Thursday, December 31, 2009

here's to 2009

Sometimes you can't see something well unless you see it in sections. Small parts. Things that you didn't expect to see are better illuminated that way, and the whole is better appreciated. That's sometimes how I look at things, in details, and then, well, I can lose track of the big picture. Oddly, the photos I shot of my new knitted hat fit this metaphor, and helped me reflect on the year, too.

This hat isn't my design. I had some oddball yarns and thought it might be better all round to rely on someone else's ideas for a starting place. Melissa's Hat is a Green Mountain Spinnery Pattern, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The pattern itself is a very spare one which I figured out, but then had to adjust. (You know, like most well laid plans...spare at the outset, and then adjustable!)

The yarns were special odd bits. The white is a Belfast Mini-Mill yarn, made of Samoyed (dog fur) and a small amount of Merino. That accounts for its warmth and the amazing halo. The black and purple are both Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran yarns, they have merino and silk in them, I think. Then, there's the cranberry colored yarn, a Polwarth/Leicester blend from Rovings. So, two out of 4 of the yarns are Canadian made, but the wool here is Australian. No point, I figured, in designing something out of this, because no one would likely be able to replicate it in these yarns!

The gauge was off. That resulted in a hat that was too big so I gave up on what I'd begun and ripped it out and started with a smaller size. I also suspect either the row gauge was off or that this hat is designed to look like a church with a Ukranian onion dome. It's hard to tell from the photos. Never mind. Once I get into a stranded knitting groove, I'm along for the ride! Also, it's hard to rip out a Samoyed yarn. It has quite a halo--just like the dog.

Many people claim that dog fur is super warm (true), stinky (false) or a lot like angora rabbit. (sorta.) This yarn was well made and the Samoyed was spotlessly clean. I know it didn't smell stinky like some other dog because I left the yarn lying around on couches and coffee tables. Neither of my dogs attacked it, licked it, or showed the slightest interest. That is likely because it doesn't smell--because they've gone after way too many other dogs, cats, rodents, snakes, etc. for me to believe that they have a poor sense of smell. Dog blend yarns have lovely drape, but isn't very elastic or springy in texture.

At the end, I found the hat needed a sturdy hat band to stay on my head, which definitely wasn't in the pattern. (I then improvised, cast on with more black wool, knit a hem casing, and added elastic.) I also found that without an "inner hat", it wasn't warm enough in a winter prairie breeze. (par for the course) Finally, I discovered that I kinda liked what the hat became, and I'm enjoying wearing it.
Note that the horizontal lines across my face in this photo are from the old mirror inset on our kitchen door. I'm older, but not that much older!

So, in conclusion, I would have to say that this hat is a good metaphor for my 2009. It's been a huge year for me. I've had my first two books published. I've moved to another country. I've shifted from doing a lot of freelance writing and design to some freelance editing and occasional teaching. I'm only doing a little writing and a little design, and it's a good break.

I tend to get absorbed in the details...whether it's knitting a hat or something else. I find myself bemoaning the fact that while I wrote two books, I haven't earned anything much yet...and I may never earn anything past the advances. (the sad fact of book publishing these days) I get too absorbed in the negative interactions/experiences that occasionally pop up and follow me around as I became a more public figure. (That's sometimes rough and surprisingly unexpected.) I focus on the book reviews, the personal comments, the details. If you too are interested in those things, Knit Green got a great review here in the latest Library Journal. Oops. never mind...

The big message for me is that, like enjoying the new hat (and not focusing on the gauge issues, the hat band issues, the Samoyed fluff, etc.), I need to remember the big picture. I've had a super year, with great changes and lots of excitements. I can only hope 2010 will be so good.

Oh, and today, the last day of 2009, I'm off to take a look at a loom. Cause, you know, I don't have enough projects and fiber arts gadgets around here...and it's been a 24? year hiatus since I had a floor loom. Maybe time for me to think about it again.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, productive and exciting 2010. May it include lots of joy, including seeing the big picture and--fluffy onion dome hats!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

a very good sale

Hi blog readers,
I owe you a blog post. That said, I've been in a bear-like hibernation the last few days. It might be the snow--we had an amazing 3 days of light, powdery snow-- or maybe it's the quiet that descended here. In any case, I enjoyed it and spent a lot of time staring into space and watching snow drift. When I felt really motivated, I spun, knit, and cooked. (I do have a finished project, which I hope to show you soon.) Mostly, I sat around.
However, Boxing Day sales are upon us here in Canada. The biggest shopping day of the year here is Boxing Day. Luckily, that shopping binge doesn't seem to include the grocery store, where I had full on access to all sorts of fruits and veggies without any crowds.
To my surprise, I discovered that the U.S. Amazon site has embraced the Boxing Day tradition in a big way. With my book. So, if you haven't yet bought Knit Green and you were wanting a huge discount of 56%, now appears to be the time. Seize the day. Or the sale. Or something. I'm pretty poor at this promotional stuff, but I like a sale as much as the next person!
I have no idea why it is so discounted, but if you're looking for an excuse, here it is!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

good reads

Thanks for the all the Hanukah greetings! We had a lovely busy holiday but it's now over. Also, the professor's brother and his wife came for a visit. Now they are back home in New York. We've had lots of excitement and are now settling in for some quiet time. Most everyone else will be busy this time of year with other holidays...we're prepared to do some home repairs, organizing, reading, and movie watching. (not to mention spinning, knitting,and petting dogs...)

For months now I've been meaning to write about books I've enjoyed, especially during the last six months of this year. A while back I scored a secondhand copy of Vikram Seth's book, A Suitable Boy. It sat on the shelf for nearly 2 years while I waited for the right time to read it. "The right time" ended up being while undertaking this big move across North America. I read each night in a different hotel room. I read it when we arrived here and had no furniture. I continued reading it until I finally finished it on our vacation in Crete. It was a stunning piece of literature...a family epic, a story of the early days of Indian Independence and most importantly, a very sweet focus on what it takes for one young woman to find a good life partner. My only regret is that I didn't have this reader's guide along for the ride: Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy: A Reader's Guide,which I think would have helped me understand a lot more about Indian culture and politics.

Talking about culture and politics...when I was visiting my family back in October, I happened to go to Second Story Books, a remarkable used bookstore in DC. I often buy books there that I wouldn't ever have chosen while browsing online. I ended up with at least two books I can recommend.

One is called Next Year in Jerusalem: Everyday Life in a Divided Land, written by Daphna Golan-Agnon. The author is a brave Israeli woman who wrote a heartfelt defense of human rights for all people--and particularly--Palestinians. She's from a distinguished family and married into a famous literary family, which makes her work all the more important as a leader in Israeli society. It's also a very intelligent and worthwhile book with lots of interesting details about daily life in that part of the world. Even before I'd read the book, I respected its contents because Rabbi Forman endorsed it. He's the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. He's also the father of one of my childhood friends. I slept at his house when I visited Jerusalem as a teenager and he impressed me enormously at 16. I don't imagine (for me) there is a better endorsement!

The other book I found, A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914, by Susan Jackel, was also about brave women. This book collected narratives describing the experience of these women as they ventured to Winnipeg (gateway to the Canadian West) and beyond. I enjoyed the Canadian social history, the details of life on a new frontier. I also tried hard to understand the mindset of these women immigrants, who also carried forth the notion of British imperialism to the prairies and beyond. This book was a good counterpoint to all the information I've been learning about First Nations people in Manitoba, and the many immigrant communities (Ukrainian, Polish, Polish and Russian Jewish, Italian, Greek, Filipino,etc.) that have moved to Manitoba since.

In the food department, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the joy I've gotten out of reading a few of Claudia Roden's books this year. (and of course cooking and eating from them...) I majored in Near Eastern Studies and Comparative Literature as an undergraduate and I don't think my interests have strayed too far when you read these!
They are:
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York

Many times, I write something but the end result (an article, essay, or book review) never gets published. One such book review this year was for Anita Diamant's novel, Day After Night. While I won't "publish" the review here, I can sum it up. Holocaust literature is a hard field these days; many important works have already been published. Diamant's novel fills in the gaps in explaining what happened next. After the war, when some survivors made it to Palestine, what were their lives like? How did they cope? This novel is compelling, inspiring, and hard to put down. Worth reading, full stop.

Finally, in the category of beach book read, I've been listening to these fun Greek-American adventure novels by Tori Carrington. The first one is called Sofie Metropolis - A Sofie Metropolis Novel (#1). These are great while knitting or spinning, and it feels like I have company while I'm drinking a Greek coffee at home by myself! (I like the reader for the first two books especially.)

It seems to me that it's a writer's job to read a lot. That's one of the ways I "feed" myself, get excited about new places and ideas, and stay inspired. 2009 was a big year for me--I moved to another country and both Fiber Gathering and Knit Green came out--but I wrote (and rewrote and reread) those books a while back. For me, every day is a chance to read new things!

Hope I boosted your "to be read" list for 2010! Please leave me comments about books, especially if you have additional books to add to my list. :)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hanukah, Hanukka, Channuka...

More than one person has asked me recently how you spell Hanukah. Well, you spell it חנוכה or more traditionally,חֲנֻכָּה‎! What's that, you say? in English? :) This is a Hebrew word, and it is transliterated (or "Romanized") in a variety of ways. Here are a few I know of: Hanukah, Hanukka, Channukah, Chanuka, and the list goes on. Basically, if the way you spell it sounds remotely like the word itself? You're good! No mistakes here. Call it....alternate phonetic spellings.

We've also been to a party or two. One was a grown up, dress up affair with lots of good food. For another, I was asked to do a singalong at a community Hanukah event. It was maybe more accurately described as a carnival, or maybe a 3 ring circus. Anyhow, it went ok, although there were some organizational difficulties. There weren't a ton of takers for the Hanukah songs, although it's certainly a traditional thing to do on the holiday. The professor shot a photo or two with me as I sang with a few new friends. (This is an unidentified friend, no idea of names!) Note the red handspun was held in an enormous gym.

Last night we had some friends over to eat dinner. (roast beef with chutney, potato pancakes --latkes, applesauce, coleslaw, dilly beans, smoked gold eye fish, rhubarb wine and raspberry cake...a feast!)

The professor also made sure our "gelt" (it means money in Yiddish, but also means chocolate coins for Hanukah) was appropriate to our big move this year. Usually we buy chocolate coins with Hebrew on them. This year, he found chocolate loonies and toonies.

Traditionally, you get treats each night during this holiday. Maybe sweets and maybe a bit of money on Hanukah, but no really enormous presents. Highlights from when I was little included the socks and underwear nights, the donate to charity in your honor night, and the calendar for next year night... My mom did buy us one or two big gifts but mostly we could predict what we'd receive.

This year, our big gift to ourselves was block heaters for our cars. Or, as our friend described it, long underwear for the car! It's not glamorous but it's a necessity here, especially since we don't have a garage.
Hanukah's a pretty low key holiday (on par with Arbor Day..), but we've been having a great one here in Winnipeg. Compared to places where we struggled to have anyone with which to celebrate this, or past years, it has been wonderful indeed.

It's a bit nippy still. Our weather has been roughly in the -24C range (roughly -11F) but with variation. For instance, it was -18F earlier this morning, and with windchill, this falls into the category of "Ohmygoodnessit'scoldoutthere."

We're staying toasty inside. Many of our windows have a little jack frost visiting. We've got double (and sometimes triple) paned windows in this house. However, the outside storm window is an old fashioned one, so sometimes there is a bit of ice build up there. The "inside" double paned window is a newer one, but in any case, it makes pretty decorations when you look out!
The dogs are hunkering down, for the most part, although they do get a bit stir crazy. We do one short walk a day, and otherwise it's run to the yard, do your thing, come right back in!

It is supposed to get warmer later this week (maybe even -9C or 16F!) and that "heat wave" will be enough to let us take a walk and enjoy ourselves outside again. In the meanwhile, I managed to skate indoors--much warmer inside than out--at a rink yesterday, and I kept myself upright and going round and round for 45 minutes. A new record! Soon I won't be so sore, I hope. I forgot I even had these muscles.

My goal is to get back to a place where the skating is more fun and less painful. I imagine that with practice, I'll get there. I'm really looking forward to getting out on the river even if I'm just walking on the footpath and not skating.

Wishing you winter joy, no matter what your weather!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

at the mill

Part Two of the Sheeples Trip:
After seeing the sheep...
When we went inside, the mill seemed so warm and comfortable!
Heidi, the farm dog, agreed. She apparently has a wool stuffed bed under a table, because if a bed is not provided for her, she makes one out of the wool in the mill! This mutt's sweet nature was just a delight. She greeted us at the car and accompanied us affectionately almost wherever we went. She's not allowed inside the farmhouse, but instead stays in a little mudroom in the sunshine, where she was happy to doze as well. In her spare time, she herds sheep, scares away coyotes, and patrols the farm.

The mill itself was about 1500 square feet, and it was full of fleeces, equipment, and projects. The reason we were there was to look at and discuss the processing equipment, so my friend C. set to work asking questions and I looked around.

The yarn lined up neatly was mostly commercial yarns--purchased in order to use occasionally in weaving, on the knitting machine, and in practice. There was really very little to buy (good for me, since I'm on a fiber diet...) since the Sheeples folks had just finished a busy show season and were doing custom orders. They'd sold practically all of their own wool yarns! I got to admire other batches of alpaca and fine wool as it was processed though, and that was a treat! Touching things is free!

Joe and Kim had two looms in the work area. One was warped and if the yarn spinning is going smoothly, Joe can sit down and weave while the machines are going. The other, smaller looom was not warped--there doesn't seem to be time to keep all this equipment going full steam at once.

Some of the most interesting equipment included a rewired washing machine, exclusively used for washing fleece. Also, there was a homemade "humidifier." This involved a large canning pot on a stove. It sounds funny, but when it is so cold, there is very low humidity. Static cling isn't just a nuisance when fibers are that unless the mill is humidified, the machines don't work well and the fibers don't get processed into pindrafted roving or yarn.

One thing I realized is how incredibly necessary it is to be a self starter who is mechanically inclined with an operation like this. The mill was way, way off the beaten track. If one of the machines broke or wasn't adjusted quite right--well, it was up to Joe to fix that. I was very impressed by how carefully he'd thought out each stage of the processing.
It also made me wish my father was along--he would have appreciated exactly how fine tuned all this machinery was! I have to settle for describing it on my blog instead. Sorry you weren't there, Dad, but gosh it is a lot warmer where you live!
In other news, we're slowly adjusting to a new level of cold here. Our dogs are getting used to the cold temperatures and seem to prefer a mid-day (warmer) do I. I was also thrilled by a weather report that indicated it might be getting up to 20F (-10C) next week. It sounds like a heat wave!
For those who celebrate Hanukah, have a good holiday! We look forward to lighting the first candle tonight.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

with the sheep again

Thanks for all your kind words about the Library Journal article! We were thrilled around here. My mom had a good visit and went home with: 7 skeins of Icelandic handspun (blurry photo was all I could snap), Winter 2010 Olympics clothing for my nephews, 3 wool dress hats (The Bay--Hudson Bay Outfitters- has world's largest selection of winter hats, apparently!) and other goodies. I also think she managed to have some rest, which is important as she is often caring for other family members at home.

It's amazing how fast the temperature drops here. We're now down to temperatures of -20C or -4F and that's sometimes the high! This morning, for the first time, the dogs really didn't want to take an early morning stroll...they ran out into the yard and ran right back in! I didn't blame them as the temperature, without wind chill, was -24C or -11F. With wind chill readings, it was -34C or -29F. We walked just a few blocks at lunch time instead.

Yesterday, I went with a friend to Sheeples, a sheep farm and woolen processing mill in the Interlake Region. This is 90 minutes north of Winnipeg. We had a nice drive in the bright sunshine and the first thing we did was visit the sheep. These were super friendly Merino cross sheep with lovely thick wool growing. The flock was bred with other breeds for color, too. These are most of the outdoor photos I got--turns out my digital camera does not appreciate super cold temperatures. I will post the indoor mill photos in the next post.

There's always access to the barns with these sheep runs. Also, there is a guard llama and a farm dog and that's scares off the coyotes, which are very close by. If you look closely at this photo, you'll see brush at the back of the scene. In the Interlake region, there are some trees growing naturally every so often and it's called "the bush." In the summertime, they frequently get moose up there, and they also see a lot of deer, elk, and timber wolves.

The wool these sheep grow is super fine and very nicely processed. The Sheeples approach is to spin a semi-worsted yarn or offer a pin drafted roving to handspinners. It's very close to a worsted yarn or a combed top.

The flock itself has an interesting origin. Back in 2002, I visited a sheep farm in Wellandport, Ontario...not that far from the Niagara border. I mentioned this farm briefly in Knit Green. Their focus was handspun yarn and they had all sorts of knitted products in an on-farm gift shop...a great sustainable model! The farmer's first name was Hillie and when she sold her farm, she sold the flock to Joe and Kim, the Sheeples' farmers. Weird that I may have met either these exact sheep or their parents before, in another province... this is not six degrees of separation. More like no degrees of separation?

When we stood around meeting the sheep (here's my friend C. petting a very sociable lamb), I was bundled up in two hats, two sets of mittens, and a down parka. My feet, in their winter boots (good down to -25) were a bit cold, but otherwise, I was ok. C. (born in Saskatchewan) said it was a good test of my winter gear. What she didn't say is that it was a good test for me, too. I tried to enjoy the bright sunshine and not notice the cold.

This worked until I noticed the farmer's beard was freezing up around his mouth! Luckily, the indoor mill area was toasty warm. More about that in my next post. In the meanwhile, I am enjoying winter time here so far...especially since it grows such nice wool!

For those who know my professor-he is famously comfortable at low temperatures- he's been wearing his wool hat and down parka outdoors, and claims his leather gloves may not be warm enough. I saw him put on wool socks this morning and a long sleeve shirt. He's even possibly revising his opinion about soup--he ate a large helping of homemade potato soup last night for dinner. (I did tell him that if he felt it wasn't cold enough yet, he was welcome to go sit on the curb until he was properly ready to enjoy hot soup, but he didn't take me up on it!)

A new theory: when it's below 0F (-18C), he might even like soup...

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Friday, December 04, 2009

making Mom proud

My Mom is visiting town so that's first priority around here..sorry for the blog silence. Today we've been busy--an art gallery, a museum and a trip to "The Bay" (Hudson Bay Outfitters, an enormous department store) I got home and found out that Fiber Gathering has been listed on this!:
Library Journal's Best Books 2009

Wow! Pretty big stuff! (It's in the How-To Books, just scroll down, down, down or search for Fiber Gathering if you follow the link.) This should mean that libraries will hopefully buy copies of the book--making it available to even more readers. I am thrilled!

Have a good weekend!

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