Sunday, June 18, 2017

Berries, Chipmunk Cheeks, and a Stripey Challenge

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. -- Dolly Parton
It's been a cool, wet June here on Vancouver Island. I have no complaints. We've had some nice, bright, sunny days, and have had nice, cool nights where I can sleep soundly and without air conditioning. Not to brag, but I do my best sleeping in such conditions.

Our outdoor mess garden seems to be enjoying this weather as well. We have a riot of strawberry plants that started out two or three neatly planted units. They have since spread haphazardly around the plot. We barely weed them, and we mostly neglect them, apart from watering them when they seem a bit dry. They seem to like it. I quite like the wild look they have about them. Who wants neat, orderly strawberries anyway?


Our blueberry shrubs seem a tad overwhelmed, however. I don't know if it's because of all the rain or because they are so heavily laden with berries, but the hubby had to go out and stake them up so they wouldn't fall over with their own weight. This is not such a bad problem to have, I think:


And the cool weather has given me the excuse to roast some of the almonds I've been hoarding. I buy them in bulk when they are on sale and store them like a chipmunk until it's cool enough to run the oven. I roast them at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour - no oil, no salt. When I pull them out, they are slightly chewy, but when they cool, they are delightful, nutty, crispy treats, and I have to resist stuffing them all into my mouth at once:  


Which reminds me of a baby photo I found of myself the other day. Holy crap, I was cute:


Anyway, I'm a little later than I wanted to be in getting my blog post out today. I have a work trip tomorrow that I had to get organized for. I won't be home until later in the evening tomorrow, so I wanted to get my lunches made and clothes laid out for the next couple of days, because I don't like starting the week off with everything scattered and in a mess (which is more than I can say for my closet, but I digress).

I was rushing around so much that I barely had time to take a photo of my finished embroidered cushion before the light ran out for the day. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I think the simplicity of the pattern overrides my uneven stitches and the fact that it's slightly off-centre on the cushion. I ran out of polyfill to stuff it, so it looks a little understuffed:



Which is more than I can say for my cheeks in the previous photo.

This is not to say that I could not have done all of these things earlier today, but I was having too much fun working on my current knitting project all afternoon:


It's a top inspired by Irina Poludnenko's Bleeker Shawl. I bought the yarn a few months back with the intention of making a simple, striped tee, but when I saw this shawl, I knew I had to figure out a way to make a garment out of it. I had to spend a bunch of time trying to understand how to make the slanted stitches line up where I wanted them to:




And I kept screwing up the short rows and had to rip them out again. In fact, all four of those colour changes have been ripped out twice and re-knitted. I don't know if there's a record for the most times a stitch has been ripped out and re-knitted, but I think I might be challenging for the trophy with this one. I am, however, very excited to see how it turns out... though, at this rate, it might be next year before I finish it.

I have to go and finish getting organized for tomorrow. I'm not all that thrilled to go on this trip, since it's going to be a long, long day, but sometimes you have to do things you really don't want to do. I'm thinking about taking my knitting with me to keep me occupied during my flights, but I might take the opportunity to just sit and daydream for a while. That might be the most rewarding part of the day. And I'm taking some of my roasted almonds with me, so I could theoretically just stuff my cheeks and enjoy myself. There are worse goals to have, after all.

Have a good week!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Good Work Ongoing


I thought that I'd try writing out a quote by hand instead of typing it out for a change. After all, I did take a four-week long calligraphy class. I figured I should put it to work sometime.

I never did report on how it all finished off in the end. It was a great class, and there's another one coming up in the autumn, which I'm thinking about taking. It was the only place where I ever heard anyone utter the words, "Sorry, I'm being italic," and totally understand what they meant. 

I always find it interesting taking art classes and being around artistic-types. It's a neat feeling being with people who feel totally comfortable with someone telling them to pick up a watercolour brush and paint something. You don't get the normal, "Oh, I wouldn't know what to do with that" type comment. Being around people who are comfortable experimenting is such a freeing feeling.

I had an awkward moment near the end, though... the others were sharing their websites and Instagrams with each other, and when they turned to me to ask me if I had a website to share, I choked on my words. I don't know why, but I'm always so self-conscious to openly speak about this blog. It's one thing when people stumble upon it and start to follow it. It's something completely different when I have to speak about it aloud with people. Even when my coworkers openly ask me about it, I feel a wild rush of fear about it and quickly change the subject. I don't know why. I suppose it's because the things I share here are from a side of me that I rarely get to show in my day-to-day life, and they come from my inner-most parts: the things I dream about when real life gets to be too much. It feels strange to have people jabbering away about it aloud.

But I guess that's just me.

In the meantime, last week was a really crazily busy week, so I'm sort of glad I don't have a big complicated knitting project on the go. Instead, I've been picking away at a little embroidery project. This is a cushion cover I bought on a whim at Ikea, and I'm using some leftover silk yarn from my Going Places Shawl to embroider daisy chain circles onto it. Here's what it looked like yesterday afternoon:


And here's what it looks like this evening. It's not easy, and the stitches are wobbly and uneven, and I barely know what I'm doing, but I'm enjoying it. The yarn is helping a lot: the sheen adds to the elegant simplicity of those circles. I am looking forward to washing it and getting all of the wrinkles out. I think it'll be very pretty:


I have quite a lot of the yarn left, and I've got another cushion cover left. The wheels are already turning for what I might do with it. My Pinterest boards are already overflowing with ideas.

Except... I have a big stash of yarn looking at me. Man, I need more hours in the day.

If only I had more hours in the day...

Sorry, I'm being italic (snerk). I had to say it.

I think I'm going to spend the rest of the evening daydreaming. Happy Sunday, all.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Rendezvous in Lace

“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.” ― Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib
I have this vague memory of something I said a couple of months ago. It went something like, "I have a hankering for a complicated lace knitting pattern." It was sometime after finishing my Big Comfy Sweater, after knitting hours and hours of plain stockinette stitch in the round.

I must stop living in these extremes.

I finished my Rendevous Shawl yesterday and got it on the blocking boards last night.  I don't knit many of these "bottom up" shawls, so I'm not used to starting off with hundreds and hundreds of stitches and working my way to just a handful. This project was a long, sluggish trudge at the beginning. I felt more optimistic after the first few weeks, and then all of a sudden, I was finished. It was like I woke up from a dream with a finished shawl in my hands. It was startling.

I was particularly amazed at how I reached the final rows. I can't fathom how a pattern writer would know that I would end up with the prescribed 55 stitches after working 46 rows of a complicated pattern with decreases and wrapped stitches. I kept trying to predict how it would end, but like any great mystery, I simply couldn't. And like any great mystery, I simply marvelled at how it all turned out. This knitting thing... it must be witchcraft.

But then, what does that make me?

I usually have such a hard time blocking these large shawls, mostly because I don't really think it through before I start sticking pins onto a pile of wet knitting. This time, I actually figured out how I was going to place this thing before I got out all the wires and pins. After that, it went surprisingly quickly onto the boards.


I moved it out onto the deck this morning to let it completely dry:


And then I took it off the boards and marvelled again at its beauty. The colour was hard to photograph. It's sort of a dark coral pink:


I really love Lily Go's patterns. They remind me of Art Deco or Art Nouveau architecture, and they satisfy my love of complex lace patterns, however long they might take me to finish. I am particularly astonished at how the wrapped stitches created those ridged arcs. I feel like I'm looking at calla lilies and bridges at the same time:


As usual, I was afraid I'd run out of yarn, but Lily's genius predicted almost precisely how much yarn I would use for 12 repeats. I actually have some left over, which would typically annoy me, but I'm actually ok with having about 60 yards left. After all, I still have a substantial shawl to show for all my efforts:


I am thrilled, as you can see:



I'm very proud of this shawl. I'm also feeling really proud to be able to work my way through these complicated projects and to see them through the end. I think that's what makes yarn people different from other people: we have this willingness to sit through the discomfort of not knowing how it will all turn out. 

That sounds suspiciously like a metaphor for life.

And so.... now on to something else to divert my attention. I thought about pulling out a summer cotton to make a simple knitted tee... or maybe I could try another shawl pattern with a skein of sock yarn... or maybe...

Maybe something completely different. Let's see how this one goes: 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ya Gotta See This Rooster

A fine work of art - music, dance, painting, story - has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place. ― Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting
Listen: just so we're clear, I'm not a huge fan of roosters. I mean, I like them, I think they're handsome birds, and I think they are among the most impressive of birds out there. It's just that I have memories of them crowing at all hours and keeping me awake every time I went to the Philippines to visit my relatives. I awoke every morning to the crow of the rooster and to the songs of the morning mass which were always serviced with a very powerful microphone from the local church. To this day, all Filipino hymns are always accompanied by a poultry chorus in my head.

But anyways...

I finished my painting workshop this week, and I am super happy with the result:


For all the memories of all that racket, that is one heck of a nice-looking rooster.  Check out that wattle, hey? And the head comb... quite impressive, I think. 

The paint is called Pebeo, a water based paint which was originally designed to mimic the look of stained glass. On canvas, it has a shiny, glossy look to it, which looks a lot like oil paint when you apply it over the textured paint that I used last week. I knew what the final product was supposed to look like, but I was so surprised when it all came together:


I'm still struggling with my tight muscles. I had a rough week: I spent a day out on a site visit with a lot of walking (i.e. limping and stopping and stretching and wincing), which meant that I had a lot of lost ground to try to get back this weekend. I'm at a full stop with all workouts right now. I think what I need most is rest and more rest.

I slept like a log last night, and woke up and "painted" myself a breakfast of oatmeal, coconut, sliced almonds, and fresh strawberries. It was so pretty that I almost didn't want to eat it:


And then I spent most of the day here on my yoga mat. It started out with lots of foam rolling and stretching, after which I decided that it would be best if I stayed on the floor to help me stretch out my hips:


It was a good place for me to do my calligraphy class homework. This is, by far, the prettiest homework I have ever had to do. I am very happy with this piece. I used some watercolour pencils for the little drawings on it, which I've never really played around with before today:


And also very happy with being able to fit this quote in somewhere:


I have another alphabet that I'm supposed to be practicing, but I'm saving that one until tomorrow to work on because it's more complicated and I think I'll need to sit at the table for that one. It's Victoria Day tomorrow and I have the day off. Queen Victoria would probably frown on me sitting on the floor anyways.

My last class is next Wednesday, and I was so happy to have the excuse to go back to the art store and get more supplies. I get to use WATERCOLOURS next week. I was so excited when I got them home with my new set that I thought I'd whip out a quick painting to share on the blog today...

... except then I remembered that I don't know how to paint with watercolours and I ended up with a piece of soggy paper and nothing more. I guess that's my next class.

It's been so nice to have some new things in my life to look forward to. It has been a good switch for my brain to concentrate on something creative and completely new to me. When I came home from my painting class on Tuesday night, I sat down and looked at my canvas and felt really, really happy... which I realized was a feeling I hadn't truly felt in such a long, long time.

I'm gonna need more of that, I think.

And the knitting... it's coming along, I swear:


It's these dagnabbed bottom-up shawls. They take FOREVER to get through. For. EVER. I keep looking at the pattern to see if I'm getting close to the final stitch count but that's like waiting for the bus in the pouring rain: doesn't 'matter how hard you look for it, it'll come when it comes... and you're just gonna have to tough it out until it does.

As much as I have been enjoying the change with my painting and calligraphy classes, I am looking forward to having my evenings back so I can get on with my knitting. I keep looking over at my forlorn stash and feeling sort of guilty that I haven't been playing with it as much I usually do. There just aren't enough hours in the day to do all the fun things, I guess.

I suppose it would be handy to have a rooster around after all. He could wake me up a bit earlier and give me a few more hours to get stuff done.

Or maybe I've been inhaling too many paint fumes. Heh.

I'm off to knit. Have a lovely week.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Unplugged

Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.This will miraculously transform your whole life. --Eckhart Tolle
I had an extra long weekend with a visit to my family in Winnipeg this week. I'd booked it a few months ago, and It was nice to have something to look forward to. Visits home are always nice because I don't plan anything concrete to do while I'm there... maybe go swimming, maybe do a bit of shopping, maybe meet up with a few friends. I mostly just enjoy sharing the same space as my parents, enjoy being in the same room as them, not even really talking, but just being together. That's the best part for me. It rejuvenates me more than any spa or retreat ever has.

In true Adriene-fashion, I did cram a lot of stuff in before my days off. I started a painting workshop at one of the local painting studios on Tuesday evening. It's a project with a type of acrylic paint called Pebeo, which has a glossy, oil paint-like sheen to it. It is turning out to be a fun way to get back into playing with paints. I did the background first with stamps on tissue paper, and then used decoupage to apply it to the canvas. After that, I drew on the main subject and then roughed it in with some texture paste, over which I will apply the colour. It's a rooster, in case you can't tell. When I looked at the photo on my phone later on, I thought it also kinda looked like a king with a beard. I will never think of King Arthur the same way now:


I also went to my second calligraphy class on Wednesday night, where we broke out some proper ink pens and had a go with this fun alphabet. I packed it to take it with me to practice while I was off, and I took it out to admire while I waited in the airport between flights:


I can't decide which are my favourite letters:


I didn't have my own pen and had to borrow one of the teacher's pens for class. As luck would have it Artists Emporium in Winnipeg was having their 40th Anniversary Sale this weekend, and almost everything in the place was 40 percent off. I love art stores. What I mean is: I LOVE ART STORES! So many pens and papers and paints and colours to look at, tools to wonder about, brushes to pick up and stroke against my palms... it was a dangerous situation for my wallet, but I held restraint and came away with a pen of my own to play with (at 40 percent off the sticker price):


And maybe a few other treats. 40 percent off is 40 percent off, after all:


I'm still finding my way around ink cartridges:


But I did manage to produce a few things while relaxing in my parents' living room:


Meanwhile, I am quite jealous of my mom's orchids that live in the living room. I don't know how she does it. Despite all of the tips she has given me, I have one that has barely grown a leaf in the last two years, but hers bloom so beautifully each year:


The blossoms on this one are as big as my palm:


Winnipeg was beautifully sunny and dry while I was there, which was a nice switch from the cool rainy weather we've been having on the Island (Island snobs: take note). I went out one afternoon to The Forks Market to wander about in the shops and enjoy a cannoli and herbal tea. I always start quoting The Godfather when I see cannoli:


And to sit by the river and watch folks enjoying the weather on a Friday afternoon in the city:



I met up with friends for dinner, and helped another friend get ready for a garage sale this weekend. I also practiced the monoline alphabet we learned this week. We're encouraged to use quotes to practice to keep it interesting for ourselves. This one was quite pertinent:


As was this one:


I did work on my current knitting project, but the thing about knitting shawls from the bottom edge upward is that, since you start with the rows that take the longest at the beginning of the project, my enthusiasm for the whole thing is challenged from the start. "How am I STILL on the 10th row??" I saw to myself. "It's because each row takes you half an hour to finish," I explain to myself. "It'll get easier as you get closer to the top."

I seem to do a lot of reasoning with myself these days. It's like talking down a child from the edge of a tantrum. It's a tiring place to find myself (both as the talker and as the child).

My muscles are still tight and sore, but feel slightly better than they did this time last week. I even managed to wander around for a couple of hours at the mall, with periodic breaks to stop and stretch. I watched a documentary during one of my flights this week about Dr. Marian Diamond, who is the brain research scientist who is responsible for the concept of brain plasticity: that your brain is the product of the environment you put it in. In case you're wondering, if you want a healthy brain, it needs:

  1. A healthy diet.
  2. Daily exercise - for both the brain and the body.
  3. Challenge - activities that force us to think.
  4. Newness - new pursuits, new ideas.
  5. Love (which is unusual for a scientist to say. They discovered that, if they held and stroked their lab rats each day, they lived to the human equivalent of 90 years).

She is also a pioneering female scientist who emerged in the 1960's, and who has endured a lot of ageism and sexism throughout her career. The narrator of the program said, "She doesn't like to talk about it. She says she prefers not to carry bitterness."

Then occurred to me, like a lighning bolt then and there (which is maybe not the best metahpor while traveling in an airplane), that this muscle tension is really me carrying around the bitterness of my current situation at work these days... along with the fear of all of those people who keep wanting me to return to my previous career finding out that I'm having a hard time. That's a lot of stuff to carry around. I'm working on it. I'll let it go soon. I think it's my brain's way of using my body to tell me to move forward... to be present in each day, instead of living in my head all the time.

I'm back on the Island today, already missing my parents, but glad to have had the chance to be with them. I feel fortunate to be able to return to the home of my childhood. It feels familiar and comforting, and it was just what I needed. My lunch is packed, and I'm about to go pack my gym bag next. I feel fresher, and for the first time in a while, a bit clearer.

Back to the routine tomorrow. Have a good week.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Activities of a Washed Up Jellyfish

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing right or better. -- John Updike
So... the knitting... it's been kinda stalled recently. My cut finger took longer than I thought to heal, and the pattern I'm making has enough twisted stitches and wrapped stitches to make it impossible to knit with a finger that threatened to split and bleed everywhere with minor pressure. Maybe there should be a physical fitness metre for patterns: "knitter should consult with their physicians prior to start of project."

Not that a doctor would know what the heck I'm talking about.

I have been talking to a lot of health professionals recently. I've been struggling for a few weeks with some tight muscles in my hips and glutes, which became bad enough to keep me awake at night and to prevent me from standing too long or walking more than ten or fifteen minutes. Oddly, I have no trouble being at the gym on the elliptical or on the bike, and apart from some of the heavier lifts, I can maintain my strength program. I can also swim. And yet, a walk to the shops is uncomfortable if I've been on my feet for longer than a few minutes. It's been depressing and demoralizing. I've been feeling slightly better over the past week, but I pushed it a bit too far today and I'm currently sitting here nursing some aching muscles.

And there's another week over.

And yet, the creative life sustains me.

I found this cotton blanket in a vintage shop a couple of weeks ago. It was all folded up in a display, and I walked past it three times until I finally decided to pick it up. It's a substantial piece of fabric (it's folded in half in this photo), and I was so taken by the colours that I decided to take it home. I thought it would make a really cute little dress:


Trouble is, I haven't sewn a full garment since I was in high school, and that was, ahem... not yesterday. I thought about winging it and trying one of those "patternless dresses," but the fabric is unique and not something I can easily get more of. I decided to search for a pattern that would work and came across this one online. Since you have to print it out yourself, putting the pattern pieces in order and sticking them together was a task in and of itself. I laid it out on the floor to make sure I had the layout right before I embarked on piecing them together:
 

One of the reasons I don't sew that often is that I don't have the space to lay out patterns and fabric to cut them properly, and so I usually end up crawling all over the floor, pinning and sticking and cutting. I had the bright idea of sticking them to the wall as I pieced them together, and that worked well, except that standing for that amount of time with my sore muscles was not ideal. I have the pattern put together, but I am reserving cutting out the pieces and the fabric for another day. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, at the art gallery:


The calligraphy course that was cancelled a couple of months ago came around again this month, and happily, it is going forward. I had a very contented evening sitting in the workshop playing with pens and paper and letters. I remarked to the hubby how much it was like being back at school again: the teacher standing up front showing how to form each letter, and then the pupils sitting quietly and practicing them on their ruled sheets over and over again. It was so calming... so nice to be using my brain in a different way.

The instructor gave us portfoilios and a handmade book to keep our things together:


Each week, we will learn a monoline font as well as a thicker brush font. I did this one with pencil, then used watercolours to paint them:


And our homework was to decorate our book. It took me a lot longer to do that than I thought it would, but I'm happy with how it turned out:


And to practice the monoline font and writing out a quote:


This one has been on my mind a lot lately:


The course runs for another three weeks, and I'm excited to find something to give me a break from my regular, regimented routine. I also have a two-part painting workshop starting this week, which I'm very much looking forward to. I've been feeling really worn out and lonely these days. It's nice to have something else to think about for a change.

But the knitting... I have not forgotten about it. My finger has healed up enough to pick it up again, except that it's a lace project, which never looks like much while it's in progress. It kind of looks like a washed up jellyfish at the moment...


... which is sort of ironic, because that's sort of how I feel like with these tight muscles these days. I'm off to go stretch for a while. Have a great week!