Monday, August 30, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, Kevin and I spontaneously decided to take care of one of the items on his "bucket list".

Since he was a little boy, Kevin has loved fast cars. Though there is a National Hot Rod Association race that takes place within driving distance of us (6 hours south in Brainerd, MN), he had never been.  There were always other priorities, always next year. With the recent purchase of our home, there are definitely other things we could have spent our money on. But, as he so eloquently put it, "I'm not 'always going to remember' the summer we did the eavestroughs."  Amen.

I know it meant a lot to him, but I didn't really know how much until we got home, and he sent me the following essay. Cross something off that list, or help someone you love to do it.  It'll be the best money you've ever spent.

The Model 
(By special guest blogger Kevin)

This past weekend was the Lucas Oil NHRA Top Fuel drag races in Brainerd, Minnisota where the fastest cars on the planet come to race. It was also the awakening of a 10 year old boy as he was summoned to complete a long lost dream.... 

 Containment would be a good word to describe that ride home from the hobby store with my new plastic model kit. If you can call containment an ear to ear grin attached to a bicycle barely touching the pavement as it launched off curbs and kicked up dust flying down the home stretch of my back lane.  

 "Copperhead" this one was called. My first rear engine dragster! I knew I had matched the colour scheme emblazoned on the box perfectly when I plucked the tiny paint bottles from their display rack. Assembly would be just as the folded instructions dictated plus a few of my own touches. Like thread pilfered from Moms sewing box to run as distributor wires and a small square of sandpaper from the basement workbench to roughen up the slicks to make the replica seem as it really did zoom down the strip. 

 To the naked eye all seems normal as a bar of light squeezes itself under the closed bedroom door covered in racing stickers, but inside a ritual has begun. Everything would be carefully laid out on last nights paper upon my bedroom floor. It was better here than the desk. I could see every aspect of the assembly line. Engine to the left, wheels stacked on the right, freshly painted body in front about to receive decals soaking in a bowl of water. Hours would effortlessly spin off the clock as did the songs from the AM radio beside me. After several days of a "why aren't you in bed yet" weekend, my masterpiece would be completed. 

 As I focused intently at my finished work my imaginary senses would come alive.
I could feel the rumble and crackle of the engine, smell the consumed fuel and easily see the haze of vaporized rubber from the burnout. It was only my mother calling me to supper that would melt the film playing in my mind. A movie that would be spliced and watched to the finish line many years later. The simple dream of a little boy that that came full circle. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

140 Characters

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time on Twitter.

I was reluctant at first, mostly because of the hype, and a bit because of the overwhelmingly rapid-fire social nature of it. But as I've begun using it more, I've noticed something: among the myriad of tweets about what was for lunch, and the weather, and the activities of children, pets, and neighbours, there is something interesting happening: beautiful little, 140-character bits of art.

The constraint of the structure, like sonata form, or haiku, seems to me to encourage more creativity because of the limitations of the form. Say it in 140 characters, or it doesn't get said. And gorgeous little gems are popping up all the time on my feed. They also seem to come from people who cannot seem to limit their efforts to just one form of art or craft (composers who knit, dancers who write, and a quilter on her way to teach a cake-decorating class).

I bought some homemade jam from my friend the quilting cake-decoration teacher today, who took me down the block to her garden. In the 25 minutes we spent together, Jody also told me about the script that she wrote, the next batch of jams she was planning, the book she is writing, the beans she is growing, the class she was teaching this afternoon and what she's planning to do with her stained glass if she moves. We also talked about our blogs (currently neglected) and about Twitter as artistic medium (currently enthusiastically embraced).

And later, as I was kneading bread dough and thinking about all of this, I had a realization.

Those of us who make things often have what we make (knitting, music, baking, painting etc.) called "self-expression". I've always been uncomfortable with that, because it seems to presume that wanting to get up on stage, or make something beautiful is somehow Narcissistic, that it's about the person ("self") rather than the act ("expression"). But I see it as completely the opposite.

Jody's raspberry jam is not about Jody, it's about raspberries. She is in love with her garden and completely smitten with the jam-making process. She therefore wants to celebrate it all: what is best in the fruit, and the method, and the history. Like all of these wonderful creative people on my Twitter feed and in my life, she cannot help but act as conduit: she sees beauty and pleasure in the world, and she is driven to embrace it, to revel in it, and to share it with you in case you missed it. It is wholly a selfless act.

I believe that the best and most beautiful art & craft comes from this attitude and approach. It's not using art to express yourself, it is using your "self" to express art or craft with passion and humility: I think this is wonderful, and I want you to have some too. Selfless. Joyful. Beautiful.

It's what my friend does every day, with every fibre of her being, in glass and beads and fruit and fabric and yarn and royal icing and 140-character paintings. I think it's why her jam's so good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I have considered writing many times over the past month, even sat down to do so on many occasions, my unpublished blog list growing like a pile of laundry. I have a lot on my mind these days, not much of which meets full-bloggable criteria (gift-knitting for a reader, too personal, not personal enough, too common, too important, not my story to tell). These factors, coupled with a nasty perfectionist streak I haven't quite yet shaken yet, means that I haven't written at all. And that doesn't seem quite right.

 And so, with your indulgence, I present the tapas version of a usual blog... little tastes of things I've been thinking about. Bon appetit.

1. On Vuvuzelas

I usually watch the World Cup, and I'm not this year solely because I cannot tolerate the constant drone. I have tried just muting the tv, but then I can't really follow the game while I'm knitting. Do I think an entire nation should change their traditions for my convenience? No. Am I disappointed? You bet. I am personally of the belief that my rights end where yours begin and vice versa, and I wish that a better solution - one that takes into consideration all of the fans, not just those in the stadium - could be found (Isn't it interesting how the rights of the local trump the rights of the majority?) But I don't get to make these decisions, because for some reason the world has not elected me queen yet.

2. On How Things Will Be When I Am Queen 

When I am Benevolent Empress of All I Survey, the following shall be enacted at once:

A. The first day of the calendar year that reaches 25C and is a regularly-scheduled work day for you shall be an automatic, mandatory statutory holiday for all.

B. Needlework (knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching etc.), music-making and story-telling of all kinds shall not be relegated to private residences or concert halls, but rather shall be celebrated and encouraged in public places.

C. Any meeting that requires its organizer(s) to call for agenda items (in other words, any of the "standing" variety) shall be cancelled at once. Any who attempt to proceed with such a meeting shall be immediately banished from my sights until they think better of it.

D. Recess - of the go outside and play soccer, or baseball, or marbles - is hereby reinstated for all the land and for all of the peoples, including, and in fact especially for, people of the adult, suit-wearing variety. Everyone shall go outside and play from 10:00 - 10:20am and 2:15 - 2:35pm daily. Those who have reached the age of majority may substitute afternoon play with afternoon nap/snack combination if desired.

E. In addition to being able to "call in sick", my people shall be permitted to call in well under the following circumstances:
  • the earliest days of being in love, when being away from the object of one's affections would result only in pining, sighing, and flower-picking
  • complete immersion in a creative process or spate of learning
  • an overwhelming and irresistable desire to dig in, plant, weed, maintain or admire one's garden
So let it be written, so let it be done.

3. On What I'm Knitting

A. A project of unspeakable beauty (if I do say so myself) that I will tell you about as soon as I give it to its recipient. It has taught me that I can make really beautiful things, and that it's even more fun to give beautiful things away. 

B. A sock ("Wavy" from Sock Club: Join the Knitting Adventure in my latest Loopy Ewe Sock Club yarn).  It has taught me that, despite "having something mindless to knit in front of the TV" sounding like a really good idea, it's actually not. I don't like mindless knitting, I like mindful knitting. To whit...

C. Another sock ("I Love Gansey", also from Sock Club, in some Socks that Rock I bought last year). It has taught me that fuschia might not be so bad after all.

4. ...And Some Random Things I've Learned
(from the "Too Personal" Category of Unbloggable)

Sometimes, dealing with bureaucrats actually works. 

Sometimes, it's better to act first and discuss later (or not at all), especially if the discussion-about -the-decision part is more troublesome than the outcome of an "incorrect" decision would be. It's amazing how often decisions actually don't warrant discussion. Being able to tell the difference is the tricky bit. It's probably less often than I think.

Sometimes - maybe even most times - the fear of scary things is far worse than the scary things themselves turn out to be.

Good fences do make good neighbors, money isn't everything, and life is short. 
For all of these reasons, it's a good idea to make peace if and when and how you can.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words

For Christmas, I got the best present in the history of sock knitters. (The story is here if you missed it.)

This past weekend, after several weeks of consultation and a good few weeks of close fair isle attention, I finished these for my Kevin, provider of said unparalleled Christmas gift.

From Russia With Love by Sabine Reifler in The Joy of Sox
Wollmeise 80/20 in Admiral and a "We're Different" that was probably pretty close to Campari Picolo.

I'm pretty durned proud of them. Hard to go wrong with that much great yarn and that much love and gratitude for their recipient.

It was like knitting with midnight and fire.

And a whole lot of love.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I am the Green Hat Knitter

Despite what is often assumed about people who are performers, I am a terribly introverted person. If I got to pick a super-power, I would pick invisibility over all others, no contest.  It's not that I don't like people - generally speaking, I really do -  it's that I would prefer to be on the sidelines, enjoying the world and the people around me by observing them rather than interacting with them. 

I am also a person inclined towards routine, which means that many people whom I've never met have become recurring characters in my day-to-day life, our lives briefly intersecting as our schedules cross. The ones that work on my floor, or go to the gym at the same time, or grocery shop late at night. I look forward to seeing them, and years ago started naming my favourites in my head. They're friends I've never met, and that seems to suit us both.

Dr. McSqueaky works on my floor, so named because of an unfortunate pair of runners he replaced almost two years ago. I am convinced he speaks several languages fluently, even though I've never heard him talk.

Giant Dave and his Entourage (three young clinicians who favour scrubs in solid primaries) are always leaving the coffee shop just as I'm walking in. They are there so reliably that if I miss them, I have a moment of panic, convinced that I must be late.

In my marathoning days, Red Shorts Man, Granola Jim and The Rain Woman and I would cross paths on my bread-and-butter four-miler, and my Sunday long-run training group and I could always count on seeing Silver Fox, Blond Floozy, Big Bird and The Hello Guy. (Hello Guy was our favourite...he was an older, chubby cyclist in a white helmet who, no matter how many lanes of traffic separated you, would wave and yell "Hello! Good Morning!" until you returned the greeting with equal enthusiasm.)

Since Kevin and I bought this house last November, I've started most work days with a new group: the people who ride my bus.  It's a pretty diverse group, mostly professionals and students on their way downtown, but a few stand out as always.
Early on, there's the Poet Laureate (curly mustache, round glasses, beret) and Scott the Smoker. Scott the Smoker just looks like a Scott to me. He reads sci-fi novels at the rate of about one a week. I haven't decided yet if he's a computer programmer or a junior high science teacher, but it's definitely one of those.
Halfway through the ride we pick up French Formula (40ish, suicide blonde, perfectly sculpted bangs). I think she is completely indifferent to her job, but in a positive way somehow, and I would bet big money she volunteers somewhere on weekends, probably with kids and/or animals. I like her a lot.

The Earth Mother transfers at the same bus stop as me. She wears her hair up in the most fascinating assortment of combs. I've sat behind her trying to figure it out. She looks at the teenagers on the bus like she understands and is slightly amused by every feeling and thought they are having. She commented on a fair-isle mitten I was knitting once, and told me she's more of a spinner than a knitter. We just smile at each other now.

I can't believe it took me this long, but it occurred to me recently that my fellow commuters can see me, too, and might be playing the same game. Their knowledge of my entire existence on this planet is, like mine is of theirs, constricted to 22 minutes, five times a week.  To them, I am that black-haired girl in the green hat. I am always wearing headphones (listening to books, or, if I strangle a giggle, Lime & Violet). Sometimes I have a backpack (gym stuff) or a red briefcase (meetings out of the office), and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'm at the bus stop in plenty of time, sometimes I run half a block in heels. 

Other than the headphones, only one thing is constant: I'm always knitting.  A sock, or a mitten, or, during the Knitting Olympics, a grey cardigan. I'm sure that's what would stand out - it's what I would notice. An entire life, boiled down to five pointy sticks and half a sock.
She is the Knitter in the Green Hat. And for 44 minutes a day, she is everything I am. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The End of the Blog's Prorogation

Hi Blog, I've really missed you.

It's been quite the month here in the life-of-me, and I have on many, many occasions wanted to write here about it.  Over the past year, this blog has become a nice little vacation spot for me: a place to reflect, to pause, to ramble and to creatively recharge by sharing my little stories with you.

I really needed those things, because about a month ago, the band broke up.  It had been coming for a long time, we all knew it was inevitable, but it was still sad when it finally happened.  Venus Murphy has been a major part of my life and my identity for the last seven years, and, even though it was the right thing, it still... well, it still sucked.

Just as I was getting ready to write about that, something else happened that, well, made the end of a celtic band not such a big deal anymore. I'm not going to talk about it, because it's not my story to tell. But it was one of those "before it happened / after it happened" sort of events: a weekend that made everything else in my life snap into sharp perspective and made me appreciate the difference between Important and Not Important in an absolutely crystal clear way.  Everything is fine now, but it's been pretty all-consuming. I am changed, in the way I actively treasure the things that are truly important.

But I missed you dear blog, and I'm back now. A little tired, a little shell-shocked, but a little better and a little wiser. Nice to see you again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When the Student is Ready

I've been thinking a lot about learning lately. One of those "thinking about lately" phases that makes you see everything through a certain lens... like wandering around wearing a pair of curoisity-coloured glasses.

It started innocuously enough. I knit a sweater for my Knitting Olympics project. I was feeling very smug with 36 hours to go, being that not only was the whole thing knit, it was neatly seamed and ready for its button-band.  It was a Sure Top-of-the-Podium Finish... until I turned the page and realized that the buttonband was ...crocheted. I don't know how to crochet. At all.

I am not proud to admit that my first (and second, and, um, third) approach was to knit a buttonband instead. I knit (and ripped out) three different buttonbands. They were all craptastic.(Which is probably why the designer - a wiser woman than me - designed it that way in the first place.)

I am even less proud to admit that my next instinct was to give up.  I don't know how to crochet. This buttonband is crocheted. My bad for not reading the pattern. Oh well. I'll frog it and make something else. I'll apologize to the designer for whom I was test-knitting. I'd feel really bad about myself for a bit (I'm not so good with the failure), then lick my wounds with a nice safe sure thing like a trusty sock and try never to think of it again. (Like I said, failure is not-my-best-thing.)

I am semi-proud to admit (semi- because it took this long...) that instead, I dug out my Nana's ancient Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery, looked up the chapter on crocheting, and, with 19 hours to go, red-faced at how easy it was once I read the instructions, crocheted my first-ever buttonband, and earned my first ever Knitting Olympics gold.

Caitlin's Cardi by Sweatshop of Love
Paton's Classic Wool in Dark Grey

Since then, I've had a few meaningful conversations that have really gotten me thinking about the willingness to learn, and the ability to absorb the lessons when they do appear.  Last week, a brand new co-worker told me that when I "over-explain" things to her, it makes her feel like I think she's stupid. (I don't.) My "over-explaining" was what I genuinely thought I was "being helpful", and, all the while, I was getting offended by her "yep got its" and "ya of courses", assuming that she was trying to shut me up (she wasn't) because she had no respect for me (she does). The conversation was amazing in retrospect. I wouldn't have had the nerve to tell her that she was offending me if she hadn't done it first, and we cleared up what could have been a destructive and on-going problem.

It stung when she pointed this out to me, but it hurt because she's right: I go on and on, especially if I'm passionate about what I'm talking about. It's a fault of mine. I've known it on some level for a long time, I guess, but until my co-worker presented the heat-of-the-moment challenge - we did have to resolve it to be able to move forward - I hadn't bothered to really learn the lesson.

So I'm working on being a good student.  Whether the teacher is a colleague or a cardigan.

P.S. Please remind me of this tomorrow night after - wait for it - my first golf lesson. Take that, New Year's Resolutions!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Faster, Higher, Smooshier

It's Knitting Olympics time!

This is my first year participating, which seems fitting as the games are on home soil.

For the uninitiated, the rules of the Knitting Olympics are as follows (from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee):

1. The project must be a challenge for you to complete in 16 days.
2. There are no rules about what a challenge would be. Like the real Olympics, there are many areas to compete in. If you are a new knitter, then a garter stitch baby sweater might do...If you are experienced, well. I've already considered Torino. Use your own conscience.
3. While this is intended to be somewhat difficult (like the Olympics) it is not intended to ruin your life. Don't set yourself up for failure. (Olympic athletes may cry, but they do not whine pitifully, sob and threaten members of their family with pointed sticks because they haven't slept in five days. ) This is intended to (like the Olympics) require some measure of sacrifice, and be difficult, but it should be possible to attain.
4. No casting on before the flame is lit.
5. Finish before the flame goes out.
6. You may swatch before the games. (I consider this "training.") 

I didn't get off to a great start... the band and I were the closing act at another opening night: that of the Festival du Voyageur.  It's a great Festival now in its 41st year - a celebration of French-Canadian heritage and history, an outdoor (yes, outdoor, in Canada, in February) event with snow sculpting, and dogsled races, and bands, and music, and traditional French-Canadian food, and beer.  It's a great excuse to get out of the house, and a great antidote to the oh-my-god-isn't-winter-over-yet depression that inevitably settles in this time of year. We're a Celtic-Rock band, but I guess we have enough French-Canadian spirit, because this was the third year in a row they've had us back. I'm glad, because it's always a blast, and I look forward to it every time.

All that to say that while knitters the world over were watching the Opening Ceremonies, needles in hand, anxiously waiting for the torch to be lit so they could cast on, I was on stage, accordion in hand, watching this:

 Hundreds of crazy happy dancing people, in a tent, in Winnipeg, in February. Aren't they the awesomest?! I live for it, I really do. (I took this shot from the stage, over the accordion, hence the blurriness...told them all to sccoch together and smile.  As you can see, they obliged.)

So I bought the yarn and needles on Saturday morning, and knit every waking, available moment until now, when I paused for long enough to tell you about it.  My Olympic Knitting project is a test knit for Allyson of The Sweatshop of Love.  And I'm feeling the love, big time.

Paton's Classic Wool in Dark Grey, 5mm needles, Allyson's lovely pattern, small size.

Loving the stitch pattern so far (about 7.75" in so far)... making a lovely, squishy fabric and perfect for Olympic watching as it requires my attention for exactly 12 stitches every 6th row.  One could say I have just a wee bit of a competitive streak (the way one could say Canadians are just a wee bit into hockey) so I'm hoping that the idea of Knitting for Home and Native Land will be inspiration enough to sustain me when I get to the inevitable knitting black hole (where one knits for hours and makes no perceptible progress whatsoever).

Go Canada Go!

(P.S. For anyone in the neighborhood: we're playing Festival du Voyageur again this Friday, this time inside at the Franco-Manitoba Cultural Centre, if you want to come see us.  You can totally bring your Olympic knitting. I'll understand.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Um, Squee.

If you're here because of the irresistible force that is Lime & Violet, (because really, who can resist their power?  Not I, that's for damn sure) the post that they talked about on today's podcast is here.  (If you're here and you haven't discovered the Lime and Violet podcast yet, go. Go now. Discover them, drink their Kool-Aid.)

I briefly considered trying to be all cool about the fact that my wee blog was on their podcast today, but really, when one is already public about the fact that one plays the accordion...

I was listening to today's podcast on my iPod as I was making dinner.  As soon as I heard my name, I ran into the living room and plugged it into the stereo so Kev and I could listen together, and spent the whole time alternately squeeing and laughing and giggling and pointing at the iPod and pointing at him saying "That's you, honey! See how awesome you are? See?" (Um, I also totally overcooked the potatoes.)

Anyway, welcome to my little corner of blogland, hope you enjoy, and hope you come back. And thanks to L&V for the shout out.  You totally made my week.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Forever Young

When I was a kid, I really liked my January birthday.  My birthday parties were usually tobaggoning, or skating on the duck pond at the park near our house, or, if the weather was prohibitive, bowling.  More importantly, if Santa didn't quite get the message that, no, really, I DID want an Easy Bake Oven above everything else on the list, I always had the birthday ask to fall back on.  Sort of a gift insurance policy.

In my teens and early twenties, I became less keen on it.  People - myself included - are still recovering from the over-indulgences and over-expenditures of the holidays, and are usually not into celebrating one more time.  It's cold out, the resolutions are still in full force, and we're in hibernation mode until spring.  Humbug, birthday-style.

My birthday is less of a big deal nowadays, and I find that it sneaks up on me more than it used to.  I don't think about it too much in terms of a celebration, but the one thing I do like about my birthdate is the new-ness of it: new year, new age for me.  I don't make New Year's resolutions.  But I do tend to spend the 16 days between New Year's Day and today reflecting on what's next for me, and this year is no exception.

Our recent trip to Arizona and the amount of time we spent with people well into their "golden years" there has coloured this reflection for me this year.  While I'm still many years away from my own retirement, spending so much time with people in theirs really got me thinking about it.  People say all the time that they never want to get old, but I don't think it's the getting old chronologically that is the problem.  Though I'm not keen on the idea of getting old physically, I'm not as concerned about that, either. I think for me it's that I never want to stop learning and, perhaps more importantly, I never want to stop wanting to learn.  I think that maybe the secret to the Fountain of Youth is actually not the fountain, but the search for it: not the water, but the thirst.

And so, this year:

I will learn to knit toe-up socks.  I've knit zillions of socks, but they've all been top down.

I will actually take the time to check gauge, measure, count, not fudge sleeve measurements, and do everything else necessary to knit a successful sweater for myself, a project that, in almost 10 years of knitting, I have yet to accomplish.

I will learn to golf. Kevin loves to golf, and has dreams of us golfing together when it's our turn to take advantage of the seniors' discounts.  For the many years until then, I also think the game will be very good for me:  the facts are that I do not like being Not-Good at things, and I will most likely be Not-Good at golf for a good long time.  I think it will help me learn patience, and self-acceptance, and be a good counterbalance to my perfectionist tendencies.  (Please remind me of this the first time I post with much profanity about how much I hate the stupid game and what I did to my stupid clubs on the stupid course because the stupid ball won't do as it's told.)

And more often, I will keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut.

I want to grow old without growing up.  I want to stay young in my mind and in my heart, and keep a sense of wonder about the world. I want to stay humble about my knowledge, and always thirsty for more. And I will start as I mean to go on.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I Did on my Christmas Vacation

Christmas passed in even more than the usual whirlwind this year, and not just because of the Wollmeise.

Kevin's 88-year-old dad is what they call a "snowbird": one of those wise sorts that enjoys the very pleasant summers here on the Canadian prairie, then hightails it for southern climes come winter. (Like I said, wise sorts.)

Kevin's dad winters in Apache Junction, Arizona, and likes to have his vehicle while he's there, so, two days after Christmas, Kevin and I packed everything away and packed everything up and drove him down.

Winnipeg to Apache Junction is a three-day trip, which means, of course, plenty of absolutely guilt-free knitting time for yours truly.  It was actually the perfect circumstance for the newly acquired Wollmeise: normally, I think it would have been at extremely high risk of becoming Sacred Stash: yarn far too beautiful, too precious to ever knit up.  However, being that Kevin gave it to me, there was simply no way I could leave it behind without hurting his feelings. (I'll tell myself what I will.  I did it for him.  Really I did.)

I, somewhat anxiously, somewhat reluctantly wound up two skeins, packed up two patterns, my ipod, and all of my tools and settled into the backseat of the van. I cast on in Winnipeg, knit down through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, wee bits of Oklahoma and Texas, then across New Mexico and Arizona. I knit by a hot tub (OUTSIDE mind you), at a lovely clubhouse while Kev golfed 18 holes, and while I watched the Bowl games.

Behold, my first Wollmeise project.  I blocked it before I even unpacked.

Frost Diamonds by Stefanie Japel, Wollmeise Superwash in Oh Tannenbaum
(extra repeats of final chart to use up as much as possible)

Wanna see more?  Okay!


Hiya, 2010, so pleased to meet you.  I think we're going to get along just fine.