Sunday, July 28, 2013

Squirrel-Minded

Maybe it's the sunny weather and the warm temperatures, but I'm still struggling to get my brain into working on my knitting projects. There are plenty of distractions around, and I feel like I should soak them in while I can. As I look around on all the other blogs I follow, I think this feeling is common amongst many of us who are used to being stuck inside for the winter. As soon as the sun shines, my brain goes into get-outside-explore-look-around-oh-squirrels-birds-flowers-mode. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing.

We went out exploring along a trail near us yesterday. I kept stopping here and there to take photos of things along the way. I liked the look of this fallen, but surviving, tree. It's kinked right at the base, like I wrinkly elbow. It made me think of a fallen Tolkien Ent...


And I always like the look of driftwood. This is part of a trunk that must have washed up and has been beaten by the water and dried over and over again.


My mind is so distracted that I went out yesterday to buy spinach... and came home with a new dress and chocolate chips. While it was probably not the most efficient use of my time, it made for a tasty afternoon. I used the chocolate chips to make these cookies, which are made with black beans! I'm sure the cookie purists would turn their nose up at them (it always amazes me how many people are psyched out by a few ingredients deemed "not normal"), but I really like them. They remind me of a Filipino pastry I grew up with called hopia, which is often made with mung beans. They add a sweet flavour that reminds me of home...


Even Rascal's walks are interrupted by us stopping to pick blackberries, which are just starting to ripen. We discovered a little pocket of them today and filled two yogurt containers (and several mouthfuls) to take home with us. I think we'll be back there later today, much to Rascal's chagrin. I think he's becoming impatient with us dawdling so much during his morning and evening constitutionals.


Today, I was bound and determined to get some knitting done. Every time I sat down and worked a few rows, my mind wandered. I forced myself to stay put to finish a section of decreases, then got up to make blueberry scones...


Then I knitted a little longer before I folded the clean towels and put the dishwasher on... which Rascal seems to have discovered as a source of a few tasty treats if we leave it open as we're loading it with dishes that have a few bits of food still stuck to them. He hovers around there like a little mooch a lot of the time:


Despite my squirrel-brain, I managed to get my current project on the blocking boards this afternoon. It doesn't look like much, because it's still in progress, but it's going to be a shrug. What you can see below is the back and sleeves all connected together and lying flat. I figured I should block it before I continue to make it a bit easier to start seaming the sleeves and doing the finishing on it.


It feels good to get it to this point. It's almost like I'm a knitter again. Maybe my brain will settle down a bit and I can get some more yarn-stuff done without distractions...

Hey look, coffee!


Hey look, pretty flowers!


Hey look, mossy tree!


Sigh...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: An Invitation to Share

We had a wander around the Nanaimo Sea Walk this weekend. As we walked along the path, I came across this bench:


It was such a beautiful invitation that I sat for a moment and I felt a little bit of the peace that Margo felt. How lovely that she asked me not to just remember her, but that she was able to share a little bit of her feelings with me. Thank you, Margo.

I invite you to find a place to sit somewhere near you that gives you the opportunity to open yourself to a little bit of peace inside. Perhaps you can tell me where you went down in the comments below, so we can share it together. Be well.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Used to Knit, But Now I...

Since starting at my new job, my routine is all weird and interrupted. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, but today I was thinking to myself: I used to knit, but now I...

1) ...veg. I come home from work tired, so I've been parking myself on the couch until it's time to cook dinner and walk Rascal. Then I pack my stuff for the next day and get ready for bed. Bleh. Not very interesting.


2) ... shop. Here's a cute little butter dish I found in a vintage shop last weekend. It's been sitting on the dining table for me to admire each evening as I eat my dinner. It's not antique or anything, but I love it.


3) ... eat. I've been exploring the food scene around here, and I got a taste of my first oyster burger, grilled with lemon and herbs and served with lettuce, tomato and onions with a side of fries. Oh yeah, that'll be a repeat, for sure.


4) ... irritate my dog. While waiting for the hubby to come out of another store on a hot day, I ducked into a pet shop and decided to dress Rascal in as many outfits as I could find. Don't worry, he got a big T-R-E-A-T for it.


5) ... explore. We walked out to a new park today and took in the views on the shore. The rocky beach was beautifully smoothed over by the tide. We will probably return and picnic here before the end of the summer.


My knitting brain is not lost, though. Even while walking today, I was distracted by the pocked markings in the rock, probably the bubbles in volcanic rock that has been slowly wearing down over time. I couldn't help but think it would make a pretty lace pattern somehow...


Luckily, tomorrow is Sunday, so I think I'll get my knitting out tomorrow and give it an hour or two of my attention. And maybe once I get used to my new routine, my needles can make an appearance more regularly again. I miss them.

Rascal misses them, too. At least if I'm knitting, I can't be dressing him up. Poor little dude has a rough life...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Finding Satisfaction

I started at a new job last Friday. It was more of an orientation day, and I only worked part of the day, so today was really my first "real" day on the job. I'm working as an administrative assistant: reception, receiving, phones, and "all other duties as assigned." I'm a yes man, doing what I'm told to do, basically pulling up the slack and keeping track of everyone's comings and goings throughout the day.

And I love it.

I'm so grateful for the busy days and the tasks, however "menial" that are assigned to me. Today, I "archived the project files," which means I took the selected binders and folders off shelves, ordered them and packed them into boxes. And I did some spreadsheet work. And I did some sorting, scanning and photocopying. And I refilled the photocopier toner and paper, tidied the kitchen area, and stayed on top of the phones. And I got thanked very nicely by my supervisor throughout the day.

I've had lots more responsibility in previous jobs, but when I got into my car at the end of the day, I looked around and said aloud, "I actually had a really, really good day today."

I can't remember the last time I said that.

As I have been telling friends about this job, the reaction has been mostly surprise, and disappointment. Didn't I want to do something more creative? Didn't I want more responsibility? Would I be happy doing something like this? But I've done a lot of thinking about this, and I've decided that, for now at least, I need to protect my creative energy, keep it separate from the world of work and renumeration. It needs to be just for me. Maybe it will always be.

So, today I am inspired by my job: by the clear expectations and the gratitude, patience and respect I was shown today. I am optimistic that it will continue. I am tired, but I am glad to come home feeling like this. I am also glad to come home to this:


Happy Monday, everyone.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Berry Good Days

Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup -- Wendell Berry
If I had my way, I would wander through my summer days in my little garden, poking at the plants, stroking the furry leaves of the sage, smelling the basil on my fingertips, and knitting on the deck, with Rascal supervising the lot. Given my current unemployed status, you'd think that's what I've been doing each day, but it's funny how life gives you work no matter what your employment status. It is always a treat at the end of each day to visit with my little outdoor space, "tree hugger-style," as many people would call it.

My little berry plantation has been yielding a few treats for us here and there over the last few days. I was delighted to sample some of my first homegrown blueberries yesterday. They ripened in an instant, or so it seemed: one moment they were small and green, then the next moment, they were cloudy, deep blue, heavy with juice and ready to pluck:


And my little strawberry plant has been fruiting nicely for us, much more than any other strawberry plant I've ever had in its first year. I always like to leave them for as long as possible, because I know they're the hubby's favourite, and he likes them extra ripe:


The area we live in also has loads and loads of blackberry brambles, all of which are sitting with green berries which will undoubtably ripen all at once and overwhelm us with their bounty. The prospect is exciting, but I feel like I'm going to have to prepare myself to jump in there before they get gobbled up by others. If I'm watching them, then that means there are plenty of others watching them as well, animals and neighbours alike. Berry wars? Late-night berry reconnaissance? Furtive berry manoeuvres? I have imagined them all... and I might have made some plans...

It is lucky that my current knitting project chimes right along with this berry theme. I'm experimenting with making a shrug using some yarn that my blog friend sent me during our yarn swap last year. The yarn is a merino/cashmere blend by Bittersweet Woolery in a colourway called Beloved. It reminds me of cranberries floating in mulled wine. I put the skein aside for safe keeping before we moved because I thought it would be comforting to knit something in unfamiliar surroundings out of yarn carefully chosen just for me.


I'm using the star stitch pattern from a free scarf pattern called Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks. I'm loving how it is making the most out of the subtle variegated tones. I'm really just winging it with the shaping, which sounds free and easy and fun, but I've already had to rip back a few times to correct errors and to make it wide enough. We'll see how it goes, but if it works out, it will be a very pretty shrug, or a very strangely-shaped scarf.


Regardless of the outcome, it will be beautiful, and will remind me of cool summer evenings on the deck with my berries, knitting or reading or doing whatever other hobby we enjoy... like chewing rawhide, for example. To each, his own, as they say:


Monday, July 8, 2013

Inspiration Mondays: Herself

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are two very strong opposing forces in my life: my sense of self and my sense of duty. I am very, very strongly influenced by what I feel I ought to be doing, which means I am reliable, but not always happy. My job search right now is very strongly reminding me that, if something doesn't energize me, if it pulls me down and makes me tired just thinking of it, then it's something I probably shouldn't be doing. This is not to say that I am turning up my noise to every small and menial opportunity. Quite the contrary: it is the things I've always wanted to try that others have traditionally deemed as "below me" that I am attracted to.

I want to use my communication skills.

I want to be around creative, innovative people.

I like to pick away at problems.

I like to use my hands.

I like to use my brain.

But I don't want to be pushed into a mold. Not again.

It's like when you put on an ill-fitting shoe: you get blisters. They pop, maybe peel, maybe turn into calluses, and then put pressure on the soft parts of your foot for a long time, until you can't feel anything.

I don't know where exactly I'm going, but I know where I'm not going. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to do the things that make me... well, ME.

Off to knit.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Righting My Bottoms Up

Moving to a new house creates unexpected problems for a blogger. You get into a rhythm with your blog: you write it in a certain way, at a certain time, in a certain chair, even. And you take your photos with the light and the tables/chairs/windows/furniture in a predictable setting that will give you a predictable result.

Then, you move, and for the first few weeks, it feels like nothing is ever going to turn out right.

Since we moved, I've been trying to find a "regular blog photo shoot" spot. Yesterday, I tried the top of my stairs. The light there is good: not too dark, not too bright, but I don't really have anywhere to put my little tripod. Instead, I balanced a few books on the banister and hoped for the best. Some of them turned out a little weird. The blue triangle of Zorg is coming to get me, apparently:


There's also the problem of new distractions... or perhaps not so new. This photo was taken right at the moment I noticed Rascal heading into the bathroom with a suspicious look on his face. That's never a good sign:


Anyway, these photos are supposed to be showing off my latest knitting project, Bottoms Up, by Alice Bell. It's made with Cascade Ultra Pima, a fantastic mercerized cotton that shines like silk. As suggested by the name of the pattern, you start at the bottom and knit your way up to the top. It was a bit of a long haul, since I started it in the midst of moving house and leaving my job, then I ran out of yarn near the end, and had to order the last skein online and wait for it to arrive. Oh yarn, you try my patience at times...

There are a couple of things I really wish more designers added to their patterns to guarantee a good fit. I think it's important to explain the purpose of the shaping they suggest. For example, the lower part of the top consists of three changes in the stitch pattern. The lowest part is a very tight ribbed pattern. The second part alters the rib slightly to loosen it up, and the third alters it again to loosen it even more. Alice recommends that third alteration should occur right below the bust if you are not particularly busty, which was a good idea for me. 


But I also noticed that, in order to direct the eye to the narrowest part of your torso, you should place the second rib alteration there. I had to study a lot of project photos on Ravelry to figure that one out. I looked at why some people's tops were more flattering than others, and when I started looking at where the stitch patterns were sitting, a lightbulb finally went on in my head. Given that we are all different heights and shapes, knowing the reason for shaping or stitch changes is important, because if you only get the instructions to "decrease after you have knitted 5 inches/40 rows" or something like that, you may end up with a garment the points out all the things on your body you would rather not point out. I was feeling pretty clever when I figured that out...


As usual, I had to make the overall torso length longer. I carried on in modification-mode and made the sleeves longer by casting on more stitches at each armpit as I knit upward. To accommodate my larger-than-the-average-bear upper arms, I added more rows to the top of each sleeve/shoulder. I worked a row of half double crochet around the edge of each sleeve to keep them from rolling. I was feeling pretty good about this top...


After that, I used a three-needle bind off to close the shoulders, and declared it finished. Feeling triumphant, I tried it on, only to discover that the neck was now too large because of the extra rows I'd added at the top of each shoulder. Each time I moved, it slipped off my shoulders, no matter how I tugged and shifted it around. It was virtually unwearable.

So I had a tantrum.

I pouted a while, declaring that I couldn't do anything right.

I drank a few cups of tea.

Then, I picked myself up off the floor and I decided to I pick up more stitches around the neck and knit a garter stitch neckband, throwing in a few decreases here and there to close it up. That did the trick.


Nature cooperated and gave me a warm day to block it quickly, and then it cooled down a bit to let me actually wear it outside on a July day.

It's perfect, and I love it, and it turns out I can do things right... eventually. Adjustment mode: ongoing...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Inspiration Monday on a Tuesday: I Love a Little BS

It's no secret that I love stories and I love storytellers. And I know that most stories have just a wee touch of fancy in there. And a story without a touch of BS is like popcorn without a wee bit of salt: edible, but what's the point?

Is it lying? Yyyyes... but a little one... one that gives a little bit of life to the facts.

My favourite story with a touch of the incredible was told to me second-hand by a friend. It was originally told by a house-builder in County Donegal, Ireland, who also happened to be the town undertaker.

"There was this wee fella that hadn't paid me fer buryin' his pa," he said. "I waited, ya know? You need to give people a wee bit of slack during those times, but t'was months and months and he never paid. Finally, I goes over ta his place and says, 'You don't pay me by next week, up 'e comes,'" he said, with a jab upward with his thumb. "That's hows I said it, 'Up 'e comes." Jab, jab.

"Well then, the police calls me the next day to pick up a body they found by the river. Poor sod, white and clammy. I brings over the usual coffin fer those things... s'all dirt an' muck on the outside of it. So I load the body in, put it on my wee trailer, and I'm drivin' to the morgue and pass by that bloke's house who hadn't paid me, and I gets an idea..."

"I pull up to his house, get outta the car, and knocks on the door. And when the bloke answers, I points to the coffin in the trailer and says, 'I told ya. Ya don't pay, up 'e comes.' And ya know, he paid me right there, on the spot. Never saw a man turn so many shades o' colour at once! Ha ha!"

And was it true? Probably part of it. But it's a darn good story, with just the right amount of salt to make it tasty.

So, here's to a little bit of storytelling to make your day. Stories breathe life into me and keep my imagination fresh and active. And here are Rascal and me sitting on the Beachcomer Seniors Bench this weekend... just the right spot for us.