Monday, November 30, 2009

Felted Mitten breakthrough

I've just survived an all-mitten weekend: the sewing machine emerged from its table on Friday night and didn't go back in again until Sunday afternoon (when I knew I wouldn't want to be only half paying attention to Spirited Away.)

It took almost all of Saturday for me to figure out the most back-friendly place to cut is my very own laundry room, complete with a ceiling light positioned perfectly over the washer:

I ditched the separate cuff and extended the wrist, which worked better with the liner mitten I'm putting inside each pair.

I was so pleased with myself, I sewed together both of these pairs before the thought occurred to me to try them on a guy, who pointed out that the seam across the middle of the palm was pulling in a decidedly uncomfortable way. But that's all right, because I only need one pair for a guy - everybody else on my mitten list is a girl.

I cut a wider pair from a really exciting find - an XL man's elaborate, colourful, and all-wool Fair Isle cardigan from one of my favourite posh-ish shops - and sewed them together:

But they pulled, too.

Still, not a complete disaster! I can still gift these to a girl.

(Me, for example.)

I slept on it, then decided to come up with an entirely new pattern with just a front and a back piece. I gambled on the manliest stripe in my felted sweater stash and got this:

They fit Tester Guy perfectly. Cut down a little, they'd fit me perfectly too. In fact, I'm so in love with them, I want to make all the rest of the Christmas mittens with this pattern - but I can't, because you can really only get one pair out of a whole sweater and I've ruined quite a few already with my early, sadly non-giftable, efforts.


Cutting and stitching 60 pieces of mitten from the remaining stash or

Shopping for ten more feltable sweaters


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey days

I'm Canadjin, eh? So I've already had Thanksgiving - like, a month ago. It was great and I wish the same for all my neighbours to the south! Bit late now to mention it, but there is an awesome recipe for cranberry orange chutney over at Epicurious you might want to try some time.

All the US media turkeyisms have reminded me that I need to get on to ordering my turkey for Christmas. I don't cook on Christmas Day, but I've been entrusted with the task for another nice dinner afterward based on my good luck roasting chickens. I've done two very successful brined turkeys now with the advice and support from my local butcher, who also encouraged me in matters of chicken stock, and I think I'll be doing it again this year


if I don't get this one little problem fixed, it will probably be the last time I'll be allowed.

Somehow, something on the table has given one of my guests lobster hands. By which I mean; serious allergic reaction.

Last year I changed everything atypical but the chutney and the tablecloth, and it happened again.

So this year I'm not taking any chances. The tablecloth is going to be a curtain, and the table is going to be ornamented with a runner down the middle well away from this particular guest, and I might just leave the chutney out of it entirely.

Or, um, position it between me and the only other person who likes cranberry on the turkey.

It's really, really good chutney.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking when lazy

Even though it was foggy and spitty out yesterday, I went to my favourite fruit and veg store to get apples.

While there, I decided I would make a nice supper to go with some frozen tortellini I bought about a month ago to make nice suppers with and haven't looked at since.

I chose:

fresh Ontario spinach (that turned out to be from the US, why?)
a fresh Ontario carrot (that was fresh from Ontario)
a shallot whose provenance I do not recall
two heirloom tomatoes that came from somewhere Really Really Expensive
and some apples.

On the way home I realized how many dishes I'd be washing after supper if I boiled pasta and minced veg and washed and spun and chopped spinach and then cooked it and made a butter sauce etc.

So I started looking up recipes for tortellini casserole in which you throw frozen tortellini right into the dish.


Backup plan: cooking the entire meal at noon, pouring it into casserole dishes, and shoving them into the 'frig to heat at suppertime. Ha! Dishes washed before supper even hungered for!

On opening the bag of frozen tortellini, I discovered it was actually frozen ravioli, but whatever. Less unremarkable: frozen ravioli boils for 3-5 minutes, which is about 10 minutes less than expected. The butter sauce got rushed.

Which is why I have no pictures to show you of this edifying and, considering my recent forays into cooking, surprisingly delicious experience.

I forgot to put in the expensive tomatoes, though. I think today's exciting supper will involve them, and maybe some slices of cheese, and perhaps some bread, toasted. I dare you to find something with fewer dishes to wash.

No, really! I dare you to find something and then give me the recipe for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stress: response

I had a very upsetting week last week, and when I woke up on Sunday morning I was so consumed with negative feelings, I really didn't know how I was going to make it through the day.

Does this ever happen to you? It doesn't matter how put-upon you are, or how justified your anger, or even how correct/ fair/ well-supported-by-others your position might be - it just feels so bloomin' awful inside.

It was very pretty outside on Sunday though, quite mild for this late in November, and there were still quite a few leaves and things to clean up before the first snow, so I put on my giant pink polka-dot rubber boots and went to take care of it all.

I forgot you get adrenaline from raking and sweeping.

And that even greeny-white hydrangeas look pretty when they dry out. I didn't have any ribbon handy to tie up the bouquet I made, so I stuck it through the fence.

I got the pots all tucked away in the back corner for the winter. They look terrible now but once they're under their snow blanket they'll be quite charming.

Less charming: the discovery that I let my big armchair slip off the flagstone and onto the dirt over the summer. I've had this thing for about 12 years and feel quite attached to it. It's pine, and would have rotted long ago if I hadn't been so careful with stain and putting it somewhere safe every winter. I hope it doesn't start rotting out from the inside, now.

At least I found my garden bunny again. He hides under green leaves all summer, but those died a few weeks ago and were due for trimming, so now I get him back.

I felt much better when it was all done. Not all better, even now, but getting there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nowhere to go but up

I did it!

I ruined the first pair of mittens!

And it took all afternoon on Sunday to do it. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure I still have enough fabric left on the back and other sleeve of this sweater to make a second, more presentable pair.

These ones will do fine for snow shoveling and, perhaps, snowman making, but they're not good enough to gift, for reasons that have nothing to do with my apparent lack of sewing finesse:

1/ the pattern calls for a single layer, which means you're touching the interior seams with your fingertips all the time and will freeze.

2/ an interior layer, with the right side touching your hands, solves both these problems.

3/ even if you cut both sets of mittens from two entirely different weights of fabric, they won't nest nicely if you cut them the same size.

4/ I'm not entirely sure that stitching ribbing onto a giant puffy two-layer mitten is the best way to get a finished look.

5/ plus, you get another annoying seam inside, rubbing against your wrist.

I think I'll ruin a second pair after adapting the pattern for a longer hand to replace the ribbing, and a slightly larger set of pieces for the outer layer. But I'm going to try not to wait until next Sunday afternoon to find time for this, because I am supposed to make 12 pairs in the next 5 weeks - plus shortbread.

Oh dear.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The inadvertent fruit of my various labours

Well, I'm glad to say that all my stealth knitting this fall has paid off with finished knitting patterny projects I can finally share, like:

A hat and handwarmers and

A really hot scarf.

And now I can relax a bit. Maybe even sew up a few felted mittens (please please please - I just need a little more scissor courage!)

Looking around the house though, I have to admit what I really need to do is Clean. Up.

I mean, honestly! I was talking to a friend yesterday who has a house so big I could fit probably four of mine into it. And she was saying that much as she knows she's lucky to have it, it is so much work to keep organized. So much space, so many places for activities to get spread out in, etc., and I felt for her, and helpfully pointed out that my solution is not to put cleaning on the schedule in the first place. Then when I got back through my door...


So I have decided that mess can be unattractive and a mark of creative productivity.

(but I'm going to put a tiny bit of cleaning on the schedule anyway.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A stripey source of lining with a bonus

I bought this great shirt when I was picking up all the half-price thrift store wool sweaters last weekend:

It's plus-sized (lots of fabric!), the stripes match the various "destined to be a lined bag" sweaters, and I was pretty sure I could put the buttons to good use as well.

Looking closer once I got home, I noticed an even nicer feature:

Long fold-back cuffs.

Or should I say, perfectly finished cell phone/lipstick/changepurse pockets?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toe, meet water

All the sweaters I've been snapping up - and I'm terrified to put my scissors near any of them. I'm so worried I'll mess up and ruin the felted fabric I love most! And this is especially true since my favourite changes every time I pick another one up. They are all paralyzingly unique.

However, I did manage to cut these pieces on Sunday afternoon, while watching Wuthering Heights.

They're from a pretty and very soft XXXXL men's Italian Merino cardi; too thin to be warm enough on their own, but an effective liner for another fabric, I think. I figured it was a good place to start since the sweater, post-felting, is still big enough to yield four or five pairs of mitts. That's enough to cover me while I figure out whether the pattern needs resizing.

How long do you think it will take me to cut pieces for the outer layer?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Community cat

One of the houses in my neighbourhood is a short-term rental, occupied for a few months at a time by somebody whose own house is being renovated beyond recognition. The current tenants are my favourites, though I've never met them, because they brought

A Cat.

The cat's collar doesn't have a name on it. I have a few suggestions, the first of which is "Mary's Cat."

He looks like a Mary's Cat, don't you think?

He comes over a lot, what with being so social and not having his owners around much. I'll hear him meowing and find him lingering out front, waiting for me to come out and say hello and, incidentally, leave the door open a fraction of a moment too long.

Sometimes, he'll try to make a stand about this and play hard to get, positioning himself with an expression of indifference away from me (but still near the door).

Mostly though he makes himself at home.

Aren't those markings on his back just beautiful? And he's so healthy - his fur is unimaginably soft. Purrs like a big ol' engine, too.

I have to keep reminding myself that his name is really "Somebody Else's Cat."

These pictures were taken over the course of a couple of days, during which I talked to a lot of other neighbours about him. I'm surrounded by dog people, but most of them really like this cat anyway. It turns out he's just as adoring with everybody else as he is with me, but how can I hold it against him?

You can't get mad at a cat with the cutest paws ever.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How many sweaters does one girl need?

Well, I have a pretty extensive gift list - or do I mean giftee list? - so really I do need a lot of sweaters for the mitten/glove/bag extravaganza scheduled for this year's GiftFrenzy.

But I would say too that greed has played a role in my continued accumulation of sweaters. That, and the 50% off sale on Friday at the thrift store, which was coincidentally the same day a friend asked whether I felt like heading back there:

The little red roll is representative of a large-size boiled wool jacket with knotted buttons made from the same fabric. How lucky am I? Not only can I use it for slippers and/or a bag, I will be able to use my new rotary cutter and self-healing mat to cut out little shapes for stitching onto contrasting slippers and bags. Oh, the excitement.

(we will not speak of the extra storage space all this requires, or my lack of courage this far with regard to actually cutting into any of this fabric.)

I'm especially pleased with this gorgeous thing by Bianca Nygard, which was felted when I found it and felted even more when I tossed it in the washer:

It's going to make a most awesome bag, don't you think?

And this one, whose 100% wool label I couldn't find until I got home, is from Abercrombie and Fitch:

It had a subtle pattern to start with, plus a lot of moth holes in the bottom cuff, but felted it went stiff as a board even as the pattern softened further. I think it will grow up to be a very manly pair of slippers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Furthering the felted bounty

I found some more fabulous wool sweaters last night at the thrift shop.

The one on the left has a hole in the shoulder, and the one on the right came already felted, so I have no guilt about my plans to snip it up. Just a lot of books with ideas for felted-wool projects!

And check out the turtleneck on the right-hand sweater... it's a little tight for my head, but I think it would make a great hat for a child.

There was a third sweater in my haul, but on further inspection I discovered it didn't have any holes, wasn't already felted, is insanely soft, and fits me perfectly:

So I'm just going to wear it, to stay warm while working away in my cold sewing room.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Older: not always wiser

Growing up in a boxy unadorned 1950s house (which did have, nonetheless, heaps of sentimental value and history, but more on that another day), I longed to live someplace old, with character, and if possible, a fireplace and window seat (see: The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.)

When I moved away, I lived in as many older places as possible, and today, as what passes for a Responsible Adult, I can see what goes along with the fine woodwork and plastering genius and long-established neighbourhoods with nice big trees:

lead paint
no insulation, leading to
mold, mildew, high heating bills

Of course, major renovations are always possible, but having watched neighbours (and the neighbours of those neighbours) go through that, I don't think I have the necessary fortitude.

Honestly, it's enough to send me to the real estate listings any time I think about doing any actual writing. If only agents would start including 'window seat' on their spec sheets...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poppy day

One of my former neighbours, before her house was leased to a skateboard shop and the garden ripped out, had a sizable planting of poppies. I had seldom seen these flowers in real life before and never so many at once; whenever I walked past I always marveled at how strangely beautiful they are, and thought of Flanders Fields.

Though they're gone now, I was still able to spend some time remembering military sacrifices last night watching The History Channel.

And what really struck me was how much the now-elderly men who give witness to these battles remember about them. They were so young - two of them, I noticed, were just 21 when they happened - and between the bombs and the fires and the artillery, the chaos must have been complete: and yet they have every detail at their fingertips.

It's the trauma, I expect. But I appreciate that they remember so we can, too. And I'm glad to be able to do that today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Linear vs. not

Do you know anybody who likes to do things in a nice orderly sequential fashion? The kind of person who, for example, will bake a cake by

wiping down the counter
preparing the pans and oven
measuring out the ingredients
mixing the batter
putting the batter-filled pan in the oven
and then

making four phone calls, cleaning the spilled milk off the floor, feeding the dryer and giving the washer seconds (or thirds), looking up movie times, scribbling down a birthday greeting and putting a card in an envelope, running to the back yard for a book left on the patio, and daydreaming about last winter's trip to Capri?

Well, it seems that I might be such a person. Less the stuff about phone calls and Capri and movies.

How can I tell?

I am counting five different in-progress knitting projects on my desk at this very moment, and I happen to know there is a sixth somewhere on the bookshelf, because I was working on it last night, and I still haven't done the second draft of the short story I started last spring and want to finish, and I need to find time this week to practice driving again.

And it is making me stressed.

But it is only Tuesday, and the nice thing about Tuesday is that there's a lot of week left in which to correct such overcommitments.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My work here is done

Now that I've conquered all the leftover Halloween candy, is there really anything else sufficiently heroic for my many and varied skills? Okay, okay, maybe I'll stick around for the leaf-raking.

A friend of a friend says she had 650 kids to her door on Halloween, which boggles my mind. About 40 swung past my place. I tend to think of 100 as the magic number to prepare for, which means I've eaten 60 kids' worth of treats in the past two weeks. (with help, to be sure... but not that much help.)

If I'd had 650 kids to treat, I would have had zero leftover candy to conquer, and 550 tricks to clean up. I don't know which is more terrible, do you?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vicarious learning of organizational genius

or, if you had it all, where would you put it?

In my lazy days as a mostly-knitting Bachelor of Arts student, I had the benefit of watching friends who were rushing back from Pharmacy labs to find a desk to study at till midnight. How did they manage under such pressure? Especially when, at the end of the year, it was clear that the bottom percentage of each class would be asked to study something else?

Same way other friends got through their MBAs - selective submission. It seemed like what they were really learning in that degree was

a/ you can't do it all
b/ top performers learn to identify what's going to yield the biggest results and have the most impact in setting their work apart, and leave the rest

Now, obviously - the b/ approach is going to leave some infrastructure issues if you follow it too slavishly. For example, in my everyday life, if I sacrifice the time it takes to unwrap and eat chocolate because it's more urgent to get the laundry in so it's washing while I'm writing, then I will be cranky later in the day and therefore less productive.

Still. It's good information to have when looking at a day full of about 25 little things and 20 little slots to put them into. Like I am right now.

It's too early for chocolate, right?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

That Johnny Mercer guy

Last night I flipped on Turner Classic Movies just in time to catch most of a documentary on Johnny Mercer.

This is a lame thing to say since I have watched a boatload of old movies in my day and listened to almost as many jazz recordings of great songs, but my primary awareness of Johnny Mercer's song list was from reading (about a million times) Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. And many of the ones mentioned in that book, I did not know well.

Turns out I know (and love) a ton of his songs, just not that he wrote them. He worked with so many other composers, and sometimes the other guy's name was the one I heard - for example, Moon River is Henry Mancini to me, but in fact - also Johnny Mercer. Now I think of it, I probably read that in the Good and Evil book and promptly forgot it, the Mancini connection is so strong.

I didn't know Johnny Mercer was such a fabulous singer, either. I don't think I knew he could sing at all. But he had a wonderful voice.

Speaking of which, I got a much better sense too of the real power of a singer that puts a song over. You listen to enough recordings of a song, you get used to the idea that there's one good way to deliver it. See different people singing it in person, on the other hand - with expression, with emotion, with phrasing and pacing, in front of a live audience - you see them selling that song.

Why I didn't appreciate that to this extent before is another mystery, or maybe it's just that it was a really good documentary.*

*(available on DVD, just in time for Christmas!)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Just a year or two ago I was baking cookies all the time, as opposed to buying cookies in the grocery store. I'm not sure why I stopped, though the fact that I eat homemade cookies and resist store-bought ones may have been a factor.

(in which case, given the ample supply of leftover Halloween candy, I am in Big Trouble, because...)

I'm addressing that today, having remembered that the key to getting cookies made is to pre-measure as much as possible the night before, when the kitchen is cleaned up from supper and the dishwasher is humming warmly away in the corner, and the house is peaceful.

In the bowls are the makings for 'Quick Oatmeal or Wheat Flake Cookies' from The Joy of Cooking, a great standby and base recipe for interesting additions such as, say, CHOCOLATE. The cookies come out nice and chewy, which I like for oatmeal. And they don't crumble, which is helpful for eating while wandering around the house thinking of what to do (or avoid doing) next.

With luck, they'll even keep me too busy for forays into the aforementioned Halloween candy. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The new normal

Now that we're in Swine Flu Central, I'm surrounded by worried people watching news and washing hands as we all wait for vaccines (squalene-free or otherwise).

Meanwhile, it's all about the handwashing! And other preventative steps, helpfully outlined here.

In addition to remembering to take my Vitamin D supplement every day and pondering whether I need to wash my hands again after shifting something I brought home from the grocery store less than 2 days before, I've been drinking a lot of hot honey and lemon:

the juice of 1/2 lemon
honey to taste (I use 2.5 tablespoons)
the rest of a mugful of boiling water

Consequently, I've spent a lot of time lately looking at the inside of a lemon - holding it up to the light to see where I need to dig out more seeds, simultaneously feeling like I'm holding up an X Ray and looking for cancerous masses and marveling at the number of offspring this lemon would have had if all its seeds had sprouted.

I've also been discovering some interesting skin care tips. For example, if you accidentally drizzle some honey on the counter while spooning it into the mug, you can rub it into your chapped-from-washing knuckles. When you rinse off the sticky, you'll find your knuckles are youthfully smooth and soft again.

(you can get the same result with olive oil or baking soda, too, but I find the honey lasts longest!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The other that one thing led to

I was really looking forward to yesterday - aka The Day After Halloween.

I like the idea of Halloween, sort of, but I find it exhausting too, and no matter how hard I try not to make a big fuss about it, I always seem to get caught up and keep thinking of clever things at the last minute, like this new head for my annual Headless Man:

Probably none of the neighbourhood kids noticed I glued eyes on the silver Christmas ornaments in the leaves there, what with the dark and all, but I knew, and why should they have all the fun?

In any case I was really looking forward to it being over. I was going to take the day off from everything.

Right after I dug out the humidifier for the one super dry room in the house (radiator heat, dontcha know.)

Because I can't leave well enough alone, and since I had to move a wardrobe anyway to get at the electrical outlet for said humidifier, I thought I'd do some vacuuming and move the bookshelves, too, to give them a proper cleaning before reclining with a good book or some knitting for the rest of the day.

But it was not to be: there was


behind them, thankfully only on the walls.

This is a direct consequence of living in a small house older than the concept of insulation and choosing other than a minimalist style. You just can't put tall wide furniture up against exterior walls and leave it there for a couple of years, is the problem.

The rest of the day, apart from cleanup, was an elaborate game of Tetris, finding places for the air-blocking furniture and finding non-air-blocking furniture to fit into the gaps. And this is something I definitely do not count as vacation.


However, there is a bright side. Come Christmas, and come January when I finally catch whatever's going around and have to muster up the strength to shovel snow, I'm not going to have to wonder what's going on in the hidden corners of the house, and I'm not going to have to deal with anything yucky.

I'm just going to have to keep noticing how crowded the living room looks with that one extra bookcase in it. Double wanh - I really hate it, even if it does give me more space for books.