This Might Backfire

Welcome back, everyone! January was a perfect example of how lots of making often translates into very little blogging. One of these projects is top secret, but thankfully another is ready to show off.

Cat sitting on a spinner's lap

Helpful Kitty!

Inspired by the very talented makers at my local craft guild, I have cracked my spinning wheel back out and made yarn.  The last time the wheel saw any action was last April when I cracked it out for Knitting in the Heartland, when I filled one bobbin with some pretty BFL and another with messy attempts at learning different drafting techniques.  I remember the spinning being slow and a bit tense.

When I came back to it last month. it went much more smoothly.  I have no explanation for that.  I wasn’t spending the time practicing, obviously.  Perhaps I did learn something in my plying class.  Or, more likely, one of the teacher’s adjustments to my wheel fixed one of the problems I wasn’t even experienced enough to know I had.

I filled my second bobbin with pretty BFL pretty quickly, one of the ladies at knit night taught me how to chain ply, and unexpectedly, I had yarn.

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It is not entirely perfect: the second picture represents my first bobbin, which turned out to be much more even and closer to a sport weight, while the second bobbin wobbles between sport and a light worsted.  The color is really lovely, though, and I am setting them aside until I can plan out the perfect project.

One of my former frustrations with spinning was that I had a really hard time getting a balanced yarn in the plying process.  Invariably, one ply would be thick and softly spun just as the second ply became very thin and tightly spun, making for a wonky yarn.  With chain plying, I am much happier with the finished texture.

As an added bonus, I got to learn some spinning-wheel repair.  Right as I neared the end of my plying (when else?) my drive band started jumping off the wheel.  I dug out a screwdriver and Allen wrench (of which we have only one, in spite of our numerous pieces of Ikea furniture) and tightened all the screws, but that didn’t help so I took a good look at the drive band.  It was starting to fray and the stray threads were forming a big lump around the knot.  Every time the knot hit a certain spot on the wheel, it caused the whole band to come off.  I’d never changed my drive band (hmm, wonder why it was fraying) and the whole operation seemed too scary and drastic to undertake when I was so very close to the end, but trimming away the stray threads was not helping, so I did it.

I had to look several things up.  First, instructions for replacing a drive band, then, to make sure I had the names of all the parts right, this diagram on parts of a spinning wheel.  Their spinning wheel didn’t look like mine, and I was starting to fear that this was all a horrible, irreversible mistake, so I found another diagram.

The drive band turned out ok if a little tight (the least of every ill I was imagining), and I got my yarn done.  The whole process was mostly reassuring: I really do know more about spinning than I’d thought, and I can fix at least one problem with my wheel.  I was struck, though, by how different my spinning is from my knitting.  I learned to knit from books, and so for as long as I can remember there has been a knitting book handy to tell me how to do all the things.  Books tell you at least one of the names of most techniques and problems, so looking them up online for a better picture or a video is no biggie.  Spinning I learned in a class, and *gasp* I don’t own any basic spinning books, so I don’t know all the names of all the parts.  I own exactly one spinning book, but it’s for spinners who already know how the process works and what all the wheel’s parts are called.  As a result, I know the orifice is where you stick the fiber through and it goes on a spool and there’s a treadle and a drive band and a bobbin, but off the top of my head that’s it.  There’s a knob that changes how fast the yarn goes onto the spool, and a little hook thing to get the fiber through the orifice, and the whole thingamabob that holds the spindle in place.  To be perfectly honest, I am still not entirely sure I even have the drive band on right.

When I think about it too long, this lack of signposts on my spinning landscape is terrifying.  Knitting is the known world, where there are knits and purls and selvedge stitches and lace charts and kitchener stitch and every mistake is fixable.  Spinning is terra incognita, and while I’ve made yarn, and it’s more like the yarn I want than the yarn I made beofre, and less stressful to make than when I first started, it will take many more mismatched pairs skeins before I can eyeball a bag of roving and say “Yes, I know exactly how to turn that into what I want.”

I’ve bought many braids and bags and anticipation of that day, and also because it’s a great cheat for supporting fiber artists without adding to my stash.  Unfortunately I now realize that little trick is backfiring.  My two baby skeins of sport-ish weight yarn that I just finished?  They’ve added a hundred-odd yards to my stash.

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Not as Advertised

Greetings, dear readers, from the end of a long, dark weekend.  Here in Kansas we were promised an ice storm of epic proportions that would rage on from Friday night to at least Sunday night.  What we got was a cloudy but utterly dry Saturday followed by a Sunday with steady but mild rain.  While the rain did freeze upon hitting the ground, it was a messy slush rather than a thick hard casing.  Today the rain continued, and was notable only in its consistency, a rarity for Kansas weather, rather than its volume or ferocity.

This weekend’s knitting was also less dramatic than hoped.  I’ve been knitting a Still Light Tunic since last February, and as of Friday all I needed to complete the body was an inch of ribbing and then I could zip along to the sleeves and pockets, and maybe start a new project, a gift with a due date, before the week kicked in.

I tried it on Saturday evening.  The colorblocking fell a little farther down than I had intended and it was a bit snug around the hips, to borrow a dressmaker’s term, but knitting stretches and better to do the ribbing and try on again before I got carried away with my perfectionism.

Sound ominous?  I was convinced I could live with the imperfections  until I came up with an extra stitch for the 2×2 ribbing.  This led me to count the stitches separately for front and back.  To my dismay, I had a full 20 stitches more on the front than the back, when the pattern states they should have the same count after the pockets.  I counted again and was sure.  The dress had been snug about the rear because it was almost four inches smaller than it should have been for my size.  Why?  Because I had misread the directions and left off four increases in one of the decrease rounds.

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I can and have gone to great lengths to convince myself that projects will work when they won’t at all, especially when a year of knitting is at stake.  And because I’ve done this enough times, I know that I’m never as ok with the outcome as I try to convince myself.  So yesterday out it came, nearly 20 inches of body and over 1,000 yards of yarn.  An inch of blue came out, too, and now my dress is a pitiful little bodice but at least I can say the colorblocking hits where I want it to.

For the rest of this dreary night, Netflix and the wittens will be keeping me company.  This weekend may not contain my hoped-for finished object, but at the very least I can get myself back on track.

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2016 By The Numbers

Thank you all for your kind words on my last post, everyone.  After I hit publish on that one, I put a dent in a box of tissues, and can now put my sadness away for a while.

If you’re looking for a happier post, or just want to ogle another knitter’s stash, I think I’ve got something for you today.

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A small portion of my yarn purchases in 2016

As you can see in the picture above, I bought a lot of yarn last year.  And I mean a lot.  Thirty-three thousand five hundred thirty point eight yards.  Or approximately 19 miles.

So much for that destashing goal.  As much as I like knitting the yarn I have, one of my main strategies for dealing whenever I am stressed, upset, or frustrated is to buy yarn.  And apparently, 2016 had nearly 20 miles worth of stress and frustration in it.

Thankfully, my other main strategy for dealing with stress is to knit.  In between all those purchases, I also knit 12,737 yards of yarn.  While that is only about a third of what I purchased, it’s still over seven miles of yarn, which is nothing to sniff at either.  Querido, being one for accuracy, would point out that I actually knit more than that, because I don’t count works in progress.  There are still two sweaters on the needles, so technically he is right, but I do not care for accuracy enough to track exactly how close to completion my WIPs are and add that to the annual totals.

In 2016, I finished a total of 36 projects:

  • 17 accessories
  • 6 garments
  • 5 stuffies
  • 5 Master Hand Knitter swatches
  • 3 miscellaneous

Gifts accounted for 19 items, while 17 were selfish knits.  I even managed some Christmas gifts this year–accessories mostly–but I was very pleased to be able to make gifts of any size.

I did take a peek back at last year’s numbers.  In 2015 I only knitted approximately five miles of yarn, but in 33 objects so it was a year for larger projects.

As a general rule, I don’t make a lot of the same thing, but in 2016 I got into knitted tops.

Pictured above (left to right) are Lonely Souls, Waterlily, and Jilted.  I’ve loved the look of knitted tops for a while, and after adding four new ones (a Bonny vest never got a proper FO photo) to the two from 2015 to make a small collection, I can say they’re very wearable.  I would dress them up with a pencil skirt or black trousers at the office.  In the summer they kept off the A/C drafts without becoming stifling, and in the cooler months they can be layered under jackets.  For weekends or evenings I would pair them with jeans or a fun skirt.  Another bonus is that tops are faster to knit than full sweaters, and take less yarn.  I’d like to make another Lonely Souls in green, possibly with a pine tree motif on the yoke.  Pom Pom quarterly is also a goldmine for adorable little tops, and I might have to stock up on their back issues so I can make Lus and Riverine.

Before I get carried away dreaming up goals for the new year, I want to remind myself of everything I put on my plate for 2016: becoming adept at spinning on my wheel, completing the master knitter level one, getting in shape physically, and knitting out of my stash were all goals for last year, and all were pursued somewhat half-heartedly.  Knitting things I’d always wanted to fared somewhat better: 9 finished projects out of 36 were on my bucket list, as are four still in progress.  But I don’t think I want to fill the new year up with goals just yet.  Big changes are in store, and as much as it scares me to not have a plan, for a little bit here I’d like to just watch the year get started.  There’s always time to add goals later.

What are your hopes for 2017?

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Goodbye 2016

Happy New Year, everyone.  November didn’t have a post a day, as I had hoped, but I managed a respectable 18 posts, more than any other month last year.  Then December arrived, and I threw myself full-tilt into holiday celebrations and secret projects…

But now I am back.  My fellow bloggers are celebrating the best of last year, taking stock of their projects and looking ahead to a fresh new year.  I have my annual project report to write too, but I can’t properly close out the year until I take stock of everything.  Unfortunately by everything, I mean the worst parts of the year.

To be frank, 2016 was a bummer of a year.  Politicians tossed aside all semblance of decorum and showed us an ugly election, a great city broke a sad record, and many cultural icons left us.

That was just the big world.  In our own little world, Querido and I lost Fermi and Cassie.

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Cassie at the beginning of the year, Fermi at the end.  Both were ill, but neither was old.  I say they were our cats, but really they were Querido’s.  He had them before he met me, and while they decided I was an acceptable human, Querido was their person.  His cuddles were better, his presence more interesting.  I was not him, and furthermore, they knew I was responsible for the dog and the kittens.

In spite of that, I loved them very much.  They were smart, dignified cats who made me think that all cats were restrained and decorous.  Each had their own personality.  Fermi liked his tummy rubbed, Cassie liked to be held like a baby.  Watching them fall ill, being unable to make them happy any more, knowing that you will have to say goodbye sooner rather than later hurt terribly.  It hurt knowing that they were in pain, it hurt knowing that the only comfort I could give Querido was that he had given them good lives.  Each goodbye hurts as bad as the first, and knowing they won’t suffer any longer is a small comfort when you know you will miss them forever.

Goodbye, kitties.  Wherever you are, I hope you are cuddled together in a nice sunny window.

And goodbye, 2016.  May there never be another year like you.

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Take Time

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Like the other days in this long weekend, today was devoted to making.  Over the past four days, I have knitted, cooked, written, and sewed (and snuggled cats).  Most of these projects have deadlines, some self-imposed and others imposed by outside factors.

All this time spent making has been good thinking time.  I don’t have any grand manifestos, just the reminder that making takes time.  When I get frustrated with myself for not completing projects with the speed I had hoped, I need to remind myself that the only way to get projects done is to allow myself to take the time to work on them.

I hope this Sunday evening brings you quiet time to work on your current projects.

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Yarn Hop Day Two

Hello All!  If you are just tuning in and wondering what this yarn hop thing is about, check out yesterday’s post.  All caught up?  Let’s talk about day two.

When I’d first proposed this scheme to my adventure buddies, I had no expectation of them spending an eight hour day with me, let alone signing up to do a second day and finish our route.  But librarians are nothing if not tenacious (one of our many endearing qualities), and so off we went on Sunday to finish what we started.

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Mousie meets Stitch, the Unwind MHK mascot

We started close to home, at Unwind in Manhattan.  Mousie got to meet the shop puppy, Stitch, who was meeting ALL THE NEW FRIENDS.  Stitch really is a puppy, maybe a year old, and he will wiggle all over with excitement when you walk in the door because in his short time on this earth, he has learned that people love to pet him and give him kisses and cuddles.  He has us all trained.  Mascot aside, Unwind is a terrific shop with a solid yarn selection (extra gold stars for all their excellent color choices and American-sourced yarns), a good selection of notions and magazines, and even some weaving supplies.  The owner is nice and laid-back, and knows her stuff.  Because I have a mental wishlist for Unwind, it only took a moment for me to pick out some Dream in Color Canyon in a nice variegated gray that I think will make a nice gift cowl or hat.

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Maps work in no-bar zones

One down, we headed east.  There was a small moment in Salina on day one where I spaced out and lost track of which way the street numbers were going, but other than that, navigating by map worked marvelously, so I brought it out again.  We were far enough off the beaten path to lose service in spots, and even when cell service was there, I would have needed several miles lead time to wait for the map to load with enough detail to figure out where we needed to go next.  The state map got us most of the way to each destination, and then the mini-maps in the Yarn Hop Passport got us the rest of the way to where we needed to go.

(Hey Yarn Hop Committee, please do those mini-maps again next year)

Total tangent: the map is one of those free ones you get at state parks, and it is AMAZING.  It lists the mile marker number for exits, and the miles between landmarks on the map.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had drivers (always of the masculine persuasion) become somewhat less than composed when I tell them to turn left at the fifth stoplight, demanding mileage and perhaps forgetting, in the heat of the moment, that Google does not give you distances between changes of direction unless you enter navigate mode, which is a terrible mess and takes too long to get in and out of, especially when the person in the driver’s seat is exasperated and impatient.  On the paper map, that little mileage number is right there.  For the minutiae of city driving, I will continue to use Google maps (other half of the population, you’ve been warned), but why do we never use paper maps on road trips any more?

Ahem.  Back to yarn hopping!

Mousie at the pasture of Alpacas of Wildcat Hollow farm

Mousie met the Alpacas of Wildcat Hollow

Stop two was Alpacas of Wildcat Hollow, which was just fun.  The shop is pretty neat, a little room off the barn, with yarn, fiber, and garments (socks, capes, etc.) The owners were friendly, and although we didn’t get to cuddle any alpacas, just getting to see them wandering about made the stop brighter.  There are two ways into the farm, and apparently one is “unimproved,” which I take to mean impassable in anything less rugged than a pickup truck, but if you’re coming from the west, the most logical route in is easily navigable by a small car.  I came away with yarn to make their yarn hop pattern, a pretty cabled scarf, as well as a chubby bag of dove-gray fiber, because how could I not?

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Yak ‘n Yarn, in a hurry

Both the paper map AND Google maps failed us when we encountered a construction detour just outside Topeka, so we were a bit rushed by the time we arrived at Yak ‘n Yarn.  Fairlawn Plaza, where Yak ‘n Yarn is located, is just the weirdest mall I’ve ever seen, but in addition to the yarn store, there is a pretty good baking and party supply shop, so it’s worth the trip.  The owner made sure we didn’t need anything, then very kindly left us to our own devices as we speed-shopped.  I did very responsible single loop around the store, picked out some recycled cotton, and we dashed out to Abilene.

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Kansas.

As we were driving, we realized it was going to be a close call.  There were a fair number of other cars on the road (an unexpected situation), and the Shivering Sheep is several miles off the highway.  We all wanted to make it, to complete the route and hit all eight stores, but the sun started to slant before us and we tentatively entertained the possibility: what if we didn’t make it?

We called ahead to verify the closing time, I counted miles and did the math (with my phone as a calculator because I can count but asking me to add in my head will give you a number that may or may not be the right one), and finally accepted that we were going to get to the Shivering Sheep half an hour after they closed.

I think it was our driver who pointed out that we should finish the route, closed store or no.  We had come this far, she argued, how could we not?  Also, she knows Abilene best of the three of us, and knew of a place we could get dinner.  For me anyways, that helped seal the deal.  We drove to Abilene as the sun was rolling down the sky, took our pictures in front of the Shivering Sheep (with our passports and sad faces), and consoled ourselves with dinner at the Brookville Hotel.

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Consolation fried chicken

Fried chicken after a long day of driving makes for a pretty good consolation dinner.

Day two yarn was a little more restrained in terms of purchases but I am still really happy with my yarn choices, and I’ve got some more good gift-knitting yarn.

Of course, the best part of the yarn hop was that I have two colleagues I can call friends, and the kind of friends who can survive an entire weekend in a little car together.  Even if yarn isn’t included, I can’t wait for the next time we (and the rest of the adventure group) get to explore our new new home state together.

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Yarn Hop

Hello dear readers!  After getting myself into a grump thinking about Thanksgiving, I did my best to return to a better mood with lots of knitting.  That helped a lot, and discovering that 10 Things I Hate About You is now on Netflix erased all the rest of my grumpiness.

Today, I bound off my oldest UFO and turned my attention to updating my stash.  As I pawed through the small mountain of skeins (a very slight exaggeration: the stash update will require at least two posts), I realized that I hadn’t posted about my biggest yarn-buying excursion of the year: the Central Kansas Yarn Hop.

Paper map of north central Kansas

Navigating, old school

Do you all have yarn hops in your area?  There wasn’t one in Phoenix, for the simple reason that it would be a sad little set of hops.  Here in Kansas, several stores get together and for the week of the yarn hop, offer a free pattern with the purchase of a certain yarn, plus extended hours, sales, and a prize drawing for everyone who drops off one of the raffle tickets included in their passport.  The event covers eight yarn stores and a huge area.  Math is not my strong suit, but the route is roughly triangular, with the points of the triangle being Topeka in the east,Winfield in the south, and Salina in the west.  The distance from Topeka to Winfield is 156 miles, Winfield to Salina is 130, and Salina to Topeka is another 108 miles (Note: all distances are between yarn shops).  If someone in the audience is mathy, please tell me how big an area that is.  All I know is that once you add in the other five stores in between, you’re doing a lot of driving.

When yarn hop passports went on sale late this summer, I tentatively floated the idea to the adventure group from work.  Some of them know how to knit, but none of them are so obsessed they got a passport early because they couldn’t stop telling their LYS owner how excited they were for the yarn hop.  To my surprise, two of the adventurers signed on.  I volunteered to navigate, our newest colleague brought snacks and podcasts, and off we went.

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iYarn, Winfield KS

First stop was iYarn, in Winfield Kansas.  We left the Flint Hills heading south, and soon found the part of Kansas that everyone thinks of when they think of the state: flat, with miles upon miles of fields interrupted with the occasional tiny town, complete with an old-west bank and row of storefronts.  iYarn was in one of these old storefronts.  The owners were delightful, and they had a fabulous selection of yarns.  Not too many novelties, and a mix of big names and more specialty brands.

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Stagecoach Bar-B-Q, Newkirk OK

By the time we were in Winfield, everyone decided that we were so close we might as well go to Oklahoma, so we yelped Newkirk, the nearest town on the highway large enough to have a real restaurant.  Three were listed on Yelp, one of which seemed permanently closed.  The Stagecoach Bar-B-Q seemed the most authentic of the other two.  Authentic it most certainly was, with bikers out front, a no-frills interior, and a menu of foods that were either barbecued or fried.

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Heritage Hut, Wichita, KS

Properly provisioned, we headed back up to Wichita for the Heritage Hut.  The owner of the shop was retiring, so everything was massively discounted.  They had a lot of acrylic (we all know how I feel about acrylic), but were also selling handwoven baskets for next to nothing.  I scooped up only one because I have almost as little restraint when buying baskets as when I am buying yarn.  Thinking back, they were all such a great price I am sort of sad I didn’t buy more…

Mousie in a bag of candy from the Nifty Nut House

Mousie liked the Nifty Nut House

We might have left at that point, except our driver informed us that she wasn’t leaving until we stopped at the Nifty Nut House.  When your driver says you’re going to the Nifty Nut House, you’re going.  The Nut House is another Kansas phenomenon, a warehouse filled with nuts, and dried fruit, and candy, and chocolate…

Need I say we all fell hard?  With enough candy to last us until next Halloween, we headed north to Newton, Kansas, which has another cute downtown with antique stores, a kitchen supply store, and of course, the yarn store.  The Creation Station has a lot of affordable options, wool/synthetic blends and cottons, as well as an extensive stock of ribbon.  I forgot to take a picture because by that time it was getting late and we were in a rush to make it to Salina.

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Yarns Sold and Told, Salina, KS

I had never been to Salina before, and was pleasantly surprised to discover how large and energetic its downtown is.  There were fun-looking shops, several restaurants, and a pretty old theater, and people were out and about enjoying their Saturday night. (As an aside, to say I’ve never been to Salina is not saying much.  Of all the towns we visited that Saturday, the only one I had been to before was Wichita, and even then I was only there for an afternoon.)  Yarns Sold and Told bills themselves as “The Second Friendliest Yarn Store in the Universe,” and they really were that friendly.  The store is very large, and carries a variety of the kinds of yarns I like best: natural fibers, lots of fingering weight, several local options, and several hand painted and hand dyed lines.  I dawdled a bit trying to pick out a suitable yarn for their special yarn hop pattern, and all the sudden the day caught up with me.  Abilene is a scant fourty minutes outside of Salina, but my two fellow adventurers were also pretty wiped and it was getting close to closing time, so we packed ourselves and our yarn back up and headed out of the flatlands and back into the Flint Hills.

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The flat part of Kansas (Morning shot, just reverse the sun and you’ve got the evening version).

Now that I think of it, I’m a little tired just writing about all that driving.  The shops from day two of the yarn hop will have to get a separate post, but before I sign off, I should mention the stashing.

I was very proud of my restraint on the whole trip.  I purchased only a few skeins at each shop, and purchased only for gifts.  The top left yarn has already been knitted and gifted, the top right yarn is on the needles, and if all goes well, three of the other four will be knitted into Christmas gifts.

More tomorrow!

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Thank Goodness

img_0212Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers.  This is an odd holiday, isn’t it?  We get two full days off on a secular holiday, one that was instated as a national holiday by President Lincoln but was then rearranged by FDR to make more time for shopping.  Then there’s the Pilgrims.  I definitely don’t have the space to get into the Pilgrims.  Suffice to say I like Lincoln’s take on Thanksgiving much more than the “Yay Pilgrims! ” version that I was taught in school.  2016 has been an iffy year, world events-wise.   The US is not in the middle of a hideous civil war, thank goodness, but other countries are, and human beings here have not been doing a particularly good job of behaving decently towards one another.

This is not to say that the entire universe is terrible.  I have several things to be thankful for, basically most of the things that I listed in 2015, 2014, and 2012.  I am thankful my fridge is full of pomegranates and the National Dog Show is streaming online.  I am thankful that I can spend the day indulging in knitting.

But also, I am thankful that 2016 is nearly over.  Humanity, you have a month to figure out how to treat each other right in 2017.  Please, figure it out.

Updated to add: If you are in need of a less grinchy Thursday read, I recommend this post.  It has happy music.

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My Other Craft

Glass dish of garlic pasta

Hello again readers!  This November has been a busy month.  There has been travel, and adventures, and yarn, but very little time at home.  To center myself tonight, I dove into my other craft: cooking.  I don’t often post about cooking, but I cook dinner most nights, and often indulge my proclivity for baked goods by baking my own.

Today was cold and bright, a quintessential early winter day, so I came home and settled in to make some comfort food.  First came lentils and rice with mustard-herb butter (you don’t need the salmon, although it is delicious) for weekday lunches.  Then, for dinner, garlic pasta because I love dairy and garlic and carbs and combining all of those things together results in one of the few foods I willingly, even eagerly, eat myself sick on.

(N.B. Garlic pasta is not good for work lunches unless you want to scare vampires and all your coworkers out of the office)

img_0246Last, because I had some old milk and I hate wasting food in general but animal products in particular, a batch of basic quick bread with nutmeg and lime zest.

Now that the leftovers are packed away, the breads are cooling, and a small mountain of dishes has been washed, I think I can go on with my week.

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A Moment of Calm


This has been an overwhelming week. Mitten school was amazing but exhausting, and when I returned there was a week and a half of work waiting for me. But for the next little bit, Querido has found football, I have some simple knitting, and we will attempt to center ourselves before things get hectic again. 

How are you unwinding this Thursday evening?

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