Category Archives: Writers

The Yowza Weigh-it Shawl

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I finished knitting this beautiful shawl by Susan B. Anderson last month during a week where it was cold and rainy and I’d already shut off the heat for the season. It was a pure delight to knit–it wasn’t completely mindless because every couple seconds there was a new color change to ooo and ahh over. While knitting, I listened to the Serial podcast put out by PBS. Can’t wait for the next “season” to begin!

I’m a huge fan of Susan B. Anderson’s blog (and vlog, too!), and when she introduced this pattern in May, I dropped what I was doing, ordered the pattern, and promptly broke my yarn diet by ordering the exact color yarn she’d used in her sample (Miss Babs Yowza! Whatta Skein! in the colorway “Perfectly Wreckless.”) I made a mistake and ordered the colorway “Berlin” (which is very pretty, too), but the people at Miss Babs were nice enough to correct my order … that’s what I get for ordering yarn late at night.

Speaking of nice…that’s one of the main reasons why I love Anderson’s blog and vlog. She seems so darn nice, not to mention talented. While I don’t mind reading snark, I can only take it in small doses. I much prefer blogs, podcasts, and vlogs where the hosts leave me feeling a little happier after having read or watched them.  Anderson’s blog is definitely a cheerer-upper for me. 🙂

OK, back to the shawl. Yes, the colors are as vibrant IRL as they are on your screen. The shawl appears to have a woven appearance because of the garter stitch, yet it’s soft and squishy around my neck. I was going to wash it and pack it away for the summer, but discovered last week that it was perfect to wrap around my shoulders on a cold and rainy day … plus, those lively colors cheered me up. I even got a couple compliments on it when I wore it out shopping at Whole Foods. The reason why it’s called “the Weigh It Shawl” is because rather than count rows, you weigh your yarn as you go along and start wrapping things up when you are down to a certain number of grams. I still had quite a bit of yarn left over, but that’s okay because I like having odd balls for my blanket knitting.

Ravelry details here.

I’m off for the holiday weekend. Happy July 4th to my American blog readers, and to everyone else, have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

p.s. Forgot to mention, but I also made the pink cotton lawn blouse underneath the shawl. It’s a bit wrinkly as it had been freshly washed but not ironed. I thought the shawl would look better styled with a blouse.

 

The fallout

We got about 6.5″ of snow yesterday–light, powdery stuff, the kind of snow that makes me twitchy for skiing. Unfortunately my skiing days are over (bad knees, sketchy back) unless the resort has long, gentle runs down the sides of the mountain as they do out west–I’m thinking Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado. If I ever get the chance to visit Banff, however, this Vermont girl will throw caution to the wind to experience one last glorious run. One recurring dream I have is a happy one: I’m skiing down a mountain from the very top, and I’m doing jumps, moguls, and sharp turns effortlessly. The dream is always so thrilling I’m a bit sad to wake up and creak out of bed in the morning.

Speaking of creaking: tonight I have my second outpatient physical therapy appointment in Concord. Monday night I had my initial evaluation and the PT seemed impressed by my recovery. When he asked me to bend at the waist and try to touch the floor with my fingers, I surprised him by getting my palms flat on the floor without bending my knees. “Gymnastics team in junior high,” I explained. Which explained to him why my lower back has such a pronounced curve. He told me a lot of former gymnasts have this problem. The goal for these visits is to help me build my “core” to support my weakened spine.

Last night’s snowstorm had my husband coming home after midnight. The commute out of Boston/Cambridge earlier in the evening was longer than two hours for some people, so he decided to wait it out. The 35-minute drive home took him about an hour, which wasn’t so bad, but today he’s working at home.

Which leads me to a question: do any of you have spouses who wait until a car craps out before taking it to the garage for fixing? My husband does this and it. Drives. Me. NUTS. For months, now, he’s had this noise coming from the rear wheel wells. I asked him about it and suggested he take it in to our mechanic, but he insisted the problem wasn’t a major one … it was just a piece of metal flashing that would be expensive to remove and not fixing it wouldn’t hurt the car. The noise has gotten louder and louder, so I’ve kept at him. (“Maybe you should bring it over today since you’re working at home–I really think you have a brake problem,” says I, multiple times. “No,” says he, multiple times, “It’s nothing.”) It got to the point where when I had to drive to Connecticut for family stuff, I refused to take his car and rented one instead because I knew the problem was more than a loose piece of metal flashing.

Sure enough, when I woke up this morning he said the brake indicator lights had started flashing during his ride home  (meaning the car should not be driven at all!) so that’s why he was staying at home today. Yes, I rolled my eyes because if he had taken the car in months ago like I asked him to do, the fix would probably be a lot less money than it will be now.

I used to have a wonderful mechanic who worked on my Volvo and we would always get to talking about this and that when I brought my car in. He always loved working on my car because I took such good care of it. (214,000 miles until an au pair totaled it, grrr.) He told me that his female customers were much better at getting problems checked out and keeping up with regular maintenance than men were. He said my husband was his typical male customer. Interesting! So I’m off to rent a car later this afternoon. At least I’ll have wheels for a few days.

O has a short day today, and with DH home I won’t get as much done as I’d hoped to. My co-author Linda and I are writing a new book, which I’m very excited about. It’s called The Introverted Entrepreneur, about how introverts can develop, grow, and promote an online presence without crushing their souls. Both Linda and I are major introverts; I’m an INFP in Myers-Briggs parlance and off-the-charts introverted according to other psychological tests I’ve taken. We were talking about it and noted that we’ve succeeded by doing things our way, so we figured, Hey, there’s probably a lot of introverts out there like us who would like to know how we built our brand despite our hermit-like proclivities. Let’s write a book!

If you are an introvert and have an online presence (blogging, Etsy store, Internet marketing site), please contact me. I’d love to interview you for the book. 🙂

Tomorrow I plan to have some knitting to show off.

 

This and that

It’s a chilly Saturday, but it’s over 40 degrees F and sunny, so I’ll soon be off on my recumbent trike for a long ride. I may even attempt triking over to Emerson Hospital in Concord for a blood test. (I have to have my blood drawn and tested every couple weeks while I’m on Coumadin. The bright spot is this will only last until January.)

All my pants are loose on me. This is good news, although I wish my appetite were a little better … it’s never a good idea to lose weight by eating too little. However, I did wake up very early this morning, hungry, so I came downstairs and had a cup of hot Ovaltine.

I’ve recently discovered streaming music (yeah, I’m late to the game) and have been creating playlists on Rdio. The one I listen to most is my classical music playlist … a little Italian opera, a lot of Bach. (I’m particularly addicted to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #6, first movement–its polyphonic texture delights my ears, esp. around 1:10!) At $4.95 a month, it’s a bargain and it keeps our livingroom uncluttered. I’ve rediscovered songs from my childhood and college years; even better, it’s a great way to look up music I hear in movies and on television commercials. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan!

I saw this list called “10 Little Things…” on Habitually Chic’s blog, about things you can do to make this season a little nicer for others. It really resonated with me, esp. #2 and #3. I’m infamous for offering help, then not following through. Reading the list reminded me that I’d told a friend I’d send her a link to the bicycle light she admired on my bike. Done! As for #3, this is a peeve of mine — I bend over backwards to be nice to food service/retail folks, but certain members of my family are not. Coincidently none of these family members have ever worked in retail/food service. Perhaps I’ll send them this list. 🙂

I’m seriously thinking of knitting a vintage pattern for my next sweater project. I love love love this vintage Sirdar pattern that Subversive Femme posted this week. It would look lovely in cream fingering wool with pearl buttons. I haven’t studied the pattern at any depth, but I believe it’s actually a pullover, not a cardigan. I’ve knit three cardigans in a row and it’s time for a change.

I never thought I’d say this, but I need a better coffee mug! In a fit of housecleaning/organizing last year, I went through our kitchen and donated most all of our novelty mugs — you know, those ugly things you pick up at trade shows or on vacation. I’m thinking of a Clan MacKenzie mug; my paternal great-great grandmother was a MacKenzie:

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“I Shine Not Burn” — perfect for a writer!

I also like this vintage-y Union Jack travel mug:

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Decisions, decisions …

Getting stuff done

Sorry I’ve been quiet. I’ve been knitting away on my Aran sweater, some days accomplishing a lot, and others not doing much at all due to The Other Projects (see below). The back and one sleeve are done and blocked, and I’m at the quarter mark on the second sleeve. This leaves the two front cardigan pieces, knitting the buttonbands/neckline edging, then sewing it all up, which, frankly, I’m sweating over. Can I finish by March 17? It’s just under a month away.

So, The Other Projects. I’m giving up my office so that my son can have his own room. Technically he does have his own room right now, the biggest one in the house, but he shares it with my husband’s home office. And O is miserable in there. Let’s just say that my husband is something of a packrat and there’s just no room for O to spread out his toys, or even have a friend sleep over. The plan is, O will move into my office and have the space completely to himself, and I’ll move my books, fabric, sewing machine, and yarn to his old space and set up a little workstation for writing out in the livingroom. It’s not an ideal set-up for work, but it’s more important to me for O to have his own bedroom and some privacy. Plus, he’ll have his “own” bathroom downstairs, which he’ll share with visitors, of the course … and the cats! Anyway, these plans have led to purging and cleaning, which feels great, but is time-consuming.

Then The Other Project is that I’ve been revising a book for electronic publication. IRL I’m a freelance writer and author/co-author. Back in the early 00s, my co-author Linda and I published a book called The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success, with a small publishing company called Marion Street Press. The book ended up being a big hit, with great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Writer magazine, and, happily, readers! We followed up with a second book, The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock, and a second edition of The Renegade Writer. Unfortunately, our publisher decided to sell his press, and the new owners were … well, let’s put it this way: We missed our old publisher, Ed, who was fair, honest, and dedicated to our books. Even though our books were doing well and we’d long earned out our advances, the new owners weren’t paying our royalties. Finally, we consulted with an attorney and discovered that non-payment of royalties violated the terms of our publishing contract so we could take full-ownership of the rights to our books. This was about a year ago.

Anyway, Linda and I have long been talking about updating The Renegade Writer, since the second edition was over five years old, an eternity in publishing. So I spent most of February going through the manuscript, and finally this weekend uploaded .mobi and .epub files to Amazon.com and BN.com and now The Renegade Writer 2.5 is live! (The Kindle version can also be purchased through most of Amazon.com’s international sites, which is awesome because the physical book was hard to find in England, France, Japan, etc.) It feels good to have it done and out there, although I’m fretting that I’ve made some terrible error, like forgotten to take out the Rickrolling link I put in to entertain Linda as she proofed, hee hee. (I’m not sure she saw it … either that, or she’s chosen to ignore my childish pranks.)

BTW, what is so bad about Rick Astley? He’s awesome! It’s a happy tune! So, the video’s a little lame, but it’s waaaaay better than Gangnam Style, which my son informed me this weekend is the most popular YouTube video ever with over a billion page views. Ugh.

So besides cleaning, sorting, editing, and uploading, I’ve been shoveling (more snow this weekend) and now O is out of school for February vacation, so that means playing Chief Entertainment Officer, unless I want him glued to Minecraft for the next five days. How is your February going?

Knitted hot water bottle cozy

Like a Victorian, I’ve taken to the habit of bringing a hot water bottle to bed with me at night:

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I used to feel a bit geriatric about this, but no longer. I read an article in the Financial Times by British architect Ben Pentreath that rather than going out in the winter, he’d much rather snuggle up in bed with a hot water bottle and watch The West Wing … substitute Criminal Minds and that sounds like a good January evening to me! And recently author Jane Brocket blogged about not being able to go to bed without her hot water bottle warming her feet.

I detest electric blankets. First, the thought of falling asleep enveloped by a magnetic force field scares me. Second, around 2 a.m. I tend to heat up … I know because I wake in the morning with my bedclothes strewn over the floor and blankets kicked off the bed, and an electric blanket is simply overkill. Third, I worry about those blankets catching on fire. Or leaving the house with the blanket on. Hot water bottles can be placed where they’re needed — on a sore back, near icy cold feet — and there’s no danger they’ll fry my brain or other parts. (My only worry is that someday my son will jump on the bed and the hot water bottle will explode into the sheets.)

Last weekend I finally got around to knitting a cozy for one of my bottles. The hot water bottle can get quite hot against my skin without a buffer, plus wool is insulating and keeps the bottle warm all night long. I used a free pattern I found on Ravelry and modified it to accommodate the leftover yarn I had from one of my Christmas projects (to be blogged about later). This cozy is knit from the bottom up, which means it has to be seamed, so next time I’ll knit it from the top down so I can graft the stitching at the bottom closed. The wool — a dark olive — is very drab, so the next cozy I make will be bright and pretty.

Hot water bottle cosy

Are you a fan of hot water bottles or do you associate them with cramps, Charles Dickens, and bruised knees?

A strange week for women

The past week has been a strange one for women. Writing about the 2012 election season, New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot wrote,“If there was a war on women this year, it looks like the women are winning” with a record 20 women taking U.S. Senate seats next year. Candidates who made extremely unpopular (and I must add offensive) remarks about women and rape did not win their elections. In this respect, it was a good week for American women.

Then I read Expat Mum’s blog yesterday, who alerted me to the delicious irony of Liz Jones. Jones had been invited to speak at a mom-blogging event in London and really put her foot in it declaring herself not a writer but an artist. In her column she ridicules the women who stay home with their children and blog for income. Because, you know, brand-dropping, divulging one’s marital woes in excruciating detail, and insulting one’s neighbors in newsprint is what real writers — I mean artists — do.  Given the chance, I think Liz Jones would defend Todd Akin if she knew it would give her more page views.

And today? Back across the pond we’ve got a massive DC sex scandal that gets stranger by the day. At the center, two women, one who had an affair with the head of the CIA and the other, it’s reported today, was dallying with the top U.S. general in Afghanistan and who also happened to be the target of hands-off-my-man e-mails from the woman who had the affair with the head of the CIA. The mind boggles! The older I get, the more I believe that some women never evolve past seventh grade and men, no matter how smart they are, are guided by the heads in their pants. Anyway, I think this sex scandal is going to be a potboiler. I sense offers from Playboy for the two women. Two steps back. I can’t help but wonder what U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is thinking of all this as she’s traveling in Australia with the U.S. Secretary of Defense today?

Today I’m 48. Here’s one of my birthday presents from a secret admirer, a skein of sock yarn from The Woolen Rabbit in New Hampshire in the most appropriate colorway, Scottish Heather. Sorry for the cruddy picture but it’s very dark and gray here today, a common occurrence on my birth day. I love the muted purples and heathery greens of this yarn; it will make a perfect cowl to go along with my gray down jacket.

The Gentle Art of Knitting

When I heard/read that Jane Brocket was coming out with a knitting book, I got pretty excited. The Gentle Art of Domesticity keeps a prominent place on my livingroom bookshelf and gives me that boost I need when the house needs a little TLC.

The Gentle Art of Knitting was released in England a few months ago. I considered buying it sight unseen, but then I read some negative reader reviews of it and scratched it off my list. The complaints were that the knitting projects were too basic and not very revolutionary. (Those are my words/impressions of the reviews.) I buy very few knitting books, and only buy them for reference .

Though I’d resolved not to buy the book, I was thrilled to find a copy of it at our local library on the new titles shelf.

I spent a pleasant hour or two reading through it, sipping tea, during one of the many drenching rain storms of May. Is there anything revolutionary in the book? Why, yes, there is. As the reader reviewers noted, there aren’t any patterns in here that will put Brooklyn Tweed out of business anytime soon, but what Brocket’s book does brilliantly is remind knitters to focus on the process, not the product. As someone who frequently gets impatient to finish a sweater or can’t wait to start some complicated cabled shawl, I appreciate this message. As soon as I put the book down, I cast on 37 stitches of red cotton and knit a simple garter stitch dishcloth. Then, I knit another, this time striping at random places with blue cotton.

It’s the kind of knitting book I like to have when my handwork is giving me fits and I need to be reminded why I knit … to create beautiful objects with care, to bond with friends (who knit), and to relax and enjoy the hours rather than wasting them idly in front of the computer or television set.

I do think I’ll be getting a copy for my own bookshelf. The library’s version was from England. Unlike British cookbooks, I like British knitting books to be “Americanized” with our needle sizes and dimensions in inches rather than centimeters, so I’m hoping they’ll come out with a Yank version soon.

While on the domestic subject, I was futzing around the Web yesterday and found this video about how to properly fold a t-shirt, hosted by none other than Anthea Turner:

When I wasn’t ironing and folding my extensive t-shirt collection, I was watching the Jubilee procession on the Thames, broadcast over CNN. My goodness, the British must be thrilled to have Piers Morgan off their island. The man DOES NOT SHUT UP. He interrupted every guest, including India Hicks, who was attempting to tell the audience what it was like to be in Princess Diana’s wedding party. Morgan kept butting in with his own memories of the day, none of which were as remotely exciting as being Princess Diana’s bridesmaid. I wanted to throttle him. So I ended up turning the tv off, and downed a glass of lemon barley water in honor of the Queen.

And how was your Jubilee weekend?

It doesn’t belong to Howard

A couple weeks ago, I was reading a New York Times‘ article about the appeal of Downton Abbey when my eyeballs hit the brakes:

“Granted, it’s rare that we don’t go nuts for lavishly produced Edwardian costume dramas with beautiful clothes, houses and manners; with their delicious tensions and upheavals and their tendency to squash lowly clerks under enormous bookcases after they enter into ill-advised romances with impulsive, intellectual upper-class girls. (See the tragic denouement of “Howard’s [sic] End.”)

You see, I’d made the same mistake in a post I’d written about Downton Abbey just days before. Just as I hit “post,” a 20-year-old memory of a paper I’d written in “The Modern British Novel” floated into my consciousness: Howard does not possess the End: It’s Howards End with no possessive “s.”

(The NYT has since issued a correction on the punctuation mistake.)

Here’s another one, though, that took me by surprise. I’m blaming it on skipping out of Great American Novels Written by Men so I could read the likes of Woolf, Eliot, and Wollstonecraft in college. I was in Barnes and Noble this weekend, flipping through those B&N classic novel paperbacks that are priced so reasonably at $6.50, when I spotten an n-dash between Moby and Dick. For years, I’ve been writing that I’ve never read Moby Dick. Well, yes, that’s because it’s Moby-Dick, and I haven’t read that doorstop either. Finnegans Wake is another title I see mis-punctuated with a possessive “s.” I hesitate to call Finnegans Wake a novel, though. More like 600 pages of a crazy Irishman’s scatological ranting.

Are there any other works of classic literature that have titles frequently mangled by either the masses or the press, as in the case of Howards End? Inquiring minds and all …

 

 

What I’ve been reading (and a giveaway)

My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I’ve been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.

First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I’ve had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you’re the type of person who walks into a friend’s home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you’ll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble —  keeping in mind that I haven’t yet finished the book — is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I’d prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won’t have to backtrack to pick up. I’ve found myself making mental notes of books I’d like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don’t like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).

I’ve written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It’s a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, “I get it! You’re educated! Give it a break!” She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.

But I digress. So if you’re like me and like Brocket’s book sans copy or you hated Brocket’s book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that “cutesy” look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It’s the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they’re prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don’t look as pretty as brass ones would, they’re 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.

Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I’ve been itching to read this biography as I’ve heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I’ve also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth’s 60-year-reign as Britain’s monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I’m giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen … even if it’s just her corgis. I’m sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck … and thanks for entering!

I was a knitting fiend

Whew! I felt like December flew by. It was also the first Christmas in a while where I was “in the spirit.” I chalk it up to my cancer trial this year and moving to a new home which has better ju-ju than our old one. There was much to be grateful for this season. Tonight we’ve been invited to celebrate the new year with my son’s best friend’s parents, who’ve happened to turn into good friends of ours. The father is German and loves good beer, so I’m hoping some kind of beer tasting is in the cards. 😉

I didn’t come anywhere near knitting the amount of stuff I wanted to for the month: O’s teachers were left in the cold, as was my own mother, who cheerfully gave me permission to put her gift at the end of the queue. Aw, moms! (All this knitting reminds me of the Germaine Greer piece in The Guardian from a few years back about the hell of receiving handcrafted gifts — I found it hilarious, but many took great offense with it.) Here’s what I managed to foist upon my friends and family this year:

O’s sweater, which I blogged about here.

Three owl hats, one for O, two for his classmates.

A hurricane hat, meant for a teacher, but too small even for my son.

A simple knit hat to use up the leftover Malabrigo Rios from O’s fingerless mitts.

And a little something for me — Anne Hanson’s Fartlek hat pattern, knit out of Zara Extra Fine Merino I found on sale for $1/per ball at Hub Mills in Billerica. Not only was the hat cheap, it was fun to knit and it’s incredibly warm. Score!

I won’t bore you with the other stuff I knit this month, including a test knit of felted mittens for myself. The loden-colored felted hands actually turned out wonderfully, but the knit cuffs of seafoam green baby acrylic? Ewww. All I can say, the color combo looked good under bad lighting. I’ll still be wearing them; no one will see the cuffs tucked up into my new winter jacket, a gift from my mother.

Anyway, I hope you’ve all had a wonderful year and are looking forward to an even better 2012. First up on my plate in the new year is to see The Iron Lady. I also want to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And while I loathed the book (see here; I still kick myself for wasting even an hour on this execrable piece of “literature”), I liked the Swedish movie adaptation very much and Daniel Craig in the English version? Mmmm.