Saturday, March 14, 2020

Inside Things

It's looking and sounding like spring here at Hugs - the birds are excited and cheery and there's a stiff breeze shaking off any dead leaves left in the trees. The sidewalks are clear and any stubborn snow is just dotted around like tiny islands. It's outside time! And yet...


There is a lot of inside time happening, or potentially happening.  Time that will need to be filled with inside things.

Last night I turned back to my sock. Spending so much time writing lately, I had stayed away from it long enough to forget that I'd come to an unusual break in the yarn.

(in related news, I was trying to solve a New York Times Crossword clue recently. Four letters, clued as 'knit and ...' and I was stumped.  Knit and sew? Knit and b****? wrong letter counts! Also, the second one would have read "STITCH and ...".  When I finally went to answer key and discovered the second word was purl, I knew the world had shifted on its axis and I am no longer the woman I was.)

On my initial discovery of the break in the yarn, I couldn't decide how to deal with it. I just put it aside.  Surprisingly, it didn't mend itself! So I decided to pick a solution and go with it.


I held about 3 inches of both sides of the break together and kept on knitting. It's the top of the leg - I won't even feel the double thickness, and I think 8 stitches in a non-stress area is probably enough to keep the yarn from running, don't you?

Okay, maybe you don't. Maybe I should rip out again and do 12 stitches.

Either way, in the predicament we all face as I type this, it seemed like an interesting lesson. Sometimes there's a gap between how things were and how things can be, and you just have to improvise.


Meanwhile, I'm looking at interests that haven't gotten much love lately but still love me.  Like my ukelele!


Did I tell you I bought one last fall? I don't think I did.  I was in a music store for something else and there were ukeleles in the Impulse Purchase zone at the checkout desk.  I was a very good girl and went home and worked sensibly for several hours before racing back to the store to buy one.

My thinking was, I've never been good with stringed instruments or chord-reading. Ukeleles are for cool people or musical people or people who are into folk or bluegrass or collective music, or some combination thereof. They are not for me. Also I have no space for more stuff in our house; I am still working through my yarn stash.  AND I want to be writing all the time now. When would I do anything with a ukelele?

Then the other half of my brain said, hello, two broken fingers still not fully mended? The cost of the ukelele was less than one physio session and might get me using those fingers better. And several-hour obsessions don't come from nowhere.  Obviously there is a hole in my life only a ukelele can fill.  Anyway, they're small.

So the ukelele came home.  I quickly discovered that yes, if I use my two previously broken fingers to make chords, they absolutely loosen up. They feel almost normal again! I also discovered you can play a ukelele in a soft, meditative way as well as in a STRUM STRUM STRUMMA STRUM way.  You can use your fingertips or your finger pads or a pick. You can thump on the body of the ukelele for percussion. I gave up on the chords my fingers couldn't hold properly and made up some that they could. I started composing my own tunes. It was very exciting. Pete even had to ask me to stop playing at one point because he was trying to sleep. He was mostly polite, too.

Then I realized that I couldn't sleep either, because the music was all up in my head and I was hearing it even without the instrument in my hands. So I slowed down, and the writing ramped up, and the ukelele has been sitting by itself ever since.

Maybe now is the time for it to come back out for a while?


Or maybe I should dig out some fiber and sit on sunny landing halfway up the stairs where my spinning wheel gathers dust, and make some yarn while listening to a really good audiobook.  At the moment I am in the middle of Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen At Home which is just so good. Normally it only gets airtime while I am folding laundry - it's amazing how much a good audiobook eases drudgery - but I could branch out.


Spinning would definitely be more fun than finally reorganizing my closet.  I've been quite interested in the idea of the 'capsule wardrobe', in which you whittle down your clothing to just the things you love and wear a lot, and which coordinate nicely. It's perfect for travel, obviously. But I like the idea for simplifying my everyday life.  I don't think I'd go to the extreme of 7 white shirts, 4 pairs of black pants, and 1 black jacket, but I can definitely do better than what I'm living with right now.  Also, I can see creating a few different capsules and swapping them out periodically by mood or season.  I have purchased some SKUBB storage things from IKEA to aid in pursuing this idea. Now I just need to make myself use them.  And - yay! I have time now!


I am easing into considering these possibilities while I also consider cooking. Specifically, what interesting meals to make from what's in the house. I am especially interested in learning to soak beans overnight and then cook them, and I'm hopeful that the dried beans I purchased when I first got the idea are not too old to taste nice.  I've been wanting to pursue this interest for some time and beans only wait for you for so long apparently.

I'm strongly inclined to make Joe Yonan's book, Cool Beans, my companion in this journey.


While I'm talking about books, did you know Tracy Chevalier came out with a textile-centric novel??  I don't know how I missed A Single Thread when it came out a few months ago, because I love Tracy Chevalier. Also this book is set after WWI, a period I find fascinating.

A few years back I read about how women's lives were impacted by that war, with so many men killed and a vastly lower chance to marry: Singled Out, by Virginia Nicholson.  Leaving aside the loneliness some of them must have felt, marriage was such an essential part of the social fabric then.  I had been so focused on the drama of the war itself when I studied that time, and then the weirdness of the 1920s, I hadn't thought of all those women who didn't marry, or else married differently than they would have otherwise. (that's also a fantastic read, if you're so inclined.)

So, I am buying A Single Thread as a reward, just as soon as I do something that warrants one. Which might be learning how to cook beans deliciously. I mean, even the cover of that book is so beautiful!
 

I am fortunate to be able to take long walks outside if I want, and I am taking the opportunity to do it. These pictures are from an amazing walk I had the other night.  The sky was just dark enough to make me feel sure my little phone camera wouldn't pick up the branches of the trees around me, but I shouldn't have underestimated it because they came out so nicely. No comments on these, I'm just clipping them all in and hoping you have the same shoulder-loosening sensation I do when I look at them.







This is getting to be a long post and I don't want to keep you from whatever amazing things you've thought of to do during this time, but I can't leave without showing you two last pictures from earlier this winter.

The first was taken about 5 minutes before the moment I discovered why one really should not sling one's backpack over the back of a chair in a coffeeshop: my wallet had been stolen. Spoiler alert: I do not carry ID in my wallet, so I only lost cash, a cancel-able credit card, and my faith in humanity. (temporarily!) (but not temporarily enough to go back to a regular wallet.) Anyhoo: I had to grab this wonderful view of the place where, long ago, I learned to skate backwards.  At that time it was a simple round rink not surrounded by condo towers. This new layout is pretty impressive, don't you think?


The second picture, and this really is the last for this month, is of animal tracks I found in the snow one morning. Bunnies? I don't know. I hope so. Anyway, I felt loved, and I hope you do too.


Take care till next time!




Thursday, February 13, 2020

Urban hiking gear and other creative adventures

It has been a whirlwind few weeks here at Hugs! While I have been writing and revising and learning things, the mantel has made a graceful transition to Valentine's Day, thanks to the removal of chocolate Santas (yum) and addition of cookies.


I am telling you: red accents and greenery are everyone's year-round decorating friend. And also, Happy Valentine's Day!


There has been snow here, of course.


And ice, which I discovered walking up a hill earlier this week.  As I neared the top a woman passing me on her way down said, Be careful, it's icy up there! and I said, You too, it's pretty bad on the hill!

I should have looked out for her because certainly once I got to the top and the worst seemed to be over, I slipped and fell hard. GAH. I didn't break anything this time but my arm still aches where I landed on it, and is not happy to be given any lifting, or sleeves. So much for my super sensible ice-resisting new boots.


In the kitchen, I've been devising exciting new ways to eat beans and lentils and whole grains.  Okay, I kid. None of them are really exciting. But some of them are delicious. And the prep is pretty.


This is a meal I ruined recently for reasons I still don't fully understand and am not much worried about, because I got it right the time before and the time after. I think really it was TOO MUCH QUINOA.  I had rinsed it a ton, but it was just too bitter without another whole grain to be its friend. In that scenario though you are wise to add some grated ginger to the onions and olive oil because otherwise that is a whole lotta fiber to deal with. I did some research before my purchase and can confirm that Microplane offers an excellent ginger grater.

Before the ruining:


After the ruining:


It even looked better before the ruining, don't you think?


As I write this, I am looking at our Chistmas tree. Yes, it's February, and No, I haven't decorated it for Valentine's day.  Really our house is too small even post-renovation to be leaving a tree up, but I didn't feel ready to lose it as January crept into double digits. Normally I am counting the minutes to January 2 when we get our living room back, but this year, not so much. So it is currently serving as a 'winter tree'.


All the little finger puppets we've amassed over the years from visits to the cute shop near the cottage, or the Royal Winter Fair, or the Home Show, have gradually made their way to the tree.


It's quite pleasant and thoroughly entertained a four-year-old friend who visited last week, but I think it will have to come down at last in March, if not sooner.  Once spring starts to hit outside, I fear a plastic evergreen tree is going to be much harder to justify.


Since the fall I've been longing to tell you guys about the very elegant approach I've honed for urban hiking, which also works for travel, or just any day out that involves going inside for some time, and then coming out again. Especially if there might be a museum or gallery involved.  So often those places frown on backpack use, but if you are walking any distance outside of said gallery or museum, a backpack is the most comfortable bag you can carry.

Decisions! Meh, forget 'em. Enjoy the best of both worlds.

What you need: a lightweight day pack, a lightweight tote, a pocket foldup shopper bag, and a small waist-pack-sized organizer.

Behold, my version of these four components!

Reisenthel's mini-maxi backpack. It folds into the outer pouch that looks like a pocket. Mine is this polka dot print, but you can get them in black too:


Rume's 'All' tote, which I personally chose in black because it coordinates and doesn't show dirt, slipped into the outer pocket of the backpack as shown above:

Note the side pockets, so perfect for securely holding a phone or water bottle

Emma Bridgewater's fold-up recycled plastic tote back in her purple polka dot print (because it goes with the backpack so perfectly!) also fits into the backpack's outer pocket:


I bought several of these on our trip to England but you can find the same sort of thing anywhere. Folded out, this particular little tote is SO perfect for carrying a baguette, being narrow for its length. I keep one in my grocery-shopping everyday backpack at all times. Folded into its little pouch, it fits on your palm:

 

And finally, inside the backpack, I carry Tom Bihn's Side Effect shoulder bag in black halcyon with purple lining. The slightly larger Side Kick also works if you need the space - I have one of those too and it really is a great bag - but for a serious urban hiking day, I try to go lean.

I just realized my wallet is missing from this picture, but it's a stripped down version with just the essentials. Also missing: my backup phone charger and a pack of tissues. I should graduate to a handkerchief really - I've collected enough of them over the years without ever using them for anything (don't judge - they're so beautiful and the fabrics are so soft!)


Note: that cool yarn-picturey thing is actually a compact mirror I got with a Twisted Fiber Art yarn club lo these many years ago. I do have one of those lipstick clip cases with a mirror glued in, but this is lighter and most flexible for shifting around if things get crowded.

Other items of interest: headache remedy, lip balm, a nail clipper for snipping off tags or a broken nail. The tiny pouch is an add-on from Tom Bihn and I use it all the time for keeping small things accessible. The date bar is handy in case of food-related emergencies and the notebook and capped pen are a great alternative to a smartphone, for jotting down ideas or doodling if you are sitting alone in a coffee place or waiting for your urban hiking buddy.

A tiny bag of knitting is not in the mix here, but I do sometimes toss in a sock-in-progress if I know I will need to pass a chunk of sedentary time on my own and I'm not going somewhere where a security guard will frown on needles. I'm always super conscious of ever having my favourite square sock needles taken away, because they don't make them in that particular metal any more, and I seem to be allergic to the new choice, wanh.

I admit it: the Tom Bihn bag is not made of super lightweight fabric like the others, which is silly because why keep the most hard-wearing thing inside? however, it will get its turn, and in the meantime it is plenty light weight enough, water resistant, and super well organized with sections inside. And SO many o-rings for clipping things onto.

The only other item that goes into the backpack, other than a fold-down umbrella if it's going to rain, and a small bottle for water, is the blue sheath that came with my packable down coat. In winter, I use it to stow said coat, but I keep it there all year round because it also happily stows my packable raincoat and has served as an excellent bag-in-bag for any shopping I might pick up over the day. Also I'm less likely to lose it if I keep it with the other things.


Here's how all this works together in the wild.


Let's say it's the worst case season: winter. I would walk out of the house wearing the down coat over a lightweight wool sweater (I use a fabulous wool crepe one which squishes down to practically nothing but holds heat while breathing like a woolly dream) and a black pashmina scarf  (silk and wool together: warm, soft, and SO tiny when packed down) plus, if it's really bad out with extreme cold and/or wet snow, my alpaca toque and a pair of cashmere-lined leather gloves.

The fiber lovers here know why: alpaca is the warmest, while resisting saturation in wet weather, and cashmere does an excellent job of retaining heat inside leather, which keeps you dry. On a really cold day a packable down coat is not really warm enough, but a warm head, neck, and hands minimize that deficit. Especially if you are walking briskly.


When you finally get to your primary hiking destination... you go inside! and suddenly all that gear is WAY too hot. If you're going to be inside for more than ten minutes, let alone a couple of hours, you are going to have to get rid of the extra layers.  So: the coat gets stuffed into its sheath - which now doubles as an excellent neck or lower back pillow, by the way - and the hat, gloves, pashmina, and sweater tuck into the bag as they are shed.  You will still have room to spare because all that stuff packs down to nothing.

Sometimes, after being inside for a bit, the conditioned air can be chilly. The pashmina and the sweater, separately or together, absolutely take care of this problem. They are also small things to take out of the backpack and wear, if you have bought something that needs a little more room than is left over in the backpack.


Speaking of which... if you are going into a place that frowns upon backpacks, it's time to do the magical presto-change bag swap. Ready?

1/ Remove the Rume-All from the front pouch of the backpack and unfold it from its pouch, putting the fold-up pocket tote into the newly released outer pocket of the All.

2/ Dump everything from the backpack into the All.

3/ Fold the packpack into its outer pocket/pouch, and slip it inside the All.

 Voila! You are a simple museum goer carrying an over-the-shoulder bag that isn't even bulky.


If you went shopping and you now have WAY too much to carry in the backpack, you can pull out the Rume-All and fill it, and then the fold-up tote and fill that, while still having all the room in your backpack.

This chair will not fit into even the largest backpack. Sorry.
There is a middle solution where the Tom Bihn bag comes into its own. That bag comes with an adjustable shoulder strap that allows it to be carried as a cross-body bag if you prefer. But if you slip it over your head and position it around your waist, the odds are that at its shortest length it will sit at the very least on your hips like a relaxed fanny pack. This may not look glam. But it does keep your wallet and other essentials within easy reach, with no weight to carry, and frees up more room in your backpack. Sometimes that's just enough room not to require pulling out either tote bag, so that you remain completely hands free.

Hiking tip: when it's time to take the Side Kick out of fanny pack mode, just unclip the strap on one side. You will look much less like a contortionist, and avoid pulling a muscle.



For me, the best thing about this system is that when I'm not using it, the components pack away neatly into a drawer. Every part is lightweight and long-lasting and combined, I have so much flexibility for my day.

And now it's time for me to wrap up for this month.  I hope you have a wonderful few weeks, with or without urban hiking or puppet-filled winter trees - and definitely without any nasty spills onto icy concrete because OW.


If you can fit in a coffee break with a friend, so much the better.  See you in March!



Sunday, January 19, 2020

These socks don't quit and neither do I

The other night it was SO cold for the walk to the grocery store, I slipped into some serious, heavy-knit, mohair socks before I put on my Blundstone boots. They were heaven.


I am telling you: handknit socks are the best gift you can give yourself.  Must be why I keep knitting them! Practically in my sleep no less because I keep finding more pairs I started and finished and forgot about grafting and running in the ends on.  In fact now that I think of it, I started knitting myself a pair in undyed alpaca as a Christmas present sometime back in November.  I wonder how far I got with those?

It's late to be wishing you all a happy New Year, but allow me do that now, with enthusiasm. Did you make resolutions, or clean up some critical part of your home, or otherwise solemnly mark the shift to 2020?

I cleared off my tiny desk and moved all the previous year's paperwork to longer term storage so I'd have free space for whatever exciting new things occur to me to try my hand at.  But the most important thing I did was to ask myself:

What do I do about Hugs For Your Head?

Ugh, I've pondered this SO many times, here and in my own head. I've tried and tried to go back to posting daily, even weekly, and felt terrible about failing.  I haven't been able to pay it the attention it deserves since we started renovating our house and that is a long, long time.

Definitely worth it for quality of life though.  I can't tell you how much I love looking out at this view on a snowy day like the one I am enjoying at this moment.


Just sets you up so perfectly for a cup of tea and something crunchy to go with it, don't you think?

When I started this blog lo these many years ago, that view was of cement slabs and patchy grass, and I was posting every weekday with pictures of textile projects I was working on.  Knitting, then spinning, then weaving, plus a little sewing and some basic embroidery which I have to say, I really love doing.  Blanket stitch forever! I lived in a tiny house and my days were comparatively easy, though I did have to move things around a lot because a tiny house is no place to have multiple interests.

Then there were disruptions.  The house sprouted a condo, and then blew up into a giant renovation project that lasted over two years.  I broke two fingers and couldn't knit for a while, and even now I can't knit as fast as I did, because they are still a bit stiff and unwieldy. The manageable home projects I used to do for fun became major time-intensive necessary undertakings, and my body informed me that five hours' sleep a day will no longer cut it.  I stopped feeling comfortable publishing knitting patterns, and couldn't see the point in designing them just for myself.

Also, I learned to paint, and I started writing novels again.  And that has been so amazing.  I love writing - it's all I've ever wanted to do - but at this point in my life I seem able to immerse myself in a story like never before, and I don't want to do anything to mess with whatever energy is flowing in that direction.

But I love Hugs too, so I've decided to keep it alive, rather than simply retire it and keep the patterns and past posts available as other bloggers do when they feel they've come to an end of a thing.  Still, as sure as I am that knitting will flow back to the forefront of my mind some day, I don't have enough to say to write about it now - certainly not as much as other inspired knitters do.  And I don't have the creative overflow to write something here every day the way I did - not if I want to keep writing novels, which are a huge investment of Brain.

See? There's still beautiful yarn in my life!

Instead, Hugs is adapting.

(and so will its banner, when I find time to remind myself how to change it.)

I will be posting here once every month - checking in, showing you whatever interesting creative thing I've discovered, and glad to hear what you've been doing too be it by e-mail or comment.  It probably won't be the same Hugs it was before, with nonstop textile tips.  But it will still be about making things and being happy. And it will still be me. Much of the feedback I've had over the years is that the me part was the real appeal of this place.

So, January!

This month I want to tell you about the amazingness of drawing with pencils while unskilled.

I know, I know, this is something you're supposed to notice as a teenager in a long boring class, using the cover of your binder or perhaps the surface of your desk.  But I was always surrounded by friends who could draw, and I knew I didn't have their eye, so I didn't bother trying.  Now I've learned that doodling is good too, and that you don't have to do anything complex to enjoy yourself.

Pete gave me a honking big hunk of soft graphite with some other art supplies at Christmas, and man is it fun to push around a page.  All I could think to try making was clouds over a rough sea, and I still love looking at the image I ended up with, but the best was the sound of the pencil moving over the paper, and the way the graphite felt crossing the surface.


Scribbles!

Coloured pencils are also a revelation. I always thought of them as being good for colouring, and they are, but I'm not super interested in that so I missed out on their other merits.  As it happens though, I can produce a passable piece of fruit with coloured pencils.  All you have to do is layer colours - sometimes unexpected colours - and you get something that looks like your clever artist friend did it while everybody else was taking chemistry notes.  But again - scribbles also produce recognizable shapes.


What I've noticed as fallout from these tiny drawing exercises, which take about as long as a commercial break while curled up near the TV, is that I'm seeing the world around me very differently. I watch for shapes now, and the way light falls, and what colours look like and how they contrast and complement each other.  The other day I had to stop walking in a boring strip mall space just to take a picture of these amazing clouds over a sun patch:


I find it really exciting to see so many beautiful and inspiring and positive things wherever I go. If you aren't in the habit of doing it already, I can highly recommend being more noticing about what's around you, and also, picking up a pencil and drawing something badly just for fun.

In other news: Pete saw a bunny in our front garden recently.  Just as a break from raccoons it was a treat, but also - BUNNY :^)


See you next month - take care till then!