Thursday, April 24, 2014

My friend Elora

I love my spinning wheel. Her name is Elora. For those of you familiar with the movie Willow, the savior of the movie is a tiny curly red-headed baby named Elora Danan. My spinning wheel is not named for her. I found my spinning wheel on Craig's List listed among various household items in a moving sale ad. "refrigerator, sofa, dressers, bookshelves, spinning wheel, bicycle, ..." I contacted the seller and asked if I could see the spinning wheel prior to the sale and what kind of wheel it was and the price. The woman was enthusiastic about it and said that it was a Canadian Production Wheel and she was asking $100.  I considered it was worth a look and CPW can mean everything from a really nice single treadle upright to a ghastly falling apart worm-eaten "living room antique." I had $100 cash in my pocket but was willing to walk away if it was the latter.

The woman's house was in a very nice neighborhood with perfectly manicured lawns and not a single pink flamingo in sight. Each cookie-cutter house with their matching driveways and brick encased mailboxes looked the same. And it was one of those neighborhoods that all have the same street name. I was looking for Hidden Oaks Lane amongst Hidden Oak Drive, Boulevard, Circle, Court, Road, Parkway, and Street. I spent more time turning around and meandering down the winding roads and parkways before I finally found Lane. I started thinking perhaps I should go home. It was looking more and more like this was going to be some show piece that was glued together so it wouldn't move. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door anyway. A well-dressed woman opened the door and introduced herself a Laura.

And there she sat. I knew the moment I saw her that she was not in anyway a Canadian Production Wheel. This, my friends, was a genuine Ashford Traditional. I knew it the moment I saw it. My heart started pounding. I repeated to myself, "Don't say a word. Don't say a word."  I hemmed and hawed. Gave the wheel a slight push (it turned). Asked if I could sit down and try it (I took some roving with me.). As I played with the wheel I asked if the woman could tell me anything about the wheel. Where she got it, where it had been stored, etc. 

"Well, I bought in Canada, so it's a Canadian Production Wheel (I apologize Canadians for that assumption) and I've kept it mostly in my classroom where I taught. See, I taught third grade and we would do a session in literature on fairy tales and I would show the children how Cinderella pricked her finger on the spinning wheel. I always called the spinning wheel Ella because of the story."

That's when I stopped spinning. And had to give this retired third grade teacher a lesson in spinning wheels.  I asked her where she thought Sleeping Beauty (I refrained from correcting her that Sleeping Beauty's name was not Cinderella) pricked her finger and she pointed to the maidens (the two upright spools that hold the bobbin and fly and is part of an assembly called the "mother of all"). I then told her about the kind of spinning wheels that Sleeping Beauty would have had when her story was first written and about spindles and how they were sharp, and that she did not prick her finger on a Canadian Production Wheel.  I told the woman that I thought the spinning wheel was nice and accepted the $100 price. I clasped the spinning wheel to my chest and almost ran to my car with it, afraid she might change her mind.

I then giggled all the way home. I knew right away that her name would be Elora. El for the many years of being called the wrong princess and -lora for the woman who owned her all those years. The only things I had to do was replace the footman joint (the footman is the rod that connects the treadle to the wheel drive) at the treadle and put a new drive band on her. About a year later I had to reglue the hub as it had come loose and was wobbling.

She's a lovely wheel. She spins beautifully and she sings several different things as we spin together. Her treadle keeps beat with a soft whump-whump-whump and the wheel whirrs and gives a soft swoosh, the bobbin clippity-claps as it turns and the orifice hook tings as it hits the front support leg in rhythm. It's quite soothing and most of the time when I am spinning I don't like to listen to any music or podcasts. I do sometimes, but most of the time I like being lost in the soft song that Elora sings and I let my thoughts wonder off in various directions. It's lovely to have this active meditation and I truly enjoy the days that Elora and I spend in the attic. She's taught me about patience (especially in the early days when I was just learning and thought it was a huge mistake for having bought a used wheel) and she's taught me about love (like after I finally worked out the coordination and got my hands and feet working in different rhythms to create lovely yarn). When we moved from Florida to Ohio, the only thing in my car other than our overnight bags and the cats was Elora. I was so afraid that if I put her in the moving van she would get crushed.

If my house were ever on fire and I was told I could only go back in for two things (assuming my children and cats were safe), I would grab my laptop and my spinning wheel. Let's hope it never comes to that, but Elora is on the top of my list after my children and cats.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Summer Sweater Update Number 1

I finally (finally) got to the point in my sweater where I could put the sleeves on waste yarn and start on the body of the sweater. Finally. I'm not sure why it takes forever to get to this point. It's one of the things I dislike about top down sweaters and shawls. You cast on a few stitches. Sometimes as few as 6 sometimes as many as 50. Each row you add 2-8 stitches. The first 30 or so rows fly by and you imagine yourself wearing your new creation in a matter of days. Days, I tell you. The sweater (or shawl) is flying off the needles and you can actually see your work growing and taking shape. And then you hit the "point of oh god when is it ever going to end". And each row slogs through like you are trying to run through a quagmire. Each stitch is painfully slow and you swear it isn't growing at all. You have knit the same row at least 90 times. You wonder why you put yourself through this hell just for a sweater when you could purchase a perfectly good sweater at the mall. Your work is so dismal that you know the sun is producing 38% less light than it was the previous day.

And then, right when you are sure that you should abandon this project and go make a washcloth (because the world really needs yet another knit washcloth), you realize you have finally reached a major point in your project. For me it is putting the arms on waste yarn and joining the body under the arms and beginning the body of the sweater. You take a moment to admire the lovely row of yarn over increases along the raglan sleeve increase. You fold the sweater into shape and realize that it has definable parts of front, back, and sleeves. You smooth the lovely rows of stitches, whether they are stockinette or some intricate lace pattern or columns of cables. You are a knitter with a capital K. You can conquer this.

And then you realize that you still have at least 6 more inches until you get to do anything other than stockinette.  Perhaps it is time for a Harry Potter movie marathon.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Food pairings

This week (or maybe it was last week) Carole at Carole Knits hosted a Ten on Tuesday topic of Ten Favorite Food Pairings. I, being the total slacker that I am with updating my blog - especially when there is knitting happening, never got around to writing anything. But then I haven't done a Ten on Tuesday topic in quite some time. (Maybe something I should rectify.) However, I've been thinking about this topic all week. Maybe because I've been hungry or maybe because my mind wanders when I knit in silence. So here are some of my favorite food pairings:

1. Garlic and chicken. Actually a whole bunch of garlic and chicken. In fact my (somewhat secret, but I share it with everyone, so it isn't all that secret) go to recipe for garlic chicken is to take chicken thighs and legs (you could use wings or breasts if you want, but I like the hindquarters for this recipe for some reason), crunch up a ton of garlic (and by a ton I mean like an entire bulb for every four pounds of chicken you are cooking), drizzle a little olive oil over the chicken and then mix the garlic until you smell like you are warding off a vampire invasion. Let it sit in your fridge overnight. The next day bake it at 300°F for 3 or more hours. Your house will also now smell like you are warding off a vampire invasion and if your windows are open letting the spring air flow through, I can guarantee that there will be no vampires within a three square block of your house. I like cooking meat at very slow temperatures for very long periods of time. It makes for very tender meat that falls off the bone. Just make sure you bake this in a deep pan as it does produce a ton of fat from the slow cooking. (You're welcome.)

2. Strawberries and whipped cream. 'Nuff said.

3. Peanut butter and bananas (Ditto.)

4. Dark chocolate and old cheese. Preferably Gruyere or Gouda, but anything that is over five years is good. (Note: I've been told that this is a migraine trigger for some people, so eat at your own risk.)

5. Chocolate and pretzels. I love the salty and crunchy of the pretzels with the sweet and creamy of the chocolate. Again, my preference is for a darker chocolate, but that is my favorite. (Nutella will do in a pinch.)

6. Bread and butter. And that would be real homemade bread with real sweet cream butter. I'm not picky about what kind of homemade bread. It could be white bread, brown bread, rye bread, rustic bread, country bread, multi-grain bread, or my grandmother's honey whole wheat bread. And real sweet cream butter.

7. Asparagus and garlic. Actually most any vegetable and garlic. Zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, green beans, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber. Yeah, I love garlic and veggies.

8. Lobster and butter. In fact I have a $20 gift card to Red Lobster that I really should use soon and fix this craving.

9. Potatoes and cheese. I love to bake a potato and sprinkle it with a bit of cheddar cheese or Colby Jack. I'm not too picky.

10. Cocoa powder and chili. Yep. I like chocolate in my chili. It smooths out the burn. I also learned that if you make chili and you added too much red pepper, add a tablespoon of cocoa powder at a time per hour until the red pepper is put in its proper place. If you don't have any cocoa powder at hand (which I'm not sure why you wouldn't) you can always use 85+% dark chocolate to do the same. Half an ounce per hour.

So that is my list of top ten favorite pairings. Now, having written this all out, I'm going to remember about twenty more that I have pondered over the past few days. What are your favorite two foods that go together?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Knitting the Perfect Summer Sweater

Several years ago (we won't say exactly how many in an attempt to preserve some pride) I purchased a bunch (and by bunch I mean twenty-five hundred yards, although it might be more) of strawberry red DK weight cotton bamboo blend yarn in the hopes that it would one day be the Perfect Summer Sweater. Of course I bought this yarn when I was living in Florida and Perfect Summer Sweaters are generally only needed inside movie theaters or the freezer section of Publix (I miss Publix, but not enough to move back to Florida). Sometime one might need a Perfect Summer Sweater when one's spouse decides that it is hot in the house and turns the air conditioner down to sub-zero. Other than those few instances, there isn't much need for a Perfect Summer Sweater.

I live in Ohio now. Last summer was my first season here and while it did get hot for a few weeks, I found the need for a sweater to be much greater than when I lived in Florida. I was considering purchasing one. (OK, I did purchase a cardigan, but it is far from a Perfect Summer Sweater and doesn't really fit in with what I want a sweater to do, it was simply to replace my khaki sweater from last year.) I then remembered that I had all that luscious red yarn in the yarn bin marked "Sweaters Worths." I went to town trying to decide what kind of sweater I wanted to make.  I'd have an idea of what I wanted in my head so decided to give Amy Herzog's Custom Fit Sweater a try.

I have to say that this in ingenious. The principle behind Amy's Custom Fit Sweater is that you put in your measurements, make a good swatch of the yarn you want to use with the needles you want to use, and tell Amy what features you want for your sweater (pullover, cardigan, short sleeved, no sleeved, long sleeved, v-neck, scoop neck, etc.) and through a series of clicks and the use of a good measuring tape she creates a sweater to your specifications that first your body. No circling which size you need throughout the pattern. You don't have to worry about missing a line for just your size which you forget to do and then don't have the right number of stitches. I'd heard several people rave about the fabulousness of this program and decided to dive in. It is only $10 to get a sweater built for your body alone.

I took my measurements with the help of my daughter. I knit up a swatch including the lace edge I wanted on the bottom and at the sleeves. I inserted all of the variants that I wanted for this sweater. And then I realized that the sweater was built from the bottom up and the lace I wanted to use was built from the top down. And what I really wanted was a raglan sleeve and that wasn't an option. So I left the program. I will be back to this and I will be making a fall sweater with her program, but for now I had a different image in mind and decided to go pattern diving at Ravelry.

That's all well and good except no one really had a sweater pattern like I wanted. I found some really cute ones, and I will admit that my queue and favorites grew exponentially this past weekend. So, I took a deep breath and did (dun-dun-dun) knitting math. I know how to make your basic raglan sweater. And I knew I wanted it to be a v-neck sweater. And I know the formula for how to do that. I don't need no stinkin' pattern. (Remember this. It may come back to haunt me in a week or so.) I cast on 90 stitches (the number needed to make a comfortably fitting neck that would open into a v-neck) and turned on the Game of Thrones marathon that HBO was running all weekend in preparation for last night's season premiere. (I'm still rooting for Daenerys, Tyrion and Arya to get together and clean house.) I managed to knit the first 36 rows and it is shaping up pretty nicely. I can continue on this pat for a while until I get to the underarms and then I'll need to a a bit more knitting math so I can have the sleeves I want and have enough stitches at the end for the lace pattern. I'm planning on making an i-cord edging around the center opening and neck.

With any luck this sweater will be finished by May and I will be sporting the Perfect Summer Sweater. I'll keep you posted as to how it is going. I may even wail a bit as I go along if my math isn't adding up. If I am suspiciously quiet about the sweater, feel free to poke me and ask what's up. If you still don't hear anything then assume that I've frogged it and hoping everyone has forgotten about it. In the meantime, if you are frustrated about not having a sweater that fits you, go to Amy's website and check it out. I've only heard positive things and she has a Ravelry group that can help you if you get stuck or have questions that aren't answered on the website.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


It snowed a few days ago. I had started believing that I had somehow been transported to Westeros and would be looking at a ten year winter. Don't get me wrong. I love winter. I love snow. I love snowy days when I can sit inside with the curtains pulled back and watch the flakes flutter (or even pour) to the ground making everything crisp and white and pretty. Of course I only want to sit inside on those days and knit or read or come up here to my attic and sew or write or spin. I have enough activities that I could be trapped in my house for a few days and not get bored. I do no like driving in snow. This entire past winter I kept a close eye on when it was supposed to snow so I knew when I would have to be at work and need to drive in the mess.

Just when I was thinking that spring would never arrive, I came home and found crocuses growing in my flower beds. Beautiful purple sprigs of spring with bees buzzing all around them, happy that they could at last collect nectar. I walked around my house with it's empty beds and noticed little bits of spring all over the place. Some sort of lily was showing itself on the side of the house. Hostas are working their way to the top of the soil. The dogwood tree and maple tree both have buds on them, anxious, themselves, for spring. The winter birds seemed to have moved further north as I haven't seen any of the Canadian sparrows at the feeder in the past week. Nature knows even when we feel doomed to wear our coats, hats and mittens forever.

As much as I love winter, I am looking forward to spring this year. I'm actually wanting to do spring cleaning and air the house out. (I have the windows open today as the temperatures are supposed to get to almost 60°F.) I want to make fresh curtains for my kitchen in light spring colors (and because my next door neighbor  has taken to cooking in the buff and while he has a nice enough physique, I really didn't want to know that much about him). I want to dust the cobwebs from the basement and sweep the attic from the bits of yarn and thread clippings that have gathered. I yearn for the peonies to bloom and fill my house with their heady aroma. I will also appreciate not having to wear two to three layers of clothes, plus a sweater and a coat with hat, mittens, and a scarf just to go put something in the trashcan.

You may hear me complain when July and August come around because I really don't like warm weather. I don't like the funky smell that air conditioners pump into the house. I do not like being hot and sweaty. When I start to get whiny, remind me that fall is just around the corner and then it will be winter again. I suppose if it weren't for summer I wouldn't appreciate winter at all. It's a cycle and it is a lovely one as a whole. I am glad that I live somewhere that has four seasons. I've missed that. So bloom you little flowers. Pop your heads up all the lushness in my flowerbeds. Open up your seed pods cottonwoods. Return to the feeders all you bluebirds and chipmunks. Spring is coming!

(As a public service announcement I must tell you that according to Farmer's Almanac we are expecting a mid to late April blizzard.  You have been warned.)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Updates about stuff

My original intent was to update everyone on my progress with Sock Madness. Then I realized that I had other topics that needed updating as well. So, yeah, categories.

Sock Madness

Sock Madness is over for me. That second round sock did me in. There are still (as if the publishing of this post) spots remaining on my team, but I ended up frogging the second attempt at the first sock. I got to about the same point as the first attempt when I realized that I was not enjoying the experience. The sock is pretty. (You can see it here.) It's a fairly simple straightforward sock with some ribbing and some cables, but I just wasn't loving it. I felt frustrated, fumbling, and as if I was peering into an abyss that had certain doom at the bottom. I had vowed to myself last year that I would not knit anything that I didn't love. And I didn't love this sock. I didn't love the yarn, the needles, the gauge, or the tedium. So I frogged it. And I'm good with that. I'm now free to move on to more interesting and loved patterns. Perhaps I will finally finish remaking the yoke on the sweater I want to love.

Project 333

It snowed yesterday. Tomorrow it is supposed to get up to 50°F. I'm told this is typical of springtime in Ohio.  Although, I've also read that this is atypically late for this sort of spring time. Friday I pulled out my warm weather clothes box (remember I'm from Florida where we have warm/hot weather clothes and cool weather clothes rather than four seasons' worth of clothing). A few things are going to be sent to thrift stores for someone else to find and love. A few things from last year made the cut for this year. And I have a few items that I have already purchased for this year's warmer weather. I'm pretty good on bottoms, although I retired my white peasant skirt as it was tired and had a tear and had become dingy. I am looking for a new skirt. I have a pair of long khaki linen pants, a pair of cropped khaki cotton pants, two pair of "boyfriend chinos" - one khaki and one olive - and yes, I like khaki pants) and an A-line skirt with multiple shades of blue dots. Shirts consist of a few camis, a new white shirt with bicycles on it, a new sleeveless shirt, my peach shirt with rosettes and my aqua shirt which is all flowy (both left from last year). Replaced was the khaki cardigan that I purchased last year that already looks worn and tired.

(This is where I go off on a rant about the clothing industry and manufacturing in general.) I'm not a small girl. I'm ... busty. Because of my "bustierness" I find that I have to go to more expensive stores or shop in the Women's section of stores for dresses and shirts most of the time. This means that I also have to pay more, and sometimes a whole lot more, for the same clothes that are slightly larger than the largest sizes in the regular women's departments (usually called ladies or misses). Last year I made a vow (I may have blogged about it) that I would only buy quality clothing. No more clothes with raw edges, sloppy seaming, thin fabrics, and more clothes with natural fibers, reinforced seams, and with cuts that were ageless and would flow from one year to the next without looking like the previous year's trends. I have yet to find such clothes. And paying two to three times more for clothes does not guarantee that they are made to last. I hate playing $40-$50 for a light weight shirt only to have it fall apart before the current season is over. I am angered at having paid $60 for a cotton cardigan that looks like something from the glad rag box less than a year later. This winter I purchased a few sweaters from various stores and all of them have pilled to the point of being thin under the arms or along the back.

To prove that this is not just me purchasing cheap clothes, I have a few items that I have had for several years and they are just starting to show wear. I even have nice pieces that I bought used that are still quite lovely. The past few years, though, even the clothes I have purchased from upscale department stores are not holding up to any sort of wear. The clothing manufacturers are creating clothes that are only meant to last for one season (if that) and are forcing us to purchase clothes more often. It's a huge cycle of "stuff" buying. I've watched in action in clothing, footwear and home appliances. There is a fantastic short movie about this philosophy at The Story of Stuff. I encourage you to go watch it if you haven't.

The one thing I am looking for is a lovely pair of flats or low heels to wear with my (previously unmentioned) white polka dotted black dress and my skirt(with a hopeful pluralization). I have a thin heel, wide toes, high arch and tall instep. It means I cannot wear your typical cute flat shoes. I end up in things that look more orthopedic than trendy. I'm still hunting, though.

So that's my bit of an update. I'm sure there is more that I wanted to say, but got slightly side-tracked by my little rant. I'd love to know how your spring is shaping up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Sock Madness

Each year I participate in a little knitting competition called Sock Madness. It had brackets. It has speed. It has Norwegians. Everything a good sport should have. The premise is fairly simple. Qualify (by knitting an assigned pattern in two weeks) and then knit your way through each assigned pattern as quickly as you can to beat out the other people on your team. The first year I participated there were four teams. This year there are ten or eleven. My team is somewhere in the middle. We are all "average speed" knitters. I'm supposedly matched with other knitters who knit about the same speed as I do. The nice thing about this competition is that it is one of the friendliest games I've ever been in. People cheer you on and encourage you when you get down.

The current sock was supposed to be knit on size US 0 (2.0 mm needles). I made it half way through the first sock before I had to quit and frog it (I had a missed cable and the small diameter needle along with the very rigid fabric made my hands ache so badly). I have since recast on (recasted on? recast onned?) the sock on larger needles with larger yarn. It is going a bit more smoothly this time. I'm hoping to make it to round five this time. (I have never made it past round four.)

I used to knit with size 0 needles all the time, but in the past few years I have found that they don't play nicely with my hands. I also have problems knitting with needles that are too large (size 13's, 15's, 35's). I guess my hands prefer my 6's, 7's, and 8's. I guess I should be knitting more sweaters and fewer socks. Every year when sock madness comes around, though, I can't not knit with them. I have to know what is in store for this year's patterns. We've had zippers, buttons, funky vikkel braiding cast ons, socks knit side to side, tape (!), and the dreaded nupps (two row bobbles for the non-knitters).  Each year when you think that you have knit all there is to knit someone comes up with a new technique that, well, knocks your socks off. It's fun and I love the people I have met in this madness.

It's too late to sign up this year, but head over to Ravelry and check the group out or go to the patterns and search for Sock Madness patterns. They are fresh, unique and down right fun.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Project 333 (again)

I've mentioned Project 333 in past posts.  (I must have as I have a tag for it.) For those of you who aren't familiar, I'm not going to make you dig through my old posts to find it. Follow the link and you can learn all about the project.  The idea, in a nutshell, is a minimalist wardrobe experiment to wear thirty-three items of clothing (shoes and jewelry included, but pajamas, gym clothes, and socks not) for three months. I did this a couple years ago and was pretty good at keeping my wardrobe to about 33 items. This winter I went a tad crazy, thinking that more was better, and now have a very mish-mashed collection of un-matching clothes. It's pretty hideous.

The last time I did Project 333 I was living in Florida. Florida has two seasons: Damn-It's-Hot and Today-Isn't-Quite-As-Hot. When the temperature would dip below 40°F we knitters would put on all our scarves, hats, mittens, and shawls because we could. I had two basic wardrobes when I lived in Florida. One included lightweight skirts, pants and shirts plus a few pair of shorts. The other one included 3/4 length sleeves, long pants, sweaters one could layer and closed toe shoes. The sweaters were really for only wearing outside. Most of the time the temperatures were so hot indoors that one needed to peel a layer or two off to remain comfortable. (Movie theaters have their own temperature realm and it is always wise to bring along a shawl or blanket when you go to the movies.)

Now I live in Ohio. We have four real seasons (although it is officially spring and it has snowed two out of the past three days - go figure). We are edging out of winter, and while I will probably still need a light sweater or shawl to get through the season, I don't need all the millions of layers I have purchased this winter. So I'm starting over. I still need to go through the boxes I put away from my summer wardrobe, I am starting this year off with a cute black polka-dotted tank dress and black lightweight cardigan and a pair of almost new khaki linen pants. so that would be 3 things to my wardrobe. I have a couple of really nice shawls that I want to wear this spring that will accent well against more neutral colors, so we will see how this works out for me.

I love the idea of Project 333 and while I don't follow it exactly (I have 7 pieces of jewelry that I never change out and generally do not include my hand knit shawls in my count), I do attempt to keep my count down to around 35 pieces. I like to think of it as more of an intentional wardrobe rather than a minimalist wardrobe. Most people tend to wear the same 25 items of clothing anyway. They tend to reach for the same pants, shirts, and sweaters over and over again while their closets and wardrobes are bursting with the the things that they bought because they were adorable but that they wear only once or twice a year. Then they feel guilty for not wearing them so they don't get rid of them, vowing that they will wear them again, someday. By the time they realize that they should really have worn them all along they also realize that they are now out of season or grossly out of style.

I want to have a wardrobe that is simple, interchangeable, and shows off my handknits. I also want to make more seasonally appropriate handknits so I have things I can wear all year long. I'll keep you posted as I start putting my spring attire together. In the meantime, check out Project 333, especially if you are unhappy with the way your wardrobe is looking.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Editing one's own work and a book review

For quite a few years I was a bibliographic editor and technical writer/editor for a library bibliographic company. I enjoyed that job and excelled at it. I could remark two hundred pages in no time at all. I was vicious and liberal with my red pen and earned a place on the Grammar Patrol. I could quote Strunk and White and bring embarrassment to even the retired high school English teacher. I knew my grammar and let everyone else know it as well.

Yet when it comes to my own editing I truly suck. Sometimes when I am blogging I am typing so quickly (I've been clocked at over 90 wpm - note the missing c) that I don't even notice my own errors. Even reading through them a time or two I still miss many stupid little errors. I keep telling myself that I could correct this by first typing my blog into Word and then copying it to blogger. Yet, each time I sit down at the computer to add to my blog I open a compose page and start typing. It's quite embarrassing. As punishment for yesterday's hasty post (I was still quite excited having visited with RAchael Rachael) I made two errors and left them crossed through. Forgive me my grammar errors when you see them and know that I was probably too hasty and did not use Word to check for my errors.

And now on to something a bit more fun. As some of you may know I've written a book titled Knitting a Boyfriend Sweater. Some of you may even have had the chance to read the manuscript. In the book I have a magical and imaginary sweater that the main character knits. It's a lovely sweater in my mind, but I'm a bit too lazy to make it a reality. I know what it looks like in my head, though. Since writing this story, I have been fascinated with the idea of a boyfriend sweater.  For you non-knitters, there is a
mythos that if a boyfriend sweater is knit too early in a relation, or possibly at the wrong time in a relationship, or  in a premarital relationship, or even at all that the sweater will doom the couple to certain breakup. Then there is the problem of what to do with the sweater. Perhaps the guy burns it. Maybe he is nice and gives it back to the girl. In which case she may be tempted to burn it, but, oh, all the hours that went into that sweater. She might decide to donate it to charity or give it to a friend. She might wallow in it, sniffing the sleeves wailing about her broken heart, leaving salty tear stains down the front. She may even come to the conclusion that she knit it, damn it, and so she is going to wear it, even though it was knit for someone with a completely different body shape. The one conclusion that all women agree upon is that by no means does a girl regift a boyfriend sweater. There is really bad mojo in that act and it is best to give it away to a friend than doom a future relationship. Even if he would fit it and the color would bring out the lovely teal in his eyes. Don't do it. Just don't do it.

I came across a darling little book called Boyfriend Sweaters: 19 Designs for Him that You'll Want to Wear by Bruce Weinstein. You can see all his designs on his Ravelry designer's page. I love this book. I bought it immediately. The sizes are wonderful going from a 33-3/4" chest to a 60" chest measurement. So many generous sizes to choose from. The book is filled with wonderful textures, too. I am all about the textures. There are subtle diamond patterns done in knits and purls as well as more complex textures of honeycomb. Even the simple patterns have enough interest to them that you aren't going to feel like you are doing round after round of nothing but stockinette stitch, although there are a few sweaters that are composed of primarily stockinette stitch (although one is an initial sweater and another is houndstooth, so yeah, still not boring). There is a lovely Project Index page in the back of the book so you can easily find the pattern you are looking for if you can't remember it's name, but you remember what color it was. This happens to me far too often and I spend many hours thumbing through books searching for that one pattern that I remembered seeing. Aside from the fourteen sweaters, which include both cardigan and pullover styles, there are four scarf patterns and a reversible paisley stocking hat, which is called Reversible Paisley Hat, for those of you who aren't quite ready to commit to a sweater's worth of work for your boyfriend.

I think my favorite sweater in the entire book is the Seed Placket Pullover. Do not fear, those of you frightened by seed stitch. The entire sweater is not composed of seed stitch, only the collar area is seed stitch with simple seed stitch striping to give it a nice clean look.  I even like the variegated green that is used for this sweater.  I also love the Shaker Cardigan done in a nice easy-on-the-eyes brioche stitch with a flattering v-neck and simple raglan sleeves. It is ranked as an easy skill level and I believe this is accurate.

Almost all the sweaters use a medium or worsted weight yarn save for a few that us a DK weight. Several of these sweaters could be made from either a cotton or wool blend to match your area's climate. I will warn you ladies out there, this is not a true "his and hers" book. These are sweaters designed for men and for men's bodies. There is no flattering waist shaping, bust darting or short rows. These are long straight sweaters made for long straight men. If you are skilled enough to nip in the waist a bit and make it a more girly sweater then go for it, but don't be disappointed if you get to the end of this sweater and realize that you look like you are wearing a potato sack. There are a million sweater patterns out there (actually, according to Ravelry there are over 62,000 sweaters, but that's pretty close to a million) and of those million sweater patterns the majority of them are for women. So if you are looking for a flattering sweater to fit your girly curves, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a nice sweater for that special guy in your life (be it a boyfriend, fiance, husband, father, or teenaged or adult son) this is a wonderful book that will give you many options available. Just, please, for the love of all things alpaca, don't burn it when he gives it back you to. Put that sweater on, realize that he simply was not knit worthy, and move on.

Boyfriend Sweaters is published by Potter Craft, a division of Random House, and retails for $21.99. The ISBN is 9780307587121.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Meeting Rachael Herron

Yesterday was one of the most fun days I have had in a very long time. I met up with Rachael Herron in Hudson for part of her book signing.  We started at Hudson's restaurant in Hudson. We met up with a few of her other local friends and had a cuppa while she finished her breakfast. She then headed down to The Learned Owl Bookshop, a fabulous little bookstore in the First and Main shopping district of Hudson, Ohio.  (By the way this is a very dangerous bookstore as it is quite quaint and cozy and very welcoming to book purchasing and it is but a few doors down from Main Street Cupcakes and Cosmic Dave's in the opposite direction. The only thing that would make this even more dangerous would be a yarn shop within those boundaries.) After finishing our cuppas we wondered down to her signing.  To call it a book signing is actually somewhat of a misnomer. It was more of a spontaneous knitting group where she happened to sign a few books. We talked about writing, knitting, her books, knitting, other people's books, knitting, spinning, knitting, the "Knitting Olympics", and, of course, knitting. If this were my regular knitting group I would drive through a blizzard to meet up with them. Not that I don't love my current knitting group (I do). This lovely collection of people were was so fresh and funny that it made the time pass so quickly. (And I think they would meld in well with my current knitting group.)  I will definitely have to meet up with Jeremy again and I'm now stalking him on Ravelry. (You have been warned, Jeremy.)

Unfortunately, due to time constraints and publishing deadlines, Rachael was only able to spend a few hours with us. It was delightful just the same. If you get a chance to meet up with Rachael, do so. She is lovely, witty, and so knowledgeable. Mary Elayne (That would be Boo in previously posts) also enjoyed meeting Rachael and is renewed in her interest to keep writing. I, of course, love my daughter's stories, but it was nice to hear other people encourage her to continue with her stories.

OK, I promise that this is the last post about Rachael Herron and Pack up the Moon for a while. I have a few more topics I want to write on, so stay tuned this week. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book review: Pack up the Moon by Rachael Herron

Go buy this book now. Seriously. It is that good. I laughed, I wept, I nodded in understanding. Rachael has once again written a book with such compelling characters that I feel I really know them. I may not like all of them, but I know them. They are real people with real emotions living real lives with real hurts and real joys.

I was intrigued with the first chapter. By the time I got to the sixth chapter I toyed with resigning from my job or calling in sick (which would have been a real theatrical act considering I was in the store reading by the time I got to said sixth chapter) so that I could curl up in bed and finish the book that night. I stayed up reading until two in the morning when my eyes wouldn't let me read any further. On Wednesday I had to put the book down for fear of crying myself to sleep. Oh how I ached for these people. Finally last night I forced myself to pick up the book and finish reading it. I am so glad that I did. I wouldn't say it was a happily ever after because there are few happily ever afters in the world. Not truly. I would say that this book ends in a contentedly ever after, but with more understanding and more love in their lives. And that's what we should hope for. Contentment surrounded by love.

So what is this story about you ask? The story is truly about heartache. The worst heartache a parent could have, the loss of a child. For Kate it was the loss of two children. For Nolan it was so much more, even when he didn't realize it. For Pree it was letting go of childhood and having to be an adult. But for these three people it was also a story of acceptance and forgiveness. I don't really want to tell you anymore than that. To do so would be to unfold the story before you had read it. This is a book that needs to slowly bloom and let you see the beauty bit by bit rather than throwing it open like a bed sheet, unfurling the plot and waving it around.

I can't wait for Rachael to write some more books. In the meantime I have this yearning desire to dye my hair blue. Or maybe just a few curls. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Happy Book Release Day, Rachael Herron!

Today's the day! Rachael Herron's new book, Pack up the Moon, is released! I got an e-mail at midnight that (one of) my copy/(ies) is available to pick up at work. If I weren't more restrained I would have gotten in the car at 7:45 and driven to the bookstore and picked up the copy. But, seeing as I do have to go to work today anyway, I decided it would be less economical and less ecological to do that. However, I am planning on going into work early to pick it up and start reading it.

Is it good? I can only guess at this point, but I love all of Rachael's other books and not just because she is my friend, but because she writes well and her stories touch my heart. She weaves a good story that catches your attention and makes you care about the characters. You want them to succeed and be happy. You want the happily ever after for them. You can't wait to get to the end to make sure she wrote it correctly and then you want to cry because it is all over. You want to meet her characters and be friends with them and be invited over for a cup of tea and (if you do so) some knitting.

What's the genre? "Regular fiction with a bit of romance." (My store's classification is Fiction while her other books are classified as Romance.) But if I know Rachael, there's just enough spice to make it good and not enough that you would be embarrassed to read it in public.

What's the plot? From the overview from Barnes & Noble:

A poignant novel about loss, lies, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

Three years after a horrible tragedy took her son and tore her family apart, artist Kate Monroe is beginning to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. At a gala showcasing her triumphant return to the art world, Kate’s world is rocked again when the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-two years ago introduces herself.

Pree is the child Kate never knew and never forgot. But Pree has questions that Kate isn’t sure she’s ready to answer. For one thing, she never told Pree’s father, her high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Nolan, that they had a daughter. For another, Kate hasn’t spoken to Nolan for three years, not since the accident which took their nine-year-old son from them. But to keep Pree from leaving forever, Kate will have to confront the secrets that have haunted her since her son died and discover if the love of her family is strong enough to survive even the most heartbreaking of betrayals….

I think I'm going to cry already! So run to your local bookstore and pick on up. If they don't have it, then order it (I believe in supporting local bookstores and if you have to wait a few days in order to get a copy then so be it, but support your local bookstore, please). If you don't have a local bookstore, then order it online or download it to a Nook or Nook-enabled device (same link as the physical book, but more immediate). 

And check out Rachael's blog to find out when she is going to be in a town near you and go see her. She's a fabulous person to know. 

Congratulations, Rachael! I hope it sells millions. You deserve it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Let it go!

Last night there were only three things that I was interested in at the Oscars. 1. Ellen DeGeneres hosting (she's witty and silly and also very pretty). 2. That Frozen won for Best Animated Feature Film (it did). 3. That Let it Go won for Best Original Song from a Major Motion Picture (it did). So all in all it was a good night at the Oscars.  Leonardo DiCaprio still hasn't taken home an Oscar (but then neither has Johnny Depp - both a shame IMO). Lupita Nyong'o made a lovely acceptance speech. I love watching happy Italian directors and producers win Oscars for Best Foreign Film. They are always so exuberant.

But Frozen was my main concern this year. I've seen the other nominees and enjoyed watching them, but Frozen was what I wanted to see win. I loved the animation, the script, the dialogue, the songs, the artwork, the Norwegian details (hey, there was knitting!), and the characters, especially the trolls. I have the soundtrack and sing with all the songs. I know all the words. I can sing several different parts. I love snow and snowflakes. I have it pre-ordered fom Disney so I can get the bonus lithographs. Seriously, I love this movie.

Having said all that There was one part of the movie that just really bothered me and no it isn't part of the "Frozen is a metaphor for homosexuality" argument. (If you don't know what I'm talking about Google it. Although I totally see how Let it Go is a beautiful coming out anthem.) No, I'm talking about  Elsa and Anna's parents. Not that they were royalty or that they died. I call it the Rudolph syndrome. Rather than embrace a child's uniqueness, they hid it. I keep thinking about what I would have done had it been my child who had been born with such a different ability. You see, I would have liked it if Elsa's parents had talked to the trolls a bit more about other options than erasing Anna's memories of her sister's magic. Perhaps understanding that her sister is magical and that it isn't something to be played with so recklessly would have been a better cure than erasing that memory from her. I also wouldn't have made Elsa feel guilty for hurting her sister and making her feel like she is a monster. All that pent up energy only made things worse for her. I would never have allowed Elsa to isolate herself from the rest of her family, especially a beloved sister (I have daughters and I've seen what happens when they don't get along and shut each other out even for short periods of time). I would have found a way to help Elsa control her powers and understand the magic behind it. I wouldn't have told her to "conceal don't feel." Perhaps that worked for her father who had limited frozen powers, but not for Elsa. And certainly not for Anna who totally didn't understand why her sister suddenly didn't want to go build a snowman with her. I would have found someone to teach Elsa how to use her power for goodness, not shut the gates and push her to loathing herself and her powers and thinking that she was a danger to everyone. The way those two little girls grew up was not healthy and they needed each other.

Of course I realize that if Elsa and Anna's parents had been more like me that there wouldn't have been a very good movie. It would have gone something like this: Kristoff would have grown up as an (presumably) orphan ice cutter with a reindeer and trolls for family; Elsa and Anna would have grown up healthy and happy, riding their bikes in the halls and, under supervision, making snowmen in the ballroom; the parents would have still died (I mean they did have to go on some big trip, so let's go ahead and kill of the mom and dad); Elsa would have come to age and become queen and she would give her people the gift of a little bit of eternal winter in the courtyard; Anna would have married Hans (although there might have been a plot there because he was sort of dastardly and envious of anyone with power); and Kristoff would have grown into a bitter old lonely man talking to reindeer and rocks. So yeah, I guess we have to have a little bit of "less than stellar" parenting in order to have a beautiful movie.

Besides, both my daughters (about the same age difference as Elsa and Anna) love this movie and my son does have sort of square-shaped pear-shaped weirdness to his feet. (And even though he washes well he always ends up sort of smelly, but you'll never meet a fella who's as sensitive and sweet.) So I'm going to let it go and celebrate that Frozen won and Idina Menzel did such a lovely job presenting it last night.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review: Cora's Heart by Rachael Herron

As I said yesterday, my friend, Rachael Herron, has a new book coming out on Tuesday. The title is Pack up the Moon and I can't wait for it to come out. But, since it isn't out yet and I haven't gotten to read it yet, I wanted to still give her a hearty plug because she is my friend and I love her books. And not because she is my friend. But because she writes about real people and sultry dark handsome men (many of them cowboys of a sort).

I recently re-read Cora's Heart so it is fairly fresh in my brain. The short review: I loved it! No truly, it was a lovely book and I both couldn't wait to get to the end and was sad when it was over. (I love books that do that!)

Cora's Heart is a sweet story of mis-crossed lovers. She loved him. He loved her. She ended up married to someone else (his cousin in fact - no not a spoiler) then her husband dies and what a mess that leaves. Cora is strong, yet she needs help and doesn't even know it. She's a planner, a prepper, a meet it before it happens kind of gal. She takes no bull from anyone, but in reality she is tender and fragile. She would break easily if she only knew she was as tender as the teacups she loves to drink from. This is the fourth book in the Cypress Hollow Yarn series (there are also two novellas which are also well worth reading). Yet once again the late Eliza Carpenter, who is so wise and dispenses wonderful wisdom disguised as knitting advice, manages to bring together two of Cypress Hollow's residents in an odd turn of misery to love. I love Cora and her story is delicately told by a darling storyteller. If you love yarn, love romance, and love well-rounded characters then you need to grab a copy of this book.

Unfortunately, this book is not available at Barnes and Noble, but it is available as a Nook download. I'm not sure why this one book isn't available in a paper format, but it isn't. If you do want a paper copy rather than a digital copy, you can purchase them through Amazon. (Note: I am not a fan of Amazon. I truly believe that Amazon is trying to strategically destroy brick and mortar bookstores whether they are independent or a "big box" like Barnes and Noble. I truly love going into a bookstore and holding books and thumbing through them to see if they are the right book. I do own a Nook and do purchase digital books from time to time, but my first love is the printed word and being able to go into a bookstore and browse for hours to find the perfect book. So off my soapbox now.)

My favorite character in all of Rachael's books is one that we rarely see. Her name is Eliza Carpenter. She's deceased in all the books, but her spirit lives on. She is a very Elizabeth Zimmerman like character. She is a famed knitter (and spinner) who had much to say about knitting and life. She knew exactly how to reach out to someone in need and she knew how people would respond to different stimuli in the future. Sometimes she would make plans for people ten or more years down the road because she knew the very fiber of their being. Her gentle, but no-nonsense, demeanor makes any fiber person yearn for someone like her in their lives. I forget sometimes that Eliza Carpenter wasn't a real person. I know logically that Eliza Carpenter is a creation of Rachael's brain and heart. Eliza is real in that she is Rachael. I wish I had an Eliza in my life. someone who knows better what I want than I do. Who assures me that knitting and spinning and my love of fibery goodness isn't silly or only a hobby. That it is something that speaks to my heart.

So go out and buy a Rachael book. Or at least borrow one from the library. You will appreciate yourself for it. And perhaps you will find a new author to fall in love with. Oh and Rachael is such a doll.

Friday, February 28, 2014

On address labels

I have lived in my house in Ohio since the end of May last year. One would think that by now, nine months later, that I would have procured return address labels. I had plenty when I lived in Florida. However, each time I go on line and begin the process of purchasing labels I find that I have too many choices and can't decide on a set of 125 stickers for less than $10. One would think this would be easy.  I'm a knitter and there are several yarn or knitting designs to choose from. Or perhaps I want to express myself as a writer, so I pick one of several pens or quills.  I also read and there are book address labels. I like blue and flowers. Several of those are available.  What about cooking?  There are chef hats, spoons, pots and pans, bread, cake, and pie designs. Flowers of all kinds. But no. I can't decide how I would like to express myself on a 3/4"x2" paper sticker that will go in the upper left hand corner of the very few pieces of mail I send out each week. Mostly I write letters to my friend Naomi. So in reality she would be the only person who would actually see or even pay any attention to the labels.  She has labels. She has just fine dandy labels. They have her name and address on them and if, for whatever reason, her letter didn't reach me the postal service would know where to return the letter and when I get her letters I know they are from her. That is all this piece of paper needs to do.

I don't have this issue with other things. I can easily plop down $20 or $30 for a skein of yarn without thinking twice about it. I've purchased fabric with no thought as to what it will become that is $9 a yard. Sits in my fabric bins sometimes for months or years before being cut. I buy cards and stationary with almost reckless abandon. (I have more stationary than I have pen pals.) You do not want to see how much tea I have in my cupboards. Or how many teacups I have. It's almost embarrassing. I can name characters in my stories without too much thought. When I needed the name of a quiet confidant-lacking college student within minutes she was named Danielle. I buy books based on the cover (yes, I really do sometimes), or a two-paragraph synopsis on the back, or because it is written by a favorite author and I have no idea what it is about, but I like that person's writing. (Shameless plug for a friend: Rachael Herron's next book is due out on Tuesday, so go buy it. I have no idea what the plot is, but I have two copies on order. Don't ask why. I don't know myself. But here's a link where you can order it:
Pack up the Moon by Rachael Herron I'm sure it is available through other sources, but this is my preference for online ordering. If you want to support a more independent source you can go here to Powell's.)

I've brought cats home with less thought than I have trying to pick out a set of stickers for my envelopes. There is something wrong with this whole picture. I love living in Ohio. I love my house. I love the street on which I live. I refuse to ever move back to Florida. So why can't I find a set of labels that appeals to me? Labels for Pete's sake. This is not a big decision. This is not like choosing a car (also spent less time on that decision), or whether to go to Disney World on vacation or go try something new. I even have a window open at this very minute at Vista Print where I am once again going through all (and they have many) their labels trying to pick just one set. That's all. I just need one set of labels. this indecision shouldn't be happening. I shouldn't be writing an entire blog post about address labels. I should just go and pick one out.

I'll let you know if I decide something. Meanwhile, go order Rachael's book.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oh my poor sad neglected little blog

I'm almost embarrassed enough to not post this and pretend that I've never even had a blog. Almost. But then I'm reckless enough to also pretend that I can pick this blog back up, shake it off, and reconstruct it somehow.  I intend to blog. I think about blogging often. I find some little witticism that I think would make a nice blog post and thinking about it is as far as it gets. I haven't been idle in the past nearly eighteen months. My life certainly hasn't been stagnant. I could perhaps even delude myself that I have been too busy to blog. The truth is that I've simply been lazy.

So a quick recap of what has happened in the past year and a half. I wrote and edited some on my books. A few are even to the polished enough state to submit for querying. I've done a bit (but not enough) querying as well. I've cooked a bunch of new recipes. Some I've enjoyed. Some had their leftovers become their own little ecosystems in the back of the refrigerator. I've knit a bunch. Socks, shawls, scarves, more shawls, cowls, mittens, and a sweater. The sweater is back to a WIP (that's Work In Progress for you non-crafters) status as I decided I didn't like the yoke. I've since reknit the yoke, taken out the button bands and then promptly ignored it because I ran into a math issue. Actually it's more of a counting issue and I don't have my friend Julie here to count stitches for me. Or tell me to do it myself. And I moved a thousand miles.

Yep. I moved to the state of Ohio. Northern Ohio. I am in the midst of my first real winter in 20 years. I'm living in a hundred year old bungalow with creaky wood floors, a spider-riddled basement, and a finished attic which is my office and creation space. It's a light and airy loft and I can sit here and write, spin, knit, sew, and muse. It's also where I can give guests a room of their own when they come visit me. (So come and visit me.) This house also comes with its own ghost. I've yet to meet her. She tends to stay just out of sight, but she likes to giggle. She also calls me Mama and when I turn to see who is talking to me I hear a lilting giggle move through the room.

I am loving Ohio. It has four distinct seasons with a summer that isn't too unbearable. Which is a good thing as there is no air conditioning in this one hundred year old house. Oh and no air conditioning or heat in the attic which is why I am now the owner of box fans and a personal heater. Both make this space comfortable enough to return to. There are hiking trails all over the place and tons of green spaces to enjoy. I have my library card and am a Friend of the Highland Square Library. I was able to transfer to the bookstore here, but wasn't able to retain my children's lead position. (Did I ever blog that I became the children's lead at my old store? Oh, well, I did and I loved it.)  I don't mind not having a full time job as there is so much to do here outside of work, but I will freely admit that I love my employee discount. It isn't my ideal job. Ideally I would own a yarn shop and host all kinds of fun fiber adventures, but that is for a future time.

I have a new knitting group. They adopted me (or perhaps they stole me) before I even moved up here. As soon as I put out feelers for knitting groups in the area I was felt up and accosted by three of the sweetest women I have ever known. Sadly, one of those women, Donna-Marie, recently passed away and I miss her something fierce, but I knit on. We've had some great adventures going to fiber festivals, yarn crawls, and getting together just as friends to eat, knit, and go to movies. They are there for you and that's what everyone needs in their lives. Friends that are there for you.

My grandmother also died this past fall. I was sad, but I think that Granny died for me quite some time ago when she started forgetting me. I'm the oldest grandchild. The first. And she would forget who I was. How I was related to her. Who my children were. I think I mourned the loss of her years before she actually died. I think the thing that I am saddest about is that I still can't make biscuits like her biscuits. I've come close, but mostly I end up with pale little lumps. I've made them exactly like she taught me, even using my left hand to stir the dough. It's how her mother taught her and how she taught me. "Don't over stir it and always stir it with your left hand counter clockwise." Still they turn out hard or lumpy or flat. I'll still persevere to make them though. For Granny. She was the one who supplied me with books, secretly letting me read shocking romance novels far beyond my maturity. Although looking back at them, they were far less shocking than today's genre of erotic romance novels. She also was the one who taught me to crochet, thus leading my mother to finally relent and teach me to knit. So, thank you, Granny, for stirring my passions.

So, that's a small wrap up of what has been going on the past year or so. Ch-ch-ch-changes. And they are good. I like change. I live fresh things, new ideas, and attempting the previously unattempted. In fact I recently bought a Zoom Loom, a 4x4 pin loom to try a little weaving. I like the idea of a small portable weaving project and my Younger Daughter has suggested that it would be the perfect little project to use up leftover yarn from projects. She even has me thinking about using the squares made to create an afghan. Something that is added to as a sort of memory throw of all my projects.  I like this idea. My friend, Donna-Marie, had the same sort of afghan going that she knit on using mitered squares from leftover bits and pieces. That may be something that I can manage. And I could stay true to my vow to never knit an afghan because it would be woven.

Hopefully, I won't neglect this blog so badly again. If you haven't seen me post in a while give me a nudge through a comment or on Facebook or Twitter if you follow me on those. And keep on knitting or writing or cooking or just reading.