Tuesday, 28 January 2014

With gratitude

Lately I've been making a concerted effort to keep a running tally of things I'm grateful for in my head. It's all too easy for me to focus on sad/bad/scary things (even things that haven't happened and probably never will--I'm especially good at focusing on those sorts of things), and forget that despite the sorrow and trials, there are some pretty good things happening in my life on any given day.

Granted, sometimes those things are small, but good is good.

So at night while I'm in bed trying to fall asleep, I make a mental note of all the things I'm grateful for. It's particularly fabulous if I can think of things that happened in the preceding 24 hours, but that's not a hard and firm requirement.

I make up the rules, after all.

I kind of wish I was one of those people who had to struggle to see the bad, but I'm not. Bad leaps out at me all the time, while I play hide-and-seek with good. But the interesting thing is, focusing on gratitude is making it easier for me to spot it on a more regular basis.

And that's good. Good! Yay!

Take this "Shimmery Hearts Scarf" from Red Heart, for example...
Right after I took this picture I had to pull it all out right down to the first row because I'd made a mistake.

Okay, there's nothing actually good in that at all, except that I didn't get too far before discovering the mistake.

The thing I'm very grateful for happened much later in the process. I thought I had more than enough yarn to complete the scarf (I used Caron Simply Soft Eco, which is made with 20% post-consumer recycled polyester--one scarf keeps one bottle out of landfills!), but my skein ended a little more than halfway through the border.

I'd mined the skein from my stash and I was pretty sure there was only one of them, but after a quick search through the piles I was rewarded with another full skein! More than enough to finish the scarf and make a companion hat.

I could have used any colour to complete the border, but I'm grateful (see what I did there?) that I found enough of the same yarn to complete the scarf the way I'd envisioned it. Just like this:
Note: the colour is actually truer in the first picture.
I'm going to donate the hat and scarf as a set through Hats Off To Liz, which is a charity close to my heart in honour of a woman I'm grateful I once knew.

Monday, 20 January 2014

My body is a wonderland

So yeah, about that worrying habit of mine? Turns out it can make you spring a leak. In your eye.

I no sooner (almost) get my stress-induced reflux under control when I develop central serous retinopathy--a condition that is apparently most often caused by stress. Of course it is.

In a nutshell, it's a fluid leak into the back of the eye which causes blurriness and ocular migraine-type vision issues. No permanent damage. Or very, very minimal at worst.

To make a long, blurry story short, I'm under observation. The symptoms have almost completely gone (yay!) but they'll be keeping an eye on me (haha!) just the same.

I was so relieved it wasn't a stroke (because I worry about that too, of course) I almost burst out laughing while I was making my follow-up appointment with the opthamologist. Because my brain is like an evil genius, you see. It only lets me think I'm in control, doing healthy things like going to therapy and trying to be all Zen master-y about my life. Brain sits there quietly waiting and watching, then zaps me with a leaky eyeball just to remind me who's really in charge.

Friggin' Brain.

So I'm feeling a little bit battered and bruised today. But I'm trying to look at this as a two steps forward, one step back sort of thing. It's a good reminder that I'm not doing quite enough to manage my stress, and that a few things I've been terribly lazy about starting (like getting back into a regular meditation habit and exercising more than one a month) can no longer be put off.

But aside from that? Well, of course I should probably spend more time doing relaxing things like playing with yarn. Right? Because that's totally the other takeaway here.

More. Yarn.

I sat down with the unfinished sweater during my lunch hour and made some good progress. I'm picking it back up tonight after dinner while I watch some guilty pleasure TV (The Bachelor--don't judge).

I have yarn. I will outsmart Brain. One of these days.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Friday yarn roundup

Or, things I saw on the internets that made me go, "OooOOOOOOOooh!" this week.

Cat Hat

Confession: we like to dress Dibley up so we can point and laugh. Here he is last Halloween in a hockey jersey (don't tell him it makes his butt look fat--we told him it was slimming).
So when I saw this in iheartneedlework's Etsy shop, my little heart skipped a beat. A cat turkey hat? Oh yes please! 

I hate it when people look at someone's work and say, "oh, I can totally do that myself", but in this case it's kind of true. My apologies to iheartneedlework, but hopefully providing the link to her Esty shop is enough of a mea culpa for planning to use her work as inspiration for new ways to torture...uh...dress up my cat.

Little Fox Knitted Mittens

My mom has been making me mittens all my life. In fact, I was cleaning out the coat closet last week and pulled out four pairs of Mom originals. So it's no wonder I've always had a soft spot for hand knit mitts. They're like little hugs you wear on your hands (awwwww!).

And that's why I love pretty much everything about this adorable pattern (which, as you'll see, has been made into not just foxes, but mice, racoons and other woodland creatures). I would have begged my mom to make me a pair of these when I was a kid.

I'm half tempted to beg her to make me a pair now...

Happy weekend!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

I really do need to disable my thinker. Oh and the bunting is finished!

I worry too much. And then I worry about worrying too much. Therapist Lady is trying her best to break me of this habit, but I kindly pointed out that I'm 43 and this is not new behaviour. Not by a long shot.

So, you know, good luck with that.

Lately I've been worrying about the ailments Dr. Google has recently warned me that I may have, the cat who can't seem to throw up a hairball (which has, in the past, resulted in overnight vet stays and upsettingly large vet bills), my freelance job security (and that curiously absent client), the other cat who has kidney failure and is in what the vet said could be her last year (despite the fact that recently she's been acting all kitten-y and so, I am concluding, is now aging in reverse), that tapping noise that happens every time the furnace turns on, and the obscene amount of sugary crap I ate over the holidays.

On top of all that I've also been worrying about what to write here. On my own blog. My. Own. Blog.

Therapist Lady has SO much work to do.

But I did take one thing off her plate: today I came to the conclusion that I'm going to write whatever I want in this space. I don't know who's reading, so I'm going to hook, knit and write whatever the hell I feel like hooking, knitting and writing.

You're welcome to come along for the ride. Or not. I'll be here either way. Hooking, knitting and writing.

And sometimes even finishing projects, like the Valentine's Day bunting that I am oh so pleased with! It's corny and old-fashioned and makes no sense at all in our family room, but I love it. LOVE IT.

Like the frilly wreath, I'll bring it up here to my craft room/office to live during the off season. I imagine this room will eventually be festooned with all manner of seasonal yarnification, which is fine by me. Totally unprofessional, but I don't hold meetings in my own office so we're good. Which is a blessing, really, since today there's a tube of cat laxative on my desk, just over there near the "World's Greatest Writer" trophy that my sibling presented to me. So it must be true.

Anyway, as soon as I sort out that stack of magazines in the basket by the fireplace (what the what??) I'll get back to my hooks and yarn.

Maybe I'll see you around. But I'm going to try not to worry about it one way or another.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Getting there!

Bunting in progress...

I wish I could get the pinks to photograph correctly. The dark pink is actually a little more salmon coloured, and the light pink is way less violet. Ah well.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Bring on the bunting!

I love Christmas--even now that grief has made it a little more complicated than I prefer my holidays to be. But during those first, clean, blank-slate weeks of January after Christmas has been tucked away again for another year, my mind easily drifts to the next sweet thing: Valentine's Day.

I didn't have a proper valentine until I met My Beloved 15 years ago, so for most of my life February 14th was about familial love. That meant a velvety, heart-shaped box of chocolate from my grandma, cinnamon hearts for my dad, Laura Secord treats from my mom, and, of course little folded paper valentines for my friends at school.

I never really got past the excitement of Valentine's Day. Partly because I love chocolate so much--and any holiday that features chocolate prominently is pretty awesome in my book--but also because it's just so pretty. Pink, red and white everything.

I'm having a group of friends over in a few weeks for our monthly charity Yarnapalooza (a topic for another day), and I thought it would be rather appropriate to use yarn to decorate the room in which we'll be happily hooking and knitting (and laughing and talking and eating!).

My frilly Valentine's Day wreath is already hanging up nearby, and I've decided the fireplace mantel, newly divested of its Christmas trappings, is the perfect spot for a pretty little heart bunting to make things extra festive and sweet.

Because I love bunting. Love it. Even though there's not a single scrap of bunting in my house. Yet.

I found this sweet and simple Valentine's Day bunting pattern on Sarahndipities (whom I know nothing about other than the fact that she obviously makes kick-ass bunting patterns), and dug through my stash for some valentine-y colours.

Could I have attempted something sophisticated (as sophisticated as bunting can be, I suppose) by using a cream coloured yarn--or at the very least just one colour? Sure. But since Valentine's Day is traditionally a riot of pink and red, that's what I'm going for here too. January is so devoid of colour (especially if you live in an area where everything green is now covered in white), so it's nice to usher in February with something bright and cheerful.

I whipped up the first three hearts during my lunch break today. And I'm totally feeling the love! I figure I'll probably need between 10 and 20 of these little motifs, give or take, so this is a pretty quick project depending upon the length you require your bunting to be. It's also a great way to use up little odds and ends in your stash basket (or closet...).

My poor half-finished sweater is just going to have to wait until this bunting is finished, I think. Luckily there's still all that white stuff outside, and lots of time for sweater wearing...and finishing.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Friday yarn roundup

Or, things I saw on the internets that made me go, "OooOOOOOOOooh!" this week.

Wintertime Mice

I stumbled across these sweet-as-sugar amigurmui mice and literally gasped out loud. The cuteness! Oh, the cuteness! It's fascinating to me the way some people just have a knack for taking a great pattern and making it even more fantastic by selecting the most perfect yarns and colour palettes. My Beloved routinely tells me that I have a habit of making sketchy colour choices (there was, for example, the great butterscotch kitchen incident of '06), so I'm awed by those who have a good feel for colour and colour combinations. Without help.

The only issue with the wintertime mice is that the blog where they live is written in another language. Luckily there's a link to the original home of these adorable mice embedded in the mystery blog. So thank you to Amigurumi To Go for the incredible mouse pattern that I will absolutely be making...as soon as I check with My Beloved to find out what colours I should be using.

Rosy Tea Cozy

I have been wanting a tea cozy for ages. I've gone and gotten myself hooked on Barry's Irish Tea (which has spoiled me for all other tea for the rest of eternity), and now need a tea cozy to go with my habit.

This crocheted stunner is definitely one I'd consider making, although Louise over at Tea at Weasel's frankensteined it together using a couple of different patterns and adjusted it to fit her tiny teapot. But the inspiration is still really all that matters, right? And her English garden cozy is about as inspiring as it gets (just don't tell the makers of my Irish tea).

Fabulous Fox and Cat

I think these tiny knitted pillows from over at Hideous! Dreadful! Stinky! also made me gasp, because look at the cute! I grew up with a tuxedo cat who had a mask just like these two little guys, and I can absolutely see one of these made up in black and white to match my old Petey. They'd be super cute Christmas tree ornaments for cat lovers too (even though I think one is meant to be a fox).

I'm pretty excited that this is labeled a beginners project, although admittedly the thought of doing colour changes is a little daunting. I once sat slack-jawed watching a friend knit the most beautiful but terrifyingly intricate Nordic-style mittens with what looked like toothpicks (but were really tiny double pointed needles, she explained). That memory sits in the back of my head whenever I see a knitted pattern that comes with any sort of chart.

But my fear of knitted colour changes feels like manageable one to overcome. I should work on that. Maybe with this pattern...

Celtic Afghan

My mom knit a gorgeous, cream coloured, tassel bedecked afghan for me when I was in my teens. Cables and bobbles and diamonds and all manner of intricate work went into that gorgeous blanket, which I still have--and use! She also whipped up a manly knitted afghan for My Beloved the first Christmas we were together (it also still gets regular use--we keep our house kind of on the chilly side).

So when I saw this crocheted afghan from Lion Brand Yarns I was flabbergasted. I know nice afghans, and this is a niiiiiiiice afghan. As a crocheter who secretly longs to be a better knitter, I love the fact that this blanket looks knitted. It's not often you see such convincing cable work on a crocheted item. Kudos to whoever designed this masterpiece!

And that's the kind of week it's been. 
Now bring on the weekend!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bring on the cinnamon hearts and pink cupcakes!

I  FINALLY, the finished wreath!

I wish I'd tracked the hours it took to make this frilly beast of a wreath. Crochet Crowd's Mikey said it was a 6 or 7 hour project, but he was wise enough to use a worsted weight yarn to create the original Christmas version he designed. Patons Astra, which I chose for the sentimental my-mom-made-a-sweater-out-of-it-for-my-dad reason I mentioned before, is a DK weight yarn. That means it took more stitches to fill up the frame. Hundreds and hundreds of seemingly endless, eye-crossing stitches...

But I'm very happy with the way it turned out, so all's well that end's well! If you don't count the ocular migraine, of course.

It took one wire coat hanger and three full balls of Astra, plus what amounts to probably another 3/4 of a ball of random red yarn scraps that I had to scrounge through my stash to find in order to complete the project. It's hard to tell, but in addition to the Astra there's some Bernat Satin and a little bit of Canadiana mixed in here.

It takes a village.

And now back to that abandoned sweater still missing its sides and sleeves...

Monday, 6 January 2014

All you need is love (with apologies to The Beatles)

I credit my mom for my yarn addiction. I can't remember a time when she didn't have knitting needles in her hand, and I grew up knowing that the furrowed brow, rhythmic clicks and whispered counting meant something beautiful was being born of sticks and string.
Mom and her knitting, circa 1976
She taught me how to knit when I was a kid. I think my biggest achievement was a yellow poodle pop bottle cover (mercifully long gone). But she made magic. Vests, mittens, hats, scarves, leg warmers (in the 80s), sweaters and the most beautiful baby things imaginable. I often think about the elementary school teachers who were lucky enough to have a baby while I was their student. They all got gorgeous handmade gifts from my mom.

Mom still knits today, although not as frequently now because of her arthritis. The very last thing she made for my dad before he died was a bright red cardigan. The poor man spent the last 10 months of his life freezing cold, no matter what the weather or how high the heat was turned up, so she made him a cheery new sweater to keep him cozy. The ultimate creative act of love.

He never wore it to the hospital for his thrice-weekly dialysis appointments. Mom thought it might be because he was embarrassed that the red was so vivid, but I suspect it was because he wanted the brand new sweater to have absolutely no associations with the hospital. Home was his favourite place to be, especially after spending three months in hospital at the beginning of 2010, and I think he just wanted the sweater to be something that always just meant "home".

So on the third anniversary of his death this past Saturday, I dug through my stash to find three leftover balls of that bright red Patons Astra to make a special project. Knowing what the yarn had been used to make, it's taken me all this time to finally bring myself to use it up. But I think this project is just perfect for it.

I give full credit to Mikey over at The Crochet Crowd for the pattern and inspiration, but I did make a one big change: Mikey's version was a Christmas wreath. Mine is a little something different, inspired by love of yarn, tradition and family.

I started by wrestling a wire coat hanger into the shape of a heart, using the hook as the wreath hanger. It's all a little lumpy, but it won't affect the finished product.

The next step was adding a base layer of double crochet stitches around the wire frame. It took a good long while and was a really annoying process. Crochet is often 99% fun and 1% pain in the ass. Look how interested Lucy (old kitty by the fire) is in my base-layer crochet drama.

And now, three double crochet stitches into each stitch on the first round. The volume of stitches is what creates the rippling. Hey look! I made a little magic myself!

This last picture shows the start of the third round, which is three double crochet stitches into each stitch on the second round. This took FOREVER. But the effect really is worth it, if I do say so myself. It's like this pattern was made for a frilly Valentine's Day wreath.

I'm currently working on the last round (single crochet, chain three, single crochet in the next stitch). It's adding a little extra "frill" and volume, which is making me a very happy and satisfied yarn addict at the moment.

You know, I don't always have good ideas. I'm glad this one is turning out as well as the preview in my head: a heart in memory of my dad and in celebration of all kinds of love--even the yarny variety.

Thanks for getting me hooked Mom.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Finding my way home

The great reproductive disaster of my 30s left me feeling like I was in limbo most of the time. Caught between cycles, between doctors, between losses, between jobs, and torn between my desire for a living child and my steadily increasing fear that there could easily be even bigger disasters to come if we continued to try. It was chaotic and draining and, to be honest, pretty terrifying most of the time.

I often look back and wonder how I survived it at all.

The interesting thing is, the limbo extended to my personal space too. Things were left unfinished, unpacked, unpainted, unsorted. And I desperately wanted to leave this house. If it wasn't the place where we were going to raise a family, I didn't want it anymore. We bought it for that reason, and without children to fill it, it felt like it didn't fit us anymore. And neither did the neighbourhood, with its ever-growing collection of kids spilling out of almost every door but ours.

We turned Thomas' nursery into a sitting room a few months after he died, and we used a third bedroom as a shared office. But the last room sat filled with random bits and pieces--the change table, the old corner hutch from my childhood bedroom, and a lot of junk. It was like a middle aged woman in the midst of a midlife crisis with no idea what she was doing or where the hell her life was headed. Um, yeah...

It was part storage room, part "just in case" room. I just didn't know what to do with it and couldn't commit to anything. So there it sat, along with my gnawing desire to just pack up and leave it all behind.

Luckily I'm lazy, and married to someone who hates moving. We're still here. And I'm very slowly but surely making the house into something that does fit.

That extra room is no longer idle. Far from being a dumping ground, it's now doing double duty, acting as both my office and craft room (where the aforementioned yarn closet resides). It's taken some time to settle in--and there's still plenty of organizational/storage work to be done--but today I put pictures on the wall. And that's always a sign that I'm planning to stick around for a while.

Last year My Beloved had an artist friend draw three illustrations of Dibley (fat boy cat) for my birthday. Patricia Storms captured his essence with absolute perfection.

This is my favourite:

All three Dibley illustrations are now on the wall above my desk (an old kitchen table), where I can be inspired and amused by them every time I sit down at my computer. Because inspiration is never more important than in an office or craft room.

The change table remains. The top drawer is filled with Thomas-related mementos, but the rest of the drawers are packed with art and craft supplies. On the wall above it is a cross-stitched bedtime prayer that used to hang in my nursery and was earmarked for Thomas'. My grandmother stitched it nearly 47 years ago for my sister's nursery, and it got passed down the line. I couldn't bear to put it in storage, so up it went, right next to a porcelain kitchen clock (which steadfastly refuses to keep time) that used to be in my grandparents' cottage.

I realize this room sounds like an interior design nightmare of mismatched furniture and random sentimental keepsakes--and I suppose it is--but it's a cozy and comfortable space that I am slowly falling in love with.

And that's saying a lot for a storage room that used to be stuck in limbo.

Moving forward is good.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hooking by flashlight, as one does

The power has been out for nearly three hours now. On the coldest day in five years, apparently. All the Winnipeggers I know are scoffing, but for us Ontarians -20C (-31C with the wind chill) is a wee bit nippy. Even nippier without benefit of a furnace.

Thank God the gas fireplace works without power (who knew?) so I’m reasonably warm as long as I don’t stray beyond the confines of this room.

So I won’t. I’ll just continue to sit by the fire and write until my laptop battery dies, and then hook by flashlight.

Look at me! I’m practically a frontierswoman! If you don’t count the fake, battery-operated candles I’m using as auxiliary light (along with a heady mix of scented Christmas candles).  It’s all vanilla and cranberries in here. And darkness. And cats huddled by the fire.

But this is not even close to the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. Not by a long shot. So onward and upward.

Now, about this sweater I’m crocheting by flashlight…

Two years ago My Beloved gave me a gift certificate to buy yarn from my favourite LYS, Spun Fibre Arts. Because buying “real” fibre is a bit of a luxury to me, it took me months to figure out what I wanted to make. And I’m pretty sure there was at least one trip to the store to pet the yarn too, which is an important part of the decision-making process. And not at all weird.

I finally settled on a lovely cardigan pattern designed by Joy Prescott and picked out a gorgeous, fine merino superwash aran (which is surprisingly soft and feels oh-so-fabulous slipping through my fingers as I crochet) from Diamond Yarns in a rich shade of charcoal gray.

And then I put the whole works in my yarn closet (yes, I have a yarn closet) and promptly forgot about it. I got distracted by chemo caps and Christmas presents, and then more chemo caps and  more Christmas presents. Two years’ worth of not-the-pretty-charcoal-sweater projects came and went while the beautiful gifted yarn sat idle in my closet.


I don’t know what made me think about it again after nearly 2.5 years, but I pulled it out yesterday and starting hooking away during the aforementioned Winter Classic hockey game (like the good hockey widow I am).

I’ve made dozens of Amigurumi toys and hats, a handful of scarves, and even a baby sweater and a couple of purses, but I have to confess that I’ve never made an adult garment before. I’m a little afraid that I’m going to look like a baby elephant in it (I’m reminded of the great home ec trackpants debacle of ’82), and the idea of possibly producing a sweater version of Theo Huxtable’s infamous "Gorden Gartrell" shirt (look it up--hilarious) is making me twitchy. But having finally remembered the lovely sweater pattern and yummy wool after all this time, I can’t bear to hide it all away again.

So I’m hookin’ and hopin’.

And in the meantime the power has come back on, so I can do it with light and heat! Huzzah!

Look! Look! Isn't she pretty (so far...)?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A new adventure

At the risk of sounding dramatic, yarn kind of saved my life. Certainly my sanity.

It didn't keep me from eating my weight in cake the in year following my dad's death in 2011, but it did give me a focus during the years I spent losing babies. There's nothing like being able to create something--anything--when it feels like the very last thing you'll ever be able to do is create something.

In fact, I did fail at baby making. Four attempts, four losses (five, really, since the last was a set of twins). But during those difficult years I clung to my ability to make things out of yarn. Ugly, mishapen things at first, but I didn't care--I furiously hooked my way through skein after skein just the same. Being able to wrest control away from a tightly wound ball of yarn and whirl it into something of my choosing in the midst of such utter chaos in my reproductive life was an unexpected salve on a great, gaping wound.

I also wrote. A lot. But as time passed and decisions were made, I found it more and more difficult to continue contributing to that fledgling blog. It happens to a lot of babyloss bloggers. At a certain point the loss blog just runs its course. And that's a good thing, I suppose. I certainly haven't figured it all out yet (hence my recent return to sessions with Therapist Lady), but I don't seem to need to ruminate endlessly on the minutia of loss anymore. At least not in a blog, anyway.

The losses are part of me in a way they weren't before. I've learned that time doesn't heal all wounds. Time merely gives you the tools you need to figure out what dressings are going to keep those wounds from continuing to bleed unchecked. And now that they're securely bandaged and as much a part of who I am as my right arm or left eye, it feels like the right time to shift focus a little.

And so, String Theory.

Yarny goodness.

The soothing rhythm of hooks and yarn: over, through, under, through. The quiet click and slide of needles and yarn: through, around, under, off.

And today, this:

I finished off the last few rows of this simple knitted chemo cap while My Beloved watched the Leafs beat Detroit in the Winter Classic. The cap was made with Lion Brand's Tweed Stripes, and the colours kind of remind me of some sort of layered tropical drink. Yum!

Knitting is not my best sport. I'm relearning the lessons my mom patiently taught me some 30 odd years ago, so I'm not particularly adventurous. This rolled brim chemo cap pattern is one I've repeated at least 10 times, but I'm determined to take a creative leap and try something a little less mindlessly simple one of these days. With the help of my patient and talented knitter friends near and far, of course, because I've also learned that you can't make it through difficult times without kindhearted people holding your hand every step of the way.

Up next: I started a crocheted cardigan! Stay tuned...