Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Standing Tall

This one's new enough to not quite count as a Throw Back contribution, but then again it is a project that has been started, finished, blocked, and transported halfway across the province to the intended recipient.  Thank you emails and care instructions have also been exchanged.

Last year was a rough one for us, and interestingly (or predictably) my knitting suffered.  By the summer I really wasn't knitting much of anything at all... A baby sweater and a couple of pairs of socks in the WIP/UFO basket.  The summer was insane and crazy and just seemed unending, but into the fall and I was knitting again (see previous about socks).

At one point over some wine in Manitoulin, André's Aunt Carol and I were talking about knitting and socks, and how her feet and hands are always cold and how she's really into crafty things, but knitting just wasn't something she ever did much of (although you should see the cross-stitch art in her place, unbelievable).

Well then, hint taken and once I was back on the knitting train, it was time to hunt up some patterns!

Aunt Carol is one of those rock-like people in our lives.  She and her husband Terry are level headed, down-home, smart, grounded, forces of nature.  They are such a great partnership, and André and I hope that once we've been together as long as they have, that we'll have a relationship something like theirs.  Oh, and now they have 2 little grandbabies too!

Cold feet want warm real wool love, and I wanted to give Aunt Carol something that reflected how we see her and her family.  I wanted to give her socks that would last forever, in a pattern that was subtle and interesting but solid (aka no lace) and preferably in local(ish) yarn.

Elm by Cookie A fit the bill perfectly.  Long traveling ribs have structural interest without being finicky and help keep the socks snug again the foot.  Now partner that pattern with Briggs & Little DuraSport in Oatmeal.   The result:

Beautiful warm, solid socks that will hopefully last a good long while.

Sorry the picture's not the best... some of the other Aunts were in town over the holidays and volunteered to be sock delivery facilitators, so it was a bit of a rush block/dry/pictures/package for sending.  They have requested their own socks as payment.  I'd best get on those.

Stand tall (with warmer toes) Aunt Carol and know that you are an inspiration to us.  Love, Jen

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Backup A Minute Here

So yet again I find myself writing another "I can't believe it's been so long since I posted anything" post.  And thinking that I don't really have that much to say.  But it isn't really true, it's getting to the point where I have so many projects in various stages (and a slightly staggering number actually finished, blocked, and already given away) that I'm hitting the point where I don't know where to really start.

There's been some more baby stuff (no, not for me, sorry mother-in-law), some interesting very different side projects, and a whole whack of socks.  Lots of socks.  If it wasn't for the baby stuff I'd start wondering if all I knew how to knit were socks.  Even most of the recent UFO sightings in the stash are socks!

Andre and I have talked, and while we don't normally do this, we've decided on a not-quite New Years resolution.  This year will be better.  It will be a fresh start.  We will get things done, we will move on, and we will do better than just survive.

So I've just dumped the yarn related contents of my phone camera, and our good camera into a huge folder. I'm going to start sorting through them and writing blog posts.  Some of this stuff is from a while (years!) ago, but I never got around to sharing.  Another surprising bunch is from the past fall when (sock) knitting reentered my life with a vengeance.  But mostly, I just want to get this stuff off the "I should do that" list.  I have a few hours before work, so here it goes.

For my birthday, as is becoming custom, I got a yarn store gift card.  And so off I trundled to Wool Thyme with the vague notion of wanting more self-striping sock yarn.  I'm often looking for a pocket project to take to family gatherings, the movies, etc, and socks are so super easy.  A couple of balls of Patons later (and probably some stuff out of the discount bin, but with the wool fumes, my memory is a bit hazy) I had my fix.

Fast forward to October and the Annual Carleton University Butterfly Show.  This show has been going on for as long as I can remember, and through my volunteering at the university, I became intimately involved in the coordinating of 1200 school kids and teachers for guided tours.  Three years in a row.

Even though I've long graduated, and there isn't really much pulling me back to the building for visits (just about everybody I knew then has graduated and is gone), this show is essential.  While I can't work the week days like I used to, I'm there open to close both weekends.  We have 12,000 visitors, and while Ed the Amazing does what he can, there are a number of volunteers (Jim & Catherine, Rick, Ed's family, and some core Let's Talk Science volunteers) that just appear every year to help out.

For many years I was a smoker, and so was more than willing to spend most of my volunteering time outside "working the lines".  Basically I am entertainment for the crowds as they wait upwards of 2 hours just to get in.  It means that I do a lot of talking and answering the same half dozen questions over and over and over again ("what happens when the show is over?" "how many species" "what's happening to the monarch butterflies" etc).

This year, without smoking to keep me entertained until the crowds get really going I brought my knitting.  I figured I would get a couple of rounds on one pair of socks, but low and behold over 2 weekends I had knit 3 whole socks!

Pair #1 in a lovely set of greens and purples had originally been intended to land in either a gift box or for me.  But Ed's wife mentioned how much she loves green, and so the "maybe for later" gift was carefully wrapped up and left in a little bag on Ed's doorknob with care instructions.  Plain, fraternal, self-striping warmness.  And their daughter wants me to teach her to knit next year!

Pair #2 which saw 1 sock knit and the second just started the second weekend of the show became a Christmas gift for my darling friend Christine (of Irate Avian fame).  We're curling again this season, and she's picked up a second night and may have hinted at a second pair to keep her warm.

You'll note that these are identical socks.  I don't normally knit identical socks from self-striping yarns, I normally can't be bothered since it needs to be perfect.  Christine is one of those friends that will not only appreciate the identical-ness, but that it's not normally something I do and will so treasure them a wee bit more.

Oh, and in case you missed it, I did use smoking in the past tense.  Today makes one whole year - 365 days - without a single cigarette.  It was rough for a while, and I didn't want to mention earlier in case we fell off the wagon, but if it's good enough for the insurance companies, it's good enough for us.

André and I are ONE YEAR SMOKE FREE.

I'm proud of us.

And little Hunter of Arr Baby fame and his first birthday party last weekend.  It was pirate themed! Apparently he loves the outfit, so much that his parents provided a coordinating hat.  Too much cuteness!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Memorial Day, the Skanes edition

While I find myself here writing another in memory post, this one is more of a reminder of lives well lived.  And of keeping memories alive.  And creation.  This spring has been dedicated at least partly to Poppy and Nanny Skanes. 

Because it is also Father's day, I'll start with Poppy.  I've mentioned him a couple of times in the past, and to tell all of the stories about him that I've heard over the years would take years more.  There could be no-one more fitting for the position of patriarch of this clan than Poppy.  And in March of 2011 he left us. This was the reason for the great Skanes migration of the summer of 2012 back to Newfoundland.  His children and their families wanted to take him home.

Something that I hadn't mentioned then was that Poppy was cremated.  And the family asked André to build the urn. This is what is holding Poppy now, back in Newfoundland, sharing a plot with his own father.

To this day there really aren't words to describe the family's reaction to seeing the urn for the first time.  Even talking about it still brings tears to André's eyes.  I can not believe how fortunate I've been to have been able to be part of something like that.

Unknown, or at least un-understood, by me, the Skanes' have honoured me hugely, and all with simple phrases in passing.

While I knew that Poppy loved and accepted me, I never had the privileged or pleasure of meeting Nanny Skanes.   Every so often though, a member of the clan would say something like "Jen's always knitting, just like Mom [Nanny].  They'd have gotten on like a house on fire."

Or, "She's just like Mom [Nanny]".

While Nanny's been gone for 20 years, the victim of a vehicle accident, the past weekend the Skanes', Vokey's had a reunion in her honour.  For people like me, it was like meeting her for the first time.  It wasn't just her kids and their kids either.  Some of her siblings and aunts came along too.  And bless Eileen's heart, that family probably loves her more after that weekend that they could have when she was alive, if only because there's a fair sight more of us now.

Nanny was a fierce, loving, inspiring, hardworking, creative beautiful woman.  There were hours and hours of stories.  Even better than sharing the stores was finding out how each person that knew her saw her differently, but everyone held her in the highest regard.

The family didn't have the easiest time in their early years, something Nanny always wanted to do was have a hand-made Christmas.  Every person drew names, and the gift they presented must have been made with their own hands.  Well, Christmas is a lot of months away, but hand-made gift exchange there was.

The rules: $20 supply maximum.  Must be made by you for the name you drew.

The twist: Don't put your name on the gift - the recipient must guess who made it for them. 

Imagine everybody's surprise when not one, but two uncles opened hand-knit scarves and guessed, incorrectly, that the were from me.

The recipient of these beauties though, totally had my number.

They're traditional Newfoundland thrummed mittens.  The wool is from Upper Canada Village, a local heritage site where they live like it's 1866.  With a working wool mill.  The wool has almost no processing so the resulting yarn is lanoline rich.  The result - beautiful soft mitts which will just become more and more waterproof with wearing.

And interesting twist - the other half of the aunt who received these had my name.  And carved it delicately into a key chain for my knitting bag!

The staff of the resort we rented (yes the family took over the ENTIRE resort - no, it's not small, there are just a lot of us) were telling us afterwards that they were laughing and crying right along with us.  And if anybody ever finds themselves out on Manitoulin Island, you will stay at the Red Lodge Resort.  They are all honourary Skanes/Vokey's after surviving us that weekend.  Oh, and it's one of the most beautiful places ever.

Better than any gift though was a comment from one of Nanny's sisters that shared our breakfast table.  She pointed her fork at me, then looked over at André's parents and said "she really is just like Eileen you know".

I can only dream of being half the person the Nanny was in her life.  But to hear that the family that knew her best sees even a little something like her in me, I will cherish that forever.

Although it might have also had something to do with the fact that I was knitting at the table...

In memory and with deepest love and respect, to Eileen Vokey.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Springing Back

It's been a bit of a rough winter, and the last few months have just dragged on.  But finally, there is a small start towards the beginnings of spring.

Spring means growth and new life, and around here there's been a bit of both. 

First, and cutest by far, the completed Arr Baby set.  Little Hunter was born in January, and finally got his welcome to the world gift.  Not that there was a huge rush, the smallest size in the pattern was 1 year.

Adorable, no? No modifications to this one, just knit straight from the pattern.  I used Cascade Cherub, which was ok to work with.  Super amazingly silky soft, but splitty and fuzzed if there were tangles to unknot or tinking required.  Overall, a fun project, going to a sweet little guy with some awesome parents. 

Along with a new birthday to celebrate, March saw another year completed by our middle sister Alison.  Back over christmas she bemoaned the fact that a pair of socks I had given her a long while ago had finally been walked through, and might there be another pair in the future?

Well, I can't let a request like that go unheeded, so into the stash I dove. 

Success #1 - remember those boot socks from 2 New Years' ago?  Perfect!  And no rushed knitting!

But as nice as those are, they are good sturdy, slightly borning socks.  Not amazing OMG I love these, socks.

Success #2 - A quick trip up to Yarn Forward for a rusty red (to compliment her beautiful blonde colouring) and a few weeks later, Paper Moon.  Knit in medium, with an extra foot and leg repeat for length.  Sadly, lost the tag for this one, but it was a treat to work with.  A little coarse in the hand, but after a quick wash, it softened right up.  No pronounced alpaca halo yet either, which is nice to be able to show off the cables. 

And hey, presto, happy sister!  Although her birthday gift to herself of a couple of acres of land adjoining her property now is probably a bit cooler than hand knit alpaca blend socks.  Maybe in a couple of years after there are alpacas on that land I'll be able to give her hand knit socks made from sheared from her flock and spun by me alpaca.   That would be cool. In the mean time, she can walk all over her new land with warm toes. 

Along with people growth, there's been a bit of greenery appearing around our place too.  Something I've always wanted to try - indoor herb gardening.

And lo! Plants!

That's our thyme, oregano, and basil.  Also growing salad greens, chives, lupin (for the garden), and sage.  Still waiting on my rosemary, mint, and hot peppers to appear though. 

While spring gets itself organized, I'm going to find a sweater and start cleaning out the back yard.  We've barbequed once already this year.  Time for another!  And a beer. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Left for the Living

Dear January,

Tomorrow is going to be a hard day.  Tomorrow I am going to a funeral.  For the father of my friends.  My friends who are the same age as my youngest sister.  I confess that I didn't really know him that well, but if my friends, his son and daughter, are anything to go by, he must have been an amazing man.  And, dear January, what makes it worse, is they've known this day was coming for almost a year.  Cancer. 

But you couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, January.  Because the day after tomorrow, is going to be even harder.

The day after tomorrow I go to another funeral.  For the father of one of my best friends, and father-in-law to my other best friend.  A man that I've known for almost 17 years.  While I can't really say that I know any of the parents of my friends, hearing the stories about and from him for over half my life, he was pretty amazing.  And, dear January, what makes it worse, nobody had any idea this was coming.  Stroke.

Within the last week I have watched the lives of two families taken apart.  And those left behind will spend the coming days, weeks, months, and years putting themselves and the families back together.  And those that are left will keep living.  Different lives maybe, but alive all the same.

Years and years ago, when André's grandfather Poppy (Patrick) was still with us, he visited a local army base at Trenton Ontario.  And came home with a cross stitch pattern kit for the cap badge for the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, with whom he served in his youth. 

I finished it a few months later, and gave it right back to him, complete with custom frame by Andre.  And back it came to us when he passed away almost 2 years ago.  Looking at it every so often won't bring Poppy back, or even help to fill the gaping hole in the family left when he died, but it does remind me of him.  And if that's all I physically have from him, it is enough. 

The families of my friends have each other, like our family did when Poppy passed away.  All the pictures, stories, and memories are never ever enough.  But they are all that's left now. 

So, dear January, I would really appreciate it if you could pass through your last few days leaving the rest of my friends and loved ones' families intact.  You've taken more than your share this winter. 

In deference to you, I will go tomorrow, shake hands and say

Good curling

And the day after tomorrow, salute and say

Ready Aye Ready

And the day after that will be a new month. 

Don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Walk On - Goldilocks Socks for my Father

I promised more on the Christmas socks for my father, so here we go.

My father and I haven't always had the smoothest of relationships.  As a small kid I have fond memories of crazy things we did together.  Like our 6 o'clock walks.  We lived near a fairly large green space, and dad would somehow manage to not only get himself up and going that early on a Saturday morning, but then drag an 8 year old out of bed too.  We kept a field notebook and everything (I still have it too).  For a lot of those years we were buddies and it was awesome.

But then my parents split up and dad moved out.  And for a 12 year old with her life all planned out in front of her, that was the apex of uncool.  After living the "Canadian dream" (3 kids, dog, and yes, even a minivan) the change in the family dynamic was unsettling to say the least. There was no way that I could really understand what was going on at the time, or even really say how I was feeling myself, other than I resented the complications to my perfectly planned out life.  And nobody can wield the stinging sword of resentment with more accuracy and deadly force than a teenager.  There were a few years there where we didn't talk much at all. 

In the intervening 15 years since, dad and I have danced the awkward dance around each other of not really knowing what's going on inside the others head, but still wanting to try to figure things out.  As I got older things got progressively easier.  Maybe dad was mellowing, maybe I was.  Maybe we both finally figured out that the other person was trying, but in their own way.  Whatever it was, 10 years ago dad was there for us in a huge way and now we own a house directly because he was willing to take a risk on a couple of 20-year-olds who were dreaming big. 

Life at university helped too.  Lunch dates with dad were every few weeks or so, depending on midterms and assignments (writing for me, marking for him).  And when my university life came crashing down around me, it was nice to have somebody on my side who not only knew me, but the system I was struggling through.  That and Zac Brown and Dixie Chicks summer cottage sing-alongs. 

It hasn't all been smooth sailing, but the older I get the more I come to understand that it's just that we are different people with different outlooks and different ways of doing/feeling/being.  I am a bit carefree, passionate, liberal, and outspoken.  Dad (and the whole side of that family really) are conservative, reserved, and staunch.  Added layer of complexity, both sides of this are highly educated and extremely opinionated. Family dinners are sometimes intellectually fascinating.  And others a matter of how long can I grin and bear it (and sometimes it's not long enough). 

My family tends to chuckle when I say things like this, but I've grown up a lot over the years.  And while many of the decisions I've made I would make the same again, I feel that now I might be better and handling them, especially when those decisions involve other people.  I would still choose to walk myself down the aisle on my own at our wedding, even 5 years later.  But now I realize that I was probably the only chance my father would have to walk with his daughter on her wedding day.  And it makes me sad that he won't have that opportunity.  I would have still chosen the same, but think that I could have talked it over better with him.

All of this to say, that while dad and I aren't buddies like we used to be, we aren't complete strangers anymore either.  Our relationship is probably always going to be a work in progress - just like the Goldilocks socks he got for Christmas.

I hadn't knit anything for dad in a long time.  There was a sweater a pile of years ago, but it was an early effort, and not one of my best.  With Christmas rapidly approaching, there was no chance for another sweater, but socks should have worked. 

Over the years I've developed a basic toe-up sock pattern that is pretty adjustable.  Cast on XX (usually just less than half of the foot circumference).  Inc 4 every other round until number for foot circumference reached, knit along for 30-60 rnds depending on length of foot desired, inc for gusset XX to double the number of stitches on the sole needles.  Turn short row heel, s1, *K1,s1p to last, ssk last with gusset / s1, p across p2tog last with gusset.  Race upwards towards cuff for 40 - 70 rnds, 10-20 rnds for cuff.  Cast off. 

Basically I can write a post-it note with a few numbers and I've got a sock pattern.  For me, on 2.5 mm needles it would look like this:  

CO 20 to 48 40rnd, 50 rnd, 10rnd, CO

So cast on 20, increase to 48 for the toe.  Knit 40 rounds, increase for the gusset, turn the heel, knit 50 more rounds, then 10 rounds of cuff.  Simple no?

So when I'm knitting socks of difference guages or with different needles, sometimes there are some adjustments to these numbers.  And when I'm knitting with a different guage, with different needles, for someone I've never knit socks before ever, there tends to be a few more adjustments to numbers. 

Dad's socks were too small, WAY too big, just a little bit too big, too short in the foot and too short in the leg.  All at different times.  By the time I had one sock that I liked I had already knit enough stitches to more than finish a pair if I had got it right the first time.  My pattern notes look like this:

In the end I got it (on the far right of that mess).  According to dad the sock (yes, singular) he received at Christmas was a perfect fit.  The second was finished in time for the annual family gathering to celebrate my Grandfather's birthday on the 27th. 

Just so I never forget, knitting for dad with 2.75 mm needles the final pattern for K2P1 ribbed socks: CO24 to 60, 45 rnd, 85 rnd, CO.

Like our relationship, these socks had some great moments (I absolutely LOVE the colours and the stripes are a fantastic size, just when you get bored with one colour, it changes!) and others where it was all I could do to not just throw up my hands and walk away.  In the end though, it worked out.  It gives me hope that our too close/too far relationship will level itself out too. 

Love you Dad!  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another New Years Tradition

New Years day at our place has been the same for years.  Wake up whenever we feel like it, have Irish cream in our coffees, start a fire, and kick back to watch whatever marathon is on that we are interested in.  It is a day for just us to do absolutely nothing, and do it together.

This year was no exception.  Toasty fire, tasty champagne, and 9 hours of Pawn Stars and 3 hours of Museum Secrets.  Amazing.

It seems though, that another tradition is springing up around this time.  Since I'm going to have hours and hours of knitting time, I've taken to going yarn shopping a day or so before New Years, lest I run out of things to knit.  Stop laughing André.  Just because there is wool in the house does not mean that it is the right wool for the job at hand.  Unless you want your new hat to be knit out of recycled silk.  Didn't think so.

This year, the tasks at hand are 2 baby outfits and a new hat for André.  One baby outfit I've got the yarn for, so we're good there (see André, stash is useful, otherwise I would have had to spend more money).  And so, chaperoned by the darling hubby, I came home on Monday afternoon with this:

That's a whole pile of Cascade Yarns Cherub and more Cascade sport.  It's not all in the picture, seeing as the second I walked in the door I promptly cast on one of the projects.  The sport is going to be a new hat for André... apparently the one I knit for him last year isn't quite right.  The Cherub on the other hand is going to be the ARRR! Baby Set from Knit.1 Winter 06/07.

Multiples of hours of knitting later:

Front and back done.  Now on to sleeves and pants!  Although I bought WAY too much yarn... maybe a hat to go with?  We'll see.