Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blogging; diversion, or obsession?

I had another productive evening last night after group meeting. Yup, that's right. I did no knitting, but I managed to find more blogs to read! (To be fair, I got home at 9:30 and bedtime is 10, so it wasn't like I had a lot of time to work on those holiday socks anyway...) Anne Hanson's blog is my hands-down favorite. It's one of those places that you go to sit at the feet of a great teacher and just absorb knowledge. There are few people that I really feel the need to emulate, or that I aspire to become. I am pretty happy just being myself, generally. However, sometimes you run across someone whose skill and knowledge knocks you flat, and leaves you wondering how on earth you could be more like that. Anne is one of them. (At least as far as knitting goes...I know her in no other way.) She has the most beautiful designs, and there's always a great discussion of the process of achieving them, from conception through to blocking. I want to try every single one, and I would be in great danger of never reemerging from lace, except that I have so many things going on right now that I must finish first.

Well, I was poking around on Knitspot before heading off to bed for the night, and noticed that Anne linked to Kim. Given the high esteem in which I hold Knitspot, I decided to try this blog that Anne linked to. Kim, in turn, linked to several other blogs, among which is Susan's. There, I found another process knit blog. I am very excited, as this is my favorite kind (I appear to share this taste with Kim). It just so happens that Susan sent out a plea for links to her blog today. I fully intend to figure out how to put one of those "list of blogs I read" panels on the side of my screen someday, but I have been too lazy to do it thus far. Since I have no readers, having not yet announced my site, posting these blog sites here will have no immediate impact. However, it's just possible that someone will find them buried in the archives someday when I have "gone public," and will find a new blog to haunt as a result. I'm guessing from what I've seen so far that there will be more posts on these new blogs in the future, as they seem to be the kind that I will find myself talking about frequently. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will not be the last time that I link to these new pages. But now, for the first time, I would like to introduce my non-existent (and hopefully, my future) readership to Susan and Kim. May you enjoy their sites as much as I do.

As to the title of this post, I really have to wonder if this is becoming an obsession. I really have a lot of blogs that I read now. Google reader lists at least 11 new posts a day, and I don't even know how many there are in my list. I do find myself reading and posting when I should be knitting. I'm not sure that I approve of this new obsession displacing my old one (the old one being knitting, of course). Hopefully they will learn to peaceably coexist, because I would hate to give up blogging. =)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's here!

Temptation has arrived. In this case, it is in the form of a very soft skein of superfine merino laceweight from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. Remember the Irtfa'a that I was so excited about?

The yarn came today! Oh no! How am I supposed to do Christmas knitting with such temptation sitting only inches away? I am dying to start on this project, but I need to finish Christmas knitting first. Oh dear. It's a good thing that I enjoy the anticipation of a project as much as the starting. Otherwise a month might kill me. I already feel myself bargaining with my self discipline.

"If I do one sock today, can I just cast on?" or "How about 5 rows of Irtfa'a for each sock finished?"

I love lace. Isn't the yarn gorgeous? I like it even better in person than I did online, and even online I was tempted to buy one of each of the entire Raven clan (good thing it's expensive enough to put a stop to that kind of impulse shopping!). It is super soft, and it has incredible colors. It's sitting by my chair so that I can take it out and look at it and pet it on occassion. It's going to be a long month...

One baby bootie...

Baby bootie practice sock #1 is complete, pattern followed to the letter (I think). This took a little longer than I expected (almost 2 hrs for one bootie), but I have a feeling that that's probably because today was a teaching day, and I'm slogging a bit now. Tomorrow is group meeting night, so no knitting to speak of, but I should be able to finish the pair on Thursday, and maybe start the other practice set, too. I'll be back to toe socks in no time! (And, I'll have baby crossed off the Christmas list to boot)

More cats in the yarn

Mischief found and approved Branden's new handwarmers last night.

Artemis cuddled with the sock yarn

That last position was a bit hard to knit around, so we compromised

She didn't seem to mind

Think that's a happy cat?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unwinding (or, rather, just not winding in the first place)

On November 8th, the Yarn Harlot posted on her blog about a visit with Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton. She (and most of her readership) were simply astounded to discover that Ms. Hamilton knits with a hank of yarn simply laid across her lap. I read through the 292 comments after the post, and all I could think was that knitters should just relax sometimes. There aren't any rules, and if knitting with an open skein works for Cornelia, then I see no reason to break into her house in Sweden and wind her yarn. I know the post was written tongue-in-cheek, but still.

As an avid breaker of all knitting rules, I decided that I had to give this a try, a vote in favor of the much out-voted Swede. And I love it. Yes, I do. I have had more tangles trying to use a skein that pulls from the center; nary a one has turned up while knitting this skein. You might have noticed it open and free in one of the pictures in my last post. It's a wonderful thing. It's a great way to soak up the colors and revel in the texture of the yarn as you knit. And my cat agrees.

This is Mischief. She has made one appearance already, I think, which means that her sister will need to feature in a post soon, also. Just to be fair, of course. Can't treat the cats differently, especially when Artemis is my cat. Mischief is an ardent lover of all things soft and fibery. She doesn't pull at them or chew on them or attack them. She kneads them. And when she kneads, she gets this look on her face that tells you she's in the seventh level of heaven (does heaven have seven levels, or is that hell???). Her whiskers come forward, forward, forward, until they touch in front, and she just has the oooooohhhhhh...... look on her face. She stopped by last night to appreciate Sarah's sock yarn. This is such a common phenomenon with soft knitted things (whether they're being worn, in the laundry basket, or just laying around, she will find and knead them) that we have given it a name. When we go to a yarn store, a yarn must pass the Mischief Test to be worth buying. In order to pass the Mischief Test it must be so soft and wonderful that you stand in front of the yarn bin and just feel it for a while. If you have that eye-rolling, half conscious dopey expression of pleasure on your face, it will be Mischief approved. This sock yarn is definitely approved.

And, even after the Mischief Test had been given and passed, I have not had a single tangle. I have had a cat sleeping on my lap while I knit all night, and no problems. Actually, I think the hank is less attractive to them than a ball; it doesn't twitch around as much, and it looks less like their toys. If they do start to get a little wild-eyed, one speaking of their name in The Voice nips the attack in the bud. They know that The Voice is a warning before the squirt bottle comes out, and they know better than to push it when my yarn is involved. So, they stick to the kneading and occasional sleeping on my yarn, and I knit on. And now, I knit on from an open skein rather than an overwound little ball that will roll off across the floor despite my best efforts to restrain it. Thank you, Yarn Harlot and Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton!


Of course I have to post about the socks. How could I not? My family won't miss a month of reading about knitting on my blog anyway. And at the end of the month, they'll get to read about their gifts in progress. Which means I get to talk about toes.

I forgot to mention yesterday that I bought Cat Bordhi's new book New Pathways for Sock Knitters along with all the yarn yesterday. I figured there was probably no better way to learn about different and exciting sock patterns, and that this was probably a good place for me to start. I know I've said before that I don't really follow patterns. I'm not sure that I managed to convey that it is simply impossible for me to do so 99% of the time. My one exception so far was Elijah. I did manage to follow the pattern from beginning to end on that project. I usually don't even pretend that I'm going to use a pattern; it's usually just a matter of time before I give in to the off-road knitting style.

So, I bought sock yarn and a brand new sock book with all kinds of crazy architectures designed to keep me glued to the pattern and dying to know what happens next. What's the first thing I do? That's right; even before I had chosen a pattern, I had something to add.

You know when you see something and it just screams out the name of a person on your shopping list? Well, one of the Bearfoot yarns was just dying to become socks for my sister. I'm not sure why, but it might as well have had her name on the label. It was also crying out that it couldn't be just any socks. These had to be over-the-top special socks. I am going to use the spiraling corolis pattern (see, at least I have picked a pattern now!), which is a very cool swirly architecture that wraps around as you go up the leg. I love it. But this yarn needed something else. Toes! That's right...toe socks. The coriolis pattern is a toe-up sock, so it's easy to replace the standard toe with something with a few extra digits. So, I settled down last night to make toes. Ten of them. Here's the first one.

Now, this would be particularly funny if you had heard me giving Branden a hard time about being "difficult" because he wanted the start of fingers on his latest pair of handwarmers. It wasn't really all that hard, but I had to give him a bit of eye rolling over needing fingers. There's a certain amount of irony in the fact that the very next project I chose is one that has ten toes. Good thing he knew I was kidding. Here are the first 5 toes, all lined up for grafting.

I really don't know why on earth making toe socks is amusing me so much at the moment, but it is. I think it's mostly because I know how much Sarah loves toe socks. I can hear the squeal from here, I think, and that's pretty amazing considering we're 3500 miles and a month away from Christmas. Really, though, I can't think of any other way to explain why making 10 tiny little tubes and then grafting them all together should make me giggle to myself while wrestling with up to 6 stubborn needles.

This picture was taken in the midst of the grafting process and just as I discovered that I had dropped a stitch and needed to work it back up to the holding needles. Branden looked over, was impressed by my porcupine of needles, and ignored all statements claiming that this was a private moment between me and my yarn, and it needn't be photographed, thank-you-very-much. It did work out, though, and I moved on to the second set of toes. All grafting is now complete, and I am very glad.

Sometimes you try something and decide that your method is just perfect. Sometimes, you know there must be a better way. The latter is the case on these toes. There must be a better way to make them. I am telling myself that I don't have time to spend a week finding a better way to make toes. Maybe after Christmas. But there is a better way. I just know it. Sarah might end up with a lot of toe socks if she's not careful (I can't stand to wear them, and she's the only one I know that loves them, so she's first and last in line to inherit toe prototypes.

Now that I've gotten a little off-roading out of the way, I do fully intend to go back and do Cat's book justice. I will begin at the beginning, and read the introduction, and do the little warm-up socks at the beginning before diving in. I will. No, really. There's a lot to learn from her patterns, and I am very excited to learn it. All I need is a little self-discipline and some quick-knitting yarn...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

To tell or not to tell?

The conundrum of blogging. I had planned to send out a link to family and friends this week letting them in on my little blogging endeavor. But now I have a pile of yarn waiting to become something for them. I can either post about it anyway and ruin the surprise, or I can just not tell them for another month. Of course, that means that I'll pretty much be blogging to myself for another month. Which I'm perfectly ok with. If you can't talk to yourself, just who can you talk to? But then, I'd like to think that the blog is on its way to a readership, however small. Still, you can't keep secrets and blog about them too. What to do?

I'm guessing that I'll probably blog anyway, not tell anyone, and then they can read about the process of creating gifts after they open them. Of course, that means that this early blog content probably won't get read, but that won't be the end of the world, I suppose. At least it will get me in practice, and if I decide I don't like it, I need not continue in a month. Of course, my family aren't the only ones that will ever read the blog, but my guess is that they'll be my largest readership, at least for a while. I'll have to think on this some more. I have a whole post all ready to go on the first pair of socks. Do I post it? Or do I wait? See how having a blog suddenly complicates little things like holiday surprises?

I must be crazy

I posted just a few days ago that I'm not a big fan of sock knitting. I want very much to be in love with sock making, but I'm just not. So, what did I do today? Yup, that's right. I decided that I am going to do holiday knitting after all. And what am I making? You're so good at this guessed it! Socks.

So, why on earth would I choose to make too many socks in too little time when I don't even like making socks? Yes, it probably has something to do with me being crazy. See, I have this theory. Usually, when we don't like something for no particular reason it is mostly a case of not being familiar enough with it (think little kids and peas...). When we get some practice, we realize that it's pretty enjoyable after all. So, I'm going to confront my lack of love for socks head on, and try a bunch, in all kinds of different styles, and then if I still don't like them I'll be able to say that I tried, at least.

I bounced this little brainstorm off of Branden this morning, and told him he should probably take this opportunity to save both of us the next month of sock making pressure. He didn't take the opportunity. Instead, he said that my idea sounded logical to him, and that I should give it a try. I have to give him big points for being supportive, but I'm afraid he doesn't score too well on the saving me from myself front. I guess we can't be perfect in everything, can we?

Of course, I have no sock yarn. This meant a trip to the yarn store. My favorite local store for sock and fancy yarn is the Weaving Works. They're a little on the expensive side, and for most things I prefer the Fiber Gallery, but for fancy yarns and sock selection they can't be beat. It's so hard to choose! I love the colors out this season. We managed to get one color for every person on the list, and I was even good and didn't get any extra skeins, despite Branden's belief that I needed some for me, too. I will either love socks and get more yarn after the holidays, or I will never want to see another sock again, in which case the yarn would languish forever in my stash. And really, what kind of a life is that for a beautiful yarn? I am not always so disciplined. The large pile of project yarn that I already had in my arms might have helped.

Isn't it beautiful? Three (three!!!) skeins of Bearfoot, some very fine alpaca that will take forever to knit for a certain picky grandfather, some Lana Grossa, a bit of Colinette, and an Alpaca Sox. Mmmmm....

And for the next few days (before reality hits and I realize how many socks I have to knit in 3 weeks), I will be revelling in new projects. Here's to delusion!


We also did some book researching this weekend. Barnes and Noble sent us a coupon for an extra 15% off of any book in the store (in addition to our member's discount of 10%), so we headed over there and took a look at some knitting books. I've been wanting to expand my reference section a little, and I'm at a point in my knitting where I want to learn some good solid pattern design theory. We spent a couple of hours sitting on the floor in front of the knitting books section, and ended up with Knitting in the Old Way, by Gibson-Roberts and Robson, and The Knitter's Book of Yarn, by Clara Parkes. I've started the KBY, and it's looking really good so far. I've heard rave reviews all around, so I'm pretty excited.

I was tempted by a few other books, namely those by the Yarn Harlot and the Reader's Digest Knitter's Handbook by Montse Stanley. Christmas is just around the corner, and I've had some questions about gift ideas, so I figured that maybe I should leave those until after the holidays, just in case.

Playing catch-up

Here I am, a week into blogging, and already falling behind. (It is easier to let things slip when I haven't even told anyone that I'm blogging yet, though...)
I haven't announced that I'm blogging to anyone yet; I wanted to get some actual content up before sending it around, so there's a little less pressure to post regularly. Yeah. That must be it, right?

This has been a very nice 4 day weekend. I wish every week could have a 4 day weekend. I used to really look forward to going into lab to get work done, but I'm afraid it's been a while since I've actually wanted to go to work on Monday. I tell myself that it's just some mild burn-out, and I hope I'm right. It would be a real pain to finish 5 or 6 years of grad school and then realize that I don't actually like what I do anymore. But that's a topic for another day. Today, we discuss how much fun it has been to not work for the past 4 days. We spent Thanksgiving with friends, some of whom we saw last at Thanksgiving last year. Time does fly, doesn't it? It was really nice to catch up with everyone, and we've all sworn now that it won't be another year before we get together again. The holidays seem to give off this wonderful feeling of invincibility, where you can make promises about finding time for things without having to think about whether or not it will really happen. I hope it will, though. I always mean to keep in touch better, but then life happens and I don't. But then, maybe this is the year. =)

On Friday I cooked a turkey for us, along with a shorter list of side dishes. We are now set on leftovers for a whole week's worth of eating. Who says you need fast food? Just cook once a week and then have fun reinventing leftovers. I'm excited about this week's cooking; turkey pot pie, turkey soup with orzo, mashed potatoes and gravy, leek and potato soup, etc. One day of cooking, a week of food. Pretty productive, I think.

In between turkey cooking activities, I managed to finish the first of Branden's new alpaca handwarmers. I'm now extra in love with the Frog Tree alpaca yarn. Not only is is silky soft, it knits up super-fast. I'm using a garter-stitch rib combination from Vogue's Stitchionary, which ends up looking like a herringbone pattern. I was afraid that it wouldn't show up nicely with the dark and fuzzy yarn, but I like it. The lighting has to be just right for it to show up, but it's definitely there.

I also finished and blocked my Bearfoot scarf. I love it! I fell in love with the yarn this summer on our LYS tour, and bought it for a linen-stitch bag that I have yet to make. It didn't mix well with the other yarn that I chose, and so it needed a new project. While it's technically a sock yarn, I wanted to use it for something that gets seen a bit more than a pair of socks. I started out making a very lacy short-sleeved sweater shell, but chickened out and decided that there wouldn't be enough yarn. So, I decided to go with a scarf. The lace endeavor had taught me that this yarn would not do well with a complicated lacy pattern; it's varigation is just too strong. So, I wanted something a little less intricate, fast to work, but still a little on the lacy and light side. I ended up going with a vertical rib broken by the double eyelet rib in Walker's first book.

It turns out that I had underestimated the Bearfoot. When I made it into a ball, it looked like there wasn't much there. I was afraid I'd run out. I decided to just start and see how far it would go; at worst, I'd have to frog it all and start over with another idea. Well, that ball took forever to run out. I'd be sure I was almost at the end, and I'd look at the ball and it hadn't gotten any smaller. At first, this felt like it was just the normal middle of the scarf takes forever syndrome. But then the scarf was getting really long, too. And longer. And longer. All told, it ended up being about 7 feet long. From one skein of sock yarn! I am so impressed. It's gorgeous yarn, and there's a ton of it packed in that one skein. It didn't look like much unblocked, but after blocking, it's a really pretty little lace. On size 6 needles, I got about 420 square inches, I think. And that's not even stretched!

We hit a coffee shop Saturday morning and I finished up the handwarmers while basking in the unexpected fall sunshine. It's been gorgeous this weekend; the sun has been out every day, which is an unusual and welcome occurrence in November in Seattle. We found the perfect window at Peet's, and spent a few hours just soaking up the wintery sunshine. Soft yarn, warm sun, time with my husband, and a cup of tea. Not a bad way to start the day! We did the same today, and I'm about a foot into the matching scarf now. I think I may see more Frog Tree in my knitting future. Not the immediate future, though (more on that in the next post).

(Doesn't he make a good hand model?) It's a little easier to see the pattern in this one:

I also got some spinning done. Much to my disappointment, the Romney wool isn't getting any softer as I spin. I'm going to leave the spinning saga for another post also, but for the moment it's sufficient to say that I'm about to have a lot of not very soft wool yarn. I have no idea what to do with it, either. Any ideas?

I've only added another inch and a half to the cable sweater, unfortunately. After about 2 hours of working on it, my hands were really not happy with me. I'm afraid to push it much, because once they get bad, there's no more knitting until I manage to appease my carpal tunnel. So, the sweater moves along very slowly. It's annoying; I'm very excited about that project, and sweaters are my favorite kind of knitting. But then again, I am getting all kinds of small projects done, so I guess it's not all bad.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


It's Thanksgiving! I'm so excited. This is my favorite holiday of the year. It sort of snuck up on me this year. We're going over to a friend's house for a potluck dinner, so I won't be doing much cooking today. We've just finished making bread dough and peeling the potatoes and veggies for our contribution to the meal, and now we're done except for the boiling and baking steps. I am having a hard time resisting the urge to keep going; I love holiday cooking. We'll be making our own turkey with all the trimmings tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll have my fill of kitchen time then. Can't miss out on the leftovers!

I've been amazed at how many people that I know are dreading the holidays, want to skip the traditional meals, just stay home, not exchange gifts at Christmas, etc, etc. It's so sad that so many people are down on the holidays right now. It's just a chance to celebrate, and who doesn't need a little celebration? We're not going to make it home this year, so this holiday season will be quieter than usual for us, but I'd be just as excited if it was going to be a busy week spent in MA. I guess it's hard not to get caught up in the rush and lose sight of the meaning of holidays, and even the meanings are up for dispute sometimes. A few bloggers have been expressing guilt about not wanting to celebrate a holiday that was based on a mythical alliance between the settlers and natives. While I agree that the "historical" image that most Americans have is horribly skewed, I don't think that has to destroy the day. Thanksgiving has always been a harvest holiday for me, a time to celebrate bounty before the long stretch of winter. Maybe that meaning is somewhat lost on those of us that live in cities with 24 hour grocery stores open 365days a year. Still, it's a time to gather good things together and begin the process of snugging down for winter.

We've been shopping almost exclusively at our local farmer's market this fall, which might have helped me feel the magic of the harvest more than usual. We'd been spending a lot of money at the grocery store anyway, and I was just bored with the quality and the unchanging variety. I like having seasons and seasonal foods. I miss having a real winter (and no, Seattle does not have real winters when you're from Boston...), and I like to feel the seasonal rhythms in my life, including in my kitchen. Sometimes a little anticipation is so much nicer than immediate gratification. If you learn to enjoy the wait, it makes "getting" so much better in the end. I am sure that I will be dying for a ripe salad tomato in February, but it will make next summer's first crop even better when they arrive. Until then, my little indoor cherry tomato plant will hold us over, I hope.

I've been loving the farmer's market experience. We haven't been in a grocery store other than Whole Foods (to get soy milk and cheese, and some other random things one can't get at the farmer's market) in months, until last weekend. I can't bring myself to spend $50 for a turkey yet, even if I know it's better than the ones in the grocery store. We eat mostly vegetarian usually, so the crazy prices of meat in the non-grocery world haven't hit us very hard. I guess if you buy good meat in the grocery store it costs a lot, too, so we're not really spending all that much more when we buy at WF, but I've always refused to buy meat when it's not on sale, so that's been our largest step up in price, since the sale prices in the organic foods stores are often the same or higher than the normal price elsewhere. I can grit my teeth and get over spending more for beef, but poultry is just harder, for some unspecified reason, and it usually costs even more than beef! So, we gave in and bought a QFC turkey last weekend, along with a few other things that are hard to get elsewhere. We at least stuck with free range and antibiotic-free. I'm not interested in extremes, so I'm not feeling guilty about buying it, either. I would have preferred to buy a turkey direct from a farmer, but it's just a bit high for my budget (and, in this case, it wasn't even possible; they were sold out).

It's like buying eggs; at the farmer's market, eggs cost $5.50 to $9 a dozen, and are usually sold out within minutes of the market opening. That just seems crazy to me. $9 a dozen for eggs? At that point, it's a supply and demand problem, in my opinion. There aren't many people that sell eggs, and so those that do have a corner market and can charge whatever they want. Lots of people have been making the local eating commitment lately, and those that are very dogmatic about it will either buy at the farmer's market or go without. And so the prices jump to $9 a dozen, which is much more than the farmer would usually ask (or get, I imagine). While I don't mind paying a little extra to help out a farmer, there are some cases where I think that it becomes unreasonable, and this is one of them. I know it's just the market economy, and I guess there's no good reason for them to give their eggs away for less than they can get, but in some ways it seems to violate the unwritten rules of the farmer-buyer agreement. I am buying from them because I think that local food is better, and I am making a choice to give my money to them directly rather than paying more than half to the grocery store middlemen. Even if the farmer charged half of what the grocery store charges, they would make a larger profit by this direct marketing than they could by going full-scale commercial. So by the time I am paying grocery store prices, the farmer is already seeing a hundred percent increase in his or her profit (and this is a conservative guesstimate). I know this, but make the choice to buy from them even at slightly elevated prices because I believe in supporting their work, and because I think that their products are superior. I also trust them to be giving me the best deal that they can, in exchange for my support of their endeavor. When they begin charging more just to see what they can get, I think that they are violating that trust, to a degree. I know they need to live, but so do I. In buying from them I am making my budgeting a little harder, and I expect them to realize that and keep their prices reasonable accordingly. When they don't, I go elsewhere. So, yes, I buy eggs at my local grocery co-op rather than the farmer's market, and I pay about $3.50 for free range, organic, local eggs. And unfortunately, the farmer that produces them probably doesn't see even half of what I pay. Too bad they don't offer their eggs for $3.50 in a direct market; they'd make more and I'd feel better!

I'm really happy that we've made small changes in our lifestyle that feel like they might have significant consequences. Eating more locally is a good idea in general, and it's something that I really enjoy. Going to the farmer's market is a fun way to spend a Sunday morning. Going to the grocery store is not. These small day to day changes are more important to me than occasional purchases that I now make at a grocery store. While I enjoyed reading Plenty, I'm not interested in a deprivation-based lifesytle. I don't think you need to feel deprived in order to make changes, and I think you're less likely to keep it up if you're always feeling like there's something you're missing out on. It's like any diet; if you go extreme and decide not to eat anything that isn't on the "healthy" list, you are constantly going to want what you're not supposed to have. If you just make everything you eat a little healthier by reducing fat, sugar, and portion sizes, you will probably stick with it a lot longer, and be better off in the long run. I don't have the ability (yet) to take Barbara Kingsolver's approach in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and so I'll do the best I can with the local farmer's market, and leave complete self-sufficience for when I have a place that I can plant a garden and not have my neighbors pull it up to plant their tomatoes.

Still, I think that the farmer's market routine has helped me to stay plugged in to the joys of the harvest; there is so much bounty, and it is such good food. It's easy to be inspired to cook and to celebrate when there are picture-perfect vegetables fresh from the ground all around you. Maybe I'm just wierd, but just looking at a bunch of rainbow swiss chard with its bright stems and glossy green leaves makes me happy. Sort of like the way that just feeling a soft yarn makes the day better. Or a warm cup of tea and a blanket. Or a good book. Or the fact that the sun is shining today, and the sky is cloudless. Simple things. Life's little pleasures, that are just waiting to pop out at you wherever you look. How can we not take a moment to celebrate? Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I wish I were a sock knitter. I love knitted socks. They're a great way to swatch out a new stitch pattern, and they're always a quick little project, which is really nice when you're like me and always have a sweater or something huge on the needles. And yet I can't seem to get into them. I look at all the pretty sock patterns, and the sock yarns, and the books, and I think how much fun it would be to make them...if only I really liked knitting socks. It's too bad, really. I have only made two pair, and I keep telling myself that I should try again, but I'm just not excited. I wore my two pair this week to convince myself that I love them and I want to make more. And I do love them, but I'm still not sure that I want to start a new pair.

These are my favorites, Trekking XXL yarn, in the drooping elm leaf pattern from (where else?) the second book in the Walker series.

The other pair is also Trekking XXL, and no special stitches here, really. These were my first socks, and I was pretty happy with how the heel turned and the fact that they actually fit, considering that I had never really seen how socks were put together, and just made it up as I went along. I used short rows around the heel, and it worked out pretty well for something that I was just winging as I went along. I was also thrilled that the colors line up; it can be so hard to make both look alike with variegated yarn, but these were just perfect, and I didn't even try. I love it when that happens.

Both pair were quick and easy, and even fun, but I'm just not in love with socks. I am in love with lace, and you'd think that lacy socks would be just the thing to try out new patterns (and lots of fun to wear), but I just can't make myself want to try it. I guess that's ok, but I really want to like socks, because I can see lots of reasons that they'd be good for in-between projects (not to mention warm and cozy feet!) Maybe one of these days I'll get bitten by the sock bug. I'm constantly hoping. I do have some very nice brown Trekking in my yarn bag, so I may just have to give it one more try. But first, Branden's handwarmers. I can't wait to get that Alpaca on the needles!

Meet Elijah

Meet Elijah, adorable stuffed elephant.

A new project

I am so excited! Anne has published her pattern for the Irtfa'a shawl! I have been watching its development with bated breath, and it has come out! I seldom follow patterns, as there's usually something that I would like to be a little different about my version of a project, but not this time. I am making this shawl exactly as published, right down to the color of yarn. There is a point where one just does not mess with perfection, and this is about as close to perfect as it gets. It's just stunning, and it's going to take me forever, but I can't wait! We haven't gotten shipping confirmation on the yarn yet, though, and it's going to be a long wait. At least now I can pore over the pattern and maybe do some warm up swatches in anticipation. I have a feeling that practice wouldn't hurt on some of those lace patterns!

Having to wait will also give me time to finish my Elijah (yes, another patterned project...I don't know what's come over me lately) from Ysolda's blog. He has just one ear to go, so I'm hoping to be done tonight. It's a good thing, too; I have decided that stuffed animals are not my cup of tea. They're adorable, but there's something about managing 5 needles on a stuffed object that is not much fun for me. It's fine until I add the stuffing, and then it's a fight from there. Still, he's been a quick project, and I'm sure he'll be much loved by a certain wee one that will meet him on Christmas. I'll post pictures when he's done.

I am also almost done with my Bearfoot scarf (yes, I know, using a sock yarn for a scarf makes no sense, but I did it anyway, and I love it). More on that later, too.

Nothing much doing with the sweater lately; I'm into the arm increases, but nothing very exciting yet. Hopefully I'll get back to that once the smaller projects are wrapped up.

I'm still thinking about what to do for a pattern on Branden's latest pair of handwarmers; I have some gorgeous alpaca yarn (can we say soft?) that I couldn't keep my hands from petting all the way home from the yarn store, but I don't have the perfect pattern for it yet. It's a really dark grey, so it will take a special kind of stitch to show up nicely. I can't wait to get it on my needles, but I keep telling myself that I should finish up these other quick projects first. Really, I'm probably just enjoying the anticipation...

And now, to knit. I'm hoping for some pictures of finished objects soon, so that I'll be ready when that Raven arrives for Irtfa'a

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Say cheese!

I have always wanted to make cheese. As I am sure you will find out if you read this blog long enough, I am fascinated by food "cultures", whether it's yeast, yogurt, or cheese. If we drank beer, I bet it would be a lot of fun to brew, too.

I have tried to make cheese several times in the past, and it's never come out right. I had all but given up, and then I saw Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making book last spring. Of course I bought it; how could I resist? I tried again this summer when Biz was out visiting; we attempted the fool-proof sounding 30-minute mozzarella, and ended up with nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but we got a cheese that resembled Ricotta more than Mozarrella. Not a stunning success, in any case. I knew I had the right recipe, the right techniques, the right temperature, and I was even pretty sure I'd gotten the right milk (we used unhomogenized, lightly pasteurized milk from PCC). What's left? That's right, it had to be the rennet. I had some junket rennet tablets, and they were the only common factor in all of my cheese failures; I'd tried changing everything else, and I'd even followed directions from a reliable cookbook. It had to be the rennet.

Ricki has a great cheesemaking supply store online at About two months ago, I finally bit the bullet and put in an order for real cheese making supplies (including a few different kinds of rennet) from a real cheese making company. And, since then, miracles have happened. We've made several different fresh cheeses, and it's been a lot of fun. It's amazing how simple it is, once you have the right supplies!

One of our new favorite weekend meals is pizza with homemade mozzarella. We can get the dough started and then whip up a batch of 30-minute mozzarella while it's rising. By the time the cheese is made, the dough is ready to go and the oven is warm, and in about an hour you have a pretty yummy pizza coming out of the oven. Who says cooking at home has to take a long time? We made a pizza from scratch last night in only a few minutes more than it would have taken to have it delivered to our door! (Not that we object to having it delivered once in a while...)

This time, of course, we took photos of the process for "the blog." Amazing how the creation of a blog suddenly requires that a camera crew and lighting setup be on hand at all times. Luckily, Branden is into photography, so I have my very own camera man to help out.

We started by warming the milk in a make-shift double boiler and adding the citric acid.

This got the cheese curdling, and the whey started to separate out.

(Sorry for the color in the second's very hard to take a good picture showing white curds in white milk in my dark kitchen...)

Then, we added the rennet, which solifies the curds so that they are scoopable.

Branden helped by squeezing the extra whey out of the curds as I scooped them out of the pan.

And Mischief supervised from the trash can.

Then, we heated the cheese in the microwave and kneaded and stretched until it turned shiny. Semi-molten cheese is somewhere between taffy and silly putty; it's kinda fun to play with, as long as you keep moving so that you don't burn your hands!

Then, we sliced the cheese, prepped the dough, and baked our pizza. And, voila! just under an hour from milk and flour to pizza. Mmmm...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The project that started it all

Well, not really, but it is the project that catalyzed the creation of my blog. I started knitting again about a year ago, and promptly made the mistake of buying enough yarn to make several sweaters, before I was ready to really start them. I am not a stasher; I don't like having a bunch of projects laying around that I'm not working on. So, it was a bad idea to buy yarn for 3 sweaters all at once because it was on sale. Ah, well. Momentary insanity strikes everyone, I suppose. But anyway. I bought a collection of wool-ease worsted weight in three shades of rose, a color that I usually don't wear a lot of but have really been enjoying of late. (I love it when my taste changes and suddenly opens up whole new vistas of color to explore...)
The problem was that I bought this yarn without a specific idea of what to do with it. This is a bad idea, because it means that I am not really ready to start working on it, and that it will sit around and build up guilt for long periods of time before I actually use it.

It's been a year now, and I am finally getting back around to thinking about these sweaters. I knew I wanted a cowl-neck, but other than that I've been having a hard time coming up with anything that wasn't just boring stockinette the whole way. I liked the idea of wide ribbing, as I really liked the way that came out on my first sweater (I'll post about that someday, maybe). But I didn't want all ribbing, and I wanted something special to stand out about it. When I saw the post on Vanessa's blog about the cable sweater, I got that vague feeling in the back of my brain that means it's onto something and I should think more about this project. I love the cable across the shoulders, though I think that the rest of it is a bit much for this particular sweater. I have nothing against drowning in cables, but with three different colors and a big collar, that many cables would just be too much going on at once. But the one across the shoulders...

Whenever I have an idea developing, I head for the Walker books. I can sit for hours and just flip through all her different stitch patterns, waiting for one to jump out at me. This time, it was the staghorn cable. It's fairly delicate, not too complicated, and also not just your standard cable. I want this project to move quickly; I'm not likely to want to prolong knitting with a partly acrylic yarn, and I just finished a long project. So, I wanted something simple. Staghorn it is.

Since I want the whole sweater to focus on the cable, I decided to make the cable band first, and knit up and down from it to create the rest of the sweater. I've also never done a sweater from the middle, so I thought it would be a fun thing to try. So, I started out with the cable band, and then added the neck this morning:

So far, so good! I'm looking forward to splitting off the sleeves tomorrow, and then it will be quick ribbing all the way down. I'm also working on writing up a sort of pattern (more a set of guidelines than stitch-by-stitch directions at this point), that I'll make available when I finish. Yay for cables!

What's this about "freestyle"?

I don't really believe in patterns. In a sense, at least. I think patterns are good guidelines, places to get started, pick up ideas, learn new things. I don't think that they need be followed exactly. I seldom make it through a pattern (or a recipe) without making substantial changes. I usually don't even try to follow one; I just pick up my needles and start knitting. I suppose this might be dangerous, and I have had to pull out several projects at rather advanced stages, but I prefer to keep the freedom to try things, to make mistakes that I can learn from, and even to fail, rather than trying to adhere to someone else's directions. There are some exceptions. I try very hard not to be dogmatic about anything, and especially not something that's a hobby, and that I do for fun. In my opinion, crafts should be about inventing, starting from scratch and creating something. Every project should be an exploration, not just an attempt to replicate something someone else has done. I am a chemist; I spend a lot of my life replicating things within very tight constraints. My hobbies are not about rules and procedures; they're about relaxing and seeing what I can invent. It's just a less structured approach, and, I think, a lot more fun. Sure, it backfires every once in a while, but most of the time I am surprised by how well things come out. And hey, it's not like you can't just pull it out and start over if it all goes horribly awry...

I have a blog?

I have resisted. I have struggled. I have tried to talk myself out of it. And I have failed. I am starting a blog.

My husband has suggested that I should blog several times, but I didn't really feel like I have a lot to talk about, and I've been worried about making a commitment to actually posting entries. And yet, at the back of my mind, there is a little voice that says "you could write about this..." several times during the course of any given project. Generally, I think that people (myself included) spend too much time on the computer, and that there's just too much redundant information out there on the web. I didn't want to add even more bits to those already flying along the information highway, but here I am. As of today, I have a blog. I'm sure Branden is thrilled. I think I'm thrilled.

It all started this summer, when I started reading the Knitting Wannabe blog ( It was kinda fun to read about other people's projects. My carpal tunnel was acting up, and at least I could read about knitting, even if I couldn't really do much of it. Well, that led to a subscription to Google Reader, and all of a sudden I was keeping current with about 20 blogs. So much for less time on the computer!

While poking around looking at fun knitting projects, I ran across this post:
Something in the sweater struck me as perfect for my next stash-busting project, which has been waiting for the perfect inspiration to get going. I started the cable accent band last week, and have been thinking about writing a free-form sort of pattern for it as I've been going. It's a fun design, and really very simple to work. It looked like a few people were interested in a pattern of sorts for it, judging by the comments on Vanessa's blog. So now I have a project that was inspired by someone's blog, and am thinking about writing a pattern for it. Of course, I'd need to share the pattern, and what better way to give inspiration back than by blogging about it? So, here I am, suddenly a blogger. And I think I'm probably about to get hooked...