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. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stealth Stockings

After the adventure of knitting a lace shawl in two months, I realized that Christmas was only a month away.  And I had plans for knit Christmas gifts! 

The original plan looked something like this:
- Socks for Amy
- Socks for dear friend
- Baby jacket for Goddaughter
- Baby outfit for friend of André's (baby due in January)
- Maybe socks for second sister
- Baby outfit for Aunt of Goddaughter who is expecting in March


What actually happened by Christmas:
- Socks for Amy - Check!
- Socks for dear friend for my father.  Yes, singular
- Baby jacket for Goddaughter - pattern and yarn picked. 
- Baby outfit for friend of André's (baby due in January) - pattern picked, yarn I think will need buying.
- Maybe socks for second sister - her birthday is in March... store bought gift for Christmas
- Baby outfit for Aunt of Goddaughter who is expecting in March - um... right. 

So I give you what I got done, and hopefully I can work on the rest of the list over new years. 

First, socks for Amy.  Way back in February I went down to visit my darling sister, and picked up two beautiful yarns which were to be converted into knitwear for her.  The first became wrist warmers.  Just.

The second was a gorgeous sock pair from Turtle Purl in Gothic Plum, destined to be a second pair of wrist warmers.  Which apparently I was going to design from scratch, and because I didn't know how long the yarn would go, I wanted to knit from the fingers down. 

Or Amy could ask for socks while we were visiting her in Toronto a few weeks ago.  So socks it was!

They are in fact Chimaera from Knitty.  Toe up, which was essential - Amy is quite tall, and I wanted to get every inch I could without having to pull back and rip out the leg to have enough for the toes.  Although, having the balls pre-divided was probably the smartest thing I have ever heard of!

Added benefit (and the reason that Turtle Purl is my current knitting HERO) - the balls are dyed to match each other exactly.  Start in the same spot and you get identical socks.  No kidding.  These are my first pair of identical socks from self striping yarn!

I wasn't sure how the slipped stitch pattern would look over the leg and foot in the self striping yarn, but the longer I knit, the more I LOVED it.  Also, the gusset detail?  Amazing!

Super amazingly happy with these, and Amy loves them too. 

These socks went so fast, I thought for sure I would have time to knit another pair.  Especially after talking to my other sister Alison and finding out that apparently socks would be a good gift for my father.  Although I think his wife meant store bought ones, but oh well.

A quick peak in the stash revealed a denim coloured self striping ball perfect for simple ribbed socks for Dad.  

Suffice to say, Christmas Eve came around and here's what I had completed...

Update: by the end of Christmas Eve I had the gusset finished. Christmas morning saw the heal turned.  But by the time it came to go to my Father's for Christmas lunch, there was only one sock wrapped up. 

More on that story later. 

In the mean time, I'm tossing the stash for baby outfit yarns.  One picked, another might warrant a trip out in the cold.  We'll see. 

Merry Christmas dear blog, and we'll see you in the New Year!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Crazy Pi? Yes Please!

I've been working at a retail job for just over two years.  When university ends, life must go on and that means that bills must be paid.  I got really really lucky with this job, and landed in a place where the work is fun and interesting, and the gang of people around me are some of the best.  Both at their jobs, and as people to hang out with for 8 hours a day.

Every year the store has, what I'm told, are epic Christmas parties.  And up to this year I hadn't gone to any of them.

I'm not much of one for office parties to start with - it's that fine balancing act of hanging out with people from work in a social setting all the while trying desperately to come up with something to talk about that isn't work.  Add to the mix that these Christmas parties are semi-formal-ish - guys in suits and ladies in dresses (or suits), and I'm way out of my comfort level.  Heck, I only own two dresses (and one of them I'm not ever likely to wear again, being my wedding dress and all), and it's only by a miracle that I haven't broken an ankle in the few times I've worn high heals.

So my first year I didn't go.  I'd only been there two months, didn't really know the gang, and wasn't sure how much longer I'd be around (because I still foolishly thought I could get somewhere with my grad degree). The next year, I thought about going, but we had a curling Christmas party the same night, and I really like those guys.

This year though, apparently I had no choice.  One of the guys even bought me a ticket to make sure I went.

Now, the dress that I would be wearing is sleeveless.  And the party is in December.  And since I'm not much of a dancer, I was expecting to get cold.  I do have a pashmina wrap in the perfect colour to match the dress, but I figured that if I was going get kidnapped asked to go to this party, I might as well take this as a chance to do something that I've been meaning to do for a long time.

I was going to knit myself a black lace shawl.

I've wanted one since my high school prom.  So much classier than the typical matching-fabric-wraps that come with most dresses.  And the vintage look is something that I love.

The party was set for December 1st.  I was informed that I was attending October 2nd.  Two months to knit a lace shawl?  No problem!

Do I sound crazy yet?

October 3rd I came home with Dropps lace silk/alpaca blend from Wool Thyme in a beautiful shiny black.  Even Andre got into the game.  I turn around for two minutes and look what happens:

He's too good to me!

After poking around for a while I settled on a tribute to Elizabeth Zimmermann with the EZ 100th Anniversary PI Shawl: Camping.

This pattern was super easy to follow, and fun to knit (once I got a few rounds in and stopped dropping my needles).  And for the first few weeks I thought I was going to make it with piles of time to spare.

Note to self, when a shawl pattern starts with CO9 and and ends with BO867, it's going to slow down each time you double the stitches.  As pretty as it is, I was about ready to strangle myself with the yarn while working through the vines. 

Thankfully, Andre and I had planned a week in Toronto in early November, and while I didn't get much knitting time while we were there, there was still the train ride out and home to put serious length on this thing.

And on November 27th, there it lay on the bed with a couple hundred pins in it, blocking away happily to itself. With two whole days to spare!

I made a few small changes to the pattern.  Firstly I used true lace weight yarn rather than the fingering weight called for.  The biggest difference (other than the damage to my eyesight from trying to see lace knitting in black yarn on a train at night) is that it came out about 4' across rather than the 5' + indicated by the pattern.  Which worked out really nicely because it hangs perfectly to my elbows and stays out of the way when I'm sitting down.

Change #2 - the spiral wheel was written to be entirely done with ssk.  Not my favourite thing to do, especially since it takes longer per stitch than K2tog.  So I reversed the pattern, K2tog-ing happily around and now the spirals twist the opposite direction.

And while I do love the rounded edges in the original pattern, I was a little bit pressed for time, so I left the edging with points rather than scrounging another several hundred pins.  You know what?  I love it.

So two days latter, off I toddled in my high heals, dress, and shawl to the Christmas party, and had fantastic time.  Turns out most of my worries of work place Christmas parties were unfounded.  My department and my store are both packed with awesome fun loving people, and we had a blast.

Now to figure out what to knit to wear next year...