Monday, November 22, 2010

You can't always get what you want

Dear Cece;

I miss knitting on you. I know that when you arrived in the mail, I (practically) tore through the Tyvek envelope with my teeth to free you, balled you up immediately, swatched, and cast on within the hour. There is just one thing keeping me from you, and we both know what that is.

Sweater Swap 2010: A Twist Cardigan for Meghan, from the Stitch It! Podcast.

Meghan's sleeves. I honestly don't remember the sleeves on my own Twist taking this long. I blame the fact that Meghan is taller than I am, Cece. Every row on this pair of sleeves is like an eternity away from you.

What I'm saying, Cece, is that while knitting cables feels more appropriate for the practically Canadian weather we've been having in California, I'd rather be knitting you.

But I will tell you one thing, Cece. If your sleeves take HALF this long, you're going straight to time out. Don't say I didn't warn you.



Saturday, November 20, 2010

Get them while they're young

Last night, we celebrated MiddleJ's 17th birthday. I'm totally stunned at the fact the kids are growing up at light speed and turning into charming young adults. The milestones (birthdays, graduations, etc) feel like suckerpunches - we see all the kids with relative frequency, but it's the milestones that remind us all that they're growing up.

In any case, I decided to pull a few articles out of my winter closet for the occasion. It's been Very Very Cold (<60 F), which gives me a chance to wear my beautiful knits. I chose charcoal slacks, one of my Jackie O turtlenecks, a black silk cardigan, and my Juno Regina stole. I knit the stole a million years ago, and it doesn't get nearly enough wear. See?

Juno Regina, knit out of Handmaiden Sea Silk in "Pumpkin". 'tis the season, yo.

In any case, I showcased it by stylishly wrapping it around my neck with the pointed ends in front. The whole ensemble made me feel six feet tall, and like I was walking a runway regardless of what I was actually doing. (And let's face it, I have a FIERCE runway walk.)

Then, out of NOWHERE, came an amazing moment. Another niece, who I'll call Galette (because she is sweet, not fussy, and does her own thing), paid my Juno a compliment.

"Aunt Jasmin, your scarf is really pretty," says Galette.
"This? I knit this," I said, a little shocked.
"You MADE this?" Galette and LittleJ took time to investigate the pointed ends.
"I did."
"Could you make me one for Christmas?" Galette asked, hopeful.
I snorted, "Christmas is a month away. That is so not happening."
"Next Christmas?" Galette was still trying, and I found her optimism adorable.
"No. But, I can teach you how to knit, and by next Christmas, you could make one of these for yourself," I offered sincerely.

At this point, LittleJ mentioned that she had gone back to her knitting. I taught all Three Js to knit when Andrew was living in the cottage attached to their house, seven or eight years ago. The kids were interested, and as any self-respecting knitter knows, you strike while the iron is hot and plant that seed early.


Long, long ago, LittleJ wanted to make a Gryffindor scarf. So, as any good aunt would, I enabled. I bought them Kids Knitting by Melanie Falick, hoping that the initial lessons would spark a lifelong knitting flame. LittleJ worked on it for a while, but her interest waned. It happens.

Fast forward to Thursday night, when LittleJ and her friends were all going to the midnight premiere of the new Harry Potter movie. LittleJ remembered her neglected scarf, and since they were dressing up for the event, she grabbed it in hopes that she could wear it that night. She noticed that it still was finished, so she grabbed her trusty knitting book, and flipped through it until she found the section for binding off. (For the record, she refers to binding off as just "binding". I dig it.)

In true knitterly fashion, her friends were in the car waiting for her, while LittleJ is saying things like, "I need to finish binding my scarf!!!" She did, she wore it, and I think she might just have gotten that little hit of knitting that has the potential to become a lifelong obsession. (Or perhaps it is I who is the optimist now.)

In any case, as the night progressed, it seems that all the girls there (MiddleJ, LittleJ, Galette, and the Equestrienne) want to start (or in some cases, revisit) knitting. When they started talking about this, the hills were alive with the sound of knitting, and I was Maria Von Trapp.

Since then, in my imagination, I'm leading the kids in a rousing rendition of "Do Re Mi" (but with a knitting twist "YO, a stitch, a hol-ey stitch. K, a simple knitted stitch. V, the shape a knit stitch makes..."). My imagination *might* have completely run away with me. Maybe.

Me? I'm just glad that I was able to leverage knowledge that evil industries have collected for good. Get them while they're young, and they'll be knitters for a lifetime.

Or at least, an aunt can hope.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where have all the knitters gone?

Let's talk about the zombie apocalypse.

I've been on a zombie flick kick for a while (starting with Zombieland, which was surprisingly good), and I've noticed a distinct lack of people with any actual skills. No architects, no engineers, no farmers or ranchers, but most noticeably? No knitters, tailors, or seamstresses. Not even a couturier can be found. (Admittedly, they are rarer in real life anyway, but still.)

First, let's talk about what I've been watching. I got a double-dose of zombie apocalypse yesterday- the TiVo picked up Land of the Dead which featured my favorite man in a vest, Simon Baker, and John Leguizamo (who I apparently only like in drag). They go a little off-script with the interpretation of zombie mythos- mainly that the zombies are sentient, communicate, and have a leader. (I can just hear the trailers, "One zombie to lead them all...")

The people are all loathsome, the rich have somehow maintained their lifestyle in a gated-type community, the working stiffs fight the zombies, and everyone works for The Man. I briefly thought that this was a movie where people work together to survive. It turns out, it's about the triumph of the zombie spirit, since at the end, we find out that the zombies *only* want a place where they, too, can be safe. And kittens. They want kittens.

We could say that Land of the Dead is dated- since it came out in 2005. AMC has started a series called The Walking Dead, which is utterly captivating. It features Andrew Lincoln (who you might recognize from Love Actually or Teachers), and shows the best and worst of what is left of humanity in the United States. The exposition has been artfully crafted, the characters are being slowly developed, and the zombies seem to be sticking to the classic zombie mythos. (I hate it when they go off-book. Fast zombies, my foot.)

I won't spoil the show for anyone (because if you haven't seen it, you should give it a shot), but we're finally getting to see day-to-day life for the survivors. There is hunting, and people do laundry, but nobody is knitting. Or sewing. Or mending. We finished watching the episode, and it really, really bothered me that given a fixed amount of pre-prepared resources, nobody is thinking ahead.

Let's face it; clothes wear out. Even *if* the cities are full of abandoned department stores, they are also full of zombies. In the best of times, it's hard to find something in your size. Nevermind a store that's been looted. Plus, the gal at the dressing room is probably a zombie. We know from The Matrix that all the future holds for us is sweaters that are full of holes, since "progress" equals never learning how to mend your sweaters. I don't discriminate, apocalypse-wise. I saw 2012, too, and there was (again) a lack of people with actually useful skills. (But LOTS of nasty, movie stereotypes of rich people.)

As an aside, should any apocalypse come, I would rather have my knitting group in my camp than an army of MBAs and entrepreneurs. Or scrapbookers.

Andrew pointed out that the survivors (on The Walking Dead) haven't yet figured out that their clothes will wear out, which I countered with the fact that making clothes? Takes time. Especially if they don't have access to commercial fabric, power, or yarn. When you start from scratch, this stuff takes time. You have limited light, and have to be mindful of repetitive stress. (Though, I pointed out to Andrew that my Victoria was the best wheel for an apocalypse, since it's small and light.)

Plus, while the department stores might get looted, chances are good that you can find an LYS that is (mostly) intact.

So, to summarize, come the zombie apocalypse, come find me. We'll be the warm and well-dressed camp. And as my BFF points out weekly, everyone else will just be food.

(Thanks to my BFF, Miss Kalendar, for the inspiration for this post. Go listen to her podcast, Brass Needles. It's knitting, sci-fi, and brilliant.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Deductive reasoning

I got home from a great yoga class tonight, but am not feeling stellar. When Andrew called to see if I needed him to pick anything up on his way home from work, we had the following conversation.

Me: I'm not feeling great, I am going to drink some water and go lay down.
Andrew: Did you eat something?
Me: Yeah, and Mom is going to boil noodles to go in some soup for me.
Andrew: What do you think is wrong?
Me: I don't know. Maybe the flu? I feel like butt.
Andrew: It can't be the flu; you got a flu shot.
Me: Well, then it must be butt. Because I didn't get a butt shot.

All hail the foresight to freeze my healing chicken broth so that all it needs are elbows.(And my amazing deductive reasoning.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Andean ply

Last night, I came to the realization that I needed to take some pictures and do a ton of plying. Here's why:

(This tray has four sides, all of which are full of bobbins.)

Yes, the bobbins aren't full-full. They all have about 1 oz of fiber, which needed to be photographed before I could get it plied up. Thanks to my photography lesson with the incomparable Jade, a little fiddling with my lighting, the settings on my camera, and using my sweet external flash yielded some pretty good results.

So, I sat down to do some plying. I got busy and plied up the Crown Mountain Farms Blue Faced Leicester (from the Fiber of the Month Club), and I got to the end of one bobbin and realized that I still had 20ish yards of single left on the other bobbin.

I've been listening to the Yarnspinner's Tales Podcast at night. Cindy has a lovely voice, and is probably the most articulate person I've ever listened to, when it comes to the technical side of knitting. I'm listening back from the beginning, and in one of the episodes, she talks about Andean plying. For the first time, it really clicked. Basically, you make a center-pull ball around your wrist, and then ply from both ends.

Sounds simple enough, right? So, I decided to use the new skill I learned to finish off the end of the ball. (Normally, I would have Andrew walk back until the spare yardage was exhausted, and then ply until the yardage was done.)

In watching a video on how it's done, there are flashier ways than simply wrapping your wrist with single, but Cindy's description yielded some pretty spectacular results for having done it sight unseen. (You can see a YouTube video of the "right" way of doing it here.) I'm also super-pleased with myself for learning a new spinning skill.

My real motive for feeling the need to clear out bobbins?

That's right, this is what 20 lbs of clean fleece from Morro Fleece Works looks like. My table? Not as spectacular.
My fleeces from Black Sheep Gathering 2010 have started arriving. They're big, beautiful, and demand to be spun.

Just like that disc of Mad Men demands to be watched. Coincidence? I think not.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An afterthought

I've been knitting socks for a million years. However, as with all things, doing something for a long time doesn't necessarily make you an expert. I've basically knit the same pair of socks over and over again (with minor variations) about a million times.

My go-to vanilla pattern has a flap heel, though in college I did some experimentation and went through a period where all of my socks had garter stitch short-rowed heels. (Isn't that what college is about? Experimentation?) In any case, after college (like so many other girls) I went back to my standard flap heel.

If you listen to the podcast, you've heard my mom rave about how addictive afterthought heels are. If you're me, you hear it even more frequently. Like so many other things, her suggestion worked its way into my brain, and I succumbed to peer pressure. I started a pair of beautiful socks (out of Abstract Fiber's Temptation in "Snapdragon") with the express intention of finding out what all the hubbub around afterthought heels was about.

We were watching TV (The Good Guys, my current favorite show), and I decided to take pictures with my phone and tweet my progress.

This is my sock, with the waste yarn placed where the heel should go, 7 inches in. Dog sleeping in background is not necessarily necessary to execute an afterthought heel, but is a snuggly option. If allergic, feel free to substitute with a cat. Or goldfish.

To get to the afterthought heel, I knit my sock to my total foot length, minus the length of two sets of toe decreases. If my foot is a total of 9 1/4", and my usual toe decreases are 1 3/4" long, that would be:

9.25 - 2(1.75)  = 5.75 (<- total length of the foot in inches, pre-toe)

(Do you get as excited about order of operations as I do? I'm going to assume so.)

Next, it's time to pick up stitches:

Next step: Pick up stitches on either side of the waste yarn- or in this case, crochet cotton.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT pull out the waste yarn in a moment of excited enthusiasm. Mom (whose hand is featured in the photo above) was very clear about that when I got feverishly excited about intentionally making holes in my knitting. Pick up your stitches FIRST.

Like that. See? Two needles, stitches are all safe and accounted for.
Now comes the fun part. Mom says that if the waste yarn is slick enough, you can just slide it out. (I'm using mystery crochet cotton, since I'm pretty sure that Herself walked off with my sweet skein of beautiful, slick crochet cotton. She'll deny it, but I have my suspicions.)

Next step: Unpick/slide out your waste yarn. Bonus points if you pretend you're a surgeon, since removing stitches is pretty much the same regardless of your subject.
I don't think anything could have made me happier than seeing my stitches, all tidy and heel-ready blossom open as I undid the waste yarn.

Try it on. Look, it worked!
From here, knit a toe the way you normally would. Use your best kitchener stitching skills on those final remaining stitches, and voilĂ !

So, there is a teeny-tiny hole at the side, but you'll notice the conveniently located tail, which I'll be using to close the hole before I weave it in.

And on that note, I'm going to go and start the second sock while the spirit moves me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The magic fridge

As I mentioned earlier, LukeWarm and I have had some... speedbumps in our relationship. After realizing how much he was smoking, Mom suggested I help him quit. Mom's suggestion, as always, was right.

Smoking, as we all know, is bad for us and those around us. Especially (in my case) the people who I was trying to impress with my mad pie skills. Nothing gives your guests confidence in your culinary abilities like an surly oven billowing smoke. Even if you insist that it's *supposed* to do that.

This morning I put on my battle gear (cow print apron, gloves, headband), and LukeWarm and I spent some quality time working on getting him to quit smoking. As I started giving LukeWarm his spongebath (part of the terms of him quitting), I realized that I have never seen my mother scrub her oven.

Lest you think poorly of my mother (and her housekeeping), there are lots of things that just happened around the house. The oven and fridge magically cleaned themselves, and more than that, the fridge would magically fill itself.

I discovered that my parents had a magic fridge when Andrew and I first started dating. I would take a glance at my options, take something (or not), and that was that. Except that unlike my parents' fridge, nothing good magically appeared after a couple of days. 

I have known for years that the recipe for a magic fridge involves a responsible adult going to the store and filling it, but there is nothing more disappointing than realizing that you're a terrible fridge fairy.

Like any skill, earning your fridge fairy wings takes practice, effort, and knowing the needs of the people in the house. A good fridge fairy should have:

- Components to cook with
- Nutritious snacks (premade, like string cheese, applesauce, or delicious fruit)
- Yogurt/cottage cheese
- Milk
- Sandwich stuff
- Ice cream, vanilla plus another flavor
- Pot stickers (in the freezer)

(Why yes, despite my attempts at being an adult, those are staples in our house. If we don't have dessert, the terrorists win.)

So, in any case, today's lesson was that a pot scraper, Dawn dishwashing detergent, a new sponge, a few paper towels, and a heavy dose of determination will get the job done.

It also helps to have a Mom who shows you how to avoid all the work next time, by lining the oven with aluminum foil. Which explains why I never saw her scrubbing out the oven.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What doesn't kill us makes us hotter

Yoga is the best part of my week; I've been going to classes regularly since August. I'm not good at it (yet), but I like how it makes me feel. You shouldn't confuse that with "I like doing yoga", because as soon as class starts to get challenging, the Inner Dissenter starts whining about if class will EVER be over.

In case you're not familiar, the Inner Dissenter is the voice that tells you that you're not good enough, you're not a fastidious enough flosser, or that you look fat in those jeans. Mostly, the Inner Dissenter is a jerk.

[Side note: I think my personal hell is one where you're in a super-hard yoga class that never, ever ends. Or, sitting in a perpetually spinning office chair.]

I tried out a variety of classes, and throughout the week, my yoga workout varies. There is one class that is an ongoing challenge for me, taught by Kent Bond, who is the founder of Willow Glen Yoga. It's only the second yoga studio I've ever been to, but I like it LOADS better than That Other Place. They encourage the use of props, and for those of us who might be out of shape (or "alternatively shaped", as I like to think of it) props make easing into the positions much, much easier. It's taken a lot of the misery, pain, and self-loathing out of doing yoga, as far as I'm concerned.

Some of the classes are lovely and slow, but still on the challenging side. Not Kent's class. Kent's class delivers a Chuck Norris sized punch in the face, the core, and the hamstrings. Kent's class is simultaneously the most challenging and the most satisfying class of my week. The first few weeks were really frustrating for me; I felt betrayed by my lack of body awareness, my lack of balance, and my lack of sheer strength. I'm used to being a quick study, but my brain and body have had a really tough time with yoga.

Going to yoga has been incredibly humbling. I'm not used to struggling to learn something, and the first few classes I took with Kent were a challenge to say the least. The first class was an exercise in humility: every pose that we did in class, Kent would come by and correct me. When we were in a pose and he would pass me, it felt like a victory; I'd have a ticker-tape parade in my head. Halfway through class, every time Kent walked towards me, I thought, "Please don't be here to correct me." Then, I realized, No Jasmin, you're wrong.

I was there to learn, and unless I wanted to do it incorrectly (and risk injuring myself), I needed to really absorb the correction. Being a quick study has made me a lazy learner; if I don't get it right away, my inclination is to quit. Frankly speaking, that is crap.

The Inner Dissenter was louder than ever, saying all sorts of unflattering things about my learning ability, and was encouraging me to roll up my yoga mat, go home, and have a bowl of ice cream instead of doing the Hard Yoga.

I thought loudly to the Inner Dissenter, Shut up and let me learn.

I pushed through to the end of class, and ached all the way home. When I got there, Andrew asked me how it had gone, to which I responded, "Miserable. I'm going to keep going until it's not so hard."

And I have. In the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that I'm able to hold the poses more easily, my flexibility has increased, my balance is improved, and my shape has changed, noticeably. 

Maybe if I approach intarsia with the same gusto, it won't be so horrible.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An apple [pie] a day

Our CSA has inundated us with apples. I know it's the season for it, but when it comes to apples and citrus, we're set. The previous owner of our house took a lot of pride in the garden, and the thriving fruit trees are a testament to his hard work.

Unfortunately, regardless of how many times I tell the trees to please ripen 8-10 apples a week, they insist on ripening all at once. This year, a friend of ours volunteered to come and pick our apples in order to turn them into deeeeelicious hard apple cider.

Then came the CSA, with eight million apples every week. I've mostly just been eating them as I go, but there are only so many apples a girl can eat. Since I am trying to earn my Adult badge, I've been going to the grocery store on a more frequent basis in order to properly stock my pantry.

Like my knitting and spinning stash, it takes time to stock a pantry properly. I'm finding that we were missing some essential items (like cinnamon, oddly enough). In my quest to stock the pantry, I pass the baking section every time I go to the store, and I see the tub of lard.

Historically, I've never cooked/baked/sculpted with lard, and it's not something that my mom used in her cooking, either. But I WANTED to buy a tub of lard. Obsession doesn't even begin to explain this. Every time I walked past the lard, it called to me.

So, given the abundance of apples and my burning need to buy a tub of lard, the only logical solution was to make apple pie. Apple pie isn't a big deal, I've made it before, and I've made my own crusts before, too. Just not with lard. I called Laura and Mom over, and we. Made. Pie.

We used the pie recipe from Mom's McCall's Cooking School cookbook, and the crust recipe from Joy of Cooking. I used lard and butter for the crust, followed the directions to the T, and Mom coached me on rolling out the crust properly.

At this point, it's only fair to point out that Andrew was suspicious of my use of the lard, despite my enthusiasm. He declared that he didn't think he liked lard in pies, despite any lack of previous pie-with-lard experience. (I think it was the beautiful marbling in my rolled-out crust, with the lard and the butter making a lovely swirl of deliciousness.)

"Ah, well," I said, channeling my mother, "More for me. It sounds like you don't need any pie."

Andrew backpedaled a bit, and boy, was he glad he did. The conversion rate of photos to words applies here:

So good, we couldn't wait for a photo first.


We actually ended up baking three pies, but I only kept one at home. (Laura took one, and we delivered the last one to my BFF, Miss Kalendar, at her enviable new residence.) It's amazing how satisfying a piece of pie can be.

There were learning experiences attached to the pies, of course.

The first was discovering that three pies worth of crust are exhausting to make. I've been going to yoga 3-4 times a week since August, and the last crust felt positively Herculean to make. Core strength doesn't matter when you're cutting in cold butter and lard. (It's okay, Core Strength. I use you for everything else!)

The second was finding out that LukeWarm is a drama queen. A little bit of crust falls to the bottom of the oven, and he smokes like a chimney. Sheesh!

The last is that there is nothing more satisfying than eating hot pie (a la mode, of course) while you relax with your loved ones in front of a zombie apocalypse flick.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Good enough to eat

For a few years now, I've been fooling people around me. People seem to be under the impression that I am an adult. It's an elaborate deception; like an adult, I went to work, I paid my bills, I did my laundry, but I never considered myself to be an adult.

I still eat ice cream for breakfast in the summertime. When I see kids begging for candy at the grocery store, sometimes I buy it not because I WANT candy, necessarily. I buy it because I *can*, and there isn't a thing anyone can do to stop me.

What really convinced me that I am a total fraud is cooking . I do a fine job with executing recipes, but I can't look in the fridge and compose dishes by memory or invention. I watch other people (I call them "adults") glance at the contents of their refrigerators and divine up brilliant and delicious dishes. Not me.

Meal planning is another challenge, mostly because my inner six-year-old wants something different on Wednesday than I did on Sunday (when I was trying to be an adult an plan my meals).

I confessed to Laura that I am a fraud, after she complimented a dish that I had prepared for a pot luck, and she laughed hysterically at my heartfelt, shame-filled confession. Maybe I hadn't been clear enough.

"I don't know how to throw things together. I look up what I want to cook, buy the ingredients, and make it," I explained.

Laura laughed even harder, then declared that EVERYONE is a fraud, and that there were no real adults. Apparently, everyone is guilty of perpetuating an elaborate social ruse. Who knew?

Mom told me that it wasn't about any secret that I didn't know - it was my cookbooks. I picked my cookbooks based on specific dishes or skills; I bought Soup: A Way of Life for the Quibebe recipe, the America's Test Kitchen cookbook for the tomato soup recipe, and the Williams Sonoma "Meat" cookbook for the Texas Chili recipe.

(Yes, there are loads of great recipes, but those were the clinchers.)

"You need a good, basic cookbook," Mom said, "A Fannie Farmer, or the Joy of Cooking. You do the complicated stuff well; this will be a breeze."

Laura mentioned that she had a few copies of The Joy of Cooking, so I asked to borrow one to flip through before investing in a Very Large Cookbook. To my great surprise (and intimidation), Laura GAVE me one of her copies (yes, still plural) of Joy of Cooking, along with a few of the Better Homes and Gardens recipe binders.

A few nights ago, I made meatloaf for the first time. It's not a big deal for most of you, but I am ridiculously proud of myself. I prepped the meatloaf, threw it in the oven, then worked on getting the sides (steamed carrots, green beans, potatoes, and gravy) prepped and timed to be ready when the meatloaf was done.

Before you start admiring my adultitude, wait a moment.

Like with knitting (and everything else in life), with cooking you should read the directions all the way through FIRST. Had I done that, I could have knit through an uninterrupted repeat on my Cece cardigan, instead of trying to figure out why my oven refuses to actualize its potential. (It seemed that while the knob reads one temperature, the oven itself runs 75 degrees colder than the knob claims.)

While I can appreciate LukeWarm (my oven's name)'s desire to tell me that he's hot and ready for my tasty morsels, he's just too small for my needs, and really takes too much time to get me what I need. Which is (in case you weren't clear on it) hot, delicious food in a reasonable amount of time.

(Don't tell LukeWarm, but I've been trying to burn him out with my constant attention so that I can move on with Prince PipingHot. I need size and heat and will accept no substitutes.)

In any case, after figuring out how much I need to compensate for LukeWarm's lackluster performance, when the time came I held my breath for the moment of truth: How is this dish?

A rousing success! Plates were cleared, and for the first time in almost five years of marriage, Andrew went for seconds. Then joked about licking his plate. I thought it was pretty good, too.

With the help of friends and family, I think I might just earn my adult badge someday. Or at the very least, a really convincing fake.