Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yarn & Such

Last Saturday H. and I trekked out to the Mass Sheep & Wool Festival out in western MA (Cummington, to be precise). As per usual, the day was capped off with dinner in Northampton, a little college town I love more with every visit. This year’s festival seemed much smaller than last years, both in terms of attendance and vendors. In some respects this was good, as we had more opportunity to chat with some of the vendors (most of whom are fiber artists in their own right). I actually escaped with only three skeins of yarn, though admittedly some of this had to do with H. rummaging through my yarn basket before we left. It turned out everything she unearthed was bought LAST year at this festival and was still unused. I think that’s a good policy from here on out: before buying new yarn, first reacquaint yourself with your stash. It's a lot cheaper that way.

Anyway, I brought home some cheery bright yellow sock yarn from here, and some lovely periwinkle blue cashmere/merino from here to make a scarf. But the find of the day for me was sock yarn from into the whirled. Now, I haven’t knit this yet so I can’t say anything about how it knits up, but the colors were tremendous. I had a hard time choosing just one, and I'm excited to start knitting with it but I realized I already have three socks knit from three different yarns, all of which need mates. Ooops. So I'm forcing myself to finish one pair before taking this yarn out for a spin.

One thing I noticed was the plethora of superwash sock yarn. I have to tell you, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like superwash yarn, at least not for socks. I don’t like knitting with it – I find it splitty and uncooperative, simultaneously sticky and slippery. I also don’t like how it feels on my feet. Since I have no problem hand washing my wool socks, I’m steering clear of it from now on. But it definitely was a bit of a challenge to find regular (non-superwash) sock yarn. I hope this isn’t a trend.

In other news, it's all quilt blocks all the time, preferably while watching Chopped on The Food Network. I don't really cook much, but for some reason I love this show. There's always one cocky contestant who makes you hate him (and it's usually a man), and the judges are so persnickety (dude, THEY HAVE TWENTY MINUTES AND YOU ARE PISSED ABOUT A CARROT PEEL???), and then Ted Allen stands there scowling trying to reign them all in. Who knew that would be a winning combination? But really: I think they should keep it a bit more real. I'd like them to have to use ingredients that *I* have on hand, with no spiffy pantry items to choose from. The true test would be, what can you do with tuna fish, an apple, some chocolate, and a liter of Diet Pepsi?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Random Wednesday Catch Up

Now that the apocalypse has been postponed (and I finally got over my terrible cold) I can get back to blogging.

1) First, a few reading recommendations: I accidentally read Ree Drummond’s (aka The Pioneer Woman) new memoir cover-to-cover yesterday. It is really excellent, a combination of an old western romance and Bridget Jones (if Bridget were a red-headed American from Oklahoma). Yeah, there are some kind of unbelievable parts, and my inner feminist twinged a little, but it's still a good read. Although fair warning: it will leave you craving cinnamon rolls. In fact, I’d probably make some before settling in to read it, preferably on a lazy, rainy afternoon with nothing else to do.

2) On the quilting front: Material Obsession 2 is a great new find. While it is primarily a pattern book, I’ve been lugging it around with me as train reading. I’m realizing I have a much too coordinated approach to color in my quilts, and this book is providing a lot of inspiration for a new project or three.

3) Colin Woodard’s blog. This is a must for any Mainer, or any Maine-lover, or anyone interested in astute socio-political observations salted with just the right amount of history. His book The Lobster Coast remains one of my favorites.

In other news, I have discovered yet a new way of slicing my fingers that does not involve a rotary cutter, heavy gauge guitar strings, or sharp bread knives. It’s called Hand Washing Your Blender, or HWYB for short. In hindsight this is probably fairly obvious to most adults with an IQ above 70, but nonetheless I nicked myself. It actually wasn’t that deep a cut, but one of those that bleed profusely and remind you all-too-well why you never considered a career in medicine.

Incidentally, I had actually forgotten I owned a blender - but I was glad to accidentally find it minutes before I set off to go to Target to purchase a new one. I needed one because my sister’s been doing this Shakeology thing and finally convinced me to try some samples. The first day I had no reaction whatsoever, which confounded my sister given my predilection for Diet Coke and chocolate and all sorts of other junk. However, after three days my intestines are threatening a walk out. I’m not sure if this is proof of just how slow my metabolism is, or just how many toxins had built up in my system. There’s no good answer, I’m sure of it.

This weekend: sheep and wool and yarn, oh my!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Great Cough Across Ireland

My favorite picture from the trip - taken from a golf course in Killarney

Well, I’m back from Ireland – a great trip despite being sick THE ENTIRE TIME and despite my conflicted feelings about doing a bus tour. My friend D. probably deserves sainthood for sharing a hotel room with me. I tell you what, it was INFURIATING to have not been sick in over a year and wind up getting a terrible cold right before my first major vacation in a decade. And as much as I tried to put on a smiley face and enjoy the trip anyway, there's just only so much you can do when you are tanked up on Sudafed. *sigh*

First things first: the Brattleboro hats I made came in quite handy, particularly at the Cliffs of Moher where the wind was whipping quite fiercely. My friend also wore the hand warmers I made her, and I wished I had made some for myself.

I had grand plans to visit a yarn shop in Dublin but it turned out the day we were there was a bank holiday and the shop was closed (as were many others in the city). After getting lost on the Trinity College campus we were forced to eat croissants with real butter and drink tea at a cafĂ© (this one, as it happens). Hardly a tragedy, I assure you. In fact, one of the best things about Ireland was that there was always real butter (I didn’t see one pat of margarine the entire trip) and the default beverage was tea. This was a good thing as the Diet Coke tasted really weird over there. Not nearly as carbonated, for one thing, and for another it was labeled “contains vegetable extracts”, as if it were V-8. It makes me wonder what on earth is in my American Diet Coke – I probably don’t want to know. Also on the plus side: I am normally not a beer drinker but I found it to be much better when consumed on Irish soil…especially when served by cute bartenders with sparkly blue eyes (even if he did refuse to sing along with the rest of my tour group…which, really, one can hardly blame him for, especially after one guy loudly proclaimed that the US should annex Ireland as the 51st state).

But I digress. As we traversed the country to the western coast, we did make a few stops at touristy gift shops, a few of which had a tiny bit of Aran yarn for sale. Aran yarn – at least, the stuff I saw – is pretty hardy stuff; frankly, I can’t imagine hand-knitting much with it. It’s very dense and heavy, and not exactly soft. There were thousands of beautiful sweaters for sale across the country knit with the stuff, but alas I didn’t buy one. The exchange rate was pretty bad, and I had my heart set on buying a wool blanket, so I passed up the sweaters. We did find one yarn shop in Killarney, which was nice but filled to the brim with Noro and Debbie Bliss – all stuff I can easily buy at home. I felt like I had to buy SOMETHING, though, and found some Louisa Harding merino/silk blend yarn that was very reasonably priced. But I had been really hoping to find some in-country spun sock yarn. Next time, I guess.

Adjusting to the time change going over was fairly easy, though there was much coffee/tea ingested to keep us going. However, re-entry to my “real” life was hard, mainly due to the time difference and a very needy cat that was not impressed with my absence (my sister looked after her, but it was clearly not enough company for the cat). But now I’m all adjusted and oddly content. I was perfectly happy to trot off to work yesterday, and thankfully there were no dire emergencies to contend with once I got there. The train was late, as per usual, but there’s nothing I can do about that. And alas, my apartment is still a wreck, but it’s nice to have my fabric, yarn, and the cat once again keeping me company. Apparently, home is where your stash is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Good Car (Taking Inventory)

Today's story is about the end of one of the best relationships I've ever had. The fact that this relationship involved an inanimate object that doesn't speak is probably telling, but still: it was a good relationship for me nonetheless.

At any rate, my trusty nine-year old Saturn has been retired, the poor thing. And I am quite sad about this turn of events. True, I don't want to think about the stupid car payment I'm about to commit to, which will seriously wreak havoc on my yarn buying. Or buying much of anything else, for that matter. But the Saturn was a great car, and I would have bought another one had they not stopped making them. I did not treat her particularly well, but she was pretty great to me up until the last year, when it became clear she needed more attention than simple oil changes (not to mention getting sideswiped on the streets of Providence). Attention that I really could not afford to pay for, plus when you spend $500 on repairs and triple the value of the car....well. Decisions must be made.

I bought this car the last year I lived in Memphis, and other than my graduate school degree it is the last vestige of my time there. I also used the car to drive all over the state of Maine - four years of community development work from Sanford to Van Buren, Norway to Eastport. We were a team, that Saturn and me; she carted my crap around in her trunk and she listened to me sing very loudly to the Dixie Chicks all the way from Tennessee to Maine. She was there all those weekends I drove to NYC, and put up with my attempts to parallel park her on those narrow side streets in Queens. And she never complained when I (yet again) spilled Diet Pepsi on her carpet.

Tonight I had to empty the car of everything. You'd be surprised - probably shocked - at the stuff that was in there. I was shocked, and it's my freaking car. It was especially shocking because a few years ago my dad, in a fit of embarrassment over the state of his daughter's car, cleaned the whole thing out while it was parked in his driveway those months I lived in NYC. However, apparently in my subsequent moves Things Accumulated.

In some ways, I kind of wish I had filmed the clean out because it has the makings of a genius performance art piece: nine years of my life to sift through. It reminds me of that Adrienne Rich poem when she talks about "diving into the wreck" -- the wreck that is the car, or the wreck that was my life, take your pick. It was a tinge morbid, too, because it occurred to me that our stuff is what is left of us, and someday someone (my sister?) will have to sort through all my worldly possessions, in all likelihood throwing most of them out. It simultaneously makes me want to pare down everything and start hoarding everything. I HAVE STUFF THEREFORE I AM.

So as I stared into nine years of my past, this is a sampling of what surfaced:

*one trash bag full of...well, trash
*three sets of fingernail clippers, which I guarantee were hastily bought on the way to a guitar lesson
*A copy of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" and the first Twilight book (the combination of which led me think about the Tea Partiers as vampires, which wasn't that much of a stretch)
*One round springform cake pan, three wine glasses, and one porcelain teacup
*A black jacket I forgot I owned
*A green blanket, queen sized, that I had thought was in my blanket chest
*A pair of black shoes that, three weeks ago, I tore apart two closets looking for
*An entire box of knitting and quilting patterns and books
*One bamboo double-pointed needle, size 3
*My original Tennessee registration from 2002
*My temporary Maine license from 2003
*30+ cds (including my "Spanish for Dummies" CDs that I bought before I moved to NYC)
*Various Sharpie pens in various stages of drying out
*Two big wall calendars from 2007 and 2008

There was more, but it was swept into boxes and bags and will have to be sorted through at some point. Ugh.

After all this, there was a mix-up at the new car dealership and I threw a hissy fit and came home car-less. I am choosing to believe it was an honest mistake because frankly, these boys just don't seem bright enough to be running a scheme of that sort of complexity. But at the moment my old friend is parked in their lot, devoid of my stuff and her plates, and I'll be walking to the train tomorrow without thumping her trunk as I walk by. And now, she is destined for an auction and I cannot bear to think about it. On the plus side? Now I don't have to listen to my dad lecture me about buying a new car, and I will actually have a vehicle that my sister will let her kids ride in. #winning

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Patchwork Brigade

I have so many unfinished projects around here it's ridiculous. Knitting projects are one thing - they can easily be stuffed into a basket somewhere. My quilt projects, though, are threatening to overtake my tiny living room. I love to sew patchwork, but since I don't machine quilt there can be a big backlog on unfinished tops. Alas, I may have to change my tune lest I lose the cat in the rubble.

I had grand plans of taking myself hiking yesterday afternoon to a local state park, but it was too cold out. So I holed up and did laundry and sewed charm squares - these from Moda's "Summer Breeze by Sentimental Studios". It needs borders, but will make a nice and simple baby quilt. Although really: I wish I had a beach house with a front porch with a white wicker sofa that overlooked the ocean, because this would be the exact sort of quilt to have on that sofa. The colors scream "summer in Maine" to me.

I also finally sewed my blocks together for this:

I may have blogged about this last summer when I started piecing the blocks. I used the Jubilee pattern by Marlous Designs (available all sorts of places including here) and a Bali Pop package in the "Cotton Candy" color way. I'm not entirely thrilled about how this turned out, in large part because I found it very challenging to sew up. It wasn't a technical issue (it's straight strip piecing) but a color issue. Even though the look is random, it wasn't random at all - I had to be really careful about putting too much of one color into each block. For example, look at the second row from the top, the first two blocks on the left. See how they almost read as one single printed fabric in the photo? I also had a very difficult time squaring up the blocks. This may wind up with my youngest niece when all is said and done (whenever that may be). It needs borders too, but I honestly don't have a clue what will work the best.

Also lined up are:

1) my friendship blocks from my quilt guild; I have until June to sew the blocks my mystery friend gave me up with some I've made into a top. I didn't really think this through: I asked for log cabin blocks because I love them, but hate sewing them. And now I have to sew at least 2, but probably more like 6 to turn the blocks into a usable-sized quilt.
2) every month our guild does a block-of-the-month, which are raffled off. The good news is I actually won this month. The bad news is, only 5 other people participated with me. But with a few more blocks I think I can wind up with a small baby quilt, possibly even a gender-neutral one this time.
3) Two summers ago I took a quilt class and have a fairly good sized quilt that needs to be quilted. I'd like to have it professionally machine quilted but aside from the cost involved, I kind of screwed up the borders a bit and I'm not sure it can be machine quilted without me fixing it. And fixing it might require buying fabric that may or may not exist anymore. *sigh*
4) I really want to make something modern out of all solid colors. I saw a book called City Quilts at the quilt store recently, and while I didn't buy it I definitely have my eye on it.

I Did Not Forget How To Knit

When I saw the Brattleboro hat in New England Knits I knew I would make one. Or several. I thought this would be a great hat to have in Ireland, since it will be May and may be chilly. And I'll take any excuse I can to knit something in Malabrigo (this little guy is in the Mint colorway). It took me a little over a week of mostly train knitting, mostly because I knit right-handed and throw, so anything in moss or seed stitch takes me FOREVER. The little button tab gave me a bit of a challenge - mine doesn't look exactly like the photo in the book, but it does look exactly like the sample I saw at the yarn store, so I stopped fussing with it. It is in need of a good blocking, but I need to find the right-sized bowl. Also - this used up about half a skein or so, and all indications are that I will be able to eek out a pair of hand warmers with the rest of the skein. #winning!

Halfway through knitting this, though, I remembered: I can't wear green. It makes me look green - not in an interesting, Elphaba sort of way, but in a sickly, quick-find-her-a-trash-can sort of way. So the hat's going to D., my friend and traveling companion, and sometime this week I'll march back for some more Malabrigo for me. (I think I love the buttons the most.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two Lovely & Positive Things

I'm having one of those spells where the news is just too depressing to watch - the government is about to shut down, radioactive water is being released into the sea, women in Haiti and Libya and Lord knows where else are being systematically's appalling, and I can only take so much of it before shutting down altogether. So I've been on the look out for a few more inspiring, even magical if you will, things to reinforce my belief in the human race.

1. The Reverb10 folks sent out a new prompt today, and with it a link to this beautiful blog post by Jen Lemen. I love the line "at the end of your unraveling", but I think I love this part most of all:

Go ahead, be disappointed.
Nothing turned out how you hoped.
Sit under a tree and tell me the whole of it
and I won’t say a word.
I won’t say a single word.

There are oodles of other lovely and insightful and inspiring things on her blog as well - I spent the entire train ride home reading her posts on my phone.

2. This video (photo montage?) by Liz Song, which you can view here.

It is far richer to live our lives by the risk to follow our hearts, wherever it leads.

That line made me feel oodles better about a number of things, including my ill-fated move to NYC a few years ago. Wherever it leads, indeed.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Catching Up

It's been rather busy here these past few weeks as I try to balance work and family (and cat and guitar wrangling) with getting ready for the Ireland trip. My favorite book thus far on my crash-course in Irish literature is a collection of short stories by Anne Enright entitled "Yesterday's Weather", which I am enjoying even more than her novel "The Gathering", which was pretty fabulous. This is saying a lot, as I am normally not a big fan of the short story genre. And I've had The Frames' album "For the Birds" on the ipod, which I adore, as well as "The Cake Sale", a compilation album done by various Irish artists to benefit OxFam. My new favorite song is "Some Surprise", sung by Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and Lisa Hannigan - the video is here; it's kinda cheeky but it gets stuck in your head. Or, at least, my head.

One of the many pre-Ireland errands was to buy a new camera. I had been saving up for months, thinking I would invest in an SLR camera, but when I realized what those cameras actually entailed I opted for a higher-end digital camera (a Canon Powershot SX30IS). I haven't had much time to play with it yet, though today I took a nice long walk through the downtown and tried to get a few shots (Meg Hutchinson's album The Living Side was my soundtrack...she's not Irish, but it's lovely music just the same). I'm not really thrilled with the indoor photos - but the outdoor pictures are coming out well. I still have some more fiddling & learning to do before the trip - but hopefully I'll be taking most of the Ireland photos outside anyway!

In the crafting department...I'm still knitting away on an Elizabeth Zimmerman February baby sweater, simply because I wanted to knit one. Eventually someone I know will have a baby girl. Mostly, though, I've been working on a quilt top for my guild, which is a nonprofit organization and makes quilts for the local cancer center. We all make blocks throughout the year, and then a few times a year we get together to sew the blocks into tops, and then the machine quilters in the group finish them up. This was one of the main reasons I decided to join the group, but it was a lot more difficult than I imagined to find blocks that were reasonably coordinated and reasonably the same size. I wound up finding 8 to work with and brought them home, adding 4 more and two borders. I built the quilt around this one appliqued butterfly block that was really sweet and I just loved - I have no idea who made it, it was just in a big pile of blocks on the table:

I was happy and relieved with the outcome (alas, this is one of the first pictures I took with the new camera and it didn't turn out so well...and it wasn't hung very well on the wall...) but trust me, it's way cuter than I could have initially hoped for:

It made me feel really good to take the work of other women, strangers to me, and add my own efforts to make something that will (hopefully) cheer the heart and soul of another stranger down the line who will be struggling with a life-threatening illness. Oh, some of the blocks aren't exactly square, and some of the corners don't meet perfectly, but it's the sort of thing no one but another quilter will notice. I also loved that as I was working inside on this the crocuses were beginning to bloom outside, purple and yellow and white with their green stems. I couldn't help but carry the notion of spring and rebirth in my mind as I sewed, and I hope whoever gets the finished quilt finds a new beginning as well.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Ireland Project

As I get ready for my trip to Ireland in early May, I've decided to embark upon a crash course in contemporary Irish literature. (Because that's just what I need, another reason to buy books. And clearly, my idea of fun is just whacked.)

You have to love the internet, though, because within the span of about 5 minutes I had turned up several syllabi from different college courses and had a good list of authors. I trotted over to the bookstore and found two to start with. One is "The Gathering" by Anne Enright, and the other is a collection of short stories called "Cheating At Canasta" by William Trevor (which includes an essay of his published in the New Yorker a few years ago, which you can read here if you are so inclined).

I haven't been reading a whole lot of fiction in the past few years, so I'm interested to see how I like these works. It's not that I don't enjoy fiction, I just have a bad habit of getting so engrossed that I wind up reading until 4 am, or forgetting to get off the train, or deciding to take a ten-minute break at my desk and discover an hour has passed. Avoiding fiction for me is a kind of we'll see how this goes. I know that a purist would delve into Joyce, but I decided I needed to work my way up to, I'm more interested in current literature anyway.

The other thing I'm working on is downloading music for the trip. I have plenty of Snow Patrol, Glen Hansard, and Damien Rice, and a little bit of Van Morrison and U2, but I need some girl music in there. Lisa Hannigan is on my list for sure, but I need to do some more digging.

I'm also stocking up on rain gear, because I figure that the best way to ensure that we see the sun is for me to buy a new coat, hat, umbrella, and boots. And I've bought a map of downtown Dublin, and have marked out the route from our hotel to a yarn store. I know that most Irish yarn is produced with imported wool, but I'll be happy with a skein or two that was spun in country!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Fifteen (Not Entirely) Impossible Things

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

(Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll)

This morning I woke up thinking, for some inexplicable reason, that what I REALLY needed to do was go get a PhD in feminist theory. Then I walked out into the living room and saw the cat rolling around on the floor in the remnants of my latest quilt project, the couch covered in yarn, drafts of a few writing projects strewn across the table, and my guitar sitting there reminding me there is a song to learn before Saturday’s lesson. Meanwhile, the cat has been busy removing books from the bookcase again, the recycling is piled up, and my bedroom looks like a bomb of clothes went off everywhere. I haven’t been to the gym in a month, and have been subsisting mostly on Luna bars, Cadbury eggs and diet Coke. (After 20 years, diet Pepsi has finally started tasting weird to me. Go figure.)

Sometimes, I think there is a fine line between creativity and mental illness.

But it actually gets worse, because I sat down at lunch today and made a list of the things I daydream about, thinking I will accomplish in the next 30 years or so (in no particular order):

1) Getting a PhD in feminist theory. (Some days it’s public policy.)
2) Getting an MFA in creative nonfiction. (Because apparently one master’s degree is not enough for me.)
3) Writing a book. (Some days it’s fiction, some days it’s essays about growing up in rural Maine. Other days it’s a coffee table book of photos of downtowns in Maine, an idea that was roundly trounced by three publishers when I tried to do it as a fundraiser several years ago.)
4) Starting my own business making quilts. (Partly because the idea of spending all day in pajamas sewing patchwork really resonates with me.)
5) Moving to Ireland for a year. (A place I’ve YET TO ACTUALLY STEP FOOT IN, though that will change soon enough.)
6) Going on some sort of meditation retreat. (Despite the fact that every time I meditate I fall asleep.)
7) Learning yoga. (Despite the fact that every time I try, I fall over and hurt myself.)
8) Becoming a vegetarian. (The most laughable one of all, since I hate vegetables and require one cheeseburger per week to function properly.)
9) Falling madly in love. (In my head he’s smart, funny, kind and creative. He doesn’t get angry when he finds pins in the carpet or knitting needles buried in the sofa cushions. And he will let my cat sleep on the pillow next to his head. Did I mention he adores me?)
10) Being able to play a guitar and sing at the same time, in the same key. (My neighbors would like this too.)
11) Having a house in the woods with a porch and a small garden and a sunny room with lots of windows that I can use for a studio, with quilts on the beds for when my nieces come to visit. There are lilac trees and a cat or two and maybe a dog and maybe even some chickens. (Oh, and raspberry bushes.)
12) Running for political office. (Usually this fantasy is me being Governor of Maine; given the current guy in office, this obsession has recently become infinitely less outlandish. And the fact that I no longer live in Maine is apparently no deterrent whatsoever to my imagination.)
13) Winning Powerball and moving back home to Maine where I would buy the old Opera House and rehab it into a community arts space. (I rarely buy lottery tickets, and usually when I do it’s because I’m at the gas station and need to break a $20 and I’m trying to cut down on the M&Ms in my life.) And then setting up a foundation where I give money away to artists and women’s organizations.
14) Going to law school, not because I want to practice law but because I loved constitutional law as an undergrad and still have this odd obsession with Supreme Court decisions. Or divinity school, not because I want to be a minister (or even go to church for that matter) but because I have an odd obsession with religion.
15) Becoming fluent in another language (despite six years of French, I can barely muster Je m’appelle Lori).

[And this doesn’t even include stuff like learning how to dye fabric, crochet, make those nuno felted scarves, or explore mixed-media collage. Thank God I have utterly no interest in learning how to spin yarn.]

All of these things are possible. Highly unlikely, in some cases, but possible, to one extent or another. Somehow, though, that just makes it worse. I can totally understand people who have a passion for something and pursue it…but what happens when you want to do a bunch of conflicting things all at once? While simultaneously holding down a day job – one which I actually really like – and spending 2+ hours a day commuting? And making sure you are the best aunt possible to three amazing kids? And, y’know, not made of money?

It kind of makes my head spin just thinking about it. I think I need to go lie down and knit.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where I Revisit the Patchwork Basket

My quilt guild is a nonprofit organization, and this week was our annual auction fundraiser. Everyone contributes something handmade, and things are auctioned off to the other members with the proceeds going back to the guild. When I first heard about this, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach: these ladies are quite talented, and I was concerned that whatever I made might not be quite up to their standards. And it would be a tough crowd anyway, since pretty much anything I made, these women could make themselves. (Probably faster and better.)

Ultimately I figured, well, if you can’t compete on technique, kill them with cuteness. And so I did. A quilted fabric basket, with three pairs of booties and a little striped hat, in muted shades of sage green, tan and pale yellow, size newborn. (Basket pattern from here*.) And no, the cat was not part of the deal; she just likes to help.

It turned out to be a pretty good calculation on my part – many of the women in the guild are retired and have grandbabies, or are about to have grandbabies, so there was actually some bidding going on. HUGE relief.

**Just in case you were questioning my judgment here, the creator of the basket pattern gives explicit consent on her blog that her patterns can be used for charitable purposes – see here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Knitting Book Recommendations

I have to admit, I was a little surprised when Borders declared bankruptcy, given my penchant for buying books. In fact, my bookcase bears a strong resemblance to their knitting and quilting section; they keep sending those 40% off coupons, and I keep buying craft books. Today, in fact, I bought New England Knits, mainly because there is a pattern in it for a really neat hat that my LYS has as a sample that I covet (they were out of the book themselves, and yes, the irony of me posting an Amazon link in a post that begins with Borders declaring bankruptcy is not lost on me).

Generally for me to buy a knitting book there has to be at least three projects that I like and think I will actually knit in this lifetime. Despite this criteria, I've noticed that certain books get used much more than others; in fact, some have been life savers and some have been complete wastes of money. So, I thought that in the event anyone out there is trying to build up a knitting library, it might be helpful to know what I've found worth the purchase price. I'd say I'm an advanced beginner to intermediate knitter, and most of these books fall in that range, though a few might be worthwhile for the experts.

1. Knitting Rules by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. While I was already a fairly practiced knitter when I first purchased this book, I think it's probably the best one out there for a beginner knitter. It's a great combination of love and enthusiasm for the craft mixed with very practical advice and technical knowledge. Many of my socks have been knit using the instructions in this book, and I frequently consult it when I get stuck when using other patterns.

2. Simple Knits for Cherished Babies by Erika Knight. I love knitting for babies - partly for the cuteness factor and partly because the projects get done before I get bored with them. This book has just lovely, simple patterns that are fairly straightforward to knit. She uses some high-end yarns in the book (eg, cashmere), but I've used bamboo, cotton, and merino wool with excellent results.

3. One Skein Wonders by Judith Durant. This is the first in the "One Skein" series. To be totally honest, I own some of the other books and have never knit anything from them; I flip through them from time to time but as of yet nothing has grabbed hold of me. But this first one has some pretty easy patterns that I've knit a number of times, including several scarves. However - fair warning: I have always found I needed one and a half to two skeins of yarn for the scarf patterns because I'm on the taller side (5'7") and I prefer longer scarves that I can wrap around my neck. This book also has a couple of patterns that can be used for American Girl dolls, should you have nieces or other little girls in your life who think their dolls need sparkly purple knitted things.

4. 60 Quick Knits (Cascade 220). I've knit a bunch of hats and mittens from this book, and not one of them with Cascade 220 yarn (for no other reason than I just never seem to find it on the shelves at the yarn stores I go to; one doesn't carry it and one sells out of it very quickly). There is a wide range of patterns for different skill ranges, and while it's mostly for adult women there are a few really cute patterns for kids too. I think anyone living in a state where it gets cold and snows a lot, and has a tendency (like someone else I know...) to lose their winter stuff on commuter trains, would find this book quite useful.

5. Favorite Socks (Interweave). There had to be ONE sock book on my list! I will say this is probably not a beginner book; in fact, I've only knit a couple of the patterns (but I've knit those patterns a number of times each). My brain learned how to knit socks top down on dpns, and simply cannot wrap itself around the idea of doing it any other way (like toe-up or with two circulars)- but if you are a flexible sock knitter you will love this book.

Those are definitely the books that get the most use around here. There are also a couple ofother books worth mentioning that I have and will never part with, despite the fact that I have not and may never actually knit anything from them. Mostly these contain either pretty advanced projects or a lot of sweaters, something that I haven't really tackled yet (or rather, I have yet to finish the one sweater I started 3 years ago...). I think you'd have to be a seriously swift and experienced knitter to tackle these, or at least have a goodly amount of time and patience on your hands...but the projects are quite fun to dream about knitting:

1. Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan. This book is so beautiful that it's kind of like a knitter's coffee table book; it's something I pull out every once and awhile to ooh and aah over. And, because despite being terrible at math I kind of like it conceptually, it is interesting to read about and ponder these designs that are recurring in nature that have geometric properties. Alas, most of the patterns are beyond my knitting skill right now, and I've read that the patterns in the book are riddled with errors and one should do some Googling before knitting anything from the book. But it really is stunning, and great for inspiration.

2. A Fine Fleece by Lisa Lloyd. Also a beautiful book, with gorgeous patterns - many with Celtic-inspired motifs. There are a lot of sweaters in here, but a few socks and scarves as well. It features handspun yarns, and while I'm not a spinner I found the introductury text really interesting as it discusses handspinning and describes some of the different types of sheep and wool. Some commenters on Amazon were unhappy with the photos in the book, but I actually love them (perhaps it's because I haven't tried to knit anything from the book yet?).

What knitting books have you found helpful? What criteria do you use in choosing to buy them? Or do you stick with project patterns from Ravelry or your LYS?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A New Obsession

Oh, dear me.

I've spent the past two weeks knitting (mostly while catching up on The Daily Show. God I love Jon Stewart). Mostly I was knitting baby booties, because my cousins keep reproducing and I’m the sort of person who finds it unthinkable for babies to not have something handmade, even if they are destined to puke all over it. However, as I was knitting I was also scheming about a free-form log-cabin type of blanket. You see, I recently learned about the blog Cauchy (in fact, I was up Very Late one night recently watching her Flickr stream on slideshow, my jealous rage increasing by the nanosecond). I love, love, love this woman’s work, so much so that my Inner Critic kicks in and starts whining something fierce. *I* want to make stuff like that, dammit!!! Honestly, it was all I could do not to raid my savings account and go blow it on yarn and fabric, but I refrained. (Instead, I stomped off to the grocery store where I was confronted with EASTER CANDY of the CADBURY KIND, despite the fact that Easter is two whole months away. *sigh*)

The other contributing factor to my blanket scheme was that I finally got my hands on the first Mason-Dixon knitting book (now in paperback!), which has some basic instructions about how to get going on a log cabin type blanket. It ain’t, as they say, rocket science, but the book provided excellent inspiration.

I finally got to the point where I couldn’t face one more bootie so I fished out some yarn and started a log cabin square and honestly, it’s the sort of knitting that is about as addicting as that Cadbury stuff. I don’t even *like* garter stitch, but this is satisfying knitting. For one thing, it’s quick. And the resulting fabric feels like a good wool blanket should feel – it has a little weight to it, but not so heavy as to be stifling. And there’s no measuring; you basically knit with one color until you are sick of it or you run out of yarn. It doesn’t have to be precise (though it could be, if that’s how you roll). It’s perfect tv/dvd/conversation knitting, because you don’t really have to pay much attention. And I’m telling you, it’s also weirdly meditative: this sort of knitting seems to soothe some particular part of my brain (though not, alas, the part that craves Cadbury).

But here's the problem:

I have a yarn stash. It’s basically one large basket that sits next to my couch, which not only holds yarn but a number of unfinished projects in various stages of completion. It’s big enough so that any non-knitters (ie, my mother) see it and say incredulously, “Whoa, you have a lot of yarn in there!” – but it’s small enough so that most knitters look at it and say, equally incredulously, “Wait, that’s all the yarn you have???” Regardless of the viewpoint, the bulk of the stash is sock yarn or some hand-dyed treasure that will eventually be turned into…well, I don’t know. Something. It’s not that I couldn’t make a blanket with that sort of yarn, it’s just not what that yarn wants to be. And also? For whatever reason, my yarn stash is a lot like my fabric stash: almost completely devoid of any solid colors, which I need if I want to channel something like this.

What I'm saying is, the idea of using up yarn I already have isn’t going to work for this project. So I was FORCED, I tell you, FORCED to amble on over to Windsor Button (my LYS while I'm at work), where after much pacing of the floor and squishing of the yarn I settled on a small skein of Rowan Purelife wool in a lovely (undyed) shade of brown. It was only $7.50, so if it works great; if not, well, it’s not the end of the world. It won’t be enough to finish the blanket, not by a long stretch, but it will keep me going a bit. But now after seeing all that yarn, there are so many possibilities in my head…particularly a vision of a blanket full of blue and white blocks. And a pink and purple one for my niece. And then a riot of color one like I initially had in mind.

And just like that, I’m officially obsessed.

*photos to follow if and when I ever locate my camera cord*

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Here We Go Again

I came home tonight and went straight to the checkbook and wrote one out to the Maine Women's Lobby, because the Governor has once again demonstrated his vast contempt for the women of Maine. It made me feel a little better, but not much.

First, let me say thank you to my dad and my grandfather and all the other veterans out there for their military service. It's because of them that we have the freedom to rant and rave and call elected officials mysoginistic morons and other choice words that I will not use in public. (Thank God the cat isn't a parrot.) It's probably not what they had in mind while they were traipsing through the jungles of Vietnam or riding a tank through WW-II Europe, but still. I appreciate it. Freedom of speech is an amazing thing, and I don't take it for granted.

So yeah, the Governor. First, he decided he doesn't buy the scientific evidence that the chemical BPH is harmful and was widely quoted in the news as saying, "worst case is some women have little beards". Oh yes, he did. Makin' us all SO very proud, y'know. I'm so thrilled to know that yet another man in a powerful position has utterly no regard for the health and safety of the women he represents. Or, y'know, his own daughter. (That's heavy sarcasm, in case it isn't clear.)

His next task? He FIRED Dr. Dora Mills, who is an extremely well-regarded public health official who served under two previous governors - one an Independent and one a Democrat. Personally I don't care what his spokesperson says, it's impossible to believe it wasn't a result of her past support of banning BPH. I also can't help but look at her resume and think, well, someone was seriously outclassed -- and it wasn't Dr. Mills.

Oh, but the fun continues. In case you haven't noticed, I have two hot buttons -- women's issues and small businesses. I am a fervent believer in supporting small, independent businesses, not the least of which is because they create about 75% of new jobs in this country (a good list of other reasons can be found here and there's plenty of additional research over here). But I also suppport small businesses because I grew up in rural Western Maine at a time before the big box stores took over. We bought shoes at Swett's and clothes at the Block Store and Margo's and sometimes I'd tag along with Dad went he went to Longley's to buy nails or to Pike's to buy work pants. Longley's is still there, but almost every other store is gone now. Why? Honestly, it was a multitude of causes (including the closure of a dowel mill) but one huge factor was that WalMart came to town -- well, the next town over -- and slowly but surely the area's small downtown businesses were decimated and went out of business. [Incidentally, it's been a 10-year effort to rebuild the downtown and there have been some successes along the way, but it's been a tough haul with many really great people losing a lot of sleep, blood, sweat and tears. Visit here to see the fruits of their labor.]

I admit there's some element of nostalgia there for me, but it's also the simple fact that all over the state of Maine, big box stores have put small, often family owned businesses OUT of business. Even up in The County (Aroostook, Northern Maine for you non-Mainers), Canadians still flock across the border to shop -- but at the WalMart in Presque Isle, not the downtowns they drive through to get there. These small business owners are REAL, honest-to-God Maine people we're talking about - good, hardworking business men and women who pay taxes and coach little league and vote and put on church suppers for the families worse off than them. And we put them out of business so we can buy really cheap toothbrushes at big box stores and call it economic development.

The other thing? Have you been to Rockland lately? Rockland's a beautiful town on the coast of Maine, with one of the loveliest downtown districts in the state and a pristine harbor. If you are out in the harbor on a lovely summer day on a sailboat, do you know what you will see? A huge bright orange Home Depot sign, because they built a Home Depot up on the side of a hill that overlooks the harbor. Yep, that's just the way life should be.

So a few years ago a coalition of organizations got together and helped pass the Informed Growth Act, which among other things states that towns must take the economic impact of big box stores into consideration before permitting the project. Well, guess what. The Governor wants to repeal that too, because it's "biased against big box stores".

Well, yeah, that was sort of the point. And why, exactly, is that a bad thing? Why are we worried about protecting out-of-state, multi-billion dollar international companies instead of protecting local businesses???

I know, I know. Marden's, the company the Governor used to work for, is a Maine-owned big box store. That is true. And that did give me pause for a moment, particularly since the Marden's Lady from their ads is from the area I grew up in. (I'm more of a Reny's gal myself, in large part because there are several Reny's stores that anchor downtown districts and do just fine.) There's no doubt in my mind LePage's wish to repeal this law is directly related to his past employer (no special interests, my ass). Regardless, I still believe it's important for towns to assess the impact of any big box store coming to town - whether it's owned by a Maine company or not. In addition to economic impact, the Informed Growth Act allows towns to consider things like traffic implications, air and water quality, and those are important issues for small towns. And, truthfully, if it helps protect Maine's small business owners against the Wal-Marts of the world, I'm ultimately okay with making life a little bit difficult for Marden's. I can live with that trade-off.

I am well aware that it's all too easy for me to sit here in another state and spout off about this stuff from the safety of my little apartment in a renovated textile mill, with a bustling and quaint downtown just a ten minute walk away, and a job I happily potter off to (though I loathe and despise the commute into Boston every day). It's so weird to me that I had to leave Maine to find what I wanted - it was kind of like breaking up with a really great guy that you really love but just isn't working out...and every once and awhile you hear a song or see someone on the street that reminds you of him and you get a little sad, even though you know you did what you had to do. (Or, y'know, you pitch a raging hissy fit because you find out on Facebook that he got married and didn't tell you, not long after giving you a key to his house.) It's a weird analogy, I know, but it's the best one I have. The point is, I'm sad that I'm not in Maine now, that I'm not fighting this from within, because I love it and it's incredibly important to me...but I also know I'm here for awhile, and these rants on my blog are about all I can offer up in solidarity.

Also? It might be time to make some whoopie pies.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Popcorn, Piggy Parts, and Penicillin

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about food lately, and the memories certain foods evoke for me. We have some odd food habits in our family tree, some that were one-time deals and others that have stayed with me well into my adulthood. In many cases, I have utterly no idea why. Here's a random smattering:

1.One of my earliest memories is standing in my great-grandmother's pantry, on a little step stool, watching her make me popcorn. She was my dad's Nana, but my mother also had a Nana, so I christened Dad's Nana "The Popcorn Nana" to keep things straight in my 3-year old head. (Further complicating things is that they were both Nana Allen's, because in some weird twist of fate there are Allen's on both sides of my family tree; though why nobody thought to have me call them Nana Ruth and Nana Hazel is beyond me.) Later on in life, someone (probably my father) introduced me to the notion of eating popcorn like cereal. You take a glass of milk, throw in a handful of popcorn, and eat it with a spoon. Then repeat. This, more than any other Weird Food Thing, has consistently grossed out my friends and roommates and boyfriends over the years. Given that popcorn is, well, CORN, and given that most breakfast cereal is made of CORN, I don't know why this freaks people out. But it totally does.

2. More weirdness (although much less weird than popcorn cereal): taking crackers (usually saltines, but tonight it was Wasa sourdough), putting American cheese on top, sprinkling it with paprika, then either microwaving or toaster-ovening them until the cheese melts. It's the paprika that makes this odd to me, mostly because I have never, EVER used paprika in anything else. My family is mostly of Scotch-Irish descent, why this Hungarian spice? on American cheese??? But indeed, I own an entire bottle of paprika just to make these.

3. Then there's maple syrup on chocolate ice cream. Most objections to this one are just simply that people find it too sweet. Actually, our family has found that there's not much that maple syrup can't improve. Nana Hazel used to make corn fritters, which are kind of like a plain donut with corn mixed up in it, and they were spectacular with maple syrup. (Up until that time she had us all over for dinner and and there were ants swimming in the gravy boat of maple syrup...but that's another story).

4. My dad cooks hot dogs in a frying pan with butter. The only time I will eat hot dogs is when I am back in Maine with Dad and he cooks them this way, usually when it's just us and my mother isn't around to calculate the calories involved. Dad prefers the red hot dogs, the ones I think you can only buy in Maine these days, the ones in a bright red casing that snap when you bite into them. I like the all-beef Hebrew Nationals, because I don't like to think about random piggy parts, but sometimes they are hard to get in rural Maine so I just eat the regular brown ones. I smother them in relish and listen really hard to whatever Dad is talking about so my mind doesn't wander to thoughts about those random piggy parts.

5. Dad also makes really great hot cocoa from scratch - the kind with milk and unsweetened cocoa (brown Hershey box) and sugar, made in a saucepan on the stove. One year, I think 8th grade, I got a terrible case of strep throat that would not go away. I was a total wuss and incapable of swallowing pills, and for whatever reason there was no liquid penicillin to be had (rural Maine, not many pharmacies, who knows), so every morning before he went to work Dad would make me hot cocoa and dissolve my penicillin in it. It was disgusting, no doubt about it; I can still remember how awful it tasted, like moldy chocolate-flavored pond scum. And I'm sure it diluted the effectiveness of the medicine - but I eventually got over it, so it must have retained some of its mojo. Still, I can clearly remember sitting at the table, wearing a flannel nightie and wrapped up in an old quilt, miserable as miserable gets, watching Dad make me my cocoa-penicillin concoction. And though it's not something I would recommend trying, it's actually kind of a sweet memory for me, not the least of which because I could tell Dad was pretty worried about how sick I was.

And, truthfully? I have yet to find another man who wouldn't have just said "Swallow the damned pill already".

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kitty Love

If you've been reading this blog for a bit, you know that this summer I adopted an 8-year old cat from my local humane society. I went in anticipating I would adopt a particular 3-year old cat, but Ms. Calypso made sure I didn't leave without her. I had some reservations about adopting an older cat, though...and I will admit the vet bills have not been pretty these past few months as there were a few health issues that we had to sort out. But I'm SO glad she came home with me, so much so that it's a darned good thing that I have a one cat per person rule around here, because otherwise I might have gone back for another kitty or two. (Plus, I have a small apartment and also, most importantly, Calypso has let it be known she hates other cats).

It's still difficult for me to understand how her previous owners could have given her away after 8 years. As much as I hate the idea of Cal being in the shelter, I'm glad the shelter was there and able to take her in, and they took very good care of her. She definitely hated it there, though; she was only 7 pounds when I adopted her because she barely ate during her month-long stay at the shelter. When I agreed to bring her home it was clear the entire staff at the shelter was relieved; partly because Callie is such a sweet cat, and partly because they knew how difficult it can be to adopt out older cats (in fact, the shelter's price for adopting older cats is significantly reduced, in order to encourage their adoption).

Even though I'm perfectly happy with Cal and our one-to-one cat to person ratio, I find myself occasionally back on the shelter's website to look at the available cats for adoption. And it is so, so, SO sad to see how many cats are there because their owners lost their jobs and their homes...just awful. Many of these cats are older, which makes it even more sad to think about - losing their homes and their families in one fell swoop. I know they are cats, but change is traumatic for them, especially when (even in the best of shelters) they spend good chunks of time in cages. My apartment is small, but at least Cal has plenty of soft and warm places to sleep, windows to watch the birds from, and open access to food, water and a clean litter box.

So if you are considering adding a feline to your family, PLEASE consider adopting from your local shelter, and PLEASE consider bringing home an older cat. For one thing, they are already litter trained. While there can be an adjustment period, most will transition with few if any accidents. For another thing, the shelter most likely has an idea of what sort of personality they have - whether or not they are child friendly, or whether they can cope with other pets. With kittens, it's trial and error guesswork as to how they will adjust. And, particularly with indoor cats, the lifespan of a healthy cat can be upwards of 16+ years, so they will still be part of your family for a number of years to come. And, if Callie is any indication, they will be all-too-grateful to be welcomed into your home.

It is true that Callie came with a tapeworm and a heart murmur; in the first 6 months I've spent at least $500 on vet bills, medicine, food, and kitty litter. Oh, and let's not forget the toys and the cat perch...yikes! Happily, the tapeworm went away and the heart murmur has been deemed benign. But kittens can have exactly the same issues, so there's no guarantee of perfect health with them either.

And if for some reason your personal situation doesn't allow you to adopt a cat - allergies, what have you - please consider making a donation (even a small one) to your local no-kill shelter. Many have been inundated as a result of the mortgage crisis, as people have had to give up their homes and their animals. Many shelters are also in need of bedding, food, and litter donations as well. The kitties (and the shelter volunteers!) will thank you very much.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Artists & Revolutions

As a prelude to this, I should explain that several years ago I was involved with the state of Maine’s creative economy initiative, which was an effort to acknowledge and encourage the link between Maine’s stellar arts community and its economic development goals. I spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to find resources to support the initiative, in part so that we (like many other states) could support our downtown revitalization strategies with artists and art-related endeavors. As a “wanna-be” writer and fiber artist, who is also enamored with photography and mixed-media work, I liked the idea of helping working artists succeed. And I truly believed their work was helping support the state’s economy (still do).

As a result of that work, and because I have artist friends, and because I’m now a full-time grant writer, I’ve watched with dismay over the past few years as the recession has decimated funding for arts projects across the country. Further complicating matters is that very few grants are available that provide funds directly to artists - and they are so competitive that there's virtually no return on investment for the time the artist puts in to preparing proposals. Most grant funds are given to nonprofit arts organizations, who apply for them and set the budgets and pay the artists. Strangely (to me, anyway), the artists are often the last to get paid, and their fees are often small “stipends” that are so inadequate that I feel like there should be an artist tip jar at every performance. Meanwhile, the nonprofit managers collect salaries and health insurance and paid sick/vacation days.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying arts managers are unimportant; I’m actually not even saying they are (necessarily) overpaid. In my own brief stint in an arts-related organization, I saw what a thankless job arts management can be, and contrary to what the media would like you to believe, most administrators are not inappropriately compensated (particularly if you calculate an hourly rate, since most easily work 60-80 hours/week). What I AM in a knot about is that somehow the costs for managing and producing the art are valued so much more than the actual creation of the art itself. Take a new musical theater production, for example. 200 hours of nonprofit management staff time might go directly to a new project…but the artists spent the better part of two YEARS creating the work, writing the script and music. On top of this, the artists have to market the work, chase down potential investors, and otherwise try to make a living. While there are exceptions, of course, the average artist doesn’t stand a chance at recouping her costs. (I actually drafted a make-believe grant budget to illustrate this, which I can post if anyone is really that interested.)

But this doesn’t just apply to theater. Kevin Smith, the film director/screen writer/potty mouth extraordinaire, figured out that the marketing and distribution costs for his movies were as much if not more than the production costs, and he recently ticked a bunch of people off by essentially self-releasing his latest flick. Many book authors find themselves self-financing their own book tours, and their residuals get eaten up by management and production costs, such that out of every $15 book we buy, something like $1 actually winds up in the author’s pocket. It’s why so many writers don’t (can’t) quit their day jobs. And this article about Ray LaMontagne suggests he too came to realize how much the traditional music business machine was putting the screws to him, both artistically and financially.

Recently an alternative strategy has developed to help the public directly fund artists who have projects in development. Several websites have cropped up that allow artists to post their projects online and solicit funding from friends and family members, including Kickstarter, United States Artists and Pledge Music. It’s kind of like Etsy, except they’re selling ideas instead of necklaces, and your "purchase" (contribution) helps those ideas come to fruition. Like Etsy, these sites do take a small transaction fee, but it appears that the majority of your contribution does land with the artist.

These sites intrigue me. On the one hand, it’s a fairly simple way for artists to circumvent the traditional, institutional-based grant path and gain a bit more control of the project development process. And, y’know, potentially get paid for the work they do. On the other hand, realistically how many times can an artist tap his friends and extended family? Even more challenging is the issue of getting the public to these sites. Nonprofit arts organizations function kind of like our representative democracy does – the public “elects” nonprofits (by donating money) because we want to support certain causes, and we let them sort out the details that we don’t have the time or inclination or knowledge to deal with ourselves. I mean, if I don’t know the artist personally, how am I even going to know projects exist? Plus, unless I am *really* passionate about something, I’m not going to take the time to sort through pages and pages of project profiles, and I think that’s true for most people. (And, in case you are curious, there were two quilt projects listed on Kickstarter, neither of which was successful in its fundraising efforts. Knitting projects have fared slightly better.)

Lo and behold, and because the universe likes to keep reminding me the world is a really small place: as I was drafting this post, someone on Facebook sent out a message about a friend of hers who is using Kickstarter to fundraise for a musical theater project (go on, pledge a few bucks, I'll be here when you are done - the artist is legit and a nice person to boot).

Frankly, although I use social media on a daily basis, I never really saw how it could have a whole lot of positive impact; mostly I just like to complain about my commute and share pictures of my cat. But (late to the party, I suppose), now I'm thinking that social media has the potential to instigate more revolutions than the one we saw in Egypt this week; that it could turn all sorts of taken-for-granted institutions on their heads, including the traditional models of philanthropy. Just to further underscore my point, I read this morning about Andy Carvin, a strategist at NPR who gained worldwide attention through his tweets about the Egypt uprising. He was using his personal Twitter feed, rather than an official NPR one, but NPR was smart enough to not shut him down - and in return, Carvin suggested his followers donate to NPR. While it's hard to say how much this will actually generate for NPR and its affiliate stations, this article here suggests it could be substantial. Great lessons there, not just for the nonprofit sector but for all of those institutions who seek above all to "control the message".

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sockpocalypse 2011

Yesterday I stopped by one of my local fabric stores, which also sells yarn, because I needed some thread and a couple of fat quarters for my quilt guild meeting this week. I reminded myself that I was on a budget and needed nothing else, particularly any more yarn since I have barely put a dent in the yarn I bought last summer, and especially since I'd bought some Noro just two weeks earlier to make myself some mittens. (Which, by the way, are currently sitting in my sink in some ridiculously hot water in an attempt to shrink them. Apparently I cannot be trusted to measure my own hand.)

This particular store has two entrances; I usually use the front because I generally walk there, since it is not far from my apartment. Yesterday I was running errands and this was my last stop, so I had my car, and I had to park at the back of the lot, which was totally iced over and necessitated using the back entrance. This meant that I had to walk past the yarn section. I tried not to look, but you know how these things go, right? I had to pet a few skeins of Noro, cursing their twiggy-ness while coveting the colors. And I had to gaze lovingly at all the fabulous Auracania they had in stock, right? I mean, it's only natural.

I was fine until I saw the sock yarn display. Because this has been the winter of Snowpocalypse, I've been wearing my handknit wool socks almost every day. My sister even broke out the pair I made her a few years ago, and my nephew and oldest niece keep stealing them from her when they go play in the snow, because the socks are warm and cozy. (And just like that, I'm no longer crazy for dropping $20-$25 on a skein of yarn.)

The store had some new sock yarn stock in, and I quickly became enamored with a skein of hand dyed sock yarn from Pagewood Farms, a company I'd never heard of (according to their blog, they were recently on the Martha Stewart Show). It was lovely; really, really lovely; there were several shades I liked but the Prism colorway struck my fancy best. And, well. You know what happened next.

As I was knitting along last night, watching NCIS reruns during a winter THUNDERSTORM with lightening so bright I thought a police car with flashing blue lights was outside my window, I suddenly remembered I had another sock project floating around. I unearthed it from the heap that is my yarn basket, only to discover that one sock was completely finished except for the kitchener stitching of the toe.

This yarn is from Silver Moon farm, which I bought last May at the Massachusetts sheep and wool festival (I wrote about it here.) I loved the yarn on the skein, but I never would have expected to wind up with camouflage socks from it:

Also in my basket? A half-knit sock using Noro sock yarn, and a half-knit sock using (*gulp*) my precious skein of Madelinetosh. I stopped looking after that. I don't think I want to know what else might be down in there.

(*Both socks are knit using the pattern/instructions found in Knitting Rules by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. I find that with hand painted yarn, a plain old sock shows of the colors best.)

Cat Lady Chronicles

I keep my fabric in a cubby-hole sort of thing, and I have some cloth "drawers" that I picked up at Target in a couple of the cubbies. One of the bottom drawers was empty, and the cat somehow figured out how to pull the drawer out just enough so she can hop in and sleep. This picture is a bit blurry, but I love it because I caught her mid-yawn before she settled in for a nap, and it looks like she's laughing:

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Winter Song To You

I’ve written before about my inexplicable hatred of fall…but I’m not sure I’ve ever written about my inexplicable love of winter. Yes, I’m a knitter so I love to wear my hand knits, and yes I’m a quilter so I love curling up under my quilts. And I definitely love, love, love that it is now February and it's after 5 pm before it gets truly dark out. But there’s more to it than this. I'm not sure I can really articulate it, but I'm going to try.

One of my favorite books is “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin (despite the author’s political leanings…). Coincidentally, I just read today that the book is being adapted for a film, which ought to be interesting; it’s a strange and complicated story and I cannot imagine how they will manage certain scenes. At any rate, in the book is a character named Beverly who is dying of consumption and has such a raging fever that she spends most of her time up on the roof in the dead of winter. I don’t know why, but I could see myself doing such a thing, had I the time and money (or access to my roof). Yes it’s cold and I hate being stuck inside during storms and I hate trudging around in boots and I loathe what this particular winter has done to my commuting (see my Twitter feed for the painful details). But there’s something invigorating about all that fresh air, the way it opens your eyes and clears out your lungs and flushes your cheeks. I love it. It kills me that I am so completely uncoordinated, because I think I would have otherwise really enjoyed skiing and the other winter sports. I’ve put my order in already; if there is such a thing as reincarnation, next time I want better hand-eye coordination along with stronger knees and ankles.

But mostly I love winter because there are mornings like the one I had today, when the sky is blazing blue and the trees are covered in ice, branches glistening in their little cocoons of frozen water, and the snow sparkling diamonds through the forest. It’s about as magical as things can get, at least around here. And when you are stuck on a painfully slow and clunky commuter rail train for the umpteenth day in a row, eating your Luna Bar for breakfast, it’s easy for even an almost 40-year old woman to imagine herself a more pleasant version of Narnia’s White Queen. Even when dressed completely in black.

Anyway. I’m loving winter at the moment, the oodles of snow and pain-in-the-arse commute notwithstanding. And in a deliberate attempt to be more positive, because something else in my life decided to fall apart this past week, here are a few more things I’m loving:

1. Ingrid Michaelson’s new album, Everybody. Also, the Ingrid Michaelson/Sara Bareilles song "Winter Song", which makes me happy every time I hear it.
2. Skinny caramel macchiato’s from Starbucks. My sister says that even when they are made with skim milk they are still loaded with sugar and caffeine, but they have become my Friday afternoon treat.
3. Apples. My appetite finally showed up again, which I had some mixed feelings about, and it kicked into gear with apples. Growing up my mother rarely allowed junk food, and if I had a dollar for every time I whined about being hungry in between meals and she told me “Have an apple!”, I would never want for cashmere yarn again. Alas, she was right; it's a perfect and portable snack. My favorites are honey crisps at the moment, but braeburns work just fine in a pinch.
4. My work. I’m currently working on 2 grant proposals that I’m really excited about. Neither is for a ton of money, but they are both unique and are forcing me to really think creatively and strategically about how to write them. It’s the sort of mental challenge I enjoy.
5. I finally applied for my passport! I kept putting it off because of the state of my hair, which is just about the most ridiculous thing I could ever say but it's the complete and utter truth of the matter. The downside is, no drastic haircut until after I get back from Ireland, lest they not let me out of the country.
6. My old journals. I had to haul them out this past weekend, as I was on a fact-finding mission to prove a certain someone wrong about something. *ahem* Now that the dust has settled it's fascinating to read what was going on inside my head back in 2006/2007, leading up to my move to NYC. You know how every once and awhile you think to yourself, "What was I thinking?" Well, thanks to these journals I can actually answer that question. And I wasn't half as crazy as I had begun to think, which is frankly quite comforting to know.

I know there's no knitting in this post, nor any sewing. I finally downloaded the last batch of photos I took of my various projects, and not one of them was usable. I must begin again. In the meantime, if anyone has any ideas as to how to hand felt a pair of Noro mittens that came out a little on the big side, please drop me a line!