Thursday, October 30, 2014

Things about fall


Oh, fall.  I am just not sure about you.  Why does it have to be so dark and gloomy?  Why all the pumpkin spice everything everywhere?   How many minutes until I can go to the beach again?  Are we almost there?  I made caramel apples the other day, which is one of the five or so things I do like about fall, and I ate them so fast I bruised my gums a little bit.  Caramel and apples go together like caramel and apples, don’t they?  Here’s my recipe:  Buy some crispy, crunchy apples at the perfect peak of their apple perfection.  Then also (here’s my secret ingredient) buy this kit.  Presto, instant gratification is yours.  Making caramel apples like that is the only way I’ve ever done it, and they are perfectly good, although they always make me think of this:  once when I was young, my friend Richie’s mom made caramel apples the other way, in a saucepan on the stove using butter and sugar and cream and vanilla, and stirring it forever and ever, and then spearing an apple with a fork and dipping it in there, ohmygoodness.  The buttery golden caramel coating was an inch think, and so soft and gorgeous, and the pan on the stove was so coated in candy that it looked like she might as well just throw it away afterwards.  She casually plonked the dripping apples to cool right on the countertop, and we all hovered there, on a cold Friday night in October in Michigan, after the football game, maybe still in our marching band uniforms, suspenders up over white t-shirts, dark green wool pants, jackets discarded on a chair by the fireplace, plumes and spats and saxophones and drumsticks in a pile somewhere, wondering at this crazy level of love that makes a person use a candy thermometer and ruin a pan to making a treat that will stay in a person’s memory for thirty years.  I think of that every year, when the leaves start to litter the yard and the air in this farm town smells spicy and smoky; Richie’s mom making caramel apples from scratch, using the forks from her drawer to dip them, and then saying, “Who needs some cider?  How about a doughnut?”  and the bunch of us standing wide-eyed in her old kitchen, waiting for them to cool, the Tigers on their way to win the World Series on the TV in the other room. There was a bonfire later, a 20-foot high pile of brush from their farm, and we were sugared up and warm, warm, warm.  Golden. 


In other, non-caramel  news, I have stitched up a cozy for my wonderfully fluffy but sorta silly-looking down-filled throw.  It is the softest thing ever, but it is, for some reason, covered in penguin-print fabric, and the penguins are holding up signs that say “Candy Canes: 5 cents.”  I love this thing so much I want to drag it everywhere I go, but the penguins…well, that problem was solved in an afternoon, with a stack of gray-toned and wintery-looking fabrics, cut in 10 1/2” squares and seamed together on the machine.  I backed it with a soft gray cotton sheet, and made an envelope closure on the patchwork side, secured with buttons and loops of ribbon.  The silly penguins with their candy cane marketing signs are safely tucked inside.


There, caramel apples and down duvets; that’s two good things about fall.  I can’t think of a third right now. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

What the?


I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking What the heck is that thing?  It looks like a puppet, but I know it can’t be a puppet because puppets have googly eyes.


Nope, it’s not a puppet.


Well then—you’re thinking—is it a pair of slippers for an elf? 


Witch socks?

Golf club cozies?  Oven mitts?  Something to do with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that we’d rather not discuss right now???

Ha!  Nope.  Friends, this is a mitten.  A mitten Without A Thumb. 


I can hear you saying (you’re not thinking it anymore, you’re saying it out loud now) that there’s no way this is a mitten, because the thumb is the thing that makes a mitten a mitten, and this doesn’t look like any mitten you’ve ever seen, but LO!  I am here to bring you tidings of great joy, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere where it is beginning to get a little bit COLD outside right now.  Friends, coming to you straight from the brilliant and twisted imagination of the great Elizabeth Zimmermann, this is the Thumbless Mitten.  If you’ve ever made mittens you know how it goes; you cast on merrily, thinking cozy thoughts, and you go whistling along through the cuff and the increases for the gusset, and past the hand and the lovely little decreases at the top, and you cut the yarn and weave in the ends and then the crushing realization dawns that you still have to make the thumb, which will only take like ten minutes, but which is no end of fiddly and which is somehow just deeply aggravating.  And then, like a bad rash, it comes up again on the second mitten, and knitting two thumbs is two thumbs too many!  That’s twenty minutes you’ll never get back, people!  Enter the Thumbless Mitten.  Also, let’s face it, when you’re wearing mittens, you know your thumb is freezing, all isolated over there away from it’s brethren, am I right?  You know you’re tucking your cold little thumb up into the cozy hand part of the mitten anyway. 

I just think these things are the greatest.  They are everything there is to love about a mitten—that little gathered-in ribbing section at the middle to keep out the drafts, the dearth of ribbing, the inneresting decreases at the top to make them curved, you know, just like your hand is curved?  Dang.  Fantastic.  Also, they are fully lined, which you achieve by picking up stitches along the cast on edge and just knitting another mitten onto the first one.  Which means you’re really knitting four mittens here, but you know what?  You’re not knitting any thumbs.  None!  EZ, you never fail to amaze. 


This pattern can be found in the book “Knitting Around” by Elizabeth Zimmermann.  I used one skein each of Patons Classic Wool in Orchid (the lining) and Cascade 220 in some kind of purple heather (the outside side) knitted on US 4 double pointed needles.  The doctor wanted to know one thing:  without a thumb, how are you going to put on the second mitten?   I did wonder, but I managed it in the end.  Knitters, go forth and make these.  If you’re not on board with the lack of thumbs, you can add one later.  She thought of that too. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October quilt



The doctor is trying really hard to keep me busy, probably so I won’t sit around and mope too much about how I don’t have to get up at six in the morning anymore to pack lunches, or spend three evenings a week sitting in a school auditorium somewhere, or stand in the rain watching one kid or the other run around in circles or march down the street carrying a trombone--how I actually do miss those things, though, oh my goodness, I can’t even describe it.  So in order to keep me from bringing home a puppy or something, he makes plans.  We went out for coffee twice yesterday.  We went to Bed Bath and Beyond.  We went to the post office, also twice.  Between trips to the hardware store, I managed to finish this quilt, and right before it started to pour with gusty rain, I hung it up outside to admire it.




I machine-pieced the top a long time ago, got around to basting the layers after awhile, folded it up and left it to sit there for a month, then finally hand quilted it in one long day while listening to thirteen Zilch podcast episodes in a row.  I discovered recently that the real name for my huge, hurried quilt stitches is “utility quilting” which seems right.  There’s nothing fancy about them at all, but they look fine to me, and they get the job done.  The finished dimensions of this quilt are 72” x 81”.  


After our extremely busy day of leafing through magazines and buying squirrel deterrent, we put on our clean shirts and went into the city to see this, and I laughed so hard I couldn’t see straight, which was the best medicine ever, though I warn you it is not for the faint of heart nor the easily offended.  Back in our quiet midnight kitchen, we shared the last of an apple pie, still laughing.  It was a really good day.  I don’t know how he’s going to keep up this pace, but I’m looking forward to it. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cowl Bag Pillow


Amidst all the knitting going on around here, I just felt like crocheting something, so the other day I made this cowl (pattern recipe by the always-inspiring Vanessa) while the doctor and I binge-watched the last season of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix.  (No spoilers, ya’ll.) This is all scraps and leftovers—the bright yellow is a remnant of my turmeric hand-dyeing adventure—and I worked it on a US G hook.  This is the perfect fall palette for me right now:  gray and beige and teal and turquoise; butternut, bittersweet, and pumpkin.  Olive.  Warm and soft, but with a little pizzazz, thanks to the turmeric. 

I don’t know what it is about these column-shaped cowl things and my neck, but though I find them nearly irresistible, I always discover in the end that I can’t really wear them.  Everybody else looks so chic (Vanessa looks like Duchess Kate) but I look like I’m wearing one of those cones that keeps a dog from biting his stitches.  I might need to wait for my hair to get a little longer, because right now it just looks like a big pompom on top of a birthday party hat.  (By the way, thanks so much for all the hairdo love.  You guys are so nice.  If you’ve ever tried to grow out a pixie, you know my pain.  Today, somebody said to me, “You’ve changed your hair.  Huh.  It’s…different…”  What, nothing about the black rayon bathrobe I was trying to pass off as a long jacket?  The tiny, mummified frog taxidermy I was wearing around my neck?  [It is October, after all.  I never said I was normal.]  The unpredictable curly-ness of my hair is a little maddening, and I feel like I could so easily win a Bilbo Baggins lookalike contest, but I am trying to tough it out.)  Anyway.  I digress!  The cowl! 

I love this cowl, but I might not wear it.  In fact, it looks tantalizingly like most of a satchel (add a strap, a lining, a vintage button at the top), or perhaps a pillow cover (what could be easier?  It’s the texture that’s missing from my couch!)


See?  Lovely, either way. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Cure for Melancholia


These are the autumn days that remind me of years ago--my own childhood of knee socks and mom-made dresses and brown soft-soled shoes, my green plaid blanket coat with the big pockets full of rocks and buckeyes and interesting bottle caps, my school bag banging against my leg on the way home from the bus stop.  Nancy Drew mysteries.  Metal roller skates.  Whispering at night through the big gap in the paneled wall between my brother’s room and mine, his warm, little kid breath on my face.  We were so close then, almost best friends.  When I couldn’t sleep at night, I tapped on the wall.  “Hey.”  A shuffle, as he woke up.  “Hi.  Whaddaya want to talk about?


These blue sky, mercurial days of changing purple clouds and yellow leaves remind me, too, of more recent autumns when the doctor (back then just an engineer) and I loaded our kids and our dog into our VW camper and spent long weekends hiking and canoeing and climbing mountains together.  As we climbed, the children sang songs only they knew, and filled their pockets with rocks, too.  Sometimes, we let them range far ahead of us on the trail, so they could feel that sense of being free in the wild woods, their bobbing orange bandannas just visible in the distance. 


I am tempted to get melancholy, not just with the changing of one lovely season into the next, but with my echoing, empty nest grown huge around me.  My beautiful daughter, the one with the mermaid hair, has left home and gone off to make her own life in Philadelphia, and she has taken her big orange tomcat with her, and the space she and her brother--her own childhood best friend--who fledged the nest six weeks ago, have left behind is gaping and strange.  I am tempted to lie on my back listening to sad Nat King Cole songs and letting the tears drip into my ears, but instead, I am knitting. 


I finally finished this scarf, and it is a thing of gossamer beauty, just as I hoped.  It took at least as long as a blanket would take, and was a lot less interesting to work on, but the end result, as I knew it would be, is completely worth all the endless hours of ennui. 


It is nothing more than a massive stockinette rectangle using about 1000 yards of laceweight yarn, worked on US 3 straight needles.  I know.  I love this kind of boredom, and if you do too, I can recommend a project like this wholeheartedly for when you just need the sheer solace of plain work.  It doesn’t get any more mindless than this, and I totally loved/hated making it.  It was impossible to make visible progress on it—hours of knitting resulted in the remaining yarn ball getting no smaller, so not only does a thing like this soothe the nerves but it also defies science!  Magic! 

I know you want to know what yarn I used, but I’m ashamed to say I still can’t seem to keep track of a ball band, no matter how hard I try, so I don’t know.  It is very fine laceweight, and there were 1000 yards of it (which I used all up) and I would describe the color as some kind of light grayish-periwinkle.  If that helps at all.  Really, if you want to make one of these, just pick out any fine laceweight yarn in a color you love, take up your US size 3 needles and cast on 100 stitches.  Then just work in stockinette stitch until the yarn runs out, block the finished piece using blocking wires or string, and that’s it, you have a beautiful wrap that looks like it was made by woodland fairies out of spider gossamer.  Presto.  My wrap blocked out to 14” x 96”. 


What else is life but joy mixed with tears, peace interrupted by chaos, summer followed by fall? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

On the road


I went on a trip with my mama and my beautiful daughter, to a stunning city a long way away, across the ocean.  I had never been that far from home.


We ate bitterballen, and cheeses made by hand, in cafes beside the canals.  We drank Grolsch, Amstel, and Heineken.  And, once, oude jenever, which is really just fire water, and which made my mama say, “my esophagus is hot!”


We explored every little alley we could find.  I helped three guys hoist a bed up to their fourth floor window using a rope and pulley.  I learned to use the tram.  I saw a hundred famous paintings up close, and felt starstruck in the moment, standing face to face with Vincent—his self-painted eyes are so desperate. 


I met a guy who uses this windmill to make peanut oil.  With ropes, the wind, and his hands.  A curly-haired kid wearing trendy glasses used two huge machines to make a wooden shoe in about three minutes.  Beautiful people were everywhere.


I want to move there immediately, to fill a room in the attic of a Golden Age house with books and art, and then sit in the window writing poetry every day until the bells of the Westerkerk tell me its time for bed.  I want to paint things now, and ride my bicycle, and get some of those fantastic round tortoiseshell eyeglasses I saw everywhere.  I will even eat herring.  There are no lovelier, kinder, more pleasant people in all the world.  Amsterdam, I love you so.