Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum

It is, as of a few weeks ago, election season here in Canada once again. People are upset about this, for a variety of reasons. Some people are upset because they see the election as unnecessary and, if you're Stephen Harper, apparently dangerous. Some people are upset because the Conservative government was found to be in contempt of Parliament. Some people are upset because Canada has three parties that suffer from a lack of leadership. 1

And I get that. I hate the attack ads that the Conservative Party of Canada runs about Michael Ignatieff--I hate that they are personal attacks, rather than attacks on policy. That said, they do resonate--it's not difficult to portray Ignatieff as an elitist blowhard who is out of touch with "the average Canadian" because, well, he comes off as an elitist blowhard who is out of touch with the average Canadian. If he was elected, he certainly wouldn't be the first elitist blowhard to lead our country, and I don't know that those qualities would necessarily make him a bad PM.

This will be an interesting election for a lot of reasons. We have three leaders who are likely fighting the last election battles of their careers: Layton, in addition to his health issues, has yet to lead his party to even Official Opposition Status. If Ignatieff fails to win even a minority government this time, it will be a death knell for him as Liberal leader. Anything less than a majority government means the same for Harper; after two minority wins, he needs to show that he is actually engaging Canadians.2 Then there's the ubiquitous Green Party question: will Elizabeth May ever get to participate in a debate?

We are less than four weeks away from the election. I do not know what will happen in the next few weeks. I do not know what kind of dirt will be slung around, what kind of promises will be made, nor what crazy back room allegiances will be struck. I do know that our system is not perfect and that sometimes it feels very broken.

The other thing that I do know is that I, as a Canadian, am choosing to view this election as a positive thing. I believe in our system of government very strongly. I also believe in democracy and the right of suffrage. I am hopeful that everything that has happened in the world since our last election will serve as a call to arms to Canadians: Vote. Vote because we can, because our constitution enshrines it as a right and a freedom. Vote because others worked very hard to get us these rights. Vote because our country is worth investing ourselves in.

Above all else, I will not let the bastards grind me down. No matter how ugly this campaign gets (and given that the attack ads started before the writ was dropped, I think it's safe to say that it will), I will speak loudly in defense of our system and speak loudly in defense of ourselves. I will not let the bastards grind me down into apathy or subservience. I will stand up and be counted.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

1 I know I'm pressing at least a few of your buttons by saying that, readers, but I'm calling it as I see it. Your mileage may vary.
2Speaking of Harper, he looks uncannily like my father in this pre-election ad for Conservative jingoism. His hair, glasses, mannerisms, and Beatles mug are all the same. I have no choice but to see this as further evidence of the Masonic-Reptilian conspiracy.

Whatever happened to...?

Whatever happened to your __________?

I couldn't think of one specific item that I wanted to focus on for this, so here are some photos of things I've made that have gone on to other lives:

(Youngest Sister in her Christmas cowl)

Replacement Hat for Mat
(Husband in his Christmas hat - if you click on the picture to see the larger version, you can see that his eyes are actually different colours)

(Mum in the Haruni shawl)

Gramma in Swallowtail
(Grandma in her Swallowtail shawl)

Abigail Autumn
(Little Abigail in a baby sweater)

(Baby Will in his baby sweater)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day Threeeee

How do you keep your yarn wrangling organised? It seems like an easy to answer question at first, but in fact organisation exists on many levels. Maybe you are truly not organised at all, in which case I am personally daring you to try and photograph your stash in whatever locations you can find the individual skeins. However, if you are organised, blog about an aspect of that organisation process, whether that be a particularly neat and tidy knitting bag, a decorative display of your crochet hooks, your organised stash or your project and stash pages on Ravelry.

Like everything else in my life, my yarn is subject to what appears to be an organizational system founded on total chaos. It totally works for me, though, and I very seldom have difficulty finding what I want. I am lucky enough to have a whole room to myself for crafting. It was billed as a third bedroom when we bought the house, but I have strong doubts about that since a) it has no door, and b) it has no heat supply. It is upstairs between our two actual bedrooms, and it is currently in desperate need of reorganization. I have one plastic bin (won at an OPSEU Christmas party a few years back) which holds acrylics, cottons, cheap wool, and other things that you can buy at big box retailers. I have a three drawer plastic unit that holds my lace weights and my fingering weights. (I have two others that have recently been repurposed for sewing and fabric.) I have a wooden shelving unit that holds a lot of assorted crafting supplies. On it, I have several plastic shoe/sweater boxes that have my Three Irish Girls collection, sorted by weight. I also have--and this might be my one moment of true organizational genius-- three of the zippered plastic bags that comforters and duvets come in. I like these because they are strong, they have a convenient rectangular shape that makes them easy to stack, and they zip closed, which keeps everything inside the bags. I have one for workhorse yarn, one for fancy yarn, and one for odds and ends.

I will occasionally bag my yarn in freezer bags before putting them into other containers, if it helps to keep a sweater set together or something like that. I also have a large, fabric covered box that one of my wedding presents came in, which I use to hold yarn downstairs in the living room, in case I suddenly decide to cast on something else.

This was not the most interesting of posts; I think today might have been a good day to rock the wildcard topic. I apologize.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skill Roundup

Look back over your last year of projects and compare where you are in terms of skill and knowledge of your craft to this time last year. Have you learned any new skills or forms of knitting/crochet (can you crochet cable stitches now where you didn’t even know such things existed last year? Have you recently put a foot in the tiled world of entrelac? Had you even picked up a pair of needles or crochet hook this time last year?

swatch 026

I actually don't have a lot to report in this category; perhaps my skill level has reached a plateau? My biggest skill this past year has been patience: between my mom's sweater (9 months in the making), my husband's kilt hose (which apparently took six weeks?), and all of the Giftmas knitting that I did, there wasn't much opportunity to try new skills or techniques. I suppose you could say that I've learned a lot about being a designer this past year. I had my first patterns professionally published (and my first patterns professionally rejected, for that matter) and it has been an interesting ride. I have some repair work to do on my patterns (charting problems mostly) that I need to fix tomorrow, and some language to revise. I don't think that I'll ever get rich doing it (nor, indeed, ever consider it a "career") but I do like designing in terms of thinking of "new" ways to use yarns, stitches, pattern, techniques.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Yarns

Part of any fibre enthusiast’s hobby is an appreciation of yarn. Choose two yarns that you have either used, are in your stash or which you yearn after and capture what it is you love or loathe about them.

photo 113

I like yarn a lot, in general, and I can think of very few that I have genuinely disliked knitting with. There are a few, of course; the most recent of which is the Knit Picks Swish, which is a superwash worsted weight yarn. I am actually a pretty big fan of Knit Picks; there are several of their products that I really like, namely the City Tweeds, the Imagination sock, and the Wool of the Andes, all of which I've made things out of that have held up very well over time. I recently completed a Rogue sweater for my mother out of the Swish, and I was pretty much cursing it by the end. It was splitty, which lead to a lot of half-dropped stitches that I had to fix, and the small balls meant lots of ends to weave in. Mostly, though, I just didn't like the way that it felt in my hands. (I'm attributing this to the superwashing process.) I had picked it for this sweater initially because of the price, and while I did save a good chunk of money, I wish now I'd spent the money to buy a nicer yarn: it's much too big a project for a yarn that I hated.

photo 042
In the yarn that I love category, where to start? I love different yarns at different times and for different things. I love the Peace Fleece that I bought at the Frolic last year. It's the perfect heathered green colour and it feels slightly rustic. I bought it to go with these buttons, which I'd had for over a year in anticipation of finding just the right green yarn. I also tend to love alpaca yarns. The yarn that I made my wedding shawl from, which I bought from a local alpaca farm, is like knitting with clouds--so beautifully soft and smooth, and perfect for shawls. I also love(d) Fleece Artist's Woolie Silk 2-ply, now sadly discontinued. I've made two shawls from it, and they are both beautiful and warm. I get compliments on mine whenever I wear it, and I think my mom gets some on hers, too.

jess and aaron 034

The good, the bread, and two weeks left

This is actually the first of two posts for today, since today is the beginning of the Second Annual Knit Crochet Blog Week.

There are two weeks left in the term. This is simulataneously exciting and terrifying. I have quite a lot of work to do as a result of this (plus our exam is only 4 days after the last day of classes, which gives me no cushion) but somehow I always find myself dreaming of the things I will be doing once classes are over. I have big plans for the month of April, and the summer sort of snowballs from there--concerts, plays, road trips, sewing, painting, gardening, baking...maybe even running.

Speaking of baking, here is a picture of my second place winning bread:

Don't you want some now? I do. I'll have to make more this week. I am going to attempt a chickpea soup today, as well. We took a roadtrip to Sudbury on Friday to visit Chapters and Costco, and we got to have lunch at Respect Is Burning, which was serving a soup that was chickpeas, proscuitto, bacon, asparagus, white wine, chicken broth, and cream. I've found a recipe for one that sounds similar, and I'm going to give it a shot since it was a pretty tasty soup.

We also went to a hunting/sporting good store, which was in the process of a massive liquidation sale because they were moving locations. I was able to get both a Helly Hansen running jacket and a Cybersilk base layer shirt for my mother for under $40 (regularly $180). Very fortuitous timing, given that the next day was my mother's birthday...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second Best

I've spent most of the last week cooking.

I made more of perpetual Nut-house favourite, Anna Olson's gyoza. Easy but time consuming, they are tasty morsels, and very filling.

I made blood orange sorbet in the ice cream maker attachment for the stand mixer. I haven't quite got myself motivated to make actual ice cream yet, because every time I look at a recipe that calls for more than a cup of whipping cream, I have a bit of a heart attack. Sorbets, however, are perfect--delicious, simple, and (relatively) healthy, since I get to control how much sugar goes in to it. (It also makes lovely daiquiris, too, and if the price of limes ever drops, I will be making margaritas by the pitcherful.)

I've also made bread--more specifically, caramelized onion beer bread. I have actually not made bread very many times in my life, but this recipe was so simple that it turned out incredible. The student services department hosted a "Northern University's Best Baker" competition today, with categories in cakes, cookies, squares, and bread. I chose bread because I wanted to try a savoury option. A brief visit to a friend's gourmet food shop/bakery last weekend suggested a caramelized onion and cheese bread to me, and the recipe above sounded the most delicious of all the hits that my google search turned up.

I made the first batch on Monday, omitting the cumin because a) I didn't have any cumin seeds, and b) I just forgot to add the ground cumin. It was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I ate the two loaves by myself because Mat hates onions and wouldn't touch it. I used Sleeman Honey Brown as my beer of choice.

When I made the dough last night, I remembered the cumin. It smelled fantastic today while it was baking, but I couldn't taste it as much as I would've thought in the finished product, probably because it was just the ground cumin. The bread was even better the second time, I think, and the judges thought so too--I came in first in the bread category, and in second overall. (I lost to a very elaborate 4-layer cake.)

Other than that, most of today has been lost to cleaning--we finally trucked our unusable computer desk and broken washer off to the dump, and we moved the furniture in the living room around--it's so much nicer now. Almost like we live in a grown up house.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Walkin' in New Orleans

We are home now, at long last. The trip home yesterday was uneventful but long--it took longer to drive from Toronto to North Bay Rock City than it did to fly from New Orleans to Toronto. Once we arrived home, there were seven million cats to be petted and reassured and allowed to bite us very crossly for having left in the first place. The Little Cat is larger now--he's not a patch on Big Cat, of course, but he's still a titch bigger than he was. Middle Sister, who served Chief Cat Worshipper and Provider of Food while we were gone, has left her cat at our house through the end of the weekend, and I must say that our house is simply too small for three cats. They're everywhere--I am constantly stepping on them.

Anyhow. You don't want to read about cats. You want to know about New Orleans.

We lucked out with the weather--it was 24-28 degrees and mostly sunny all week. I even have the tiniest bit of a tan right now. The hotel, which was gorgeous and ornate, had a pool and a hot tub on its roof, and we spent a good chunk of time soaking up there, and looking out around the city. Our hotel was about two blocks away from the French Quarter, in the Central Business District. I chose it mainly because we got the best price on it through, and it worked out amazingly well. At four diamonds, it was much more luxurious than anywhere else I'd ever stayed, and being out of the French Quarter was a blessing in disguise. Having seen how the Quarter was a full two weeks before Mardi Gras, I have difficulty comprehending what crazy Mardi Gras must actually be...

We visited Oak Alley Plantation and did a bayou tour. We rode around on the streetcars for a day, goofing around at City Park and wandering around the Garden District. (Also: American friends, HOW ON EARTH HAVE YOU NOT TOLD ME ABOUT COLD STONE CREAMERY? I mean, I know you've mentioned it in passing, but you've never explained how urgently I needed to go there.) We saw a space shuttle. We went to a cemetery (St. Louis #1, a.k.a. the one in Easy Rider). I bought yarn and a 70-300mm telephoto lens for my camera. We went to Mardi Gras parades and walked around with open containers of alcohol. We caught strings of beads thrown by strippers on a balcony. We pet and fed stingrays. We sunbathed and soaked on the rooftop of our hotel.

And we ate. Oh my goodness, did we eat. I ate tuna, oysters, redfish, crawfish, salmon, shrimp, crab, alligator, tacos, burritos, real barbeque, thai dumplings, sushi, po'boys, roasted chicken, buffalo milk cheese, homemade soppressatta, buttermilk pancakes, ice cream, bread pudding, pralines, and beignets. I drank wine, margaritas, beer (including a strawberry beer!), Hurricanes, frozen brandy milk punch, cafe au lait, and sweet tea. It was wonderful.

I have a number of observations on American-Canadian relations and differences, which I will share with you later, but for now I will simply link to my Flickr set of New Orleans pictures, and leave you with this particularly photographic gem:

New Orleans 2011