Monday, December 27, 2010

Marching to the Beat of My Own Drum Carder

December 23rd was the last day of my day job.  I retired, again (long sordid story -- I'm calling it Retirement Take 2, and I told the boss that this time I mean it!) leaving behind the academic/corporate world to focus on my own little business.  Good riddance.  While there's much to be said about the benefits of a steady paycheck, there is also much to be said about crafting a life that is truly fulfilling and dreaming big.  I no longer will be commuting 100 miles a day to get my soul crushed.  Instead, I'll be making my own schedule and devoting my energies to the people and things that matter to me.  I'm going to be my own boss. 

For the holidays on the 24th and 25th, I did holiday things.  No work.  It was grand.  Yesterday I got back into the swing of things (I do have a big show coming up, after all), albeit at a slow pace.  I made some markers and puttered around the studio.  I went to the farmers' market, and took the prettier but slightly longer route home.  I carded some batts, washed some fleece, plied some singles.  Then I baked bread and made a pot of soup.  I knit for a while, then read before turning in.  A really lovely day.  My day, not someone else's.  How liberating!

TNNA is just 10 days or so away with Stitches West following close on its heels, so it's time to crank up the production -- there's still so much to be done.  Today is batt-making day.  It's exciting though.  And crazybusy can be a great thing when it's your own crazybusy.  

Okay, the boss says to get back to the drum carder!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


So much to do, so little time.  I am not:  doing housework, yard work, work work, paperwork, designing promo materials, making inventory at the proper pace, not linking to patterns because I need to be stirring the soup instead of blogging, getting with the 21st technology century and going to the cellular store to upgrade my stone-age phone to some hand-held device or other, decorating for the holidays, and and and and.............there is a (long) list.

But I am:

Santa Gnomes (free pattern by Kristin Nicolas)
A secret xmas project
A second sock (my own pattern)
A few other things that have been relegated to the WIP pile (see Santa Gnomes above)

A really horrid mess on my new Hansen e-spinner

EZ's Knitter's Almanac Commemorative Edition
Color:  A Natural History of the Palette (by Victoria Finlay)
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Brown Bread (Boston style, a most awesome un-steamed recipe)

Chickpea and Arborio Rice Soup (recipe by Marcella Hazan)

A rather nice Sangiovese

Figuring Out
Why I'm spinning a really horrid mess on the e-spinner (and I think I've got it).

Ravelry.  I just can't stop.

John's company.  We're hanging by the fire tonight.

All the many other things that I'd also like be doing.

For more time.

The fine art of procrastinating.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nice, but Not Nana's

My wonderful MIL gifted me last year with Marcella Hazan's classic Essentials of Italian Cooking.  She knows I love to cook, especially Italian food, so this was a perfect choice.  There's so many wonderful recipes in this volume (including the incredible Chickpea with Arborio Rice soup -- awesomeness in a bowl), but one recipe I blew right past was the Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion.

Tomatoes with butter?  Really?  Maybe I am influenced by my grandmother's cooking style, which being Sicilian is heavily olive oil based (butter is more prominent in northern Italy); maybe it was just simply that this was not the way Nana made her spaghetti sauce (tomatoes, tomato paste, basil and oregano, olive oil, maybe meat or maybe not, but always simmered for hours and hours on the stove until deep and rich and full of complex flavor and an aroma that permeates the neighborhood) and no one makes sauce as good as my Nana did.  But after this recipe made the rounds of the blogosphere and was declared the Best.Tomato.Sauce.Ever, I figured I'd give it a go.

Well, it was certainly different, and I have to give it up and say it was tasty.  It was not necessarily quick (about 45 minutes start to finish), but not laborious either.  You open a can of tomatoes, halve and peel an onion, plop in a wad of butter, toss in a bit of salt, and simmer gently with an occasional stir of the pot. 

The onion gave the sauce just a tiny bit of a bite (perhaps my onion was too strong), and the butter mellowed tomatoes and gave the sauce a silkier texture than typically found in tomato sauces.  Interestingly, this sauce did not make good leftovers (and what good is a sauce if it's not good left over?).  Overall, I'd much prefer a traditional sauce (as my family's traditions go), or a fresh sauce where the tomatoes can shine in their starring role.  

So, not the Best.Sauce.Ever.  That honor still goes to Nana.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Scheduled Panic

Did someone crank up the dial on the time machine?  Because it's December.  DECEMBER!  And that means that next month is TNNA January.  And the following month is Stitches West February.   Slow it down, please!

Given this runaway freight train of a calendar, I thought I'd start prepping for the oncoming show season early, and even count up how many batts I have to make for Stitches.  I was a bit surprised when the simple math resulted in a number over 300.  That's just my base production, not including any of new fiber blends I've been thinking about.  Yikes, that's a lotta batts.  John thought he'd help and put my production schedule into some special scheduling software.  He determined that at my current rate of production, I'd be done in mid-July of 2011.  Since Stitches is in February (of 2011), this is a bit of a problem.  So, production is ramping up.  Marker making is in high gear as well.  Sigh.  Perhaps the holidays can be moved to March?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Day After

The day after Thanksgiving.  It was a bright, sunny day today, seasonably chilly (as chilly goes here in the northern reaches of Southern California).  I like the day after the holiday almost as much as the holiday day itself.  It's quieter, more peaceful (especially since I avoid the plague of Black Friday), and there's more time to contemplate what Thanksgiving is really all about.

I have much to be grateful for this year.  A roof over my head, a heater that turns on with a push of a button, a fireplace and a stack of wood by the door -- and a husband who assumes all responsibility for getting the fire going. 

I baked bread today, there's a pot of soup bubbling on the stove, and I'm sipping a glass of wine.  I'm aware of how lucky I am to eat well. 

I have a kitty on my lap, and a bag of beautiful wool yarn by my chair, in the process of being knit up into a sweater.  How fortunate I am to have the luxury of time to knit. 

I am thankful for the ability to pursue my dreams, for my friends and family who don't think I'm in the least bit crazy, for the many artists and businesswomen who have inspired and encouraged me in my pursuits, and most of all for John, who supports me like no one else.  How thankful I am to have a partner to love and be loved by.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What Goes in the Bag, Stays in the Bag

Something had to be done.  The right knitting tool never seemed to be at hand:  the tape measure was in another room; the tapestry needle was lost in another project bag; the scissors were where they were supposed to be in their proper pouch, in the basket next to my chair.  But I was not in my chair, I was off at knit night.  After a bit of looking, I found the perfect solution -- Tom Bihn's Pencil Case.  It's big enough to hold all of the essentials, and small enough to fit in a sock-sized project bag.  I picked up a couple, so that I could put one in each active project bag (why yes, I do in fact have more than a couple of active projects going at a time, and so no, two pencil cases are really not sufficient).  Anyhoo, here are the cases in action, demonstrating just how much you can fit in the little things.

In each of my cases, I have:  tape measure, scissors, ruler and/or needle gauge, tapestry needle, mini notebook (mine are from Moleskine, and are wonderful), crystal nail file, extra DPN if I'm working on socks or mitts, mechanical pencil, a Wanda or two, perhaps a cable needle, and lots of stitch markers (there's never a shortage of markers here at Chez Markers a Lot).

They work perfectly.  But only WHEN I REMEMBER TO PUT THEM IN THE PROJECT BAG. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

First Foray

The two-color stranded knitting bug finally hit.  It's been lurking on the list for a while, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.  After a class with Janel Laidman at Sock Camp this past spring, and then finding a great starter project, my immune system succumbed.

Yarn:  Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb sport weight, in Grey Heather and Onyx.
Pattern:  Cat Mittens by Jorid Linvik.

I made a bit of a tangled mess at the beginning until I got the hang of handling one strand of yarn in each hand.  Since I don't tension the yarn in the typical way -- well, actually, since I don't tension the yarn at all, this took a bit of getting used to.  I can't say that I'm ready for 3-color stranding yet (heaven help me with 4 or 5 colors), but every row gets easier.  Luckily each row is only 60 stitches. 

I'm not convinced I made a wise choice with the yarn selection.  That the yarn is a singles isn't turning out to be much of an issue, but the weight -- let's just say that these mitts would more suited to the Arctic Circle than to my temperate clime.  But they're lovely and fun, and I'm sure we'll get a deep freeze one of these years when they'll come in quite handy.

First mitten's almost done.  The second should be a snap.  The process is delightful, so maybe I am ready for 3+ colors.  Bohus sweater, you're in my future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes Making Do Doesn't Do

I found an intriguing chickpea flatbread recipe that I've been itching to try for months now.  I'd been waiting for a cool, preferably rainy, day to try it out -- you know, bread-baking weather.  Since we're into yet another heat wave and it hit 99 degrees yesterday, I decided that bread-baking weather was not gonna happen any time soon, so I just went on with it.

The recipe called for a 12-inch pizza pan, which I did not have and did not want to invest in for an uncertain recipe, so I improvised and used a couple of sheets of aluminum foil, molded into a round and placed on a pizza baking stone.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well.  Besides the fact that the dough (actually a batter) was really, um, liquid, I think the dough needed the heat conduction of a heavy pan.  Plus, I eye-balled the diameter measurement and believe I might have been a bit on the generous side.  Thus my flatbread came out really -- flat

Next time I'll use a proper pan.  There will be a next time, but this recipe needs a bit of tweaking first, I think.  It was good, but there was something just not right about it.  Not that I've ever had chickpea flatbread before to judge by, but the taste and texture was just not, well, right.  Texture a bit on the spongy side (I don't much care for spongy), taste very definitely chickpea (maybe too much so), it was less like bread and more like -- ???  Definitely some tweaking to do.  Perhaps a bit of white flour in exchange for the chickpea flour?  A bit more time in the oven?  Some rosemary, I think.  And for sure, some bread-baking weather. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Little Falling Down at the Fair

I participated in our guild's annual Sheep to Shawl exhibition at the county fair a bit ago.  It's always a great day (my job this year was to card batts for the spinners), and I love visiting the livestock areas, especially of course the sheep and goats.  These little visits often result in a fleece coming home with me at the end of the day, but this year -- let's just say that I was a bit overenthusiastic. 

The two gorgeous moorit Merino fleeces and a lovely Romney that I had recently purchased from the wonderful Mendenhall Wood Ranch were plenty to keep me busy for a while.  And oh yes, I have in mind an idea for a luscious blend (in fact, I'm thinking of naming it "Luscious") for that pretty little Cormo fleece I had just acquired.  So really, I was pretty well set in the fleece department, but you know, if something at the fair caught my eye, what's one more?  Right?

Well, a delightful little pale tan Romney caught my eye.  Then I just couldn't pass up another Romney -- such a beautiful shade of gray.  I managed to convince my friend Susie to split the almost-seven-pounds of it with me.  And then there was that little Shetland lamb fleece that was only .8 lbs, so what's the harm in that?  Lastly there's the Oxford that my friend Susie bought and somehow managed to convince me that I needed half of. 

Now I'm really good for fleece for a while.  Except for that colored mohair fleece I just found online.  I mean, I need it to blend with the Romney, right?  Right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

All Ready, But For.....

All ready for Fall, that is.  Those first early signs of a change in the weather got my inner nesting instincts going.  I ordered some new Fiesta Ware bakeware in awesome autumn-ish colors, perfect for roasted new potatoes with sage, apple crumble, and oven-baked onion soup.  I'm ready for risotto, polenta with mushroom ragu, and pasta with rich sauces.  It's time for spicy scented candles and a roaring fire in the fireplace.  I'm ready to wear all of the new woolens I've knitted. 

I'm all ready, but for the weather, that is.  It's an infernal 108 degrees today. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Procrastination Doesn't Pay

Procrastination doesn't pay.  Well, sometimes it doesn't.  Certainly not this time.  Inspired by the beautiful chunky scarfs in the new Rowan No. 48, I went searching through my stash for a particular yarn, and found it -- already knitted up.  Into a chunky scarf.  Now, what a fully knitted item (all finished but for the weaving in of ends) was doing in my yarn stash, I don't know.  After seeing it, I still can barely recall knitting it.  And I like it (now, anyways).  Maybe I wasn't happy with it back then?  Maybe now, I'm just unduly influenced by the return of the chunky?  I dunno, 'cause back then was a long time ago.  And I'm not typically one for the chunky knits.  But either way, I sure could have used this big, monstrous, warm scarf on several occasions last winter.  Oh well.  Need to stash dive more often.

Big chunky scarf in a simple rib (cartridge belt, I think), knit with Orlov by Bouton D'Or run with a strand of Damasco by Katia on US 35 needles (yeah, I know).

Big Chunky just had a bath and is now outside blocking in the breeze.  I'll be ready this winter. 

Procrastination Pays

Procrastination pays, sometimes.  Certainly this time.  I'd been knitting away on the hooded Helsinki scarf from Rowan, close to done with the 2nd half,  when I realized that I was probably going to run short of yarn by just a tad.  Since the yarn was handspun made from a beautiful Lincoln fleece gifted to me by my good friend Cary, and there was no more fleece, there was not going to be any more yarn.  I almost starting ripping it off the needles right then, but really I didn't want to even look at it at that point let alone frog it, so off to the time-out corner it went (for a good long while). 

I finally had another project in mind for the yarn, so it just got a pass out of purgatory.   But before starting the major rip, something possessed to me unroll the 1st half of the scarf, which was still on a stitch holder, and lo!  There was little remaining ball of yarn dangling from the end.  It looked like maybe, just maybe, enough to finish.  I decided to go for it, knitted away, and yes indeed ran out of yarn.  TWO ROWS SHORT.  Two flippin' rows!  And that little ball was enough to finish those two rows and bind off.  To think that I almost frogged the thing in a fit, and it would have been for nothing.

this much left

crappy photo of a lovely cabled pattern (Helsinki by Sarah Hatton, Rowan No. 42)

I would have liked to have added a repeat or two to give it a bit more length at the top, but I think it will be fine.  It may likely grow a bit anyway -- it weighs in at over a pound and a half!  Now I just need a chilly, blustery day to wear it.  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

End of the Season

The fruit trees are finally spent.  We had a pretty good harvest this year, especially the plums (note to self:  next year, cull the fruit!).  Over 56 pounds of plums went into jam, several more pounds went into plum-raisin chutney, and when I couldn't take chopping another plum I tried making a few jars of whole plums in honey syrup.  When the weather gets cold, I'll try cooking these down into a compote to top steel-cut oatmeal; I've never canned whole fruit before, so it will be interesting to see how these work out.  Nectarines also became jam,  peaches became two types of chutney, and a swap with friends yielded some awesome apricots that turned into lovely jam as well.  Blackberries are in the freezer, waiting patiently to be turned into pies.  A neighbor brought by some figs, which combined with some rhubarb from the farmers' market are now another lovely jam.  Alas, our apple tree is not faring well and produced no apples this year, but a friend has promised a bagful, so I should be able to make apple chutney this year. 

As much as I love the process, I'm glad to be done.  Mother Nature has a warped sense of humor, and it's always over 100F degrees when I need to do the canning.  Nothing like getting the oven going and huge pots boiling on the stove on a hot and steamy August day.  The reward comes later, in the winter.  Homemade fruit jam is like summer in a jar.  And chutney served with good cheese and a glass of wine by the fireplace is one of my favorite simple winter meals.  By then, I'm reminded that it was all totally worth it. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Too Late

John and I headed out early for a long walk this morning, thinking we'd beat the heat.  Too late.  The sun came on strong, and it was over 90F degrees at 9 a.m.  That last hill almost killed me.  But as John says, finishing ugly is still finishing.  Now at least I can rationalize staying in and knitting today. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Socks Forward, One Sock Back

I was making such good progress.  One sock down, the 2nd almost done.  Then, one of those fatal errors (actually, two fatal errors).  Damn.  Rip.  (STR lightweight in colourway "I Love What You're Wearing";  the pattern [somewhat modified] is Swing Set by Karen Alfke. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blog Post the First

Seems like the hardest part of starting a blog (for me, anyway) is introducing it, without seeming boring and mundane. I could list my reasons for blogging, but they are many, and by and large fairly standard (and thus boring and mundane). So instead, let me just welcome you to Still Life with Knitting. Here I’ll be chronicling my adventures (and misadventures) with knitting, spinning, cooking and whatnot. Hope you follow along!