Monday, February 29, 2016

Humble knitting

A few weeks ago I started very quietly congratulating myself on getting through so much of 'flu season without getting it - which is to say, I didn't do it out loud or even let the thought fully form in my mind, lest I jinx myself.  But it's the first year in ages that I didn't get organized to get the 'flu shot, and I always get 'flu, so I actually started to think Ha! Maybe I'm better off without the shot!  And then stopped myself before I could think that whole sentence.

Guess what?  I have 'flu.

As a knitter, I view all illness that doesn't involve bending over a bowl as 'bonus knitting time', but in this case my hands actually hurt.  It's hard to hold needles in them.  Also my head spins whenever I change position, which requires me to move very slowly and with an unmoving gaze.  This in turn is making my neck and shoulder muscles very sore.

Enter the humble sock leg.  82 rounds of stocking stitch is about as mindless as you can get.  You can knit them fast, as on autopilot, or slowly, as a hard won victory.  You can just sit and hold a sock leg in your hand for comfort.  You can raise it to your eyes and hope not to get spinny.

Or just go back to holding it.

I am still writing, because I only have this week clear for that job and it's really important to me, and maybe after a few days I'll feel better and can actually enjoy the process.

But still: quelle drag!  Thank goodness I had a sock already started and not very far along.  We should all be so lucky when we're sick.  Sock leg, infinity scarf, giant garter stitch blanket - whatever fills the gap.  It's good to have humble knitting.

Hope your weekend was great and that you're healthy!  Take care and I'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, February 26, 2016

It's all about perspective

This morning on a break from writing I found these cloud pictures I'd taken a few summers ago at the cottage.

The sky is just so big there over the lake.  It's something I've noticed at the low-rise condo we are staying in too, if I'm looking out our windows to the north - you can see the top of the wing that runs perpendicular to our section of the building (which is U shaped) but above that it's just blue sky, no skyscrapers.  (to the west it's a totally different story - that's the financial district!)

The clouds were particularly fascinating to me that year, and I took a ton of photographs of them so I'd have them to look at forever.  There is so much air movement in the sky... clouds make it more visible to our tiny eyes.

When I was prepping the photos to share here today, I noticed something else.  Check this one out:

and now again, after I let my software autocorrect the colours:

There were no trees in this picture to balance the blue sky, so the tints changed dramatically and you can see ghostly tendrils of movement you couldn't, before.  Not to mention the exact spots where the clouds are most dense.

Makes me want a microscope and really good magnifying glass more than I did already, so I can see things at the other end of the spectrum too.

Here's another one - as it appeared to my eyes:

As it appears with the colours shifted:

I just find that incredibly cool.  Also, the darkened colour sets are pretty much exactly the colour scheme for our living room.  Even cooler!  I might look into having a set of darkened photographs printed and framed to hang in there.

A related idea struck me as I was waking up this morning, about how knitting and writing are different. 

With knitting, you work from one direction to the other and while you may correct small things as you go along, you don't often go back to the beginning and build up a new layer over the first. 

But in writing, that is exactly what you do every time.  It's more like a painting: you build the framework, and get in as much detail as you can, but you can't leave it that way.  You have to edit and reshape.  You have to keep going back and pruning and filling in more, and more.  Maybe not full layers everywhere, but definitely patches.  In the way I visualized it, I have a story made in the round and I'm pulling up thread after thread to build more depth along different parts of its height. You are building up and adding depth and exposing things in small ways so they might be seen easily or overlooked, or not, depending on the reader's view.

And all with words - Amazing!

So, that is what I'm doing this weekend.  Layering words and thinking about how a little shift in perspective changes what we can see of all the details that are available to us.

Hope you have success in whatever you're doing this weekend, and I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ice cream for breakfast

Of course I would never eat ice cream for breakfast (except that I totally did when I was young and in my first solo apartment and had enough money left over from student loan payments to spring for the really good stuff.)  Sometimes pretty knitting just needs a super enticing, completely irrelevant title.

Maybe the pretty in this knitting is most visible to me.  Some of the stitches look a bit wonky.

I took this picture on the GO train coming back from a brunch with two university friends - a third couldn't make it because she woke up with laryngitis.  I could have told her she didn't need to worry about talking, that I could do the talking for all of us because the crazier my life gets the most I need to process it all, but I decided not to press her.  If you're sick enough to lose your voice you probably just need to get under a blanket with a big glass of water within reach and stay there.

Yesterday and today have been 'winter weather' days here in Toronto, alternating abruptly between rain and snow and leaving huge swathes of slush on all the sidewalks for the enjoyment of everybody who has to go out in spite of the allure of just staying home. A friend told me he got so drenched outside he had to put all his clothes on the radiator to dry them off before the next time he had to leave home and I thought: what will I do when we move back to the house and have no more radiators to dry our hats and mittens on?

At the condo, things dry very quickly in the air, mainly because the air is so incredibly dry to start with.

At the new house, the heat will be coming up from the wet-clothing-sensitive wood floors, and the air will be moist and comfortable, and so I guess I will have to have backups for everything while the first set of woollies move slowly from soggy to wearable.

Inefficient traditional heating systems: they sure do have their perks, don't they?

I've been thinking about cooling lately too.  Cooling as in, should I buy a chest freezer to keep in the mechanical room.  There are so many advantages to those, mainly in terms of all the space you have to treat knits and yarns for moth exposure.  And as a sideline, there's food storage.  I don't know though, when the power goes off, do you really want an entire chest freezer's worth of food to eat through before it goes bad?  Maybe it's worth it if you are baking lots of cookies and squares and freezing them for future breakfasts drop-in guests who might like a little something with their tea.  You can put those in a tin and eat them for days without their going bad.

Or you could stock up on ice cream.  Ice cream is a great thing to store in a chest freezer, as long as you don't eat it for breakfast.  I would never do that, obviously, now that I can pass for a mature adult.  Even at that brunch, nobody was going to catch me ordering waffles with whipped cream.  Nope, I stuck with French toast and maple syrup and bacon.  Not at all unhealthy.

Here's the thing about impulsive treats: sometimes, you really need them.  Like knitting under the table in a meeting, or having a movie break in the middle of the day, or working on a completely irresponsible knitting project in the middle of one that is much more urgent and important, or eating ice cream any old time. I am so ready for an impulsive treat right now! 

But not ice cream.  Right now, I am eating so much ice cream, there is nothing impulsive about it whatsoever. 

If you had ice cream for breakfast, what flavour would you choose?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Movie knitting

When was the last time you saw Bye Bye Birdie?  I watched it this past weekend while knitting until my eyes hurt.  (note to self: sleep more.)

I used to love this musical. I mean, Ann-Margret, Paul Lynde, and Dick Van Dyke?  What's not to love?  Plus all the songs are so catchy.  I forgot that Janet Leigh was in the film too - I didn't even recognize her with black hair and kept trying desperately to place the actress in the Rosie role.  (note to self: definitely, sleep more.)

It's lost some of its flavour for me though, which is so weird.  Maybe I've seen it too often? Maybe I can no longer imagine myself in that cute pink pants and crop top outfit Ann-Margret wears with all the ruffles at the bodice? Meh.  And yet: such a great storyline, so silly and reflective of its time.

Also - Ann-Margret's parents' kitchen!!  I kept drinking it in and thinking how not dated it would be if you moved into that house today.

Probably that's my issue with Bye Bye Birdie.  It's not a home renovation show.  If I just pencil it in again for a year or so after the house is all done, I'll love it again for sure.

While I was watching I was knitting, not just holding, the Best Friends Beanie I'm making for Bob.

It's brown, but since it's a Viola brown it's got a lot of livin' to do - I mean, it's got a lot of other little colours in it, like red and green.  I'm not sure they show in this picture but in real life they do.  Man, I did say those songs were catchy, didn't I? All day yesterday I was humming "You Gotta Be Sincere."  I would link it but that might be dangerous for you.  Already I can feel it taking hold all over again.

I haven't made a huge amount of progress on this hat - not even one full repeat - but I find the rush to the next cable is addictive so I'm sure it'll wrap itself in no time.  You know, as soon as I'm done the rough draft of my novel.  I figure I need seven more days, maybe eight, and I have six days free, so there will be some intense choreography going on here. Maybe I should rewatch some of the Bye Bye Birdie dance numbers for inspiration?

Hope any time management choreography you're doing this week works out great and I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My evil two week plan

Today I thought I'd share with you an image of a beautiful blackberry tart:

Probably that's not very nice of me, especially if you read Hugs as you're starting your day, because you will now be craving blackberry pastry for the duration unless you are not at all into that sort of thing.  And good luck finding one if you are into that sort of thing.  I'd never seen one myself until I happened to stop by Epi, my favourite house-neighbourhood bakery, after a site visit to the house.  After site visits I keep walking over to the neighbourhood's big shopping street to get the bus home, hoping that I will arrive long enough before the next bus is due so that I can justify popping in there... and every time, the bus shows up as I'm crossing the street to the stop.  But not last week!

The tart was delicious, by the way, as was the challah loaf I picked up while I was there because Rare Opportunity.  Say what you like about the many splendours of downtown living, there are no bakeries to compare with the deliciousness of the ones within walking distance of our house, and I will be very happy to be in close proximity to them again some day.

The tart really has nothing to do with the evil two week plan though.  Also it is much prettier than the evil two week plan.

The Evil Two Week Plan

Here's the deal: around this time last winter I promised myself I would finish at least the first draft of an entire manuscript of a novel by the end of the first week of March.

Crazy as that sounds - and if you've ever tried to write a novel or renovate a house, never mind do both at the same time you're trying to deal with your day job, you will know it sounds very crazy indeed - I made good progress.  I would have finished well before Christmas if the people overseeing our house project hadn't turned out to be such a problem, to say nothing of the consultants they brought in - whew!  Anyway I had to take over and find a whole new team, and while that was the right decision in every way, it's cost me all my writing time.

But here we are folks: it's February 23 as I type this, with just two weeks to go before my seemingly arbitrary deadline.  Actually it's a very valid deadline as my schedule becomes even more insane starting from that point until probably next Christmas.  It's now or never for putting my head down and getting this goal met.

Obviously I can't pull that off without giving up something.  It can't be sleep either, because I'm already lucky to get six hours out of every twenty four (and sometimes it's twelve over forty-eight.)  And I'm not giving up posting to the blog every day, because I really like doing that and it was SUCH a drag when I had to drop down to once or twice a week last year.  I also can't give up the renovation management, obviously.

That pretty much leaves 'magic', doesn't it?  Let's hope some magic kicks in soon.

No really, the first thing to get tossed will be any semblance of meal planning or preparation.  Lately a lot of that has boiled down to a brief discussion between Pete and I that results in random takeout or cheese and crackers or pre-cut vegetables and dip or a grocery store salad, but for the next two weeks it's going to be Pete having that conversation with himself.  He's going to do what he did last year when I started this process, and visit my favourite posh grocer's for delicious salads and schnitzels and grilled salmon and lemon squares, so there's always something sensible in the fridge.  And I'm just going to barrel through as many hours as my brain will let me.

To cheat a little more quiet time, I have been knocking myself out to give everybody what they need on the house for the next little while.  Appliance selection?  Done.  Revised HVAC plan?  Approved by the city and installation on hold till the materials are ready.  Fireplace? Narrowed down to one, which we should go look at in person before ordering but might not because it is the only one we like anyway. Deposits for all sorts of expensive things? Paid, and I am trying not to think about how.  Custom designed in-floor heating material plan? Ready in (believe it or not) two weeks, after which they still have to make the boards.  Hardwood? Square footage locked down and ready to order as soon as we source stair treads and bullnose fronts to match it (don't ask.)  Tiles?  oh criminy.  Yeah, still not 100% on the tiles, but the samples from the shortlist are getting ordered and I can totally put off the final choice for another two weeks even if they arrive before that. 

(Tile-related digression (not to worry, I am containing this to one paragraph):I have been in denial about the tiles since we were pressured to choose them all last year around this time.  I didn't like what we'd picked but figured I could sort it out closer to the install date, and that is pretty much Now...  After a few paralyzing efforts I drew up a chart so I could see exactly how many things need tile and how many tiled areas can be the same as each other so there is less to choose.  You know why I was finding the tile so overwhelming?  Turns out I had to pick for the kitchen backsplash, the fireplace surround, the powder room and three other bathrooms - two of which have walk in showers with tiled shower floors that have to blend with the wall and floor tiles in those rooms - the front hall, and the laundry room.  That is a lot of tile. End digression.)

That, my friends, is the project management plan.  With all that done, I should be able to sneak off from that job for most of the day for two weeks and not hold anybody else up.

Thankfully laundry is something you can do while muddling through a plot point in your mind, so I can keep that from spiraling out of control.

And while there may not be a lot of time to knit, there will be some, so I know I can still have knitting things to show and tell here at Hugs.

I even cleaned the bathrooms last night.  Not sure how long they can stay nice and shiny, but at least they'll start out nice!

It seemed appropriate to close with an old picture of Rosa's amazing and totally magical walnut cookies.
Wish I could get her to cater my writing break with these babies!

What do you think? Can I pull this off?

(maybe better not to answer that.  just go have a great day, and I will see you back here tomorrow, okay?)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Yarn presents by mail

Last Friday I had to pick up a parcel from the concierge desk that was too big to fit in the mailbox.  I love when that happens.  I love it even more when inside the mailing envelope there is something like this.  (except there's nothing else like this.)

This parcel is way earlier arriving than I expected.  It is my 'reward' or 'thank you' for supporting Emily in her Kickstarter campaign for a Viola dye studio.

Mostly I kicked in some money because Emily is so talented and should have a good place to work, and partly because I love her yarn and want to have more of it, but a little bit because I am just hugely sympathetic to somebody trying to make a liveable space on a very small budget.  We are very fortunate to be able to say Yes to the more efficient heating, cooling, and insulation options for our renovation without worrying (to the point of choosing between that and groceries) about the cost, but I am keenly aware of how not normal that is.  And in fact, so many people kicked in to Emily's project that she was indeed able to choose the good insulation.  Yay Emily!

And also: wow.  I remember consciously choosing to donate at one particular level because there was something in it I knew I would especially value, which led me to overlook the yarn component.  This is three skeins of sock yarn in experimental colours that won't be repeated.  And I love them all - not a surprise - so, YUM.

It was hard to set them aside to look at the next layer, but there was a next layer, so I forced myself:

A lavender sachet with an Emily drawing of the studio on the front (I believe the studio is the little one-story addition on the side) and stickers with more Emily drawings on them!

And - okay, this is it, the thing I wanted to get in on:

It's a project bag.  I have a Viola project bag from a few years back that was sewn by Emily's very talented mom, and I had a feeling this one would be just as wonderful, and it is.  It even has a stamped pocket inside:

So adorable. And useful!

Of course, I've had to pack all this away because I don't have time to do any of it justice right now.  But it's pretty fabulous knowing that it's waiting for me to be free to play with it.

That right there is pretty much the best thing that happened until Sunday, when I got to see some friends and family for visits.  I did get in a little knitting time but mostly I was in the depths of tile selection and laundry and planning for another busy week... I really need to do something about the schedule, don't I.  I mean if it doesn't have regular knitting in it, it's obviously not sustainable, heh.

Hope you got in some relaxation time and I'll see you tomorrow!

Friday, February 19, 2016

The best laid weekend knitting plans

It's Friday!  What are you knitting this weekend, or will you have time?  I sure hope I have time.  More time than twenty minutes in the car and/or some on a commuter train, that is.  After all, I do have this hat to knit for Bob:

It's a Best Friends Beanie, because he liked mine and also, he is one of my Best Friends, and most of all, he lives in Ottawa, which is crazy cold in winter.  I should knit more often for Bob because he really appreciates my knitting and he likes to wear handknits, a winning combination in my book.  I guess I'm just too lazy though because I've also had my eye on this yarn:

This black and white combo went into two pairs of socks a couple of years ago, but really, it would be perfect for a new hat to wear with my bright red parka.  I'm usually due for a new hat at about this point in the winter, when I start to get tired of the ones I've been wearing.  This year has been a little funny though because I've had the parka instead of my usual down coat solution with the mandatory hood unzipped and left behind in the closet.  The parka's hood won't detach and I've started actually using it, only to find that WOW, a hood does a really good job of keeping your head extra warm!  And it doesn't mess up your hair, and you won't lose it by accident, and hoods don't look weird when everybody else is using them too.

So, technically, I don't need another hat.  Bob needs another hat more than I do.  And another thing: remember all those double point and circular needles I tried to sort through not too long ago?  Well, I sorted them and put them neatly away and now I can't find them ANYwhere.  Seriously.  It's not like this condo is massive with grand entry halls and libraries and drawing rooms.  I just have no idea where they are and without them I can't cast on a second hat project, can I?  Nor do I have time to sneak out to a knitting store to buy more. Dang.

Worst of all: I don't actually want to knit either of those things anyway.  They are 'should' knits.  Really I just want to knit mindlessly around and around on a sock, and I know that's the smartest thing for me to do because last night I pushed everything away from the middle of my desk and fled to the television to watch whatever TCM was showing, and I knit two rounds of sock and then just stopped and stared, eyes glazed over, at the screen for another hour.

I mean, if I'm too tired to knit, I'm too tired for cables or pattern-making.  Socks are probably the best thing I can do for myself right now.

Speaking of socks:  check out the latest Vesper skeins that came in the mail on Wednesday!

Straight off when I unwrapped these I thought of what I wrote that morning about my colour preferences.  I know I said I'm totally happy with bright colours when it comes to yarn, but it turns out that's not entirely the case.  I am beyond besotted with this very restful colour combination:

If I could find the bag of double points, I would be caking this up and casting on another pair of socks today.  As it is, I have to finish some other socks first.

Maybe the best plans you can make for weekend knitting are just to knit, and not worry about what you knit?

Hope you have a great weekend however you spend it, and I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Another knitted thing

I wouldn't say this sock is so much knitted, as being knitted, but still.  Knitting not Renovation!

This is my current travel sock.  It travels a lot and seldom makes it out of my bag but still: there's been small progress.  It's Vesper yarn of course, code name 'Endless Summer.' 

Sometimes when I knit a Vesper stripe I don't love the colours together until I've seen a few repeats or am in fact finished and wearing them, but this combination is saying Yum to me.  I've had it out for a while so I can't exactly say for sure, but I think my Yum feelings about the colour is why this particular yarn made it out of the Vesper Stash Bucket (yes, there is a designated bucked just for Vesper) ahead of all the others.  I mean, when you are knee deep in complicated decision making with no end in sight, you need travel knitting that speaks to you.  As long as it's saying nice things, of course.

Here is the sock's baby sister:

Don't they look cute together?  Yeah, it won't last. They'll grow up and be socks and I'll need new baby knitting projects.  You probably know what I'm talking about or you wouldn't keep knitting new stuff too!

I wonder whether I will finish these socks in time to wear them to the cottage, so they can be real 'endless summer' footwarmers?

The cottage is such a funny place - freezing cold in early July, then unbearably hot for one week around mid- to late- July.  I mean, so hot you have to be in the lake as much of the day as possible and at night, you don't sleep, but keep the overhead fans on high as much as you can.  The beds are all very very low at the cottage so you sort of collapse onto them and stare up at the distant ceiling fan, hoping it will somehow work harder, or at least not fling itself from its moorings.  After a while you get up and turn the fan down to a lower speed because that last idea is too disturbing to risk becoming real.  And then you just feel hot until about 4am, when the temperature suddenly becomes unbearably cold and you scrabble around looking for socks to put on and haul up on the wool blankets you pushed down to the floor at midnight.  After that, you can fall asleep.

During the day at the cottage it's sometimes possible to walk outside in sandals.  And by sometimes I mean for about five days in August between the hours of 11am and 3pm.  Ideally, the rest of the time, you are running outside in sandals from the bottom of the deck stairs to the top of the dock stairs so you can wade quickly into the lake and not think about how cold the water is because after all, you'll acclimatize eventually.  If you try to pursue this transition from dry to wet any more slowly than that, you will have blackfly bites on the tops of your feet.  More commonly, it's wise to wear a nice pair of handknit socks inside a nice pair of boots the bugs can't bite through.

Yeah, if these socks are done in time, I can totally see taking them north for actual summer wear, and loving every minute of having them with me.

Oh look, they're excited about the possibility too.

Gotta love a chompy sock!  That's right socks, get ready for some serious blackfly and mosquito eating.

Wish me luck for actually making progress on these things today - as it's turned out, I haven't been able to spare time for so much as a single stitch all week - and I'll wish you luck for getting loads done on something you want to finish too.  Take care and I'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A colourful spring is on its way

As I type this, the view from my window is basically white on dark things.  Finally: snow!  It's very pretty though definitely not colourful.  I don't know about you but while my relationship to colour has been up and down over the years, after a few rounds of peaceful muted winter shades I am ready for a whole lotta green.  I'm not there yet, but I will be.

This old thing is the perfect hat for February, don't you think?

That's lucky because the stars have aligned to put me into not one but two colour-specific workshops this spring.  The second one is the one you'll care about for sure - it's for knitting, more on that in a moment! - but the first might appeal too: I'm taking a three-day course in colours, emphasis on paint, as they related to interior decor.

Maria Killam is the instructor - Lynn put me onto her and I've found her advice to be incredibly helpful as I choose all the stuff for our house.  Her focus is on how undertones affect a colour and its ability to play nicely with other colours, and since reading her e-books and following her blog I have definitely caught myself on the brink of making huge errors on tile and cabinetry.

Thanks to Maria's insights, we are making (almost) all the hard finishes in the house - the floors, the counters, the cabinets - totally neutral and timeless so that our paint and fabric choices can change whenever we want something fresh, and the whole place will still look put together and current.  I mean, it's far from a hardship to think of retiling a space when you have somebody like Ray you can call to do it, but he's going to retire eventually.

White: the perfect, peaceful frame for repeats of a single colour

When I mentioned Maria's approach to Jan, who is herself an artist, she shrugged and said "I just pick what I like," and I have to say, that attitude has always worked well for her.  For me: not so much.  You all know about my decision-making issues and on top of that - we are doing THE WHOLE HOUSE.  I am responsible for four bathrooms, my office, the master bedroom, the entire main floor. I haven't even looked at the basement yet but it'll need flooring too and also paint and I would really like my laundry room to be a place I enjoy spending time because let's face it: I spend a lot of time in the laundry room.   And when that's all done... I have to do it all over again at the condo so we can quickly rent or sell it.  Jury's still out on which.

If you only look at floors you will still have a lot to sort out. The beautiful 1942 hardwood floors in our original version of the house went with everything we threw at them, but I noticed issues in the basement when we had to choose laminate floors and laundry room tile.  You know what?  Flooring makes a huge difference to a room, and to the way one room flows into another.  Yeah, you probably knew that.  I probably did too, but I didn't appreciate the magnitude of the subject until I had to start choosing my own and got it wrong.  The whole process helps me understand why interior designers are such an important asset - many of us have the ability to choose what we like and make it work without professional assistance, but few of us have the time to go through all the things that won't work so we can get to the ones that do.

The tile floor in the old part of my favourite downtown bank tower.
Too much fuss in a way but I wish I could have little triangles in my house too!

I remember telling Jan another time how excited I was to think of our house looking like it was in a magazine and she said, "Why would you want that??" which made me laugh because so often, rooms get staged so far beyond real life for a magazine that of course, I never would want that.  Her question made me clarify what appeals to me about those idealized rooms and the answer is, they don't have paper clutter all over them.  They show the potential for future living, not the mess of past living.  My favourite magazine rooms suggest a backdrop for creative ideas to blossom, unlike the actual rooms I usually occupy, which require me to look away from clutter and things that have to be taken care of as soon as possible.

So, I still want my house to look like it's in a magazine, but what I really mean is, I want built-in storage and lots of doors so I can tuck activity-specific things into space-specific places and always have a clean place to work.  And I want all the colours to blend so beautifully, without jarring, that they cultivate my mind instead of distracting me from my ideas.

The idea of colours that are warm and encouraging without being bright or invigorating is fairly new to me.  I used to have an entire wardrobe of what I thought of as Crayon Colours - I loved one outfit in particular that paired a bright red with a bright version of navy, because it made me feel like a drawing in a comic strip.  I always, always matched my shoes to whatever I was wearing on my legs and had tights to go with all of my office footwear, most of which was suede because I loved the texture.  My living room walls were bright yellow and I couldn't put enough red check and bright florals onto the furniture.

And then life got so busy, and I was so tired, and before long, my entire wardrobe was black, and my living room walls were white, and my furniture was all upholstered in a sage green solid fabric.

I don't want so many bright colours any more.  I want peaceful spaces.  Subtle shifts in muted colours calm me down and I like that.

And yet...

When I look at yarn, I'm drawn to colour of all kinds!  Muted and soft, or bright and cheerful.  I love working with yarn dyed by independent artists, people who clearly love colour and love creating combinations that are exciting and fun.  I mean, how many pairs of stripey Vespers do I have?  (that's a rhetorical question, please don't hurt your brain by trying to count them all.)

Also: I'm good at colourwork. I don't do it often right now because it's less portable than a sock and hello, Time Constraints, but I do have stranded knitting skillz. Remember the time I knit this sample for Kathi Taylor when she was writing Fearless Fair Isle Knitting?

So, when Trish told me she'd signed up for a colour workshop at this year's Knitters Frolic I asked her to sign me up too. Yeah, I know, I should have just done it myself, but I was walking to a meeting when she called and it wasn't like there was time to spare because Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is the instructor!!  Yep, after all these years in the same city I am actually going to a talk given by The Yarn Harlot.

I told Holly because I knew she'd be excited and it turns out she got a spot too, so Yay!  There was only room for 24 participants and it sold out quickly.  Actually, all the instructors and topics this year are great, and I wish I had time to do more courses.  I will however make time for some shopping in the marketplace, even though I really, really don't need more yarn right now.

And now, back to my view of white on branch.  Isn't it wonderful that snow is so textural and sparkly?  I mean, if you have to look at a complete lack of colour, it's so nice to see those other special qualities.

Hope your day has special in it too no matter how otherwise uneventful (though really, in my experience, there is a lot to be said for uneventful) and I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Breaking in new socks

Putting on a freshly blocked pair of handknit socks the very first time is a bit of a leap.  They're new and perfect, you want to show them off to their best advantage, and also - they aren't yet broken in, so they feel like teeny tiny rocks pressing into the bottom of your feet while you walk.


This isn't something I notice much when I break in a new pair of socks in the normal way.  By which I mean, knit a pair of socks, block them, wear them, repeat forever if possible.  But as you may recall, I knit seven pairs of socks without running in ends or grafting their toes while I was preoccupied with moving house and plotting our huge renovation, and now I am breaking in seven pair of socks at once.  Plus some other new pairs from the last few years that I set aside to save for special occasions until recently when I decided that Special is Now.

When you are breaking in new socks, you want them to have maximum opportunity for their fibers to felt a little.  Even superwash wool will do this if you're walking around with closed shoes on - all you need is hot water and friction and the individual hard stitches will soften a little and blur into each other like a gently painted watercolour.  So you want to pick a day when you're walking a lot, but not so much that the hard stone feeling will bother you.  And it should be a day when, if you're visiting somebody, you're not expected to take off your shoes, because you don't want to give your feet a chance to breathe before their work is done.

(I know, I know.  Socks really have the worst job of all our handknits, don't they.)

If conditions are perfect, you'll have a very comfortable pair of socks by the end of the first day.

And then you will want to knit another pair of socks.

Unless you're Trish! who turned down my socks in progress the other day when we were early for an event and I found she hadn't brought her knitting with her.  Yes, Trish, who is never without knitting.  Tells you how much she doesn't like knitting socks.  (and yet, we get along so well - amazing, isn't it?)

Have a great day today whether or not you are breaking in a new knit, and I'll see you tomorrow!

PS if you remained awake through yesterday's post about my appliance dilemma you may be happy to know I figured out the refrigerator after I opened a top-freezer model and remembered what a pain they are.  also, the nice lady at The Bay explained that KitchenAid and Whirlpool use the same mechanical refrigerator guts, and I realized I like the Whirlpool's fridge organizers better, and it doesn't actually matter to me for all the handles to match.  Yay! might get to knit today!

Monday, February 15, 2016

I should be knitting and so should you

Today is a holiday where I live and probably where you live too - President's Day in the U.S.A. and Family Day here in Ontario (the date differs from province to province here in Canada.)  And if you're like me, you feel a holiday should be quiet and lazy and knitty and involve lots of cake! but mine isn't.  I am typing this amid a shower of papers making puddles on my desk, all reminding me that I have to do many many things before everybody is back to work tomorrow.  Mainly, picking appliances, which is terrifying.  See this KitchenAid refrigerator?  It is scaring me no end.

Seriously: can a bottom mount freezer ever hold more moth-exposed yarn than a top mount??

Back in the dark ages when we bought our last major appliance, it was possible to get one that would last for many many years without breaking down, from a friendly store where sales advice was kind and supportive, deliveries were on time and included both installation and removal of the previous appliance, and after sales service was impeccable.  Now, to judge by the product and store reviews I am frantically checking, it isn't.  So you have to choose carefully, and that's SO not good for me.  If I can choose impulsively I am fine, but if I have to think about it too much I overthink myself right into deep space and/or buy three to remove doubt.  There is no middle ground in my brain. 

Also, appliances are expensive.  The longer our home renovation goes on, the more I am dropping zeroes off the end of all the numbers for my own protection, but even that can't stop me from noticing that fifteen hundred dollars is a lot of money.  And I'll be lucky to get one new appliance for that.  I am pretty sure I need five.  Or fifteen if I let myself think too much.

There is no point in doing the math on how much yarn that would buy, because the more pressing consideration is how much knitting time I am squandering on appliance selection.  I'm sure I could have knit at least one pair of socks in the time I've put in so far and I haven't even looked at the laundry room yet. 

Thankfully, my friend Doe just did her kitchen and bought a slightly older model of this range from GE:

All my dreams of domesticity are riding on this range.

Doe is the most avid baker I know and she cooks real suppers every night too, not just something whipped together and easy to clean up after like I do. Basically, if you're on a diet, you do NOT want to go over to her place.  I mean, she feels she's dropped the ball on Christmas baking if she only has four different varieties of squares and cookies to serve when friends and family drop by.  But that's the kind of person you want to talk to when you're looking for a new range, right?

Lynn has been helping me too as she works through choices on her own building project - she is pretty much the reason I have not been boring you with tile selection, though it's very very unlikely you will be spared forever.  If you're grateful for the reprieve, you should totally thank Lynn.

There is one appliance that's making my life easy, and it's this dishwasher from KitchenAid.

Thank you, perfect dishwasher . I might name you, you are so perfect for us.  What's a good butler's name?

This dishwasher gets great reviews, it's quiet, and it has a third rack which I can't live without since I got used to it in my old noisy Miele that didn't really get the dishes clean (the GE that was in the condo when we got here does a great job, but it can't hold nearly as many dishes as we seem to need to load into it.)  It has a heated dry function so I won't need to unload with a tea towel in my hand and it's got a bar across the front so I can put a pretty towel there for drying my hands after I've used the sink.  Also I think it's quite pretty. Done and done and please remind me to avert my eyes from the price tag until it's all over.

But you know what a dishwasher is really?  A dishwasher is THE LAST THING a kitchen designer is worried about. 

Dishwashers are all pretty much 24" wide and tuck under the counter.  They don't do anything fussy that requires any finesse in the cabinetry department.  So I could pick the dishwasher a couple of weeks before I want to wash my first dish by moving it off the counter into a tray, and I'd be fine.

A range needs a little more consideration.  The countertop supplier has to prepare the counter to fit it,and the cabinetry needs to accommodate subtle differences in dimension as well.  So having an obvious choice there is kind of a kick in the knee, because that decision, I can still hold off on for a few weeks.

What is really important is the refrigerator.  A fridge usually has a cabinet over it, and that cabinet has to take the fridge dimensions into consideration.  In our kitchen, the fridge dimensions are also going to determine the position of a door opening that currently does not exist because of me being slow and panicky, which is forcing Ray to go around our house the long way from the dining room to the kitchen every time he needs to do something in one space or the other.

But a refrigerator is... well, it's big.  Literally and figuratively.  We've always had a basic top freezer refrigerator with no fancy water dispensers or panels or French doors, and we like it that way.  Our house was originally built in 1942 and we want it to keep that feeling (except with insulation and nicer finishes.)  But refrigerators have changed so much since our last Whirlpool purchase, and reading through all the different places Whirlpool is discussed I have to admit that, yes, I often did have things freeze and get ruined at the back wall and warm too quickly at the front, and hey, that's something that still goes on with new models.  Plus, a basic Whirlpool top mount freezer isn't a $600 steal any more.  They can go for $1200, which is a lot to spend on something that's going to freeze the fruit you pushed back too far.  If I can't justify going with our old faithful, what can we go with??

I found out on Thursday that I am holding up the kitchen order, the framing completion, and I think even the floor height (which impacts the kitchen order and the electrical work), all because I don't know which fridge we want to buy.  So I need to decide - today, ideally.  Lynn was smart and shopped for appliances before she even thought about kitchen cabinets, and I wish I were more like her.  You know, sensible and practical.

All of that is why I am not knitting.  I hope you're knitting.  Maybe you can cast a few stitches for me, huh?  Or at least have a nice peaceful moment or six in the midst of whatever else you're getting done today.  Take care either way and I'll see you tomorrow, hopefully at peace once more with a trip to look at appliances decidedly in my past.  Thank goodness the nearest department store has a big appliance section so I can open doors and look inside things!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Best Friends Beanie: a free knitting pattern

If you've been reading Hugs for a while you may know that on Valentine's Day I share a free pattern as a little love note, a thank-you to everybody who spends time here all year reading my words. It's not a ritual I wanted to give up just because the days are zipping by me right now.

So, Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm calling this hat the Best Friends Beanie, but it started out a little differently.  I was writing in a coffee shop about six years ago, taking advantage of dead time between appointments, and couldn't help overhearing a conversational hum from a table nearby.  Two women, obviously close friends, were catching up - but one was talking nonstop while the other was offering a very occasional Uh-Huh just to indicate she was still breathing.  Probably because I was already doing creative work I couldn't stop myself grinning and picturing their time together in cable form - one cable twisting around and around, the other infrequently turning in its direction.

Later on I knit the cables up into a hat pattern and intended to release it here, but my schedule got very busy very abruptly and by the time I could write it up for publication I'd misplaced the hat itself.  Naturally, I found it while I was packing everything up a few weeks ago, but by then there was no sign of my pattern notes or yarn information.  So I started over in this gorgeous merino cashmere nylon blend from Viola.

(yarn note: the cables are more striking in a solid colour, but who can resist Emily's dye work?? not I.)

(also, if you click on that link and there's no yarn in the shop, don't worry.  Emily is opening a new studio very soon and once she starts dyeing full time there will be yarn aplenty.)

When I was knitting the hat this time, I had a completely different experience of it.  I wasn't laughing at the combination of superchatty and silent any more.  I was recognizing myself in both roles, and deeply aware of the value of the quiet partner.  There have been so many times since my coffee shop day that I've needed support and insight and turned to a friend who could hear me out and offer guidance.  And there have been so many times that I've seen someone going through a truly awful experience - divorce, or grief over a loved one's illness and death - and offered myself as a resource.  Friends need each other in different ways at different times... basically, we are all these cables.

I thought too about Pete and me and our marriage, how we've been incredibly lucky to be able to take turns being the quiet support.  It's very rare that we've both been the whirling cable at the same time, and even when that's happened, one of us has been able to take a deep breath and be calm for the other.  We've survived some tough times - really tough, things we never imagined happening when we were saying our vows - and we've come through them stronger than we were before.  That's partly because we have kept ourselves turned toward each other like these cables do, with a keen awareness that we are in it all together, but also because we've been able to see when we're needed more than we need something for ourselves. 

This beanie - toque? stocking cap? - is a different shape than I've been doing lately.  It's very close fitting and stretchy, which makes it very fast to knit with less yarn than some.  I feel it could be unisex, but maybe for a man you'd want to leave out the cables.  Probably the experience of knitting them is more meaningful than wearing them!  I found it very meditative and comforting, myself.

Difficulty Level
Intermediate.  There are cables! Also a purl-front-and-back increase.  The hat is knit in the round on either a 16" circular needle or a set of double-points (and you'll need double-points to do the crown decreases regardless.)

Solid or semisolid worsted-weight yarn - I used Viola M/C/N worsted in 'Mars' - with a good stretch.  I would not recommend any yarn that doesn't have at least 80% wool content for a hat with as much negative ease as this one. 

20 sts, 31 rows - 4" in stocking stitch.

Finished Dimensions
Sizes S (M, L) - 16" around, 6-3/4" long (18-1/2" around, 7" long, 21" around, 7-1/2" long) - shown in size M stretched around my 22" head.

Click here for .pdf of Best Friends Beanie

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Renovation files: choosing a countertop

Over the last two weeks, I've been facing a colour and pattern dilemma not unlike what you deal with when choosing a new knitting project, except that knitting projects tend not to range into the thousands of dollars, thank goodness.  Basically, Andy gave us a sample of our kitchen door in our semi-custom white paint colour (Benjamin Moore's Chantilly Lace) so we could use it to choose a countertop, and we didn't need to be told twice.

Here we have our sample door and our sample floor and four lovely choices from Cambria, a producer of quartz countertops.

There's a pretty wide range of countertop options today, all of which impact the allure of a real estate listing.  Here's a quick rundown of the options that are typical in our neighbourhood:

Granite - expensive, luxurious, and gorgeous, granite is very hard, usually patterned, and is porous (which means it needs to be sealed every year or so.)

Marble - expensive, luxurious, and in my opinion the most gorgeous and ethereal and desirable of all, marble is softly patterned, totally porous, and needs to be treated with loving respect and care or it will get etches that can't be repaired but may fade with time.

Quartzite - see above, for price and luxury.  It's harder than granite and maybe because it's harder to find, it's more expensive and not as common a choice, but my friend Monique has it and it's incredibly beautiful.  Don't quote me but I think that like marble, it is porous and can get etched.

Quartz - after Granite this is the expensive-category gold standard in our area at the moment, because it is non porous and therefore doesn't need to be sealed, and it doesn't scratch or etch or stain, and comes in lots of colour and pattern options.  There are many makers of quartz for countertops including Silestone, Caesarstone, and Cambria, but Cambria's showroom is a ten minute walk from the condo and they cost less than the others so we are their friend.

Solid Surface - this is what Corian is and although Quartz offers everything it does without the likelihood of scratching, it's easy to sand out scratches in a Solid Surface counter.  I know because we put a Corian knockoff into our kitchen at the house. It scratched like CRAZY and I didn't care, I still loved it and the way it felt under my hand.

Laminate - although this is a death knell for resale value where I live, I love laminate. It's incredibly affordable - a few hundred dollars versus a few thousand - and you can get any colour or pattern you can possibly imagine.  At the condo we have faux granite laminate in black and brown, which is a big reason we could afford to buy the place (it's real granite or bust where we are, and people didn't even want to make an offer without it.)  But it looks pretty convincing and you can also get faux marble, yum.  Better than the faux stuff though is the retro pattern range from Wilsonart...

and even a gorgeous linen look from Formica's Jonathan Adler collection

Bonus: Ray says it's possible to do an undermount sink with laminate now, which wasn't true the last time we did a kitchen.  I sure do love an undermount sink.

Other popular options include butcher's block, bamboo, tile, cement, recycled glass, and of course, stainless steel.  I won't go into those here because none of you are looking to me for interior design advice and none of them are in the running for our house.  Actually I think we should be considering stainless steel but Pete says No, and I say Yikes to butcher's block even though it's so attractive because I'm just germophobic enough to be in a perpetual state of panic about 'Porous countertops, meet raw meat!'

Then of course, there's the question of how all my vintage dishes and glassware will look with the counter we choose, since you're going to be able to see all of it from the living room. These heavily patterned quartz designs look stunning in the giant showroom sizes, even though the seams do kind of show if your counter is too long for their maximum range (and our main counter is definitely too long) - but oh dear.

So hard to know!

You may and probably do find this the most boring subject in the world but I find it fascinating to discover the different priorities people have in their kitchens.

When reading countertop recommendations the two most common things I come across are related either to the of wine or indeed condensation-producing wine bottles on the surface (Pete and I don't drink, so this isn't an issue for us, although I suppose it could be once we have space to entertain at home) or cutting directly on the counter (I can't even imagine wanting to do this - I've only ever used a cutting board and I love them and the fact that they go straight into the dishwasher.)  Similarly, people get really excited about being able to put a hot pan directly from the oven onto the counter without damaging it.  Isn't that what adorable woven or felted wool trivets are for?  When I pull a hot pan out of the oven my dilemma is far more likely to be related to the lack of space to put it down on, not the damage it might do once there.

That said, we do have priorities of our own for this kitchen.  For example:

I want the cleaning convenience of an undermount sink, which rules out a few choices.

I don't mind looking after a counter for cosmetic reasons, but I do mind if my efforts are designed to protect us from food poisoning, and that rules out a few more.

I want to be able to tell when then counter isn't clean, so a dark and heavily patterned design is a no-go.

All of these considerations are what led me to laminate counters, which Pete has turned down emphatically, and Cambria quartz, which we will certainly choose for our bathrooms.  It's very practical in a wet room, it should hold its value, and Cambria is especially good at producing variations on white, which is what timeless kitchens are made of at the moment.  White cabinets, white counters, white subway tile backsplash.  The ultimate safe and classic kitchen.

But - oh dear, no matter how many times we look at these samples, I can't get my head around quartz in the kitchen.

I definitely want it for the powder room on the main floor.  I mean, check out how perfectly this steely blue-grey sample blends with our living room fabrics.  Plus: it's got sparkles in it!

I've had this sample since the summer and I never get tired of looking at it, so I know I'll be happy with it in that hardworking little room.

But the kitchen?  The kitchen counter is going to require some serious mileage and even at Cambria prices, it's going to cost a lot of renovation money, which is not ideal given how expensive all the other practical choices we've made have turned out to be (steel roof, spray insulation, entirely brick exterior, triple glaze fiberglass windows, and the list goes on.)  I can't see using my beloved blue option there, and the whites are so... not marble.

There, I said it.  I want marble countertops!!!  Marble is just so beautiful and calming and peaceful.  It's stone, and I love stone.  It's not shiny like quartz or granite (you can get a matte granite but the maintenance on it is crazypants) and I realize now that while I like shiny, I don't like it on my kitchen counters.  I want those counters to be friendly and welcoming and not overly processed-looking.  Marble is what I have dreamed of ever since we put in our first kitchen and chose a light brown flecked solid surface instead because marble is just too expensive and impractical.

The fact is, I love marble, and I know I can't be trusted with it. I don't want to spend $7,000 to install something I don't adore (thank you poor exchange rate on the Canadian dollar), and like I said, Pete is not enamoured of the idea of laminate even for the sake of this gorgeous yet simple linen pattern which I am totally chasing down for my laundry room if I can fit a counter in there.  And maybe for my custom desk too?


Finally I remembered there was one countertop option I put aside the minute I read about it, because it fell into the 'expensive' category and I assumed I'd have to rule it out.  When I investigated further though, I discovered that it costs about the same as a higher-end quartz, which is to say, not a lot more than a white counter from Cambria.  So I read on.

This material is stone, and nonporous, and has a matte finish.  You can let it weather to an ethereal grey, or wax it to a grey-green so deep it looks black.  And the way it feels under your hand is amazing.

I told Pete about it and I showed him some pictures and he said he liked it. I guess he meant it because the next day he sent me a text to say he'd made us an appointment at the showroom for later in the week - which kind of blew me away because the showroom is a 90 minute drive away from his office and even though he does have a flexible schedule he can almost never spare that much time from work on short notice.

And went we got there, we both fell in love with this slab:

It's soapstone.  The big vein in the middle kind of bothers me but it's probably where our sink will land, so it won't be a constant focal point.  And the visual texture is just Wow! Very subtle, but definitely there.

The physical texture is very slight, and the stone feels soothing under your hand.  This particular slab is one of the hardest varieties so it's least likely to scratch if I drop something on it - like I said, we're cutting board fans so we won't be scarring it with a knife.  And if I have a hot pan and enough free counter space to set it down, I won't need to put out a trivet first, because soapstone isn't affected by hot objects.

Best of all worlds, basically.

There are other patterns in soapstone too, depending on where it's found.  This one is kind of a polka dot:

And this one has a huge quartz deposit that glistens with a soft green sparkle, like jewelry:

Oh, let's have a closeup:

This one is pretty crazy with the veining!

Here's the difference in colour between waxed and natural (don't worry, the darkening stuff air-dries in about 90 seconds):

In the past people treated their soapstone with mineral oil to get the darker colour but now you can use a wax that reduces the number of seasonings to two or three from seven or more.  Because, you know, it's such a hardship to touch this stuff.  (although actually, the wax is much healthier in every way, and is what I'll be using.)

If you want to know more about how soapstone wears you should read this wonderful post from For The Love Of A House - and you can also see how gorgeous it looks with white Shaker cabinets too!

Of course, if you read that post you'll also see the link to another post on how marble wears, with photographs that show how gorgeous marble and soapstone look together.  Or how gorgeous marble looks on its own.  le sigh.  Reading that lifted my hopes for a moment, until Pete admitted he doesn't like marble at all!  So soapstone it is.  (and maybe a marble board for rolling out pastry.  Ha!)

Thanks so much for indulging me today and I hope you're back again soon because tomorrow, I'll have a little present for you.  See you later!