a beautiful time of day...

it is the "orange hour of the day". that being the time when the setting sun is at or near horizontal alignment with our windows, sending a wash of warm, golden-orange light flooding through the whole place. it is a breath-taking experience, even at this time of the year when that hour is really more like an orange five minutes.

this is the closest we have come to a bright, sunshine-filled day in weeks here in Metropolis North. pardon me... Métropole Nord. almost forgot where i was for a moment. it has been cold, wet (with either freezing rain or wet snow), and depressingly grey... day... after day... after day. so, while it is currently well below freezing—even in the middle of the day—i am pleased as punch (i still have no idea what punch has to do with being pleased) to see sunlight filling the air.

i had toyed with the idea of doing a blog-a-day during December, but i simply could not muster the enthusiasm to get it done. unlike the usual 'countdown to the holidays' that tends to fill most vlogs/blogs at this time of year, i planned on talking a bit each day about the thirty-one movies we watched during October, when i foolishly allowed myself to be talked into a movie-a-day in the lead-up to Halloween. maybe i will save that for January, when i will (hopefully) be in a slightly-less-unexcited frame of mind.

there is one thing i am super-excited about at present. i am in the homestretch on that blanket i was working on more than a year ago. [scroll past the baby blanket my mom conned me into knitting for her co-worker, and you will find the Bright Star blanket by my favorite designer Norah Gaughan.]

ta da!!!

okay, so there are still quite a few gaps to be filled in before i can call this one finished... plus all the pieces have to be sewn together... and all of those ends have to be woven it... and i would probably want to add some sort of border around the edges. all of that aside, this blanket is practically... almost... nearly finished. trust me... sorta.

i am done with all of the multi-colored full squares, as well as what i am calling the "notched" squares, and i am currently working on the solid-colored squares and rectangles. it should be noted that i had little-to-no problems working on the color-blocked bits. those solid pieces (light-grey, in my color scheme), however, have proven to be quite the pain.

i set this project aside for a while, and it seems that my knitting tension has changed significantly in that time. so much so, that i had to re-knit the first of the light-grey squares a whopping SIX TIMES before i finally got something the same size as the color-block squares. turns out i just had to swap for a smaller-sized needle. [you can mentally insert the sound of me growling like a rabid lunatic here.]

once i get done with that step (hopefully, tonight), i will need to knit a few smaller multi-colored blocks for the corners, then i can move on to the assembling stage. i should (hopefully... maybe) have all of the pieces ready to go by the end of this week. then i can start sewing them together to make a blanket. however, there is always the possibility that i may stuff them into a handy storage case and forget about them for a few more years.

this blanket-to-be is made from some super-scratchy alpaca (i think) yarn that i had in my stash for ages. my delicate princess skin cannot tolerate such things, so it will become a future couch-blanket for everyone... but me. and, while i may occasionally feel left out to see my favorite animator wrapped up in said blanket, snoring away on a sofa, with a kitty or three napping next to him for company, this epic project will have earned me enough crafting-karma so that my next few yarn purchases will (hopefully... maybe) go unnoticed.

the sun has slipped almost entirely out of view by now, and all that remains are the  slivers of clouds tinted salmon and lavender-grey along the horizon. there is a small cat pressed up against my thigh, fast asleep, recharging her energy for all of the antics that will take place later in the evening. it really is a beautiful time of day.


Pepto-Bismol in the parking lot...

it is Monday, and i appear to be alive, so it is fair to say that the Wintery illness did not win. i still feel pretty crappy, and i have less than zero energy, but it is steadily getting better... i think.

meanwhile, he has devised a brilliant new way to gauge my wellness.

me: [in the whiniest tone possible] sweetieeee...!
him: i know. i know. you're sick. do you want me to get you anything?
me: no.
him: do you want something to eat?
me: no.
him: do you want me to make you some tea?
me: no.
him: do you want to watch something together?
me: no.
him: do you want a piece of chocolate?
me: no.
him: no chocolate? wow... you must really be sick. 

then i pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep for the next several hours.

the entire weekend was like that. one big blur. however, i did manage to take some photos of my latest finished object. ta da!

this is the Willow sweater by Pam Allen. it is part of her Plain & Simple collection. Willow is a relaxed, oversized sweater with an elegant simplicity that is one hundred percent me. to be honest, i want to make every single garment in that collection... except maybe that cowl/hood thing. that one is definitely not me.

i love love love the gansey-style textured motif on the top.

it is on the back too.

 i made very few changes to the pattern... except...

i added a couple-few inches to the overall length, which made it slightly tunic-y (ish? esque?).

and i added pockets, because it was screaming for pockets, and i aim to satisfy.

i also split the hem at the sides, and i made the back slightly longer than the front.

oh, and i finished all of the edges with a sewn bind-off, which is always a pain in the neck, but it makes for a much more attractive edge. you can see it here on the cuff...

and on the neck...

i usually make a point of not making stuff in the same color as the sample garment, but i had a yarn that was perfect for this project, and it happened to be in a similar warm-white color. best of all, the yarn is a cotton-acrylic blend, which means that i can actually wear the thing for more than thirty seconds without breaking out in hives. madness, i know.

i started this project one day in Jultember (that being, the month whose name i no longer speak), right after having a meltdown in a drug store parking lot. said episode ended with me frantically opening a newly-purchased bottle of Pepto Bismol, and taking large gulps of it in-between the tears.

it was a rough day following an indescribably stressful week, and i had just discovered that there was a large rip straight down the center-back of my dress as we were getting out of the car to walk into said store. naturally, i remained behind, and when he asked me what i was planning on buying again, all that i could manage to say was "Pepto-Bisoml".

i casted it on as soon as we got home, and i called it the "Pepto-Bismol in the parking lot sweater" for obvious reasons.

it is living for now in one of the cubes in my recently-erected yarn storage system that was put in place to keep my stash under control.

is there still yarn in every room of our apartment? yes. yes... there is.


check out my buns...

i walked into the living room, and stopped dead in my tracks.

me: what is that?
him: what?
me: [gesturing toward the balcony and the world beyond it] ... that?
him: [staring at me like i'd lost my mind] i have no idea what you're talking about.
me: i'm talking about all of that snow. when did it snow?
him: oh, that. it snowed while you were sleeping all day yesterday because you were sick.

so... uhm... yeh. i seem to be in the grips of one of those Wintery illnesses that really make me hate this time of year. i spent a whole day in a feverish stupor, but that seems to have broken (for now).

Nature has clearly not designed me for life in a place that is frozen half (or more) of the year, so i already knew that the next several months were going to be rough. between my sinuses and my throat, there is always something to complain about once it gets cold around here. however, i was hoping that i would make it through November before being laid low by one of those illnesses that are designed to do nothing by cause frustration. good times.

for now, i am staying tucked up under the warmest blanket we have in the place, while working my way through our mini-stockpile of over-the-counter cold/flu remedies (luckily, this is Canada, where their OTC meds actually work). i am also subjecting myself to many cups of herbal concoctions of my own design. it tastes terrible, so it must be good for me, right?

so, that is where you find me. the pressure in my sinuses is making the back of my eyeballs hurt, every muscle in my whole body aches, my throat feels i swallowed a porcupine, and i have the use of about half of one nostril at any given time. joy.

but i did manage to get one awesome thing done before the germs got the best of me. check out my buns!

i was in a very-not-good mood, and dough-kneading is a near-Zen experience in my universe, so that seemed like a good time to make bread. the plan was to make a couple loaves of white bread, but we were also making an obnoxiously-garlicky pork roast for use in ramen and other such meals in the coming days, when he got me excited about slices of roasted pork stuffed into warm buns. so, the loaves got downsized to buns.

he walked into the kitchen as i was dividing the dough to form the buns.

him: wow. i'm impressed that you're just eyeballing that. you usually use the scale for something like that. i'm proud of you.
me: it definitely feels like i'm doing something wrong. 

so, while my buns may not all be the same size...

they were close enough after the second rise.

the whole place smelled so wonderful while they baked, that my OCD about such things disappeared completely. pardon me while i drool for a bit.

throw in a few thin slices of ridiculously-garlicky roast pork, and you have a perfect meal for a cold Winter evening.

the snow seems to be starting up again. i am going to have something to eat. then i am going to pull the blanket over my head, and go back to sleep. if this is the last time you hear from me, just assume that the Wintery illness won.


this lost love of mine...

random fact: i have a degree in Classic Literature. it was one half of my undergrad double-major. oddly enough, it has been quite a few years since i sat down and properly read a book.

this is yet another thing i blame on grad school. at some point during that wasted time, i got feedback on a paper i had written about a research project i was working on, and the core criticism was that it was too much "fun". "your writing style is very poetic and evocative, but scientific writing isn't supposed to be entertaining", i was told. "stop writing like yourself", the notes concluded.

so, i set out to do precisely that... with a bit of advice from the killjoy writer of said notes.  

"think of it like you are writing a highly-detailed user manual. you want to walk the reader through the process, but at no point should it be "fun" reading."

what, then, would be the point of living?

i would have to find a philosopher to answer that question... taking care to avoid the ones who sound too engaging or entertaining. clearly they did not receive the "fun is not allowed" memo. 

turns out that the hardest part of trying to move away from my usual style of writing was that it required me to move away from my usual style of reading. problem was, i was almost-always nose-deep in the middle of a book, and it was almost-always purely for fun.

yes... i was that dorky kid. hard to imagine, i know!

from the entire set of encyclopedias (back when people owned such things) to all of mom's cookbooks to the boxes of old comic books my cousins and i found in our grandparents' basement... you only had to shove a page of text in front of me, and i was in my happy place.

then i got to middle-school, and i discovered the world of epic storytelling. i still remember the first Summer i was allowed to take the bus by myself to go to the main branch of the public library at Grand Army Plaza. that is what i still think of as "the Summer of Tolkien". and it only got worse from there.

i had a genuine love for reading. it really was my idea of fun. so, it made sense (in that moment, at least) that the only way to stop sounding like i was having fun with my writing, was to stop having fun with my reading. so i did.

and that is still where i am today. i spend very little time engaged in reading just for reading's sake. the closest i can remember coming in recent years was a handful of mysteries by Ngaio Marsh and Ruth Rendell, and a few collections of short stories by David Sedaris.

[total aside: i highly recommend Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn books if you like a good cozy mystery, and Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford series is also good reading for classic-mystery fans (her novel "An Unkindness of Ravens" inspired the title of this blog, as it reminded me just how much i love collective nouns). and, if you want to laugh till it literally hurts, look no further than David Sedaris, whose ability to find absurdity in the ordinary is a much admired trait in our household, where absurdity is a way of life.]

so after more than a decade away, i made a firm decision to get back into reading... which, it turns out, is much easier said than done.

there is a fantastic shop in our neighborhood that is packed to the ceiling with used books (and records), and we pop in there every now and then. i almost-always walk out with at least one new (to me) book, and it almost always-ends up being tucked away on some shelf to be read at some later date... which almost-always never seems to come.

so, there i was, browsing the shelves one day, when i came across two books (two halves of the same story, actually) that i had read many years ago, shortly after the Summer of Tolkien.

i was so excited, i bought both books, got them home, and i even allowed myself to be talked into opening a Goodreads account so that i could keep track of the many... many... many books i would be reading from that point on. heck... i even mentioned it in a blog post at the time. i was genuinely excited to be getting back to this lost love of mine.

then the books just sat... and sat... and sat. i carried from room to room, housing it in a bookcase, then a cubby in the table near my favorite sofa, then in the wooden crate that usually contains yarn-related items on the floor next to my side of the bed. turns out that forcing myself to have to look at the cover of the thing was not going to be enough to actually get it read. the far better approach was to leave it in what we usually refer to around here as "the library"... 'cause that sounds so much classier than just saying "the bathroom".

so, it is more than two years later, and it pleases me to announce that i finally did it. well... i am doing it... slowly. it has been three weeks, now and i am about halfway through the first book. in my prime, i would have read both books in a few (or so) days, but i am woefully out of practice, so i am taking my time.

plus... i am discovering that holding on to a book is getting in the way of the more recent addiction of mine. and i have yet to come up with an amicable  solution.

i hate audiobooks, and i do not have a recipe or spell for growing extra arms, so i am forced to choose between my two loves, and (unfortunately) the knitting usually wins—especially, as i can do that while simultaneously indulging in my other addiction, which he likes to ever-so-eloquently describe as "rape and murder tv".

and, while we are on that subject—the knitting, not the rape and murder tv— i recently started a garment entirely of my own design. [the thin white lines are just there to help me count the rows. they will be removed when it is all done. ]

my brand of OCD required an intense amount of over-planning before i cast on the first stitch, which is why it has taken over two years for this one to go from the planning stage to work-in-progress status. there was a whole lot of math and several badly-drawn diagrams along the way.

luckily, i had help to double-check all of my calculations. this is Ophelia ("Philly"), aka "Baby Bear". she is useful... ish.

but, mostly, she did a lot of this.

the project involves juggling an absurd number of balls of yarn at once. this style of knitting is called intarsia, and it produces quite a lot of ends which will have to be dealt with later. that is my least favorite part of this particular addiction.

and, yes, i am working with eleven different strands of yarn in a single row, which means i have to pause frequently to disentangle all those bits.

luckily, i have another cat to help with that. this is Cordelia ("Cordy"), aka "the Little One". what would i do without her?

then she went racing out of the room and returned a few seconds later to deposit her favorite toy in the midst of the tangle. what could possibly go wrong... right?

there are about a dozen of these plastic springs scattered around our place, but she almost-always goes for this green one... which is not to be confused with the other one in the identical shade of green. clearly, that other green spring sucks!

her favorite game is to drop the spring on the bed next to me (usually at like one in the morning when i am contemplating going to sleep). i toss it out the door, into the room across the hall, and she goes chasing after it like a lunatic. then she brings it back to the bed, and we do the whole routine all over again.

that is, when she is not busy trying to destroy my plants... again.

or my yarn.

so, you can understand my concern whenever she offers to help. so miserable. so cute.

so i packed up all the parts, and returned them to a (relatively safe) hiding place. this is when i made the biggest mistake of all. i left my warm, cozy spot on the bed for a few minutes, and i returned to find kitty number three fast asleep in that space. that is Titania ("Titty"), aka "Mama Kitty". she absolutely refused to move from that spot.

le sigh!

i do not want to give too much away just yet about my special project, but i will say that it is a sweater called "Spite". and, yes... there is a story to be told when it is all done. and, yes... it will be fun.


Jacques Pépin would approve...

i have a scratch on my forehead, a self-inflicted wound involving an extra-sharp knitting needle, and it keeps stinging like crazy, especially in all the humid weather we had recently. naturally, i am waiting for my acceptance letter from Hogwart's to show up any day now.

i am not sure where one buys an owl in the middle of Montreal, but i am sure the cats can manage to deliver a small package between the three of them... although there might be some disagreement over who gets to play with the empty box. and, i have plenty of pointy sticks that could double for a wand... once i stop injuring myself with them, that is.

it is a lovely, crisp, cool September afternoon, and i am sitting here, enjoying an extra-large cup of steaming hot coffee. this is following the two slightly-less-large cups of tea i had earlier in the day. Autumn is definitely here... for real this time.

it would appear that i was a bit premature last time around in declaring the Summer done, because we got hit this past week with a wave of what the weather people described as "soupy" conditions.

hopefully, that is all behind us, as we seem to have finally arrived at the type of weather i love. i was actually shivering a bit this morning, but i was far too lazy to get out of bed to find a warmer cover. so, i just shivered, and smiled, and went back to sleep.

i was sipping my second cup of tea earlier today, and staring out across the treetops, searching for the slightest blush of gold, orange and red leaves. there was none to be found, so i had to settle for a handful of marigolds from the balcony garden. that looks Autumnal, no?

the green leaf in the middle is from the calla lily he insisted on buying this Summer. it may have accidentally broken off when i was watering the plant, so i figured i would put it to use in my mini-arrangement.

the plant has these long, skinny leaves that look like elongated arrowheads...

and flower-like structures that gives it the appearance of some type of pitcher plant.

i may have also broken the stem on one of them while taking those photographs, so now that bit gets to hang out with the marigolds too. happy accidents, as Bob Ross would say.

the highlight of this past week, however, has to be the epic pickling of things. this is just a small sample.

there i was, in the midst of "feels like" temperatures near 40°C (think, 105ish°F), boiling, peeling, chopping, and stuffing a whopping fifteen pounds of beets into jar after jar. then i turned around the next day and did the same with ten pounds of green peppers and pickling cucumbers... minus the boiling, because that would make for really gross pickles.

let me just discuss these pickles for a minute.

as i have noted in times past, i spent most of my growing-up years in New York City. my idea of a "sandwich" is freshly-cooked pastrami or corned beef, sliced thin and piled high on rye bread, with a schmear of mustard... and NOTHING ELSE in between. the only thing that is allowed on the same plate—on the same table, even—is a dill pickle spear, which you can nibble on as a "palate cleanser" of sorts in between bites of your sandwich. how does one cleanse their palate with a pickle? shh... do not disturb me with silly questions when i am taking a stroll down the happy side of memory lane.

back in high school, i used to meet mom most Fridays for a late-lunch at the deli across the street from the World Trade Center, where she worked. we always only ever had the same thing. that sandwich. the meat would be stacked so high, we would order one with two extra slices of bread, and split it between us to make two still-overloaded sandwiches.

and i always got the pickle. it was salty, garlicky, and tasting of dill. it was everything a pickle was supposed to be. i never understood the appeal of those thin-sliced, far-too-sweet pickles people put inside of sandwiches. if you are eating a sandwich that requires candied pickles on the inside to make it taste good... that is the Universe's way of letting you know that you should be eating something else.

so, there i was on day two of my pickling extravaganza, contemplating what to do with the cucumbers that were cluttering up the fridge, when i was struck by the desire to try something a bit different. i do not make dill pickles at home. but, on the rare occasion that i make pickles (which happens ever few-or-so years), i usually prefer recipes that stick to the sour and salty side of things, with little-to-no sugar involved.

this time around, i decided to make my first ever batch of bread-and-butter pickles. however, i did end up using only about half the recommended sugar, as anything sweeter would cross the line into being called a jam to my way of thinking. i had also purchased a giant bag of green peppers for pickling, so i ended up with a mixture that was roughly half pepper, half cucumber, to which i added some sliced onions and about half a head of garlic thinly-sliced.

not gonna lie... this is my favorite batch of pickles to date. [that yellow color is from a dash of turmeric in the liquid.]

i filled five quart jars, and one jar was empty again by the middle of the week. i (still) have zero desire to use them in sandwiches, but we have been treating it (along with the pickled beets) like a side dish with our meals.

which brings us to the pickled beets that started all the insanity.

the supermarket has bags of what they call "ugly beets" in a fifteen pound bag selling for about four or five bucks (the exact amount escapes me). i was fully prepared to have to throw away large sections of grossly deformed beets. what i got, instead, was a fifteen pound bag of beets that looked perfectly-normal to me.

having grown beets on multiple occasions, i can say with complete certainty that i have never discarded a single one because it was not perfectly round, so the idea of vegetables being tossed aside because they lack perfect symmetry (or because they were a little bit ovoid when they should be round) is complete nonsense to me.

i remember Jacques Pépin once talking about buying mushrooms in the supermarket. he said that he walks past all of the pristine white button mushrooms, and goes straight for the slightly-discolored ones with their caps already opened... the ones the markets usually hide away on the discount shelf in the corner, lest a passerby be traumatized by their non-perfectness. his reasoning? they taste better!!!

i am fairly certain Jacques Pépin would approve of my pickled ugly beets.

i have nine quart-sized jars of beets in total, three of which are earmarked for his parents, who will (in turn) give us more tomatoes and beans from their garden... with which i will fill up the remaining eleven quart-sized mason jars. it is the circle of life... with pickles. makes perfect sense to me.

we have been eating all the pickled things just as is, alongside our regular meals. these beets are also especially good with a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herbs (here i used oregano and basil from the balcony), and a pinch of salt and pepper. it is the perfect accompaniment to (almost) any meal.

i can feel Jacques smiling approvingly.

i am adding a postscript to note that shortly after i finished typing most of this text, i decided to spend some time checking out the newest patterns over on Ravelry, when i came across this beauty. message received, Universe. i am packing my bags as we speak. just waiting for the post to arrive with my letter, and i will be on my way.

him: ooh... you should knit one for the balcony. maybe that will keep the squirrels away.

it is nice to be reminded that i am not the only crazy one around here.