Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I recently scanned back over my old blog posts a couple days ago as part of my ongoing self assessment prior to End-2011. Every year brings on a new me and 2012 will be a new Rabbit, a version 49.0, as it were.

I got used to change in the 2000 decade--changing first jobs, then careers, then locations--a new relationship, new friends, new experiences. Then things settled down. In some ways the more static life I was experiencing was a welcome relief, but in other ways, things got, well, BORING. Time advanced quickly in the face of less stress. There were a few sticky moments here and there, but mostly things were calm and good.

Then came 2011. I lost my long time birdie companion Gabriel the cockatiel after 26-1/2 years in February. My mom diagnosed with, struggled through treatment for and ultimately died in August of cancer, ending years of poor health. The stress from my mom's illness and death has taxed my hubby and I considerably and we will both be glad when things settle. My job has been stressful as well, with our facility undergoing various inspections and accreditation visits. These check are typical, I know and will increase with the changes in healthcare policy, but like cleaning out a garage after ages of using it, the first reorganization can be overwhelming. The rest of the year has been various little stresses that seem magnified by time proximity to bigger issues.

My relief has been my knitting, I will admit, which has really take off this year. I took a series of workshops in May with Cat Bordhi (squeeee!) which were eye opening and wonderful. Even after years of knitting, I learned a LOT. I have mostly knit smaller projects this year, but I have also learned or revisited techniques, played with new yarns and learned to stretch myself.

Most importantly for me, Laura and Harry of Northcoast Knittery have really turned themselves into the knitting Dynamic Duo. There is ALWAYS something going on at the shop and the events there have become a big hub for my social life. I have a group of friends, many of whom I also now connect with via Facebook when not at the store. I have always had friends, but after several years here behind the Redwood Curtain, I really feel like I belong. 2012 promises to be more of the same--lots to do, fiberwise.

So enough waxing maudlin and time to get pragmatic. In looking over my blog, I found an old 2008 post of those projects I was ABSOLUTELY going to get done that year. Frankly, I finished none of them. I won't even list them in this post. Not worth it. I know what they are. They still need to get done, but what I really want is to reconnect with the JOY of my knitting craft.

I started a shawl a few weeks ago. It was a new pattern I got from NCK, done by their resident designer. I have knitted on of her projects before, and her designs are very interesting. I am not sure yet if anyone else has knit it, so there are no errata yet. I was dutifully trying to muddle through as it was a somewhat challenging knit and just yesterday had an epiphany. 36 rows in, I ripped it all out. Frogged. Rip it, rip it, rip it. Why? Because I was NOT HAVING FUN.

Sometimes things do get tedious, such as my green cocoon, started way back in June and mentioned a couple times in this blog. Like a class paper with a due date, I have plugged along and now, I am almost done. Yes, really. I can smell the end and it will be done in time to submit to the shop. I am quite relieved, actually. I will finish something on time that I promised I would do.

The rest of my knitting is in constant flux. I recently posted on Facebook that "I have more UFO's than Area 51". It's sadly true. Some require playdates like the three bags I have the knitting done for, but need to add linings and embellishments. Some require reworking like the miserable Zarah. I now have a homemade body form of me to use. I have even looked at Zarah on it and know that I have to rip and extensively reknit the upper torso. This endeavor will also require a playdate (or more). I have another sweater that I want to redesign the sleeves and I need to finish the torso on the bodyform before I can start those sleeves--playdate. I need to do gauge swatches for new projects. finish others. I need to set up a queue of smaller things for my knitting bag; I currently have not lunchtime projects set up. In my defense in this arena, I have done all that I had set up--at least six scarves, 2 shawlettes, 2 cowls and a pair of gloves as portable projects that are all done. I am even wearing most of them. I also did a quick lace shawl at home this year. Other items I have worked on but they are part of the UFO's or have turned into "ugh" projects. Or I am just stuck. Or worse, bored with them. (can you say "Jiada"? I did actually work on that this year as well.)

So some things are good, others, stalled. I do hope to keep my focus and hit some UFO's. I really want to and I have my Ravelry project list to remind me. The are, however, other things in my queue that also clamor to be knit up. So it goes. None of this even covers my dyeing (lots to do there, too.) or the brand new spinning wheel I got recently. (Just look at the basket of roving--how cool would that look spun up??) What I really hope for is some creative satisfaction next year, projects I like and wear, that others like and wear , that I am proud of, and most of all, that I enjoyed making.

Blessings to all for prosperity in 2012 Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The End of the Year

The end of a year tends to trigger lots of emotion. It causes us to ponder what happened in the preceding 12 months. Often, we come smack up against occurrences that were fraught with anxiety. Sometime we even take stock of past glories. Many people tend to look forward as is the coming year means a giant do-over, a karmic get-out-of-jail free card, a fresh start.

I have tended to be this sort of person, and the new year has usually meant more to me than the inconvenience of remembering to put the proper date on bills and correspondence. I also admit that the onset of middle age has triggered the tendency to feel like time is rocketing by faster and faster. This year has been no exception.

As you grow older, you tend to accumulate things. Sometimes these things are material items, sometimes they are experiences, memories and wisdom. Sometimes these things are scars. The milestones change as one ages. As a child, years are marked by education, advancing through school grades, getting taller and/or bigger, growing more independent and capable. This trend continues through young adulthood: old enough to drive, old enough to vote, old enough to have sex, old enough to drink. The milestones are big, too. Graduating from school, starting to work, leaving home, getting married, having babies, getting divorced, changing careers. The material goods and memories expand: buying a car, a house, a pricey vacation, raising a family.

I have experienced a chunk of the things above. Not all, but a goodly chunk. I am not fond of some of the changes I am going through as I experience middle age: new aches and pains, less stamina and the feeling that windows in my life are starting to close as age negates opportunities. Still, I take stock of what I HAVE done both in the previous 12 months and in my life in general and I have done OK. I have a career, friends and have, in my smallish and local way, seen some nifty chunks of the world. I have seen things. I do watch out for fun, new experiences. I am not a wealthy person, but I have made decent use of my time.

One of my sadnesses of this year was the death of my mother. This is a milestone we don't tend to talk about above the tone of a whisper in this society. It's a big loss for me, although it was not unexpected. Still, Mom hadsome near misses mortality-wise and I did hope she might dodge the 2011 bullet. No such luck. I miss you Mom. I really do.

This has finally really lit a fire of "this can and will be me at some point" in my psyche. My Little Blog that Nobody Reads has chronicled mostly my knitting journey, but also has included some of my local adventures. I haven't posted so much of late for various reasons, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy.

I have finally reverse engineered a sweater I knit in the mid '90's and startedwriting up the pattern. I am very proud of this project in that it has been something I have MEANT to do for ages and never seemed to get around to doing. I have other knitting designs on the slate, but this was a colossal UFO, in that I made the sweater and never wrote it it. I can take the "incomplete" off my karmic transcript.

My project page on Ravelry has been the same way. I have more UFO's than Area 51 and it has become rather embarrassing. I am also finding that the process of digging through partly done knitwear is tedious. So too is the guilt of not finishing a handful of items promised to friends and family. The completion of my Green Thing referred to in the previous paragraph will be a huge relief. There are things I want to knit, but the pleasure is sapped by the anxiety of things I HAVE to do superseding things I WANT to do.

I have decided this year not to make a list of resolutions. Too much guilt when and if they go undone. I want to try and not feel over committed, but to take things a layer at a time, and FINISH things. I want to simplify and to reconnect with the pleasure of the process. For so many activities, if the process is not fun, then the finished project loses luster and becomes a burden--sometimes an incomplete burden--that contributes to clutter, frustration and irritation.

I watched my ailing mother struggle with being bored and overwhelmed at the end of her life. She did have some pleasure with a few friends at the end, but mostly she was ill and lonely. I know my end will come in time, but I want to face the second half of my life with aplomb and even enthusiasm. My knitting is my passion. I have learned a lot in the last few years about knitting, adding to my knowledge base in leaps and bounds. It feels good that I will soon add "designer" to my fiber resume. I can do this and I will do it. Happy New Year to all and sundry and onward 2012!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

I have a couple of decorative urn baskets that sit next to my usual place on the couch. They contain yarn I want to keep on the surface of my stash and projects that are mostly done. I have had a tendency of late to ignore the contents.

I had a spare moment this morning before darling P woke up so I sat with my coffee and my crochet hook and wove in the ends of my orange Citron shawl I finished casting off the night before. I have received a lot of ribbing lately from my knitmates of the weekly sip and knit I attend.

"You never seem to FINISH anything. We see you working on stuff but we never see you WEAR it."

That is rather a fair cop, although this Summer was rather too warm for even scarves this year. Still, Sweater Weather is now truly here and all those scarves and cowls and shawls I made this year have simply languished with ends unwoven and unblocked. I therefore spent the last hour and a half weaving in the ends of no less that 6 projects. Yikes! Some of them I can throw on now, but most I would still like to wash and block them. At least now I CAN.

I am, by nature, a procrastinator. This trait is demonstrated by the Green Thing, as it has come to be know. This is a project for the upcoming Northcoast Knittery book that the shop has put it's regulars to working on. I have gone to an every-other-week meeting to discuss, advise and get inspired for months now. My design has pootled along at a dribbly pace, and again, I have taken some gentle knitmate razzing. "What is this you are doing? Why aren't you working on the Green Thing?" OK. I need to make progress. I have, but my progress comes in chunks and then I set it all down and work on other stuff.

Admittedly, I do need to have little things in my knit bag that goes to work with me--things I don't have to think about, just knit on. That is a legitimate reason to have other things on the needles. Still, I have not spent much time knitting at home these recent evenings and I need to. Less Facebook, more knitting.

Still, the more I looked at my Ravelry project list with the items stacking up at 95% complete the more I was feeling bogged down. Hence this morning's Flurry of Finishing. It's raining now, so I really need a break of dry weather to block, but there should be a window tomorrow and I can block things a few at a time until they are done. Then I can wear them!

On that note, I need to work on the Green Thing.

Friday, October 28, 2011








vs.









equals

I have a metaphorical coronary.

Cappuccino is totally unhurt and unfazed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guerilla Harvest

Autumn is here. The rain has already started for the season, early enough that long-time Northcoasters are saying: "Rain sure is EARLY this year."

I have two apple trees in my backyard. They are old trees, and I have no idea what varieties they are--some Gravenstein-y looking types. The tend to ripen sequentially (which is good when processing fruit tree produce, believe me!). The first is ripe. Not a huge harvest because my pole pruner broke last Winter halfway through Winter tree topping. The places I pruned produced some nice sized fruit. The upper unpruned areas have small apples, but they are way too high for me to get. I might catch some droppage. Note to self--GET A NEW POLE PRUNER...

I have just gone out and scooped up the reachable apples before the next rain comes. The way the clouds rolled in this morning, that will be soon. Ugh. Guess I need to make some pies for freezing tonight and tomorrow...

I really had incentive this year to get the fruit off the tree. We had a party in our backyard recently. Not one we arranged and not one we wanted. I am talking a Procyon lotor party. That would be "common raccoon" to us normal folks. And that gathering wasn't just some casual get-together; it was a full-on frat party. My neighbor next door said they had him up all all night while the stomped around on his roof. I heard nothing, myself, but I noticed the next morning that the cat food was gone, the water was all full of mushy kibble and that the open back had been gotten into. "Strange", I thought. "The girls don't eat like that! And that was a new bag. Why is so much gone?" Well, a check in the back corner of the yard showed me. I found a pile of poop. It looked like dog poop at first and I thought "How the HELL did a dog get into our yard?!" The I noticed what looked like blackberries in the poop. The I found another pile. And another. and another. And another. I stopped counting at nine piles of feces, went inside and googled "racoon scat". I got a barrage of images that looked suspiciously like the piles in my backyard.

Groovy.

My cats are getting up there--15 years old and are quite cream-puffy to begin with. No tough tabbies here! I also didn't want my expensive designer cat food becoming the neighborhood smorgasbord. (I use Wysong feline vitality, primarily because it is well rated, the girls like it and even more important, Cappuccino doesn't barf when she eats it. Nothing like groggily stepping barefoot in a pile of cold cat puke early in the morning!)











Jekyll and Hyde: That cute face is not so cute when challenged!

The best way, I think to roll up the welcome mat in my yard is to remove the food sources. I do have a compost bin along the back fence, and I need to dump some grass on top of the contents--a task I will do in a bit. I don't want to trap the animals at this point. A lot of county animal control agencies will take the beasties and euthanize them. I also don't want to handle them myself. Adult racoons can be BIG and are quite adept at defending themselves.
For now, we will try that, along with pruning out the foliage so they have less cover. Nothing like pest control incentive!

UPDATE: I just chatted with my neighbor and his duck Guiseppe had a near miss. My neighbor went mano a mano with Rocky Raccoon, armed with a beer bottle. The duck is OK, but the raccoon was not only unfazed, but unafraid. The pack later lined up on his fence and peered at him through his bedroom window. This is getting a little too Stephen King, here!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Merrily We Knit-a Long...

After a long blog dry spell, at last a post. I have not posted much due to a dead camera. I never much care for all text blog posts. Still, this can be done with swiped images.

I have a couple of firsts-- two-fer, in fact. I am FINALLY doing my first Knit-a-Long and Mystery shawl. The shawl is Koi Rama by Kitman Figueroa. Kitman Figeroa is a knitting designer, primarily of shawls, and I have admired her work for quite while now. I have meant to make one of her designs for at least a year and a half, but have been distracted. My Ravelry queue has several of her designs and I even have yarn in my stash.
The picture from the Ravelry design page is this of a carp and a butterfly and is supposed to represent the spirit of the piece. There are no other indicators of what the finished shawl will look like. She gave no clues or swatches, but I have little doubt, based on her other work, that the end result will be pleasing. Kitman also has asked participants to use this image and not post progress pics until the shawl is finished. This project is, indeed, to be a mystery shawl. She announced her KAL a couple weeks ago, and the price to join was discounted for early birds, and being and eternal bargain-hunter, I bit. I am a sucker for a sale and honestly I have wanted to participate in a KAL. Ihave had several false starts, but I have already prepped everything and will cast on after I post this on my blog.

I was fairly certain that I had to have something in my stash that I could use for this and I was right. I bought a skein of Sanguine Gryphon Sappho I laceweight in a colorway called "All Can Be Endured". It was an impulse purchase and I am pleased that I found something I can use it for. I have had a naughty tendency to buy yarn in appealing hand-dyed yarns without having a project lately; this tendency is a really bad habit to fall into, given the current indie dyer choices out there. The skein has 850 yards, so I have a generous amount based on the yarn requirements, although the pattern does suggest that extra yardage might be needed for loose gauge knitters. That would be me.
The colors are all greens and teals with a hint of gold. The knitted swatch is more representative of what my skein looks like. I was wooed by the skein image when I bought the yarn, think the goldy-orange would be more prominent. I must cop to being a tad disappointed when the yarn arrived because my skein had no real orange. It was more gold than orange and the gold was very subtle. For this project, though, I think the colors will work well. It looks like a pond under trees with flashes of gold sunlight and golden koi carp moving in the shadows.

There are optional beads and I chose #8 seed beads in golden topaz to match the color of the yarn. The beads are transparent so the greenish yarn shows through. The beads are strung on, rather than slipped on while knitting via crochet hook while knitting. The shawl doesn't call for a lot of beads. The first clue came Friday and only calls for 204 beads, so they will give a quiet flash rather than drive the piece.

Well, I am excited to start and this shawl will not knit itself. Hopefully, I will have a camera by the time I am done and I will post finished pics. Knit on, baby!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Startitis

I thought this would be an easy project, a no-brainer, a piece of cake. I was wrong.

I am working on reverse engineering a sweater I made in the early to mid '90's out of a mohair muff of Patons Knit n' Save. Knit n' Save was literally a giant single skein of yarn about the size of a watermelon of the uiquitous late '80's-early '90's fluffy mohair that was prevalent in most design books. I found it at a yarn store in Calistoga, CA. Each ball purported to have enough yardage to make a whole sweater, and it was cheap--good since I was fairly poor in those days. No Rowan yarn for me, then! I bought two big muffs of the stuff, each in an ombred colors, one in blues and greens, the other in reds and fushia pinks.

I used the blue green yarn to make a the ball-band pattern that claimed to take one skein and the result was a huge floppy, fluffy mock neck pullover with a giant center cable. I still have it, but it is prohibitively warm and scratchy, so that sweater languishes even still, destined to be frogged and repurposed.

The second skein I wanted to do something more special. I loved the colors and how they faded into one another immensely. I wanted to make a sweater, but the more I looked, the more I didn't want to cut the yarn. In those days there was no Ravelry. In fact, for my purposes, there was even no internet. I had already gotten a decent pattern library by this time, but there was nothing in my books that suited my purpose, so I did something bold: I made my own design.

I had the idea that I would use the whole ball of yarn. I didn't like the looser weave of the first sweater I had made--done on large needles, perhaps a size 9 or 10. I wanted a denser fabric. So I boldly cast on, deciding to knit cuff to cuff and seamless and off I went. I fit the sweater to myself as I went and tweaked the shaping as the knitting progressed. I remember frogging and reknitting parts, but mostly it went smoothly. The result was a cuff to cuff sweater somewhere between a bolero and a shrug. I had some bblack mohair yarn in my stash, so I co-opted an 8-row welt stitch I had used in another same-era sweater and put a binding around the neck/fronts/waist opening and also around each cuff. I was out of the original red yarn, but I had some other red mohair from the same sweater as the black, so I added some rows of red and another welt. I also added the same red/black welt along the neck back and sides. Lastly, I put two sewn in black snaps at the waist to close, double breasted style. The result was this:





























I was quite pleased with how this turned out. The fabric is nice and dense. It is a warm sweater, but not heavy or oversized. It is easy to wear and I have worn it over dresses and jeans. And it was MY design. I foolishly didn't make ANY notes of what I did or how I did it. I had always meant to and meant also to draft it into a pattern that I could redo. As the years progressed and I saw other designers drawing up their patterns the desire to write mine up grew, even as my memory of what I did dimmed.

I have never liked to write much, even though I have done a lot of writing due to the Literature half of my college major. (Biology being the other half.) I have been told that I write well by people who read my stuff, though don't hold your breath for the Great American Novel. It'll never happen. I have though about writing knitting patterns or even pattern books for years. I have had design ideas that lack of time or laziness has caused me to not follow through on. In the long run, I have really found it easier to just truck along using someone else's designs ,even if I do tend to tweak those patterns to suit my own tastes in one form or another.

Still, there was always this sweater--my cocoon sweater--that was a completed project, that I really liked and that I had made up on my own. Now I have a motivation. My favorite shop here in town--Northcoast Knittery-- has set its regulars a challenge: they want us to submit designs for a self-published book. My jaw hit the floor when they made the announcement and I was BEYOND excited. I could do this! I--little old me--could become a published knitwear designer! Wow! It was obvious to me where to start--my cocoon. The only sticking point was I needed to choose a yarn that the store sells and that was still available for purchase--nothing discontinued. I picked my yarn, proposed my design which the others in our every-other-Tuesday designer group meetings said looked great and...nothing. I simply have not been able to get started. Yeesh.

Just as it was in college, I am dawdling. I cannot begin to tell you all how many papers I sat on and wrote, with great anxiety, at the last minute. It was AWFUL. I was always stressed. In going back to school a few years back, I tried harder not to procrastinate like I used to and I was moderately successful. Still, I find with no deadlines, I just can't self motivate to work. And here I am: procrastinating, this time by blogging. Or maybe not.

I ran a marathon in 1998. When I started training, I told EVERYONE I knew I was doing that. In the end, that served as a motivator of sorts because I was CONSTANTLY asked how my training was going and I was damned well not going to give up and admit that I couldn't do the race. I am on the hook the same way now--and I have homework. I have yarn and it has been wound up into center pull cakes. My old sweater is by my side and my laptop ready for notes. I can do this...watch me go!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

NMITS

Textile people, like all technically minded folk, tend to use a lot of jargon. Each discipline has its associated terminology that tends to make auslanders scratch their heads in bewilderment or cringe with the idea that they are excluded. The words are a foreign language to these non-doers.I remember early on in my previous life working as a lab biologist feeling rather lost and ill at ease with each new research project until I learned the "code". Knitting is the same, as is crochet, dyeing, weaving, and spinning. People use mysterious words like "blocking" and "gauge", "mordant" and "oxidation", "shed" and "heddle", "carding" and "staple". These terms all mean something to the crafters who pursue these activities.

Charts for knitting are no exception. For some types of knitting, such as lace, there are weird hieroglyphics, each pertaining to a particular stitch. Written instructions for charts such as these are not much better. The stitches are abbreviated into acronyms such as SSK. K2tog, PSSO, M1, YO, etc.The internet has caused the phenomenon of acronyms to blossom, even outside of crafts and other activities: LOL, ROFL, BRB, TTFN, etc, all have made the process of communication via a keyboard more efficient.On various craft boards, people talk about having SABLE (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy), or LYS (Local Yarn Shop) or KAL (Knit Along). You can google "knitting acronyms" and come up with many sites that will cheerfully help define these shortcut terms.

As the handful of you who have read my blog know, I talk frequently about my yarn stash, which is very much and entity of it's own--rather more an archeological dig than mere hobby supplies. To that and I have coined what I think is a new acronym: NMITS. This stands for "Never Made It To Stash". Now, I have to say that what makes a yarn qualify for NMITS status is somewhat nebulous.

The yarn I made my sapphire capelet out of definitely qualifies, as I cast on a mere four days after I bought it, worked solidly on the project until it was finshed, and blocked it right away. The only yarn from this project that became stash is any that was leftover. Leftover yarn is a beast unto itself and I won't go into that here as I think of leftovers as a different kind of stash. Others may disagree, but will let it lie for now.

I am currently working on a quickie project called the After Hours Shawl. The shawl uses a single skein of sock yarn. I bought it last September, with every intention of doing a Knit Along with it, but didn't get around to it. Well, as of last weekend, I am. Still, six months have gone by since my purchase. Then again, I had it out, not bagged up, the skein wound into a ball, along with the accompanying beads and pattern in a project bag, ready to go at a moment's notice. In fact, it was mainly impulse that prompted me to take it up last weekend. I have also brought along on several trips as part of a "mini-queue" to start if the previous project wound up in time. So does this qualify as stash? I would say not. Then again, neither was it really a UFO (Unfinished Object), since I have not cast it on. I am choosing to label this NMITS. My true stash of recent purchase is bagged up in project bags and stored in bins. Most of it is pretty easy to get to, but not as easy as this was.

I will say that some of the yarn I have that is currently NMITS may be bagged and binned in the near future and some things I have out currently have come OUT of stash bins, but this shawl project never went to the true stash, nor did some other things in the pair of project bags I am currently working out of. Still, I am proud of myself to going to the NMITS pile recently and actually DOING a project. About 80% of the After Hours knitting is done, plus blocking. Then, of course, it will be bagged and stored until weather and occasion permit wearing the shawl, but that is another story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tactile

I have a routine when I first walk into a yarn shop--especially one I have never visited before. I tend to immediately fixate on a color and wander over to it, pick up the skein of yarn attached to it and then proceed to wander around the store gently kneading the skein in my hands. If another color catches my eye, I may put the first skein back and continue around the store with the new yarn. I aim for a perfect mix of a yummy color and a cuddly texture. I might not even look at the skein in my hands but I feel it there. It's like holding a tribble in that it calms me and helps me focus on the racks and bins of yarn that would normally send me into sensory overload.

I do the same thing when I pursue one of my other favorite activities: beachcombing. My preferred targets are agates, but I also search for jasper, whole shells, sea glass, weird pretty rocks and once when I was very lucky, a whole glass fishing float. I will wander down the beach, head down and peering at the rocks at my feet. If one catches my eye, I will pick it up and continues my slow wandering sliding the rock through my fingers as I go.

I had a chance to experience this tactile trolling in a LYS Over President's Day weekend. The store in question is Fiber-Frolics in Benicia, CA. (note: as of this post and due to a technical difficulty, the website is currently just a bare bones site. I hope it comes back soon!) This shop is one of the most tucked away I have had to hunt out in recent memory, squirreled away as it was in the Arsenal Building on the riverfront and within sight of the Benicia-Martinez bridge. Believe me, it is WELL worth hunting out. I went in with my yarn-sistah, Q. The owner was there and greeted us warmly. The shop is not large, but they have some choice stuff.

The first thing that caught my eye was some Malabrigo Lace in color 102 "Sealing Wax". This is a color that is right up my street--a warm paprika red-orange. This pic is more saturated looking and the real skeins have more variations, but it is a close approximation. I immediately picked it up...and felt how SOFT is it. Not "soft" but "SOFT". All caps. Soft as in "I want to roll around in this in the buff" soft. Light, squishy and lofty with slight halo. If memory serves, my eyes rolled up in my head a bit. I may even drooled. I wandered around the shop groping the skein in complete yarn-lust.

Enough of the lace did follow me home for a project. This yarn is so soft, though that it really rates something more than a mere shawl. Shawls are worn OVER clothes. Nuh-uh. Not for this stuff. I have queued up this project: the Scarpetta Sweater by Kristin Johnstone (apologies to you non-Ravelers who can't access the link. Note: Ravelry.com IS free...but you have to join to browse). I did cop this pic from the pattern page. Isn't this DREAMY? Very simple and wearable and NOT a shawl. I am not sure when I will get to this, but in anticipation, I have wound my skeins into center pull balls. I really want to do this soon.

But I digress. The rest of the shop Had some nice treasures as well. I knew I would buy, but it did become hard to choose. I opted, along with the Malabrigo lace, to get some Malabrigo sock yarn, which is often hard to find. There was also a nice selection of Koigu yarns (also something I don't see often in real life. The shop owner had some NICE triangular shawls knit up with the Koigu and displayed throughout the shop. If I had not already settled on the Malabrigo, I might have gotten some Koigu for a shawl. Lastly, I was tempted by some hand painted sock yarn that was done up by the shop folks themselves for a class. I wanted but I passed. I had to draw the line somewhere.

So I wandered in my yarn groping, tactile way, fluffing the Malabrigo and trying not to miss anything. It's a very nice shop and I hope to go back sometime, although it is not on our homing-pigeon route to the part of the SF Bay Area where my folks live.

As a side note, we also had a REALLY nice lunch at a bistro called The First Street Cafe in the very cute downtown area of Benicia. There was a wait for lunch, but once we got our food, it was apparent why.I had the chicken salad sandwich which was yummy. Walnuts, grapes, balsamic mayo and big chunks of chicken on really good artisan bread. I added a raspberry Italian soda with cream: VERY pink, but tasty. The place was full, thoughout our meal, so if you plan to eat there, be patient.

My childhood memory of Benicia is that it was very blue-collar with a navy yard a working shipping port, oil refineries nearby and really not much more than a small town. The city planners have definitely upscaled it. and the downtown is all shops and boutiques. I didn't spend much time peeking in shops, as there was no time, but between the downtown and the yarn store, I would go back.

Now back to that Malabrigo lace...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Listening and Comfort Food

I had a conversation with my mom today. She is seriously ill. She has been diagnosed with cancer, and the staging process has been complicated by her other health issues. We are awaiting one more test, but the wait is agony. She has had several false starts, but cannot have a PET scan until her blood sugar is under control. This is not just a problem, it is an big issue.

Mom + Insulin Pen = Epic Fail.

So, my bro and I from a long way away, equidistant north and south are trying to do things from a distance. Mom has a good friend, local to her who has been taking her to appointments and watching out for her. (The woman is a saint in my book!) Still, as the medical contact, I am getting calls from Home Health, County Adult Protective Services and various social workers. They all are telling me what NEEDS to be done. Frankly, I want to tear my hair out. Mom is a mess and she can't take care of herself, but has refused most of the services offered to her. She gets pissy defensive and stubborn when confronted. One social worker said I should threaten her with a nursing home in order to convince her to accept help. Ha. As if.

They are all making broad hints that mom should be declared incompetent and put into conservatorship. Yikes. Well, frankly, she is not nuts or incompetent, she just "prefers not to" deal with it in a most Bartleby the Scrivener fashion. As much as this irks me (understatement), it is her choice. I grit my teeth and think "What can I DO??!". Well, today, Mom told me. I phoned her just to check in and she said, in the course of the conversation "your calling means a lot to me and it makes me feel supported".

Well, there it is. She has finally expressed something she wants--to be called. I provide health care to cancer patients and I promised myself, when she was diagnosed, I would not be one of those annoying family members, who browbeat Mom with what I thought she needed which really was what I wanted her to have done. It's about her, not me. I knew all these things from a distance, but it is damned hard to live this concept when someone you love is ill. She has been reticent to express her desires as far as her treatment has gone, but has gone docilely to her appointments. While I am not very hopeful of the outcome, we have slim hope. And while I wish she were more aggressive in fighting this and active in the decision making process, I need to respect her space. Still and finally, I have a starting point. I can do this. I can call her and be calm and loving over the phone, and let her chart her own course, even if it is one of withdrawal. The question is, can I keep my sanity while this is going on? I will still field phone calls from various social services and health people telling me what NEEDS to happen, but I need to learn to detach from them emotionally, while staying emotionally connected to my mom.

In the meantime, I am going bonkers over all this. In the interest of calming down, today, I made stew, despite the gorgeous weather. It is supposed to rain tomorrow and there will be leftovers to enjoy all cozy while the storm rages outside.

I got this recipe from my dad who clipped it out of the newspaper several years ago. It was originally supposed to be served in a baked, whole pumpkin, but that is a hassle, so I added chunks of pumpkin to the stew. I also added carrots and potatoes because, to me, stew seems lacking without them.


Pumpkin Beef Stew

3 pounds boneless chuck trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped green pepper
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
2 cups beef broth, preferably homemade
2 cups 1-inch cubed, peeled pumpkin
2 cups cooked fresh green beans
2 cups canned diced, fire roasted tomatoes
2 cups 1 inch cubed carrots
2 cups 1 inch cubed potatoes

In a heavy, 10- to l2-inch skillet, brown the beef, onion, green pepper, celery and garlic in the oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour off excess oil. Stir in tomato paste, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, optional red wine and the beef broth. (I add the wine)

Place stew in a covered casserole or kettle and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven 1 1/2 hours. After 1 hour, add tomatoes. 30 minutes later, add the squash, green beans, pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. Return to oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until beef is tender and squash is cooked.

This makes for a stew with a lot of sauce. You can thicken it at the end, by removing 1/2 cup and making a roux with 1/4 cup flour and returning to cook for the last 15 minutes. Serve with bread.


I prefer Brio bread, baked locally. I am totally addicted to the stuff--all varieties, but especially the rustic italian and the kalamata olive bread. YUM!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goodbye Gabriel

Gabriel: April 15, 1984-Feb 2 2011

Gabriel was a cockatiel. He died today, sometime during the day. I went to check him just before supper this evening and he was lying on the bottom of his cage, gone, cold and stiff, so he must have died quite sometime before. My husband checked him this morning and he was OK, but mostly quiet. He was acting quite frail the last few days, so this was not unexpected, but he didn't seem acutely ill. He was old but, still, it hurts.

In 1984, I got it into my head that I wanted a bird. I was still in college and I thought a bird would work as a dorm/apartment pet. I got Gabriel from one of my father's junior high students who raised cockatiels. I had thought I wanted a conure, but since Dad had a bird connection I ended up with a male cockatiel. He was grey--not a fancy bird at all. I got him sight unseen and he was about 3 months old when I got him. The receipt said he hatched in April (I arbitrarily assigned Tax Day as his birthday.), clutched by Long John, a male with one leg, out of Clinger.

I was taking Summer School Organic Chemistry when I got my new pal and was also housesitting for a professor and his family who were away. They had a large house and a menagerie of animals, so Gabe (or "Reeb" as I came to call him) fit right in. He was standoffish when I got him, but I spent a lot of time with him including studying with his cage by me every afternoon, so we bonded. He wanted me and only me, most of his life. It is flattering to have a critter show such preference. It really is--especially one so wonderful as Gabriel.

He never really "spoke" in the true sense. More rather, he sang words and phrases. He said his name (Gabriel), c'mere! (come here), a noise that sounded like "coyleap!", meowed like a cat made a sneeze noise when I sneezed, copied the sound when I snapped my fingers, made a high pitched chicken like "buck buck ba-KAWK" noise, a couple of odd trills, a little whispered noise like "geeba geeba geeba geeba!", a purr noise, a cardinal bird whistle, some tooth sucking noises that copied me, a hunter's call and a BAD rambling version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that was recognizable, but only barely. There were other random noises he made and he liked to talk.

He hated most men except one male roommate in 1986 and my husband, whom he took to right away. He could be crabby and bratty and loved, as a young bird, to walk around and bite holes in my textbooks like a conductor punching a ticket. I kept his wings unclipped and he like to fly around the room and to wherever I was, greet me and then stroll around biting books and papers. He was small for a cockatiel and quite skinny all of his life. I tried feeding him well, but he chose to subsist on vitamin fortified seed--the Big Mac of the bird world.

He was a healthy little critter until he was 23 when he began to have eye infections that seemed to clear up once I started adding extra vitamins to his water. Really I tried to push a better diet on him early on, but he rejected most fresh food. I worried about this, but he lived to be almost 27 years old, so I guess I did alright by him. When he went to the vet (for the first time ever at 23) and I told her how old he was she blinked and said she had never treated a cockatiel over 12 years old.

I will miss the way he would shift his eyes from the side to the front-- his "I am an eagle" look. I will miss how his beak made him always look like he was smiling. I will miss how he talked to himself. I will miss how he would talk when I covered his cage as if he were saying: "just one more minute, Mom!" I will miss his relentless curiosity. I will miss how he would bite my glasses, try to pick at my teeth or unhook my earrings--anything shiny was fun! I will miss how he begged to have his head and jaw rubbed. I will miss how he would whistle along with the T.V. when someone would sing or whistle. I will miss watching him play in the shower and how he loved to be sprayed with water and blown dry after ( on the cool setting, of course!). I will miss that he loved to talk to my feet as if they were his peers--they were more his size. And I will miss most that he really showed that he loved me, and wanted nothing more than to hang out with me.

He was a great little companion and I loved him dearly. His passing will leave a HUGE hole in my life, since I had him for the bulk of my adult life. I had almost convinced myself that he would last forever considering how long he lived. I am not planning on getting another bird. I can't imagine a better winged critter than Gabriel. He was a really cute, affectionate and clever creature with an enormous personality. Goodbye my little friend. I will miss you!!


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