems that I can hear a lot more - ambient sounds, as well as what people are saying - and I understand better, maybe because I am listening more simply and not trying to formulate a reaction."
I've found since then that this is a lasting effect. It has become easier for me to listen well to other people, and I think that if I were to practice a day of silence regularly - perhaps once a month - my world would continue to change and deepen this way. I'd really like to try.
What kinds of silence are already present in your life?
sleep, and early-morning time
practicing yoga (sometimes)
working in the garden
knitting something very challenging
The coolest thing that I realized in trying this, is that there is this deep well of stillness inside me, and I can reach it in times of chaos and noise, and just be peaceful. I know that this is something I will continue to use and develop throughout my life, to get me through chaotic, stressful, distracting or hectic times, without letting the chaos hurt me, and without dragging others into it as well. The gratitude that I feel for this lesson is something I can't really express with words.
* Quotes in italics come from The Spiritual Activist by Claudia Horwitz.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It's fig season. Our tree grew quite a lot this year, and all the new growth is covered in beautiful little figs. I'm enjoying eating them and sharing them.
As you might already know, we've lived in this house for almost two years, and we inherited the fig tree along with it. Before us, the house was owned by the first owners, who had been here since the early 1950's. A few months ago, we came home to find this little note on our door:
"My name is L.B.
My friend live here
and died here.
If you have any
figs for sale, Please
call me I will
take as many as you
don't need, ask for
Since then we've been really curious about this lady with her morbidly endearing note, who clearly loved our figs in past years, and wanted to keep her connection to her old friends. All summer HWWLLB has been asking when the figs would be ready, and reminding me to call her.
Finally, we have plenty of ripe figs, so I called her and she came by yesterday to get a bagful. She had fun looking around the house and the garden, and told us stories about her dear (departed) friends, for whom she made fig jam every year for many years.
I tried my hand at making fig jam for the first time this year, too. Now fig jam on homemade bread with cream cheese is my most favorite afternoon snack.
Here's the recipe I used, from Deborah Madison's wonderful cookbook, the Savory Way:
fig jam with cardamom and rose water
makes 2 cups
2 pounds figs
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used about 2/3 of this amount)
1/3 cup rose water
1 tsp finely ground cardamom seeds
Remove those skins that come off easily and leave the rest on. Chop the figs roughly, then stir in the sugar, half the rose water, and the cardamom. Cover and allow to sit overnight. If it's hot and the figs are over-ripe, put them in the refrigerator to keep them from turning.
The next day, put them in a stainless-steel or other non-corroding saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 hours. As the jam begins to cook, check the bottom of the pot and make sure that all the sugar is broken up and dissolved; then stir occasionally as it cooks. When it has thickened, remove from the heat and add the rest of the rose water. Turn into sterilized canning jars; then immerse in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Find some more tasty fig recipes at Chocolate and Zuchinni - yum!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Saturday we went to the beach. Aaaaaaaahhhhh.
We had a beautiful day of lounging, swimming, splashing, strolling, birdwatching, people-watching and just loving the peace and quiet of a sunny summer day by the ocean. It felt wonderful.
After a leisurely day of healthy outdoor fun, we stopped at El's Drive-up in Morehead City for some not-so-healthy beach food. I had the fried oyster plate... and I'm sure my arteries are a few millimeters smaller as a result, but it was delicious.
Who could resist a place where the entire menu is right on the sign, and the waitresses come right on out to your car?
The car trip out to the beach also gave me a few hours to make some progress on this blouse I've been knitting for myself, slowly, in between other projects.
It's really coming along now. I can't wait to wear it this fall -- I am really pleased with how the design is working out.
On Monday I met with a friend and she gave me a wonderful gift -- a guided meditation session. We spent about 45 minutes sprawled on my living room floor relaxing... deeper... deeper... about mid-way through the session, when we were doing emotional relaxation, we were told to imagine the most wonderful, relaxing place we have ever been, and to go there... can you guess where I went?
Here's a hint: there weren't any fried oysters afterwards this time. But if the meditation had included a "go to your greasy place" cue, I'm sure I'd have been right back at El's Drive-Up.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you had a whole lot more time on your hands? I try to be careful not to fantasize about unemployment, because truth be told I've been there, and it's not as great as it sounds. But just what if you had a bunch more time for a while?
I thought that I'd be sort of aimless, for one thing. I thought that I'd have oodles of free time and do all kinds of lazy things like lay in a hammock sipping a cold beverage. I guess I thought I'd knit 8 hours a day, too. And somehow I also thought that my house would become very, very clean, because I guess I thought I would spend more time cleaning it (ha!).
It's funny, but none of those things has been true the last two weeks. I am knitting more, but not nearly as much as you might think. And there hasn't been much laziness, though I think there is overall a whole lot more ease. At least I'm not rushing from place to place. I also thought I'd blog more, but believe it or not, I don't even turn on my computer most days. In case you've ever wondered what you'd do with more free time, here's my list of what I've been doing a whole lot more of the last two weeks:
exercising -- I'd say a 5-fold increase over normal. This doesn't mean going to the gym (heaven forbid!), but it means that I'm at yoga every day, that I choose to ride my bike most places, which translates into lots of cycling, and that I'm always up for a long bike ride or hike with a friend.
cooking -- Oh, how I love cooking! It's easy to forget that you love something when you have to cram it in among daily chores. I've been baking bread, making jam, making tomato sauce to freeze for the winter, and cooking dinner every night. I'm also making myself interesting lunches, which is something I would never do in real life.
reading -- This is something I thought I'd do tons more of, but it's not. I am reading a couple of hours a day, which is an increase, and I'm enjoying it, but it's not the studious hours I was expecting. There's just so much to do!
chilling out -- Chilling out! What a great thing to do. This is something that I really don't do enough of in real life, and when I do it's usually highly-scheduled, and half the fun is lost in thinking about the thing I have to rush off and do next. Chilling out has meant puttering in the yard, picking bouquets, reading a knitting magazine, having lunch with a friend, snuggling the cat, snuggling with HWWLLB, watching a movie, lazing in the backyard with a stack of cookbooks, having a beer at Pub Trivia night... wonderful stuff like that.
I wish I could cling to all these things and keep doing all this more of them when I go back to the old routine in a couple of weeks. But still, it's important to notice that if I've multiplied my yoga and cycling time by 5 without really even meaning to, I must have been needing it. So perhaps this is an important lesson for any re-prioritization I might do in a few weeks.
So... what do you think you might do with an extra 40 or 50 hours a week? I bet it's not what you thought. And if you'll excuse me, I have a pressing rainy-day date with a cup of tea, and... nothing.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
All that stuff I said about how I'd have so much time to write in August... what was I talking about? Well, maybe I will have more time later in the month when I'm running low on things to do, but jeez, I am almost overwhelmed by how much there is to do right now! Happily, they are all things I want to do.
This sabbatical thing is great. I highly recommend it. But if I was thinking that I'd get "work" done this month... ha! Nothing is getting done around here. Well, not nothing... but nothing that shows. Tomatoes and figs are getting picked, dinner is getting cooked quite regularly, the cat is getting a lot of attention, and the funky knots in my back are getting worked out, but beyond that kind of thing, I really don't have much to show for myself. I obviously haven't yet let go of the need to be productive all the time.
I haven't even really found much knitting time yet. Though I did manage to make these little guys yesterday:
Inspired by many of you who suggested making toys with yarn scraps, I made a teeny dent in the stash with these two little toy mice, who are a gift for a friend with new kitties.
I'm also (slowly) working on a new-baby gift, and a short-sleeved sweater/blouse for myself that's been in the works all summer. I squeeze in knitting a row of it every now and then between other projects. But since it's a project for me, it gets shoved to the back burner when there are gifts to be made, which seems to be always.
One thing I have been making plenty of time for is yoga. My only real pledge for this month was that I would do yoga every day, and this is definitely not a pledge I will break. I bought an unlimited one-month pass for the yoga studio and have been getting my money's worth, though I think I overdid it a bit the first week. My core is sore. But today was a "gentle flow" class, which was just what I needed after six straight days of being wrung out like a damp washcloth in class.
I have been fretting about how much my mind is chattering in class. Today I think was the first class since my break started when there were actually some (short) stretches of time that I wasn't really thinking of anything besides breathing. It was cause for celebration. I hope that by the end of the month I can have one whole hour-long class like that.
The other thing I'm doing a fair bit of is reading. Here's my current reading list:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (I know, what took me so long?)
The Open Road: the Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer
Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch
Essential Yoga Sutra by Michael Roach & Christie McNally
I also have ordered some books from Alibris and have some requests in at the library, so perhaps I'll share some thoughts about what I'm reading this month, too. I've been thinking about starting a short-term reading group when I go back to normal life this fall.
I've also been peeking in a bit on what everyone else is doing on Ravelry and Flickr and on your blogs. Summer is fun viewed through others' eyes as well, isn't it?
Thursday, July 31, 2008
The rush up to this last day at work has been horrendous; I don't recommend piling two+ months' worth of work into one month. HWWLLB and I really tried not to let my insanity ruin our home-life sanity. One of the things that was challenging but fun was trying to eat well and use the farmer's market and garden vegetables even when there seemed to be no time at all to cook, which has basically been every night this month.
One thing I discovered in the process is how much I love patty-pan squash. The variety that our CSA farmer grows is called Scallopini. They are richer-flavored and a bit meatier than your plain old yellow summer squash, and I could eat them by the pound.
My favorite way to make them is to slice them about 1/4 inch thick, and saute them in olive oil until they are tender, which doesn't take very long at all. Throw in a splash of white wine if you have some open, and toss with some sliced fresh basil leaves just before serving, with lots of salt and pepper.
To go with it, I cook up some angel hair pasta and warm up whatever leftover or frozen spaghetti sauce we have around. Eat the squash on the side and let the parmesan cheese and tomato sauce spill onto the squash slices... it's better than chicken or eggplant parmesan, I swear. The whole deal takes about ten minutes to make and is divine.
So, tomorrow the big month off starts, and I haven't figured out yet whether not-working means that I will post on this blog every day, or not post at all... I have a feeling that things will fall somewhere in between, though I know for sure that there will be a lot more knitting going on around here, and so lots more of that to share. Til then...
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
busy as a bee
I am peeping out from behind a big stack of work to say hello. And thank you for all the incredible ideas and suggestions that you all have given me in the last couple of weeks. I am keeping a list of all the great ideas for using up bits of scrap yarn (itty bitty toys! of course!) and ways to find freebie stuff (or cheapie stuff) to assuage my material urges. I never knew the Craigslist 'free stuff' section could be so addictive.
Sorry for being so quiet here the last couple of weeks. Starting next week, I will be posting much more often, and I'll have lots of fun new knitting things to share... the ideas have been piling up, with no time to write them down! More writing time is ahead.
Til then I have a big stack of work to get through, but the mileposts have been flashing by as I close in on the finish line... last week I officially ended my career as full-time worker / part-time student, by finishing up my Public Health program. Yahoooo! I took a quick break from the piles of work to celebrate becoming one year older.... wheeee... and I've been trying to sneak in time to stare at all the pretty things in our yard whenever I can.
See you all again soon.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Saturday was hot and muggy, so I spent part of the afternoon cleaning out my workspace at home (YES!), including the yarn stash. I think I am a pretty restrained yarn buyer, and was pleased to find that I really have been living out my resolve to only buy yarn for specific projects, and for the most part, I've been knitting those projects before buying more yarn (Sock yarn is the obscene exception that proves this rule in my stash).
I found a couple of bags of a sweater's worth of yarn that won't ever be knitted, and decided to sell them on eBay. One bag sold in about fifteen minutes. The other may be sitting there for a while, since it's an unusual brand, but if it doesn't sell I suppose I can always gift it. I bagged up a big bag of odd skeins of easy-care yarn for the Girls' Club, and I made a pile of single skeins that I can use for small projects like felted critters. But what do I do with all these little leftover bits? I have three little bins of less-than-one-skein odds and ends, two wooly and one cottony:
Do people throw these away? Use them for wrapping presents? I can imagine embroidering some little embellishments with some of it... but I think I could embroider til retirement age and still have plenty leftover. What to do with it all?
Cleaning out the stash is such a productive activity. It created so much space and made me feel so virtuous that I decided to order some yarn from kPixie (I really need it, I swear). I'll show you why I need it in a few weeks. Something cool is happening in town. I'm also working on a pattern for a fun kids' summer pattern -- I just need to borrow my friend's daughter for a photo shoot first, and then I'll have it up here as a Friday treat.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
price tages by lythane on flickr
Just past the mid-year, I thought it might be time to check in on my "not buying stuff" pledge for 2008. I took this pledge because I really wanted to pay down my student loans, and in order to make the big giant monthly payments I wanted to make, it seemed important to trim a bit from the budget.
And also, I realize that I am deeply addicted to Stuff, and Buying Stuff, and Getting New Stuff, and a bit of abstinence wouldn't do me (or the planet) any harm. A bit rough on our consumer-driven ecomony, though... I'm starting to feel a bit guilty about all these banks collapsing. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence.
The main part of the pledge was not buying new clothes. I allowed myself all the thrift store purchases I could want, but nothing new. I took the Wardrobe Refashion 6-month pledge as an inducement, but seeing as how I haven't made a thing to wear, I don't know if I'm still in that club.
I also have tried really hard to limit my purchases of general stuff, mainly by not buying anything on impulse. If there's something that I run across and think I "need," I have been putting it off until I either forget about it, decide I don't need it anymore, or find a free/used/cheaper one someplace else. It seems to be keeping down the general buying.
Also, no credit card use. None. Nada. Zip. Cash only. Very important.
All the same, I am amazed at how much stuff I have bought this year, and at how many consumer items are rattling around in my brain urging me to break out the plastic and make them MINE. I tried to make up as complete a list as I could remember. Here goes:
things i've bought this year (new)
- a SAF t-shirt
- a pair of red sandals
- solar lights for the patio
- a recycled banner bag from holly aiken
- tomato plants
- a ladder
- a ceiling fan
- a giant 500-gallon water tank
- earrings from yecART.
things i really want but won't buy
- a labradoodle (not really a "thing," is it?!)
- a charcoal grill
- shoes of all sorts, especially some elegant grownup-looking mary janes
- an energy- & water-efficient washer & dryer
- a couch for the living room
stuff i will probably buy before the year is out
- a used iMac
- a gas grill, hopefully in good (used) condition
- a new bathroom exhaust fan
- too many christmas presents
- more yarn
things i plan to make in the (not-too-distant) future
- too many christmas presents
- half a dozen or so baby gifts (!)
- an outdoor potting table/garden storage cabinet
Ugh! You know, listing it all out like this is making the buying impulse easier to resist. I have been struggling most with not buying stuff for the house. For some reason, buying clothes has been easy to abandon (which really surprised me), but buying stuff for the house has not been -- maybe because household goods seem more like "basics" or necessities. A couch. A washing machine. So practical. But maybe not so much when you already have a perfectly good one...
Anyone know a good web tutorial for making your own couch?
Saturday, July 12, 2008
When I get busy, I get messy. This is a challenge, because I don't think well with clutter around - makes it feel cluttered inside my head, too. And all the chores needing to be done distract me from all the work that needs to be finished, and it all seems to spiral higher and higher... you know the feeling.
However, I am not too busy for blueberry season. Well, I haven't found time to go picking, but I did buy a whole flat (!) of blueberries at the farmer's market this week. This morning we had blueberry muffins for breakfast:
I've also frozen a bunch of them, and I hope to find the time to make a blueberry pie this weekend. Blueberry pie is my all-time favorite (except for apple, cherry, pumpkin, pecan and lemon meringue, which are all tied with blueberry for first place). A flat (in case you were wondering) is a dozen pints, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 pounds. It's a lot of blueberries. But I think we can handle them.
The giant onslaught of work is due to 2 things: first, I am nearing the end of my final class in the public health program I've been doing the last 2 years. The final exam is due on my birthday (**sympathy appreciated**). Though it will be a nice birthday present to be finished with having school after a full day of work most days.
The other thing is, I have to pile about two months' of work into the next 3 weeks at my office, because I'm taking a sabbatical during the month of August. It is kind of scary. It's a time when I'm supposed to rest, think about big-picture questions like "what does it all mean?" and come back rejeuvenated and ready to make the next 7 years at least as good as the first 7 have been, only perhaps less stressful (oh please oh please). But in order to step away and chill out... I have to get through a mountain of work first. I should stop writing about it because it's making me tired just thinking about it.
One of the first things I want to do during my month of reflection and whatnot is de-clutter my home work space. I plan to get rid of a lot of stuff. In fact, maybe I should do that right now... might be easier to get through the next 3 weeks without so many stacks threatening to collapse on my head.
Friday, July 04, 2008
I tend to think of independece as meaning both doing things for yourself, and not needing others. But looking at all the ways that independence flourishes in our lives, I see how much it all comes from helping each other out. From the co-op truck to sharing gardening tips... we couldn't be independent without each other. As we watch the fireworks tonight and listen to the Boston Pops play the 1812 Overture, I think I'll be toasting the independence paradox.
Happy Independence Day to all of you!