Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Just do it

oh MAN. How can such an organized person have such a heap of non-compatible items in every single closet? Maybe:
I'm too busy
I have too many interests
My house is too small
I have not yet purchased enough organizational aids
I don't embrace cleaning the way I do mess-making

but never mind. The mess is spread out in front of every closet now so I can recategorize everything into the boxes set out in the middle ground, and the sooner I get it sorted, the sooner I can dash off to Knitomatic for my new addi turbo interchangeable circular needle set, which has finally arrived! Talk about yer motivation.

* * * * *
Okay, this is just weird. Of course I'm not checking e-mail, but look what Better Homes and Gardens just sent!

Also, I found a pair of glasses I have no recollection of ever wearing, yet I can see out of them (well, distance, anyway). I always keep frames for at least two years, so maybe I shouldn't have eaten so much spaghetti with meat sauce when I lived in England before anybody knew about mad cow?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Egg membranes and other hidden treasures

Kathleen from South Dakota writes: how does an egg membrane get out a splinter? You put it over the splinter and let it dry. It will adhere to the splinter and tug it out as it contracts. If it's not better by morning, use another egg membrane.

Last night I read about how kids 5-8 can make head cheese from a pig. Apparently it's delicious and I'm absolutely prepared to take somebody else's word for it. I also discovered that you can soak a year's worth of dust more effectively out of curtains if you add baking soda to the water, and that a baking soda paste works on insect stings.

Little Heathens - a great read, by the way - also has beauty tips. For example, a little apple cider vinegar in your rinse water makes your hair shiny. Or you can pat a lot of cooked warm oatmeal over your face and arms to bleach away freckles and soften your skin. From my own experience I can tell you that the fastest way to smooth rough hands on your way out the door is to scrub them with a little baking soda at the kitchen sink. But the best feelgoodlookgreat tip of all? Don't eat chocolate for breakfast, even when somebody who wasn't thinking clearly stored it right beside your new wool Christmas socks.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What was I thinking?

Somewhere in the exhaustion of KnitFrenzy I got the idea to offer up closet reorganization as a present. Emphasis on 're' - I do this over and over and over, which is probably a sign that the closets are just plain too small for their contents. Or more accurately, any contents, because thorough purging of unused stuff is a consistent step in every reorg.

I've been preparing for this task with a book about growing up on an Iowa farm during the Depression - there is something about thrift and hard times and stalwart bravery that always makes me feel like tidying up. Also it's research for the writing project I want to get back to this week.

Side benefits are the discovery that you can draw out a splinter with egg membrane or a piece of salt pork, plus a recipe for home made marshmallows (and you know I'm going to be trying that one, what with the Ghirardelli hot chocolate obsession and all.) But I will be a Very Good Girl and do the closets first, because I learned the hard way - this is one task that gets worse the longer you procrastinate.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tablecloth of doom (and KnitFrenzy pics)

Again with the Boxing Day Luncheon lobster-claw-like allergic reaction, in spite of this year's custom table favours and entirely fresh menu ingredients! I'll be lucky if my stricken friend ever comes back. We narrowed down the problem either to the farm where the turkeys come from, or my beloved Christmas tablecloth. Yes, the tablecloth of doom:

It looks so innocent and pretty and OH how I love it, but it's much more likely to be some problem with the dye than it is a random turkey, don't you think? So away it goes, at least for Boxing Days. And I guess I will cook a ham next time to be safe.

In other news, as promised, I have random photos from this year's KnitFrenzy, which means you'll have to scroll through this post - I know, take a moment to catch your breath. I usually keep my diary so short and snappy, but some people have been complaining about a lack of pictures so you'll have to live with the length, or stop reading now if knitting bores you, in which case you can't possibly be enjoying my procrastinations at all.

As you may recall I designed most of the patterns, which made things interesting in that not-generally-so-good way, especially when one is pressed for time. Christmas Eve for example was a bit panicky and looked something like this:

I had to tell the girl whose boyfriend was stolen by God that she couldn't come to visit that night so I could finish the Thing that was still on the needles and intended for her, but it was sort of worth it because they looked great on everybody who got one and they did seem like a surprise.

(Less of a surprise was Lannie's cute hat with the pink stripes and felted rose, seeing as how she reads my diary, but the ponytail hole I put in for her got raised eyebrows so that was a nice bonus.)

Here is a mohair tube as cowl - which is to say, when it's not a scarf or muff or very very itchy tube top or skirt, all of which were proposed as possible uses for it:

I did between 12 and 14 hats (I deliberately lost count), one of which was for my friend Carol, plus a neckwarmer because the wool for her hat was so weird I knew she could never match it:

The neckwarmer was pure design bliss and came out right the very first time. I was less lucky with other patterns but mostly that was bearable. For example, an early design failure with the basic hat pattern turned into a warm cloche I coveted, especially after I added felted roses:

And then of course there was the Lucky Scarf, which I still have to parcel up and mail to the friend who helped so much with my writing this year. I designed it in a three-stitch pattern of 8 stripes on one side and 7 on the other, and knit it in red, partly because it's lucky and partly because it is my favourite. To add more luck, I brought it along to work on at every happy social occasion over the 8 or so weeks I worked on it:

The most fun thing though was the felted roses (pattern courtesy Jennifer Pace), which I made to put onto projects I ended up having to jettison. They were so fast to make and so pretty when they were done! The ones that didn't go onto hats pretty much sat around all glum and stuff until I realized I could make these adorable little pins for people I didn't have time to knit anything else for:

The final tally for the KnitFrenzy is a little scary, given that most of it happened over 6 weeks. I made twenty-seven successful Things, of which four or five were superfast rose pins, plus at least two Things that were not only not at all superfast but failed horribly, as well as one that was successful but should wait for a companion piece, I think, before I give it away. Oh, I feel tired just thinking about it... but I will do the revisions to a too-short hat anyway, because I am so knitty. And then I will write up my own patterns properly and post them at for anybody who knits and would like to try one.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Top Ten in a box

Things I'm happy about today:

10/ my family liked their mohair cowls and double-strand wool hat
9/ I am having a party today, which means my house is clean
8/ my elevated cake plates are shiny and waiting for desserts
7/ the turkey went neatly into the oven, which means
8/ I have my stock pot back to store knitting in
7/ but only 1 more hour (or so) of KnitFrenzy to go
6/ and after the party I can support a beleaguered retailer
5/ by buying a new egg separator (and maybe other stuff)
4/ yesterday's meringue bake being the last straw with the old one
3/ I get to go to bed early tonight
2/ or sit on the sofa and eat bonbons, whichever I choose
1/ and does it get any better than that??

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas baby

I don't think that's the title of one of my favourite bits from the Verve Christmas collection, but it's how it starts. I'm also partial to Santa Baby and hope these tunes go on playing for a few more days now that I can actually enjoy them - I'm almost halfway through knitting the last Thing.

Seriously, I've been obsessing over that old Hans Christian Anderson story about the princes or princesses who are turned into swans every night and need a sister who knits to make them all some magical shirt by midnight to turn back into themselves forever. She knits like the wind but only gets through half of the last sleeve when the clock strikes, so one of them gets stuck with half arm/half wing. I feared this would be me, with half a Thing to wrap today, but no.

And on that joyful note - my best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Turkey Tips

Happy elf day! the day when it all comes together or forget it. I have two things left to knit and a very good chance of pulling them off. Of course, I also want to sew a few tiny things and will probably be stitching on my way to deliver presents.

Today I pick up a turkey and stuffing and gravy. Last year I brined the turkey and didn't rinse it enough and the gravy tasted like it was made with sea water, which is a shame because gravy is one thing I'm good at. Just in case I blow it again this year, I'm getting some of what the butcher is selling.

My friend Dave called this week and I shared my salty shame, and after very nicely commending me for brining the turkey in the first place he told me the best, as in evil, turkey tip: Get bacon. Really fatty thick slices of bacon you would never ever buy just to cook and eat, and lay them all over the top of the turkey and roast it as usual. When you're done you have turkey, plus bacon! what a bonus. And the finest makings for gravy. Also probably a heart attack if you have a ton of the gravy, but I think it would be worth serious fibre consumption and treadmill time just to try it, don't you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


As I launch into the final death throes of my Grand Scheme (aka knitfrenzy 08) I am watching a lot of Fearless Planet, a highly dramatic series about geology that ran on Discovery Channel. I guess geology isn't really exciting enough because there is a lot of thrilling music and elaborate special effects with time-lapse digital animation and cliffhangery writing to make it more watchable.

As it happens, I would have been happy with less of the fake and more footage of the Northern Lights and Grand Canyon, and the cave drawings of swimmers found in the middle of the Sahara Desert - proof that it was once pleasant there.

Elaborate presentation or no, though, there's no getting away from the idea that our current disaster of climate change is not something this planet has never faced before. Our descendants 2000 years out were unlikely to enjoy the same comparative peacefulness even if we hadn't made such a muck of things, and that alone makes the program a poor viewing choice for me. If all our hard work to make something of ourselves and our communities is just going to fall away some day, does it really matter if I get these Things made? Especially if I could put my feet up and eat a bag of Miss Vickie's potato chips instead? Never mind. Of course it does. And now I will get back to my needles - with the TV off.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The magic of Christmas

I totally messed up a felted Thing a couple of weeks ago but tried to convince myself I could fix it and yesterday I decided I can't. So it's shopping for that person. Then I made another Thing and it turned out wonderfully... too wonderfully. It's perfect for me, basically. I tried it on to show a friend and he was adamant that I could NOT under any circumstances give it away, which didn't make it easier to remain queen of generosity.

While I agonized, I felted another Thing, fearing after the disaster of the initial failed Thing (the integrity of its borders was compromised in the excitement of the washing machine) that this might face the same challenge. It did not. Victory! And yet - NO! It faced an entirely different challenge and failed for an entirely different reason. And yet - YES! Magic! It's now perfect in an entirely different way for the person who was supposed to get the Thing that is perfect for me!

So now I have to knit an entirely new Thing for the person whose Thing just failed, but I can do that in about 4 hours. Which leaves today's tally at... 5 Things in 4 days. Plus wrapping and baking and 2 parties. Is it too much to ask for a little more magic do you think?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Katy and the Big Snow

Did you read this book when you were little? I didn't, but I can't get the title out of my head, looking out the front window. If only my name were Katy or I was a robust snowplow.

Yesterday's snow was plentiful and longstanding and, by the 10th hour or so as night fell, quite sparkly. When you have a big snow like that, everything is tucked neatly out of sight, but once you start shoveling - and oh how I love to see everybody out shoveling, such civic-mindedness - everything is bunched up and rumpled. You need another snow to make it perfect again, but not so much as to require more shoveling because then you still have jumble soup.

Today it is jumble soup outside and also on me, since I have put on a Susan Harris dress. Somebody just asked me why there is an H on my back and I had to lean over sideways so my questioner could see that it is in fact a 1, cut from a hockey shirt. There is a silkscreened tree on jersey on the front, and the ruffle at the bottom is from a rayon flowered dress and sewn on inside out. I like Susan's approach to recycling. It feels virtuous to wear her clothes, yet luxurious (they're not cheap.) And best of all, they do an excellent job of hiding any excess cookie consumption. Go Susan!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Through a mouthful of meringue

Not that I'm having cookies for breakfast. Really.

Yes, it's that magical time of year: meringue season. My mother is queen of cookies, and we had a steady supply of this awesome cakey coffee version of chocolate chip that has lost favour in the current generation of my family but dominated mine. At Christmas, we had meringues, aka egg white and a ton of sugar with vanilla and loads of chocolate. She was always able to get more lift than I do, and you'd bite in and look at a spelunker's dream, caverns with chips nestled into crevices and ledges. Mine are denser and crisper but still yummy. I'm lucky to be able to make them at all - not everyone can.

They are insanely popular. People talk to me about them in July, wistfully, when it's too humid to pull them off. The popularity means I can make a batch and give most of them away, feeling virtuous for making other people happy and not eating them all myself. Unfortunately I had to make an unexpected batch yesterday (before finishing 3 knit projects, whooo!) and have a dangerous number still drying out in the oven. Thank goodness we're having a big storm today, forcing me to spend hours outside and away from them, shoveling snow, metaphorically clutching my 3 finished projects to my heart as though they are enough to compensate for another lost knitting day. Really though I'd rather be writing. Imagine that!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deep thoughts (don't worry, they're not mine)

Because one of my Christmas Dinner guests had an allergic reaction to something in last year's Christmas crackers, and his hands swelled up like lobster claws, I am making this year's table novelties myself. I probably shouldn't mention here what's going in them, just in case it spoils the surprise. Lets just say that in addition to being a packrat, I know where to find good quotes. From the shortlist:

"Most people would like to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch." - Robert Orben

"A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat." - Katharine Whitehorn

"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold." - Ogden Nash

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." - Albert Einstein

"Never eat more than you can lift." - Miss Piggy... and

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort." - Herm Albright

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No sooner said...

Did I mention snow in yesterday's diary? Because it has now snowed. Which is sort of vindicatey because I took a precious 30 minutes from knitting after lunch to rake a bunch of leaves out of the front garden, seeing as how all of the previous snowfall had finally melted and there was no wind or rain to make the job impossible, and spring is so much nicer when the garden is not shaking its fist at you and shouting about all the stuff you didn't do the previous fall.

The good thing about raking leaves in -5 C weather is that the ground is completely frozen - you can do it in your dress coat with your best warm mittens and not get muddy - and only the leaves break free. The bad thing is that it's -5 C.

Another good thing from yesterday is that even though I did go to a Christmas concert and rake leaves and make cookies and I think a bunch of other stuff I've now forgotten through sheer exhaustion, I noticed at bedtime I'd somehow managed to almost finish two more presents. And while I am not fool enough to count how many that would leave, especially since I won't knit much today either, I am pretty pleased with myself. And putting on warm socks to wear in my rubber boots.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anything but knitting

People talk a lot about the weather, have you noticed? I spend a lot of time thinking about it too, and planning for it. Scheming to get through it as practically yet fashionably as possible (practicality being more important now than when I was 19.)

When I was a student crossing a wide muddy park every day for classes, I longed for rubber boots - but I was ahead of my time and could only find hideous pale grey ones that came to mid-calf and let the rain in if you wore them with a skirt. Now you can't walk into a discount department store without falling over rows of bright stripey, flowery, or polka-dot boots, and you can be choosy. Do you want heavy ones that smell like a chemical plant but have great patterns, or do you want softer floppier ones that don't? To the knee or to the ankle? With heel or without? Maybe you should get more than one pair, since they work all year - in the rain, in deep snow with lots of wool socks inside, in the midsummer garden.

Yesterday was a rubber boot day (category: rain.) Today is just cold. Not as cold as South Dakota or Ottawa, but cold enough to choose a down coat over a cloth one. Too cold even for snow. But it'll come, and when it does I'm sure I'll be back into my pink polka dot rubber boots, in either coat, both being a perfect match for them. Because, you know, I'm so practical.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken soup for the not very bright

Well, the stock's all cooled and strained and ready for instant suppers all week, which I will need, because even after jettisoning a few bonus gifts* I still have 7.5 items that absolutely must happen in the next 6-8 days. Plus, you know, baking and party planning (I'm organizing two parties) and wrapping, which is going to be mostly brown paper lunch bags. Love those things.

But back to the not very bright. Too much knitting! My eyes are all twisty and sore and I need exercise and I've felt - this may shock you - a little pressure, which is Not Festive.

So: the KnitFrenzy was unrealistic but still, the things look so great. I designed 4 patterns, and even the design flaw in one (not discovered until after running it through the washer in hot water, at which point ripping out is not an option) is totally address-able thanks to my having a handy pair of funky buttons. And once they're on, I'm taking time to get the camera out - I gotta have pictures of the bounty to remind myself not to get into this particular trouble again.

*I am totally finishing the jettisoned projects for future presents. And some of the stuff I made for people this time... I am making those again in January for other people, so I can have KnitFrenzy 2009 with 20% less Frenzy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

omigosh omigosh omigosh!

I finished something!!!! I finished one of the really long things!!!!

and yesterday I knitted a lot of adorable flowers that I'm felting today. And I'm scheming and assembling some other things that were felted a few weeks ago and are now being sewn into other things. My sister even recognized one of them, with some surprise, from its original form when she dropped by yesterday.

Is this killing you? I could probably just say what I'm making since most of my family pretty much never looks at this blog and would not have their surprises spoiled, but just in case, 'thing' is safest. On the 27th, I will post pics, promise.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a break from chicken stock assemblage (still trying to break the chocolate habit with endless bowls of soup) to report that I now have 12+ things to do in the next six days. If I can get a bunch of them done today, then maybe...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Truth vs. fiction part 2

This week I've been all about Mrs. Beeton and La Boheme:

Impoverished girl falls for equally impoverished boy. Once they're shacked up, he connects her cough with tuberculosis. He decides she deserves a rich boyfriend who can pay for doctors and, being too juvenile or proud or whatever to say that, neglects her so she'll go find said rich boyfriend; she eavesdrops and finds out and they decide to part. When she's dying, she leaves the rich guy to spend her final moments with the one she loves.

Middle class girl marries middle class boy. He neglects her without any romantic excuses from the moment they're engaged, and gives her syphilis as a wedding present, as did so many men of their time. Dying just as surely as Impoverished Girl, she lasts long enough to have a baby who dies and a number of miscarriages all because of the disease, plus two miracle boys who live, while working hard to keep him from bankruptcy. She dies at 28 and he lasts only into his 40s, insane from the disease having eaten into his brain.

The first is the opera about bohemian artists, the second is the biography of the famous Victorian homemaker. Who'd expect both to be about incurable diseases, and the reliance of women on men for survival, and the stupidity and waste that results?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Progress report

The Knit Frenzy: 12 down, 15 to go (how does the list keep growing??); 9 days remaining. This really isn't possible, is it, even if I finish 2 today and 3 tomorrow, which is likely

The Pink Eye: way less pink, not terribly hurty

The Cold: barely there, exercise resumes today, relapse expected tomorrow

The Opera Obsession: downloaded the 1964 EMI recording of La Boheme, have been playing it on a continuous loop

The Subconscious Plot-Working-Outy Thing: nada, though La Boheme is inspiring some reflection on story structure that may lead to a kinda sorta inspiration

The Inexplicable Fixation on Kashi 7 Whole Grain Honey Puffed Cereal: ongoing, and now that I think of it, probably related to chocolate withdrawal (yeah, that again.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And in my spare time...

Truth is usually stranger than fiction, but fiction wins hands down on brief, intense romance. It's always boy meets girl, they hate each other, then fall in love, curtain down. Or boy and girl fall desperately in love and for some reason can't be together, curtain down. If it's opera, the reason is usually dramatic, tragic death.

Even though I know the formula, I can still be swayed in the moment, like now for example. For some reason - putting off knitting perhaps? - I've been watching clips from La Boheme on YouTube. Bear with me and check this out. Apart from Rodolpho's stealthy hand being a bit stalkerish, it's pretty good, huh? Plus I love that this production was set in 1950s Paris.

Okay, so I watched that one and then this one and got back to work, and then I thought, H'mmm, how much more is there? So I watched this scene where Mimi says some affectionate things to Rodolpho, and then I noticed the death scene is here, and then I did some digging and found out you can buy the whole darn DVD here, which I will be suggesting to Santa right about... now. And after that - and after I get myself a Kleenex - I will knit. I promise.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

11 things in 11 days

... down from 19 things in 20 days, which actually isn't down at all since I've lost my day's grace and have only finished 8 things in 9 days so far. Maybe this is an unrealistic goal. Or maybe all the snow shoveling and Christmas shopping and mailings and finishing-off-for-wrapping I did for previously finished projects took up more time than I'll lose in the next week? I can but hope. And leave a few things undone at the last minute.

My pink eye is just as pink as yesterday but no pinker, and not at all goopy, and not terribly hurty, so maybe it's a byproduct of all the nose-blowing that's gone with the end of this cold? Again, hoping.

And knitting. Knitting like the wind! And thinking about more writing courses as I go! Because if my subconscious is working on that Goal problem I mentioned a couple of days ago, it ain't telling me about it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Being stoic about setbacks

There are so many things not to like about pinkeye. It's stingy, and between that and your eyelid puffing up and drooping and making it harder to see, it's uncomfy even before the goop starts. And it looks horrible, so that what you mostly see when you can see anything is people looking at you and suppressing their gag instincts. It's super contagious, too. You have to wash your hands a lot to keep from sharing the wealth and when your skin is already dry to breaking point that's not exactly a recipe for a good time.

So I was not happy this morning to wake up tired and even more behind on my knitting with a hugely busy day ahead of me (in which, naturally, I will be seeing more people than usual, some of them small and likely to be really grossed out) to find that my right eye is very red and sore. If it's pinkeye it means getting to the doctor (when?) and taking antibiotics (ugh.)

There are a couple of things to be grateful for, though. Like, it could be worse, and I far from alone, as I discovered reading the latest installment of God Stole My Boyfriend. And then there's my hair. It's still hanging in front of my eye... my right eye. So I might not terrify the little children after all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's happening again...

I spent the whole weekend procrastinating on my procrastinations. You'd think I'd know by now the best way to get something written is to tell myself I'm not a writer, but a wallpaper-hanger hobbyist. That's much safer than pretending I'm a person who routinely knits 19 things in 20 days.

So last night, while not knitting, I was stealthily reading up on 1930s Hollywood, in a book I bought to help me write a novel that got left by the wayside when I couldn't think of a compelling goal for the main character. This is a little trick my friend Joshua taught me about writing a book: give the main character a goal, then put up a lot of roadblocks to keep him or her from achieving them. The second part of the trick is one I still have to figure out. You know, the compelling goal. It's been about three years but I still hope to think of one some day. And no, reading up on what it was like in Hollywood in the 1930s isn't going to help a bit.

Today I am going to resist that book and let my subconscious get on with the goal problem if that's what it's so excited about, while my fingers take care of the knitting. I'm seven days in to the Knit Frenzy now, and I've only got six things to show for it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A break for holiday shopping

... and I have some delightful suggestions for the readers on your list. Going Out With A Bang, of course, is a noisy and sometimes messy collection of crime stories from the Ladies' Killing Circle. Blood on the Holly is another excellent choice--this anthology from Crime Writers of Canada was published last year. Both are great reads, with a wide variety of styles and twists, and something by me inside.

Both those links are to Amazon, but I recommend ordering them from The Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto. The store has signed copies and even better, can call me in to personalize them.

I have a cousin who is particularly brilliant at recommending books I turn out to love, and she mentioned two this week. The first is Can Any Mother Help Me?, letters by women who, from the mid-30s, comprised the Cooperative Correspondence Club to share their support and ideas. The second is The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton. If you haven't so much as looked over Mrs. Beeton's exhaustive book on domestic matters, you should, but the biography sounds fascinating too: she was a Victorian superstar from her early 20s, then died at 28 because Mr. Beeton gave her syphilis. Okay, that sounds like a lot of a downer, but both books are huge on social history, which intrigues me no end.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reality check

I finished another project, got a good start on two more (one of which included pattern design) and wrote down two patterns yesterday. Also my brain started to turn to mush.

I woke up tired this morning, which is not unusual but is pretty unwelcome considering I still have my cold and cough, and it occurs to me that there are other things I often do at this time of the year, like bake cookies, redecorate the living room, wrap some things, shop for some other things, cook an occasional meal, maybe do some laundry. Man. It's a good thing I'm not inspired to write a story on top of all that.

So I did more precise math than 19 in 20, and figured out that I need to fit 60 hours of knitting into 16 days - about 4 hours a day. I should be able to manage 4 hours a day, right? And still leave some time for other stuff? Not cookie-eating though. I did so much of that yesterday, I could happily never eat another cookie in my LIFE*.

* until it's time to bake the Christmas meringues

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Powered by cookies

Seriously, a giant Ziploc bag of home made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (my all time OH WOW everyday cookie) turned up at the house last night. And now that I've typed that, I want some for breakfast.

Before that happened, I figured out how to make a fabulous item that is warm, make-able in less than 4 hours with 1 large ball of wool, and fits a wide range of sizes perfectly. Then the light finally dawned about exactly which stitches will turn into another item I've been obsessing about, too. After that, powered by the cookies, I finished a third item I've been working on for a few days. Tally time: 3 completed projects in the first 2 days of 19 in 20.

I'm on track to do another two items today but... I really, really want to write down the patterns and share them in time for others' holiday knit frenzies. In fact I need to, because otherwise I will forget the niceties of the design. And the words are coming to me the way they do for fiction that just unfolds, which I always take as A Sign. Maybe if I eat a few cookies for extra typing power...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In which I begin to panic

Well, the notion of 19 Things in 20 days is not so improbable when you consider that only 3 of them require as much as 8 hours' work to produce. The trouble is that the entire plan rests on the shoulders of one pattern.

I made it once, and it turned out to make a lovely ladies' cloche, for which I happen to have some felted roses. Unfortunately it was meant for a MAN, and not one remotely likely to wear a cloche with or without roses. So I made it again, with two strands of yarn rather than three, and it's another lovely, if less roomy, cloche. Today's task: giving it one final try with much smaller needles. They do say third time lucky, don't they?

I have made one happy discovery: a tall stockpot makes an excellent yarn caddy. The sides don't flop in and obscure smaller contents, and are smooth enough to make slide stitch markers out by the handful, and no matter how much the yarn jumps it rarely makes it out of the pot. Bonus: it's a constant reminder that I need to take the time to turn the rest of my chicken stock to soup. Maybe between projects 8 and 9?

Monday, December 1, 2008

The calm before the storm

I had a marvelous weekend. Other people were too sick to see me and I had no pressing reasons to leave the house, so I cleared up the disaster room that leads to my 'office' and purged said 'office' of recyclable paper, empty boxes, and yarn - which I then sorted out so I know what I have to work with.

Then I reconsidered my list of what I'm knitting and for whom, no small task, the number of projects now having reached 19. Can I knit 19 things in 20 days? And simultaneously shop and plan and prep for Christmas, a birthday, and a holiday dinner party?

Of course not, which means that of course I will attempt it anyway. And yet I keep being distracted by the Ravelry pattern page, where anything loaded by anyone appears as a new possibility. For example, this, or for the animal lover, this.

It's hard for me to resist these patterns, too... or these. You can see my dilemma.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Come and meet some friends

I always thought it must be cool to make chicken stock or even roast a chicken, so last fall I pestered a lot of people with questions and went for it.

I used this recipe for the stock, and now I am HOOKED. No store-bought stock tastes nearly as nice, no matter what you do with the soup you make from it, and you can either keep it in the 'frig for a week as a base for different soups when trying to detox from daily chocolate. Or you can make one huge batch and freeze it in smaller servings. This is a lifesaver when you're suddenly struck down by a cold. I of course am both detoxing and cold-stricken - still! - so the stock will stay in the 'frig.

The amount of stock you get after skimming off all the fat is exactly right to fit into size two of this container, which also does a good job of keeping it fresh. When I bought that container I also bought this one, which I had to clear off the drainer this morning to make space for skimming stock. I use it to keep veg in, but you can store yarn in it and feed the strands you're working through one of the two freshness tabs... something that suddenly seems extremely logical. Even irresistable. And now if you'll excuse me...

Friday, November 28, 2008

This week's obsession

Okay, are you sitting down? It's related to knitting! I know, I know, isn't it amazing? I bet you so did not see that coming.

While my friends on the other side of the border shop till they drop, I'm on day one of Christmas Knit Madness, with three projects on the go, one of which I'm hoping will be done by suppertime. All three are pretty simple to do, but still, the patterns were made up by me, and I'm doing the same for at least two more presents, too.

And I'm thinking, why not keep track of what I'm doing and share the patterns on Ravelry, so other people can whip up their own in time for Christmas? So far I haven't been able to think of a good reason beyond "they're nice enough ideas but an experienced knitter could figure these out in about twenty minutes", and the counter to that is, "why not save other knitters the twenty minutes?" So now I'm obsessed. I may not be writing any good stories for the next four weeks or so, but I can't wait to write some good patterns.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Things I'm thankful for

I had my official turkey day in October, but I can never say no to a good old-fashioned blessings tally. So, beyond food, shelter, and social ties:

hot honey and lemon for colds
the popularity, and consequent availability, of slipper socks
being able to shop by mail and phone
the fact that my summer flowerpots are hard to see in the shrubbery
my Blundstone boots (and especially their Birkenstock insoles)
not being devastated when my most special nonfiction piece bombed
having chocolate in the house at the time anyway
being on time, most of the time
all the creative ideas in my head and
finally, enjoying knitting again.

Happy Thanksgiving, on both sides of the border!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let's shed a little light on this affair

... as my father used to say, every time he found me in the living room poring over a book in the dusky light from the window, and reached to turn on a lamp.

It's only Wednesday and I think I already finished the hard work on both of this week's submissions. Once I've proofread and made minor adjustments I can probably release them to the winds, and get down to business. Knitting business, of course. I made a list yesterday of everybody I want to make something for and when the gasping and heart-clenching was over I decided I really can pull it off if I'm quick about it, which makes having the stories finished even better news.

It's a little daunting to think of not writing any more between now and maybe January, though realistically I won't have time to worry about it. What if I dry up? What if I get rusty? I've decided to look on the bright side, at all the stories that may be percolating in private, ready to rush out onto the keyboard the minute I've put the last of the turkey stock into the freezer. And the best news of all is that for the first time in months, I was able to look at my nearly-finished novel and not shudder with aversion. I was able to stick with a whole chapter and bring in entirely new perspectives that I can carry through to the next one. Merry Christmas to me!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More of the dark is rising

MAN, no sooner do I sink back into Susan Cooper's epic YA series than my other favourite dark thing - Mars Dark chocolate bars - make a comeback. I'm so excited!

And still sick, amazingly. All the water and hot-honey-with-lemon I've been drinking and the pears and apples I've been eating, while doing nothing to level out the chocolate-related calories with which I have been comforting myself, have swept away the worst of the symptoms but I'm still stuffed up and coughing. A lot. Nobody wants to be around me, basically, I'm coughing so much. I don't even want to be around me. I just hope my ribs stay put because the last time I was sick like this, one tried to escape and my esteemed chiropractor had to put it back.

On the bright side, I'm enjoying all these throwbacks to childhood sickness. Lying around, reading adventure stories, being intermittently pampered--it's such a nice nostalgic start to the holiday season. And the compensation for being what passes for an adult? the chocolate, of course. Mum would never put that on the get-well menu.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Decisions, revisions

There are as many ways to write as their are people who do it. I've long been of the think it out, write it down school. I tried sitting down and recording whatever came into my head, letting characters emerge and conduct themselves as they please, but I only got people discussing the relative merits of pistachio ice cream - nothing to make a plot, let alone further one.

In my summer workshop, Wayson Choy suggested writing without censorship, just putting stuff down and not worrying whether it works or what people will think, and then sifting through to find the common thread. And there's another technique, which is to let it all unfold in your mind like a gift and then write it down. This is rare, but exciting, and has happened to me twice this fall.

Editing these approaches is as different as writing them. When I write without censorship, I find it easy to cut away, because I've gone out in so many different directions: it's like standing in front of the topiary with shears in my hand. I prune. But when I've written in one direction, even when I know I've gone too far down that road - and I don't always - I have to decide how far back to go before I start over.

That's probably true of a lot of things in life, isn't it?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sentiments from Sickbay

Oh man, I used to watch Star Trek when it was on its first run.

Well, my sickroom is much cuter than the one that Nurse Thingy presided over. Who could nap in one of those beds? Let alone read Susan Cooper stories about Light vs. Dark (early morning), or revise short stories (mid morning) or knit (when I wake up again.)

Hopefully my cold will improve soon enough and long enough for me to hunch over the sewing machine for a while. I've been felting sweaters and cleaning out my washing machine for a couple of days now - the cleaning takes about 2,604% longer than the felting, by the way, and gives me a new appreciation for knitting what you felt (less mess, for some reason.) I want to be on to the next stage, which I think will be sewing purses. Or, if that's a bust, cutting out potholders or trivets. Or warm insoles for boots and skates! There's another Star Trek-era memory... navy blue felted boot insoles. I bet that show will live on just as long as the feeling of a crummy cold and the quest for warm toes in winter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A word to the wise

Today's blog title is less than apt: if you were wise, you would not be here, and I am not fit to advise the wise anyway, my blog being proof that I am far from it myself. Though somebody did call me "wise eyes" yesterday, if I didn't mishear "wise guy." That being said,

If you prefer instant gratification to long periods of knitting for three minutes of felting, and

If you give in to tantalizingness from certain friends who buy second-hand wool sweaters to felt into blankets etc. and

If you insist on buying a ton of sweaters yourself (unexpectedly half-price in a Friday madness sale!) and turn on the washing machine the minute you're home, then

Do wash the sweaters separately (I am that smart) and contain each in a pillowcase (not that smart) with a clip (not that smart even on the third try) to keep the loose fibers out of your washing machine. It's also good to have a mesh strainer on hand because it's soooo much easier to scoop the loose fibers out of a washer-full of rinse water than to wipe it dry off the walls of the drum.

Keep a bowl handy to toss all the loose fibers into so you can stuff dolls or toy animals later or at least toss it more conveniently into the trash, and do NOT plan on doing any other laundry for a very, very long time. Unless you want puffs of blue and grey and off-white all over the rest of your wardrobe, which is starting to look significantly more attractive to me than more cleaning, wiping, and skimming.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the next generation of procrastination finesse

I spent a charming evening last night at Sleuth of Baker Street; the signing may be over, but the opportunity to buy your copy of Going Out With a Bang is not! You can do that in many bookstores but the Sleuth has some with seven lucky signatures in front, so call 416-483-3111 or e-mail them at to get some into the mail. It's the perfect Christmas gift for anyone on your list who would enjoy discovering 21 different ways to go out with a bang.

And now that the launch is done and I have two stories to not fine-tune in 7 days, I've begun thinking about moving the furniture in the living room. Hey, the sofa blocks the radiator and it's too cold in there, it's not like I'm evil! Okay, okay, I know. It's like a disease.

And speaking of disease, the knitting addiction is spreading: Binnie's been sending me photos of extremely beautiful freshly-made hats in place of the amazing short stories I'm used to getting from her. Watch yourself or you too will be picking up needles instead of shortbread (perhaps a good thing) or, you know, a book (perhaps not.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The price of procrastination

Two hours of hauling bags of garden stone and bags of frozen soil into a crowded car hole, plus haulage of outdoor furniture into same, plus frantic rearrangement of same, with intervals of either raking leaves or shoveling the snow that is falling for the duration. Packing snow, to be exact. And hiding planters in the foliage of corner flowerbeds (tip: this is best done at night when you can't see just how depressingly obvious it looks.)

To be topped off by washing a muddy winter coat and pair of mitts AND drying them so they can be worn out in 4cm of snow the very next morning.

In positive news, while rearranging the car hole to accommodate bags of snowy leaves, I found the outdoor Christmas decorations and, since I was already cold, wet, and dirty anyway, I decided to put them up. And say what I will about the pink marshmallow coat (and I do, frequently) it washes and dries like a dream. A very fast dream.

Bonus with purchase: now that I don't have to worry about finishing the fall cleanup, I have more space in my brain for those two stories due next Friday. Now if I could just sit down and write them...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crunch factor of 6

... for the porch, with nose hair levels at crisp. Oh, wouldn't it be nice if weather reports were really specific about what to expect when you go out in the morning to shake crumbs out of a bag?

It's cold out today, seriously cold, which makes me want to cry about not having been healthy when raking the leaves would have been a pleasant experience. It also makes me wonder what the front garden is going to look like when there's snow on it, something I could find out any day now (which makes me want to cry harder because there is nothing ickier on the spring gardening menu than hauling slimy non-decomposed leaves into bags.)

But to return to important matters: the booksigning is tomorrow night, my hair is still not curling, and there is no chocolate in the house unless you count Ghirardelli, which I kind of do, and now that I think of it there should be a can of the stuff in every Christamas present I give this year, but there might not be because I will probably end up drinking it all first. You know, judging by my Halloween candy track record.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hello Jack Frost

It's that enchanting time of the year, when puffs of smoke push out of my neighbour's chimney and beads of water appear on the inside of my windows and the porch floor crunches under my feet.

You know, the time of year when I wish my house had insulation.

Or that I had cuter sweaters. I did some more felting yesterday - bright red flowers and a strip of green to cut into leaves to go with them - and can't stop thinking about felting something vestlike too, flowers not being known for their warmth. It would mean either designing it myself and hoping it doesn't shrink too much in the wash, or felting huge swatches of fabric to cut and sew after the fact, which would be easier for sizing but not look as nice in the seams. I am also thinking about felting a neck gaiter to take the place of my missing hair because I was freezing yesterday and it's be even colder today.

All of which is to say that I'm meant to be working today, and I still have those two stories to write, and the house is still swimming in unread magazines. How's by you?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flying toasters

It's breakfast and there's nothing I feel like eating and I Must. Stop. buying chocolate croissants. So I'm pulling a Judy Bolton*and whipping together some oatmeal scones to have with jam.

This activity is also known as procrastinating on today's blog entry.

In other news, it's down to the wire here at LaunchWatch '08 - just three more breakfasts to figure out before certain anthology contributors have to go out in public and sign copies of Going Out With A Bang, and the spectators are all wondering the same thing: will that girl's hair get back into the curling business in time? Things are not looking good, but you can never tell what twists and turns of fate may befall our heroine. Let's just hope that whatever happens, nobody brings a camera to the bookstore.

And now I will wish you good day and leave you with the cheery flight of some of my favourite toasters in the world.

* good news of the day: some of the Judy books have been reprinted! If I hadn't bought a bunch on eBay years ago, I'd have something else for my Santa list!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yay, it's hat season!

Yeah, I know. When you've stubbed your toe the entire world is your toe; when you don't love your lid the entire world is the hiding of it.

But seriously, it's hat season! There's snow on my neighbour's shed and everything. It's making me think about the myths and mysteries revealed in the Christmas entry of Susan Cooper's YA series, The Dark Is Rising, aka the Harry Potter of the 1970s. It was tough to get those books out of the library at all, and every time I came back to one after having to go to school or get a snack, it was in the hands of my sister or father, and I'd have to wait till they put it down to get it again.

Somehow I missed this, but there's a movie now of one of the books. I don't think I want to see it, but I might just ask Santa to bring me the books for Christmas this year. Along with hair extensions and some really good hats.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I miss my hair

For two years now, I've been on a sad journey without my beloved 20-year hairstylist Giuseppe, who moved away. I got a referral from friends with great hair, but their stylist wasn't able to work any magic on me, and I tried a random stylist who did a passable job but spent the entire hour telling me I looked old and should a/cut my hair short b/start colouring and c/straighten my unfashionable curls. Fear kept me from booking another cut for months and it wasn't pretty.

Then my sister found somebody wonderful who does a beautiful job on curly hair. I went once and he reshaped my seriously messed-up lid. I went again and we tried a new look with less length. Last night I went again and came home with a flapper bob.

It's a very good haircut and everything but you know, I miss long hair. You can tie it back from your face, and your neck doesn't get cold, and you don't have to go every 6-8 weeks to get it trimmed. Somebody who looked at me in horror this morning pointed out that I will never, ever be able to make it long again but I beg to differ. I figure on about a year, maybe a year and a half, most of which I will no doubt spend comforting myself with chocolate and hair clips*.

*ohhh! I can felt a flower with leaves to sew to a hair clip!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today's Top Ten

It's like I have whack-a-mole game in my head, including such favourites as:
10/ shingles, the kind that itch people you like
9/ whether there is any chocolate in the house
8/ shingles, the kind that may or may not keep your porch dry
7/ how wonderful Ray is for sticking with the porch roof repair
6/ what Barbara Walters was thinking when she polished her list
5/ how much I'd like to be eating chocolate RIGHT NOW
4/ how good I feel for resisting knitting yesterday
3/ and working on my horror story instead
2/ and for finding a second Nov. 30 deadline
1/ and having an idea for a second story too

And now I will go out to the post office and mail the mid-November submissions*.

* by way of the bakery so I can pick up a fresh warm chocolate croissant.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dreams and preserves

A squishy brown wrapper arrived yesterday, and inside was a mother lode of yarn called 'Dream.' I'd been dreaming of getting started on the projects I had in mind for it, but as I cast on the stitches I decided that it's called Dream because you dream of being done with it. By bedtime I had worked through a little more than half the ball--enough to try on what I'm making with it--and changed my mind. It's going to be a dream to wear.

In between stints with Dream, I worked on the story about my grandparents and decided it's as much about canning as it is about them. And that me wonder - why on earth have I never been drawn to canning? It's got everything - a big mess to make and clean up, hours of commitment, a result that could be purchased from somebody else with far less inconvenience, and a complete distraction from writing. Plus I really, really love home-made peach jam.

That bug may yet bite me. In the meantime I still have hopes for bridge and lawn bowling: for a few years now they've been inching their way up from what? to meh to intriguing. If I ever run dry on diversions it's a safe bet one of them will hit irresistible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Definitely interesting

I hadn't written in about a week and when I started revising yesterday I remembered why: knitting is easier. You get a quicker return on investment, too. Knit for two hours, you're gonna see serious progress. Write for two hours, you might have the same piece with two new words in it.

That said, it felt good to cut away the second story thread in the piece about my grandparents and focus on one perspective. Or it will do when I find said perspective. That's another thing about writing. You can spend a lot of time just considering where you should stand to get the best view. I tried something new and rewrote in the style of this blog. Tonight I'll have another look and see whether it's working.

But this afternoon, I'm gonna knit. I need to see some progress in this day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And just to make things interesting...

Binnie wrote me yesterday about another literary competition (with a deadline this week.)

And after writing about Gramma's shortbread yesterday I got thinking about her... and I do have a piece about her that would fit into a competition category with a little work...

And then another friend mentioned she's taking the day off to write today...

And the hat I was knitting is coming along pretty fast, which bodes well for the other three I'm supposed to do before Christmas...

... so I'm gonna try writing today and see what happens. I can pretty much guarantee that I'll also knit and do laundry and stare out the window and hunt around for some chocolate and think about shoes, but after resisting the last two deadline opportunities I'm too weak to hold back from this one, and it just seems meant. On the other hand, I did just burn some muffins while typing this. Sure hope that's not the meaningful sign for the day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A short story about short bread

I've got 40 making days to Christmas, and 14 knitting projects plus shortbread duty. I know... nobody eats that stuff, right? Well, they eat what my mother's made forever. Nothing goes better with tea and a book in a snowstorm.

Mum uses the recipe my dad's mum taught her, which means my family has been making these cookies for around a hundred years now. You have to use very cold butter, and she squishes and squeezes and pummels it into the sugar and flour that pretty much make up the cookie. She taught me to pack in as much flour as possible, though I suspect this has more to do with impressing friends with your stamina than with flavour. In the end the dough is too soft to roll out and cut with the special cutter, so you have to put it back in the 'frig for a while. Basically, you're looking at a three-day job if you're making gifts.

I have a tendency to carpal tunnel and limited time, so I cheat. I use the mixer so the butter doesn't warm under my hands, and I form the dough into a roll for slicing. They still taste way better than any other shortbread I've tried. It might be the rice flour, but I like to think it's some special magic from my Gramma.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A wonderful, awful idea*

Of course you know the whole knitting thing is me being a tortured writer compelled to communicate ideas and emotions while burdened by the need for productivity--if not in writing, in action?

Okay, so, I am SUPER EXCITED about the whole Christmas knitting idea! I had a feltable wool feeding frenzy yesterday, my list in one hand and two full tote bags in the other** and was happy until I got home and it dawned on me just how many projects I've signed myself up for. Don't ask me for a number because there is no way I'm gonna risk my inner calm by counting them. And since I've been sick and mostly sitting for a week, the outside has been sweeping itself into the house a little every time the door opens--instead of knitting, I should be dealing with the resident leaves and maple keys, not to mention all the swirls of scraps of paper that keep descending on me.

It's the perfect scenario for the discovery that I need 5.5mm double pointed needles and some non-felty wool for another scarf I just thought of plus needle felting supplies, don't you think? Yes, I'm making excuses. I just really want to go see a naked sheep.

* apologies to the Grinch, or rather Dr. Seuss
** I admit, I bought some winter white that could be Kool-Aid dyed, but I'm not going there! No way!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

You're scaring me (or am I scaring me?)

Last night I saw something so creepy on TV that I couldn't shift my mind from it when I was trying to fall asleep. Or after I woke up any of the million times after that to cough. Or now.

I don't watch TV much or often. I haven't watched Doctor Who in probably 20 years. And yet I recognized it immediately, with its low production value and high audience engagement.

So get this. Doctor Who's crowd have heard a friend scream, and run to find her, only to discover her el-cheapo plaster-white skeleton* still in its space suit, her voice modulator thingy still cranking out her last thoughts. The idea is still freaking me out - that in the moments after you die, the imprint of your last thoughts might linger in the air like smoke until it is buffeted away in the current, broken up and divided and recycled into so much white noise.

No more Doctor Who for me! Today, anyway. I gotta fill up my brain with something else... anything else. I see the perfect wool yarn for felting is on sale at a store I'll be near today, and apparently the white and off-white balls lend themselves beautifully to Kool-Aid dye. Maybe this is a good weekend for a science experiment?

* She met a flesh-eating swarm of shadow and lost.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Betcha can't do this

I'm a New Yorker addict, the kind with a subscription. For a long time I'd get through the whole thing the day it arrived, and I got other subscriptions to fill the void. And then... well, my surplus of time dried up (because I was writing a novel, maybe?) and it was taking a couple of weeks to get through every week's delivery.

So you can see how I might not have noticed, in the midst of all that paper, that I accidentally let my New Yorker subscription lapse last month. It wasn't until I opened a letter that began with Dear former subscriber that I knew my world as I knew it had ended.

Yesterday the first issue from my new subscription arrived. Last night, I found myself briefly with free eyes and an only partially occupied brain and, naturally, sat down to read. I must have been almost a whole page in before it hit me: I was also knitting.

Remember when I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Elizabeth Zimmerman used to read and knit at the same time? Was your reaction the same as mine? - Wow! and then, How??? Well, I can tell you how: knit stocking stitch, and make sure what you're reading is closer to your line of sight than what's on your needles.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Unleasing the awesome transformative power of...

hot water and agitation. I'm talking felting, baby!

Yesterday was pretty much of a write-off for anything sensible so I finished knitting my giant hat, tried it on and admired the flying nun effect when I folded back the floppy sides, then picked up some stitches to knit a chin strap. (I'm going somewhere with this.)

I measured the hat's dimensions, set the washing machine to high agitation and hot water, and threw it in. Yes, really. Five minutes later, the wool had matted to a thick, solid mass the shape of a bathing cap. I measured again, decided meh, then threw it back for another five. Perfection. It looks like a bathing cap but it resists wind and water and if I ever find a pair of decorative goggles I'll look like a WWI flying ace (in a pink puffy coat.)

The procrastination potential is endless. Pillow covers? storage baskets? tote bags? blankets? You betcha. And you don't have to knit, either. You can felt used wool sweaters and cut the resulting fabric (it won't fray) into pieces for other projects. And if you're not a crafty type, you can still use this information to impress people at the water cooler. See? I care, so I share.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Making a plan and sticking to it: overrated?

I've been mostly sleeping for a couple of days now and still feel too lousy to rake leaves, which is a drag because the weather is warm and sunny and non-windy AND most of the leaves are off the resident tree. (Which puts it a few weeks earlier than last year, something I hope does not bode ill for a palatable winter.) My plan to get out there and clear up the leaves before it's cold enough to require a coat and gloves and hot chocolate after is pretty much a goner.

But that's okay, right? because I can work on my horror story instead, and have it ready as planned for the end of the month. Except that I'm too sleepy to do that either, and I knit so much watching election results (USA! USA!) that all I have to do is (learn how to graft and) graft the back seam on my hat. And then, you know, knit a chin strap, and felt it, and sew on a button and stuff. So I'm tempted to do the grafting this morning and get closer to my goal of a warm hat in cold weather.

Except I'm not sure I can keep my eyes open to graft. Maybe I'll just look at the instructions for grafting, enjoy the nap that will inevitably ensue, and hope I can get back on track tomorrow. It's nice to go with the flow, but it's nicer when things get done along the way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Do men wear mohair?

and NO, I'm not talking about mohair suits. I have knit some stupid things in my day but I'm not demented.

So, I've caught some virus or other, and I just want to drink vats of water - cold or recently boiled with lemon juice and honey in it - and sleep. Not so conducive to writing, but definitely to thinking about the Christmas knitting (hence my question) and to reading. Luckily my copy of Arctic Lace arrived at the local library yesterday. Karen recommended this book as a possible source for Mary-friendly qiviut patterns, and she was right. I have exactly enough qiviut to make three very attractive things in it and to wonder whether a moebius shawl, so flattering on others, would make me look like a dork?

Arctic Lace has a wide appeal. Yes, there is knitting, and lace patterning. A little about qiviut specifically and musk oxen generally. It is somewhat about Arctic exploration, and a lot about specific individuals and native Alaskan lifestyles in remote communities accessible only by plane and increasingly affected by climate change, as are the musk oxen themselves. Highly recommended.

And now I would like to wish my US readers minimal lineup time at the polls and a delicious free Starbucks coffee! before I go drink something much less delicious, if equally hot.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Can writing be procrastinatory?

This time last year, I was writing my first non-mystery novel. I worked on it all winter with my Humber mentor, David Bergen, who patiently explained to me what didn't work and why, but I was never able to resolve the problems. In Wayson Choy's summercamp workshop, I worked only on the first chapter. I left with a very clear instructions to fix its problems, and I did fix them, in part by adding a new character for one scene only. Then I brought it to my most excellent critique group... who saw all the same problems as before, but loved that one character.

I am thinking about two things now: the writer who said character takes priority over story, and Joseph Boyden's comment, in the interview at the back of Three Day Road, that the novel didn't work until he reshaped it with a circular, rather than linear, approach.

I was going to rake leaves today. Then I came to my senses and decided to work on my horror story, due in a few weeks for a contest. But while I was hauling leaf bag monsters off the lawn in the dark in teeming rain (don't ask) a solution to the first chapter of that old novel came to me. So I'm going to try that instead. And I'm NOT going to eat Halloween candy while I do it, because I'm strong and not because it's finally gone, though that also is true.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How many exciting things fit into one day off?

Let's see...

knitting (and ripping out and knitting some more)

getting to tell Wayson Choy in person just how inspired and productive I've been since his workshop at SummerCamp

hearing a fantastic group of writers talk about how their backgrounds influence their writing

seeing a lightbulb go off over my own head when one of them described ditching a novel after writing two transcendent paragraphs about two characters she would be leaving forever after that chapter, so that she could write about them instead, because you don't kick aside such a gift

having a visit with Binnie

running into two other girlfriends and catching up

seeing a dress once owned, apparently, by Marie Antoinette (and if she really did own it then she still had the body of a pre-pubescent child at 15)

eating out (well, okay, owing to a mixup at the museum it ended up being a tuna sandwich and oddly sweet apple cider, but still - out!)

eating chocolate (YES, Hallowe'en candy, I'm terrible, I know)

going to bed super early for serious bonus sleep

I make that 10 and the best day off ever! And now to go eat some more Halloween candy (yes yes, terrible terrible, no knitting for you young lady.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Devil Inside

MAN that Bing Crosby is persuasive.

Yet oddly, in spite of having worked my way through at least 25 Halloween-sized candy bars yesterday, I weigh less today. Gwyneth Paltrow endorses 45 minutes' exercise a day plus 8 hours' sleep in her new issue of GOOP* and maybe that explains it. After a day-long special Halloween-prep episode of Headless Chicken, I ran from my computer and dove into bed a full 7 hours before I was required to be conscious again. Probably not the measured approach she was getting at but still. It's either that or being too busy to eat an actual meal on top of all the candy.

You won't catch me doing that today though. It's Halloween! I'll be buried in my storage room looking for the glow-in-the-dark horns on a headband I stored there last November 1st!

* for the record, I do not read GOOP. I read Jezebel.

* * * * * *

Okay, I can't find those horns anywhere, so I made this hat instead:

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

You are temptation

UGH. The house supply of Halloween candy arrived last night right after I got another story rejection. And it was a stabby one, too.

Bing Crosby has been singing Temptation on a continuous loop in my head ever since, which makes me think about when I was a kid and my sister would play old songs on the piano for my dad and I to sing along to. (He was a gifted singer; she is a talented musician; I am... enthusiastic.)

Remembering that made me think about when I was a kid and my sister and I would spend the Christmas holiday watching old movies while frantically knitting the last of our presents. Movies like, you know, The Road To (insert place name here) starring Bing and Bob and featuring such songs as Temptation.

And that made me think about how much I wish Halloween was over so I could climb into a cave to knit Christmas presents and listen to old music. Then most of the candy would be gone and my hands would be too busy to eat it anyway.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Give that girl a hand!

When my fingertips start catching thread from things like, you know, denim, I know it's time for petroleum jelly and cotton gloves. The Treatment was even more urgent yesterday since my qiviut arrived two days ago (it's so adorable! $32 worth nestles right into my palm!)

Petroleum jelly is the cheapest, most effective, and either the safest or maybe not so much way to soften your hands. Also, you can use it for all kinds of weird things. Luring trout? Who knew?

Since it's made from petroleum, though, it isn't green, and if you're inclined as I am to avoid obvious chemical exposure it does seem less than sensible to put petroleum on your pores. I'm thinking I should try out this recipe next time I find myself using my hands to sand woodworking projects. Or if the writing is going well, I guess I could just buy some of this.

The writing is going well, incidentally: I reread the story I want to submit this week and I really, really don't hate it. It's not a competition winner by any means, but if the judges also deem it not-hateable, I will be a happy girl.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Short Row to Hoe

Kathi and Karen kindly rescued me yesterday by explaining the hat complication as a short row. My non-knitting readers will have to take my word for it that this was comprehensible, or perhaps take photographic evidence* of my 3" progress on the hat last night when I should have been polishing my story submission.

November is national novel writing month!! It's basically the 3-day novel contest stretched over four weeks. I was so excited when I heard. I even have a terrific story idea I could use. But you know what? I'm not gonna do it**.

That's right. I'm gonna turn down a deadline. Me, Queen of Deadlines. Because I am seriously on a roll with my short stories, and because I'd rather be knitting for Christmas than writing a novel that in my rushed hands will be a poor first draft that may never go anywhere anyway, and because I have put writing first for so long the house is falling apart around me. Instead I will take it easy and use my spare time to make shortbread.***

* Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.
** I still have a few days to change my mind though.
*** More on my heartwarming shortbread story in a future post. Ha! Suspense!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pick One

I have two free hours today and so many options! I could

1/ bake the bread dough in the 'frig
2/ find the white shirt I need for Halloween
3/ polish the story I'm submitting on Friday
4/ figure out what "wrap, slip the wrapped stitch, and turn" means
5/ so I can knit my winter hat
6/ work on my horror story
7/ drink hot chocolate and listen to the radio
8/ clean the bathroom
9/ boil eggs for lunch
10/ have a nap
11/ fold laundry
12/ think of some good breakfast menus

Okay, maybe I can pick more than one. I'll go with 7, of course, and... you sitting down? 6! I know, amazing, but it's been writing itself in my head and I can't wait to get it down.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Braaains... Braaains

I stayed up way too late last night reading Dr. Daniel Amen's Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by way of feeding my ongoing obsession with the way our brains work. I first became interested in Dr. Amen when I saw what an awesome public speaker he is. He's dynamic and inspiring and really knows how to work a crowd.

Reading his book, I'm impressed by how effectively he packages his ideas. He is a publisher's dream! Not only does he have a new concept for self-improvement that fits into tidy pockets with easy, concrete tips, he presents them it all a credible and compassionate way. This is definitely another reference book for writers.

It didn't take long to figure out which part of my brain might not be working its best; I bet anybody who reads this blog could figure me out pretty quickly too. But I'm not sure I want to amend my tendency toward serial obsessions because it's how I learn more. If I hadn't allowed myself to be reabsorbed by knitting, I wouldn't have found the Knitter's Almanac, and if I hadn't been so determined to get that, and also the 'bargain' of free shipping, I wouldn't have bought Change Your Brain. Now I know more about how people's minds work and what kinds of character traits go together, and that's got to help my writing, right? ... erm, right?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If you need me, I'm in the bread box

... and it's a seriously cute bread box: vintage 50s Lustroware in red and cream. But I digress.

Around this time last year, I became completely obsessed with all things kitchen. I replaced just about every cooking pot and tool in there and started asking questions about how ingredients work together to make magic in the oven.

A cooking-expert friend recommended a possible book that led me to a shortlist of three. The very best and most exhaustive one is Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. It's too scientific for everyday use in my house, though. I liked my friend's recommendation--Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen, which I had to buy for her chocolate recommendations alone. But the one that I chose to help me understand what I want to know is Shirley Corriher's Cookwise.

Today's Cookwise discovery: sugar is not in bread recipes to feed the yeast! In fact, it's got stuff in it that kills yeast. You can only pair about 2 tablespoons of sugar with one cup of flour, and sometimes honey kills yeast outright, depending on the nectar that's gone into it. Which answers my question about substituting honey for sugar in today's batch of bread. (no.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Buried Treasure

It's cold out, and I'm sick of buying hats that warm my eyebrows and the back of my head and leave my ears to freeze. Best not to ask how this led me to Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac.

Best not to ask about whether it's wise to knit up the patterns in it, either; Ms. Zimmerman makes them sound easy, but the knitters on Ravelry frequently rate them otherwise and spend more than a year making them.

Even so, I recommend this book highly because it is poetry. This is not a knitting book, it is a book of everyday philosophy. And it's also about writing (for example, in a canoe on a camping trip) and even about reading, something she did while knitting, which makes me think she favoured well-loved hardcovers because there is no way you can do that with a paperback such as the Knitter's Almanac.

This book is easily the best $8 I ever spent on a book and more inspiring than many a writing guide to boot; I'm thrilled to have it, even though I'm still hunting for the perfect hat.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Before I made writing a priority in my life, I had a lot of terrible, chilling nightmares whose underlying message was that I was forgetting to do something that was very important. And it's telling that the image in many of those dreams was me, at 6 o'clock on Halloween night, with no costume.

Because, you know, I get excited about Halloween. Which isn't to say I'm a serious afficionado. I don't collect memorabilia like my very talented friend Diane Plumley, who uses them to make yummy Halloween (and otherwise-themed) pins. I don't do parties, either.

What I do is the front lawn. I turn leaf bags into monsters marching across it, and stuff a pair of overalls into some intimidating position that involves a pumpkin head that may or may not be on its body, and do a creepy pumpkin tableau. The new landscaping gives me a lot more scope for fiendishness, and I'm hatching ideas now for making the neighbourhood kids laugh.

That's the key, for me: the element of surprise for kids who come to the door. That's why I leave it to the last day to assemble everything and put it out there. Nothing to do with procrastination, I assure you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Evil Plan Foiled

I got into Ravelry and it's amazing - but time-saving. The place is so efficient! No more will I have an excuse to hunt for a place to buy yarn online, or for patterns I like. They're all organized with big pictures and knitter reviews.

So much for that procrastination idea.

Just as well, since I woke up still dreaming of something that just has to come up in the next scene of my horror story, when I've met my deadlines and can go back to it.

Still, I know whatever I spend on it isn't going to be enough. Come winter, for various reasons, I will have a LOT less time on my hands and a lot more shovel in them. I should be getting a ton of writing done now to tide me over, you know? And at the same time I keep thinking how nice it would be to be a person who doesn't feel the need to pack productivity into every spare segment of the day. Not that I do that. It's just that I feel I have to. I wonder what would happen if I took snow season as vacation time and didn't write at all? Except for, you know, the odd weekend or lazy evening?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Rejection Top Ten

Last night I harvested the first of the rejections I sowed with my post-SummerCamp submissions, and it didn't hurt. I've never been hurt by rejection and once again, I'm wondering why? This time I'm guessing it might be:

10/the addi Click needle set I ordered
9/ the brain book I'm looking forward to reading
8/ the swamp of work I've got this week
7/ the imminence of Halloween
6/ the fresh muffins on the counter
5/ the anticipation of qiviut
4/ the narcotic effect of Ghirardelli hot chocolate
3/ the fact that I finally got my Ravelry invitation and
2/ found the perfect hat pattern there
1/ I have faith in myself.

I'm going with the latter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Late Blooming

Yesterday while I was, erm, finishing off the yoke of The Sweater, I listened to podcasts from The New Yorker, including this one with Malcolm Gladwell about late blooming. Knitting feels like a guilty pleasure when I have writing to do, so it was comforting to hear there's a guy older than me who came out with his first short story collection, and it's truly inspired, and widely appreciated.

Okay, I've been writing longer than this guy even though he's older. But still. It gave me hope that I'll write a publishable novel someday, and also that if I don't, and I turn out to be a short story writer after all, that's just fine too.

If only my sweater story had such a positive ending. Yes, there is good news: the knitting is done, and the sizing is perfect. The bad: I still have to weave in about 15 tails of yarn, and scrape goo off my iron if I do the quick steam-press blocking method, and I don't seem to have a button that looks right for it, and it's going to rain much of the week so I can't show it off anyway.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quit it, Qiviut!

I have a busy week of editing coming up, so last night I thought I'd read October 2008 issue of Copy Talk from The Canadian Press.

Well. It seems that the Canadian Oxford Dictionary now rests in the hands of freelancers. This is better than being tossed altogether, since the book is unique in its choice of words. I hope I am not violating copyright when I quote Copy Talk's sample range, which ends with: "less-used terms such as qiviut, inukshuk and seigneury."

That's right, they said QIVIUT. You can't say that word to a newly reawakened knitter without a warning first!! For my non-knitting friends, qiviut is Musk Ox underfurriness, shed in spring. It is very warm, very non-itchy, very rare and consequently expensive, and heaven to knit with. Karen made a scarf from it but I wasn't knitting, so I was only interested. Now I am knitting and I want some.

But I am strong. I will resist qiviut* and finish my stupid cardigan instead.

*until I figure out how much yardage one needs for a non-lacy scarf.
*Wouldja lookit that! I figured it out! and now am somewhat poorer.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Garden Unveiled

Before: an annual border of sunflowers and columbines.

After: a living boxwood vase for lime hydrangeas... not as tall or colourful, but with year-round prettiness potential and minimal watering requirements.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase 'put your money in the pot'. Throw in some roots from a dead tree, call it sculpture, dress it up with some winter-hardy ivy to climb and cover said sculpture, and yer done. At least until the roots rot.

In the spring I'll plant an ivy that changes colour in fall to turn this into a 3-season cover for the eyesore fence. And I might even trim back the flowering shrub on the left (ya think?)

Friday, October 17, 2008

In Which Voicelessness is Explained

Last night I went out for dinner--an event that, unusually, involved two hours' uninterrupted conversation. This combined with the menu led me to the following discoveries:

1/ I am not a capon girl.

2/ Given the choice between artisanal goat cheeses imported from Italy served with tomato chutney and rosemary toast, or dense chocolate cake served with caramel sauce and paper-thin chocolate hazelnut toffee, chocolate still wins. Barely.

3/ I'm writing a horror story.

So today I feel both nicely sugared up, and free to stop whining about not having a really strong character voice for the story I get to work more on today. The fear that envelops my main character is gonna do the talking and the residual sugar is gonna keep my fingers on the keyboard - NOT mousing over to find out how much longer I'm Ravelry-deprived.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hearing Voices (or not)


I have another amazing short story idea unfolding in my head, and time to write today, but no voice talking! I'm spoiled. I've been getting such great voices over the last month or two, and now nada.

And I started putting together my cardi last night and it looks like I messed up a major part of the front pattern pieces, though at least I did that the same way both sides.

AND I want a nap.

I think it's all a sign that I should clean the bathroom sink.

* * * * *

Okay, the bathroom sink is clean and there are still more than 1300 people ahead of me in line to join Ravelry (a place for obsessive knitters, for any diary readers not so afflicted.) And my story is still not flowing properly. I'll have to find something else to clean... at least in that department I'm spoiled for choice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I've met some very interesting people over the years, not least a woman I worked with for a few years and who, early in our friendship, mentioned that she was in the mood to make chili.

"I think at lunch, I'll get over to the grocery store and pick up some beef and canned tomatoes and spices and some styrofoam bowls and plastic spoons."

Wha? I thought. Turns out my friend didn't have dishes. Not because she couldn't afford them, but because she didn't need them except for chili, which she only made once a year. Otherwise, she'd have been dining out just as she did every night with some man who would be, naturally, picking up the tab. She was unfamiliar with the concept of Dutch Treat and I horrified her by explaining it.

Knowing this woman was like reading a brand new Lorelei Lee novel, with some new, delightful anecdote every day. Today I'm making chili, and I hope it helps me remember more of them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Postcards go Pop

I collect postcards. They make perfect bookmarks - when you pick up a book and a postcard falls out, it reminds you how long ago (or not) you read that book, and you get to think of the person who sent it and the time in your life that you got it. Plus, the images on the front are usually pretty amazing.

So when I spotted a call for entries for a postcard competition, and I happened to have a postcard-length story, it seemed like a perfect fit! Until Binnie asked, what postcard are you sending with it?

Wha? So I did some hunting around online and yes, you are supposed to send a postcard with a postcard story. The postcard is, in fact, meant to inspire said story. So that's a bit panicky, since I now have to drop everything and get to a place that sells story-provoking postcards.

The upside: my online hunting led me to this prizewinning example of the perfect union of story and postcard, written by a fellow SummerCamper. I love this story. I bet you will too.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keep your toes out of the water!

oh MAN. I knew there was a reason I stopped knitting. I was enjoying my cardi until I noticed it's nearly done. And then I won't have anything to do on long car drives or chatty afternoons.

So I bought a couple of knitting magazines - what's the harm? - and fell in love with a pattern - a quick knit! - and started sourcing the yarn - ooookay, that's a little expensive, and apparently the patterns are notorious for being wrong and also, too small - and got chatting about knitting with Kathi, and then went to the bookstore to pick up a pattern book for the expensive yarn and while I was there, Kathi's felting book I hadn't picked up yet, and WOW, there's a reason it gets such rave reviews, and I want to felt something NOW.

Deep breath. Creep back out of the water. Get perspective. I don't need another sweater or bag. I don't have room for another sweater or bag. I do need a hat, but the hat I want, I'll have to make a pattern for. And wouldn't I rather write? Write the story, for example, that popped into my head last night and doesn't cost anything in materials and doesn't take up any closet space?

yeah yeah yeah. I'm going to block the finished pieces of my cardi now. Call me if you're making hot chocolate.