Archive for December, 2010

What My Brain Does When It Should Be Counting

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Today I went swimming, and when I swim length after length I get thinking about things.  Sometimes these things make sense.  Sometimes they are not even slightly joined up with other thoughts, or even with reality.  Usually when I swim my brain is focused on counting–counting strokes between breaths, counting breaths in a length, counting up all the lengths that I do…but then other thoughts start to creep in, like….how much does it cost for international postage….or…..I wonder if I have enough flour to make bread this afternoon…and suddenly my counting is all messed up.  Once I realize my counting is messed up, I try to backtrack to when I knew how many lengths I had done….I guess using the time elapsed and my general pace to estimate how many lengths I should have done….or I just keep on swimming until the time is up, ignoring the counting entirely.

I realized today, once I gave up on counting the lengths, that swimming and knitting have an awful lot in common.  They are both repetitive tasks that, once learned really well, can be done without much thought at all.  Both are challenging, and scary for the beginner, requiring careful supervision and a lot of trial-and-error learning.  You’re not likely to die from a beginner knitting accident though, and that’s a good thing!  Counting is essential in both activities.  I like to be able to quantify things with numbers, to say that I swam 40 lengths today, or that I knit 35 rows.  I’m also the kind of person that will lose track of both counts, and generally get into trouble later by estimating that maybe I’ve done 38 lengths instead of 36….just like I might stretch my knitting ever so slightly until it is exactly 10 cm long instead of 9.  Today I did 4 extra lengths just in case!

There’s pattern following in both swimming and knitting–go to a new pool, and you’ll see a different lane configuration with clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.  The pool that I’m going to now has arrows on the wall to explain what way to go, but many people don’t stop to look or even notice that there’s a traffic flow–this is very frustrating to those who are regular swimmers at that pool.  How many times have you started a new knitting pattern and charged right in, oblivious to the introductory notes or very helpful diagram–I’m definitely guilty of that!  In both, it is vital to keep your eyes open and look ahead a bit or else someone’s going to get angry!

My arms get sore from both.  Two kilometers will tire me out….and well…yeah…I’m an extreme knitter….injuries happen!

I looked around the pool today and noticed that every age group was represented, and that they were all having fun in the water.  Kids were learning to float, university students were practicing for the swim team, business people were swimming on their lunch break, and older folks were swimming into their retirement and beyond.  It is a sport for all ages, and a community develops of those that swim together.  Swimming is such a great skill to learn when you’re young.  I could say that I’ve seen the same age range of knitters too, but never in the same room all at the same time–that could get dangerous!

Knitting and swimming have been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember.  I learned to knit at the YMCA waiting for my brother’s swim lessons to finish.  I’ve come a long way since then–I’ve taught both knitting and swimming to all sorts of people since then!  It’s funny, no two people are going to have the same exact stroke mechanics….swimming behind an old guy today I noticed that he did a much different whip kick than I’ve ever seen.  He still propelled himself well through the water, but just in a different way.  When I swim front crawl I breathe on my right side. only.  When I knit, I knit in the British sense (working yarn in the right hand) but I don’t “throw” the yarn with my index finger–my right hand leaves the needle to wrap the yarn.  It’s the way I’ve always done it.  I have been corrected…but I comment that I’m not doing it “wrong”, I’m doing it “differently” and we agree to disagree.

It’s hard to change a learned skill.  It’s hard for me to do front crawl breathing on the left side, or to breathe every three strokes.  I CAN do it if I focus on that, and that alone.  It’s not going to be fun.  It’s not going to look good.  It’s not going to be very efficient, and I probably won’t stick to it for very long.  I think about this as I tried to convince my grandmother (who has hurt her yarn-throwing-finger) to knit continental style (working yarn in the left hand).  Now, my grandmother is 95 years old….she has been a knitter for most of those years, and did once know how to knit continental style.  She learned it when she was in Switzerland representing Canada at an international Girl Guiding event when she was 17 years old.  She and the Latvian and Lithuanian girls knit together in that style.  I’ve challenged her to keep knitting, to work around her throwing finger injury and knit continental style.  It will be a good exercise for her brain as well as her hands.  It’s not easy, but that’s learning.

Sometimes it is good to try new things, to challenge yourself a little.  A fellow I know is challenging himself to knit a hat.  This involves learning how to learn how to knit in the round, doing ribbing and decreasing.  My grandmother has officially been challenged to try continental style knitting again after over 70 years, and I’ll keep trying to breathe on the left hand side-a little.  Goal setting is what we do at this time of year.

P.S. for those of you who are as random minded as I seem to be right now…international postage is $1.70–going up after Jan 17th.  I mailed my letter today!

Our Turkey Had A Mustache!

Monday, December 27th, 2010

This year I went home for the holidays.  Every year since I moved out I have returned home for the holidays–at most I am a 12 minute walk from home on most days, but for the holidays I pack my stuff and sleep over–this year we were all there, both brothers, my parents and me.  We take comfort in many holiday traditions, some of which have just sort of evolved over the years.  Take our Christmas Eve dinner–It has been lasagna ever since an unfortunate self-timing-oven-broiling-incident about 20 years ago; Mom had the timer set so the lasagna would be done after the 5pm church service.  Ever since I can remember we’ve all go to the midnight service where I now sing in the choir, and my brothers–both grown men–sing descants from the congregation.  From where I sit, I can usually see the giggles from my family, and others around them.  It is tradition to see choir friends returning from university, or from jobs far from here–some come with spouses and kids now!  After late church, giddy as anything, we head home to eat a Yule Log that my mom makes, and listen to a compilation of interesting Christmas music that my brothers put together before we hang up our stockings.

Christmas morning we open gifts slowly-a tradition that we didn’t really like when we were little, but we appreciate now that we are older.  I’m not sure how it is in most families, but I get the traditional gifts of shampoo, pantyhose, life savers, and gingerbeer every year!  A new tradition, that I’m not sure will stand the test of time, is that my brothers and dad grow Christmas mustaches–I bet that they will be gone by New Year!

grandmother's tree

We gathered for dinner at my grandmother’s house.  This is her 96th Christmas, and she had a great time.  Many days are spent in preparation for this feast.  My aunts and my mom and my grandmother all do lots of cooking and organizing.  We gathered on the 23rd for the annual smoothing of the table cloth and setting of the table.

We had a lovely turkey (note the mustache).  My mom and dad have been the turkey preparation team for the past few years.  It was delicious!

My grandmother made the pudding again this year.  Every year there is a concern about how the pudding will turn out.  It was delicious as always…

..and it flamed really well too!

The tradition of doing it all again on boxing day is something else I love.  We are dressed more casually, and can bring a gift to show and tell.  We used to play never ending games of checkers with all of the cousins, but this year everyone was watching football because their proline tickets were still good by 6pm.  It was an exciting time for them.

I knit more of my pathetically late secret santa mitten.  At least I’m knitting the thumb now–Deadline #2 is Jan. 3rd.  Fingers crossed it will be finished by then.What are your Christmas traditions?

Five Batches of Cookies…Parchment Paper Is My Friend

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

This year Christmas kind of snuck up on me. I had been so focused on all the mini deadlines that I had lost track of the fact that December is here, and almost gone! I didn’t really get all the knitting done that I wanted to. I didn’t really want to go to the malls, although I did go a few times. When I woke up on December 23rd and realized that the next day was Christmas Eve, I knew I needed a solution!

Thankfully I had stocked up on butter and flour and eggs…I got out my recipe box and on December 24th made lots and lots of cookies. Cookies are great gifts for cousins and friends. They make wonderful care packages for those who might be spending Christmas away from family, or for whom the season might be difficult.

I love all the recipes, and want to share them with everyone. For massive cookie production, I recommend clearing a large place for cookie cooling, clearing space in the fridge for chilling dough and pans between trips to the oven, and using parchment paper to line the pans! (I actually don’t recommend making all of these in one day–it left very little time for all the other Christmas Eve things, like delivering gifts, eating dinner as a family (we have lasagna every year), and singing at the late church service.

Cookies were baked and cooled, and packaged in time to deliver by 5:00pm. Delivering nicely wrapped home made cookies to people on Christmas eve who are not expecting a gift is kind of a special thing. I was able to see some of the people, but others were left as part of stealth missions of Christmas joy. I may never hear back from those ones, but I imagine that they were thrilled to receive a Christmas surprise. I enjoyed being the secret santa to about 10 unsuspecting people this year. If you get into a cookie baking marathon, you need to think up about 10 families that will eat all the treats!

Here’s my dining room table when things were winding down.


For some reason, I didn’t get to taking a picture of the disaster area that was my kitchen. It’s clean now though, I promise!

So here are the recipes:
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. butter
1 1/2 c + 2tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift flour and baking powder and salt together then set aside. Put butter and 1.5 c sugar in the bowl of the mixer. Mix on medium until pale and fluffy (3 min). Mix in eggs, reduce to low speed and mix in dry ingredients.

Stir cinnamon and 2 tbsp sugar in small bowl. Shape dough into small balls then roll in cinnamon sugar. Space 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake cookies until edges are golden (12 minutes. Cool on sheets.

Lemon Poppyseed
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice +3.5 tsp grated zest
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
2tsp pure vanilla
1 tbsp poppy seeds and more for sprinkling

Bring lemon juice to a simmer over medium heat.  Cook until reduced by half.  Add 1/2 cup of butter.  Stir until melted. Set aside to cool.

Whisk flour, b.powder, salt in med. bowl.  Put remaining 1/2 c. butter and 1.5 c sugar in bowl.  Mix until creamy.  Add egg and reserved cooled lemon butter.  Mix until pale (3 min). Mix in vanilla and 2tsp. lemon zest.  Reduce to low.  Mix in flour and poppy seeds.

Stir together 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp lemon zest.  Roll dough into 1.25 inch balls. Roll in lemon sugar.  Press with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar mixture until 1/4 inch thick.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds.  Bake at 350 F until browned (12min).

Oatmeal Raisin (These were the favourite of the season!)
3 c. rolled oats
1 c. + 2tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 c. wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I added more)
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. unsalted butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir together oats, flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
Put butter and sugars in another bowl and mix on medium until pale and fluffy (5 min). Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add oat mixture. Mix until just combined. Add raisins.

With a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop (or large spoon) mound dough on pan. Space 2 inches apart. Bake for 14 minutes. Cool on sheets 5 min. Cool on wire rack after that.

Molasses Cookies
1/2 c butter softened
1 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar and 1/4 cup for rolling
2 large eggs
1/2 c unsulfered molasses
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground all spice
1/2 tsp salt

Put butter, brown sugar, 1/2 c granulated sugar in the mixer (3 min) on medium. Mix in eggs followed by molasses and oil.
Reduce speed and mix in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, all spice, salt. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or more.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Put remaining 1/2 c granulated sugar in a bowl. Scoop out dough and form balls then roll in sugar. Place on a pan 3 inches apart. Bake for 17 minutes. These cookies spread a lot while baking.

Gingerbread (my great aunt’s recipe)
2.5 c flour
2 tsp b.soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. butter
1 egg
2 tbsp. molasses

Cream the butter and sugar. Add egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients. Chill 1 hour at least. Roll to about 1/8 inch and cut into shapes. Bake at 400 F for 5-8 minutes.

How To Knit A Thumb

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

For the last few days I’ve been having a rather challenging time explaining how to make a mitten thumb via email.  Here’s some pictures to go along with my words.  Hopefully they will help my friend Shawna, and others working on the same issue.

To make a mitten fit your hand, you need to make it larger on the thumb side.  The regular increases create what is called a thumb gusset.

image source

Here’s an interesting photo tutorial: I’ve got a hard time photographing my thumb gussets since I knit in the round, on DPNs.  I don’t know that I’d ever knit a mitten on two needles, but it’s neat to know that it can be done.

Once the gusset is long enough and wide enough, I always get someone to try on the mittens to check, I put the gusset stitches on a scrap of yarn and leave them until the hand of the mitten is done–I finish by knitting the thumb.

So, the gusset stitches are on a scrap of yarn, and you are ready to knit the hand.  My general pattern is to cast on several (note: this will change depending on gauge) stitches to finish off the thumb hole on the upper side.  To cast on these stitches, it’s probably easiest to turn the mitten over (so the wrong side is facing) and cast on, then turn back again.

When it finally is time to knit the thumb, you will use the stitches from the scrap of yarn, the stitches that you just cast on (pick them up).  This would make a nice mitten, but over the years that I’ve been knitting mittens I’ve had a pet peeve about holes appearing where the thumb meets the hand.  To avoid this issue, I pick up an extra stitch from a row back between the gusset stitches and the cast on stitches on either side of the thumb.

Here’s a view of me trying it on for size.  Click to make bigger.

thumb stitch count = gusset stitches + cast on stitches


thumb stitch count = gusset stitches + cast on stitches + 2

There are, of course, many ways to knit a thumb.  I’m eager to learn more.  What’s your favourite method?

P.S. Yes, this is mitten number 2 for my secret santa.  It’s been slow going.  Things like sleeping, cleaning, singing and holiday preparations have gotten in my way a bit.  I am here still, enjoying my holidays.  Thanks so much for the comments of concern!

No Progress At All

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but there’s nothing interesting to show.  It’s just me and my box of kleenex these days….I haven’t been knitting, or doing much other than going to work, coming home and going to sleep.  My energy is all used up fighting against the nasty cold I picked up this past weekend.

This is no way to get my second secret santa mitten completed by Friday…..I don’t want to declare “deadline impossible” yet though.  I believe in miracles!

Auction Success

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

I decided to donate my Bella hat that I knit last summer to a silent auction.

I donate something every year, and I’m glad to say that it raised $20 for charity!  This is the most that one of my knitted items has raised in this particular auction.  It will be keeping one lucky lady as warm as a werewolf this winter.  The pattern is free.  Why not make one for yourself this winter?

One Mitten Done

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Between baking and icing batches of cookies, and while watching a few mindless hours of television this weekend I’ve made good progress on my goal.


Today, while my family decorated the tree, I completed the first mitten.  It was lovely to sit and watch as all of our quirky ornaments were carefully unwrapped and discussed while they were put on the tree.  It seems that almost every ornament has a story, and means something to at least one of us.

Some ornaments are less permanent, but much more delicious!  The recipe is a traditional one passed down from my great-aunt.

Super Top Secret Craft Club Meeting

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

It was a crafty Friday!

craft club

A group of us got together and made porcelain snowflake Christmas ornaments.  It’s a wonderful thing to know a potter who is generous in their time and materials.  If you have access to clay and a kiln, and want to know what we did, here are the steps.

1.  Make a paper snowflake.  Fold paper into quarters or sixths and cut out along the edge and the middle.

2.  Unfold the snowflake and use a damp sponge to adhere it to a thin rolled slab of porcelain.

3. Using a scalpel blade/exacto knife, cut out the snowflake.


4.  Peel back the paper, and let the snowflake dry and harden.

5.  Fire the snowflake in a kiln.

Some of us were not really into the whole snowflake thing.  They thought that making guns ornaments would be more manly.


I look forward to seeing what the finished products look like.

‘Tis The Season

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Some of you may be wondering what’s going on….I’ve been showing lots of pictures of robot hats, and that’s about it.  There are some other top secret knitting projects going on, but most are for Christmas gifts, so they will be revealed later on.  mitten

Something that I can show now is the new pair of mittens that I’m making.  We’ve got a Secret Santa going on at work, and this year (unlike last year) I got my act together and signed up in time!  I’m having fun thinking of small gifts to deliver each day, and at the end of the week have a pair of mittens waiting in their mailbox.

The problem is that the self imposed deadline is in a week…and I currently have only an inch completed.  I guess this means that these will be a traveling project….a spend-every-free-waking-moment-knitting kind of project…the kind of project that seems to pop up every year in December.

What’s on your December needles?

Snowy Days

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Don’t you miss snow days?  Remember when you were a kid, and the snow started to fall, and you just KNEW that school busses would be cancelled, and you could stay home and build a fort or have a snow fight and then sit and drink hot cocoa with gooey marshmallows floating on top?

Snow is falling, but there’s no snow day.  Life and work and responsibilities continue…and so to does the parade of hats!

This hat is special because part of it is made with sparkly yarn.  This is a great stash busting hat.  It has randomly assorted two-row stripes of many different colours of blue/purple  yarn.

This hat has robots that are worked in stripes.  When using this type of colourwork, it is important to have a background colour that contrasts really well with the foreground colour.  I made sure that if the background was light purple, the robot would be dark blue.  The robots are more subtle on this hat, but the colours are really pretty.

This hat was a fun one to create.  I had been looking at a stitch dictionary, and got inspired!

The bows are rather tedious to make!  I worked one row of (K1, wrap 3) around.  The next row I knit the stitches that were originally knit, and removed the wrapped stitches.  I tied the loopy fringey bits together to make these little bows.

The ruffle was made by knitting 3 then casting on 6 stitches all the way around.  After knitting 4 (really long) rounds, I knit 3 then cast off 6 all the way around.  This creates pocket like holes in the hat.  I think they might be the right size to hold useful things like pencils or small screwdrivers.  We’ll have to try out that theory later!

The bobbles were made by increasing 3 stitches in one stitch, turning purling the 3 stitches, turning, increasing in each of the 3 stitches, turning purling all 6 stitches, turning, knitting 2 together across the 6 stitches, turning, purling 3 stitches together, turning, continuing with knitting the row…I worked a bobble with 3 or 4 stitches between.

The fringe was worked in the same K1, wrap 3 method as I did for the little bows.  To keep the fringe hanging loosely, and not just stretching to become a really loosely knit row, I ended up knitting the fringe stitch along with a stitch the row or two below.

The flower at the top was worked as an icord of 2 stitches.  I worked about 3 inches of icord, then knit it together with the next stitches, all around the hat.  I will use this technique again for sure.  I really like the effect.

I don’t know many people that could wear a hat with ALL of these special features on it.  I know that the recipient has enough team spirit and self confidence to make it one of the coolest hats on the team.

As the snow keeps falling, I keep knitting, and wishing for a day that I could avoid responsibilities and schedules, throw a few snowballs and curl up with a mug of cocoa and my knitting, and watch the snow pile up outside.