Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fun with pruners

Today we'll be reporting on the newest crafty venue here at Hugs: the back yard deck!

This is the classic North American house thing, isn't it?  A private open-air space elevated, if only by a step, from the rest of the back yard.  It used to be that houses were built with front porches big enough to let you sit and enjoy a cool drink in the shade and chat with your neighbours as they passed (which is why we put a front porch on the house almost as soon as we got it, because we like old style stuff.)  Decks on the other hand are better suited to tranquil communing with nature and a book, or cooking on a barbecue, or drinking beer on a hot summer night with friends.  And, since the slats of a deck tend to have gaps between them, for losing your knitting needles down into the abyss below.

(it is for this reason that I especially love a porch, and also, why I am probably buying some sort of outdoor carpet for the deck.)

Now that we have a deck, even though it's not actually finished, we can finally reach with ease the canopy of this odd shrubby tree that was old when we bought the house more than 20 years ago and is still limping along the same as ever.

This thing produces a ton of new shoots and foliage every spring, and then the most gorgeous blossoms, and then without warning a huge chunk of branches just wither and the whole thing looks terrible till early fall when it pulls itself together for one last burst of energy and presents us with unattractive, squishy orange berries.

However, much as I harbor resentment for these longstanding disappointments, I do appreciate the tree for

a/staying alive in spite of age plus endless onslaughts by raccoons and squirrels, and

b/providing much-needed privacy screening.

If only it didn't have so very many dead bits.

I mentioned, I think, the fact that raccoons moved into our garage and made it their personal toilet, but perhaps not that Pete was able to rescue from it the really good pruners I bought him a few years back.   I am SO glad he did that and also, that he told me where he put them afterward, because I love pruning off the dead stuff from a tree, or the stickie-outie bits that always catch you in the eye as you pass.  Pete also loves pruning and we actually tussled over who got to use them the other day, so probably we need two.  But!  how thrilling, even when thwarted by a competitive spouse, to be able to prune 20 years of dry crusty branchlets off our ugly tree!

It's probably worth mentioning that Ray and I designed the deck around our original lilac tree, which I might regret at some point in the future, or just next week.

Already, birds sitting in the lilac's branches have made the new decking their toilet, and as soon as the flowers bloom we'll have bees visiting as well, none of which you want happening directly over and around your head as you recline with a book and a cup of tea.  But if you regard this particular deck as a clean space to step out onto for lighting a barbecue and snipping off some herbs, then having the lilac tree scenting it is exactly what you want.

In other garden news:  yesterday, after a heavy rain, I noticed that the interesting droopy evergreen tree in our front yard had orange gunk all over it:

Close up, this stuff is uglier:

I may never eat dried apricots again.

It seems this is 'cedar apple rust', a two-stage disease that produces spores from these big orange casings on infected cedars after a heavy rain, then sends them on the wind to infect nearby apple trees.  Or to mountain ash trees, of which we have a rather large specimen looming over the back of the house and roof.  (in fact, though it is a messy tree with more squishy orange berries that get all over the back yard, that particular tree is the primary view from my office, so I don't want anything to happen to it.)

I don't know whether this was the right thing to do, but I used the pruners to snip off every affected branch above the fungus zone right over an open bag so the spores would have no chance to catch the wind, and then I tied the bag tight and binned it.  Next up, I think we are supposed to spray our tree with copper to try to control the problem and prevent further spore events.

Yuck, huh?

Back to the deck: as I type, Al is sanding cedar strips that he and Ray will use to custom build trellis inserts wherever we don't have pressure-treated planks mostly butted together, apart from slim air vents in between.

The use of cedar for the trellis - he deemed other woods too flimsy for the amount of ripping required for the design we came up with, and/or too short-lived for railing use - is causing Ray physical pain because we are going to use a solid stain on the deck.

It's one thing to solid stain pressure treated wood, but you just don't do that to cedar! If anything, you use a clear stain, but normally, around here at least, you just let it weather to a silvery grey and then let moss grow on it and when it falls down after 25 years you replace it with new cedar if you can afford it. And you might not be able to, because cedar is the most expensive wood you can use for outdoor projects.

It really is gorgeous, isn't it?

And Al is sanding every piece so it's smooth on the sides with slightly broken edge.

Pretty much every day Ray asks me if we really, REALLY want a white trellis and I say Yep, and I know he's chalking up another church visit to pray for forgiveness for putting solid stain on cedar.  I should probably be praying for forgiveness too but I am pushing forward with solid stain because I want a more formal garden there and after 20 years in this house I think I've earned the back yard of my dreams.

He had to use cedar on the front porch railings too, and tried hard to persuade me to at least consider a black stain that lets the grain show through, to the point of bringing me a sample of cedar with a black stain that lets the grain show through.  Suffice it to say that when it comes to staying true to the house's 1940s urban architecture I have no heart, and still said Nope.

(actually, I laughed and said nope.  I did say I have no heart!)

And that's me summed up for the recent past and the forseeable future: all deck all the time with a bit of springtime gardening around the edges.

desperately want to reach that dead branch at the top!!

How have you been enjoying the change in seasons?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Scrambled eggs

Lately I've been craving (and then making) scrambled eggs, because I watched Doris Day's character order them in My Dream Is Yours while she sat in a nightclubby booth with Jack Carson.  "Just something light," she said, and he asked, "Scrambled eggs?" And that's what they had.   In a nightclub!  Or maybe an after hours club?  It was a pretty fancy place, anyway, to have eggs on the menu.  Ah, it was a different time.

This is something you read about in 1920s English crime novels too, characters coming back to somebody's flat after a long night of crime solving to eat a couple of eggs quickly fried or scrambled or omeleted in a pan on a tiny hob.  Eggs are so simple and tiny and fast to eat, though of course, the cleanup is not always the funnest.

I don't order them in a restaurant (they'd be stiff and cold by the time they hit the table in the places I frequent) and can't imagine them appearing late at night in a really fancy place today, but I love the cosy familiarity of a plate of freshly cooked eggs, don't you?  On toast, preferably, made from really amazing bakery bread.  I could eat that every day for the rest of my life and when it comes the dueling studies about whether or not they raise cholesterol, I always side with the Nope, they don't argument, out of love for them.

More cosy familiar things that I've been up to since the last time we visited:

Socks, of course.  I have three pairs on the go.  They're cast on in pairs, and divided into six little knitting bags, and each one is at some wildly different stage than the other because I find I am clunking down into my chair to watch a bit of something, grab a bag and pull out its contents, and if I'm feeling benevolent toward that yarn/colour/sock stage then I work on it.  And if not, I reach for a different bag.

TV watching.  I caught the British costume drama Tutankhamun recently, which I enjoyed enormously having been of an age to have the whole King Tut thing become wildly important while still in elementary school because the artifacts were touring to the Royal Ontario Museum.  My school, an hour away, bused us all in to see it.  Pete's school, just barely outside the city limits, did not.  Weird, huh?  I don't remember feeling anything about what I doubtless saw.  But I do remember eating the chocolate from a King Tut sarcophagus tin afterward. It was delicious and seemed very golden-shiny.

Also: watching Monty Don's 'Big Dreams Small Spaces' gardening program on Netflix.  Ray is back at our house, finishing off the front porch (and feeling distressed about the fact that we are putting solid stain on CEDAR.  I agree.  It is terrible... but it's the only wood that will stand up to the elements and comes in proper handrails and isn't full of knotholes, and our house style isn't really wood grain friendly.)  When the porch is done he will begin to transform our back yard with a deck and a long narrow pergola, which will give us hard landscaping to work from.  Pete and I are considering various decorative, functional bin sheds for garbage, recycling, and bike storage.  When all that's done: PLANTS! None of which we've chosen yet.  Monty is so knowledgeable, encouraging, and enthusiastic, and our need is great, so I feel sure the sitting time is justified.

Also: reading about how bad sitting is for you - brain function, circulatory system, mood, and so on.

Reminding myself to knit standing up while watching TV.

Standing up at regular intervals between wonderful sitting sessions.

Honestly, I love sitting.  It's what I aspire to whenever I'm doing anything exhausting which is most of the time I spend not sitting or lying down.  I mean, I love walking too, but there is something so wonderful about curling up in a comfy chair!  And you can't eat eggs standing up really.  Not without dropping bits on the floor.

I should wrap this up now but can we just take a moment to think how wonderful Jack Carson was?  He died so young - just 52 - and he was so talented and sweet on screen, I still feel it like a personal loss though we weren't even alive at the same time.  I would definitely order restaurant eggs if I could listen to Jack Carson be charming while I ate them.

Take care and I'll see you again soon!  Might even have a finished pair of chair socks by then.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Socks

Though I'd take a break from cake consumption (I am testing out vanilla versions, with white icing) to show you my new Easter Socks!

Okay, clearly they aren't done yet.  But I did get to spend Easter Weekend knitting away on them and getting purple alpaca fluff on my shirt whenever TCM was running something arresting enough to lure me away from the oven to my beloved armchair.

I can't remember now, even though I just finished them a couple of weeks ago, which socks I was knitting before these - I think they might have been a sort of dusty rose wool/mohair blend striped with another wool/mohair blend to eke them out to a generous length?  but I was SO annoyed with myself for choosing that sock set to knit instead of this one.  I had really wanted to be feeling alpaca in my hands.  I was well onto this second sock (disclaimer: the first one is only just at the heel also - I try to get all the stripey leg bits out of the way so I can enjoy the sprint to the end with the single yarn I use for the rest of the foot) before I realized:


So, really it's good that I saved these ones to knit later, even if Easter has passed and I am still working on them.

I can tell looking outside now, and walking around outside too even if I am still wearing my big parka, that it is well and truly spring.  Clues:

there is some sun most days
there is no snow on the grass
the grass still looks dead and flat, unlike in fall when it is green and shivery
there are tiny buds on some trees
birds are going crazypants with the singing

Actually here is an odd bird thing.  Mostly what we hear at the house is barking, so I was surprised the other day to take the garbage out from the non-dog side and hear a cheery spring birdsong.  I was like, WOW!  I forgot that sound even exists!  At the condo it's mostly birds and churchbells but six months of bark bark bark can override a lot of your memory.

Renovation tip: when your heating and ventilation installers ask where you'd like the ugly air vents on the outside of your house, and reinforce the fact that they are ugly and should probably pop out of your house somewhere that nobody will be looking at them because MAN are they ugly, think past aesthetics all the way down the list to function.  At the condo, birds wake us at 6am and at the house, it's barks, because the sound-magnifying air vents scattered all through the inside of our house lead to one spot on the outside where nobody will be looking at them except some hugely excitable and chatty dogs. 

Anyhoo, that's how I found out spring was here - by taking out the garbage. 

Of course in spring you are not thinking about wearing alpaca socks unless there is yet another freak snowstorm where you live.  And if you are me you are thinking Uh Oh, even at the thought of that snow melting away because hello view of the back yard:

Especially if your contractor is coming back as soon as the weather is warm and dry enough to run a chop saw effectively, the better to build your deck and other back yard landscaping bits.  And hopefully remove the raccoon gate from the broken garage door and fix same and find a home for a stack of old bricks too.

Yep: I am running out of time to figure out how to resolve the mess that is our back yard and add in some good screening structures to block out the less fortunate aspects of our view.  Thank goodness
this week is looking too chilly still for that job to start, so I can sit down with Denial and some more sock!

You know what, and I'm not just saying this because of purple alpaca - I think the answer is lavender plants.  Loads and loads of lavender planted in elevated boxes along the back of a pergola, blocking both the view above the fence line, and also, the mosquitoes. 

What do you think?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Adjusting the recipe

This morning I read an oatmeal tip: add unsweetened cocoa.

Just a little shift in colour and/or texture has a lot of impact,
even on a fingerless mitt

I made a paste with some cocoa and boiling water in the bowl, then added a little honey and stirred it all up before I added the instant oatmeal and more water.  It was okay, but to really shine it would have needed more honey and since I'm trying to cut back on sugar, it's back to plain old oatmeal for this girl.

Eh, I tried.  Sometimes just trying something new is the important thing.

After breakfast I put out a stick of butter to warm to room temperature because lately, instead of writing Hugs, I've been trying to work out the perfect recipe for chocolate cake.

And then it hit me - I'm adjusting the recipe for EVERYthing right now.

Even my endlessly beloved socks are getting a few extra rounds at the toe because you know what?  It turns out I like the wiggle room, even if it's more than is strictly necessary.

My friend Wrona has been nudging me toward more writing, and at the moment we are revising short stories together.  It's been so long since I had a writing buddy, though I was always lucky to partner with very strong writers whose insights were hugely helpful.  Now, with Wrona, it's different.  She can read the same piece endlessly and still have a fresh enough eye to pick out the subtle changes to determine whether they help or hinder the overall story.  And I can look at her feedback and register it not only as a suggestion for change, but as a red flag that says This Part Doesn't Flow.  It's a small difference in perspective, but a critical one, and I find my writing is improving enormously just by acknowledging it.

When I walk anywhere these days I am constantly taking pictures of bare branches against the sky.  I always admired the contrast as I strolled along but now I have no concerns stopping to get the perfect framing; I want the images in my phone to look at when I'm stressed, or thinking about watercolour painting.

I've been reassessing my wardrobe and paring it down too.  Our closet is small and honestly, though I am always swayed toward a sense of public pressure to wear something different every day, the truth is I'm a uniform fan.  Lately I decided to accept that and now my half of our very small closet is centred on simple black T shirts and things sewn from linen.  I love linen so much... you can wear it in every season and it breathes so effortlessly!  And you can just wash it in the machine and hang it to dry.  I don't worry about ironing it, because it reacts to your shape and movement as you wear it anyway.  You can dress it up or dress it down, it lasts for years, and it's compact to boot.  What's not to love?

And time - how I use my time is getting a big overhaul right now.  I had WAY too much on my plate, working and health-caring and managing the house renovation and condo rental.  It bothered me so much that I wasn't writing a Hug every weekday because I did it for - what, five years? - before the reno started and I had to scale back.

Now that I am getting some breathing room, I find I don't want to sit and knit for every break from work.  I'm more comfortable allowing myself to write fiction before a Hug, and accepting that there might not be any Hug time left afterward.  There is a jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table and I put a few pieces in place as I pass it.  I am learning to play with crosswords now that I have access to the New York Times puzzles on my screen (I know, more screen time, but still).

I like that onscreen crossword puzzling is so tidy, with no paper strewn over the table... living in a condo/storage locker for over two years seems to have taught me to hate mindless clutter.  Go figure!  Now, I find I want everything I have - apart from a random jigsaw puzzle - to be necessary, effective, compact, and multi-purpose, so our living space can be as barren as possible while still being homey.

You know what is a good cleaning cloth?  Linen. With water and a linen teacloth or napkin you can clean mirrors, shine chrome, and get rid of water spots.  After you've gotten the gunk off a glass-topped stove, a linen cloth takes away all the streaks.  And nothing dries glassware and plates better either.  I have a tidy little stack of them now, vintage from eBay and not expensive, scattered into the bathrooms and the kitchen drawer.  They get washed together and they don't bleed colour onto each other either. My beloved cotton teatowel collection, many years in the making, is headed for a new career in cushion-covering.  My bulky polyester dust grabber cloths are getting donated.

And cooking!  There was a time when I wanted to try cooking everything and I had particular pots for different jobs.  Now, there is one square drawer to the left of our oven that contains:
a pasta pot with strainer and lid
a big pot with steamer and lid
a covered casserole stovetop pot
and three saucepans, which I could pare down to two or even one.

Those things, plus some frying pans in another drawer and a cluster of cookie sheets, are all I use for cooking meals now.  If you can't make it in one of those things, I am having it in a restaurant.

A different look to replace our formerly casual porch seating
(temporary safety rails just out of the picture):
Emphasis on the seat rather than the frame, so include more people in the space

For desserts, I am making good use of the cookie sheets (cookies), a square cake pan (brownies) and two round 9" pans (CAKE.) And now that I've said that magical word, it's time to talk cake I think, don't you?

I make a fabulous vanilla icing (okay, it's the recipe on the back of the bag of Redpath Icing Sugar - 4 cups of sugar, 1 cup of butter, 2 tbsp of milk, 2 tsp vanilla - or is it 1?). 

It's kinda embarrassing to spoon butter and sugar out of a bowl for dessert, so I have been wanting to make a cake that lives up to it.

Everybody seems to have that same goal.  You can look online and find a zillion chocolate cake recipes with an intro that says "I have spent years looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe and this is it."  Then when I make one of them I'm kinda Meh.

But now I think I too have the perfect chocolate cake recipe, and here is why:

If you are using cocoa in a cake, you will get a richer flavour from pouring boiling water over it to let the it bloom before you add it to the batter. 

If the recipe calls for white sugar only, you can sneak in brown sugar to take some of the white sugar's place.  You can even reduce (slightly) the overall sugar count if you do this because brown sugar is heavier and has a deeper flavour.

You can get an airier cake if you add an extra egg yolk (assuming the recipe writer didn't already think of that.)  It'll help the rise without adding any more baking-soda flavour.

DON'T OVERBAKE THE CAKE.  Yeesh.  How many dry cakes did I complain over before I realized it was the oven time, not the recipe?

And finally: fold in the dry ingredients rather than beat them to death, because you don't want a lot of gluten in a cake.

And with that, I must leave you.  There is a laundry room I must overhaul and some boxes I'm hoping to shed things from.  Have a wonderful day and I'll see you again soon!

ps: I am writing and publishing this post on a Saturday!  I almost never do that.  Might try it more often, while I'm making adjustments.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Beating your smartphone addiction with socks

A shocking thing happened here recently, and it wasn't the fact that I finally finished the socks I was knitting myself for Christmas:

Nope.  Here's what is stranger than that: I was reading a magazine article and, glancing at an accompanying photograph that was a bit too small to make out properly, I reached out with my thumb and forefinger and attempted to enlarge it.  ON PAPER.

All joking aside, that scares me, and in spite of trying to be mindful of the format I am using when reading, it's happened twice more.  I can't pretend now that my brain hasn't been rewired to think that I can alter print reality with a touch.  Because it has.

Digression for boring science stuff:

The scary things you read about smartphones are much more scary than that, but they come down to the same thing - our brains are being rewired by the screens we use.  Teenagers whose brains are still developing, and who use social media, are getting a rush from Likes, and it's affecting their moods and the choices they make about what to post online.  Well, I can relate to that, because even at Ravelry or on my humble blog here, a friendly comment or a heart gives you a nice feeling, not unlike getting a piece of physical mail from an actual person in the mailbox attached to your street address.  It's not compelling enough to make me push myself beyond my abilities to post constantly (obviously!  I am so dropping the ball on my plan to post every weekday again.)  But I can absolutely attest to the power of it.

Becoming hooked on the rush you get from likes, and dreading the negative feelings you get from the reverse, means you are staring at a screen for a long time every day, and apart from anything else, that can't be good for a person's eyes.  It's also different from the neurological benefits of human touch and face to face socializing.

And obviously: if you're reading this, you already know all that because you're crafty!  Even if you use Facebook and Instagram, you probably knit in a group once in a while, and you're touching fiber and fabrics.  Like me you probably feel pretty safe from the changes smartphones are creating in our fellow humans, assuming you have a smartphone (and I have lots of friends who don't, so I make no assumptions here.)

But think about it.  I swore off Facebook years ago and never got around to making an Instagram account, and can't even be bothered with Twitter because what do I have to say that's so interesting, and also brief? and yet: I am still trying to make a photograph bigger while reading print media.

And now, back to the practical:

Pete gave me a Smartphone just before we started our home renovation project, and I learned to use it constantly because there was so much happening that needed to be dealt with immediately.  It was such a help to be able to search online, take photographs, send photographs, text, and whip off an email.

Then I discovered the fun things:

Reading books on a Kindle, even on my tiny phone, meant I could knit at the same time!

Subscriptions to the digital editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times mean I get to read well-written nonfiction all day long.  And access fabulous recipes too (thank you New York Times, especially for the lemon linguine.)

On the subway, I get to choose between knitting, reading on my Kindle app, or playing spider solitaire.

I can effortlessly check the weather forecast for outside my door, at my cottage, and where all my far-flung friends live.

I can play music and audiobooks, saving shelf space for our stereo system which we haven't even unpacked yet.  In fact I think it might still be in storage and will probably stay there, at this rate.

Watching a movie, I can look up online the name of the actor who I totally recognize but can't quite place.

Now that I can store my patterns as .pdfs on it, I don't need to print or carry paper.

When traveling, I don't need to pack a map.  Or a guidebook.

and so on.  It all adds up, and so does my pile of New Yorkers, which I used to devour along with every meal at my table.  (we are probably the only family I know who always eats together but saves all the chats for every minute we are away from it.  Mealtime is reading time!)

Can you imagine how many more things I'd use it for, if I did social media??

Since we've been back in our house and the last of the renovations have paused till the weather warms up again, I have been struggling to get back into my routines - posting here regularly, photographing finished knits and posting them to Ravelry, sewing the drapes I still need to hang - and over the weekend it hit me:

it's my smartphone. 

I am on that thing so much, my hands and eyes and mind are never free for anything else. 

So now, I'm trying to separate myself from my darling device.  It's not just a question of plugging it in to charge in a different room from where I am, though that does seem to help.  I am trying to allocate more time for watercolour painting.  More time out walking (but not texting at every stop light.)  More time cooking from a recipe I wrote out by hand on a card - I have enough pens I love to write with, after all. More time with my first love, sitting on the sofa and knitting while watching some fabulous old movie.

And more time for writing fiction, which this post is keeping me from doing, so I'll end here.  Except to ask:

Do you think you're on a smart device too much?  And if so, what do you do to stay off it?

(also: the socks are mostly hand-dyed, fingering weight alpaca.  CRAZY supersoft.  the blue stripes are a DK weight superwash wool I thought looked nice with it.  isn't it great to figure out ways to combine totally different weights of yarn without throwing off the fit?)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hand sewing as relaxation technique

Let's pretend for a few minutes that the project I'm showing you today was always only meant as a relaxation aid and never, ever intended to be a cute raccoon, shall we? 

UGH.  Okay, it is true that three years ago I started making a pair of cute felted-wool animals, before I got overwhelmed with packing us to get moved out of the house so we could renovate it.  Funnily enough, the kids for whom they were intended are now teenagers with no use for such things, but I still wanted to finish the job.  I am compulsive like that.

Apparently I was also compulsive about not wanting to move all the stuff that's piled up in front of my sewing machine.  You'd never know I designed the leisure parts of our house specifically to make room for a dedicated sewing table!  Sadly, that plan relied entirely on my finding a desk surface that would exactly fill the space I had, with sewing gear storage underneath.  The desk I ended up with is a little short, and it seemed less stressful to hand sew the parts than to move everything around to get at the machine and then back again to make space for the machine on my desk. 

This was foolish because it took two days to make Frederick by hand, and also smart, because I was super stressed when I started him and hand sewing is SO PEACEFUL.

It's like spinning at a treadle wheel, without the risk of ankle strain.  Even if you are a crummy hand sewer (Mary's arm shoots into the air) it is still a great way to relax.

Notice I refer only to the sewing, not the success of the project.  Because when you sit down to make a stuffed animal and start with a pair of scissors and some felted wool scraps and no pattern except a vague idea in your head, then wait three years to execute it at which point you've forgotten most of what plan there was, 'success' (in the form of an attractive, recognizable animal) is far from guaranteed.

For a start, you might consider the lack of coherent fabric selection.

I had forgotten even to cut out a tail for the raccoon, and all I had left in the felted wool department was the purple and blue sweater sleeve parts I'd used to keep my arms warm under my poncho after I broke my fingers last winter. This does not look remotely like raccoon parts to me.

Also: as the stitching went on, I realized that long, long body with a pot belly I hoped would make for an extra squishy hug was WAY too big for the head I'd cut out and pieced together and carefully embroidered a face onto. 

Another fun fact is that it takes a lot of stuffing to fill an animal.  This, I had.  But I kept jamming in more and more (a crochet hook is an excellent tool for this purpose, especially if you overdid it and need to pull some of the stuffing back through a narrow channel to spread it out a bit) and it still wasn't enough.

And the trouble with that is: stability.  Or lack thereof. 

I got poor Fred all the way done when I realized his head didn't stand up.  At all.  I tried a few positions and had high hopes for 'one hand on cheek, other hand on opposite elbow', but the only solution was 'two hands on cheeks in a perpetual state of surprise and amazement.'

Well, at least he's soft - and surprisingly cuddly!  Still relaxing, even after all the sewing is done.

I'm hoping not to need to recover from another busy two weeks like I did when I was making Fred, but I still need to sew the wombat, so I guess I'll be well equipped if it comes to that.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend with all your crafty projects done for pleasure only, and I'll see you again on Monday!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Socks and a porch

I was looking at a pair of mohair socks the other day - that's my go-to fiber for cold winter days like we're having right now in Toronto - and thinking, MAN these stitches are beautiful.

Somehow, after the socks are knit I just wear them and don't think so much about the work I put into them.  The making is a journey and then I go on another journey with something else, and it's a shame because some of the yarns I use are really exceptional.  And hardwearing! which is lucky because in the case of this particular yarn, there ain't no more to be had but what's stashed.

I love the browns and golds in this colourway and the hits of denim blue that brighten the whole, don't you?

In fact I decorated our house in these colours, now that I think of it, with the addition of red and off-white.  I might possibly have been thinking of these socks, which are my favourites, when I came up with the idea to go heavy on the brown and blue.

Of course when socks are new around here, tradition dictates that they have get photographed on the porch.  Without said porch I kinda gave up on photographing them at all because the light at the condo was just not that appealing. 

I've been eyeing the porch, which is currently piled with the railings we didn't get installed when the weather was good and which we've all now agreed is too fake-looking and unsteady to get installed at all (ouch, since those materials are not returnable.)  It's not entirely the same as it was; instead of a glossy paint on wider planks, it's now a flat stain on narrow planks.  No more fitting the whole width of my foot on one plank with no breaks, I guess.  But the new floor still looks okay and the wood won't peel or curl any more which is a plus.

That's one of the chairs from the vintage seating set I bought in the fall.  The plan was to use them in the back yard on our soon-to-be deck, which will be best described as 'petite' (and will, with luck, get wide planks.)  But now that they're sitting on the porch for the winter I'm feeling like maybe they belong there permanently.  Certainly the colour looks pretty natural with the floor.  Of course: cushions.  The ones the set came with are brown and don't go with anything, and they are also not at all cushiony, so I get to choose between adding some squish and recovering, or just giving up and starting over.  But what colour should I choose?

(that's kind of a rhetorical question but if you have an idea of what would look great on a black and white house with a grey porch and rust coloured brick I would be very glad to hear about it. otherwise I will feel it's necessary to put them in the back where the brown cushions will blend with the plentiful supply of brown tree bark.)

I love this set... and I especially love that it doesn't weigh as much as the wooden chairs we used to haul up onto the porch every winter. 

But I will love it even more when the porch is completely finished and the cushions are on and I can just sit down at will and photograph socks.  I miss that so much.  I even miss embarrassing myself taking pictures of my feet on the porch steps on a Sunday, as the neighbours stroll by!

(maybe it's a good thing I haven't finished many socks lately, so I am not losing opportunities to do that when the porch is finally done?)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I have been unavoidably detained

Well I was pretty proud of myself for finishing up enough house renovation to go back to writing weekday Hugs and then BOOM!  Had to skip a week and a half.

Every time I take the train to see my aunt, I take pictures out the window of the bit of the route that overlooks Lake Ontario.  Then I e-mail them to my cousin (another niece) who lives in England now.  She loved that train ride and I love feeling like she's traveling with me for the visit.  She has been particularly impressed with the current batch of images, taken over the last several days of back and forth. I must confess I am too, so I thought I might force them on you guys.  It's not like I have any knitting to show you!

As you can see, the trips have been undertaken in crummy cold winter weather more comfortably spent at home under a blanket staring at the television. But: needs must, and now that the immediate needs have been addressed I can sit at my cosy desk admiring the shots I took.

It's kinda laughable to me, how much my cousin and I like these photographs.  My sole contribution is literally holding the phone up as straight as I can as I snap away, hoping to get a few images where the lights inside the train aren't superimposed on the images outside and stuff isn't too blurry.  A lot of them end up with small random light spots in the fringes... I see one in the picture above these lines, and another in the bottom left of the foresty bit below.

But somehow, quite a lot of them come out SO beautifully!  I kept about 63 of them... and I would show them all to you if I had more time to upload them so you can be grateful I don't.  I'm not sure why I'm so smitten, though I do think the colours are kind of amazing.  And the starkness of the trees against the clouded blue-grey skies... well, I love trees and clouds, so no surprise I love those shots. 

I was particularly excited to get this picture.  We were a few minutes out of Union Station and I glanced out the window, thought WHOA! The miracle is that I managed to dig out my phone, get the camera on, and catch the smokestack smoke almost at the centre of the image. 

I'm hanging onto these images in a special folder and when things are totally settled down again - there is more to do though thankfully, the immediate situation is resolved - I am totally gonna be trying to watercolour paint some of them.  Maybe not this busy industrial one though because that would be a ton of work.  But a nice tree scene... that'd be a very relaxing winter activity, don't you think?

Hope you've had a good week and a half and hopefully I'll be back to our regular meetups on Monday!

Friday, January 26, 2018

This is where to read a Churchmouse newsletter

One day in December as I was rushing around at home with my phone in my hand, and simultaneously checking e-mails and texts to make sure there was nothing urgent to deal with, I noticed two very important things.  I had a new email from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, and I was standing in front of this:

Obviously the right thing to do was to fling myself down on the sofa in our bedroom and immediately read that e-mail, and then go to the Churchmouse site for more eye candy.  Which is what I did, giving myself a five minute break that felt as refreshing as a long nap on a chilly, snowy day.

Churchmouse Yarns and Teas is for me the ultimate fantasy yarn shop.  If I could go to Bainbridge Island and shop there... well, I can't even imagine how amazing a vacation that would be.  It's like an otherworld in which everything is perfectly curated and beautiful and accompanied by a steaming cup of tea, and there are no biting insects or cold viruses, ever.

It can't be easy to run a yarn shop, can it.  I mean, as compulsive as we may all be about our knitting, there is only so much yarn we can use!  And yet a shop has to stock so very much yarn, in reliable dye lots.  The only answer is to build a community loyal enough to keep buying what yarn is needed, at full price and in that particular place... then keep them engaged in using said yarn so they keep working through their stash.  An online shop that's an extension of the feeling you'd get in person is a bonus but must be just as challenging, requiring expert photography and web design.

As it happens I haven't bought a lot of yarn from Churchmouse, because I really do have too much (and in fact, got rid of quite a lot last month because I finally accepted I did not have space to store it all!)  But I have bought several of almost all the tools Churchmouse offers, and a good number of the knitting patterns as well.  When I do get a parcel from them it's so perfectly packed in gentle tissue I let out a little sigh of gratitude for that glimpse into the ideal world they've created, where we are all cared for and nurtured as by the most loving of moms.  

Yarn stores: they are so much more than their yarn!

I found Churchmouse through its patterns but I found PurlSoho when Emily of Viola yarns tipped me off about what a rabbit hole of project ideas it is.  It's got a cooler, temperature-wise, aesthetic than Churchmouse but it covers sewing as well as knitting and crochet so... equally satisfying on a day when you are looking for a sense of No Clutter Creativity.  And if you subscribe, their newsletter includes free patterns.

That particular day I described above was the first time I got to use our bedroom sofa for something other than putting on socks.  Those two big pillows are too bright a white for decorating success, but they are a dream for neck support, and from that spot you can look out at our tree and any clouds that are drifting by.  It's pretty great, but having all that as a backdrop while losing yourself in the Churchmouse site is even better.

Do you have a favourite escapist craft site to share?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Welcome to the baking counter

The idea of a dedicated baking counter has been calling out to me for about fifteen years now, and finally: it is a thing that exists in my very own home!

Hello beautiful.

In the old kitchen I had to careen my stand mixer over from one side of the sink that served as a paper dumping ground to the other side of the sink, where all the dirty dishes piled up unless it was a baking day.  I had about 30" of worktop into which the mixer had to fit, and if I was baking I had to do all the dishes and not be cooking supper at the same time because any veg chopping etc. would have to happen in the same place.

Okay... if you read Smitten Kitchen you will realize I had a gymnasium's worth of work top compared to a tiny NYC apartment kitchen... but still.  It felt cramped.

Admittedly it is not 100% easy to bake on a counter that is just about 18" deep, but because our kitchen table is immediately behind me while I'm working I can comfortably set baking pans on that.  Or I can cross an open area of four feet or so and set them on the counter beside the range.  The only real trouble is when you are knocking flour into the bottom seam from the tiles at the back of the counter, and then having to clean it out after.  That's a little bit Ugh!

I do have more gear than I can pack into the designated baking drawers; my egg separator for example lives in a drawer across that four-foot distance with the glass containers we use for small mixing and for leftovers.  But that's not exactly a long way off and what I've got here is enough to get on with for most recipes:

Measuring equipment and mixer attachments on the left, canisters (and bags) of sugar and flour on the right.

One of the top drawers has small-size essentials like muffin papers and baking powder and as-yet unopened yeast.

The other has recipes and my apron and some cookie cutters.

It is so nice to have a shallow drawer so all those things are easy to find!  I might change up the layout a bit actually, so that I can have measuring spoons in the shallow drawer alongside this one.  There is a lot of fine-tuning yet to do and I'm just so pleased that I finally have a little time in which to do it.

This is me setting up to mix up some bread dough over the Christmas holiday...

Note the recipe cards held in place by favourite model cars - priorities!

I love keeping my flour in that giant stainless steel compost bucket on the right.  It holds a 1kg bag of flour and has a loose-fitting lid, which is a terrible idea if you rarely bake such that the turnover is slow, but fantastic if you bake a lot and just want to scoop right in for the next recipe.

And I get a view!  (it's mostly of a giant blue trampoline, but if I look up high enough I do get an evergreen tree.)

Sadly, having a dedicated baking counter does not guarantee delicious results, but...

it is still fun to try new recipes.

It is ridiculous even to think about this since I live a ten minute walk from five excellent bakeries, but... I am still looking for my dream bread to make at home.  I lost count how many recipes I tried out over the break, aiming for 'overnight or fast rising' and 'not too many complicated ingredients'.  The final consensus was that based on current data you can have Good and Complicated or you can have Easy and Bland.  The tastiest was a brioche from Smitten Kitchen with all the interesting bits left out, and luckily, its four egg yolks match up neatly with the four egg whites I need to make chocolate chip meringues. 

In theory, I could plan a long baking afternoon that starts with bread to rise overnight and ends with meringues drying out in the oven till morning (with supper happening exclusively on the stove top.)

And in practise, it is a whole lot easier to imagine doing that now that I don't have to clear everything away just to try.  Thank you baking counter!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A room with a view

After the infamous Work Triangle, one of the basics of kitchen design is to have a window over the sink.  Who doesn't want something to look at while washing dishes.  It's logical as far as it goes, but the view isn't always going to be of lush expansive gardens, or even a forest and a bright blue shed as at our little summer cottage.

This is the view I picked when we were deciding where to put and how to lay out our new kitchen, not including the vintage linen drape that masks the frosted glass of our neighbours' bathroom a few feet away.  It was that or the unobstructed view of another neighbours' trampoline... and I quite like the texture of a shingled roof, don't you?

Also, there was the tree to consider.  Lovely stark branches in winter, vibrant yellow-green blossoms in spring, softly waving leaves in summer and a riot of colour in the fall.  But about four weeks after we moved home I heard a funny sort of engine outside.  Oh dear.

It was the city's tree-trimming truck and I soon discovered they were removing THE WHOLE THING.

Bye-bye tree...

Hello sky...

And there we are.

Now, what I get to look at is telephone wires and snow on an asphalt roof.
Unless I can figure out how to wash dishes on an angle?  In which case I still get a big chunk of tree.

(either way: still prettier than a trampoline.)

Honestly though, who am I to complain?  When we move back to our condo some day, I will be looking at the wall dividing our kitchen from the that of the people on the other side.  Then it'll be either a mirror or a painting that imitates depth or some very nice wall tile.  I vote for a painting, but I guess it'll have to have glass over it for the splashes.  That's a nice new project isn't it, learning how to paint such a thing myself or finding somebody who can.

If you could paint your own view from the kitchen sink, what would you choose?