Saturday, May 27, 2023

SNOWED won an award

My mystery novel won the Crime Writers of Canada award for best unpublished manuscript this week!

Okay: winning an award feels great, but hearing all the nice things the judges had to say about my manuscript? That was INCREDIBLE. If you want to hear it too, my category is around about the 8:45 minute mark in the announcement video.

Alternatively, you can read this screenshot of the details from Crime Writers of Canada's winners page (or just visit the link and scroll to the bottom, wishing all the published winners well as you go along):

I am *totally* printing this out to look at if I so much as start to get discouraged. 

But that wasn't the only great news I had this week.

two socks, two contests!

The novel I'm working on now, ORIOLE, was selected as a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for unpublished mainstream mysteries! 

I am so, so grateful to the judges for all these contests I've entered - for volunteering for the job, and especially for finding so much to like about my writing.

As you can imagine, there's been a lot of happy skippy dancing around here the last few days.


This makes knitting a challenge, but I did get my socks-in-progress all the way to the heel flap. Maybe next week I'll have Chompy Socks to show you. I always did love photographing Chompy Socks.

I don't know whether the acknowledgement from Crime Writers of Canada and The Crime Writers' Association will bring SNOWED any closer to getting published, but if it does ever hit print, you might enjoy reading it. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, one member of the sleuth trio, Steph, has a passion for social history (I wonder why), textiles (ditto), and for making a lot of her own clothes, sometimes from vintage or historical patterns... including a warm wool greatcoat I personally would love to own :^) 

Okay that's me for this week - have a wonderful weekend and I'll see you next Saturday!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

We are getting a tiny home

sort of! We aren't moving into it, which is kind of the point of a tiny home, but it's still very exciting and it's a big part of why I haven't had a lot of knitting to show you lately. 

not our tiny home

This is the only building currently standing on the legacy property we're responsible for until the next generation takes over. It houses tractors and a work bench. That door on the right side accesses a walled-off section in the back serves as a lounge with a kitchenette and a three-piece bathroom. Unfortunately, being attached via an interior door also, the bathroom and lounge space smell very strongly of everything that's stored with the tractors. It's not very pleasant there for hanging out, or even getting tidied up after a long day's work. This problem has only gotten worse over the years.

So.... when we agreed to sell our cottage to our neighbours, and realized we didn't have anywhere to store all the things we wanted to keep from it, we decided to build something else at this property, under a separate roof. Not very far separate though, because the area is mostly hill and the shed is on the only near-level section. 

Okay, this hill, pictured before the snow melted this spring, might have been another part of what motivated me to coordinate another building project. Having this for a back yard, available for as much walking and climbing and watercolour painting as you like? yes please.

The property is just over an hour from our house, so we don't need a dedicated place to sleep, or laundry facilities. We don't even need a range - a hot plate and a microwave or toaster oven are plenty. Since the magic of a tiny home comes from fitting all those functions into a very abbreviated space for resident/s who live there full-time, we are kinda cheating, as well as missing out on a lot of the really amazing stuff our builder can do. So, maybe it's not a tiny home so much as a tiny *cabin*. 

Or as I think of it, a clubhouse.

Another thing we don't need is a trailer with wheels, because we're staying put. Trailers are custom-built over a period of weeks for each tiny home. About as many weeks as it takes to build a house, which means we don't have to wait long for our tiny home: our builder was able to fit us into the gap formed by trailer lead time and we'll have it by midsummer this year. Yay!

One thing we *did* need was space. We're blending our family histories by housing furniture and knickknacks from our generations at the cottage. I see a lot of tiny homes that run just 24' long, and pack a serious punch. Ours will be almost 400 square feet and have some open space. Less open than this, once the framing is finished, but still, it'll be airy.

check out those beams!
they will be visible in the finished home, too.

One last plus-side item: no drywall. Drywall doesn't travel well, and when the house is finished, it will be driven to our site to be connected to the foundation we've set up for it. So instead of dusty drywall, we're getting tongue-in-groove pine and plywood. If you've ever renovated a house, you will totally get what a big deal this is for me, ha! 

I was hoping for something entirely off-grid, but the up-front costs for solar power are steep. Weirdly, there was little enthusiasm for a composting toilet when I proposed it to the folks who will be doing all the hard work maintaining the property, so the solar budget had to go to funding a septic bed. We are future-proofing, though. There is space for batteries and other solar necessities in a storage loft we've planned for over the bathroom, and an empty conduit will make it easy to connect solar panels later, as we can afford to do it.

Water has posed a similar challenge. Turns out there is a shortage of well-drillers in Ontario, and the ones who returned our calls are booked through to next year, so we are hoping the old well can be salvaged. A new well is massively expensive; refurbishing an old one is only painfully so, if you don't count the cost of the space-hogging pump you need to store inside your building because it's nowhere near your building site.

I made lemonade out of that one though. Turns out you can stash a well pump under a banquette, and once you have a banquette it doesn't cost much more to make it a pullout bed, and if you have a window over the back of it too, you're inches from a windowseat.

the finished banquette area will be a different kind of cute,
but this should give you the general idea.

Who is going to want to sleep on a bed over a pump that kicks in every time somebody flushes the toilet, you ask? Possibly nobody. It's going to be great for naps though, or for stretching out on to write, and if those two things don't have my name on them, what does?

Our builder, Acorn Tiny Homes, is located here in Toronto and it has been a dream working with them. If you were hanging around here when we were renovating our home, you will know it would be tough to top working with Ray, who is so talented and focused on perfection, but D'Arcy and his team are just as amazing. 

We couldn't stretch to a lot of custom finishing here, as one would with a true full-time tiny home. We are getting two gorgeous bookshelves and an entry area with a bench with hooks over it though, for storing boots and coveralls. One of the bookshelves will have a door over an area just big enough for a broom and vacuum; the other will be in the kitchen, just big enough to keep the dust off our dishes. And we're getting a custom bunk bed / loft arrangement at one end, in case anybody does ever need or want to sleep over. Or, you know, stretch out for a nap without disrupting the kitchen table setup. Ahem. At the other end, we'll plant an IKEA daybed that also pulls out to sleep two. Trying to plan ahead.

I could go on and on, and probably will in the weeks to come, but the bottom line is - We are getting a tiny home!

Hope something wonderful is happening for you too, but just in case, I will leave you with this lush image of our lilacs after a long rain. 


See you next Saturday!


Saturday, May 13, 2023

Springtime with mittens

I got thinking today about my old-time twined mitten obsession and decided to take a glamour shot of one pair, out on our sundrenched, springtime deck.

The yarn I used for these was hand spun, by me, from a wool/mohair blend hand dyed by my friend Sylvia. And they were my second pair, so there is no excuse for my having spun the yarn in the traditional way instead of in the reverse, so that the twining would have gone easier.

(When twining, you twist two strands of yarn around each other and knit with one, then the next, then stop and untwist the tangle your two yarns have gotten into because you didn't twine with yarn spun in the reverse direction. It makes mitten production very, very slow.)

The beauty of twined mittens is that they are super warm. And why not: you have two strands of yarn throughout, twisted at every stitch so there are no holes for wind to breeze through. The problem they pose is the same. I mostly wear mittens out on walks, but because I am a brisk walker my palms are damp after ten minutes, and halfway through my loop I have to take off the mittens altogether.

In the background: the first step in Pete's plan
to thicken up the small patch of grass in our back yard

My mystery novel SNOWED did not make the shortlist for the Debut Dagger Awards this year, but it's still a winner with me because one of the three main characters is a textile fanatic (hello), who makes most of her own clothes to suit her preferences (Um, no, I am not that committed.) There's a murder in this story, naturally, and this character goes off to the victim's outdoor memorial service wearing mitts I imagined to be like these ones. This is another satisfying element to writing fiction: you get to add in bits of things that you yourself enjoy.

Earlier this week I was sent flowers as a thank-you for something I did a while back, and they were stunning, but around the time the Debut Dagger shortlist was announced without my name on it, two of the flowers decided to shed their petals. I swear, one of them made an almost-audible sound as I passed, a kind of a Poof! just before ten petals collapsed to the mantel. Might have been a sign?

The fallen petals: INCREDIBLY SOFT.

It's just as well though, because not being shortlisted frees me to get back to work on the current novel in progress. In this one, which skews closer to Suspense, I'm humouring my love of fabric with a main character who lives out of a capsule wardrobe, the better to cut costs and stay mobile. She has a sweater she wears with everything (the story is set in an especially creepy October) and every time I reference it I picture a giant basketweave pullover my older sister knit in the 70s on oversized plastic needles she never used again. Actually this is not how I describe the sweater - the colour in the story is more mustard than orange the texture more Aran than Basket - but I picture my sister's all the same. 

Some of the writing for this *might* happen on our back deck, but not right away because it's blossom time and I don't concentrate well when surrounded by bees. 

That's a pretty good canopy there, don't you think? We trained our lilac through a custom gap in the fence to make this happen. Unfortunately we forgot we'd also be making a lot of fallen leaves and bark happen, without the ability to raise a sun umbrella without cutting precious light from the lilac. Eating at the table beneath is always an adventure.

Sitting is good though. So good I'm going to head out there right now with a cup of tea and a book, before I make a start on supper.

Hope your weekend's been absolutely lovely so far and gets better as it goes on, and I'll see you next week!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Sock it to me

Ugh, such a terrible pun - but after a few days of polishing my second Debut Dagger submission, it was relaxing to get back to these new socks and make some progress.

I am very grateful I entered this writing competition with a completed manuscript! You can do it with just the first few pages of a novel, plus a detailed summary of everything that's going to happen, but if you make the longlist you then need to produce another ten pages from later in the story and send them in on about a week's notice. I mean, I am an unusually fast writer, so in theory I would have been okay. But it's wise to revise those pages as well and that takes time and distance, thought and objectivity. 

Those pens pictured with my socks got a SERIOUS workout this week, let me tell you. But: I've sent in my pages now. That has freed me to take a break to help a friend with her manuscript, and make progress on this small gift for Autumn-Edition Mary, who will doubtless appreciate my having made these beauties in spring. 

One of them is almost ready for the heel flap! Always an exciting moment.

I noticed something different about this yarn, which is maybe that it's a slightly lighter weight than my old Vesper sock yarn. It's definitely dyed a little differently. It's almost rustic, the way the colour changes are slightly staggered and include some white spots at the transition.

A nice feature to go with these colours, I feel.

Another nice feature: glamour shot potential. I always like to have a look at a sock lying flat like this, so you can see the real substance of the fabric. So squishy and nice. Probably nicer still once it's finished and had a bath, so the stitches can all settle into neat and tidy loops.

This sort of angle appeals to me too, what about you? Like a tiny sock hug.


Well, that's it for me this week. Hope you have a wonderful weekend - see you again next Saturday!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Spinning and also - spinning

This has been another big week, but more on that in a moment. Let's start with some spinning-related eye candy!

This gorgeous stuff was once roving, purchased from Twisted Fiber Art back in the day - it's the Downtown colourway. I recall knitting socks for somebody with the yarn I bought, and thinking I'd use up the remains somehow with this chunky handspun. Obviously I haven't gotten around to it yet, because I just found it in my yarn cupboard this afternoon.

Spinning was one of those things I thought I would never, ever manage to do until suddenly a used wheel came available via the owner of my favourite (sadly long-since closed) yarn store. It wasn't easy for me to learn, and I had a lot of bunchy, clunky yarn coming off it for the longest time! but I understand that's normal. Eventually I got so I could nod off while spinning. Eventually too, I got so I could spin quite fine singles, and ply them together for sport weight or even lighter yarns. I heard that once you can do that, it can be very difficult to go back to spinning for chunky yarns, as with my Downtown roving. I found that to be true and when I had to take a break from spinning, I hoped my bulky skills would come back to me.

Boy, did I ever love spinning! My favourite thing was to take the wheel to the porch in summer and sit in a comfy chair, listening to an audiobook and enjoying the breeze. Neighbours would pass the house and sometimes come up the porch steps for a visit. Bliss.

I stopped spinning while we renovated our house - I was just too swamped with organizing it all. Then when we moved back to the house and I was out of the habit, I couldn't find a place to keep my spinning wheel. It used to live just inside a closet, but weirdly, we don't have closets any more... except in the front hall, where we keep our vacuum cleaner.

In the end I planted my wheel on the landing of the stairs, where I can see it going up and down. The landing is large enough for a small chair, and it's lit naturally by a big south-facing window, so I thought I might sometimes sit there with the wheel, perch my phone on the sill to play an audiobook, and while away a noontime sunpatch.

Didn't happen. And that was so many years ago now! I try to keep it dusted, but it needs a really good cleaning. I have some vacation time coming up this week - nothing fancy, just fewer deadlines than normal - and I'm thinking I will get the wheel all cleaned up nicely so it's ready when I am.

This roving was in the cabinet today too - must be an early effort because of all the size variance. It's Twisted Fiber Art again - handspun, with some sport weight. I saw some solid grey sportweight alongside it which is putting thoughts of a woven scarf in my head. The colourway is called Big Bad Wolf.


So, like I said, this was another big week for me. I cannot quite comprehend this even now, hence the 'also - spinning' of the title, but my novel SNOWED has been longlisted in a second literary competition! This time it's the Debut Dagger Award from The Crime Writers' Association in the UK. Apparently they had hundreds of submissions this year, which makes it such an honour to appear on a longlist of only ten.

I'm starting to think this project might have legs, you know? The shortlist announcement for the Debut Dagger Award is still a couple of weeks off but I'm already so nervous hoping it makes the cut.

In entirely unrelated news, it came to my attention the other day that Jellycat makes PURSES.

We already have Toast in regular Jellycat form - he's looking at me right now in fact, from the armchair across the room - but I can't help thinking having my own Toast purse to liven up a black outfit might be kind of fun. Like great, conversation-starting costume jewellery, the like of which I don't bother wearing any more. 

That's just another kind of spin, though. I know perfectly well I would look eccentric at best with a slice of smiling toast on my hip, its legs kicking gently as I moved around at a party.

Still... a sock in progress would fit perfectly into that bag, don't you think?

Okay: I'm going to wrap up there and wish you well for another week, whatever it holds for you. See you next Saturday!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

This was a big week

I had some huge news on Thursday: my most recent mystery manuscript was shortlisted for this year's 'Best Unpublished Mystery' award from Crime Writers of Canada! I get to show off this badge now and everything:


As you know, I stepped back from knit design and frequent Hugs to do more fiction writing, and my shortlisted novel, SNOWED, is my third since this shift in focus. It's about an 80-year-old widow who has to solve a murder to hang onto her home - and fast, before the local police uncover her own sideline in blackmail. I know, she sounds so unsympathetic! But she doesn't blackmail for money. She swaps her silence for home repair, because her late husband left the house to the local historical society and they can take possession immediately if their monthly inspection reveals so much as a single peel of paint.

I had a great time with this one, playing with cozy mystery tropes and putting a fresh spin on the meddling old lady sleuth character. And it is such a vote of confidence to be a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada! It seems like everybody who ever thought they might like to write a novel, did so during the 2020 lockdowns. As a result every literary competition has been flooded with double or more the usual number of submissions the last couple of years. In that context, knowing the panel liked mine enough to put it into the top five... that's really something.

Another big thing happened this week.

This is a picture of a U Haul truck parked in front of our three-hours-distant cottage, so hidden by foliage after our long absence you can't really make out the excellent paint job Pete did right before we started construction on a new foundation and basement. The wishing well cover over the actual well shows up there though. I wrote a post a while back about yarn-bombing the bucket.

If you've been around long enough, you may recall that we bought this cottage from my much-loved aunt and uncle and had a ton of happy summers up there until we had to accept the listing sensation as we crossed the kitchen was not our imagination. The stilts it was built on were no longer doing the job, and it was time to bring in a specialist to raise it up and put a proper foundation underneath.

Given the choice between foundation and full basement, we opted for the extra living space, forgetting that it meant finding contractors to finish the new interior with walls, plumbing, all-new wiring, a heat source, a bathroom, and a stairway to the main floor - no mean feat in that pretty remote area! Plus, the foundation work started in the fall of 2019, so you can imagine how much harder it was to find a contractor to finish the job in 2020. Or 2021. Or even 2022, never mind that we were swamped then ourselves and couldn't have coordinated the work. 

So this was to to be the year we'd wrap up that job and get back to enjoying the beautiful lake at the edge of the property.

But in January, we had a letter from some neighbours asking if we'd be open to selling it to them. And after thinking it over, we realized this was the right thing to do. We love that very special place, but we're simply too far away to look after it properly: its new owners will live there full time and give it all the care and attention it deserves. Plus, they're in the area already and will have no problem getting trades in to transform it into a four-season home. 

They're just wonderful people and my biggest regret is that we won't be up there ourselves to get to know them better. 

My second-biggest regret is saying goodbye to the water!

There's still snow up there, but enough finally melted for us to get the truck in and clear out our things, almost a week after we officially closed the sale. So these photos are our last... in fact, we no longer owned it when we took them. 

I feel very fortunate to have had the wonderful news about SNOWED being shortlisted the same day we were saying our farewells. I mean, talk about great timing, getting that reminder of all the new possibilities that lie ahead of us, even as we close the door on something else.

Let's admire the lake together one last time, shall we? And then go and have a wonderful week till I see you here again next Saturday.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Hand Stitching

I love knitting and feel confident doing it, but I've long been interested in embroidery too... it can be so beautiful, don't you think? And what a wonderful way to message future generations.


Years ago I'd go a little wild in Melissa Wastney's Tiny Happy shop, buying up whatever little bags she had sewn from scraps of hand-embroidered textiles to keep or give away as special presents. They still give me enormous pleasure in my knitting. I don't always match the stitching to the knitting inside, but sometimes it works out that way, as above.

Even though I'm fascinated by needlework, I'm not good at all of it. I can't effortlessly embroider flowers or even laboriously so (same problem I have with watercolour!) Recently I was visiting French General's site and saw an upcoming, online workshop with textile artist Mandy Pattullo. Alas, it was already sold out... but Mandy's got a book out! I decided to buy it, and also a second one about women's pockets.

When I unpacked these two treasures I noticed right away an unusual feature of Textiles Transformed: the cover, front and back, is almost flocked with a textile finish. Pure luxury. 


Inside, the pages are full of gorgeous, colourful images alongside advice and instruction on how to work with textile fragments and combine them into new, quilt-effect pieces. 

I think stitching away at such tiny, complex, fascinating pieces would be a wonderful way to pass an evening or an afternoon with friends.

The Pocket, by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux, is an entirely different proposition - much more focused on social history and women's history in particular, which makes it a hugely fascinating read for me. I highly recommend the 3-minute video I linked there. There are wonderful photographs inside this book, too. I particularly loved the one on the right on this page, showing the access point curved to hug the wearer's hand as she reached inside. Such a human touch!

This photograph shows how a pocket was worn under a skirt and accessed through a slit in it. And also, how realistically dolls might be dressed. Girls learned early the value and privacy of a pocket.

I wonder what it says about our modern culture that women no longer require such large pockets worn daily - or from another perspective, no longer have the ability to wear them, amid streamlined and fitted styles. Statement bags, so easily stolen, seem like a poor substitute once you've seen how this older system worked.

For now, I'm going to carry on with my sock project... it's been very busy around here the last few months and that's the most I can take on. But I'm finding it's lovely to curl up with these new books for as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea, and escape into the past and the possible.

Hope you're having a lovely weekend - see you here next Saturday!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Casting On

Last night Pete found one of those shows about the beautiful English countryside and we nestled into the couch for some vicarious travel. But not before I found myself autopiloting to my sock yarn drawer to set up a new pair on my beloved square needles:

My yarn choices were pretty limited. Two Halloween colourways and this one, called 'Feast', from the November 2014 Vesper Sock Club. That's a shock right there, isn't it? I'm still working through a stash from almost ten years ago! 

This stripe combo might be meant for fall, but the carrot colours, plus the bright pink, lean springtime too.

There's been some serious leaning into spring around here. Like, last week I spotted a massive sale on cake plates and felt I must have them. This week I set them up on the mantel for plants, having realized too late they are really more for display than for food.

Now the mantel looks like a retail display but at least it's a fresh take on the usual! And I do love the dot cutouts on the tall plates, not to mention the repetition. 

Repetition improves sock stripes as well, I've noticed. If you just look at the orange and brown, this sock resembles a1970s handknit afghan:

But once you get into all the colours the whole tone changes. 


And by the time I'm ready to start the heel flap, the colours will have built up into something new again. Sort of a 'more is more' situation.

And speaking of 'more is more', I think chocolate brownies are a good thing to make tonight before I go any further with the socks. This recipe for cocoa brownies by Alice Medrich from her book Bittersweet, which I stumbled across on Smitten Kitchen, can be measured out on a scale, and you don't even need to remember to warm any butter first! Spontaneous desserting with minimal spoons to wash up after: it does not get better than that.

I hope your weekend is going beautifully, with or without a new project and fresh baking! and I look forward to seeing you here again next Saturday.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Published again

I've been holding back some news for a few weeks, but now I can announce it - another of my short mysteries was accepted into an anthology! Before we talk about that, let's take a moment for some eye candy:

You may have spotted an anomaly on the right side of that run of stitches. Yes, I'm actually casting off a completed knit (if you don't count the braided drawstring I have to make next.) Two things to celebrate this week!

The new short story will be in the anthology for the 2023 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, to be held August 30-September 3 in San Diego. All the stories had to be set in southern California, ideally in San Diego, and while I did my research I have to say: I got plenty smitten. San Diego looks so lovely and omigosh, the weather! Never too hot, never too cold, never too rainy or dry. From my little house in Toronto it looks like paradise. I'm still hoping I can attend the conference and see it in person.


The anthology looks fantastic, too. Check out that author list! I gotta admit, I got a little teary when I saw the company I'll be keeping. MURDER AT THE MARINA will come out late August and be available from bookstores and libraries as well.

August is still a dream for me, though it was warmer here today. We still have patches of snow. I haven't needed a hat but I haven't put any hats away, either. There's still hope I might find a use for my red stripey hatcowl before next fall.

It's been so long since I've had to cast off, I keep looking at the neat line of finished stitches like they're entirely new to me! I guess I really have been knitting nothing but socks. Those get a toe graft instead of a castoff, because I make them top-down.

Not to make this a weather-centric post or anything but - we've had some sun this week! And that means interesting light on the clouds and trees outside. I always get so excited when the sun reaches through our gate to paint stripes at our side door:

I don't have the same fine painting hand as the sun, but I did sit in on a fantastic art demo yesterday with Jens Huebner, who was showing how he uses Faber-Castell products for urban sketching. It was so inspiring, with all kinds of tricks for laying down colour and/or lifting it strategically. I haven't had much opportunity to do any urban sketching lately. But I do like to take a notebook and a couple of pencils outside and draw whatever happens to be going on with the birds or slow-moving squirrels or dogwalkers who've stopped to chat with a neighbour.

I'd like to do more of that and incorporate watercolour, which Jens talked about in the demo. He uses a watercolour pencilcrayon to lay down some colour, then wets it with his water brush (which he helped design!) and - eureka - rubs his finger over it to mute and blur the colour while drying the paper so he can rush to the next set of lines. In urban sketching, speed is key, but I'd never thought of this.

And... ugh. He demonstrated how to sketch out daisies in a meadow. He broke those petals down as simply as you could imagine so we could all follow along. And I still couldn't produce a recognizable flower.

What is it with me and not being able to draw or paint a plausible bloom?? I'm starting to feel cursed. I know I should be grateful I can come up with cartoony versions, but yeesh.

Here are some other flowers I didn't produce:

This little bouquet was on a card I received recently. Quilling is not something I've ever thought of doing but I think this is just beautiful don't you? And perfect for the first week of spring.

Thanks so much for popping by and reading what I've been up to this week. Hope you have a marvellous weekend and I'll see you next Saturday!