Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Here's what we did in yoga this morning: we tried something completely new, a bit daunting, involving balancing on our hands in crow pose.

And it was okay. We survived. We laughed. We marveled at our ability to do something that we didn't think we could do, or we observed with satisfaction, as others attempted the pose.

I had very little voice, due to the end round of the flu. And that was okay, too, for the most part. I wanted to chant "om" at the end of class, but didn't think I would have much projection left after an hour or so of talking. So my students carried the load, and that was good, too. The best part of being a teacher is seeing your students grow and flourish.

Toward the beginning of class, as I was explaining my raspy voice, I told the class that if they couldn't hear me, to just continue. "You can peek at your colleagues if you're not sure what to do," I suggested. "Better yet, don't worry, just go ahead and do something. It will be fine."

And then and there, I realized that that was my resolution for the coming year.

Here's wishing you, and me, lots of laughter, good food and drink, and something that you've always wanted to do, but haven't yet tried, in the year to come.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Swallowtail Shawl, now boarding for Cyprus

Having successfully navigated its way from Chicago to New York City, the Swallowtail Shawl will be boarding shortly for Cyprus.

Originally destined for someone much closer to home. But I have been meaning to make something for the amazing woman who hosted my daughter last year during a semester abroad in Cyprus, and this seemed just right. So, on its way it goes.

Unfortunately, I could not manage to take a picture before its departure that does this shawl justice. Outdoors, at this time of year, not the best background for a brown shawl. And in this arty shot, you can see, I admit, our garbage can.

It's a new one. But yet, still a garbage can.

Here's an effort to pose it over the railing in the upstairs hallway. Brown against brown, again.

One more try, on my older daughter's bed, with the intention here to exhibit the beautiful transitions between the sections of lace, the airiness in contrast with the more dense areas of the fabric, and the wonderfully-peaked edging that scallops and echoes the design of the lace pattern.

I give. It is a shy shawl. My theory: it's waiting to be donned, posed in front of a very blue sea, sun shining on the water, great Cypriot food and wine nearby. Or maybe that's just not a shawl's fantasy?

Here are my notes:

Project: Swallowtail Shawl
Source: Interweave Knits, Fall 2006
Designer: Evelyn Clark
Yarn: Rovings, Canada Polwarth Wool and Silk, 2 ply fingering weight, 823 yd. per skein, color (or Colour): Brown (used about 650 yd. for the shawl)
Source: Stitches Midwest, 2006
Needles: Size 8 Bryspun 24" circular, Size 8 Addi Turbo 40" circular
If I Had it to Do Over Again: I wouldn't change anything. Beautiful yarn, wonderful to work with on a Bryspun (which gave just enough traction), beautiful pattern.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Worst Thing about the Internet

What I dislike most about the Internet: the trivialization of serious, major events in history by reducing them to headlines and images.

On the ATT home page, front and center: a strangely Hollywood-style glam-shot photo of Hussein, beside headlines trumpeting his imminent demise. Wearing a bright white shirt, he looks over his shoulder, somewhat the businessman, somehow a bit reminiscent of Pierce Brosnan. The confluence of image and headline is odd, a bit too eager, tasteless, and above all, reductive of what is a poor solution to a horrific situation.

Note: in the time that it took me to write these few sentences, the image has been changed to a more polemical shot of Hussein, fist raised, shouting, set in a courtroom. Just in case we weren't sure how we're supposed to feel about the ensuing execution.

The Best Thing about the Internet

What I love about the Internet: wandering about and coming across something I did not know, that has integrity, wisdom, honest craft, community.

Start here, and look at Meg Swansen's Schoolhouse Press site. Yes, it's knitting, but it's more than that. And if you're already a knitter, time yourself to see how long you can read before wanting to order all the books and yarn, and to sign up for every session of Knitting Camp. And I don't even like camp.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hand/Wrist Warmers, aka Reading Mitts

Project: Hand/Wrist Warmers

Designer: Joelle Hoverson

Source: Last-Minute Knitted Gifts (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004)

Yarn: Classic Elite Inca Marl (100% alpaca), color 1194, 1 skein

Needles: size 7 Addi Turbo 24" circular

Variations: knitted back and forth and seamed mitt after binding off, instead of working on double-points; dropped down to size 6 needles for last four rows to create tighter ribbing at finger edge; row gauge, as usual, coming out at less rows per inch than called for in pattern, so I measured against my hand instead of following specs in pattern; great yarn, easy to work with, project knits up fast - but is warm and a bit itchy when worn

If I Had It to Do Over Again: do body of mitt on a size 6 needle and ribbing on a size 5 (mitt really stretches when worn); be more vigilant about measuring, as one mitt came out longer than the other

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gauge Question re Worsted Yarns

I'm fighting with my yarn.

It wants to be on a larger needle, but in order to get gauge for the Bianca's Jacket, I'm subjecting it to a size 7 needle. Every row feels like a huge effort. No pleasure at all, especially as it's plain old stockinette stitch for miles.

The yarn is a worsted weight. The suggested gauge: 16 and a half stitches to 4 inches. And that's what I get on a size 7 bamboo circular. However, knitting with the size 8 felt all together better: easier, smoother, more of a flow.

So here's my question:
is it better to stick to gauge, or better to let the yarn feel right (and then try to ballpark the size that you think that the sweater will end up as)?

And because I still remember the paper that I wrote for a class toward my master's degree, in which my intro paragraph noted that I would address three issues, and then I addressed four, here's another question:
I looked at WrapStyle for help and noticed a huge variation in the size needles used for worsted weight yarns (anywhere from 6 to 9's), though, in each case, the suggested gauge was 16 stitches. How come?

But the glass is half full. Homemade challah french toast is ready to eat! (And I cooked it this time.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Things to Recommend doing on December 25th

Sleeping in.

Taking a nap between breakfast and lunch.

Going to see "Dreamgirls." Jennifer Hudson: perfection.

Taking a nap between lunch and dinner.

Admiring the knitted hat that your daughter made on her new Denise interchangeable needle set.
Also admiring her use of color: blending a lusciously-soft angora in a variegated pink and orange with some left-over Cascade 220 in dark brown and charcoal.
Side benefit: possibly retrieving all the size 8 needles that you suspect you may have loaned to her in the last two years. I know that I had an Addi Turbo size 8 somewhere, sometime.

Having risotto, salad, green beans for dinner. The very end of the pear crisp for desert.

Sitting on a fleecy dog bed in front of the fire while watching "Pirates of the Caribbean." Fleecy dog bed obtained while person originally sitting on it left the room to get drinks for dinner.

Tranferring to the other dog bed to read a Nero Wolfe mystery when the one person not sitting on a dog bed in front of the fire chooses to return fleecy dog bed to the dog.

Doing a variation of viparita karani, with legs propped up on the wing chair, lying back on a big, circular dog bed while reading in front of the fire.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Swatching for Bianca's Jacket

Watching Noah Wyle in the second "Librarian" movie: The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines. The movie was recommended by someone at work who loves movies as much as I do. A little bit Indiana Jones, a little bit After-school Special, fun, light, and Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, to boot.

And swatching a swatch for Bianca's Jacket from the Fall 2006 Interweave Knits. First up was Classic Elite Wool Bamboo, but a bit too flabby. Now on deck, elsebeth lavold angora, at rest in this picture in a pool of water pre-blocking.

I was trying to break out of my blue and red rut. One shawl, two sweaters in blue. One sweater, now a second, in red. No browns or blacks or anything else. But faced with the other choices of tan, khaki green, rust, and blue, I gave in to fate and went with the cherry red, sort of a red crossed with the depth of maroon.

The yarn has that halo of fuzziness that I love, but may be too fat for this project. Stitch gauge: dead on, almost. Row gauge: wow, could not be more off. I'm getting 16 stitches and 10 rows to 4 inches, with the pattern calling for 16.5 stitches and 26 rows. Does this mean that the sweater will fit sideways but not up and down?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More than Circular, completed, or Shawl No. 2 in a Series for my Staff

Pocahantas-style portrait of More than Circular. Worn, not by the recipient, but my younger daughter, who gamely agreed to go out on the porch and model it so that I could take its picture before giving it away.

When the weather improves, or more importantly, when the sun comes out again (sometime in April, most probably), I have a promise from the person I gave it to that she'll model the shawl so that I can take one of those really good, shot from the back, arms spread like wings, you can see the lace detailing pictures. We have a sort of stream behind the store, where it sounds like a nature CD when you take out the trash. Red-winged blackbirds chirping, ducks a-swimming, water babbling. Come April, if not sooner, I'll take another picture so that you can see the beauty of this shawl.

In the meantime, here are my notes:

Project: More than Circular from Best of Knitter's Magazine Shawls and Scarves
Designer: Joanne Besold
Yarn: 20/12 bamboo from Habu Textiles, hand-dyed by me
Needles: size 4 bamboo double points; size 4, 5 , 7, 8 and 10.5 metal circulars
Variation: includes 3 relief rounds to increase size
If I made this again: I would leave out the relief rounds, which made the shawl quite large after blocking
Size: 48 by 48" before blocking, 60" by 60" after blocking
Started: June '06
Finished: November '06

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Using Google to Find the Post You're Looking For

A big Aha moment for me! I found the thread that leads to the center of the maze.

The problem: how to get from the hit Google offers to the exact page in the blog that you're searching for.

What usually happens: the first link takes you to the most recent post in a blog, not to the post that you want to find.

Example: Google this term: "the world's most perfect brownies".
What you see next is a list of hits, with the first hit quoting a post on my blog about baking the world's most perfect brownies.
But if you click on that link, you are taken to my most recent post (in today's case, a post on shortbread, not at all brownie-like).

Solution: click on the term "Cached," which appears beside the web address for the link. This will take you to a page that highlights the keywords and gives the web address for the post with the info you were googling. Make sense?

Example: Google "the world's most perfect brownies" again. This time, click on "cached" instead. This time you are directed to the post on brownies instead of whatever is the most recent post on my blog.

It's small. And you may already know this. But I've been searching for this info for the last five months in other blogs, Google help groups, and slightly stalkerish emails to a person on the Google help groups who seem to know the ins and outs of blogging much better than me (I regret that effort and will not repeat it ever).

But in a Scylla and Charybdis kind of way, probably no one who really needs to know this will ever find this post.

And wouldn't it be better if I could have used "world peace" or "compassion for those who most aggravate us" as the example, instead of brownies. Ah well. Let it be know that the recipe in the decadent cookbook, Chocolate Obsession (by chocolatier Michael Recchiuti and baker Fran Gage) for Fudge Brownies is almost the same as my Betty Crocker-redux.


Rosie's duck.

Sent for Hanukah by my older daughter. Now the dog has two stuffed animals, referred to by us, for unclear reasons, as her babies. Perhaps because we know Rosie would have made a really good mom to pups. When my younger daughter left for Cyprus last year, Rosie placed her first stuffed animal with my daughter's luggage in the living room. We weren't sure if she was packing to go along or sending a friend along for comfort.

A sure sign of love: a foot chewed off within the first day.


Shortbread cooling. My mother-in-law's recipe, via a really-truly Scottish neighbor. Must mix by hand, no mechanicals allowed.

Stacked up and ready to be boxed.

Honestly, my first-time ever making holiday cookies, and I'm a neophyte when it comes to the understanding of how many tins you will need, whether round or square works best, and the cost and sad aesthetics of store-bought tins. But no going down the road of making my own boxes and decorating them. I have a book from the library that gives recipes and directions for amazingly labor-intensive packaging. Who has the time to cut a template, make a box, and decorate it? I was regretting even the time I lost in reading the directions.

But what a sense of achievment to bake cookies. The smell of baking sugar, the unbaked dough, the warm crumbs, tea and fresh-baked shortbread.

The recipe? 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of cornstarch, a heaping cup of confectioners sugar, a pound of butter. Mix it with your hands until a dough forms. Press it into a jelly roll pan, prick all over with a fork, and bake for about 45 min. at 325 degrees. Remove from oven. Cut, while in pan, into rectangular cookies. Return to oven and bake for another 5-10 minutes. Cover with foil for last baking if the top has started to brown.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Only Nine Shopping Days Left

My day today included:
  1. A tap-dancing customer who was jilted five days before the wedding, and could not recall her address because her mail is still being delivered to the ex-fiancee's house.
  2. A customer who came in to pick up the coat we had ordered for his wife while we were doing Uttanasana, or standing forward fold, behind the counter during a brief lull in business. In fact, one of us, who will go unnamed, was demonstrating the use of props in the pose by placing each hand on a stack of gift certificate boxes, in place of a yoga block. He looked intrigued but pretended not to notice.
  3. Here's what the UPS truck brought at 4:30 pm: four cartons of enormous gift boxes, used only for robes or coats or to hold a small animal; three cartons of very large shopping bags, not quite large enough however for the robe boxes. No medium gift boxes. No large gift boxes. Delivery late enough in the day so that everyone from the packaging place had gone home for the weekend and didn't have to take irate phone calls from managers who know how obsessed customers become with wanting the exactly-correct size of box for their presents.
  4. A cup of green tea from Tea Gschwender. The stuff grows on you. The reason I had this: my manager walked into the tea place and asked "What's on tap?" We think that they should open an outpost of Tea Gschwender in our store. The same manager who picked up the tea thinks that they should let us run a tab.
  5. Lots and lots of potato latkes. No matter how many you make, they all get eaten. And I sent some over to my neighbor, who'd sent me a recipe for zucchini latkes and even offered to grate potatoes. Now that's love.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Random beauty

The Swallowtail Shawl with the last of my finds from our favorite resale shop, which is no longer crammed full of cartons, overflowing with clothing onto floors and counters, the thrill of finding something amazing hidden in the middle of all this Stuff. I'm convinced that the current owner, who cleaned the place up and severely edited the array, is selling the best stuff on Ebay.

I love that the cat feels that she is owed not one fleecy blanket. Not one fleecy blanket on top of a folded quilt. But the bed, with a flannel duvet over the comforter, a folded quilt, and then a fleecy blanket. What a life.

A small wall quilt that my friend Lori made for me during her quilting period. The dog in the center: a portrait of Rosie, our Lab.

Progress on Swallowtail Shawl

Here is the outer edge of the shawl. Swirly lines, interrupted by yarnovers that create the lacey openings and the so-called nupps, basically a purl-5-stitches-together to create what looks a lot like an embroidered French knot that punctuate the baroque movement of the background pattern.

Compare that to the Shaker-like regularity of the upper part of the shawl, where the same small motif occurs at regular intervals, surrounded by white space. That emptiness is integral to the beauty of the lacey sections.

Now working on the Peaked Edging. Much faster to work. Yeah for getting to just purl across the even-numbered rows with no concern for nupp-ing or counting stitches!

Monday, December 11, 2006

History of the Button. Honest.

A great year's end list here, on "The best blogs you (maybe)haven't read in 2006. "

My favorite: History of the Button. Really.

The World's Most Perfect Brownies

There are times in life that just call for chocolate.

Around my house or workplace, that would be any day, any excuse. Go to the stockroom for a size? Have a Hershey's Kiss. Face off with a grouchy customer? A slice of cake will make it all better.

In my kitchen, generic chocolate chips from the supermarket hold a medicinal value. I feel that it's good to dose oneself with a small handful of chips every four hours or so to ensure preservation of the highly influential endorphin level. I also think of it as a French response. Instead of eating a large bowl of ice cream, I satisfy the desire for something sweet with four or five Jewel-brand chocolate chips and feel virtuous in the process.

No surprise, then, that my signature recipe is what I like to call The World's Most Perfect Brownies. Cribbed from the middle-brow, always efficient, Betty Crocker Cookbook, then halved again to fit perfectly into The World's Most Perfect Brownie Pan.

Rectangular, metal, used regularly for over 20 years. I'm convinced that there is a feng shui thing going on with this pan. Somehow it's perfectly attuned to making just-thick-enough, very chocolatey, moist-crumbed, almost-underbaked brownies. I was horrifed to observe, in the accompanying portrait, that it appears that the pan is rusted. No, not true. I am not a great housekeeper, but even I wouldn't cook with a rusty pan. I'm sure, instead, that it's batches and batches of brownies endowing the pan with a patina of chocolate.

Here's the recipe:

3 squares baking chocolate
1 stick of margerine (if you have to, butter will do in a pinch)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
a small glug of vanilla
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
a scant cup of flour (don't sift it, don't measure it too carefully, err on the side of less than a cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt margerine and chocolate in a large saucepan over very low heat. When melted, stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Just crack the eggs into the pan; don't get too fancy here and pre-beat the eggs.

Place the pan in the sink. This is a key step not to be skipped. Add flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir with a wooden spoon (one that preferably has the same feng shui value as your baking pna) just until flour is mixed in. Feel pleased that you put the pan into the sink so that you have no qualms when the flour puffs up and lands outside the pan. This will also ensure that you don't add too much flour; the escaping clouds are an integral part of keeping the brownies moist.

Spray your pan with Pam. I know, but it works and it's easy. Pour the batter into the pan. Smooth it with a spatula. Then give the pan a few horizontal shakes to even the batter out. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes.

Start testing the brownies with a toothpick. You want the toothpick to still have some moist crumbs on it when the brownies are done. I often turn the oven off and leave the brownies just a minute or so more after they seem almost done. Remove brownies from oven. Err on the underbaked side. You'll be glad: they keep cooking after you take them out because the pan and batter are still hot.

Try to let them cool a bit before you carve a corner out for quality control. Drink a glass of really cold milk on the side.

One last comment: these are so well-known that I have been asked to send the recipe to at least two offspring, one of whom doesn't recall but actually translated the recipe for an assignment in a college-level Spanish class. It's good to be appreciated.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Patanjali's second Sutra

A sutra is a thread, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a collection of dense, aphoristic threads that lead into the maze that is yoga. The Sutras are not a religious text, but an ancient how-to manual on what is required to practice yoga and what the results of that practice might be.

Today, at the end of class, I read the second sutra. It's hard to get away from the beginning of this book, because the opening lines are so strong. And this sutra is the one that's quoted in almost every yoga book you'll read. In Sanskrit: yogas citta vritti nirodah. In English, usually understood, as here in Barbara Stoler Miller's translation: "Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of thought."

But in a translation I recently bought, this is the way in which the second sutra is translated: "Yoga happens when there is stilling. . . of the movement of thought . . ."

I like this version much better. Have you ever tried to stop thinking? Well nigh impossible. Take that great American Express commercial with Ellen Degeneres. She's sitting in a Zen meditation room, in lotus position, hands carefully held in a mudra, or seal. Against this emptiness is the constant internal dialogue she's holding with herself. And while it's a dialogue about shoes, I believe which I'm all in favor of, the commercial points up the unlikelihood of us being able to stop thinking.

In yoga, we call this constant internal conversation citta, or chatter. It's what makes the final pose in a yoga practice the most difficult. Savasana, or corpse pose, requires the body to be still. And once the body stills, the mind thinks it's its job to be active.

What I appreciate about the translation I read from today: no hint of yoga leading the mind to stop its turning. Instead, what is offered is a possibility of pausing, resting. I compared it, in class, to a car that's idling. The engine is still running, but the car has paused, momentarily, so that the driver might notice the view of a mountain range or a beautiful sunset before moving on.

Correction courtesy of assistance from the Source of All Knowledge. Apparently Degeneres is
thinking about socks, not shoes, which make no sense at all to me. Being that I contend that shoes are the Best Thing to make yourself feel pretty: you can look down at your feet, admire your shoes, and not see the rest of your body. No matter what your shape or size, that foot looks good in a great shoe, preferably red in color. And looking down, turning your toes in and out, like Dorothy checking out her ruby slippers in "The Wizard of Oz," how can you not say to yourself, "am I cute or what?"
Addendum: this, clearly, is the reason that shoe departments make the mirrors so tiny that you can see nothing in them above your ankle.

Another Beautiful Blog

My Fashionable Life. Oh, so lovely. The cleanest of blog pages, with a flutter of tinted photographs decorating the left side of the screen.

Best of all: if you go to the link for Anna's own designs, you will see some very beautiful, very classy, very fun designs. Rowan-esque, with a hint of je ne sais quoi.

I've been feeling blog envy of late. And when I see a blog like this one, it seems to me that being a blogger makes much more sense when you are truly an artist of the craft.

I wish that I could offer original designs and patterns of my own making. But right now, I'm still on the learning curve. Good gravy (with apologies to my daughter, but this is one of my most favorite things that she actually once said on her blog): I was making major errors on the Swallowtail Shawl (which so many others have started and finished in a weekend) because I failed to notice that I hadn't copied the whole right side of the pattern, thus losing a crucial part of the directions.

To knit, to blog? To practice yoga, to knit? To bake brownies, to read the Sunday Times? So many choices, so little time.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Blog to Recommend, or Two

Beautiful knitting, smart politics, a social conscience and a sense of humor, and pictures of cats here at Sheep to Shawl by Donna Druchunas.

Not a meme (which is one great way to fill a post when you're too tired to write), but an equally good solution: a follow the link, this time from Polly Outhwaite at All Tangled Up.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Comfy but fun sweater suggestions?

Any suggestions from the knitter-readers for a pattern for a comfy but fun winter sweater?

Plan is to use the Classic Elite Wool Bamboo from a few posts ago. I'm having slight Knitting Indecision and thought I'd throw this out for any other ideas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading Mitts

An easy, quick project in the midst of knitting lace shawls: mitts for reading in bed.

My theory is that I can slip these on, keep my hands outside the covers while I'm reading, but have my fingers free for turning pages or holding the book. That is until I invent the Bookholder I've been saying, for many winters, would be the perfect invention for winter-time, reading-in-bed reading.

Pattern: Hand and Wrist Warmers from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts.
Needle: size 7 circular
Yarn: Inca Marl from Classic Elite

Who needs to spin when you can buy yarn with plum and green and blue and maroon mixed together? And a beautiful, soft hand (meaning the feel of the yarn as you work it, not the actual anatomical part)? And no need for cabling: the pattern is a spiraling rib that resembles a tiny cable twisting on itself, but achieved just by shifting the K2P2 one stitch over every 4 rows? Tricky to see in my not-fancy digital camera photo. But if you enlarge the photo by double-clicking on it, you can follow the tiny, snaking trail of the faux cable as it winds around itself.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Swallowed but not Digested

Thank goodness for my local yarn shop. They bailed me out yet again.

I was pushing along with the Swallowtail Shawl, onto the Lily of the Valley Border I. I'd carefully consulted the knitalong that I'm participating in, read the posts about the fearsome nupps (more on that in a moment), and posted a question that received three helpful suggestions. I counted carefully, tried my hardest to pay attention, and then counted again.

Still, something amiss. But I persevered. I came up with a handy solution to the fact that I was short a few stitches. Well, that my knitting was. I simply added in a stitch at the missing spots, taking careful note of the variation so that I could repeat it if needed.

More knitting. More strange deviations from the number of stitches specified in the pattern to occur between nupps (more on those later). Finally, the personal admission that Something isn't Working. I called my yarn shop and asked if there was someone in who could give me a half-hour private lesson, to help me determine what I was doing wrong. One of the teachers urged me, instead, to just come in. Someone, she assured me, and probably the expert on lace, could take a look.

So in I went, also taking More than Circular along to show off proudly. Found the lace expert available. Sat down with her while she puzzled over the problem.

And the mistake?

I missed the far right hand margin of the page when I made my copy. You know, the part where it says "k1, yo, k1, yo, k1"? My version said "k1, yo, k1". . .so I was making 3 stitches for the nupp (more on that later) instead of 5. Thus, throwing the next row and all else into disarray.
Nothing intellectual or creative gone wrong. Just a bad copy!

Now I'm a-ripping back, my least favorite part of knitting. And even more painful on the last day off before going back to work. But the lovely part was hanging out at the knitting store, sitting around the table gabbing with other knitters, drinking a latte (at one point, I had to have sustenance or could not go on with the ripping), and strolling about in quest of a pretty but not too demanding project for me. At the end of the afternoon, the knitter sitting next to me showed me the Rowan pattern she was working on. Perfect! The final choice: Nancy from the Wool Cotton pamphlet, a vintage-style cardigan with a seed-stitch collar and a ribbed detail on the sleeves. I bought some rosy-pink-peach colored wool-bamboo from Classic Elite, and have a date to go back next Sunday to see the version of Nancy that my knitting acquaintance made from Anny Blatt.

And those so-called Nupps? Seems that they are known as nubs by many knitters. Right. Much more polite to speak of in mixed company, as well.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hand-dyed Details in More than Circular Shawl

More than Circular blocking. It reminds me of the sand mandelas that Tibetan monks create. I missed the occasion, but they came to our yoga studio a few years ago to make one there, as well as creating one at the Field Museum in Chicago.


The colors show beautifully in this bamboo from Habu Textiles. I dyed the yarn in two lots, each time making several shifts in dilutions of the stock colors and then random mixing of colors from lot to lot. Turquoise to royal blue to a sea blue to a jewel-tone lapis to amethyst, and back again.

Here you can get a tiny sense of how the color shifts from a very vibrant turquoise at the center to a deeper violet with blues at the border.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Food and Reading

At this time of year, if you can't be eating something, you might as well be reading about eating something.

Cookbooks are one option. One of my favorite authors: Marcella Hazan. Two volumes, The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classic Italian Cooking, of very opinionated pronouncements on how to cook real Italian food, the real Italian way. You don't find a narrative tone like this in most novels.

Here's Hazan on salad dressing:
"There is absolutely nothing mysterious about the dressing for an Italian salad. The ingredients are salt, olive oil, and wine vinegar. Pepper is optional, and lemon juice is occasionally substituted for vinegar." My friend Lori marvels at the tone. Confident, authoritative, unwilling or perhaps uninterested in considering that there might be another way to do it. Nope, this is it, and let the reader move on.

The recipes are brief, clear, and to the point. Even the newest, least experienced of cooks could open Hazan's books at any page and make a great meal. After each recipe, directives on what to serve before, with, and after the course. Every single thing that I've made from these books has been wonderful. Some have become such stand-bys that I no longer eat them. My husband has a theory that each person can only eat a certain quantity of McDonald's within a single lifetime, and then is done with it forever. I feel this way about Bucatini with tomatoes.

I also like to flip through Fanny at Chez Panisse from time to time. I also have a much-used copy of Chez Panisse Deserts (every fall I make a double batch of the Apple Crisp topping and store it in the freezer for those days when the pears and apples are tired and need to go away - then I cut them up, throw them in a casserole, toss some of the frozen crisp mix on top, and throw it in the oven for the most wonderful desert/breakfast/snack; my friend Michelle's trademark desert at one point was the Lemon Tart) and Chez Panisse Vegetables. Again, food that is simple but the very best of what it can be. And in Fanny, you get a lovely story about what it's like to grow up in a restaurant, have a mom who's committed to the pleasures of eating well, and easy, good recipes.

I rarely use it, but have a certain affection for The Joy of Cooking. Whenever I come across a copy in a used bookstore or resale shop, I grab it. The different editions are little histories of America. Older editions comment on war-time substitutions; newer ones reference the invention of the microwave. And everyone who cooks in America seems to have started with this book. In My Life in France, Julia Child reminisces about lunching with Irma Rombauer, who may have even influenced Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Rombauer told Child that her publisher wouldn't allow the extensive index she wanted in Joy of Cooking. Check out the index in Mastering: hmmm. And though they may not use it much either, I've made it a tradition to give each of my daughters a copy of The Joy of Cooking when they moved into their first apartment.

And Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. As sad as I am whenever I think of this author, who died in her forties and left behind a young daughter, I love to reread her essays on food. Here's what Colwin writes in the introduction to More Home Cooking:
". . . life itself is full, not only of charm and warmth and comfort but of sorrow and tears. But whether we are happy or sad, we must be fed. Both happy and sad people can be cheered up by a nice meal. This book was written for the sustainers and those who will be sustained. I hope both will eat happily and well from it."

Well said.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sleeping it Off

Here's what I did so far today:
Knitted and listened to the radio.
Ate lunch.
Knitted and listened to the radio.
Made dinner.

I find that the best remedy to not feeling well is to sleep it off. Like some of my most favorite people, I seem to have two speeds: constantly moving or asleep.

My yoga teacher commented yesterday that we behave in almost direct contradiction to the season at this time of year. It's a time for hibernating, slowing down, resting. Instead, we are rushing about like lemmings unsure of where to find the next cliff. Well, I added that last part; I'm sure that she didn't mention lemmings.

What I did achieve today: finished a project!

It's truly a relief to have completed something. You can say all that you want about process over product. But one of the particular satisfactions of making something is seeing it in a finished state. So much of what we do is incomplete. No matter how long you are around, there are always so many loose ends, so many starts that wander off on their own and have a destiny that you don't see. A book, a cake, a shawl: sometimes you just need to be able to say, Done.

Here are some dusk-time, not-enough-light-to-see-the-lace-in-all-its'-glory shots. One, as you will note, even has a dog peeking around the corner of the shawl. I've resisted the pet shot until now, but since there's no red eye and she is the Best Dog, I'm allowing this indulgence this one time only.

Mason-Dixon Knitting

There is no happier blog than this one.

Don't you love bright colors, enthusiasm, optimism, with a tonic touch of sarcasm and irony?

Monday, November 27, 2006

How to Grow a Felted Bag

A post in which I use the premis of finishing my felted bag to give way too much information.

When I was stymied, on Thanksgiving Day, in my pursuit of a finished product, known in knitting blogland as an FO (I think!), I knit and finished and felted lots 'o flowers. (The 'O is in honor of the summers we spent at Land 'O Lakes, Wisconsin, in a cabin on a lake, when my daughters were little. My husband suggested, one year, that it would be a good idea to send a truckload of the letter F up north, so that all the letter O apostrophes could become OF's.)

This is what I kinddly refer to as my freakishly small hand, showing how the handle will look with the bag. (Freakishly small in that when I place my hand, palm to palm, with a much younger person, say a daughter at 8 years old, my hand is SMALLER. And the health screening folks say that if, when you wrap your index finger and thumb around your wrist, that you have A) a small frame if they overlap B) a large frame if they don't meet or C) a medium frame if they just touch. Mine just brush, but again, the palm and fingers are so short and I myself am only 5'2 1/2 or so, so my explanation is that I have a small frame and too small hands to measure.)

The real goal of this post, though so buried that any sane knitter will have clicked on to another blog by now, is to ask: advice on attaching the handles?

The NoniBag website suggests sewing them on with button thread, or threading a piece of fabric thru the small openings at the base and sewing those tabs to the bag. But I'm not sure that sewing thread will support the weight of the bag plus contents (and I'm a heavy packer).
Any experience to contribute with using a grommet tool? Or machine sewing or having the friendly shoe repairperson sew the tabs on?

Finally, a virtual field of felted flowers.

Try saying that five times, alternating with the phrase "freakishly small fingers." Winner gets a prize!

"The Bachelor: Rome" Finale

This evening, I will be watching The Batchelor: Rome finale for its psychological interest.

This is not the same, I assure you, as reading Playboy for the articles.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Things to Recommend about Dance Chicago

We made our annual pilgrimmage to Dance Chicago at the Atheneaum last night. I love this theater and I usually love this occasion. A small, old-fashioned theater with great sightlines to the stage from anywhere in the place. Lots and lots of local dance groups packed into one evening. Performance, curtain down for a moment, then up for the next group.

A hometown sort of occasion in a big city kind of place. You see friends and relatives coming in with flowers for the dancers, just like what you do when your kid is in the end-of-year ballet recital. At the intermission and afterwards, you see the performers in the lobby. They always look so much younger, and smaller, than when they were on stage.

This night's theme was Jazz Fusion. The result: a smorgasbord of dancing: hip-hop, modern, tap, and even a little bit of ballroom. Hard to choose a favorite when they're all so different. Eddy Ocampo was The Choreographer of choice for the night. First, a piece that was lovely to look at but conceptually a bit shaky, about children drafted into wars. His second piece, for Illinois State University's troupe, also thematically interesting: sort of a riff on the mannerism inherent in ballet. And an intriguing costuming choice: female and male dancers wearing the same black leotard with a deep V-neck opening outlined in lime green. Middle of the leotard also accented with a wide swath of lime green. And why slightly disconcerting to see the male dancers wearing the exact same costume as the women?

My most favorite group: HipHop ConnXion. Brash, edgy, clipped movements. Smart and funny. A great set piece at the end with everyone pulling on tiny black blindfolds and the lead dancer walking across the backs of five other dancers crouched down. Second favorite: MADD Rhythms. Ten or twelve tap dancers, standing in two lines across the stage. Nothing complicated, just tapping. But oh, so good at what they do. I've been watching the same young woman grow up, tap-dancing with this group year after year, showing much self-possession and concentration. The stage miked so that you can hear the staccato cleanness of their tapping. A bit of a look toward the past, presented by dancers in their twenties with lots of years of tapping ahead of them.

My only disappointment: this year, no Joel Hall Dancers. No Gus Giordano dancers, except for a brief and very foggy piece which featured some students from the company. The program seemed to be padded with some works and groups that gave it their all but lacked polish and surprise.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things to Recommend about Thanksgiving

Recognizing that you are truly very lucky.

Watching the National Dog Show, with John O'Hurley commentating. Appreciating the very Zen quality of the Tibetan Terrier, which could be no accident.

Having your family urge you to text-message in favor of the Tibetan Terrier, who got robbed by the Toy Poodle as Best of Show. My heart goes out to the Toy Poodle. Worse than a Barbie doll with a bad haircut.

Seeing the sun.

Baking cocoa cupcakes to help get you and your staff through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Looking forward to post-dinner sleepiness, at which point I hope to lay prone on the couch, read a book, and fall asleep before going upstairs to bed.

Help Needed on More than Circular Edging

Here's hoping that some lucky knitter will find this post and save me from a Thanksgiving day of not being able to cast off More than Circular.

My first time casting off a circular shawl. And I'm confused by the directions. How does one separate the pointed edge cast off on the right hand needle from the next set of bound off stitches which are waiting on the left hand needle?

Though there are 195,000 hits in Google for More than Circular shawl, no help has surfaced in the first three pages of links. Perhaps I can track down the designer, Jo Anne Besold, and solicit her assistance? Unless she's at KMart shopping today, in which case I feel pity for the amount of time she will be waiting in line while her cashier determines how to ring the special.

No, not so bitter. Just frustrated. I woke up wondering if I made the shawl way too huge and looking forward to turning some almost-done knitting projects into finished objects today. Lots of videos from the library and a day off. But I'm trying to, figuratively, sit on my hands so that all the work on this lovely shawl doesn't fall prey to my impatience.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More than Circular Update

About to start Row 95 of More than Circular. One sizeable ball of yarn left to complete it.

Thinking that Row 95 may be the very last row of this shawl. And it involves something with knitting and purling into one stitch and the use of a crochet hook. Maybe I should wait till tomorrow to tackle that.

Progress measured in: ten minutes of Oprah, five minutes of "The View," "Fresh Air" and a great interview with the writer and producer of "The Wire" (is it on DVD for those of us with no cable?), a bit of "All My Children," the last two episodes of Season 2 of "Veronica Mars," and quiet.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What do Vegetarians Eat for Thanksgiving?

No, the title to this post isn't the set up for a joke. Though I do know a yoga joke: How many Iyengar yogis does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Only one, but he'll need a strap, two blocks, four blankets, and a chair.

Okay, now I feel better. I actually was thinking about that joke on the way to work today, trying to find an excuse to put it into a post.

But the subject at hand is colleagues' and friends' fascination with what I'll be eating for Thanksgiving. I've been more or less a vegetarian since going to yoga teacher training three years ago. For two weeks, we were treated to amazing meals every night, cooked by the inhouse vegetarian chef. The idea probably was to get us hooked, and it worked. The more or less part comes in because I do eat bacon in spaghetti carbonara or on BLTs; I eat seafood; and I'm not now nor ever plan to be vegan. No cakes?? How does one persist under such conditions?

Being a vegetarian in the Midwest is, at least in my world, akin to traveling from some farflung exotic place to America. People are polite, curious, intrigued, and occasionally bemused. Always polite, though. And I try to be equally considerate. The best advice I read about being a vegetarian came in a cookbook by, I believe, Deborah Madison, who has written several good cookbooks as well as running Greens in California, one of the first gourmet vegetarian restaurants around. She suggests that when you go out for dinner and you are served something not vegetarian, that you reply "Thank you." Perhaps you taste it or not. The part that sticks with me is to not judge someone else's eating habits. Not only does the Golden Rule apply here. But eating certain foods or not doesn't make one a higher life form. It's another one of those differences that make us all so interesting.

So, for Thanksgiving, I'll be concentrating on the cornbread stuffing with apples; the mashed potatoes with gravy from scratch; slices of the mass market canned cranberry sauce that still has the lines from the metal can inscribed in it; and brussel sprouts, crisp and sauteed in the wok with some soy sauce. And a bite or two of turkey. Just the same meal I've always eaten, even before I became, more or less, a vegetarian.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sun in Chicago in November

Cherish the memory.

We won't see much more of this until May.

I like to prepare myself for a Chicago winter by remembering that it will snow in April.

Still, I'm gonna miss the sun, especially when it comes into the house in the morning, lays on the floor and the counters, and warms everything up.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stash, or Loom Festooned

Having a stash is about believing in possibilities.

Laughter and Saturday morning yoga

We laughed today. Quite often. Contrary to the general notion of yoga being an ultra-serious, touchy-feely endeavor, yoga is fun.

Much, but not all, of the laughter took place before we started class, as students were coming into the studio and getting organized. Putting down mats, gathering blankets and blocks and straps, settling in, chatting with a neighbor. Mostly Thanksgiving talk. Much discussion about how to unfreeze a pie for Thanksgiving dinner today. Comparisons of who's doing the cooking. Admission that the non-cook for Thanksgiving dinner can escape doing the dishes by a pathetic demonstration of being very relaxed after dinner (okay, that's me.)

One of the things that I enjoy most about teaching is my students. They are a welcoming bunch. They take a newcomer into the group immediately. There's no hierarchy, no cliques, as far as I can tell, and I think that I would notice. Tenured folks introduce themselves to a first timer. Conversation is as likely to happen between strangers as between friends. And that's rare. I'm still searching for a religious institution that would be as welcoming and warm as the yoga studio where I teach.

At the end of class I thanked my students. I am grateful to be a teacher and honored to have the opportunity to teach them.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I heard an interview with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, last week on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." The conceit was to ask him questions so outlandishly unbelievable as to dumbfound one, and then to chant the refrain, "It must be true, because I read it on Wikipedia."
And to each of these wonderfully wierd questions and the three possible answers, the founder would sigh and say "Wow." So 60s. So accepting and amazed at the same time. And then, each time, he would proceed to choose the wrong answer. Three out of three times.

But all I can say after this week is "wow."

My timesheet showed that I worked my expected number of hours. I feel, in contrast, that I put in double that amount. Lots of good results to show for my work and everyone else's. All the same, I wish that tomorrow was a day of Doing Nothing and Knitting. I need to work harder to corral all those errands into a tiny segment of time, not running concurrent to my day off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Good Book is Hard to Find

Stopped at the library on my way home from work yesterday and picked up an armload of books.

But I'm in one of those hard-to-please moods. Already have set aside the Sherlock Holmes re-do (I feel guilty about reading any Holmes that isn't original, except for the Laurie King version that imagines Holmes married to a smart, clever feminist) and the mystery that starts off with a great opening scene (of a stuntwoman falling from a mesa into a grove of trees when the crane holding her wire slips) but then degenerates from there into using Zen Buddhism as a foil for the character's psychological fear of the woods (I skimmed ahead and saw too many references to "But you are afraid of the woods" for me to continue).

Staring at me next is The Places in Between by Rory Stewart. Great cover art and a blurb that makes it sound worth trying: "A mature debut, and an intelligent and illuminating introduction to this fascinating country," Afghanistan. Looks good. But I'm in the mood for easy, relaxing reading.

Maddhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees was perfect: a bit memoir, a bit historical, a bit family drama, and lots about food. I don't think it's really bedtime reading, but I'm giving Gale Gand's One Last Bite (a desert cookbook) a try. Gand is a pastry chef in Chicago who makes the best root beer. Maybe there'll be enough narrative to make this one a go while I continue the hunt for a good book.

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Cake Please

We did a Very Bad Thing at work this week. We ate someone's birthday cake without her.

The tradition is that the birthday person gets a cake of her choice. This time the choice was the shortcake with strawberries between the layers and whipped cream for icing. I was closing, so I stoppped at the supermarket on the way to work and picked the cake up.

Missed the birthday girl by about 20 minutes; she'd had to leave early. We looked at the cake. We put the cake in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. Someone suggested calling her for permission to start the cake without her. I vetoed that. When you have to leave early for a personal reason, you shouldn't have to get a call asking if your birthday cake can be eaten without you.

Lots of sadness. Lots of inability to concentrate because there was a cake in the stockroom. Lots of pondering how to get around the evil of eating the cake without the birthday person present to eat the first piece. (Another tradition: you are challenged to eat all four corners of a cake with icing on your birthday.) Finally, I made an executive decision: we're eating the cake. Let's just say that we put that cake out of its misery quickly. I believe that a token morsel was left to represent the fact that we'd even gotten a cake.

Last night, at our store meeting, we tried to make it up to her with another cake. This time, I thought, I have this under control. Not the loaf-sized version this time, but the large, round, actual cake-sized cake. Plenty for leftovers. Enough for her to take some home for herself and her family to enjoy. I ordered the birthday recipient to close her eyes, then we all sang "Happy Birthday" as I presented the new cake to her.

We polished that sucker off in about five minutes. No leftovers. Someone who shall go unnamed even licked the whipped cream and strawberry filling off of the cellophane wrap that held the layers together during transport. And no, it wasn't me.

Cake makes everything so much better.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Known Unknowns

Much better when you hear it recited, but, forthwith, a bit of poetry by Donald Rumsfeld, from the Slate piece by Hart Seely:

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I had the first persimmon of my entire life today.

The taste? Sort of a cross between a kiwi and a banana, but soothing, reminiscent, in a good way, of all those Thanksgiving vegetables, like sweet potatoes and squash and pumpkin pie. (Don't you consider pumpkin pie a vegetable?)

If you're in the know about persimmons, it was a Fuyu. I had no idea what I was getting when I saw it at the market. But I'd heard Laura Avery talking them up on the Market Report segment of "Good Food" and I decided to be a bit adventurous. Shopping at Nature's Best is like being at Target: it's impossible not to impulse buy. Suddenly you realize, halfway through the store, that all sorts of things have just jumped into your cart, with no effort on your part. I successfully resisted all the hot peppers, the plantains, the big bags of jasmine and basmati rice. But three persimmons? Why not?

Got them home and had no idea what to do next. I consulted the Chez Panisse Desert Cookbook and Chez Panisse Vegtables. Nada. But in The Greengrocer: The Consumer's Guide to Fruits and Vegetables, a book that I use about once every three years, brought to the marriage by my husband, I found a good description of persimmons. Best tip: buy them firm, then put them in a sealed plastic bag with an apple to ripen. Eat when mushy.

Laura Avery suggested cutting the persimmon in half and scooping the flesh out with a spoon. I sliced off the top and ate it like a pear, as I drove to work.

By the way, in the background you can see my progress on flowers for the Clare Bag: three knitted, none felted.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Miriam Felton's Bush rant

I love that Miriam Felton, in her knitting blog, goes off into a complete rant about the President's drape comments in his welcoming of the first woman Speaker of the House.

Somehow, I missed the gaffe. And whether or not Bush was working from an earlier comment about the Democrats prematurely measuring drapes for their offices or not (you can follow this thread in the comments to Mim's post), it is amazing that a male politician in the 21st century would be so dense as to make decorating the premise for welcoming the person third in line to become president? In other comments to the post, several readers, including one retired teacher, speculate, no, they state, that it's been rumored for years that Bush has a learning disability. That, according to these folks, is why he is incapable of speaking off the cuff.

On the way to the stable last Sunday with my daughter, we heard a news piece about politicians who misspeak. A great cut of Howard Dean's scream, including the yelp mixed into house dance music; Dan Quayle mangling the mind is a terrible thing to waste speech; and Bush, completely flummoxed as he scrambled to finish the second half of a saying. Kind of scary.

Nice to see the knitting community debating the point. Smart people, knitters.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's my Day Off, so it must be HTML Day

Testing a right click on a permalink to see if I can figure out this individual linking vs. homepage linking thing.

Here's Chicknits' take on yarn and the vote.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More than Circular update

Not a very attractive shot, but the point here is to try to illustrate of how unwieldy a circular shawl becomes, the larger it gets.

I've switched from a 24 inch size 10.5 bamboo needle to a size 10.5 metal on a 47" cord. That helps somewhat. Now I can spread the weight of the shawl out a bit more, and there's room for the stitches to slide as I work them. Bamboo had seemed a good choice at about row 40. But by row 95 or so, the struggle to slide the stitches down the needle, across the join between needle and cable, work them, and then slide them down the needle on the other side was getting old.

But the thing is heavy, literally. I lay it down on my lap, then try moving the needles closer to the shawl, then shift the whole thing to the side.

Very different from a triangular shawl, which grows sideways at the same time as it develops length. The needle and cable seem better suited to supporting something growing sideways instead of vertically.

If I'm lucky, I'll work my way through the rest of this relief round and maybe even start the edging tomorrow.

Sidenote: I'd meant to include one of those obligatory fetishistic yarn shots in this post. (You know the ones: close ups of sumptuous skeins of yarn, tangled colors, an aura of mohair. I love 'em, but these pictures always remind me of an interview I head on "On the Media" about foodporn and the Food Network. And my grad school training was very being on examining the fetishizing of material objects, but that's a story for another night.) In any case, the color looks all wrong, so you'll have to hold your breath and wait for another day to see a closer view of the beautiful colors in this hand-dyed bamboo yarn.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pictures from Boston

Like driving in Boston, much of the sidewalks in the neighborhood were red brick, impractical, old, and charming. I finally must be a Midwesterner: how do they shovel snow in winter?

The light had a different cast to it. Somehow more clear and bright than the light at home. And more red brick. We get so much siding and wood and so little brick where I live. I miss the look of brick buildings.

The Ware glass flower collection at the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. This is the way a museum should look. No interactive doodads, no blinking lights. Quiet, lots of wooden cases, labels that suggest that the world is an orderly place.

These glass flowers, grasses, and cross sections of pistals, stamens, and so on substituted for the real thing for students studying botany at Harvard at the turn of the nineteenth century. Handmade by two glass blowers, a father and son from Germany, and paid for by a wealthy American woman and donated to Harvard. The lighting is low, and there are many signs that warn you not to lean on the case or place anything on it. The flowers, over 100 years old, are delaminating and cracking.

Only in Boston: a bookcase factory outlet. Boston is a book lover's heaven. There are a million different bookstores with a million different genres. The only thing more frequent than restaurants, as we walked about, were bookstores.

Moody's Falafel Palace.