day 12: not a happy cupcake...

i was planning/hoping to end this twelve day stream-of-consciousness on something of a high note (relatively speaking, that is, because is still pride myself on my near-constant state of curmudgeony). unfortunately, i seem to be under assault by that public nuisance referred to as the common cold, and i am officially tapping out.

i spent most of today wrapped up under the down blanket, going back and forth from a feverish stupor to wholly restless sleep. even now, when i have just had a hot shower and a cup of my go-to herbal concoction, all i can think about is the constant pounding in the middle of my head, and the growing tickling sensation at the back of my throat, and the constant drip drip drip sound as my sinuses de/re-pressurize from one side to the other.

me: i am not a happy cupcake right now.
him: i know.

outside, it 'feels like' a whopping thirty-something degrees below zero, and the high-winds have been blowing the ever-falling snow horizontally for more than twenty-four hours now. why do people insist on forming countries in such ridiculous places?

i had planned on taking a few photos of the snazzy cardi i knitted him for Christmas, but that will have to wait for some far less miserable time.

so... happy New Year, again, to anyone who gets excited about such things.

oh, and in case you are curious about the random things on my ever-changing mantle of madness, they currently include:

  •  a mini-board of knitted swatches in the background. i like to look at them in the changing light—what little of it we get at this time of year—while pondering all the things that i can make from the different yarns.
  • two model spinning wheels (one is wooden, and the other is made from corn husks!). these were generously given to me by his mom when she learned that, in addition to knitting, i also love to spin my own yarn. she brought both of these little gems with her from Croatia (back when it was still part of Yugoslavia), so they have been around for a while already. they are on my short list of 'things to grab in the event of a fire', so i usually keep them in plain sight. priorities, people!
  • then there are the two creepy wobbly cookie tins.

i blame my favorite animator for introducing me to these evil things. they each contained two small packets of Walkers shortbread biscuits (cookies, to my fellow Americans). "what could be wrong with that", you ask? "the biscuits are delicious", i reply. that never ends well.

they make a variety of nifty tins, some specifically for the holidays, and others for whatever random reason you dream up. so, now that i have the snowman and the Scottish piper, logic dictates that i must collect them all. thanks, sweetie.


day 11: on the threshold of something great...

i have been in bed since around seven this evening, under the fluffy down blanket, with my feet pressed up against the hot water bottle, and two-out-of-three cats fast asleep next to me. i am on the threshold of something great—headache-wise, that is—so i have decided to call it an early day.

it dawned on me as i was contemplating how to wrap up the last two days of my "twelve days of..." posts, that i never documented the last two garments i completed during last year's marathon-o-knits, mainly as i took a long break from my blog (and from knitting) near the end of the year.

following last Summer's uncharacteristic foray into the world of pink, i was happy to finally get back to life in many shades of grey (and blue). in addition to the squishy Wonder Woman shawl, i completed a really posh cardi for him (more about that next time... maybe), then there was that really lovely, lacy, navy blue sweater from me.

it is slightly-cropped, slightly-boxy, with slightly-shortened sleeves. basically.... slightly-everything. the pattern was written for four separate pieces (front, back, and two sleeves) worked from the bottom hem up, then seamed together, and a collar added to form the completed garment. i had zero time for all that foolishness, so i did my own (lazy) thing. i tend to avoid seaming whenever possible, so the first step was to reconfigure the pattern to be knitted seamlessly, in the round. then there was the other problem.

knitting a sweater in the round from the bottom-up usually means beginning by knitting two tubes for the sleeves, up to the armpits, then a larger tube for the body up to the same point, then you arrange all three tubes together, and continue knitting around one large circle (minus the armpit stitches), shaping the shoulders as you go, until you arrive at the collar... then you are done. and that works if you know that you have enough yarn to spare, but when you are cutting it close (which i most definitely was with this one), it is heart-wrenching to get halfway through the shoulder, then realize that you do not have enough to go the whole way. there are quite a number of unfinished bottom-up sweaters lurking out there, with owners who could not bring themselves to unravel all of that hard work.

enter the top-down sweater. start at the collar, and work your way down. if it looks like you might run out of yarn, you can adjust appropriately. wrist-length sleeves can be easily shortened, as can the central body of the garment. what you hoped would be a hip-length, wrist-warming sweater, is now a slightly-cropped, bracelet-length layering piece... and you are left with a meter or two of yarn to spare. i am genuinely proud of myself at these moments, and i appear to have company on that front (she was actually looking at the birds in the tree).

him: so, you basically re-wrote the whole pattern?
me: pretty much.
him: why did you bother buying it in the first place?
me:  i'm still asking myself that question.

the sweater features an all-over lace stitch in the body, with plain (stockinette) sleeves.

the lace (naturally) means that it is a layering piece... unless you like to live adventurously.

i even dug up the cute little labels i purchased for such an occasion, as they provide that extra little touch to let me know that a project is finally finished.

the pattern was King Cole #4269, which was my very first experience with this company's designs, although i know that they are a major design house in the UK market. it was one of two patterns i purchased from Knit Nottingham, and i only bought this one because it felt like i would be wasting their time just ordering the one other pattern that i really wanted (i have yet to even look at that one). the original pattern had a long and short option for the sleeve... naturally, i went with option "c", ending up with something in-between.

this was my first real attempt at using a cotton-based yarn for a Wintery garment, as i tended to associate said fiber with warm-weather knitting. fast-forward a few months, and my stash has almost doubled with the subsequent purchase of cottony things. the realization that i can still indulge my love for wool by making stuff for my favorite animator, my mom, and his, while making cotton-based garments for myself that i will actually be able to wear (without breaking out in hives, that is) has absolutely renewed my enthusiasm for the craft. i am back to the point where the hardest part of finishing one project is deciding which one to cast on next. i want to knit everything... except socks. sorry, sweetie.


day 10: no watermelon-lemonade in mid-Winter...

i gave up on the practice of making resolutions many New Years ago, as it tends (more often than not) to mean setting one's self up for failure. how many times have you found yourself, on the eve of a new year, vowing to give up some thing... only to end up disappointed in yourself a few days (or hours) later? then you give up on the giving up, get mad at yourself, and stop trying. exactly. no more resolutions for this girl.

what i prefer to do is to set myself a very vague (highly guilt-free) goal of either trying something new, or getting back to something that i may have done in the past. one of last year's goals, for example, was to knit more things. anyone who follows me with any regularity, all two-and-a-half of you, might wonder where the "new" is in that, as i am always talking about knitting.

the goal was to go from simply knitting out of sheer curiosity (which usually resulted in the project being unraveled once said curiosity was satisfied) to actually working toward completed objects that i would actually want to have in my home and wardrobe. i completed a grand total of ten garments last calendar year (two of which were for him), and—far more importantly—i have actually worn most of them. the experience was so fulfilling (not to mention, confidence boosting) that i intend to continue on filling my wardrobe (and his) with hand-knitted things. i have two sweaters currently on the go, with about a hundred more items that i absolutely want to start working on soon. at this rate, i will have to live a few more lifetimes to get through all those future projects. luckily, all that planning is half the fun.

so, in addition to some more personal objectives (being more patient with the world around me, for example), i have set myself a couple-few crafty goals for the year ahead. i want to get back into sewing, though i have not really found the right assortment of patterns or ideas to set that particular flame alight. however, there is one wholly-absurd fire that has being going for some months now, and i think it is finally time to make it happen.

i speak (naturally) of candle-making. this is one of the countless crafts i did back in my botanic garden days, where my job included teaching not only outdoor gardening classes, but also a wide range of indoor crafty activities for the whole family, especially in the colder part of the year. i had been saving empty candle jars for a few months, with no particular plan in mind, when it occurred to me that i could clean them out and refill them at a fraction of the cost of buying more candles.

naturally, this prompted a whole lot of research into said topic (fun fact: this is my approach to everything i do), until i was overwhelmed by all the how-to's and don't-do's of the candle-making world. i had just arrived at the point where i was ready to abandon the idea amidst the tidal wave of "too much information", when it suddenly dawned on me...

me: i just remembered that i used to teach candle-making workshops at the garden. it's really easy to do. don't know why i am letting all these random websites turn it into a complicated activity. i can make candles with my eyes closed. 
him: how do you even forget something like that?
me: i taught a lot of really wacky classes while i was working there. it's hard to keep them straight. however, if you ever want to recycle old jeans into handmade paper embedded with flower seeds, then turn that paper into greeting cards that can be planted directly into your garden to form a flowerbed... i'm your girl!
him: i'll keep that in mind for after the apocalypse.

i was all ready to venture off into the world of candle-making, when Bath & Body Works decided to have one of their big semi-annual sales. i only ever buy their stuff during the big June and December sales, and i only ever buy two things—three-wick candles and body creams, both in assorted season-appropriate fragrances. so, i used that opportunity to purchase some of their Wintery candles, and the candle-making adventures was quickly forgotten... until a few days ago.

i am not a fan of overly-sugary smells, so i tend to stick to the deep, woodsy, spicy (cinnamon, cloves, that sort of thing) fragrances in the Fall and Winter, and fragrances that are more reminiscent of gardens and outdoor spaces (grass, flower blossoms, that sort of thing) come Spring and Summer. i was standing in front of my current stash of candles, deciding which one to burn next, when i sought the advice of my favorite animator.

him: read me the names of the ones you have now.

so, i started to give him a list of fragrances to choose from. two candles in, he exclaims...

him: go with that one. 
me: watermelon-lemonade...???
him: what's wrong with that one? you like that one. you buy it all the time.
me: sweetie, you don't burn watermelon-lemonade in mid-winter. that is a sacrilege. 

a few more labels later, and he settled on something called "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". i lit the candle and went about my regular business. then, a short while later, i heard this voice echoing down the hall...

him: that is the best-smelling candle you have ever gotten. 

... and i was forced to agree. it smells like a freshly-cut pine tree. no unnecessary flowery or fruity notes... just pure Christmas tree. i immediately hopped on their website in hopes of finding a few more, but they were already gone, so hopefully they will bring this one back next year later this year.

so, while i was basking in the glow of the most wonderful fragrance ever, i renewed my excitement to get going on the candle-making adventure some time during this year. all i really need are some wicks, wax pellets, and fragrance oils to scent my candles as i see fit, and i am ready to create!

i have a dozen empty three-wick candle jars, plus some assorted smaller jars from candles i purchased elsewhere. when someone offers to show you their empties, you usually expect something a bit more exciting than this.

note the two Watermelon-Lemonade empties, and i still have a third (unlit) candle in the utility closet, waiting for watermelon-lemonade weather. apparently i really do like that particular scent.

the empties currently live in a large twelve-gallon garden container, like the ones we use for the balcony garden. we purchased a dozen for said project, but i managed to pinch two of them for other purposes. one currently sits on the floor near my favorite sofa, overflowing with bags of yarn, while the other one has been pressed into service housing my (growing) collection of candle jars.

i also have this jar from a Yankee Candle i purchased at my local Bureau en Gros (which is what Staples is called when you live in a place that insists on using French as its first-language).

i love love love that fresh balsam fir candle because the scent of it reminds me of all those wreath-making workshops i used to lead during the holiday season. and, yes... that was also back when i worked at the botanic garden. that place really has ruined me for life.


day 9: the frenemy of my frenemy...

[be forewarned, this is almost entirely about my cats.] my favorite animator was on the phone earlier today with the Director of a series he is working on, when he laughed and exclaimed, "that's why i have cats". it was not until some time later—as i was watching one of my cats put another one in a headlock—that i remembered to ask about that comment.

me: what were you saying earlier to B--- about having cats?
him: oh, that was hilarious. his dog took a dump on the floor while we were talking... then the dog started eating it.
me: uhm... i think i'll stick to crazy cats. 

i type those words while perched on the edge of my favorite sofa, trying hard not to disturb a certain sleeping kitten. it is not that we do not absolutely love her, but this tiny lunatic angel is wearing everybody out, especially Baby Bear.

we got the Little One in part to keep Baby Bear company. Mama Kitty, much like me, prefers to spend most of the day behind a "do not disturb" sign, so we thought a new kitten would provide a bit of company for Baby Bear, who is herself intensely crazy at times. boy, did she get a bit of company!

(Little One, left; Baby Bear, right)
see them with their adorable little heads together, plotting my demise?

the Little One has two settings: knocked out sleeping (complete with tiny pink tongue hanging out) and a flat-out run... for an hour or more at a time, until she crashes again. you get away with being insane when you are insanely cute.

him: i've been around hundreds of cats, and i have never seen one this insane.

she ricochets off walls, and gets across a room in a single leap... that is... when she is not crashing head-first into things.

me: it's gonna be tough explaining my kitten's traumatic brain injury to the vet. this kind of thing could end in awkward conversations with the authorities. 
him: leave her alone with them for a few minutes, and they'll understand. 

she occasionally coerces Mama Kitty into a game of tag, but most of all, she lives to drive Baby Bear up a wall. her favorite hobbies include:

  • sitting on Baby Bear
  • jumping on Baby Bear
  • standing on Baby Bear
  • needing to occupy the same physical space as Baby Bear at all times 
  • (most of all) putting Baby-Bear in a headlock 
she also has a vendetta against one of my houseplants, but that is a subject for some other day. 

before the Little One's arrival, Baby Bear's need for affection had a tendency to get in the way of just about everything i did. now, i frequently enter a room and find her in a headlock, on the receiving end of some aggressive licking/loving from the kitten, and i have arrived at the conclusion that the frenemy of my frenemy is my new best girl. plus, everybody knows that headlocks are a sign of the highest form of affection. there are prisons filled with people who will attest to said fact.

and, on that note... i am going to chase away the cold with a scalding hot cup of tea, and maybe try to reclaim a corner of my blanket and my favorite sofa, both of which are now occupied by two sleeping cats. i would not trade them for anything. 


day 8: the morning after...

the year is off to an auspicious start with tonight's Wolf Moon (the first full-moon of the year), and it is a supermoon to boot. if i was the superstitious type, i would be lighting candles and making all sorts of wishes. instead, i plan to snuggle up with a cat (or three) and maybe watch a mystery while i knit for a while. i can get excited about a super-wolf-moon some other time.

following our spectacular meal last night, we broke out a couple baking kits that we were saving for just that occasion, figuring they would fit into the night's tradition to "try something new". it should be noted that this started as a quick trip to the local PharmaPrix for some sinus meds so that i might actually get a whole night of sleep, and it ended with the purchase of DIY cinnamon bun kits. drug stores are selling everything these days it seems.

we got two kits, seen here with and without the packaging.

each kit included a cast-iron skillet and a packet each of flour mix and cinnamon sugar.

the skillet is adorable, and that alone made the purchase totally worth it.

remove the contents from both kits...

add a few bits from the kitchen to complete the mise en place, and off you go!

this was my first time using instant yeast, as i tend to stick to the traditional stuff that i used when i first learned to bake (which suddenly feels like it was a billion years ago). i measured out the required amount...

dumped it in the mix (both packets are in the bowl)...

added the water...

and combined it all to form a ball of dough.

i covered the bowl and set it aside to rise until doubled, which (according to the directions) should have taken about twenty minutes. one hour later (after moving it to the stove top, which was slightly warm with the residual heat from having roasted the bbq pork in the oven below), we had something approaching a rise. i am still convinced that the other yeast would have done a better job in less time.

this is where the magic begins. i kneaded the dough lightly, then formed it into two ropes (or something approximating a rope), one for each skillet. i assure you that i am usually a far more exacting baker than this, but midnight was approaching, and i was having a very merry Merlot Eve.

next came a brush of melted butter (not included in the kit, for obvious reasons)...

then the cinnamon-sugar was sprinkled on...

and the rope was formed into a roll and (finally) placed on the skillet. naturally, there was more resting, and (naturally) it took twice as long as was suggested. i recognize that it is rather chilly, as we are in the midst of an arctic-blast, but this much "rise time" was downright ridiculous. he finally had the bright idea of placing the pans in the microwave (without turning it on), so that they might rise a bit faster in the relatively warmer space... which they did! i knew there was a reason why we keep him around.

one short stay in the oven later, and they were (finally) done. all that was left was to drizzle on a bit of icing (also not included in the kit).

close enough.

now came the moment when we got to taste the thing. i ripped a piece off from the outer edge of my spiral, and bit in... and the more i chewed, the more i regretted it.

him: it's not as bad as i expected. they're nothing compared to your cinnamon buns, but they're not bad for something you buy in a kit. 
me: are you kidding me! my cinnamon buns are the stuff of legends. this thing is horrible. 
him: you're just exaggerating. it's really not that bad.
me: no, it's worse than that. there is a strange taste at the back of my tongue. first it was super-salty, then it went even more wrong. yep... i'm done.

so, he finished his roll, with mere minutes to spare before midnight, and he also finished mine some time later, after we were done watching Birdemic (because we are still on the bad-movie kick, and i had not seen that one). all in all, it was a thoroughly fun way to ring in the New Year.

now, in case you think we completely lost our minds with this little baking disaster, there was some method to the madness. not only did it provide us with a bit of entertainment, but the kit each included a genuine, old-school cast-iron skillet, and we love love love such things.

so, on the morning after, i stuck them in a hot oven to heat up, before putting them to their intended use. he made some toast, and we sat down for our first meal of the new year with a smile on both our faces.

these adorable little pans were totally worth every penny spent on those silly kits.

oh... and he turned the leftover bbq pork from last night's culinary adventure into an amazing stir-fry for this evening's meal. not a bad way to start a year.