Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Drinking hot things

Last night after supper I sat down to write a Hug and noticed I was achy, and an hour later I was in full blown head cold mode complete with sore throat.  How could I get hit so fast, especially when I have been eating virtuously such things as bowlfuls of arugula every day??

I wanted to share the recipe for this lazy approach to salad and today will do, now that my sinuses have agreed that any more mouth breathing is not helping, and I can work slightly more comfortably.

Lazy Rocket Salad

Put the rocket (arugula) in a bowl
Drizzle it with olive oil
Drizzle balsamic reduction over top (Our grocer sell Nonna Pia's; there are other kinds)
Salt as desired
Optional: cut tomatoes

Seriously, it's taken me decades of salad consumption to realize you don't actually have to mix the dressing separately (or even refrigerate the ingredients of same.)  But now that I know, I am never going back!

The 'drinking hot things' menu is slightly more labour intensive - you have to cut and squeeze the lemon into a mug, decide how much honey to spoon in to make it bearable, boil the water to dilute them both, and wait for it all to cool.  Such an ordeal... and at the moment this process requires several breaks for Kleenex as well.

Ditto the chicken broth with Worcestershire sauce.  You have to go to all the trouble of finding the box of low sodium OXO broth packets in the pantry, tear open the bag and dump it into a mug, then tap to be sure you got everything out, add water, and drip in the sauce enough to warm your throat but stopping short of So Spicy It Burns.

Tea is much easier, thanks to a small change I made a month or two ago and which has proved to be more freeing than I could have imagined.  It's 'pour boiling water over a tea bag, steep, cool, and drink.'

Yep, after many years of wanting to, I am finally figuring out how to give up sugar.  And that is a huge thing for me to say because I am a HUGE fan of sugar.

Because I have relied on it my whole life long, I didn't need all the articles that have come out about it lately to tell me that sugar is not good for our bodies - we're designed to like it, but not to process it in the huge quantities we face today.  You can feel that's true without being told it, if you depend on it the way I have.  And I feel the clock ticking - right now, my blood pressure/blood sugar is smack in the middle of Healthy, but I know I have several relatives, going several generations back, whose lives were cut short by diabetes.  Odds are good that the same thing would have happened to me by now if I didn't walk as much as I do most days. 

My life experience based on these relatives' stories is that even if doctors are able to intervene with the other circulatory implications, diabetes = huge risk of late-life memory loss.  And I do not want to go through that.  I would take broken bones, extreme arthritis, and even a slowly-filling clear plastic bag attached to my walker over losing my memory.  So I am highly motivated by the desire for a forever-healthy brain, or as close to it as I can manage through choices within my control.

The trouble is that sugar is so addictive, and the only way to really beat it is to go cold turkey, and cold turkey is really really hard.

If I can manage to stay committed, after three tough days of cold turkey I find I don't crave sugar.  I can accept a slice of cake at a party, enjoy some of it and then stop as soon as I feel the sugar starting to make me feel ill, and go on not craving it.  But if I feel like I should eat the whole slice, or like I should order ice cream too when everybody else I'm with wants to go to Dairy Queen, or that I'd really like to have a tiny bit of root beer because it's so nostalgic, and ESPECIALLY if all those things happen on consecutive days? 

Well, I have to go cold turkey all over again. 

So this winter I thought, Maybe I could at least stop putting honey in my tea. 

I mean, milk is sweet, and I put milk in, so maybe that would be enough? And it's such a small step.  It took a few cups but as it turned out, milk is enough, especially if I have very basic crackers with the tea instead of sweet cookies, which just play up how not sweet the tea is.  After a week or so my poor honey jar just sat and sat and didn't need to be replaced, which was actually kind of a bonus because honey is not cheap and I was always running out at the one moment I didn't have time to get to the store, even now that the store is right downstairs. 

(also I always feel a little guilty about taking it from the bees.)

Then in late May I read that all the good and healthy stuff in tea is negated if you add milk - something about the chemical combination.  So I thought, Maybe I could try not putting milk in, either.

This wasn't as hard for me as it would have been if we hadn't just been away in Germany.  I had to be creative about my tea consumption on that trip because I need caffeine before about 1pm if I'm to avoid a huge headache, but I also need bathroom breaks pretty urgently in the first 90 minutes after tea consumption and the tour schedule couldn't accommodate that.  At first I tried getting up over two hours earlier than we had to leave for the day but that wasn't sustainable for obvious "7:30am departure time" reasons. 

It wasn't long before I asked myself, What would a sensible person do? I put on my 'Trish' cap and realized that I could brew the tea, then pour it into my stainless steel water bottle to take with me, and sip it very very slowly over the morning when I knew we would be getting off the bus or better still, getting 'free time' soon.  It wasn't an insulated bottle, so I topped up with cold water to keep from burning my hands, and I slipped in lemon slices to keep it from tasting too strong.

(Bonus: on days when I could fill the bottle with plain water, it tasted deliciously lemony.)

So - when I was back home and feeling like I should give up milk in my tea, I thought - I've already pulled this off out of necessity, so why not just go on?

And here's the freeing bit.

If you are not putting milk or sugar in your tea, all you need is the tea and the kettle and water and a cup.  You don't need a refrigerator beside your tea making area (which is lucky since Andy and I designed the kitchen at our house with the tea station far from the refrigerator.)  You don't even need to drink all the tea in the pot before it goes cold.  I mean it's nice to drink hot tea, and I still like to have my tea cosy on the pot, but if I come home after a few hours and have forgotten to pour out the leftover tea before dashing out, I am happy to drink it as I find it.

Suddenly, I can drink green tea without wincing, and enjoy all its health benefits.

And because I am trying not to have a glass off milk too close to the time I drink a cup of tea, I don't run out of milk as quickly, which is nice.  I love milk and drink way more than I need to even to keep my bones strong, and was going through a TON of milk every week. 

Thanks to this small change, I am not looking for cookies every time I have tea.  And when I read about heart-healthy diets that advocate drinking black tea and lots of plain water in place of other more delicious beverages, I don't shudder or cringe or write them off as impossible for me.

I guess what I'm writing about it today's Hug is that even if you're a bit slow on the uptake like I am, small steps can actually result in big changes in how you get through your day.  As I've made these adjustments in my tea consumption I've also been trying to eat more vegetables and adapting how I cook them to make them less labour-intensive - drizzling olive oil over cubed sweet potatoes, for example, right on the baking sheet where I've tossed them before pushing the pan into the oven, thereby saving myself from washing an extra bowl.  Or cubing a lot of sweet potatoes at once while listening to an audiobook, so that I can bag up enough for a meal or two later in the week when I know I will have less time. 

And the salad thing - well, even though there is sugar in balsamic reduction, it's only enough to make me crave arugula, and I'm pretty sure that isn't a bad thing.  The nitrites are another story but let's ignore them for now.

As I type - even though I did just go through three days in a row with ice cream, then root beer, then more ice cream I didn't even enjoy and now have to start all over again with cold turkey on the whole Dessert Thing as soon as I don't need hot honey and lemon for my throat - I am eating better for less money, every day.  It years and years since I've felt as healthy as I have lately, and on top of that, I've lost a little weight without making more time to exercise, or creating strategies for eating less.  I'm happy to eat whatever I want that isn't sugar, but I'm just plain less hungry.

Mind you, I got this darned cold anyway, and at breakneck speed to boot, but I'm going to give that a pass because I lost sleep and had to work super hard for almost all of last week battling the phone scammer who victimized my aunt.  There's bound to be fallout from that, right? 

Do me a favour and just nod and agree while I sign off and go make myself another cup of green tea for my sore throat, sigh.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The little things that beat the big things

I guess we can all agree there is a special place in hell for people make a career out of defrauding elderly people, and I personally would advocate for fire ants to be added to the torments therein.  But let's move past the emotional and logistical nightmare that their actions produce for their victims and all the people who love them, and say THANK YOU to the small things that brighten a very difficult day.  Or series of days.  I mean I am so tired I can't really keep track at this point.

For example, the scenery on the way to my elderly relative's home is just as pretty as it ever was, be it sunny...

... or otherwise:

New yarn in the mail - that's a nice thing too isn't it?  (this is two new yarns, and one I just forgot to photograph for you earlier.)

Beautiful new yarn is a lot like a hug.  Which I got one of in real life this morning, while dashing past a pair of canvassers for the local addiction and mental health hospital.  I support CAMH, of course, but I needed to complete an important component of the solution for my elderly relative, so when a young man tried to engage me in conversation I immediately said I'm so sorry, I am having a very very bad day and I can't stop, and he looked at me for a long moment and I guess saw just how bad, because his face became very serious and he said, Can I offer you a hug?  And I said Yes.  Yes, I will take the hug.

It helped.

Then there's this dress:

I was rushing home last night after seeing off my friend Bob to his airport shuttle (how timely, that he was in town this week - he always seems to be here for as cup of coffee in the worst moments of crisis) when I saw this dress from the corner of my eye and thought for a moment, Lannie!  In that instant I felt so much weight lift right off my shoulders, until I realized it was just an empty dress.  But I went on feeling lighter because when Lannie dresses up, she does glitz and glam like nobody else I know, and it was nice to think of that.

(And now I kind of want that necklace.)

You know what else is nice?  Having a bunch of people available for advice or moral support.  And not just your own friends, either.  At one point yesterday I had to call a chiropractor's office for information.  I had never been there or met any of the staff - I just knew that they care about my relative.  I got all of and more than the help I needed, and I was offered the chiropractor's personal cell phone number, too - just in case I ever need somebody to go to my relative's home and can't get there myself.  Hard to feel stranded and unsure how to proceed when people are reaching out like that.

This was kind of a bad week for me to choose to break up with sugar.  Thankfully, I was on day four of Cold Turkey when I was notified of the problem, and I didn't succumb to temptation because I was already feeling better physically from not eating any, and was too busy making calls to go into the kitchen.  I guess that's more than a little thing, isn't it?  Having the moral fortitude to resist sugar while under stress?

Either way: that is me for this week, my friends.  Not bad, posting four days out of the five, huh?  And with luck I can make this a habit again!  Luck and not having anything else bad happen.  Going to keep my fingers crossed on that one while I wish you a great weekend.  See you soon!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I am not really a very nice person

When we were in Germany, we saw SO many beautiful, round fountains in the middle of parks.  And I thought: how come we don't have fountains like that at home?  Then I remembered the dog fountain.

The dog fountain is the new addition to the park near our condo.  It's a smallish park, enormously popular for at least 25 years with office workers at lunchtime on a weekday.  But a couple of years ago, the city decided to make a fresh start with it, and they finally unveiled their work this spring.

(side note: can you believe how much of the land around the dog fountain has been bricked over?? try that in a residential property and you'll have your wrist slapped for exceeding your coverage allowance.)

I've lived here for a couple of years now, and I follow developments in real estate because we have two places to live right now and will soon need only one, so I've noticed that a LOT of young families are starting out in tiny downtown condos these days.  Some of them are in our building, in fact.   And the park sites near here are pretty limited for children.  Really there's only one viable option for running and play and it's a few blocks away, so I was kind of hoping the 'new' park would acknowledge the growing small person population and feature a nod to kids who would like to be kids.  After all, we're really near a ton of hotels which are also without play space, and vacationing families walk past this park just as often as local ones do.

However, as child-centered families are increasing downtown, so are dog-centred families.  Every morning I see people walking their dogs(s), who are often VERY large, before returning them to their tiny condos and heading out to work.  There aren't any off-leash areas close to our neighbourhood and it's not practical to make one out of this small park, even if it is bigger than the closest off leash area (which has neither grass nor shade and is really just a tiny plot of mud with chain link fence around it.)  A decent off-leash zone is clearly needed.  I feel so badly for those big dogs, some of whom are greyhounds and would probably love to run more, and you can nod to anybody who deserves acknowledgement, even if you don't actually accommodate them. 

I guess that's why, when the park was finally finished and revealed to have zero play equipment for children, it still had miles of benches for office workers having lunch, and also, a giant tiered fountain with a dog bone at the top.

If I were a nicer person, I would find the bone charming.  And I do in a way.  I would prefer an ironically elegant version made out of a more traditional material, but it's still quirky, and quirky is good, and I see the allure of a golden bone just out of reach, even if I think it's a shame we finally got a fountain in our park and it's got a dog bone on the top.

I think the problem for me is the dogs that were placed around the fountain while we were away.  I am sure that if I were nicer, I would think they were adorable and make sense of the golden bone, and not notice how much they look like they have all chosen the same moment to projectile vomit into a large basin.

I would probably also not notice that the artist made the dogs anatomically correct and positioned them facing away from viewers, with their unfortunately-shaped tails curved up firmly onto their backs for maximum gender-determination opportunities.  But I did, and I am sufficiently not nice to offer you a photograph of same, albeit not in closeup. I mean, I'm not a monster.

Those are cat faces along the side of the first-tier bowl, by the way, spitting water back at the dogs.  I find this feature very clever even if it does cast a subtle aspersion on the character of a cat.

I guess the thing about downtown parks in tourist areas these days is that you have to put something photograph-able in them.  Something people will post on Instagram with something like, Adorable! or You Have To Travel Here And See This In Person!  Something like Chicago's bean, which I just wanted to hug and touch and stare at the whole time I was in Chicago.

I don't think the dog fountain is anywhere near the same league as the bean because what can top that huge shiny reflective beautiful thing?  But I will admit, no matter how not nice I am, that it's got more of a cute factor than the donkey fountain we saw in Berchtesgaden.

I mean, that poor animal!  He just makes me want to find the nearest vet to come and help with whatever he's got wrong with him.

Okay I'll stop complaining about the fountain now but to their credit, the dogs around it are amazingly life-sized and brightly coloured.  you should totally travel to Toronto and check them out while you're here, and enjoy a nice meal in a local restaurant while you're at it.

(The fountain may be dated already anyway; tonight as I was walking up Church Street I saw a guy out walking his TURTLE.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Recreating the porch

After more than two years in a balcony-less condo, I find I am missing our old porch like it's a person.  Have you been around long enough to remember all the knitting pictures I took there?

Ugh, even in 2013 it was looking pretty rough.  And that's what's got me busy today, because we are almost ready to move on from house interiors to porch reconstruction.  We have the basic structure framed in, and the new steel roof can go on any time; iit's the floor, column, stairs, and railings we have to sort out... hopefully, something with that looks like the wood we had, without the maintenance and inevitable rot.

As you can see in the picture above, our old columns didn't rot.  I think it must be because they were set on a galvanized steel base with air pockets around the bottom.  We could reuse them - Ray has kept them safe since the old porch went down - but he suggested we consider fiberglass this time around. 

I did some digging and it turns out fiberglass can be painted just like wood can, and ends up looking the same as wood, but because it doesn't swell and shrink like wood the paint on it is less likely to crack.  It's not physically capable of rotting and because all these features make it more popular than wood and it can be mass produced, its cost is now actually less than the real thing it mimics.

Kind of a no-brainer, right?  But just like with everything else, there is SO MUCH CHOICE.  Not all fiberglass is created equal and not all columns are what we had before.  I looked at a few options, thought Hmmm this doesn't look right, and realized that what we had was a Round Tapered Smooth Column (as opposed to non-tapered, or square, or fluted.) 

After a lengthy search I found a company that produces the exact column we want, in fiberglass, at a price that suggests it won't be subject to the same negative feedback I saw about some other versions.  And then I noticed the same company sells high-density polyurethane railings.  Which are paintable.

That's pretty intriguing because...

UGH, can you see the mess on the railings at the top of this very stripey sock?  So much rot!  That's where our real problem was - the railing structure.  If we could replace all that with something that didn't suffer every time it was exposed to rain and snow, even if we had to go on repainting every few years, I would be a happy girl.  But it would have to look like the old porch.  So while I wait to get out to the showroom with Pete to make sure this can work for us...

... I've been hunting up old pictures of the porch, like this one, to remind me exactly how the original railings were set up. 

Seeing them all makes me pine for our little outdoor haven all the more!  The way the sun patches fell between the shadows from the railings... the way the planks made a perfect frame for a ball of freshly-plied handspun...

The way the paint peeled off the floor no matter how many times I repainted...  Well okay, I don't miss that.  And we have to have a wood floor again, because that's one area you can't completely replicate with plastics (yet).  I mean I'd go for cement in a heartbeat if it didn't mean the house wouldn't look like itself.  BUT this time, we are using opaque stain on the wood instead of paint, so hopefully it will just sink in and not peel any more!

Bye-bye huge exposed areas of old wood, no matter how beautifully they showcase handspun yarn:

I will try to get along without them, perhaps by making good use of the flagstone out front, or the new deck we'll eventually get out in back.

The main thing is to get back to the welcoming photography background that is this!

I kind of can't wait, can you?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Inching back home

The house is officially 95% done, so I thought I'd show you a few tiny glimpses of the pretty, today.

This view has been the same since we added the second floor and framed in the window, but it feels different when you are looking out at it from a painted room with beautiful trimwork.  Our neighbourhood is very picturesque and leafy but looking out at it from up here on a sunny afternoon, it feels downright bucolic.  I am really, really looking forward to seeing this view every day... sunny, cloudy, ice-stormy, moonlit-nighty - I'll gladly accept it all.

My evil plan to create box shadows in the front hall has paid off, thankfully.

I wanted to create a space where I could photograph knitting in natural light on the floor even if it's WAY too cold to go outside. I think this will do nicely don't you?

Speaking of the front hall, I am delighted with the lighting in there.  Did I bore you with this already?  Because it is really boring, trying to find a matching ceiling fixture/wall sconce in black with bulbs that can be easily accessed for replacement, and which isn't going to cost about $1500 for the pair.  Eventually it occurred to me: LOOK AT OUTSIDE LIGHTS.  Instant love with practically the first exterior light I saw.

And, for almost the only time on the whole project, my first choice was the cheapest.  Like, $35 each or something.  Only the sconces in our bedroom ($17 each) were a better deal.

There is so much lighting in the house now.  Total overkill lighting and I am so excited because it used to be so dark in there.  And we have tiles in the kitchen!

Ray did a cool effect where the subway tile is perfectly lined up vertically and horizontally but not in terms of depth, so there is just a little texture, as well as a sense of the house being as old as it ever was, which has been our goal the whole time.  This little stretch of counter is where I will corral and process all the mail that comes in - far from where I will prep food, and out of my sightline while I'm prepping food too, on the off chance I have to leave anything out instead of slipping it into the drawers below.  Excess paper drift has been a big problem for us for years and years and I can't wait to have it under control at last.

And here we have a bookshelf.  We had it run straight to the ceiling with crown molding painted to match the cabinetry, and to me, this feels very grown up! 

But it turns out it's also very tall, like the ceilings are now.  I am going to have to keep a sturdy two-step stool on hand to be able to reach the top shelves.

I am not tired of looking at these lights yet, which is lucky because there are four of them in the house.

We put LED bulbs inside so hopefully it will be many years before I have to open them up to replace one! But the other bonus is that they are white glass, in a hall with a white ceiling and off-white crown molding and door trim.  Sorting out whites in an entirely new house is a challenge because stark white really isn't fabulous with off white... but the wall paints I wanted look better with off white, and we really wanted white appliances because Tradition.  Thankfully, if you repeat a colour enough, it looks good - so our white light fixtures help make our white appliances look less sore-thumby on a long bank of off-white cabinets.  And my white vintage milk glass stuff and white stand mixer should help too, when I have that all out on display.

Also not tired of the black tile we used for the halls and fireplace fronts.

It was a bit of a gamble choosing a lighter grout for these things but I am really pleased with the neatness of the result.  And it's just big enough to set out small knitted things when I need a colour contrast, too!

I think we should end today's tour where we began, looking out an upstairs window, albeit a different one:

This is a bathroom.  I was careful to choose the MOST neutral finishes - paint, tile, counters - so they would never date, but of course, now it just looks Blah in here.  I am going to get around that by hanging a huge piece of reproduction art on the left side wall and sewing a cafe curtain out of some soft pale fabric that lets the tree appear over top.  And I will probably pick a fun colour for the towels, too.

I think we are just a few weeks away now from moving back.  There are a few small messy things left to be done - the fireplace surrounds built, a wall mounted light fixture moved over, the stairs sanded and stained (which reminds me, you will love what we're doing with the underside of the stairs).  And then of course CURTAINS.  I am mostly having those made by somebody else, so as to avoid needing to sew everything in the first week, but I will do some small easy ones myself and I guess I'd better figure out my sewing desk soon so that I have a place to do that job. 

For now though, I am just going enjoy the house being 95% done.  And also, obsessing about buying a stuffed animal version of an ice cream sandwich.

That's it, second shelf from the bottom, between the watermelon slice and the bacon. The ruffled edges of its cookie cover are sewn with velvety fabric and its ice cream inside is Neapolitan - strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate.  I mean HONESTLY. Like I can resist something that adorable.

(I can, really, because we still have so much to buy for the house... but it's so, so hard!!)

Monday, June 5, 2017

My local cathedral seems so small now

Earlier today I was reading a profile of a German-born writer and it mentioned his birthplace... in a small town in the Alps near Austria, not too far from Munich.  Immediately I thought - I've just been in that area and I know exactly what that place would be like.  And that, my friends, is why one should travel.  Well - that, and to make the big churches in your town feel like cottage-country chapels.

Okay it's not fair to compare anything to the cathedral in Cologne, because it's massive by any standard.  Even the big churches in Italy seemed less huge to me than this, except of course St. Paul's in the Vatican.

Can you make out the bird I caught flying near the top of the frame, when I snapped this picture?

What I noticed most about Cologne's cathedral was the tile work.  I liked this fountain-y spiral thing outside:

It's wet because it was raining for the first five or so days of this trip.  I'm guessing about the fountain function. 

Inside, I was smitten by this pattern,

and this one:

Tiny tiny mosaic tiles... what a meticulous job that would be to lay all that out, and oh how I would love to be assigned such a task. 

That of course is what you get when you look down.  If you look up, there's quite a different view:

I love how the ceiling is just white.  It's so clean and airy.

Plus: acoustics galore.  For contrast, let's look at the very ornate dome of the much smaller cathedral in Aachen, the building of which was begun by Charlemagne.  Not literally, of course, even though most of the decor was 'sourced' by him in his 'travels'. 

So. much. Italian. marble.  I felt I was actually eating this place up with my eyes, it was so beautiful.  Stone as far as the eye could see.  And gold, and stunning metalwork.

A friend standing next to me joked that I should get a chandelier like this for my house.  Ha, ha.  (this chandelier is about the size of the house.)

The acoustics in Aachen were also amazing.  All the concerts we traveled to hear were fantastic.  You know, I've never been able to sing properly - I can carry a tune and my voice is good enough, but I can only get through one song before my throat gets sore - so I've never sung in a choir.  But the older I get the more I appreciate the haunting resonance of the human voice, especially when unaccompanied by anything more than other voices.  I know they're churches and built to worship inside, but sometimes I think the real purpose of these achingly tall buildings was always just to amplify this particular sound... though of course, from the outside, in addition to being a point of pride and geographic focus, they tell stories through their complex masonry.  And I love that aspect of them, too.

Anyway, the cathedral here in Toronto (now a Cathedral Basilica owing to its recent renovation) feels like an intimate parish church to me now.  And a toasty warm one, at that. 

I have been taking so many pictures the last week or two for writing lots of blog stories, but I've had zero time to write them up.  Let's hope this is just the first of many posts I manage this week, because I've missed you guys!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The ridealong sock

I can't believe I ever took a trip without throwing some knitting in my suitcase, and I am never taking a trip without some again.  Not only did the sock yarn and needles I brought to Germany help me feel productive while stuck sitting on a bus, I got a pair of socks for a souvenir.  Yay!

Here is the sock partway through the first week we were away, as we drove to Bonn from Cologne for a tour of the house Beethoven was born in.  I like Beethoven's music and the brief tour we had of his home was interesting of course, but I am what I am and my takeaways were really only two.

1/ further confirmation of the shorter height of average person back then and

2/ new realization that I would not like to live in a house that old unless it was made of stone, because I would develop a bizarre creeping tic after a day or so of gingerly stepping across such fragile-sounding floors and stairs.

Okay I'm going to be honest here: Bonn was my second-least favourite city on the tour, after Munich, which I did not enjoy (apart from an hour or so in a park area) even though I learned the most there.  I mean no disrespect to Bonn - I mean, I was just passing through and can't judge.  It was rainy, we weren't there long enough to relax and explore, I am not a big gummi or licorice consumer (Haribo candies originated in Bonn and there is a flagship store there which might otherwise have redeemed the day) and my toe hurt a lot.

BUT there was one thing that makes Bonn stand out in my memory, which is that is is where I almost bought something I really wanted.

Here is the long long story, complete with pictures.

I have a cousin who lived in Berlin for two years, so when I had a chance that day, I e-mailed her to ask where I could get aid for my bad toe.  She lives in England now so the time difference was negligible.  Her advice was to look for a Rossmann store, as they have everything.  Thanks to the beauty of the map function on my phone, we discovered we were three minutes away from one.

Yes, I know, I am lame - I took this pic to wordlessly e-mail her in response.

And yes, they had good stuff for my toe, which we purchased very affordably.  But it is such a cool store we explored the whole thing and in the basement, we found some very cool stationery items, and a nice pair of scissors which I bought because I had forgotten to pack any.

Yeah, Bonn is also where I found a knitting store that sold unspun wool for stuffing into shoes to prevent blisters (not pictured), and a block away, a sewing store where I treated myself to some new darning needles and a sewing kit.  I think I took this picture to illustrate a possible post on Souvenirs Knitters Buy.

BUT as we were leaving the basement of Rossmann, I found an entire bin of half price Things I Wanted.  Here is a pic I took the day I first became aware of the Things, a couple of summers ago here in Toronto while browsing through a gift shop in the Distillery District:

These plush toys are called 'Worry Eaters'.  The idea is that a nervous child with some sort of crippling fear or worry can write it down, unzip the Thing's mouth, stuff it in, and sleep peacefully knowing the Worry Eater is taking it away.  Ooookay then.

Let's look at the Thing another way, shall we?

For a start, they are made with THE SOFTEST FABRIC EVER. Completely touchable velvet.  Plus, stripes!!!!  Straightaway, I was sold.  But also, you can open up the pocket on the front and keep stuff in there like the ring you don't want knocking around, or a candy bar for later, or a tiny stuffed mouse that would look funny hanging halfway out and placed cleverly in a chair so you have something to giggle over when you come into the room. Maybe that idea leaves you as unmoved as the worry note idea leaves me, but in my opinion the entertainment value alone is huge.  Sadly, so is the price tag, so I never did buy one here at home.

However, the moment I saw the bin of sale priced Worry Eaters I realized two things.

Not only could I finally afford one, but the supersoft fabric would be an excellent Flying Home In A Plane aid, because the trip over was a bit dicey and I knew I needed more support for the one back.

Not to mention that I could keep my takeoff and landing gum in the zip pocket, thereby keeping it close in case of extended turbulence.

So I was especially excited to pick up one with long bunny ears - I love rabbits for some reason - and saw that its tag said MARY.

I am serious.  Half price.  Favourite animal.  My own name.

And I did not buy it, because Pete went, Meh, do you really need that?

aieeeeee why do I listen??? I couldn't be sure of my answer until the next day, when it was Yes, yes I really need that.  So for the rest of the trip, as we moved from city to city, we went into every Rossmann within walking distance, which I deemed to be one hour or less.  Pete generously went along with the plan but I did not find a single other bin of Worry Eaters in any of them.  Eventually in Munich we found displays of full-price Marys but I couldn't justify that, so I came home with no stuffed friends. SIGH.

Okay, back to the real topic of this post, which is Sock.

I was careful to pack the two sock bags one inside the other and then sort of wedged at the top of my suitcase so that once I was through security in Frankfurt I could unzip enough of my checked luggage to reach in and grab a sock bag to transfer to my purse, and then knit on the bus to Cologne.  This strategy worked out very well, as demonstrated by the stripes on that first sock picture.  By the time we headed out for Bonn, I'd made use of around three hours of unproductive time.

This is the sock after we drove back from Bonn, in the evening when I was trying to keep my hands warm during a concert in Cologne Cathedral. 

The Cathedral, and the concerts generally, are going to get their own post, because Wow.

The next morning we left Cologne to go stay in Regensburg for a few days, and that day was more or less All Bus All The Time. 

We took a brief break to spend about 45 minutes in medieval Nuremberg (you need more than 45 minutes, it's gorgeous there) and a bit longer in the museum of the Nazi Parade Grounds (not being able to figure out the audio guides made it easier to limit the emotionally difficult content to exactly what you could take... we ended up focusing on personal accounts of the rallies by elderly people who had been children at the time, neatly co-opted by the propaganda and sense of inclusion.)  Then we had supper at a beergarden which was very pretty and garden-idyllic, just across the lake from the oh so disturbing museum.

Still, it was an excellent day for knitting, even though I did get a bit antsy after so much time on the bus, and had to stop a few times to play with the sock.

Chompy sock!!

Baby chicken sock!

We got to spend the weekend in Regensburg, and Pete and I really enjoyed our time there.  Everything we wanted or had to do was walkable from our hotel, it's an incredibly beautiful and intact medieval town, and the rain we'd had since we arrived - stopped. I think that was where I figured out that I could keep my knitting in the giant pocket of the smock I'd brought, allowing me to take out my knitting whenever I wanted, even while strolling over cobbles.  So even though I was not on a bus a lot, I still made progress.

Didn't graft the toe though, even though I'd bought darning needles; I just got going on sock number two:

The wooden square needles I bought to take on the trip worked out just fine, but I still prefer metal; I notice the difference in the tips, which feel more accurate that way.  But I would take wooden ones for traveling again, as they seem less threatening, security-wise, and do a good enough job for this girl.

And there you have the story of my trip knitting.  Yay!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Knitting day to day

Let's start with the UGH of routine knitting, and then we'll get to the fun stuff. 

Don't you hate when you somehow manage to pick up a lower strand of yarn to knit into a stitch, then figure out a way to pull down an upper strand on the next round?  And then have to rip two stitches back about twelve rounds to fix the lump all that that makes, only to realize you don't know where your crochet hook went?

Also, I realized right after I set up this correction that I am missing a needle.  You know, from the old set I love that they don't make any more.  Hopefully I lost it in the condo and not in the Knitter's Guild meeting where I was knitting with Trish the other night.

I keep meaning to go to these meetings on a regular basis.  I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a huge group of knitters that puts on interesting events and brings in speakers - why not participate every month?? Because it's hard for me to get away on a Wednesday night, apparently.  This meeting was different though because Emily was the guest.  You know, the incredibly talented artist behind Viola yarns.  I wasn't going to miss that because I think Emily is wonderful and also, she was going to be selling stuff.

I was feeling the shortage of sock yarn now that I've knit Viola socks for Wayson and he loves them and wants more. 

The talk was fascinating.  Emily showed slides of photographs that demonstrate how she comes up with her amazing colours, but the takeaway for me is that she fully accepts a creative process that is not even remotely linear.  At one point she showed a picture of a tree beside a building whose siding was reflecting the sun, and out of all the amazing aspects of that image - her colour inspiration was the negative space between them all.  Since my creative process is turning out to be a lot less structured than I have tried to make it all these years, I was pretty impressed by the way she's learned to go with it rather than fight it.  I've been trying to do the same thing the last few months, and it's been working out for me really well, but I'm not yet at the stage of 'unconscious competence'.

Trish was the one who tipped me off about this meeting while I was still in Germany, and thankfully, on the day we were both able to get away.  On the way back through the University of Toronto campus we walked down this space between buildings that's been beautifully planted with trees and light posts.

Kind of reminded me of the lovely paths in the old towns we visited in Germany.  While I was there I kept thinking, why don't we have more of this or more of that?  So it was nice to stroll down such a beautiful path here at home.  Definitely nicer than remembering, after seeing so many big elaborate fountains in the middle of squares, that there IS a big elaborate fountain in a parkette right near our condo - topped by a dog bone and graced with alternating dog and cat statues.  I mean it's not exactly the same feeling as a classic centuries-old fountain, you know?

Yesterday I met my friend and writing mentor Wayson for brunch which felt VERY luxurious.  He has a favourite cafe and that's where we meet, for coffee and, usually, something with eggs.  This time I tried a breakfast sandwich that was boiled eggs, bacon, and tomato with a little mayo between two slices of multigrain bread - grilled.  Heaven.  Also I had a latte and for the first time ever, I actually ate the foam on top with a spoon separately from the rest.  Wow.  How did I manage to miss the amazingness of that all these years??

And we had such a good visit, too...he is so positive and supportive and interesting, and also very engaged in life.  I feel so fortunate to have a friend like him.  Afterward I felt very creative and inspired and did some good work on my current writing project, and made some more sock progress (until I realized I had messed up those stitches so many rounds back) with his next pair of socks in mind.  I am thinking I will knit them in Sea Storm, the colourway I didn't want to take with me to Germany since we were, after all, flying a really, really long time over the ocean.

I think I forgot to mention about the turbulence during the flights there and back.  The good news is, it was not bad at all.  The bad moment was during takeoff from Germany - it was getting to be a rainy afternoon and I guess we hit some air because there was a big drop as we were first ascending, and then another, and for the rest of the flight I was keenly aware of how high we were and how long from being on firm ground again.  At one point, I got undeniably alarmed about how loud the engines were getting from time to time - alarmed enough to ask the flight-savvy person next to me what all that was about.  He told me it was because the plane was speeding up to compensate for the air pockets we were going through, as this can smooth out turbulence and produce a more comfortable flight.  WHAT a relief.  And also, next time I am totally springing for noise canceling earphones because planes are not getting any less noisy. 

The socks I knit in Germany were very bright, and I was surprised by how soothing I found these socks to be when I grabbed one to take to the Guild meeting.  Greens and pale purples... they're just a great combination for calm, don't you think?

It's getting easier to knit, now.  My fingers still get a bit pins and needle-y, but I can go longer before they feel stiff, and I'm very grateful because I've missed it.  It's like having a tiny loom in your hands, knitting - don't you find?  You sit quietly or while chatting and move your hands in these repetitive motions and then you look down and you have cloth.  Amazing, and at the same time, an everyday sort of thing.  
Isn't that the best part about knitting?  Everyday magic?  Aw, who am I kidding - the best part is wearing when you've made. Ha!