Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Killdeer

When last we saw my knitting progress on Canary Knit's Killdeer pattern, I had hit a small snag in the form of a manufacturers knot in my first ball of yarn. I was remiss as to how to proceed and almost set the whole thing aside in favor of a cape more suitable to winter. I was (this) close, but then, I decided to hope on google and look for demonstrations on how to join yarn with a double knot, as this would easily fix the problem without any more ends that need weaving in. I hate weaving in ends almost as much as I hate manufacturers knots in my otherwise perfect ball of cotton yarn.

After watching the demonstration, it seemed simple enough, so I gave the join a try. I cut the knot from the yarn and took the two resulting yarn ends and I knotted both using the following method:
1. Cross the end under the other yarn strand.
2. Turn it around and cross the end over the other yarn strand.
3. Take the end through the resulting circle of itself and pull.

A small knot will result for both. Then, you pull on both strands and the knots magically come together to form a very strong join that hardly shows in the finished work, so long as you cut off the ends very close to the final knot. There are plenty of tutorials out there if this didn't make sense to you. Just give it a google.

I used the double knot trick to join all of my yarn thereafter and had hardly any ends to weave in when my Killdeer was finished. And it is finished.

I loved this pattern. The shaping gives the cardigan a nice fit, while the short-row detail results in a collar and sleeves with a slight ruffle to them. The pockets, created by knitting an extra patch of stockinette that you then join back into the main garment, were fun to knit. They really made me feel clever when I managed to pull them off.

It needs blocked still, but there's plenty of time to get that gone. It's February here in Ohio with a foot of snow on the ground (at least) and a consistently subzero windchill. I won't be able to bust out the short-sleeved cotton anytime soon.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bearing It

I have a confession to make. It is February 6th and my Christmas tree is still up. I have no real excuse for this except for the fact that there are still gifts under it. These gifts will not reach their recipients until I see them the weekend of Valentine's Day. The question now becomes: do I leave the tree up until after V-day or do I just take the thing down now? My work-ethic-inclined self tells me that I should just get it done, but that persistent lazy side says: why not leave it up? I mean, it would be festive to open these last few gifts before a twinkling tree, right? Right?

(Took long enough to get the picture to load on here too)

Of course, I am dealing with a side-effect to the tree-still-being-up thing: the cat has decided that the ornaments on the lower branches are toys, since they've been around so long. I keep finding them scattered about the tree. I can't decide if I think it's cute or annoying.

In the meantime, novel revision is in full swing again. I'm focusing mainly on getting the last chapter polished to a shine, but after, there are going to be some tough decisions. I have to figure out how to reconcile what the agent wants my book to be with what my book actually is without losing something essential in the process. I think for beginning writers especially, this is a real concern and I'm not quite sure I know the answer. When does an edit become so all-encompassing that it destroys the book? I know what is sale-able isn't always good (*cough* Twilight *cough*), so I really want to make sure my book becomes sale-able while also retaining what I think makes it worthwhile.

The next meeting of my writers group, which should have happened yesterday but was postponed due to a minor snowpocalypse, will be comprised partly of going through my last chapter revisions and getting me back on track. Partly, it will be talking about the other writer's work, and partly, it will be a book discussion of Claire Cameron's The Bear, which we got advanced copies of through its publisher. At a time when I could use some fictional motivation but am somehow reading two nonficiton books (one about introverts and one about physics and how the universe is actually a mathematical structure), the Bear felt like a needed change. The novel is about a five-year-old girl and her toddler brother, who are lost in the wilderness after her family is attacked by a bear while on a camping trip. The story itself was rather engaging and I got a special kick out of it after remembering a story workshop I experienced during my MFA. Some guy suggested that the main character of my story--now a section of my novel--should be attacked by a bear. The story had nothing to do with bears and the comment was so out of left field that my husband and I laughed about it for weeks. So here it was, the story I never wrote about a bear attack.

What really made it stand out, though, was the narrative POV, which was a first person through the eyes of the 5-year-old girl, Anna. Because Anna is so young, there are things the narrative inherently can't do, like use proper grammar or sentence structure or have a basic intellectual concept of the world. She's a kid and, as such, she has a hard time distinguishing present from past. She doesn't necessarily understand what is going on around her. It's just beyond her comprehension, and of course, like all young children, she is very self-centered.

I have seen reviews from other advanced readers who didn't appreciate Anna's perspective because they felt  like her voice was younger than her age or that they didn't buy her responses because they aren't what that reader's own five-year-old would do (because I'm sure your little darling is the epitome of what it means to be 5...). I think those readers started off this book not trusting the writer enough. Anna might have been a little immature for her age (I know plenty of other 5-year-olds less mature than her), but her POV was very consistent. Once you get in Anna's head, you don't get out again. Sometimes, the strangeness of the language got to me because it was so not grammatical, so caught between present and past that I didn't know where I was, but you know what? That's how Anna felt in that moment and that's what she thought. It was simple and honest, and as a writer, I thought the choice to stick with that narrative voice was quite brave.

As a whole, I quite enjoyed The Bear, especially the last sentence of the epilogue, which just about killed me because I didn't see it coming. It is a story about survival and family, the love between siblings and the sacrifice that parents make for their children. It's not a story I'll soon forget. I hope I can remain as true to my novel as Cameron was to hers.

Oh, and on a side note, if you are curious and have yet to read it, my first interview as a writer is up at Midwestern Gothic. Now excuse me while I chase the cat away from my Christmas tree.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quick Stir Fry, Slawless

I had once again forgotten to make a list while doing a quick shopping trip at the only Meijer near us (which isn't exactly local because it's 30 minutes away but when one can Meijer, one should Meijer, for the produce alone). This sometimes (mostly) happens. Of course, everyone knows that the best way to do the shopping is to make a weekly menu and divine a list of those items needed to make said menu that aren't already in the cupboards/fridge.

Then, you STICK TO IT. You don't buy extra and thus, maintain some semblance of budget.

So this shopping trip was not one of those well-planned ones, but we still needed to remain budget-conscious, in light of the bills of Christmas past. We tried to buy sale items only and only necessities. My bakery-made blueberry mini-bagels were both of these things because who doesn't need mini-bagels? I was so excited by the sale, I bought two bags.

We did fairly well for once (bagels really would have been on the list), mostly because we did not go to the grocery store while hungry. We were practically running through the produce aisle (which tends to be where I find fun ways to spend lots of money. Purple kale, anyone?) when my eye halted on one of those orange clearance stickers. Now, these stickers are a price-conscious shopper's best friend. They mean "this food isn't bad yet but is very-near or just-past its sell-by date so you can have it at a significant discount that will totally be worth it if you eat this item soon, like today." This sticker was on a bag of broccoli slaw mix.

I've never had broccoli slaw, mostly because I really dislike slaw in general. There's something about vinegary vegetables that just doesn't do it for me. I almost walked right by but then I thought:

Just because you buy broccoli slaw mix doesn't mean you have to make slaw with it. So I bought that bag and I took it home and made some broccoli slawless stir fry.

Broccoli Slawless Stir Fry
One bag of broccoli slaw mix
2 cups uncooked brown rice
a random can of beans
whatever sauces and seasonings you want

1. Make the rice.
2. Fry up the slaw mix.
3. Add in a can of beans and some sauce and seasoning. I used a few twists of my Asian spice grinder (McCormick) and soy sauce. There may or may not have been teriyaki.

So simple. Also, cheap. Also, broccoli stems are very tasty when cut up into teeny tiny slivers.
 Who knew?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Well this is easy... knot.

With a year of Christmas knitting behind me, my options have opened. Inevitably, this has actually caused an increased stress level, as I contemplated knitting All The Things. I want it all, all the patterns I've coveted and purchased in preparation of this moment. Staring at all the things I wanted to do, I was overwhelmed.

That's why it was actually a very good thing that my boss requested that I make her a hat. We planned it together. She explained what she wanted and I searched for patterns until I found something that fit the bill. Then, because she wanted a flower on it, I busted out my book of various crocheted and knitted flowers and she picked out a pattern for an irish rose. Then, that settled, I grilled her about what she wanted in a fiber, warmth? easy to clean? preferred color? any wool allergies?

Chat done, I had a solid lead on a good yarn choice that would meet all of her requirements but not break the bank. Yarn prices tend to give the uninitiated-- and the cheap-- sticker shock. She is uninitiated. I am cheap. I settled on a nice bright white color in Lion Brand's Wool Ease, a colorway called "White Frost," that also had a soft halo. For the pattern, I went with Lotus Hat by Uptown Purl.

This hat served as my just-after-Christmas knitting. I finished it and had the flower sewn on and the hat blocked and dried before the end of my work's Christmas break.

So far, everyone who sees it either loves it or loves it and wants one. It may end up being the it hat of the season.

Hat out of the way, though, I wanted to knit something for me. Looking back through my ravelry notebook, I, in fact, discovered that I haven't knitted a single thing for me since I finished my wedding veil, which just seems ridiculous. Until I remember I've been knitting the same blanket (not for me) for a year.

I thought about starting in on the ice skating cape from My Grandmother's Knitting using my 10 skeins of merino, but then, I wasn't sure the gauge was right. Plus, I really wanted to finally be able to knit a Canary Knits design, so I pulled out my Village Yarn Bahama Cotton DK-weight yarn and I cast on for Killdeer, which I plan to have finished in plenty of time to wear to work in warm weather.

I'm calling this project, knit specifically for work, Leftmost Corner Cubicle, as that's where my desk is located. The design itself, I'm loving so far. It's obvious that a lot of thought was given to its construction. I did have to frog 10 rows initially because I had a little confusion about the first line of instructions for increasing the yoke. It didn't come out quite symmetrical the way I interpreted it and I just couldn't live with that. I ended up using the following in lieu of the instruction given, which may or may not bite me in the butt later, but I don't think it will: 

Sl *k to m, sm, kfb* x 5 (I'm doing the medium), k to m, sm, k to 1 st before m, kfb, sm, k last 2 st

That results in a total of 7 increases per increase row, which should result in the required 235 sts after 44 rows, as long as I've done my math right. Either way, I'm loving how the increases look and I love what the colorway is doing. It's almost like blue camouflage.

So there I was, knitting my happy way to row 32 when it happened. The unthinkable. The dread swelled up within me as I saw it.

My yarn ball has a knot in it from the manufacturer. I have a big beef with manufacturers who allow knots to exist in their skeins. If I had purchased mill ends, I would not be complaining, but I did not. I purchased full price (well... on sale) yarn. There should be no knots, and rest assured this will be my last Village Yarn purchase. I have put the project aside until I have the time to sit down with the video I saw that one time about the way to knot yarn so that it doesn't come untied later (i.e. how to join yarn with a double knot). In the meantime, I threw the whole project in my stash cedar chest and shut the lid in disgust.

I have looked into the gauge on that merino and I think it might work for that cape after all. Depending on my mood, I may swatch for that and do the cape before returning to the knot situation. Or I may buckle down and figure it out now. I do know this: I refuse to have to weave in yarn ends for a manufacturers knot. It's just not fair. Not fair at all.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Kohlrabi and Kale, the K Vegetables

The boy got Scattergories for Christmas. It's a board game I used to play with my siblings all the time when we were kids. There is a list of items and a 20-sided die filled with the letters of the alphabet. Then, you roll the dice, it lands on a letter, and everyone has to think of a word for each list item that starts with that given letter. We've been playing it all week, and it's just as fun as I remembered it.

Well, the last few weeks of food in this house could easily fill up a list of words for vegetables that start with the letter K. The weekend before Christmas, my husband and I happened upon a lovely purple ornamental kale at the supermarket. It was bright and crisp and looking at it, I knew what I needed to do. I bought the kale and delightedly took it home to make some delicious, homemade lentil soup.

Lentil soup is one of my favorite things, especially with some french fried onions floating on the top and a handful of shredded cheese melting into the broth. Thus, while I was working my last day before my work winter break (which lasts from Christmas Eve to New Years Day), the husband took my recipe and made lentil soup with a bag of dried lentils and the purple kale. Or rather, he was supposed to make soup.

Having left the soup to boil down too long (the man is just not a soup fan), he created something slightly more dense than a stew, but it still tasted lovely. Thus, it went into a big Tupperware container and I served it to myself as gravy on my Christmas whipped potatoes, for the much needed protein I, as a veggie, don't get from the Christmas turkey (my family doesn't have Christmas ham, as my sister, having puked up ham with a case of childhood flu, refuses to eat most pork products).

Sorry I was too busy eating it to take a Lentil soup picture. Besides, it was so thick, it didn't really look like soup anyway.

Lentil Soup with Purple Kale
What you need:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/4 c dried lentils
6 c worth of vegetable stock
1 T soy sauce
One bunch of purple kale, minus the stems, chopped

1. Stir fry the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic for about 10 minutes in the bottom of a large pot.
2. Add the lentils, stock, and soy sauce to the pot and bring to boil. Then, cover and simmer for an hour or two.
3. When the lentils are thoroughly cooked, bring back to boil and add kale to pot. Let boil for several minutes until the kale is soft.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I just need some lentil soup. And really, it only gets cheerier with those flashes of purple. The lentil soup was pretty to look at, but it's also packed with flavor from the garlic, lentils, and stock. Of course, I,  being the lentil soup lover I am, knew it wouldn't disappoint.

The big shock of the pre-Christmas season was the Kohlrabi Risotto recipe the husband found on the New York Times website. The ten-year-old scarfed this stuff down, even after hearing the word "Kohlrabi," which is a miracle in itself. We subbed in apple cider vinegar for the wine and brown rice for the arborio, but stayed fairly faithful to the original recipe otherwise.

Kohlrabi is a rather mild root vegetable, with a slight tang to it that really contrasted nicely with the slightly sweet taste of the Parmesan cheese. It made for a complex meal that didn't feel overbearing. Both meals were a big success and left us with plenty of leftovers to skimp on meal-planning for the rest of their respective weeks (Kohlrabi, the week before Christmas and lentil soup, the week of). This left more time for such things as Scattergories and reading the new Russell Banks and George Saunders.

There were just no downsides, really.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The new edits are in on the novel, ladies and gents, and no, I'm officially not done with it yet. Which I'm coming to terms with. There's a fine line between revision and over-revision and I'm hoping I see that line before it's crossed.

So one more revision. And while I revise, I need to be thinking whole-heartedly about my theme, which I have given a lot of thought already, so... yeah. I'm discovering, as I go through this process of trying to get a first novel published, is that about 60% of the process is about facing disappointment. It is definitely not for the meek. I figure sharing this process with you can only help to prepare you, because this part is not what I expected it to be. I thought it would be mostly waiting on editors to respond, but I'm not even there yet.

Be warned. The process of getting a novel published (to my knowledge so far) is this:
1. You write a novel.
2. You revise the heck out of that novel until you feel like it's ready to be published.
3. You submit to agents.
4. You wait.
5. You hear back and hopefully, they like it and want to help get it published.
6. You get edits back from your chosen agent.
7. You re-revise based on those edits.
8. Repeat 6 and 7 repeatedly.
9. I'm not sure what 9 is yet but I'm hoping it's that the book gets shopped to editors.

This process is long and it's tedious, but I'm hanging in there. Time to give this one more go.

While I'm doing that, on this nice New Year's Eve, note that, starting now,  January 2014, my story "the Godmother" will be available for purchase in the 12th issue of Midwestern Gothic. Go buy yourself a copy, either in a print or ebook version.

And speaking of theme, my son's big Christmas present this year was a steampunk-themed bedroom (or the start of one anyway), with bright orange paint, black curtains, furniture re-painted in a paint color called "Tuxedo Tie," maps, brass, copper, cast iron, cogs, a green steamer trunk, and what will become a model airship once we get it put together.

Revision comes in many forms.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Year-Long Blanket Slog, C'est Fini

It took months of planning, math skills I had forgotten about entirely, two excel spreadsheets, over 2 pounds of yarn, and a year of knitting, but it's finally done. May I present to you, the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Blanket:

It's 74 inches long, 53 inches wide, and very very warm. I developed the pattern using the long cabin knitting technique popularized by the Mason Dixon Knitting duo Kay Gardiner and Anne Shayne. If you too would like to knit one of your very own, I'm hoping to have a functioning pattern up for sale on Ravelry in the near future.

Last Christmas, my little brother got a bag of yarn and a promise, and this year, after buying yet more yarn because that bag was just not enough, I came through on that promise. The sketch I showed him last year has become a blanket. A big blanket, every stitch infused with team spirit.

Since finishing this giant time-suck of a blanket, I have already finished three hats (one for my husband, one for my son, and one for my brother-in-law) and am in mid-completion of a fourth (requested by my boss). Think of how many hats I could have if I had made hats instead of a blanket. It boggles the mind, really.