Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holiday

 

Secret knitting! I don't know how other people do this. He's always with me, which is exactly how I want to spend my days, but it means anything I knit for him has to be done frantically, on the sly, in the car in the parking lot at Starbucks. I don't mind it, and I love to knit for him, especially when he's going to look so good in the finished garment--dang, he's handsome:

...and this is a particularly good pattern, too. This is Brownstone, by Jared at Brooklyn Tweed. If you're knitting for a man and you want something well-fitted and stylish and manly, you really can't go wrong with BT. I made it without modifications, in Brown Heather Fisherman's Wool, purchased in a last-ditch panic as they were practically locking the door behind me at the yarn shop. The holiday knitting always sneaks up on me, I'm not sure why. It's not like I don't know which day it happens every year.

My beautiful daughter and handsome son and lovely mama all made their separate ways to me here in NY, and we got out all the cameras, because I realized recently that there were literally no photos at all of the four of us--the girl, the boy, the doc and me--in existence anywhere, other than the selfie we took with somebody's phone the day we took the girl to Hogwarts in 2009, and she was making fish lips in that one, and we were all crying and soggy-faced in it. We tried a bunch of different poses, stood over here beside that thing, and over there next to that shrubbery, and smiled and it was weird, until we just went ahead and took a family selfie, and suddenly everyone became themselves. We can't be serious around here. It is not our way.

Christmas Eve was warm and beautiful, and the sky turned pink and magic around the almost-full moon.

 
We lit candles and made egg nog and watched Elf and talked late into the starry night. I wish you all peace and love and joy. Thank you for being here with me. It means more than I can say. xoxo

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Medicine

 

Efforts to contain the yarn scraps have broken down. Things are out of hand. Also, I am a little bit sick of knitting right now, and wow, you guys, did you know that crochet is FAST? Seriously, this is a highly rewarding rabbit hole to fall down on a Saturday. This use-up-the-scraps scarf is appearing out of nowhere. I do love that about crochet. It's having a medicinal effect on me too, actually, being that I started it in an almost blind panic over worrying about the catdog...

...who is home from the hospital now and feeling more herself, after having eaten almost an entire POUND (gulp) of chocolate from underneath the christmas tree. Oh my goodness. There was a treacherous, hour-long, chocolate vomit-scented race to the doggie Emergency Room, followed by hospitalization and pacing and then me giving the doggie hospital all my nickels in eternal gratitude for having kept my beautiful catdog alive while the poison worked its way through her. She is now--how to describe this--looking a little road-weary, and a fair bit wiser around the eyes. Slightly blackened at the back end. Hungover. And you should see ME. [Gray and wasted-looking. Unwashed, sleep deprived, and burnt. Two blackened holes in a blanket, as my daddy would have said. Nap is imminent.] The need for something soothing and easy and very gently engaging was tremendous; thus, this scrappy scarf project. Sc, ch1, repeat. Change colors now and then. Weave in an end. Breathe. Keep going.

I doubt I'll be wanting to eat any chocolate any time soon, which is fine, because I have banned it from the house. Sweet, gorgeous Catdog. I'm so sorry. I love you so. Crochet, crochet, crochet.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Charms and Layers

 

Trending: Long chains, decked out with charms. Also, layering. The doctor said, "I know what you're doing there. You're layering your jewelry." If even he knows it's called layering, then it's a thing, ya'll. This appeals to me, all the charms and layers. It reminds me of my high school BFF, who has already done everything cool, way before anybody else even thought of it--she was layering and charming back in 1986, wearing all her jewelry all at once, even in gym class, letting it get all tangled up; she had moxie, let me tell you.

So last night I got out the beads and the pliers and the wire and the jump rings and with much squinting in the darkness [we are turning on the lamps at 12:30 here right now. Mr. Golden Sun, pleeeease shine down on me?] and spent an hour making all these. I used two gray pearls, a couple mother-of-pearl things, and that teardrop-shaped gem at the bottom, which may or may not be a Labradorite--Ethel, who is my handy gemstone expert, was not sure. It is gray-green, with black flecks and flashes of iridescence. It looks like something that might have magical properties.

It looks moody, like the sky outside the window. Trying to light up, a little bit, but ultimately gray and murky.

Don't you love it when things turn out just like you hoped they would, and you have all the right materials and you can even find them all without an extensive search, and nothing breaks or fails or anything? When it all hangs together just right, on the first try, which almost never happens? Oh, how I love that.

 

 

Monday, December 7, 2015

I Do Like This Hat. Really.

 

Maybe this is one of those things that would have been better off just disappearing into the trash. It does, I have to admit, give me more than one pang of regret just to look at it. I was sitting around last week, trying to wear my striped, faux-Milano, and it was bumming me out. It was too big in every direction, and was particularly saggy at the yoke, which is my personal albatross. Ach, the yokes, how I struggle. Anyway, it was accentuating the negative, if you know what I mean. I was feeling bad about it, feeling saggy inside and out, and the feeling made me bold, and itchy to toss it in the washing machine--just for a little while, right?--because I knew a couple things were true: I didn't like the finished pullover the way it was, and I wasn't going to wear it again. I had not the heart to rip it out a third time and knit it all up again [fingering weight yarn! Very small needles! Math!] and I just believed in my heart that a tiny bit of felting would save it. Hubris? Desperation? Self-destruction? I threw all caution to the wind and chucked it into the washing machine, and as I'm sure you've predicted, "just for a minute" turned into a few too many minutes, and by the time I thought about it again, it was too late.

Economics: I keep having to remind myself not to fall victim to the Sunk Cost Fallacy which in yarn-related terms means that a lot of time spent knitting something does not mean that more time must be spent continuing to knit it, and that just because I invested materials, money, and time in a project does not mean I have to keep ripping back and tinkering with something that isn't working, thus investing more, and that sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on. Thus I really wanted to just throw the misshapen and felted end result of this compounding disaster into the dumpster and forget about it, but I decided to make one last-ditch effort at salvage. I had to stop thinking of the pullover in terms of the costs I had already sunk into it. I had to see it only for what it currently was: a colorful, striped, piece of felt; raw materials. Well, that's something I like!

You may be surprised to hear that I would much rather wear this goofy little hat than I would the baggy and unflattering striped pullover it used to be. Naturally I could have just knit the hat in a day or two and saved a lot of time, money and angst, but that's not the way it went, and that's okay. I could have donated the (pre-felted) garment to the thrift store, but if I don't think it's wearable, why would somebody else? I loved knitting the sweater, which of course has its own value, and I learned a few things too: I have a prodigious upper body, one not always flattered by designs using yoke construction. Controlled felting is probably possible, but I'm going to get distracted and walk away from the washing machine and regret it. My handknits are not precious, and sometimes they are better off being something else.

I cut five panels according to a flawed tutorial, machine stitched them together, didn't like the result (which looked like one of those hats made of crochet and beer cans) cut them apart again, trimmed off the seams, re-cut the panels here and there so it would be the approximate size and shape of my head, and whipstitched it all together by hand using scrap yarn. It's weird and funny and silly, and I love it. The huge pompom really saved the day, in my opinion. Listen, speaking of pompoms, you probably know this already, but in case you don't, here's how you can make them yourself without help from plastic pompom makers. Check it out:

Draw two circles in approximately your desired size onto a piece of cardboard. I traced around a glass to get 4" circles. Cut out a circle in the center. Believe me when I say perfection does not matter here; just hack a couple circles out of cardboard, and cut holes in them. Put them together and start wrapping the yarn around, until it looks like a yarn doughnut. It'll take a LOT of yarn, probably more than you think, and it takes a little while, too. I tricked the doctor into doing this for me.

I (he) used up the KnitPicks Palette "Seafaring" leftovers, leaving and cutting off a tail about 15" long. Once you have a nice, fat yarn doughnut--and the more you wrap, the fuller your pompom will be--get out your scissors and cut around the outside edge of the doughnut, between the two circles, exposing the cardboard underneath, like this:

Then use the tail (I doubled mine for extra strength) to tie all the cut ends together by slipping it between the two circles of cardboard, pulling it and tying it tightly.

Pull the cardboard circles apart and off the tied pompom. Fluff it up and trim it into a neat ball. Use the long tail ends to sew it to your project.

Sometimes, things work out, and sometimes they don't. This one is complicated. It cost me a lot, in a lot of ways. I swore a bunch. I learned things. It would require me tricking the doctor into putting together some kind of geniusy algorithm thingy in order to figure out if it was worth it, but in the end, I have to say, I do really like this hat. That's enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Because it's dark

 

It is so dark in the fall. There's about five minutes of daylight, and about umpty hours of total darkness, and everything in between is just a general dimness. You can't see what you're doing. You can't start a new project because all the yarn and fabric looks gray. Everything seems like it might just have to wait until the weekend, but weekends have become lazy, too. I keep thinking, "Yeah, I should do that," and then I don't, because it always feels like it's almost time for bed. It makes a person tend to put down her knitting and crawl lazily onto the couch beside the most pampered dog in the universe:

This little catdog, I swear. I am wrapped around her little paw. She mooches up, pushes all the pillows into a little nest beside my leg, gives a rattly sigh, and the next thing I know, I'm tucking a blanket under her chin, and telling her again what a good girl she is, how cute she is, how much I love her. Her head is like velvet.

When I am able to resist the lure of her lovely popcorn-scented feet and gentle snoring; when I am able to focus on something besides competetive baking shows on television, and then wanting to bake all the cookies, I knit a little. I'm working on Old Town by Carol Sunday, and it is the opposite of plain knitting. It is origami knitting. You cast on here, knit some, put some stitches aside for awhile, pick up some more stitches somewhere else. Turn and go sideways. It is bristling with markers, and it's one of those projects where you have to kind of spread out your notes and draw upon your knowledge and stuff. It is nice, though, to follow someone else's map for awhile, instead of doing my usual making it up as I go. It might be awhile before I make much progress. There is the cutest dog, snoring away on the couch right now.

 

Monday, November 23, 2015

I Heart Philly


My girl's neighborhood in Philadelphia is a study in contrast. There are lovely old brick row houses with potted geraniums and mosaic murals and vintage bicycles painted turquoise parked next to the lamp posts, and across the street is razor wire and emtpy lots full of windblown trash. Gingko trees litter the sidewalks in gold.
This, a corner cafe next to the train station, has fairy-lit patio seating and a dog watering station. Fancy ice cream. A decorative pumpkin on each table. Across the street:
Spray-painted signs and piles of tires. There is beautiful, and there is grim. It's a neighborhood in regeneration, or else maybe this is the way it is in a city? The place is abundant with teensy dogs, being walked two and three at a time. Everyone, everyone is unfailingly friendly. Plastic bags blow around. A little girl wearing glasses kicks a pink ball. On the train, people sleep leaning against the window.
We walked forever, across the city in all directions, in search of one thing for me (soup dumplings, score!) and another for the doctor (vegan pizza!) and yet another for the girl (art). Being lazy in Starbucks on Sunday morning, we were surprised to see what could have been no other than a marathoner, wearing a finisher's medal and a safety blanket marked "Philadelphia Marathon 2015" and carrying a bag full of race swag. He was sprinkling cinnamon on his latte and whistling. More appeared, looking relaxed and pink-cheeked, if also slightly underfed. It was Marathon Day in the city. We walked toward the Museum of Art, through safety checkpoints and around barricades, once accidentally going into the wrong museum (!!) and asking at least four different clutches of uniformed police how we could get from right here to over there [" Go back to the 18th Street checkpoint." "Go up to 22nd and take a left, no more than ten minutes." "Maybe they'll let you through the barrier over there?"] It took forty minutes to hack through the race mobs and barricades to reach the famous steps by which time I could not imagine running up them. If that song had been playing anywhere, though, I would have. You would have, too. Best song in the world, ever.
They danced a little. It is really just the thing to do up there.
Inside, I tried to get a laugh out of the cashier by saying, "Hoo! It's crazy out there. This art better be worth it. These are the good paintings, right?" Which earned me a raised eyebrow and a tiny, indulgent sniff. Under her breath, my girl said, "That gets a laugh, like, 25% of the time," which cracked me up. We tried really hard to behave, quietly dissing the Renoirs ("Why does he have to blend everything into oblivion?") and the Monets ("That bridge over the waterfall is making me feel tense") and marveling at the Manets ("Just the suggestion of a waistcoat!") and the Klimts. A handful of docents saw us tilting our heads in mystification at Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase". One said, "I look at that every day and I still don't see it." Another came over, waved an arm at us all and said, "Stand back, Im'a teach you this painting. Her eyes? [points] Her arm? [gestures] The rest is movement." Click. The other docent was all, "Oh yeaaaaahhh! Now I see it!" The best.
Some parts of Philadelphia look like a movie set.
We walked down to Loop on South Street (oh please, let me live there) and I felt up all the Brooklyn Tweed and Madelinetosh. I couldn't help it with those four skeins of Shelter, dear me, it's divine.
Five minutes from home, it started to pour snow, and we came the last ten miles in a whiteout blizzard. Woke up to this:
And there are leftover soup dumplings in my fridge right now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

In a state

 

Well, I really have to clean around here. The state of the house is appalling. I started a list of things to do but then I just crossed it all out and wrote "Clean Everything". I can't be bringing a christmas tree in here until I run a mop over this place. Look at that orchid, blooming like a boss. Getting an orchid to bloom always makes me feel like I am fooling somebody important, because it seems like they will find any reason at all to not bloom again, and indeed to rot away in the pot and die. A blooming orchid is a huge and amazing feat of miracle to me, every time.

Speaking of christmas, do you think I can make this dead tree full of fake crows work for the holidays? I hate to take it down, because I love it so much--it is delicious with that Shrunken Head poster from the Mutter Museum behind it. Spooky. I'm having quite an internal debate about this one. What if I put the little paper christmas village around it, with the dead tree and crows hulking malevolently overhead? Okay, now I hear how that sounds...really, I just don't want to clean the house, I'd rather be knitting.

Or sewing. Our local JoAnn's is closing (WAH! I know!) and it's giving me kind of a panicky feeling, so I went in there and bought up a bunch of fabric destined for nothing in particular, just stuff I liked. What should I make? I can't start another quilt, I haven't finished the last three yet. I kind of want to make a skirt [like these] but I'm not sure I can do it without a pattern. Maybe it's time to delve into this, I've always admired that one. Will need more fabric, panic panic...

I need to finish this, too. This is a thrifted cashmere sweater that is moving from turtleneck to cardigan. I don't know why it isn't done already because it should be a snap--a little blanket stitch around all the raw edges, and that's it. More on this to come. First, I have to clean the house. Ugh.

 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Big

This big, exciting, gray-and-cream-striped blanket in garter stitch (snore) is still growing. I feel like I make progress, and then it turns out that nope, I haven't, because hours and hours of knitting have gone by and I am still working on this same blanket, still toiling at the same cream stripe I was working on when dirt was invented. This came with me on a long road trip, and it was wonderfully warm on my lap in the car, although it is really too big to be a traveling project and I had to clamber out from underneath it, sweating, every time we had to stop, and I totally thought that progress would be made during all those confined hours with nothing to do but knit, but it is not noticeably bigger in any way. It must be bigger! It must! I knit all the way home! Through that traffic jam in Cleveland! Over this bridge and that one and the other one too! I knit after dark, by the glow of the dashboard lights. I was committed, people. How is this thing still on the needles? News flash: blankets are big.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Light

 

I'm so interested in the light right now. Here at the end of the year, the sun is so low in the southern sky that it seems to come in sideways, and it makes dramatic patterns everywhere. It bathes the catdog in a spotlight. She sat there just like that, without flicking an ear, for several long minutes while first I marveled at the interesting composition, then went to get the camera, fiddled with the settings, clicked away. Still as a stone. What a pro.

 

I really am enjoying this darkening season. I'm taking the doc's advice, and trying to appreciate its weird and desperate beauty. In any other year, these skeletal trees, black against that threatening sky, would have made my heart plunge, but not this year. It is good medicine, this trying stuff.

I started a sock, knit all the way to the heel flap, blissfully unmindful of the fact that it was turning out as dense and sturdy as a bulletproof vest. Since socks don't need to stand up on their own, I unraveled it all the way back to the beginning. Happily, I love to knit, and socks are right up there among the most fun things of all to knit. Onward.

 

In the face of that, I betook myself to my happy place (coffee solves a lot of my problems) and brought some Malabrigo with me. Oh Malabrigo! I am moved practically to poetry by that yarn. It has light in it, too, somehow, spun right in.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rhapsody

 

I am out of love with my sewing machine right now, for no good reason. Cords, noise, machinery, maybe. The simplicity of a needle and thread has so much more appeal. I can't stand anything that requires too much fussing, or even a little bit of fussing. So it's back to these little 1 1/2" squares, stitched together by hand; slow slow slow. Lovely. Honestly, there is so much peace in this kind of work. You all know what I mean.

 

Marianne and I were talking about kitchen decor. I said, "I'll tell you what I love, and I can't remember where I saw it, but somebody in some book has decorated their kitchen like a doctor's office, with metal cabinets and a dang examining table to sit at for breakfast, but on one wall is an enormous mural photograph of Freddie Mercury doing a backbend." I still think about that because it amazed me; Freddie in white, head thrown back and wailing into a microphone, exploding with star quality, ten feet tall and sweating, as wallpaper in someone's medical-theme kitchen. Honestly, I know nothing about design. Nothing! It must have been in a borrowed book, or I would have torn out the page and pinned it to my wall. If any of ya'll remember that doctor's office kitchen photo, tell me where I saw it, will you? Anyway, Marianne, who is a total rockstar, said, "That's from Queen: Live at Wembley Stadium. I have it at home. Wanna borrow it?" Not only did she know the photo I referred to, but she had it at her fingertips. Friends like that, am I right? Anyway, my weekend viewing of Queen: Live at Wembley Stadium has led to a renewed adoration of Freddie Mercury and of Brian May's lovely curly hair, and to me slightly injuring my neck in a kitchen-dancing Bohemian Rhapsody rhapsody. That song, manoman. The rest of them, too. So great. Also, there's been Hemingway, who I left behind a long time ago, but who bubbled up again circuitously via a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, and then Patti Smith's new book M Train. Hemingway would hate all the extra words I use. So much culture, people. I am swimming in it.

Home as laboratory. I read that somewhere else [I can't remember things] and it made me feel better about my habit of changing, adding, editing all my furniture, curtains, and stuff all the time. You guys, I know people who leave their rooms alone! I know! They pick a wall color and put their stuff down, and there it all stays, for years and years. I'm serious. I don't even get that for one second. I spend a lot of happy energy kind of rearranging all my stuff, finding a new little thrifty treasure or making new pillow covers, getting rid of what I don't love anymore. I feel with every change and shift that I am getting closer and closer. To something.

Relentlessly good weather these days, that sky! The golden trees! The cedar waxwings are back, on their way out of town, to pick at the crabapple fruit. They gather in that tree and it is alive with them, as the leaves flurry down. I knit and knit and knit, in garter stitch, same same same. This blanket grows with a steady tedium, like a metronome. It is heavy in my lap now, a comfort already.