Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sandhill Cranes

I haven't been doing much knitting during my time off, but I did spend the last couple days birdwatching. I spent the night in Lodi, something I have wanted to do for several years, to see the Sandhill Cranes that winter there. I'd never seen one before-- they stand three to five feet tall and have a wingspan of up to six feet.

These photos are early morning shots of the birds at the ecological preserve where they roost at night. I actually arrived the previous evening just in time to stand in the rain and watch hundreds of cranes fly in. The flocks are so massive that at first I thought I was seeing an approaching helicopter.

(To see truly amazing pictures of Sandhill Cranes, check out Adventures in Birdland.)

They are quite vocal and make the oddest sound, almost like a purr. It's hard to see in these pics, but they have a patch of bald red skin on top of their head. I mainly took photos from the comfort of my car because it was COLD there, something I don't often experience. I don't knit a lot of warm wool items because they just aren't needed where I live, but in Lodi I was wishing for a thick warm scarf and hat. Brrrrrr.

Fortunately I don't have to return to work until Tuesday, so I have several more days to get out and do more birdwatching. It's a nice way to end the year.

Wishing you a very happy new year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Taking Refuge


I love being home, especially in the winter. I like to hang out in my pajamas, curled up in bed with the cats and a book, doing a little knitting here and there. There was a time in my life when I had a passion for travel, but these days I mainly want the peace and quiet of home.

But after being cooped up in my apartment for five days in row, exhausted and trying to shake off a cold, I wanted to run away from home. I couldn't stop thinking about my job and other subjects not suitable for one's vacation, and almost (but not quite) wished that I hadn't taken this week off because I really wasn't enjoying it.

Then everything changed.

I took a two hour drive to my favorite wildlife refuge. I swear that place is magical. Every time I go there, which is usually once a year, I ask myself why I don't visit more often. Spending time surrounded by wetlands and wildlife is so healing; it profoundly lifts my spirits.


A big storm is coming in today, but tomorrow I plan to get back on the road to visit another refuge. I wouldn't quite say my passion for travel has been restored-- I'm not ready to jump on a plane or anything-- but I have rediscovered a joy that somehow slipped through my fingers. Again.

If you live in the states and would like to visit a refuge, check out the National Wildlife Refuge System for more information.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Wishes

Today is the day I've been waiting for. It's my last day of work until next year.

I feel like my life has been a whirlwind since Thanksgiving and now I can finally stop and catch my breath. This time off between Christmas and New Year is so important to me for rest, rejuvenation and reflection.

It has been a truly wonderful year. I treasure the friendships I've made through blogging and look forward to deepening those friendships next year.

I'm going to take a break from blogging until after Christmas. I wish you all a very happy holiday and peaceful new year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introducing the New Techniques 2011 KAL


* The New Techniques 2011 KAL Ravelry group is now available and going strong. Everyone is welcome! Feel free to join at any time during the year.*

Tonight while playing around with an idea for a knit coin purse, I started thinking about how reluctant I am to learn new knitting techniques. Yet once I take the time to figure it out or find the courage to ask for help, the technique usually turns out to be quite easy and incredibly helpful.

For example, I used to avoid patterns that involved short rows because I didn't understand how to wrap and turn. But once I was shown how to do it at my local yarn shop, it turned out to be fairly simple and opened up a whole new world of patterns I can now knit.

So I started thinking. I've been looking for a knit-along (KAL) to join in 2011 and haven't found one, so why not start one myself? I'm a little nervous no one will want to join, but I'm going to put it out there and see what happens.

My idea is each month we will learn a new technique of our own choosing to build our skills and confidence, and we'll share what we learn on our blogs and/or our Ravelry group. It will be up to each person to figure out how they are going to learn the technique (from a written tutorial, YouTube video, workshop, knitting friend, DVD, etc.) and you can use the new technique to knit whatever you want-- an accessory, clothing, toy, decoration, swatch or whatever.

I came up with a list of possibilities, but you can choose to learn any technique you want. Here are some ideas:

I-Cord
Picking up stitches
Magic Loop
Felting
Short Rows
Cables
Crocheted Edging
Stranded Knitting
Slip-Stitch Color Knitting
Bobbles
Nubbles
Fair Isle
Lace
Beads
Mattress Stitch
Kitchener Stitch
Knitting in the round
Continental Knitting
Provisional Cast-on
Picot Bind-off
Three Needle Bind-off
Knitting with Wire
Tunision Crochet
Duplicate Stitch

Would you like to join? I hope so!

Here are the loose guidelines for the KAL:

-The first week of each month, post to your blog and/or the Ravelry group the technique you have decided to learn.

-During the month, occasionally give an update with info such as where you learned the technique, how long it took you, challenges you faced, tips for others who want to learn it, etc. Post photos of your project if you want and any other details you care to share.

That's about it! The KAL will start in January and be open all year to anyone who wants to join at any time. And if you get busy and need to skip a month, that's perfectly okay.

12/19 Update #1: I created a group on Ravelry called New Techniques 2011 KAL. Feel free to go there and join the group!

12/20 Update #2: I woke up this morning and discovered that 32 people have joined the Ravelry group so far. That's wonderful!

12/21 Update #3: We're up to almost 100 people on Ravelry. I'm so excited. Thank you to all who have joined!

12/23 Update #4: Please feel free to grab the button off my sidebar and link back to this post.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why you should start blogging



I noticed that the beginning of a new year is when many people start blogging. With 2011 right around the corner, I want to offer encouragement to anyone who might be thinking about creating a blog but is still on the fence.

There are plenty of reasons to start blogging:

-To connect with other people who share your interests and passions.
-To establish an electronic journal of your daily life.
-To keep family and friends informed of what is happening with you.
-To promote your products or services.

But the best reason of all is that you don’t need a reason.

Your blog is like a blank canvas that you can fill any way you want. Write about your kids, your cats, your garden. Post pictures of your travels, your neighborhood or an ordinary day in your life. Focus on your favorite crafts or recipes. It’s up to you. Your blog can have a central theme or be a hodge-podge of thoughts, photos, and ideas … a little of this and a little of that.

It’s okay not to have reason for blogging, and it’s okay not to know where blogging will take you. You can just start and see what happens. Like some bloggers, you might end up being published in a magazine, becoming a long distance runner, or swapping houses for an Italian holiday. Or you might simply discover a sense of quiet enjoyment that has been missing from your life.

One of the wonderful things about blogging is connecting with a network of people who appreciate your art, encourage you to pursue your dreams and offer support during your life journey. Bloggers are the kindest and most generous people around.

Your blog will touch others and can change their lives without you ever knowing it. Your words matter, your thoughts matter, your art matters. So come and join us.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Simple Lace Scarf Pattern

I wrote about this scarf last month, but wanted to officially post the pattern with decent pictures. That's my sister Hil modeling the scarf after I gave it to her last night. She's just starting to get a baby bump.

It's a simple one row lace scarf knit on big needles. The Malabrigo yarn that I used is pillow soft. I'm sensitive to wool and usually can't wear it next to my skin, but this yarn didn't bother me at all when I tried on the scarf.



After I washed it in rinse-free Soak and blocked it, the pattern opened up and it got quite a bit longer. (Flora-scented Soak smells SO good. )

If you want your scarf narrower or wider, just be sure to cast on a multiple of four stitches. I think this pattern would also look good in a fine weight yarn using much smaller needles.


Supplies:

Two skeins of Malabrigo Merino Worsted

Size 15 needles

Abbreviations:

K2: knit two stitches

YO: yarn over

PSSO: pass slipped stitch over

To knit the scarf:

Using size 15 needles, cast on 16 stitches.

Row one: *K2, YO, slip one stitch purlwise, K1, PSSO*, repeat to end of row.

Repeat row one until scarf reaches desired length.

Cast off and enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quiet time






It's a good thing I'm done with all of my gift shopping because I had a small meltdown at the mall yesterday. It happens at least once every holiday season (but usually more).

The stress, the crowds, the running around, the exhaustion. I end up snapping at some poor sales clerk who is probably more frazzled than I am. I apologized to the young woman at LensCrafters who triggered my tantrum yesterday and drove straight home for some much needed quiet time.



Today I'm trying to take it easy. It's relaxing just sitting in the living room with the sliding glass door open, listening to the distinct sound of the hummingbirds in the Eucalyptus trees. They make frequent visits to the feeder I put up a couple weeks ago-- this picture was taken a few minutes ago.

But there remains a gnawing inside of me that wants to go out and run around some more, to spend, spend, spend because the dozens of gifts I already purchased couldn't possibly be good enough.

I'm not going to succumb. Instead I'm going to do the three things that I know will calm me down so I can make wise choices (including acting like a grown up when I have to wait too long in line):



1. Go out for a leisurely lunch.

2. Take a long walk.

3. Get in bed, snuggle up with my two cats, and read a good book.

Have a good weekend, and may you be meltdown-free.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

The joy of knitting books

This morning I started to write a post about my favorite knitting books. I was going to begin by telling you that the books I've bought over the last five years were a good investment, but I don't plan to buy any more for a while because they tend to be pricey and there are plenty of free patterns available on the Internet.

But something funny happened. As I was writing, I realized how much I love my knitting books. I return to them again and again for inspiration, to revisit favorite patterns, refresh my memory on how to do certain techniques, and sometimes just to look at the pretty pictures. They are particularly useful late at night when I'm too tired to read a novel but not tired enough to fall sleep.

It was difficult trying to pick my favorites because almost all of them have something special to offer. They're like comfortable old friends. The worn out Leisure Arts books I bought when I first learned to knit have a special place in my heart. The Louisa Harding books are simply gorgeous, and the Knitting for Baby book has some of the cutest babies I've ever seen (the patterns are quite nice, too).

The more I thought about it, the more I recognized the value of knitting books and began to rethink my decision not to buy them.

So this evening I treated myself to a a book that caught my eye last month at my local yarn shop. More Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson.

It has some of the cutest patterns I've seen in a long time, like this knit house and fingerless gloves. There are many more patterns I'd like to knit, but even if all I ever do is look at the pictures again and again, it was totally worth the price.


I've only owned this book for a couple of hours and I already love it.

Do you have a favorite knitting or craft book?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sock progress


I made quite a bit of progress on my sock over the weekend, which kind of surprised me.

I think I was holding my breath, waiting to discover a dropped stitch, short row mistake, or some other glitch that would give me an excuse to abandon the project in frustration. (See, I really can’t knit a sock! So there.)

But it didn't happen. The toe is done. The heel is shaped. The cuff will soon begin.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think might actually complete an entire pair of socks this time. Up until this point I have only knit one ugly orange cotton sock and a half of a pretty bamboo one.

These might be the reasons I am on track to finish this particular pair:

1. I’m using wool yarn. So much easier to work with than cotton or bamboo.

2. The yarn is soft, pretty, and self-striping. Love those stripes.

3. It's the toe-up method rather than cuff-down. I prefer it, maybe because it's the first method I learned.

4. I’m not troubled by the little imperfections here and there. As my wise sock teacher once said, “This is your first pair of socks, not your last.” Or in my case, this is my third attempt, not my last.


On a different subject, a big thank you to AllFreeKnitting and Totally Tutorials for featuring my pattern for a miniature knitting bag on their website. It's a great holiday project because it can be used as an ornament, to decorate a gift, or even turned in to a brooch. One clever knitter on Ravelry made a smaller version as a key chain.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Simply Knitting

When I started this blog almost two years ago, I had a vision, albeit a blurry one, of what it would be about. I wanted to design original knitting patterns, share them on Ravelry and improve my skills by knitting larger and more complex items.

I did end up designing a few things. Nothing terribly complicated, just some easy scarves, bags, booties and fingerless gloves. My mesh bamboo scarf is the most viewed page on my blog, and with the arrival of cold weather the gloves are getting a little bit of attention. It's gratifying when someone knits one of my patterns and posts the project on Ravelry.

But it's been a while since I designed a pattern. And I've not attempted to knit anything too big or complicated since I started this blog other than a lace shawl (which turned out to be rather small and easy). At this point in time, I'm knitting garter stitch scarves.

Garter stitch scarves. The kind that are your very first knitting project, the kind that are supposed to get monotonous after you've made one for each member of your family. I've read enough knitting books to understand that garter stitch scarves are kindergarten knitting; they are the finger painting of the fiber world.

But the truth is, I like how they look and enjoy knitting them. I don't have to remember to use my row counter or glance at a pattern every few minutes. It's like being transported back to a simpler time before you knew about tricky techniques like a Turkish cast-on or three-needle bind off, when you had no idea how to use circular needles and didn't care, when terms like K2TOG and YO made your eyes glaze over. In those days, knitting with acrylic yarn was perfectly acceptable and the smallest needle size in your collection was maybe a US 6 (but you never used it).


So here I am, finger painting scarves while forgetting how to do a proper wrap and turn. Simply knitting. While I do plan to return to the world of purl stitches, yarn overs and short rows, for now the basic act of creating something with two sticks and some pretty string is enough.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The art of being slow

I'm a terrible cook and seem to be getting worse every year. There was a time in my late 20's when I knew how to cook well enough to get by, but my tastes have changed since then (hot dogs for lunch don't cut it anymore). Enter my new favorite book:


Cooking Basics for Dummies! This book is great because it is really basic. If the recipe tells you to thinly slice an onion, you can turn to an illustrated page that shows you how to slice an onion. Really basic.

Last night I made a simple dinner of a salad and an entree using recipes from the book. It was one of the best meals I've cooked in recent memory. Nothing got burned and it wasn't too salty or oily. But it took a looooong time to make it.

I wanted to follow the recipe exactly because I have a tendency to miss important steps like adding essential ingredients or reducing the oven temperature. So I chopped and sliced at a snail's pace, reading and re-reading every word, without wandering off to watch television or play with the cats while my food cooked in the oven. At first I felt ridiculous taking so much time to make a simple meal and told myself repeatedly that I should be able to do it faster. But eventually I relaxed and let myself enjoy the process of cooking a careful meal for myself, and that might have contributed to it tasting so good.

Isn't it funny how we value speed? I'm beginning to think it's highly overrated. I am constantly trying to figure out how to knit more quickly, but maybe the trick is to learn to enjoy doing it slowly, to savor each stitch, each row, each little chunk of time dedicated to creating something with your hands. The instructor who taught my first sock class told us that whether we knit tight or loose, we should make adjustments to the pattern rather than trying to change the way we knit. I thought that was great advice for life in general. Acceptance. Not trying to change yourself. Being present to who you are and how you do things and not judging whether you should be faster or slower or tighter or looser.

Tonight I'm going to attempt to cook another meal, so I'll see if I can put that in to practice.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wonderful holiday and a few new projects

How was your Thanksgiving? We had a potluck-style family gathering at my place that was pretty wonderful. After a delicious dinner we watched Disney's Beauty & the Beast. I hadn't seen it since the original release in 1991. What a sweet movie.

A small Thanksgiving joy that I rediscovered is fresh flowers on the table. I stopped bringing home bouquets several years ago when the cats came to live with me because I figured they'd eat them or knock them over, but it's been three days now and the flowers are still intact. If I make a new year resolution, it will be to have fresh flowers in my home more often.

Last weekend I unexpectedly began knitting a sock. You might remember I took classes earlier this year, but never finished a whole pair. I didn't think I would ever attempt to knit them again, but out of the blue I found myself pulling this Fiesta Baby Boom sock yarn out of my stash along with my Addi needles. Must be the cold weather.

I have quite a bit of this Misti Alpaca Pima Silk in my closet. It occurred to me that the colors would look good in this woven stitch, so I started a scarf. The first year I learned to knit, I tried knitting this stitch countless times and was never successful, so it was particularly satisfying to accomplish these few inches.

Hope you enjoy your long Thanksgiving weekend. My sister Hil and I are headed for Santa Cruz to do a little holiday shopping. Normally I avoid Black Friday like the plague, but this year I have shopping fever.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crafty Christmas Trees

Did you enjoy your weekend? We had cold temps and showers both days, as well as crazy thunder and lightening. The ground is thick with wet yellow leaves. You all know how much I love rain, so I won't go on and on about how I love having an excuse to stay home all weekend, reading and crafting and watching movies. (Oops :o)

It's amazing how fast weekend days fly by. I planned to start crafting first thing this morning, but time slipped by (probably due to my spontaneous decision to cut my own hair, which is a story for another day) and I didn't get started on these Christmas tree ornaments until 1pm. Before I knew it, it was time for dinner.

The ornaments are from the book Pretty Little Felts and made with pages from antique books, felt, glitter, and vintage lace. For this first one I followed the instructions in the book fairly closely to get the hang of it and learn some new techniques. I spent a good part of Saturday knitting a sock, with about three inches of toe to show for it, so today I really wanted to make something I could actually finish in an afternoon.

On the second one I did my own thing with gold wire, buttons, and gems. I plan to use mine to decorate gifts instead of as ornaments, but they'd be great as garlands, too. Normally I'm glitter-challenged, but I recently started using Martha Stewart's glitter with good results (i.e. the cats, television, and carpet aren't covered with it).

Now it's cuddle time. Charlie and I are on the couch with a wool blanket watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, Elf.

Have a good week. For those of us in the states, it's a short one. Hurray!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Busy hands

Now that it's getting dark early I'm knitting more than usual, learning new knitting techniques and also going back to the old ones.

In order to knit the Mochimochi Land bats, I had to learn to knit in the round on double pointed needles. It's been a few years since I have attempted to do that because the last time was a major disaster. But I found that the sock classes I took earlier this year helped me master it (and I use the word 'master' very, very loosely) even though we used two circular needles for the socks. I haven't gotten very far with the bats because it took several attempts just to knit a few inches, but it feels great to have learned a skill that I didn't think I could do.

There is something about the colors of this cotton yarn that I love-- it reminds me of a 1950's kitchen. I was going to make dish towels, but decided to knit a scarf for a friend instead because I think she will look great in these colors, which are much prettier in real life than they are in the pic. For the first time in a very, very long time I'm knitting a plain old garter stitch scarf. It's nice not having to worry about making a mistake or wonder how it is going to turn out.

It was unusually warm in San Francisco last Sunday. We had a delicious lunch at Yank Sing. It was my first time trying dim sum and now I am a big fan. If you ever go to San Francisco, I must insist that you have lunch there. Dim sum is small individual portions of food that are extremely tasty, like pot stickers, dumplings, steamed buns, and spring rolls. Instead of ordering off a menu, you make selections off little carts that they wheel around. It's easy to go overboard.

Inside the building is a fountain that makes it seem like it is raining inside with the water staying inside this big round "puddle" so no one gets wet. That little face peeking out on the right is my sister Hil.


One of the wonderful things about San Francisco is that you never know what you are going to see. While walking down a busy street with office buildings and restaurants, we came across a tiny park with huge, whimsical monster sculptures.

These signs for the San Francisco Zoo were everywhere, and I was intrigued by the owl because that's not something you traditionally go to a zoo to see. I checked out their website and discovered they are having a twilight tour next week that is all about owls. Yay! I'm hoping to go if the tour hasn't filled up.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Offerings

I'm having a lazy Saturday today. It's sunny but a bit cool, and my plan is to do some knitting, stop by the craft store, and take a bag of books to Recycle Bookshop. Tomorrow my family and I are going to San Francisco to have lunch at my sister's favorite dim sum restaurant and go shopping at the Ferry Building Marketplace.

The trees are still fairly green around here, so when you come across colors like these while out walking you really notice it. I've been giving thought to the metaphors associated with autumn like transformation, letting go, and accepting change, and for the first time in many years felt moved to write a poem.


Offerings

The stand of winsome autumn trees
Surrender to the inevitable.
With a gentle bow,
Red and gold offerings
Placed at your feet.



Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

After the rain

On Sunday it rained all day, bringing an unexpected benefit. When I stepped outside Monday morning I was greeted with this lovely scene-- the sun hitting the damp creek bank, causing swirly mist to rise. It was a nice way to start the week.

The wet weather made for a perfect afternoon of knitting. I finished this Modern Cabled Baby Bib (Ravelry pattern) knit in a cable and seed stitch combination. The yarn is Jil Eaton Cotton Tail that I found at my local yarn shop. It is a deeper shade of green than I was able to capture in the photo. I liked the yarn so much I want to knit a few more bibs in different colors.

On a different subject, it was interesting reading about your experiences with bats. So many of you have had bats in your backyard and in your home that it really surprised me. As the weather is growing colder here the bats are getting more and more active in the evening. I can enjoy their presence since they aren't roosting in my attic or patio umbrella!

I hope you are enjoying your week. It's hard to believe Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Collaborative Art

Last year, Cory and I decided to do a collaborative art project. We each painted a canvas and then traded with the intent of finishing each other's work and exchanging them again. I, um, had a little trouble.

This is the original canvas that Cory painted. I started by adding words with a black pen. That didn't look great, so I covered up the words with splotches of white paint. That made it look even worse, so I layered thin pieces of tissue paper on it. With each attempt to fix it, the piece looked more and more awful. Frustrated and unsure what to do, I considered calling Cory and telling her I just couldn't do it.


I ended up hanging in there and eventually it started to take shape. I used gel medium to attach small pieces of paper layered with dried leaves and flowers, and then added two flowers using the handmade paper I made at Cory's house in Grass Valley last summer. Before we exchanged our artwork I sent her an email explaining that I messed up her canvas so badly that it lost the original look. She was gracious about it, but I felt really bad.

Cory assured me she likes it and posed for a picture on my patio. Check out her blog, Pink Dogwood Blossom, to see the gorgeous collage she made for me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Going batty (and a knitting pattern)

Halloween is over, but I'm still going batty. As most of you know, I love all types of wildlife. I've been hoping to catch glimpses of critters around my new place because it's so woodsy, but I didn't expect to see bats! They live in the trees that grow along the creek and emerge at dusk. I've been a bat fan for many years, so I'm loving it! I read today that their presence is a sign of a healthy eco-system.
These bats are going straight to the top of my knitting queue. The Boo Pattern is available from Mochimochi Land (and the picture is from there, too).




I've been wanting to show you this scarf I've been working on for a while now. It's challenging to photograph because it's so dark, so I decided to just model it for you. It's knit with Malabrigo kettle dyed pure merino wool. When I showed it to my sister she commented that it looks like something our grandmother would have made, so I'm calling the pattern "Grandma's Easiest Lace Scarf Ever."

To knit the scarf:

-Using size 15 needles, cast on 16 stitches.
-Row one: *K2, YO, slip one stitch purlwise, K1, pass slipped stitch over* Repeat to end of row.

That's it! Just do row one over and over until the scarf is the length you want. If you want to experiment with different types of yarn and needle size, just keep in mind the pattern is a four stitch repeat.

Enjoy your weekend! We are supposed to get rain, and I sure hope it happens.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Accidental Christmas Stocking

Thank you everyone for your warm wishes and congratulations on my sister's little one. I stopped by her place yesterday and saw the picture from the ultrasound ... oh my gosh! I think it is safe to say it is the cutest 9-week old baby I have ever seen :o)

I spent Friday night and Saturday morning knitting what turned out to be the biggest newborn baby bootie ever. I can't figure out why it turned out so huge-- I did a gauge swatch, something I almost never do. So now I'm thinking with a little bit of embellishing it can be a Christmas stocking for the baby.

My knitting mojo comes and goes. Do you ever get the urge to knit something new and exciting but just can't get started? That's what has been happening to me. I look and look and look at Ravelry and through my knitting books, hoping something will grab me, but nothing does. I did manage to finish the Yarn Harlot's one row scarf shown above. It's a little short, so I'm trying to decide whether to go ahead and bind off or order one more skein online.


Dogwood
came to visit today and we walked to downtown Willow Glen for lunch and a little shopping. I bought this crochet coin purse I've been wanting for a while. It's not as cute as Thimbleanna's blue beaded purse, but I had to have it.

We had lots of excitement around here this weekend ... in addition to the gynormous baby bootie and a visit from Dogwood, my new bed was delivered! Or maybe I should say Charlie and Apollo's new bed was delivered. Last night I found myself scrunched up on the edge of the bed because the cats were taking up the middle. I think tonight we are going to have to have a talk ...

Happy Halloween!