Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Prompt #2

Write your antagonist's obituary.

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


For quite some time I have designed my own knitwear. I've adapted patterns by other people to make them more what I want. I have one of those hard-to-fit body shapes so the standard sweater or sock or mitten doesn't always fit me if done to the pattern. I have a small head in comparison to most adults so I have to alter those patterns as well. I've cast on tons of hats for charity without once using a pattern and "made them up as I went." That's all well and good and I'll presume that many knitters do the same. However, recently I have found myself in a position of actually having to create things and make them work for other people as well.

It all started when I became the knitting instructor at our local JoAnn store. There is this thing called "trend classes" and I was encouraged to come up with projects that would encourage continued interest in knitting past the Knitting 101 level. I never felt comfortable taking other people's work and creating a class around them. Even if the pattern was free, I felt some sort of infringement if I were to use their pattern to teach a class. So I decided that I had to come up with my own patterns. Wow. I hadn't realized until then how much work goes into designing so that other people can replicate your work. I actually had to make swatches to determine gauge and had to make notes that were more than "knit 'til it is long enough." Many of my notes read like a combination of Elizabeth Zimmermann's Opinionated Knitter mixed with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Knitting Rules!. It's a mix of "do what you know is right" and "keep up, it's going to get a little tricky here."

Some things that I have learned is that many people pick up a pattern and think that it is gospel. I try hard with my students to teach them about yarn substitution, making adjustment for gauge, tailoring patterns to fit their own bodies. Somehow it just hasn't sunk in yet. They cling to the patterns like a life raft and sometimes that life raft has a hole in it. It's one of the big reasons that I teach "formula knitting." It goes sort of like this: 1. This is a hat. 2. Knitting a hat in the round means you need to know how many stitches to cast on and how big around your head is. 3. This is how you find out how many stitches to cast on. 4. Here are some various hat ideas that are all based off this hat theory. 5. Here are a few ways to end/close a hat's top. Inevitably I get the question, "But how many rows do I knit before I start decreasing?" or "But I want to use this yarn instead but my hat is too small/big." (Pardon me while I go ram my head into a wall a few dozen times.)

Perhaps I need to not teach knitting but teach lessons on how to be intuitive thinkers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Knitting for Babies

Before anyone gets excited, I am not expecting. A friend of mine recently found out that she is expecting her first baby. I am so excited for her. I remember what it was like to be pregnant the for the first time and wonder about all the changes that your body goes through and getting used to the idea that there is this little symbiont living inside of you and growing and that within the year it is going to pop out as a baby. It's pretty cool and pretty frightening all at the same time.

What this has meant is that I have a new category of favorites at Ravelry. All tagged as "baby." I've already knit her the ubiquitous Baby Surprise Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmermann and have a second sweater already cast on (a sweet little top-down raglan no-seam cardigan with just a simple cable running up each side of the opening in the front). I've looked at hats and booties and even diaper covers and soakers. I've fondled yarn on her baby's behalf and had even considered knitting a baby blanket. Don't worry, that idea quickly passed and I can still say that I am blanket and afghan free other than a periodic block here and there for a community project.

There is just something sweet about knitting for babies. For one, they are soft themselves so it seems appropriate to knit soft things for them. Their clothes are tiny, so knitting a baby sweater or a baby hat or a baby blanket (if you are so inclined) takes far less time than knitting for a child or an adult. Even if you use fingering weight yarn it still takes no time at all. Baby knits can be cute and whimsical as well as lacy and frilly. Vintage knits look charming on a baby yet they look just as good in modern pop art. You can run the gambit with the colors. Brights, bolds, pastels, earthy, and even creamy like white or ecru look good on a baby. Some people fuss about genders and colors, but I just think babies look precious in whatever color they are in and one doesn't owe and explanation if you decide to dress your boy in a pink sweater or your boy in a blue hat.

The most wonderful thing about knitting for babies? They don't criticize.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Writing Prompt Saturday #1

While I was walking on the beach yesterday, I came up with a great idea. What if my character were to walk on my beach? What would s/he think about it? How would s/he act? What would s/he do? This beach is totally different from what my MC is used to so I thought it would be fun to do a writing exercise with him on my beach. I also thought that this might be a good writing exercise for other authors. Then I started thinking about other ideas as writing prompts and decided that each Saturday I am going to post a writing prompt each Saturday.

This week's prompt: Have your character come to your time and your city (even if this is a temporal and spatial anomaly). Write it in first person so your character can talk to you. What does your character think of where you live?

Let me know what you think and how this exercise worked for you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Sadly I am not to the point where I am ready to pen my own books' dedications, but one of my characters is. I've been struggling with this one section and it is making for some odd eating. Let's just suffice to say that it involved Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, cheese and an Oreo frap. So there I am stuffing the (third) Little Debbie into my mouth while coming up fairly empty in a Google search for "memorable book dedications," when I decided that perhaps I should actually look at some books. After a depressing trip to the bookstore where I saw far too many "To my wife's" and "To (fill in a single first name): thanks for being there's" I came home and gobbled up a piece of really bland mild cheddar before I realized how truly boring it was.

So I turn to you, my readers. What are some of your favorite book dedications (I don't care if you liked the book or not, but if you did let me know that too)? I'll give you a week to come up with them. Next Friday I'll pick my favorite and send the winner a knit something (as yet to be determined.) Heck, I'll even consider something you made up as long as it is witty and entertaining.

A little clarification because I seem to have confused some people. I'm looking for real dedications that you have read. My character, at this point, is irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As Promised: White Lasagna

So those of you who follow me on Twitter are most likely expecting the recipe for my White Lasagna. I made this recipe up one day out of boredom and it is now one of my family's favorite meals. It's great on its own or with a light tomato basil sauce over it. Couple this with a salad and a glass of sweet red wine (OK, I'll freely admit it, I'm a sweet red wine snob and think it goes well with almost everything, but in this case it really does pair well with the white cheeses).

White Lasagna:

Put your noodles to cook according to package directions. This is not a candidate for the "no boil" noodles as there is not much liquid in the recipe. Besides, I've never had good results with the "oven ready" noodles. While that is happening, go ahead and finish loading up the dishwasher and wipe down your counters. When you put the noodles in the boiling water you will have plenty of time to mix up the filling.

The filling: Mix one 16oz container of low fat cottage cheese (you can use the full fat if you like, but this recipe is so cheese heavy that you may want to pare it down a bit, but don't go for the fat free stuff. Seriously, it's not real cheese if it doesn't have at least some fat in it. Might as well go chew Silly Putty or packing peanuts.) with one 8oz part skim ricotta, one egg, 3-4 cloves of garlic (if you have time, roast some - it's better that way, but it's not bad raw), 1/4 c. fresh Parmesan cheese (go ahead and use the powdered stuff if you have to, but the real Parm is worth every little penny. Trust me, once you have had real Parmesan cheese, even if it isn't Parmigiano Reggiano, you will never go back to the powder), 1 small can of chopped ripe black olives. Mix that all together.

When your noodles are done and cool enough to handle (I usually run cold water over mine until I can pick them up and not scream in pain) make a layer of noodles in your baker, then a layer of filling, then a layer of noodles, then a layer of filling, then a layer of noodles, then a layer of Mozzarella cheese (ha! I bet you thought I was going to say filling), then a layer of noodles, then a layer of filling, then a layer of noodles, then a layer of filling. Then if you have enough noodles another layer of noodles and top the whole thing with a generous portion of Mozz.

Put it in the oven for about forty-five minutes at 400°F while you sit and watch that episode of NCIS that you recorded last week and skip through all the commercials. Your timing should just about match up. Or you can knit a few rows of that Baby Surprise Jacket you have on the needles. Or catch up on your e-mail. All three will take about forty-five minutes each.

Eat and enjoy. I hope you like it and if you happen to make it, let me know. It isn't cheap, but it is easy and my family loves it. (Don't forget the sweet red wine.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The well springs anew

Since January (as you can see from my lack of postings) writing has seemed more like a burden than anything else. This past week the blog came back to life and I toyed a bit with one of my books. Then this morning I was peacefully ignoring the change in the time (partly because I was deluding myself that it actually happened by not setting my bedside clock forward) when Jenny came and stood by my bed.

"Hey, I know something about the cancer," she said.
"Go away imaginary half-developed character from my book," I said back to her.
"No, no. Get up. You need breakfast and a cup of tea. Come on. I'll help you," she said.
"Go away imaginary half-developed character from my book," I repeated.
"OK, so we are going to have to do this the hard way." And she proceeded to sit down on the bed and start rambling off things like what color hair she has and that she likes to wear it pulled back into a ponytail. She told me some things about her marriage that I didn't know and that she has a fondness for red wine when she was stressed. She even described her spinning wheel to me (yes, my main character is a knitter and spinner, too) and what her knitting space looked like. Then she started singing (she doesn't sing very well) until I was forced out of bed.

I'm glad I got up, though, because the words have started flowing again. Characters are taking shape and the plot is finally moving somewhere other than in a circle inside my head. There are some who would say that my conversations with my characters could be described as a psychosis, but I rather like to think of them as more of a creative venue. I carry on conversations with my characters because that is how I learn about real life people. I talk to them. So, Jenny came and talked to me today and from that flowed over three thousand words in a matter of about two hours (and two cups of tea and a bowl of cereal and a yogurt).

It's good to be enjoying writing again. I was thinking a bit about that last night when I went to sleep. I have this magnet that says, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" My answer has always been to write and publish a book. So I guess my characters are making me answer to that statement.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Strawberries and Whipped Cream

I love strawberries and whipped cream. Actually I love them together and independently of each other. When I was a little girl my favorite nursery rhyme was Curly Locks:

Curly Locks! curly locks! wilt thou be mine?
Thou shall't not wash dishes, nor yet feed the swine,
But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream!

That seemed idyllic to me. The leisure of being able to just sit and do handwork while eating strawberries, sugar and cream. Ah! As I grew up, my tastes refined and not just any strawberry would do. I prefered fresh picked ripe strawberries directly from the field and the whipped cream had to be homemade. Unfortunately, other than growing my own, the local strawberry fields are open only for a few weeks each year for public picking and the roadside stands are fewer and harder to find. When I can find organic locally grown berries it is pure heaven. When I was young I was happy with the "whipped cream" that came in a spray can as well as the tubs of "whipped topping." Neither of which actually had no real whipped cream in them. One day someone made me real fresh whipped cream and I became a whipped cream snob.

Here is my favorite recipe for whipped cream:

Take 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (don't use that lower fat stuff, go for the real stuff) and put it in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl (preferably one you have chilled). Set your mixer to whip and let it go. Watch it, because there is a fine line between whipped cream and butter. When nice soft peaks start to form add up to 1 tsp of vanilla (I like to use the Wilton clear vanilla as it doesn't distort the lovely whiteness of the whipped cream, but any will do) and 1-2 Tbl of confectioner's sugar. Now if you happen to be lucky enough to live somewhere that actually sells the ultra-fine table sugar (not just regular table sugar, but the really fine not quite confectioner's sugar) you can substitute that, but I have not seen it in stores since cake flour disappeared. Start with 1 tablespoon and if that isn't sweet enough for you add more at 1 teaspoon at a time. Eat. With strawberries or even a spoon or if one is too far across your kitchen your finger.

I've had many a dessert ruined because of imitation whipped cream or out of season strawberries. Both deserve to be fresh. Treat yourself to some soon.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I'm hesitant to actually say that spring is here despite all the signs I've seen: a female cardinal gathering sticks to refurbish her nest in the azalea bush; the buds of my oak leaf hydrangea; a weed in my winter-dead lawn; and the green haze of the oak pollen casting an eerie sheen over my car. In my excitement of warmer weather I even made a new skirt that has very wild flowers in aqua, lime, marmalade and fuchsia to go with my pink Converse tennis shoes (the ones with the lime green laces). I'm no longer fantasizing about knitting a fisherman sweater out of 100% wool, but instead am planning my sock selections for easy portable and cooler knitting.

However, I am resisting the urge to go out and plant flowers. My grandmother always told me to "wait until the ides of March" to plant. She said that anything planted prior to March 15th would die because there will always be a last frost. Once you get past the 15th then plant to your heart's content (unless of course Farmer's Almanac tells you to wait again.)

It's odd that I am happy about spring. I love autumn and winter and don't tolerate warm weather well at all. But this past winter has been exceptionally cold. We had a week where it never got above thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit and the nights were in the lower twenties and upper teens. (Don't laugh all you northern people, that's down right bitter for North Florida.) But for some reason seeing Mrs. Cardinal back in my yard made me smile and get that giddy feeling that this oppresionable weather might just be over. I'm thinking of things I want my gardener to do (gardener = my brother who gives me a very good rate on mowing my lawn). I'm thinking of what I want to do in my garden beds and all the work I should be doing this next week to prepare them.

Which brings us around to cooking (because this blog is supposed to be about knitting, cooking and writing and not just me rambling on about miscellaneous topics). I've outgrown my herb box. In fact my herb box is falling to pieces and needs to be replaced. This past year my brother (the aforementioned gardener) cleared out a ton of brush that was growing out in front of my house. I have this grandiose plan of paving that area to make a front porch patio. Behind all that brush, bracketing my front door, were two very long brick planters. Oh, I knew they were there, but they were never accessible. Now I can walk right up to them and they are screaming to be very long herb boxes. I'm imagining regrowing my rosemary hedge and bushes of basil. I want to actually have my own sage this year and I want to give the thyme room to creep like it wants to. I'm imagining bees buzzing around my lavender and lemon balm and pots of peppermint scattered around the patio.

There is just something wonderful about growing your own herbs. Your food just tastes better when the herbs are fresh and they come from your own garden. Spaghetti sauce just tastes richer when it came out of the garden just minutes before being thrown into the pot. All the essence and fragrance are still clinging to them and your fingers smell delightfully of rosemary and oregano. It is satisfying to be able to say, "I grew this sauce."

So come on Spring. Persephone awake from your underground captivity and bring the sun back with you. Sun warm the Earth so it will allow the plants to thrive. Let the air blow sweet breezes and the rains fall gently. I'm ready this year, so bring it on!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're all a little mad

I joined the infamous Sock Madness on Ravelry. What is Sock Madness? It's a race to finish a set of assigned sock patterns with no alterations as fast as you can. Eight pair of socks in something like six weeks. I'm half way finished with my first sock and thought I was really whizzing through until I logged on this morning and found someone has already finished the pair! Sweet Nelly, what do the drink in Norway that lets someone knit that fast? I knit fast for an English knitter and I know that Continental is faster, but that much? Or maybe it's a combination of knitting fast and not having anything to do. I mean I did take time to eat and shower and dress. I had to take the kids on a french fry crawl (maybe a topic for a later post) and I did have to stop to go pick up the new spinning wheel, but none of those things took terribly long.

I keep wondering why I joined this challenge and I think it is for the same reason I do NaNoWriMo every year. I want to see if I can do it. I have no grandiose plans of actually winning Sock Madness (unlike NaNoWriMo, there is only one winner), but I do have plans to get through as many rounds as I can. It would be fun to be able to say I made it through five or six rounds. For now, I just need to get through this first round.

Off to knit!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My New Baby

I've been scouring Craig's List and Freecycle and the newspaper classifieds for a new(er) wheel than the one I have. Don't get me wrong. I love Eloise, my 18th century Eastern European flax wheel, but she is fragile and needs a little attention. So earlier this week I found an add on Craig's List about an estate sale which listed all kinds of miscellaneous household furnishings and then a light from the heavens showed down on the listing and tacked on the end of "... dishes, linens, two sofas, antique chair" were the words and a spinning wheel. It was hanging there like an afterthought. I immediately contacted the person and asked if they were willing to let me come out and look at it and what kind of condition the wheel was in. She wrote back and said, "Sure, come on Thursday evening. It's in working condition and I'm wanting $100 for it."

Now, being the skeptic I am, I immediately questioned what "working condition" could mean, but decided that I would go look anyway. I mean it might be a good wheel or it might be a nice display piece, but the address was only ten minutes from my house and I could always luck out. Well, I lucked out. It's a beautiful fairly modern Saxony Canadian production wheel. She's in perfect working order (and I even have spun a few yards on her already).

Her name is Elora. I asked the owner if she had a name yet and I was met with confusion. She said, "Well, my students (elementary age) called her Sleeping Beauty." I laughed and said, "But she isn't a flax wheel." That got me a confused look. I then had to explain that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on a distaff of a flax wheel and not a wool spinning wheel. (That got me a bag of New Zealand wool thrown in.) But I didn't want to call her Sleeping Beauty and I didn't want to call her Aurora, so I combined it with the previous owner's name (Laura) to come up with Elora.

I'm so happy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Socks in bed

I love my hand knit socks. They are the only ones I will wear. They fit my feet perfectly and don't have any annoying seams rubbing across my toes. They are soft. They know me. But then comes the problem of wearing them in bed. When I go to bed at night I usually am freezing. I have my socks on, my flannel jammies, sometimes an undershirt, and on the coldest of nights maybe even a hat. I am cozy under my sheet and two quilts. I'm like a little caterpillar in her cocoon. Safe. Snug. Warm.

And then it happens. HOT FLASH! When I first started hearing my friends talk about hot flashes I thought those women were out of their minds. But then I started to experience them myself. When they say hot, they really mean HOT and when they say flash, it should be FLASH. Seriously, they hit you strong and hard and fast. You barely have enough time to take off your clothes to escape the inferno. Then five minutes later you are shivering. You feel like Wile E. Coyote has held onto a stick of "Dyn-O-mite" one second too long and have instantly combusted into a pile of ash. And then the arctic wind blows.

The problem with all this is that in the process to relieve yourself of anything that might retain heat (including covers, clothes, and lovers) your socks end up at the bottom of the bed. Retrieving them is no small feat. Trying to get them sorted out of their post strip jumble is nearly impossible in the dark and you are so tired that you forget about them. Until you get up in the morning and your feet are freezing. I do not recommend trying to find and put on crumpled socks in a pre-caffeinated state. It's just easier to pull on a new pair from the pile.

You do this for many nights in a row and then suddenly you can't find any of your hand knit socks because they are all at the bottom of your bed, intertwined like some sort of sock orgy. There in the wedge of your sheets are merino consorting with bamboo and colorwork going at it with lace. And you don't even want to know what the gansey is doing to the stockinette plain Jane. They look up at you like it is your fault.

Honestly, I don't care what my socks do under the covers. I just wish they would start having babies. But then, I'm not sure if I would like the product of this:


Monday, March 8, 2010


I love bread. There is something about a loaf of homemade bread baking in your oven and filling your home with the aroma of warm yeasty wheat. I learned to bake bread when I was a child. My grandmother was a whizz with flour and could make the best biscuits, dumplings, pie crusts, cookies and bread. She taught me to be patient and not try to hurry the bread. "Breads that had forced risings had poor crusts," she would tell me. "But then you don't want to overwork it either." There was a fine line between giving bread enough and too much attention.

In the nineteen nineties, there was the arrival of the in-home bread machine. A marvelous contraption that allowed anyone to have home baked bread without doing any work. Just dump everything into a bucket and push a button. Three or so hours later you ended up with a, well, bucket of bread. If you actually were able to extract your bread from the bucket you had a square loaf with a thick crust and a hole in the bottom. There were hundreds of cookbooks available for the bread machines.

I was a new mother at that time and just knew that this nifty little gizmo would allow me to have fresh baked bread in the house while chasing after a very active two-year old. I baked exactly six loaves of bread in the machine before I gave up on it. After being spoiled most of my life with beautiful rounded loaves of tender crusted bread, I found the bread from a bread machine to be quite lacking. It didn't fit in my toaster (or any toaster that I know of) and the first third of the loaf had a large hole in the middle, so it didn't make for very good sandwiches either. But mostly, I missed kneading and shaping the bread.

I love the feel of bread dough. It has a certain texture that tells you when it is ready for the final rising. Knowing that you put your arms in motion to bring the loaf of bread into being is gratifying when you pull the loaf, piping hot, out of the oven and resist the temptation to just tear into it before it has a chance to cool a bit. You made that bread. You used your hands to shape the top and to make it into the perfect loaf. Not some machine.

People often ask me for the recipes for my bread and I just stare at them blankly. I just don't use recipes. I go strictly on touch. I know that I begin with about a cup of liquid. Sometimes milk, sometimes water, sometimes evaporated milk, sometimes a mixture, sometimes with an egg as part of my liquid. Into that I put about 3 cups of flour, sometimes more, sometimes less. It really depends on the humidity and when the dough feels right. I use anywhere from one teaspoon to three tablespoons of sugar or honey (and sometimes none at all). I usually use a tablespoon or so of butter, but even then it might be olive oil or vegetable oil or even no oil. (I once made twenty loaves of bread without any oil at all because I forgot about it and no one noticed.) The flour can vary depending on what is at hand and what I am in the mood for. It could be just plain white flour or maybe whole wheat or a blend or some rye or oatmeal. And then there is the all-important yeast. Some days I put in a lot (two teaspoons per loaf) and others less (one half teaspoon). In the end, it is still a loaf of bread.

Whatever happened to that bread machine? I still have it. In fact I still use it, but only to mix my ingredients. If I am in a hurry I will simply toss a bunch of stuff in the machine and select the dough setting. It will mix it and let it rise once. Then I take it out and do the final kneading, shaping and rising before popping it in the oven. I still have a need to touch my bread. I still have to put part of myself into it. Bread needs that and no machine can ever give it that individual attention.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

For Rachael

I finished reading Rachael Herron's book How to Knit a Love Song. It was charming, funny, sad, infuriating, giggly, precious and content. I enjoyed every page and can't wait for another "Cypress Hollow Yarn" to come out. I'm not sure if everyone would appreciate this book fully for what it is. If you like (what I call) light romance (good story with enough sex to satisfy, but not make you flip back to the cover to see if you accidentally picked up a copy of Penthouse Letters) you will enjoy the story. However, if you are a fiber enthusiast (especially a spinner or knitter) you will adore this book. It is every knitter's fantasy. To inherit a cottage with a cupola filled with fiber and spinning wheels and a very good looking sexy sheep rancher (are they still called shepherds?) right across your lawn is simply divine. I had a hard time reading it only because the people younger than me in the house kept asking for things like dinner and clean laundry and for me to take them places. "Leave me alone. Can't you see that I have a book in my hand and I have no clue what is going on in the world? I just want to get back to Abigail and Cade and the yarn!"

Sadly, I think that for the non-fiber enthusiast this book may not fully touch them unless they have known the comfort of slipping a soft Merino sweater over their head or snuggling their toes into a pair of wool bamboo socks and can appreciate the time and effort that went into making those garments by hand. This book is much like those hand knit pieces. It is full of love and you can easily slip into the comfort of its pages as easily as a pair of Norwegian mittens on a bitter cold day. Pour a cup and pick this book up.

The one thing that it left me longing for, though, was my own Eliza. How wonderful to have an Eliza in your life. Not one who will die and leave you everything you need in life, but one who makes you appreciate what you do and encourages you to seek that thing you love the most. It doesn't even have to be knitting related. A muse, so to speak, who makes you realize that you have worth.

I have been privileged to follow Rachael (or as I have known her Yarnagogo) over the past year as she announced she was being published and as she worked through her own editing rather than doing NaNoWriMo (although she cheered us on as we went). It has been fun seeing her progress and the challenges of getting to her first book signing (which I read her tweet while at the bookstore in that "post book emptiness" while looking for a new read - suggestions anyone?)

Congratulations Rachael! You deserve this lovely book and I look forward to the KAL over at Ravelry.