Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Kitten Goalie

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” ― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I was glad to see the weekend again this week. I spent all week feeling like a kitten trying to be a goalie in a soccer match... trying to catch all the stuff that was being thrown at me. I think I did ok. I don't think I let anything past, but I wasn't really keeping score or anything. I just know that I reached Friday night feeling tired and hungry and whiney. I ate lots of snacks and went to bed early. Kitten goalies need lots of sleep and lots of snacks.

I didn't have any huge plans this weekend: mostly just chores and cooking. I finally got around to making the hubby's birthday cake, one week late. It's a recipe I found years ago from a Sainsbury's recipe card back when we lived in Belfast. I lost the card somewhere during one of our moves, but I went searching online and found that someone saved it here. It doesn't photograph all that well, but it's made with orange juice, dried apricots, ground almonds and semolina, which makes a heavy, dense cake, and which is why it's cracked all over and has a split in the middle. It's so good, it can't even hold itself up:


The little holes all over the top are for the orange syrup to soak in. I poured it over last night, and so it's well-absorbed today. It's not the easiest cake to make: I cut the very tip of my thumb off while I was slicing the apricots, and I spent half an hour cleaning the burned sugar off the stove after the syrup overflowed. But the hubby loves this cake (so much so that I had to shout at him one time for stealing a slice before it was ready), and if a cake must be made, then it must be made.

Vancouver Island keeps getting hit with slushy snowstorms. I'm pretty sick of it all, as is everyone else. It would be different if we didn't have all these sunny, spring-like days in between to get our hopes up. It's different from when I lived on the prairies - winter is winter until winter is done being winter. And when it's done, it's done. And it's not slushy and wet and icy and dangerous.

This might be the whiney kitten goalie talking here.

Anyway, perhaps I won't be too late to wear this sweater that just keeps dragging on, much like the winter (heh). I'm very happy to say that I finished one side of it, and I took the stitches for the back and the other side of the sleeves off the holders last night. I know it looks really weird here, but that's because I've got holders on the shoulders because I intend to do a three-needle bind off when I'm done the other side. It sorta looks like a white monster with beady little eyes at the top... but really, I think it's turning out to be a nice sweater... eventually:


It's Daylight Savings Time this weekend, which is means we lost an hour last night, and which is adding a degree more annoyance for me. Really? One less hour for the weekend? I don't normally get that uptight about this whole time-change thing, but right now, I must protest. When can we leave this thing behind and let us just adjust to the seasons as Mother Nature intended: with nap times intact and sleep schedules unchanged? I must write a strongly worded letter about this one of these days, complete with commas and em dashes and words like "heretofore" and "indubitably." It will be a proper Victorian-style letter, after which I will fan myself with my hanky and sit back in my settee and catch my breath. Perhaps that will show them.

Or, I can just sit around and feel sorry for myself with the same face that our new office puppy has:


In the end, I'm grateful for the weekend, shortened as it is. One of my office mates is back from his holidays this week, so maybe I can hide behind him for a while and let him field some of the shots. It might take a bit of bribery. Good thing I made cake.

And, deep down, I know what is true: all these tough days are part of what will make me a better person than I was yesterday and the day before. I am as the Skin Horse says: a little loose in the joints and a little shabby, but perhaps one day, even if my hair gets all rubbed off in the process, I'll be able to stand up stronger and wiser... and perhaps a "real" kitten goalie. Now that's a dream worth waiting for.

Happy Sunday, all.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Mistakes, Bread, and Life

It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.
--Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Peak Performance"
It was the hubby's birthday this weekend. We decided a few weeks ago that we'd go to our favourite cabin for the weekend as a treat, and I'm very glad we did. Work life is so challenging these days that any chance to change scenery is welcome. I know it was really supposed to be his birthday treat, but I was so glad to have the chance to have a soak in this lovely tub. I was having a hard time letting go of an error I'd made this week, and as I lay in there soaking, I had a quiet word with myself:


I said, "I can tell you're going to be thinking a lot about this today. I won't stop you, but just keep in mind that thinking about it isn't going to change what happened, nor will it change the outcome... but if you want to think about it, you've got the space and permission to do so."

After that, I barely thought about it again for the rest of the weekend. Go figure.

We awoke to another skiff of snow. It was really only a liberal dusting, but I admit that I wasn't all that happy to see it. I think it might have been my fault: I was thinking about my current sweater project and wondering if I would finish it in time to make use of it this winter. I really must stop saying such things. Still, being at the cabin makes even the most unwelcome weather bearable:


The snow didn't last long. The sun came out as I was drinking my coffee, and by the time we were out and about, there was some serious melting going on. We decided to head out for a walk along the trail at the Kinsol Trestle, which is a nice, easy trail with some impressive scenery:







Since the hubby is fighting through the last stage of bronchitis and I was so wrung out with my work week, it was about the most physically demanding thing we did all weekend. The fresh air and exercise did wonders for us, as did the long afternoon nap and tea break we had before dinner. It was a struggle, but yet, somehow we persevered.

I did take along my knitting, which is so dull-looking that I really don't feel like taking photos of it right now. It's interesting the role that your hobbies take in your life. I happened to look back at an older blogpost of mine and reminisced about how I used to plan for projects, look for yarn to match the plan, and set up the queue in my Ravelry profile with all the detail of a travel agent booking a multi-stop, round-the-world holiday. Nowadays, I spend time daydreaming of things I might like to try and then go for a wander through my stash to make my daydreams become reality... mostly by winging it and hoping for the best.

I'm still not so sure that my current sweater project is going to work out. I have a bad feeling that I really have made it too big, but I'm trying not to be too concerned about it. It's not like anything I've ever made before: it's a simple sweater with no shaping, longer in length and with much more ease than anything else I've made previously. It's unfamiliar territory for me. Who knows? It might be just what I've been hoping to wear.

Or not. In which case, I will test my felting skills, I guess.

It's funny reaching this stage in my life, after all my years of being a high-achiever, a straight-A student, constantly making goals and working to the plan. Maybe I'm finally beginning to trust my skills. Or maybe I'm realizing that, sometimes, no matter how hard I try, some things won't work out how I want them to. And that's ok.

But at least my soda bread always works out perfectly. If I must yearn for perfection in some area of my life, at least I have that. Have a good week, everyone.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Choosing My Monkeys

Not my circus, not my monkeys. -- Polish Proverb
I have a habit of taking on problems and trying to fix them. Maybe it's some kind of deep-seated maternal instinct: a need to protect and save, to find solutions in the darkest situations. I'm good at it... but it's exhausting.

For example: I brought a plant home from work last summer, where, try as we might, we could not keep it alive. It would sprout a few leaves and then droop and wilt and die off a bit, and then, near death, it would try again. It was a pitiful wee thing, so I decided to intervene. I gave it a new pot with a mixture of potting soil and a bit of manure. I've been watering it carefully by dipping it into cup of water to let it soak the water from below. Slowly, but surely, it sprouted new leaves, strong and green and robust. Today, it looks like this:


Speaking of work, I had some nice visitors in my office this week. This is Nala, a sweet, gentle dog with the softest, silkiest coat I've ever felt on any animal. I must find out what kind of conditioner she uses:


And this is Roxy. She's a toughie, but when you get her on her own, she is a sweetheart. She's also a mooch, but I've NEVER (ahem) ever given in:


It was a busy week, full of drama and upheaval. It really took its toll on me: I soak that stuff up like a crouton in an old salad. That part of me that likes to take care of other people's problems... that part feels like it was mugged in a dark alley. Twice. In short, I was glad to reach the weekend.

In the midst of all of that, I was sorta glad that I have a really simple project on the needles. It doesn't look like much, but this WILL be a sweater some day. I compared it to another sweater yesterday, and it looked like I was ready to move on to the sleeves... which ACTUALLY means I should knit another three inches. I have such a bad habit of ending up with sweaters that are just a tinge too short, so I've decided that I'm going to knit the heck out of this one. It's a bit of a gamble, because I don't want to end up with a huge, shapeless sack... but I'm so tired this weekend that I think I might actually be ok with that:


I was supposed to start a calligraphy class this week, but it got cancelled at the last minute (turned out I was the only one registered, heh). I was really disappointed, but, given my crazy week, it was probably for the best. I got up this morning and did a really long, guided yoga practice. This afternoon, even though I really wanted to get more knitting done on my sweater, I decided to pull out one of my sketch books and play around a little.

I tried out a bit of pencil calligraphy, holding two pencils side-by-side:


I abandoned that for a bit of pencil-lettering, just mimicking ink and pen with pencils and shading:



Then I pulled out some coloured pencils:


And, after a bit of shading with the pencil crayons and outlining with a few gel pens, I wrote out one of the meta phrases that stuck with me from this morning's yoga practice:


Here's to a week where I am at ease with what comes, to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and to find the wisdom to know the difference. To know which monkeys are mine and to leave the others for their owners. And to do some knitting... cuz that's good, too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Inspiration Mondays: About Stuart


Story-lovers got some bad news last week. One of our treasures passed away. He was ill. I think we all thought he'd get better. It was somewhat of a shock.

I'd heard of Stuart McLean throughout my childhood, but my family weren't big CBC Radio listeners. I'd heard about Dave Cooks the Turkey, but had never actually heard the story, and I'd listened to people talk about this storyteller here and there, but never really gave him much thought.

We "discovered" him a few years ago, during a long, long drive down to Utah on a holiday. It was during one of those long days of driving that I turned on the radio and happened upon The Vinyl Cafe. I can't remember what we listened to, or if we even heard the whole story, but we were entranced. After that, we subscribed to podcasts, and we would listen while I sat on the floor with my yoga mat and did my stretches and the hubby laid back and listened.

A couple of years later, I asked for tickets to his Christmas show in Calgary for my birthday. I was excited, but I was not prepared for how magical the experience would be. It was transformative... a show with music and laughter and twinkling lights and stories... I was entranced and delighted. I'd never dreamed that a huge hall of people of all ages could sit in silence while we listened to a man on a stool at a microphone with a music stand in front of him read his stories.

It still amazes me that, in this day of YouTube videos, high-action movies, and the latest-and-greatest in entertainment gear, this person could make a living being just what he was: a storyteller: a person who had the words to all of the things the rest of us long to express, and who expressed them for us, freely, and with great accuracy of emotion. It was never melodramatic, nor was it preachy or sanctimonious.

It was always what we needed to hear.

I mourn him. I am sad to know he's gone. I feel like one of the precious few people I treasured in my life has gone and left a hole.

But, when the news of his death broke, I was heartened by the people who left comments and tributes... and I felt a kinship with each and every one of them. I've felt really isolated and lonely recently, but I felt better knowing there were others like me out there.

There are other people in the world that get lost in the world of stories.

I start most of my blogposts with a quote, but this time, I'll end with one that has been repeated over and over out there by Stuart's fans over the last few days. It's from his story, "Le Mort d'Arthur," which was a story about the death of a family pet. I cried when I heard it, I re-listened to it when I lost my Rascal, and I've treasured it ever since. It says everything my aching heart wanted to say.

Thank you, Story Man. You've given the world more than you could ever know.
“We do this thing. We open our hearts to the world around us. And the more we do that, the more we allow ourselves to love, the more we are bound to find ourselves one day - like Dave, and Morley, and Sam, and Stephanie - standing in the kitchen of our live, surrounded by the ones we love, and feeling empty, and alone, and sad, and lost for words, because one of our loved ones, who should be there, is missing. Mother or father, brother or sister, wife or husband, or a dog or cat. It doesn't really matter. After a while, each death feels like all the deaths, and you stand there like everyone else has stood there before you, while the big wind of sadness blows around and through you. 
"He was a great dog," said Dave. 
"Yes," said Morley. "He was a great dog.”
― Stuart McLean

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sweater Promises

I imagine Heaven would have very nice weather - perfect climate where you can wear a leather jacket or shorts and a sweater. --Hilary Rhoda
It's been a tiring couple of weeks around here. Work has been difficult... very difficult. It's starting to look up, but, combined with some poor weather and not being able to get out for walks, or even up to the gym has made for a really difficult, depressing time.

I suppose that's why I haven't made much progress on my current knitting project. The strange thing about working on something simple and uncomplicated means that it just becomes... well... more like work. And when you're not in the best of moods, seeing little progress is all the more depressing. This is the sort of project where you knit for an hour, and you look at your work and swear you should be further along... so you knit for another hour to try to make it go faster, only to feel the same again...

...like Sisyphus for an eternity. (I get classical when I'm depressed):


I think it's during these times when I start searching for something, anything, where I can make some kind of progress. I was lying awake one night (as one is apt to do when you eat a burger too late at night), and I started thinking about my Bloomsbury Sweater that I made this time last year. I've been struggling with it, because the neckline was just too wide for it to sit properly on my shoulders. It was really frustrating to have to keep tugging at it to keep it from sliding down, so I'd been contemplating on what I was going to do to fix it:


I thought about adding some kind of inside button/strap combination to keep anchor it against my bra straps, but I knew deep down that it was never going to work. I thought it would be better to try to undo the neck ribbing and lengthen it upwards somehow, but since I knit it from the top down, that was going to be a complicated job. You see: knitting has a direction, and trying to to force knitting to work in two different directions, particularly when there is lace and ribbing involved... well, it's like trying to teach a dog to drive. It's not easy, but it takes some work.

In the end, as I lay awake in bed, I searched on my phone until I came across this post which gave me some good tips. I felt pretty confident that I could do it. I had a plan. I figured I could knock it out in half an hour.

Turns out that plans made in the middle of the night are a teeny bit flawed. After an hour of wrestling with the neckline, I had a big ol' mess on my hands:


But I got up and ate some dinner, and after that, I sat down again, and something just clicked. It seemed to fly off my needles after that, and soon, I had a sweater I could wear comfortably. I knit about two-and-a-half inches of ribbing, starting with a needle size one smaller than what I'd used to knit the sweater, then one size smaller than that for the next inch, and then one size smaller than that for the last couple of rows and the bind off. I wore it the other day and felt quite comfortable... and somewhat triumphant. It's nice when stuff works out:


I've had a bit of a reprieve at work, and things are feeling slightly better, and I am therefore more hopeful and positive. It also helps that I've had a couple of nights of good, uninterrupted sleep, and a really nice visit with a good friend yesterday. We got chatting about friendship, and what it means these days, and I'm grateful to have people like her in my life. Besides: she convinced me to stop in at the yarn shop, even though I don't REALLY need anything, and it's there that I picked up these skeins of Rowan Creative Linen, a 50/50 cotton linen blend. I felt a teeny bit guilty about it, but I rationalized that 1) I don't have much summer yarn, 2) I have a pretty solid idea in my head of what I'm going to make with it, and 3) it was 50% off. 

And heck, it's been a rough time. I just want something to look forward to:


Anyway, I feel more grounded and settled at the moment, and I just came home from a yoga workshop. I feel relaxed and more open-minded, so I'm going to go and relax on the couch and do some more work on my current sweater. Tedious at it is, it's nice to have a bit of predictability... and I predict it'll be a while before this one is done. Ah well... it has the promise to be a nice, wearable, comfy sweater. And a sweater promise is one of the better promises in life.

Happy Sunday, all.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

And I Finally Listened

Hell is just resistance to life. -- Pema Chodron
I took a course last autumn called Mindful Self Compassion, where a recurring theme was, "What you resist, persists." What that means is: those uncomfortable feelings that you keep shutting out and trying to tune out and distract yourself from, well, unless you learn how to sit with them and feel them and examine them, they just won't ever go away. Ever.

So, I've been doing a lot of listening... a lot of gentle pulling myself back from running away, like a mother cat with her kittens. I'm still working on it. And I'm noticing how this idea has been crossing over to lots of different parts of my life.

Like yarn. Because, let's face it: yarn is life.

So, I've been trying to force this skein of yarn into some kind of garment. I love its colours, the tones, and the blend of them all together has enchanted me since the first time I laid eyes on it.


Yet, every single attempt I have made to make it into a garment has failed. I've tried cardigans, pullovers, skirts, cowls... absolutely everything I have tried has been pulled apart and rewound. I've read all my magazines, searched through Ravelry, taken photos of clothes in stores for inspiration. I've even collected paint chips with the same colours and put them on a table and stared at them to try to figure out what I could make.

And this week, it finally came together. I made a thing.

I'm very, very happy with the result. I had struggled for ages trying to think of something to make with this yarn, and it had sat for over a year would up in yarn cakes, waiting for me to figure it out. Casting on to knit a blanket was sort of a resignation for me. I never knit blankets, and I consider it kind of a cop-out, sort of like saying, "Well, I can't make anything else with this so I'll just make it a blanket."

It was though the yarn knew something I didn't, and it was just waiting for me to finally listen:





I'm entranced by it... and I can't help but wonder if there's more to this blanket knitting than I give it credit for.  I am especially happy with the border. It's not geometrically perfect, but I'm very proud of how smoothly I picked up the stitches and attached the selvedeges together. And I impressed myself with how I had enough foresight to leave long enough tails of yarn to sew up any gaps in the connections (and yes, there were gaps in there):



This week, I came across a simple sweater pattern, the design of which I really liked. I've been looking for a cream-coloured sweater all winter, but this pattern inspired me to make one for myself. I shared it with a few people, but the weather has been so sunny and dry that I actually said aloud, "By the time I knit it, it'll be too warm to wear it."

That appeared to jinx the weather. I take responsibility. I'm sorry, Westcoasters... I think that was my bad:



So, I've cast on for a sweater using some more yarn I've had stashed for years. I changed the gauge, because I am not convinced that a sweater knit with DK weight yarn will fare very well when knit with size 8 needles - I think it will be too droopy and the stitches may stretch. Honestly though, I've had this yarn for so long that I can't even remember if it is for sure DK weight, and I can't remember what yardage it is. All I know is that I bought ten of them with the intention to dye them for another project which never happened.

Maybe this yarn has been waiting for me to listen to it as well.


Today, I'm also listening to my body. I feel kinda run down and tired, with the slightest hint of a sore throat. I took an hour-long nap yesterday afternoon, and then proceeded to go to bed at 9pm on a Saturday night. I woke up at 7am this morning, and only because the hubby switched on the light. So far, I've had a hot bath, did some yoga, and had another long nap. And I think I'll enjoy a couple of slices of this lovely bread I made yesterday:


It's a Dutch oven version of wholemeal soda bread, which is called Wheaten Bread in Northern Ireland. It brings back memories of living in Belfast, for which I feeling particularly nostalgic these days. The bread itself was so good that I decided to make another loaf today:


Because, well... it's still snowing out there, and it's hovering around freezing, so the roads are pretty bad. No telling when we'll get out of here...

Aw heck, there's no running away from winter, even from here on Vancouver Island. I think I better quit resisting and do some listening here. I have a feeling I've got some learning to do...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Awake and Dreaming

Art is, for me, the process of trying to wake up the soul. Because we live in an industrialized, fast-paced world that prefers that the soul remain asleep. --Bill Viola
Today, I feel like a sleepy bear, slowly waking up from a winter of hibernation, blinking my eyes in the light and trying to find my bearings... gingerly taking steps into the world, sniffing the air and looking at the world around me, trying to relearn what's there, trying to make sense of what's changed and what has remained.

And that's what it feels like to come back after a few weeks away.

I've been spending the last couple of weeks trying to find my feet and sort out a few things in my house and in my head. I've felt this need to get super-organized. I have a freezer full of lunches and a bunch of fresh bread and muffins on the table. I'm so weirdly prepared that I find myself sitting here thinking I have things to do, and then realizing I don't have many chores to do at all. It's a strange feeling. It's like my brain is trying to prepare itself for a storm.

So, I started back at work, and there was no storm, even though I'm still trying to get back into the swing of things. By the second day, I felt like I'd never left.

That's real life, I guess.

We had a wonderful time while we were away in California. We've been to Los Angeles many times before, but this particular visit was really different because we stayed in a different area. We'd been very comfortable in the past staying at hotel near the airport and driving around, but that particular hotel wasn't going to work for us this time, so we had a look through Airbnb for somewhere else that might be just as good, if not better.

What we've learned about Airbnb is that you have to read every single review, and pay particular attention to the ones that rated mid-low on the star scale. Those are the people who will tell you the truth about any details that might annoy you, or that might create a problem for your stay. We learned that the hard way... but learning is the operative word there.

This time, we struck gold:


It was a wonderful little cottage in Topanga Canyon, with fantastic views and a lovely, generous guest. It was so nice to have somewhere where we could take our time getting up and around in the mornings without having to worry about anyone needing to come in to clean, and where we could come back and cook our own dinners and relax in the evenings... a real home away from home. And the best part was that the owner loves vintage stuff even more than I do. It was like living in a vintage shop filled with all of the coolest plates and bowls and ramekins and linens, all for me to look through and admire and use:
  



We visited new places as well. It was raining one day, so we decided to try visiting The Getty Villa. I really didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but it was a fantastic place. It was built by an oil baron who wanted to share his love of antiquities and art. He did so by building this villa in a style that mimicked the villas in Pompeii, so that people could experience what it would be like to walk around in one. It is filled with treasures from around the world, and decorated with frescoes, tiled floors, and statues that you would expect to see in such a villa. The Getty Foundation now funds programs to teach people about art history and restoration, and charges nothing for people to visit (apart from the parking).



I fell in love with the mosaics, the ones in the collections and the ones that decorated the building:





This one makes me think of an embroidery idea I'd like to try:


And I also loved all of the glasswork. Glasswork amazes: the fact that you only have seconds to work with it gives me so much respect for the skill of glass artists:



A lot of people take exception to the Victorian habit of pillaging treasures around the world to display at home, but I had a thought while I was wandering through: what he wanted to do was share how all of these things made him feel, to make people feel the same welling of inspiration inside of him when he saw them. And you know, that's not so different from what I'm trying to do with this blog..

Except my treasures are yarn and tea cups and stuff like that.

Anyway, we also visited Santa Monica:


And we hiked a few canyons:





And we even saw the Endeavour Space Shuttle on display at the California Science Center. It had a long introduction to it, which included a video showing how they got it there: how they flew it on top of a special Boeing 747 and how people all over stopped what they were doing and looked up to the sky to watch it fly over. And when it landed, they wheeled it through the city, and thousands of people lined the streets to welcome it. Those images of all of those people really moved me, and I was so surprised. I couldn't figure it out until recently...





It seems like so long since I've seen so many people all gathered together in unity, feeling so much pride and joy, without care about where they were from or what religion they practiced or who they shared their lives with. Hm... what a different time.

So, after all of that, I'm back to work and back to the grind. I did get a few things done, though. I finished another glove to go with my lost Straightforward Mitt:


I was surprised at how much longer it took to make this single mitt than it did to make the original pair. This was because I couldn't remember any of the modifications I'd made (and I'm always modifying). In the end, even after all of my careful stitch counting and measuring, I think the new one is slightly longer... but at least I have two warm hands now to type away in my cold office:


But what I'm most interested in finishing is this blanket, which is also taking me much longer than I thought it ever would. I cast off on it a couple of weeks ago with about a third of the skein left because I was really tired of working on it. I washed it, but then realized that it was really too small to be much use, and I didn't want to have another project just sitting in a basket:


So, I rooted around in my stash and pulled out a couple of skeins of cream yarn and a half of a skein of white yarn of the same weight and similar twist, and I've been mixing them together to make a border, which I'm really, really liking so far:


'

I'm trying hard to randomly switch between the white and cream yarn so that there are no obvious splashes of bright white, but it turns out that trying to be random is a bit of an oxymoron. You can't TRY to be random... you just have to BE random... whatever that means. Anyway, I think it's working. You can't really see the difference unless you're in certain lights:


Someone remarked that it looked like a log cabin-style quilt, and I agree. I'm really excited to see how it all turns out. Each time I spread it out in front of me, my eyes hungrily take in the colours, the lines, the stripes. I take so much pleasure in watching all my projects take shape. It really feeds my soul.

The only trouble with being back at work is that I have had all this time to dream up all sorts of ideas, but now I have so much less time to work on them. Such is life... but I'll just have to keep trying. Speaking of, I think I might go wind another skein of yarn for my next idea... but I'll share that one with you next time.