Sunday, September 09, 2012

Here's a fun little reading check-in from Kelly at The Broke and the Bookish

(I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, intended to take pictures--because blogs are better with pictures--and then got distracted by a little thing called the Start of the School Year. So: no pictures...but blogs are also better with actual posts!  I'll come in with italics at the end of each answer to let you know whether any of my thoughts changed after writing this originally.)

1. The book I’m currently readingA Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.  This is the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I originally began this series in about 2001 when there were two or three books, and the series has gotten a lot of publicity this last couple of years because of the HBO series Game of Thrones.  This summer I have reread all five.  It has been eye-opening to reread them all in one fell swoop--details I never noticed the first time around are suddenly Really Important, and most of one whole book was a complete surprise to me, likely because I was so excited for it to come out that I read it too fast the first time.  

I've stalled out on ADWD, though, maybe because I'm reading it as an ebook?  I bought it for my iPad (through the iTunes store) because I was traveling to teach at a workshop and didn't want to hoss the huge hardback along with all of my teaching materials.  I love that ebooks allow me to fit a 1500-page hardback into the same package that holds all of the Internet and fun games and helpful apps and my magazine subscriptions; however, I have found that my reading concentration dwindles when I can wander away from my book into the internet simply at the click of a button.   

Update: Got back into and am still reading this. Still loving it. 

2. The last book I finished: An Obvious Enchantment by Tucker Malarkey. Meh. This is the kind of Literary Fiction that takes itself far too seriously and that I am in grave danger of picking up again in two years because I have completely forgotten that I Already Read It.  

Update: I already don't remember the story or the main characters' names. I gave it to Goodwill.

 The next book I want to read I started reading English Creek by Ivan Doig back in January after my grandmother died.  (Doig was one of her favorite authors, and I'd never read anything by him.)  I just didn't have the concentration at the time, but it's still sitting next to my bed.  I want to read it next, theoretically, but instead, I'll probably read...  

Update: still on the nightstand.  And now I'm reading The Dog Star by Peter Heller for my book club.  Sorry, Mr. Doig and Grandma Helen!

4. The last book I bought: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg. I absolutely love Simon Pegg as a writer and an actor--you may recognize him from "Star Trek," "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz."  He is hilarious and self-deprecating in that way that only British humorists can be. Nerd Do Well will be my palate-cleanser after the high-intrigue, high-drama, high-violence, and high-rape world of A Song of Ice and Fire.  

Update: I read this on my iPad.  Quick, funny, interesting, and not as well-written as I'd hoped, but ultimately worthwhile, especially if you are a Sci-Fi nerd, which I am, and/or like Pegg and his oeuvre, which I do. It made me seek out his first show, "Spaced," on Netflix. In the memoir, he walked an interestingly fine line between TMI (didn't need to know about your teenage sexual shenanigans, thankyouverymuch) and clearly drawn boundaries (he's married and has a child but hardly mentions either). I also learned some new British slang, which sometimes my iPad dictionary knew and sometimes it didn't.

5. The last book I was given: The free table at the library gave me The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory. I'm not a huge historical fiction buff but I have enjoyed Gregory's books a lot, and having just finished Will in the World, a really engaging and thought-provoking biography of Shakespeare, I am excited to dive into the Elizabethan world in fiction again as well. 

Update: My principal gave me a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Fable, which she thinks I'll be interested in, and which is giving me major flashbacks to reading Who Moved My Cheese? in the 90's when I worked in sales and the company bought a copy for everyone to read because they thought it would help us be better workers with less complaining about change. I'll skim it and give it back.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I live in one of the berry capitals of the country.  Our county produces a ridiculous amount of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, not to mention the insane (and rather nuisancy) amount of wild blackberry cane that grows everywhere.  But it was just recently--last summer, amazingly--that we ever went and picked berries.

Canning was something that I thought was too hard, too time consuming, too scary to contemplate, a task that required a crazy specialized set of skills and equipment.  But last summer, after having two years of successful pickling under our belts, and having raced the kids to fill buckets of strawberries with little long-term thought to the purpose of having picked 16 pounds--I made my first jam.

And, guess what?  It was easy.  I'm serious.  If you can follow a basic recipe for cookies off the back of the chocolate chip bag, you can make jam.  Heck, if you can make a Lean Cuisine in the microwave without setting it on fire, you can make jam.  The main thing you need is TIME, but even the most intensive recipe can be made in an afternoon.

For my first try I followed a recipe from Sunset magazine, but was not happy with the amount of sugar it called for.  (Pectin needs sugar for its chemical reaction, so you can't just reduce it or substitute.) And even the low-sugar pectin that you can get at the grocery store still requires cups and cups and CUPS of sugar; it's only low in comparison.

[I just noticed when I popped over to Amazon that Sure-Jell's low-sugar pectin now says it has no-sugar recipes.  It didn't have that last year.]

All hail the internets--I quickly discovered the existence of Pomona's Universal Pectin, which besides being a product that sounds like it's from the 1870s, allows you to make jam with little or even no sugar.

Here's what we've tried so far, the past two summers:

  1. Strawberry-raspberry jam, from Sunset magazine.  Lovely, and VERY sweet.  The Jam that Started it All.  I made 4-oz jars and gave most of it away to the neighbors because I was so excited that I Had Made Jam!  Note to self: next time, ask neighbors to return jars.
  2. Low-sugar strawberry jam, following the recipe on the inside of the low-sugar Sure-Jell package. Traditional and yummy.
  3. No-sugar blueberry jam, following the recipe inside the Pomona's Universal Pectin package.  This turned out thick and spreadable, almost like a fruit butter, and took us through the winter.  Even in the depths of February this tasted like summer.
  4. No-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  Even I, and I love tart foods, think this one could have benefited from a little sugar.  That said, it's awesome with peanut butter on toast, and it makes an fresh-tasting, ruby-red dessert topping.  If I give any jars away for gifts, I'm going to say it's strawberry sundae topping and the recipient will be none the wiser.
  5. Low-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  No verdict yet because we haven't opened it yet.
  6. Low-sugar raspberry jam, again following the Pomona's recipe--next up to be opened.  I also made a bunch of 4 and 8 oz jars of this for gifts.  Raspberry jam is my absolute favorite, so I am thrilled we didn't miss raspberry season this year.
Finally--lest you think we have gone completely health conscious--for a belated birthday gift I got a copy of Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan, who has an awesome website called, not surprisingly,  This book goes way beyond jam to cover condiments, fruit butters, marmalades, curds, salsas, pickles, and more.  This is a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it for new-to-intermediate canners.  Her jams and jellies are all full sugar, so I wouldn't personally make them for everyday family use, but we did make one very special jelly with an eye toward gifts: tart cherry/amaretto jelly.

Have you tried canning fruits, jams, jellies, or anything else?  what are your favorite recipes?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Short(er) rows

This summer, I'm laboring at love...with love.

Love: stranded colorwork vest that is challenging me in oh-so-many ways...but as the rows, er, rounds get shorter it gets more fun, and that is the joy of a hem-up knit.  I'm jonesing to knit with big needles on a quick project (maybe that's why THIS jumped out at me from the new Interweave Knits?) but it's also been completely absorbing to be creating a garment on size 2s and the dang thing BETTER FIT ME OR ELSE.  It definitely warrants its own post.

Love has also been taking care of my body. Summer is always a time of rejuvenation and after a year of feeling good, finishing (nearly) the Whole 30, which I highly recommend for snapping oneself out of unproductive eating habits, I have been running more and biking more and feeling more *me* for the first time in a long time.  It helps that I have come to some realizations about my body and myself--probably fodder for another post--that are continually surprising that it took me to age 36 to figure out.

Love has been completing some house projects that needed to be done, and thinking about what we want our home to look, feel, and be like for us and our guests. I'm not a big decorator/DIY person but I do enjoy small, achievable projects.  Maybe that's another post.

Love has also been indulging in lots of reading and quiet time, which I share with my kids now.  They've both turned into crazy bookworms, devouring their books of choice and reading and reading and reading and READING until I have to go (like I remember my mom doing with me) and say, "Are you still with us?"  I'm rereading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (also known as the Game of Thrones series after its first book and the HBO series).  I'm also listening to the latest Stephen King, 11/22/63, on audiobook.  I haven't read a King book for a long time--I think he lost me at about The Langoliers--but I have heard good things about this one, and I love his nonfiction (who else misses his Entertainment Weekly column?), so I'm giving old Uncle Stevie another chance.  Perhaps I can weigh in on my thoughts about the series or the King book in another post.

It's funny...the Knittingverse is full of meetups and fairs and Ravellenics and Tours de Fleece and I am in the least joiny mood I've ever been.  Just enjoying me and my needles and my little nest.  Again...probably another post for another time.

This is my new year, my refresh, reset, reboot time.  So many beginnings, so many strands, so many skeins...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.
E. B. White

I have to admit that I love doing laundry.  It's one of the only chores that allows you to watch TV at the same time.  It's also that little bit of order from chaos that we all need around the house.

We've been repainting our downstairs, which includes the family room, the laundry room, and, behind a little pocket door, a half bath.  The floor is a dark green tile--somewhere between avocado and forest--and the walls had been painted a greeny white.  Like most paint colors chosen by the previous owners of our house, the intent was to match some other element in the room, and the result was slightly off and kind of, well, ugly.  Greeny-white is NOT a good color in a room that has no natural light.  It sort of reflected itself onto your skin when you were in there and made you look like you had cholera or typhus or some horrid 19th century wasting disease.

On the pocket door was painted a Mondriany geometric pattern in burgundy and green.  Again, not the SAME green as the tile, but ALMOST.  It was so poorly executed that the paint had bled under what had been the taped off portions, making every line uneven and amateurish, and the pencilled-on guidelines HAD NOT BEEN ERASED.

Listen, I get the whirl of excitement that happens when you see something on HGTV and want to imitate it in your home RIGHT NOW.  But why not erase the pencil lines?

And, more to the point, six years later, why hadn't *I* erased the pencil lines?  Instead I just pushed the pocket door into its, er, pocket and tried to pretend it wasn't there.

Now, though, there was a lot of satisfaction in primering over that and painting it a smooth, warm color of creamy white.  (Malted Milk by Behr from Lowe's, in case you were wondering.)  We've got plans for shelving and/or cabinets, and I want a little drying rack for my handknit socks, and some bins for sorting lights and darks, and (can't you tell?) I'm just giddy with excitement for a little laundry oasis to be ready.

What's your favorite household chore, and why?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fruit alchemy

Fifteen pounds of local, we-picked-'em raspberries became fifteen jars of jam today.

We also set aside a good number of berries to freeze for the dark days of winter, plus a big pot of "ice cream topping"--as my husband called it--that I would just have soon have called "dinner, eaten standing at the stove."

Before we went on vacation last week, we had picked another 15 pounds of local strawberries and made no-sugar jam following the recipe that comes in the box of Pomona's Pectin.

I got this book as a belated birthday present and it was well worth the wait...I basically read it cover to cover (stopping to salivate) on our drive home from eastern Washington.  I am sad there aren't more low-sugar or no-sugar recipes--I see us using it to make a few boutique jars to give as gifts, but using our more utilitarian jams for every day.  This is the book equivalent of playing dressup with fruit.

I was thinking as I walked the rows this morning, picking the luscious giant raspberries--my county produces some insanely high percentage of the raspberries in the U.S.--how lucky we are to be able to drive a mere fifteen minutes to pick fifteen pounds that will become fifteen jars.

Have you gotten into preserving or jam-making or pickling or anything else?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012



My sister made this for me.

Isn't it cool?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Cross my heart



Almost makes me want to take up cross-stitch again.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Indecision 2012

Seems appropriate that the day after Super Tuesday (not that I'm paying attention to the primaries anyway, they never feel relevant in Washington state) I share with you some indecision I'm experiencing.

A couple of years ago I had bought the kit for KnitPicks' Corrie Vest in one of its original color selections, spiffily titled "Neutral." (I think it came in "Neutral" and "Bold" originally--they've since issued a couple of other options--and even a bright-color-loving person like me thought the selection of Palette in "Bold" should have been renamed "Garish.")

Although I've been interested in doing a larger scale fair isle / stranded colorwork garment for a while, I just never got off the ground with poor Corrie. As I've worked my way through my January resolutions (more on my Noro/Palette Ivy League vest in a subsequent entry) I realized that I needed to either fish or cut bait.

Let's go fishing!

I cast on. I worked my way through the bottom ribbing, practicing my combination knitting. I started the first chart and worked my way upwards. I remembered the two-handed method of stranding the yarns, and I remembered why colorwork is so absorbing and mathematical. But something still didn't seem right.

I loved all of the warm neutrals: Merlot Heather, Wallaby, Bark, Almond, Camel Heather, Cream, and Bittersweet Heather. These are lovely, soft, and luscious.

But I didn't love the greens: Verdant Heather and Celadon Heather. Slightly too cold for my taste, they will make me look washed out. And, let's face it, if you're going to knit an entire garment on size 2 needles, it should be 100% colors you love.

[knit in progress with Palette in bittersweet heather, verdant heather, and celadon heather pictured. This is the original color selection that came with the kit. See how grey and cool they are?]

I decided to audition some replacements for Verdant Heather and Celadon. Here are the options I came up with. In making my replacement choice, I'm considering a couple of criteria:
1. do the replacements have similar color values in comparison to each other and to the yarns as a whole?
2. are they colors I love and will wear?

Option 1: Opal Heather and Sagebrush.
Pros--keeps the original green palette but changes it to aqua. Cons--sagebrush is a bit light; Opal reads more blue, sagebrush more green--and are they too close in color value?

Option 2: Rooibos Heather and Conch.
Pros--I love reds, oranges, and pinks and wear them quite often. This combo would be warm and lovely--I've been infatuated with Rooibos since the color was released last year. Cons--Conch is a bit too too much, and the colors aren't as closely related to each other as the blue/blue or green/green combos. I think that's part of the nature of the beast with reds--since a light blue is still blue, but a light red reads as pink.

Option 3: Midnight heather and opal heather
Pros: both are blues with an aqua rather than a green tinge; this combo evokes the original kit while fitting my coloring and taste better. Cons: Is the midnight heather TOO dark? Would it read as black, not blue?

Option 4: Rainforest Heather and Sagebrush
Pros: More green than blue. The sagebrush is the clearest substitute for the celadon in color value. Cons: Rainforest has a cool, purply undertone, not always flattering on me.

I know which way I'm leaning...what do you all think?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yarn Hubris

So: my eggplant scarf was sheer bliss to knit and sheer excitement to mail off. It received rave reviews from its recipient.

I started the Orchid Thief Shawlette with the same high hopes. A beautiful design from one of my favorite designers...a springy sparkly yarn...size 6 needles (one of my top three sizes to knit with) and LOTS of charts. (I love charts.)

All was going well and, because I get a tad obsessy, I was on pace to finish the whole thing in less than a week.


Yarn hubris, to be more specific.

The pattern calls for a 440-yard skein of Malabrigo sock. My skein of Dream in Color Starry had 450 yards. The pattern did say that the sample shawl was finished with only yards to spare, and that the careful knitter might buy an extra skein to be safe.


First: I didn't decide to make the shawlette until after I'd bought the yarn.
Second: my LYS only HAD one skein.
Third: I am on a limited yarn budget. I could not justify buying a second skein of $28-a-skein yarn Just In Case.
Fourth: my yarn already had 10 extra yards compared to the Malabrigo sock.

I think you know how this story ends.

OH yes.

I'm knitting happily along...each row getting subsequently and seemingly exponentially longer...pulling the yarn out of its huge yarn cake in my project bag...humming a merry tune and mentally devising fictional formal events at which to wear my sparkly midnight blue shawlette...and then...

Boom baby. On row 112 of 114, I pulled the yarn out to check on it and, poof, where had it gone? I did the trick where you tie a slip knot at the halfway point to see how you're doing and...I barely made it one more row. Yes, two yards from the finish line (114 is also the bindoff row) I was Out Of Yarn.

And the yarn is discontinued.

And one person has it for sale or trade in his Ravelry stash. One Person in all the world. He's willing to sell it...but only the whole skein.

March 1, when the fun money budget resets, that skein is coming my way. And I Will Finish.

And then I will have 90+ percent of a skein of Dream in Color Starry left over.

At least I'll know one project it's NOT enough yarn for.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Knitting Book Review: Textured Stitches

Knitting Book Review: Textured Stitches: Knitted sweaters & accessories with smart details
(2011, Interweave Press, 144 pages, 19 projects. Source: personal purchase.)
By: Connie Chang Chinchio
Nutshell: 75% classic, 25% detail-work in a well-worth-purchasing collection of women’s garments.

Background: Connie Chang Chinchio is a name you likely recognize, either from her blog or from the numerous patterns she’s recently published in venues like Interweave Knits, Knitscene, and Twist Collective. I have always been drawn to her patterns, which combine classic lines with intriguing details.

I rediscovered some of her previous patterns as I browsed Ravelry doing research for this review, and remembered how much I love the Henley Perfected and Far Afield Vest. (And, of course, I wrote recently about my plans for a Geodesic Cardigan, assuming I can get up da noive to knit a me-sized sweater in lace-weight yarn.)

Synopsis: A collection of ten sweaters and nine accessories (ten, if you count the hat and mittens set as two patterns), Chang Chinchio integrates her love of stitch patterns and motifs with (mostly) fine-gauge yarns and classic, feminine silhouettes.

Each pattern contains an unexpected element or delightful surprise; lace, cables, smocking, and twisted stitches all make an appearance. All patterns are within the reach of an intermediate knitter, or even a determined beginner. Colorwork is nowhere to be found, not even stripes; like the title says, it’s all about texture.

Additionally, Chang Chinchio provides four sidebars with detail-filled explanations of a variety of techniques she loves and uses: tubular cast-on & sewn bindoff, glove-knitting, reading charts, and working sleeves from the top down using short rows. The book also includes several pages of Interweave’s always-quality knitting instructions and diagrams at the end.

Writing Sample: Charts are a convenient way to communicate complex stitch patterns accurately and succinctly. Whereas it’s easy to make a typo or skip a stitch when writing out stitch patterns row by row, missing or erroneous stitches tend to be obvious when plotted on a chart. (from “Reading a Chart,” the sidebar on page 103.)

Woot: My favorite aspect of Textured Stitches was the way it looked and felt like a unified collection. From repeated design elements like short-row shaping on collars to its meticulous instructions and level of detail (the Gems Hoodie gets 12 pages of instructions and detailed photos and charts) the book is accessible, careful, and beautiful. Not one time did I think, as I sometimes do, “This is the pattern that got slapped together at the last minute.” The texture is often botanical or geometrically inspired, and she never repeated a motif.

Next: nobody designs a sport- or DK-weight sweater like Ms. Chang Chinchio. I have to admit to being a worsted fan, myself, but seeing the lovely sweaters in this book makes me want to break out the size 5s and settle in for a while. That said, there are three patterns written for worsted-weight (a scarf, a pullover, and a jacket) and each uses the heavier gauge to its best advantage.

I also appreciated the variety of yarns used. Everything from affordable Cascade Heritage to spendy Road to China Light shows up.

Meh: Beware, endowed women, of the sweater patterns. Those of us with a bit of junk in the trunk or "huge tracts of land" in the front: we may be disappointed by these patterns’s fit, which tends toward the subtly-shaped-but-not-shapely. I’m a C cup (funny how the internet encourages such odd revelations) and I would definitely need to add bust darts to nearly every sweater to keep their body-skimming silhouettes from becoming too va-va-voom.

(Bust dart side note: the hands-down best tutorial I’ve seen on this topic is in Ysolda Teague’s Little Red in the City. Run, don’t walk, to get a copy of this book.)

I also must say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the accessories patterns.
Both hats were kind of odd looking, and – I know I should never say never – I don’t see myself EVER knitting gloves, especially in fingering weight. However, the ten sweaters were worth the price of admission. My favorites: the relaxed and fun Gems Hoodie, the sophisticated Honeycomb Tunic, and the delicate Tulip Henley.

Boo: patterns for men. I’d love to see what Chang Chinchio would do with fine-gauge yarn and a man’s sweater. Men like texture, too!

Also: the tutorials are text-heavy and could have benefited from diagrams. The description of magic loop was particularly mind-boggling, and I already know how to do it.

Audience? Knitters who love classic lines and finer gauges, plus patterns with surprising detail and texture that elevate the garment to an heirloom, or at least a favorite.

Sequel-worthy? Certainly. I’d love to see more vests, men’s and/or children’s patterns, and some attention to adapting patterns for different body shapes.

I hope this review is helpful. I plan to continue to go through my shelves and highlight books—some new, some not—of interest to other knitters. Let me know in comments if there are any unanswered questions, or features you’d like me to consider adding. As with any review, my comments are intended to educate, illuminate, and entertain; your mileage may vary.
Have you read this book? What did you think?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Annnnnnd--blocked, beautiful (if I do say so myself) and ready to she is....the lovely Loreli. Her stitch pattern is beautiful, like waving seagrass on the ocean floor. It's also the rare lace pattern that is reversible without a sooooper obvious wrong side. The sides are different, but the back looks good, too. I personally think this is a good quality in a scarf.

See? Back pretty.

Also, you can pretend you're French:
Ooh la la. (On me, this method is a bit too short. But for my 5'2" friend I think it'll hit at a good spot.)

Or drape it like a stole:

Or--my personal favorite scarf-wearing technique--the once-around-falling-forward.

Everything about this project tickles me, from the stitch pattern, to the yarn, to the invisible kitchenered seam, to the way I will always think of Downton Abbey when I see it. Yay for happy gifty projects.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Starting blocks, building blocks

It is a truth universally acknowledged -- by knitters, at least -- that a lace scarf must be in want of a block.

I've been working on this Loreli's Gift scarf for my dearest friend. We had wandered our way into a lovely yarn shop in Seattle last fall while on one of our celebrated and traditional rambling walk-and-talks. She happened to drop the hint that she was loving gold and eggplant these days. (But not together: too UW Huskies.) I, being the dutiful knitting friend I am, filed that away (and left the store with a beautiful skein of Hazel Knits sock yarn in Hoppy Blonde). Hoppy Blonde was intended for a scarf (and might still be one day) but then, later that month, I popped into my own favorite local yarn store (which had just started carrying Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock) and the eggplantiest of eggplants made its way home. Suddenly I had two choices. Texts followed:

Me: Answer w/o thinking: gold or eggplant?
Her: Eggplant!

Then, a day later after I'd pored over my Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders book:

Me: Now: traveling vine, loreli, or candle glow?
Her: Gilmore girls! Loreli. this is mysterious and delightful.

Isn't it funny, and wonderful, the thought and love that goes into a knitted item for a dear one?

One consideration the color. I always want it to be something that is both familiar and surprising--a color I know they love, presented in a unique way. Both potentials fit the bill -- gorgeously hand-dyed and tonal.

Another conundrum: the pattern. What will the person wear? What suits their job, their style, their height, their shape? My friend has a professional job in a city...she's just over five feet tall...she is outdoorsy and tough, yet feminine and funny. I wanted the scarf pattern to reflect all of this. (And I was glad she picked Loreli's Gift, which I was leaning toward anyway!)

The final test: will I enjoy knitting this pattern? Sometimes, the tedium of a simple pattern can be overcome by sheer love for the recipient. (See: plain brown socks for men.) The rest of the time, one has to find a happy medium between what one loves to knit and what the recipient will enjoy.

I'm pleased to report that Loreli is almost ready to make her way to her home. I had already blocked her first half before I started part two, as you can see in the photo above...I wanted to make sure that she'd block to the full 50" measure. The second half went even faster than the first and I kitchenered her halves together this afternoon whilst snuggling with a sick little girl home from school.

It's been said many times on the knitterwebs, but it begs mentioning whenever possible: blocking is magical. The bumpy lumpy lace suddenly sleeks up and becomes slender, glamorous, smooth. The Soak softens the fibers and tames them into silken submission.

Here's to having people you love to knit for. Here's to blocking. And here's to checking item one off of my "projects to do" list.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Back to the Real World

If you're a weather-watcher, you know that the Pacific Northwest was hit by winter ice storms and snow last week. In my community, a foot or more of snow hit Sunday/Monday/Tuesday of Martin Luther King weekend and then persisted all week, with temps down in the teens plus (minus?) windchill.

Now comes the obligatory disclaimer: I know this doesn't sound like much for those of you in cold climates, buuuuuuuuut....

It paralyzed our town. Remember that most people don't have snow tires, although we do have lots of Subarus, and see snow about two days every other winter. Snow removal equipment is scarce (from a fiscal standpoint we can all see why fleets of snowplows are impractical) and we live in a hilly, hilly, hilly, nay, mountainous region. With little-to-no snow removal on side streets, snow packs down under tires and feet, melts slightly, then refreezes, turning neighborhoods into air hockey rinks.

So this resulted in an unexpected week off of school for the kids and me. We had knitting time, game and puzzle time, screen time (admittedly probably too much), outside-in-the-snow time, sledding time, and lots of reading time. It was wonderful.

But tomorrow is back to the real world. This week will be catching up and moving on and, somewhere sandwiched amongst all of the end-of-semester-panicking, I'll be attending a funeral of a dearly loved person who slipped away last Thursday afternoon, surrounded by her children, after fighting the good fight, in peace at last.

And the snow fell.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

After thought, an afterthought

Every time I knit a pair of socks--about twice a year, that is--I think: OK. Last pair.

Then I finish them.

And slide them on, wrigging my toes in wooly glee.

Then I think: OK. Maybe one more pair.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Deck: or my January insanity

I spent some time diving into the wreck (sorry, gratuitous Adrienne Rich allusion there) that is my stash over the 3-day weekend. I'm not a big resolution person (mostly because I know how likely I am to last all of, oh, five days with some grand scheme for personal overhaulment). However, I do intend to finish the items in this bag before starting any new projects. Here they are, in no particular order:
An eggplant scarf, intended for my BFF. Started & raveled.

My languishing Noro/Black Ivy League Vest. I had made it up to row 66 and I think the neck shaping caught me off guard. Now that I'm 15 lbs slimmer than when I started it will actually fit me and look Must Be Finished.

Dream in Color Starry, in a midnighty blue-purple, for The Orchid Thief shawlette. Then, I will find a glamorous event to wear it to and put on my best mysterious and pensive expression.

It's either the Geodesic or the Featherweight Cardigan with these skeins of Knitpicks Shadow Tonal (plus one that's already wound and consequently Not Pictured). Isn't the blue so vibrant and happy?

This is another fair isle vest: the Corrie Vest from knitpicks. They've put out a few different colorways for this pattern, but this one is Neutral, I believe.

Eeep. I'm starting to hyperventilate at the pattern unfolding here. (breathes into paper bag for a sec)

Q: What am I prolific and productive at knitting?
A: Worsted-weight sweaters, felted slippers, and hats.

Q: What am I slower than molasses at?
A: Socks, lace, and scarves.

Q: What am I planning?
A: A scarf, a shawl, and two fair-isle vests.

Hmm...a challenge? Or desperately forcing my square knitting peg into a round hole?

Maybe Dana 2012 is the Dana of fine gauge?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Knitting Book Review: The Best of Knitscene

Knitting Book Review: The Best of Knitscene: A Collection of Simple, Stylish, and Spirited Knits
(2011, Interweave Press, 144 pages, 20 projects. Source: personal purchase.)

By: Lisa Schroyer

Nutshell: 100% concentrated Knitscene
Background: A couple of years ago, I started buying each issue of Knitscene as it came out. (Why Interweave hasn’t made it available for subscription yet, I just can’t fathom...) I was already a fan of its style—a little bit younger, a little bit hipper, and slightly easier constructions and techniques than Knits—and I was excited to see this book arrive.

For those of you not familiar with this lovely little mag, it began in 2005 as an occasional special-interest publication by Interweave. Based on its design sensibilities, I imagine it was an effort to target young, new, “hip” (whatever that means) knitters.

Think of it as the Skipper to Knits’ Barbie.

It has since graduated to a quarterly publication, just like Crochet and Knits, and continues to have a more current, fashion-forward sensibility both in its patterns and its editorial content. Each issue features a collection by one up-and-coming designer (Amy Herzog and Hannah Fettig were recent choices) as well as a “how to style this knitwear” feature that gives suggestions on accessories and clothing to wear to best showcase your new sweater in the most fashionable, er, fashion.

Synopsis: Lisa Schroyer, current editor of Knitscene, curates a collection of 20 “best-of” patterns from 2005-present. Patterns include: five pullovers, four cardigans, and assorted accessories (scarf, shawl, bag, mitts, vest, and socks). Additional editorial content includes “trends” features, showing the historical roots and modern uses of different types of knitting techniques and constructions (cables, fair isle, Cowichan sweaters, to name a few), plus articles and how-tos by respected knitters like Clara Parkes and Miriam Felton.

Writing Sample: A sort of uber-grandpa cardigan, your own Cowichan-inspired sweater can be a great foil for slim silhouettes, bold patterns, and sparkly fabrics. Knitscene designer Cecily Glowik MacDonald’s Indigo Banded Cardigan is a simple way to feel the Cowichan love with its creamy white base and midriff band of colorwork. Follow Hollywood star Megan Fox’s lead and throw it on over a slouchy white V-neck T-shirt. Add a pair of metal aviators and silky cargoes for a comfy travel look. Pair it with a vintage-y plaid blouse, skinny jeans, and tall boots. Wrap yourself up in one over a sequin tank dress for an offbeat glam effect. (11)

Woot: These patterns rock. I love each and every one of them, and I can see myself knitting and wearing each and every one…though likely minus the skinny jeans and metal aviators. (So far, I’ve only knit the Central Park Hoodie, which I bought as a standalone pattern when it was re-released in 2008. Here’s mine.) Clearly, Shroyer and her editorial team put a huge amount of time into selecting patterns that have been popular, have stood the test of time (relatively speaking), and will appeal to a wide variety of ability levels. They also took the time to re-photograph, re-knit (if necessary), and even re-size the patterns, as well as make sure that available yarns were substituted for those since discontinued.
My top three: The Geodesic Cardigan, the Heather Hoodie Vest, and the Tempest Beret.

Meh: Beware any publication that strives for a hip sensibility, because soon it will be unhip. The shelf life on this book may be limited. However, at $24.95 (and I got mine for less through my membership) it’s cheaper than buying all the back issues, and if even five patterns appeal to you, it’s cheaper than buying them as individual downloads.

Boo: Occasionally, the book uses, for illustrative purposes, a photo of a pattern that is not included in the collection. Mitigating this Boo: they always tell you the name of the pattern and which issue of Knitscene you can find it in. And...I feel compelled to mens' patterns (although Norah Gaughan's Kenobi jacket was apparently designed for men, though it is modeled by a woman in the book.)

Audience? The youthful-feeling female knitting crowd who value classic styling with modern touches. I'd also recommend this as a gift for a new-to-intermediate knitter looking to branch out in a fashion-forward way--both the patterns and the articles would be helpful.

Sequel-worthy? Yes Indeedy! It's still worth buying each issue as it comes out, but if you're just getting started and don't want to spend the $$ for the DVDs of the back issues, this would be a lovely collection with which to begin.

I hope this review is helpful. I plan to continue to go through my shelves and highlight books—some new, some not—of interest to other knitters. Let me know in comments if there are any unanswered questions, or features you’d like me to consider adding. As with any review, my comments are intended to educate, illuminate, and entertain; your mileage may vary.
Have you read this book? What did you think?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Six Days In! Among other things...

This is what my food has looked like A LOT lately.

Green stuff, plus purple stuff, plus assorted other crunchy stuff, plus an oil/vinegar/spice-or-two/lemon-juice dressing. Plus meat. It's disconcerting how much meat--and how many eggs!--I have personally consumed this week. It's quite the diet whiplash, this nonchalance about fats and cholesterol. Or, rather, this rejiggering of the dietary priorities.

Basically, meal after meal, I am eating big piles of food. Which is good, because I really like pile-style food. Mix-ins have been a favorite culinary flourish of mine since I was a kid--some more healthful than others--so I don't mind. (Chili-mac. Yum.)

Since I sort of backed into this whole Whole 30 thing--"Hey, I know, why don't I go on a really restrictive elimination diet the day AFTER we do a huge grocery shopping trip?"--I had to scramble a bit this week; hence, the repetitive piles. This coming week I plan to plan a few real meals that the whole family can share, pre-bake or roast some root veggies, and pre-pack some snacks.

I haven't been too tempted so far, just being in the honeymoon stage, even by the large open bag of potato chips that ended up in my classroom computer lab. (That did look less appealing as the week went on though...) I did have a huge dessert craving last night and I invented a Whole-30 appropriate option in the nick of time: I diced up half an apple into about .5" pieces. I grabbed out the bag of almond meal from my gluten-free pie crust experiment and tossed about 1/4 cup over the apple chunks. Then, I added a LIBERAL amount of cinnamon (I'd guess at least a teaspoon) and a glug of lemon juice.

If I squinted my mouth, it tasted like apple pie.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A departure of sorts

Wait. What? This isn't a foodie blog.

No, it isn't. (If it were, the pictures would be a lot better, and use lighting, angles, and depth of field to make the salad look glistening and delectable, rather than just...salady.)

I'm embarking on The Whole 30.

It's a Paleo/elimination diet. I've never done a full elimination diet before, though I've dabbled in it at various times. Recent health issues (I won't go into details, trust me, you don't want to know) as well as some issues in my larger family health history, as well as the Mind Numbingly Depressing Aura of Doom that always takes me over this time of year and makes me want to drive my car off the road--these have all led me to try to take hold of my body chemistry through exercise and diet.

And when I say "diet," I mean that I'm really just trying to focus on the foods I eat, not counting calories or points or grams. (Although I'm not going to lie; breaking through the weight plateau I've been on for a year would be awesome.)

A family member did the Whole 30 last summer, and she felt amazing upon completion. It's going to be tough, and I reserve the right to completely blow it, but I think I can do it. I've already made a lot of these changes, albeit not 100% in some cases, so I think it might be a bit easier for me than for someone who is starting from a more junk-food-y or even food-pyramid-y diet.

Here's the basics--see their website if you want more details: "Eat real food--meat, fish, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats."

No sugar (real or artificial), no grains, no legumes. These three are going to be the toughest groups for me to avoid. We already eat nearly 100% gluten free because of my daughter's celiac, but we still eat a lot of rice, quinoa, and GF breads and cereals. The good news is that I've learned to be creative about eliminating gluten while still cooking well for the family. Sugar, though. Hmm. I've weaned myself off of sugar in my coffee and tea over the past few years. I don't bake much because of the celiac issue -- I can, but I don't often. It's the bags of Skittles and bottles of pop in the checkout line that call to me. There's something so rebellious about eating a clandestine candy bar. And beans? Just when I was perfecting my chili recipe!

No alcohol in any form (even for cooking). Alcohol is probably next most difficult--I've been indulging a little bit too much over the holiday season...but, again, given my family history, learning to have more moderation is probably a good thing. And, I know I said I wasn't counting calories, but this group is all emptiness.

No dairy, no white potatoes, no processed foods. Dairy and potatoes were already nearly eliminated from at least my HOME diet (except for potato chips, yikes). It's amazing how I've gone from the biggest ice cream hound in the world to not even thinking it sounds good when I see it on a menu. We have had home fries and baked potatoes of late...but it'll be easy to replace those with yams or sweet potatoes, which are OK "in moderation." (Well, duh.) As for processed foods--we don't eat many, but it's going to be tough to go cold turkey on the potato chips.

I've made it almost two days so far. Yesterday was tough--we went to a New Year's Day party with tons of greasy, gooey, delectable, tempting hors d'oeuvres and snacks--but I subsisted on vegetables and water. (Lesson learned: pack food for parties.) I had a headache by the end of the day but otherwise felt fine, and then made homemade chicken nuggets for me and the kids (theirs breaded with corn meal, mine just with spice rub)...but I'd rather have a hungry/carb-withdrawal headache than the gut bomb I would have been feeling after filling up on pizza dip, buttered popcorn, ranch dressing, little smokies, and creamy dips and crackers.

So....I'll see how it goes. I'll report semi-regularly on recipes and experiences, and make sure to reflect on my progress when it's over. I even had my husband take "before" photos (these will probably NOT go on the internet, though.)