WIP: Exeter

One of the ways I’m choosing to be guided by my word of the year is to focus on a few core projects that may take longer to make and require more thought and attention, but that I’ll love wholeheartedly and want to wear to tatters. The first project coming under that umbrella is Exeter.
exeter-6-600x900The silhouette is similar to one of my most coveted ready-to-wear pieces of recent years, Everlane‘s chunky knit cardigan, but with a more knitterly stitch pattern and nice construction details like knit-in pockets.
main.original.585x0The yarn I’m using, Imperial Yarn’s 2-ply Columbia, s amazing, especially once it’s washed. It’s incredibly soft for such a sturdy yarn, has phenomenal stitch definition, and manages to feel both rustic and luxurious. I love how essentially sheep-y it is. I’m finding that I have less and less patience for the kind of heavily processed yarns that make up the bulk of the handknitting market, though that’s a rant that’s probably best saved for another time.

It’s a little heavier weight than Brooklyn Tweed’s Shelter, which the pattern is written for, so I’m following the numbers for the smallest size in order to end up with a medium-sized sweater. The back came together pretty smoothly and I was almost finished with the first front when I made an unhappy discovery: I’d left out a full repeat between the ribbing and the armhole shaping. (Since the ribbed portions are knit to a firmer gauge than the cable and lace portions, each of the front pieces is separated after the bottom ribbing, knit in two pieces, then seamed later.)
IMG_4548.JPGThere was nothing for it, but to rip back and reknit it.
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Scrappy little thing

I’ve gotten rid of a lot of yarn over the last couple of years, but through every purge, I’ve held on to a big bag of fingering-weight black and gray yarn. Most of it isn’t anything special, but some of it is, and I knew that the collection wouldn’t get any love at craft swaps or Goodwill or on Ebay. I’ve made a couple of attempts at blankets with the yarn—you can see a couple at the top of the photo below: a chevron blanket that was crocheted too tightly and a couple of double-stranded single-crochet squares that were different enough in gauge that I knew a blanket made that way would look terrible—that didn’t end up sticking.IMG_4536_edited-2
The new one, though, at the bottom of the photo, is a keeper. I’m doing it in half-double crochet, which I think is my favorite stitch. I’ve never liked the look of double crochet and while I like single crochet better, I think it’s too dense for blankets. I’m using two strands held together: one dark gray, which will alternate between Valley Yarns Huntington, which I had bought seven skeins of for some unknown reason, and some dark gray alpaca I’ve had for yonks; I’m hoping that having one constant background color will make the finished blanket look like harmonious and tweedy, instead of crazy. The other strand will include all of the black and lighter gray yarns. I’d planned out the progression to make a more or less symmetrical striped pattern, but the way the blanket is sucking up yarn is making me think I’ll run out before it’s as long as I’d liked it. I’d started this blanket as a way to use up scraps I’d had hanging around and don’t relish the idea of having to buy yarn to finish it, but needs must, as they say.afghan closeup
I’m a little surprised at how much I’m loving working on it, since it’s just a big rectangle and the same stitch over and over (and over and over). But the yarns change enough to keep things interesting and it’s a nice change from my current knitting project, which I adore beyond reason, but requires a lot of attention. I’ll post more about it this weekend, but in the meantime here’s a sneak peek:
blocked back Exeter

 

Soup for the blizzard that wasn’t

Earlier this week, the denizens of New York City were warned that a blizzard of historic proportions was on its way. Like everyone else, I stocked up on enough food to keep us going for a few days if we couldn’t get out of the house, including the ingredients for this soup. Rob had been feeling a little under the weather, so I’d been thinking about making a pot of chicken soup anyway. I figured I’d deviate from my standard formula and add a healthy dose of ginger and leave out the dairy I generally add. Plus, a good dose of heat is always good for a cold. All of this got me thinking along the lines of Thai chicken coconut soup tom kha kai. This is sort of a simplified, Americanized version, the kind of thing you can make with ingredients from whatever downmarket grocery store has the shortest lines the day before the blizzard that’ll kill us all, especially if you keep decent-quality chicken thighs in your freezer.

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The “blizzard” ended up not being much more than a decent snowstorm (6-8″ or so), but this soup is a keeper. It came together very quickly and is one of the tastier things I’ve made in a long time.

Spicy Coconut Chicken Soup
feeds two for dinner with leftovers for the next day’s lunch

1 onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 jalepeno pepper
1 hunk of ginger roughly the size of your palm
1-2 Tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 oz. shitake mushrooms, sliced
1.5 lbs. chicken thighs
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. peeled, chopped carrots
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 can coconut milk
Cooked rice

Put the onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno in a food processor and pulse until you have a uniform puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Heat a bit of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat and add the puree, along with a teaspoon or so of salt. Cook, stirring regularly for a few minutes. Add soy sauce and mushrooms and continue to stir until the mushrooms soften a bit. Add the chicken, chicken broth, and carrots. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for half an hour or until the chicken is cooked through. Take the chicken out and shred or chop roughly. Add the chicken back to the pot, along with the lime juice and zest and coconut milk. Heat through and serve over rice.

 

A word for the year

Other years, I’ve thought about choosing a guiding word for the year the same way I think about drafting a fantasy sports team or having birds as pets: good for you, not for me, as Amy Poehler would say. I preferred an extensive list of specific goals and resolutions and Things to Do for an Excellent Year. I haven’t abandoned that approach, but for 2015, I’m adding a word. And three weeks into 2015, I’ve decided that I’m committed enough to it to make it public.

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It’s a reminder to avoid distractions and focus on actions that support my core goals and values, a reminder, in fact, that I have core goals and values: developing and maintaining strong relationships, focusing on health, continuing to build the business, supporting and producing good design. I have a weekly resolutions chart with such goody-two-shoes-y entries as “dust,” “use slow cooker,” and “bring breakfast & lunch to work 4+ days” that seem a little dull/dreary, but support my larger goals of living in a clean, orderly home, making and using a meal plan, eating healthfully, and spending less on unimportant crap.

CORE is a reminder to keep plugging away at knitting projects I’ve chosen because I really, really want the finished item, and not to cast on for things that would be quick or easy or a good way to use up some yarn I have on hand. It’s also a reminder about paring down. I don’t have a way to quantify getting rid of stuff, so don’t really consider it a goal as such, but it’s basically my favorite activity at the moment. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up recently and her approach, to discard everything you own that doesn’t “spark joy” and to assign a specific location in your home for every item you own, resonated very strongly. My other guiding principles include William Morris’s admonition not to have anything in your home you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful and the idea, whose source I don’t remember, that my home is not a museum of my (our) life. One or all of those will address pretty much any item under consideration; I can’t say for sure that a container of baking powder sparks joy necessarily, but I know it’s useful. The not-a-museum principle is particularly helpful when I’m confronting things like a frog-shaped perfume bottle that I loved when I was little and have been hanging onto without considering whether I care about it now. (I don’t.) I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clothing and shoes too. I’m not officially doing Project 333 or a capsule wardrobe, but that’s the direction I’m leaning.

We’re likely going to move out of the city within the next two years, maybe sooner, and I’d like to jettison as much as possible before then. Plus, we have a pretty great apartment and we’ll enjoy the rest of our time in it a lot more if it’s filled only with things we love. It can be hard though. Things can develop so much emotional weight that it can be really hard to shift them. I love Rachael’s thoughts about what to do with gifts; there’s a lot of stuff in our place that falls into the category of Items Given With Love That I/We Do Not Love.

But the core is not a hollow space and my focus on it is not all about less. I’m focusing just as much on making room for more in some areas: seeing friends more (I have brunch plans this weekend with a friend I haven’t seen in a year), learning more (tonight is the first in a planned series of weekly dinner-and-Photoshop-tutorial get-togethers with another friend I haven’t seen much lately; figuring out how to use the loom that’s, uh, looming over my bedroom; getting more comfortable with bookkeeping), traveling more (we’re headed to Florida for a long weekend next month to visit Rob’s dad and stepmother and to Los Angeles for a week in March to kick around the city—ideas welcomed!—and spend a couple of days hiking and hanging out at the Ace Hotel pool in Palm Springs), putting more thoughtful energy into my full-time job, and physically moving more (packing those breakfasts and lunches has already saved me enough money for weekly yoga and dance classes).

It’s going to be a good year, guys.

Out with the old

Around the start of the new year, I pulled out every single project I have in the works and considered whether I wanted to continue with them, whether the finished item was something I genuinely want in my life (something that will “spark joy,” as Japanese master of tidying Marie Kondo says). These are the projects that didn’t make it into 2015.
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I still think the Stripe Study shawl is a fantastic design and I like the color combination I was using (dove gray and cream). I also really like both of the yarns, Jade Sapphire’s 4-ply cashmere and Swan’s Island merino/silk. But the fact that they are almost but not quite the same weight was driving me crazy. I’ve been starting and ripping out and restarting this shawl since February—I started it on the plane to Hawaii for our honeymoon—and it was time to call it. I don’t have any particular plans for either yarn at this point, but

The garter stitch log cabin blanket in an assortment of handspun yarn hasn’t been ripped out yet, but it will be. I had started it sort of on a lark, as an easy project to have on hand whenever I wanted something I wouldn’t have to think about, and I didn’t give much thought to the layout of the colors. I’m not thrilled with how the light and dark shades have ended up and I’m also realizing that I don’t have quite enough yarn to make a decent-sized throw. I think I’m going to use the yarns in something woven instead. I do really love the way the colors look together and something like a plain-weave blanket woven in panels will showcase them nicely. Plus, just using them as weft will allow me to make a bed-sized blanket.

A well-traveled loom

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I came by a loom sort of unexpectedly this holiday season. My sister-in-law’s stepmother wanted to clear out some space in her basement, they were already planning to drive to upstate New York from Atlanta for the holidays, and they had room in the back of their minivan for it. All I’d have to do would be to get it home from my mom’s. My mother-in-law was kind enough to bring it back to Connecticut on Christmas Day and then into Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve and now it’s living in our bedroom.

I had a small floor loom when I lived upstate 15 years ago or so and I really loved weaving, so I’m pretty excited to have a chance to play around with it again. However, this one (which seems to be this model) is more complicated than the one I had and getting it set up is drawing on some pretty weak parts of my brain (why don’t I know any mechanical engineers?). I gave the whole thing a good dusting today and figured out how the brake for the cloth beam works and what I need to do for the treadle tie-up. I also figured out that six of the 20 dividers between the harnesses are missing, which is a drag. They’re small—basically pegs—and I could probably find something that would work in their place, but I’d like to try to get actual replacement parts if possible. While I track those down, I need to relearn how to calculate and wind a warp, which shouldn’t be a huge deal, and figure out how to get the warp on the loom, which might.

I’m trying to remind myself that venturing outside my comfort zone is a very good thing, but, man, it’s hard.

2014 Book Report

I read 82 books in 2014, which doesn’t include anything that I started but didn’t finish. This is, oh, the seventh or eighth year that I’ve kept track of the titles and dates, but the first year that I’ve made notes about what format I read each title in and how I came by the book. Because my full-time job is book-related, I have access to Netgalley and Edelweiss, through which publishers make available advance e-copies of their titles at their discretion, so most of the titles I read this year were e-galleys.

Format breakdown
e-galley:
29
physical galley: 19
regular physical book (bought, borrowed, or found at the office): 16
regular e-book (bought, free download, or left on the Kindle I inherited when a friend upgraded): 10
library e-book: 7
physical library book: 1

The only surprise to me here is how few physical library books I read. Other years that likely would have been at the top of the list. I’m also a little surprised at how many library e-books there were too, especially since [cough] I spent much of the year over my late-fee limit with the Brooklyn Public Library.

The genre breakdown was hard to do; so many books could easily fall into two or more. I counted Lauren Oliver’s Rooms as general fiction, for example, even though it’s a ghost story since the focus of the book is on relationships and family secrets and whatnot.

Author gender
Female: 65
Male: 13
I’m not sure: 4
Maybe I should try to read more male authors in 2015? (kidding/not kidding) One reading goal I do have, however, is to seek out more authors of color. I haven’t done a count of the 2014 titles to see what that breakdown is, but I know it’s not good.

Genre/subject breakdown
mystery/suspense/thriller: 24
YA: 19
general fiction: 18
memoir: 7
SF/fantasy: 5
nonfiction: 3
romance: 3
self-help: 2

Frankly, I’m stunned that there are so few nonfics on the final list, even if you throw the memoirs into that category too. I actually read a lot of nonfiction, just not so many from start to finish, I guess. And I’m a little surprised at how many general fiction titles there are, though many of those were ones I had to read for LJ‘s best books discussion and voting.

My favorites
These aren’t all 2014 books. Some are older and at least one comes out in 2015, but they’re the ones that make me say oooooh, yeah! I loved that book! when I spot them on the list.
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh. Hilarious, heartbreaking, perfect.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty. Memoir of the author’s time working in a crematory. Fascinating, often funny, occasionally gross, frequently sad.
The Secret Place, Tana French. The latest Dublin Murder Squad book unfolds over the course of a single day at a girls’ school. One of the best depictions of the mysterious, slightly dangerous workings of the minds of teenage girls, maybe ever.
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay. Brutal and beautifully written story about a woman kidnapped and held for ransom in Haiti. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but when I was reading this book, my first thoughts when I woke up in the morning were of the characters.
Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge. Lovely and absorbing reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast story.
Summer of the Dead, Julia Keller. The third in Keller’s rural West Virginia-set mystery series. A character-driven mystery with a satisfying ending.
How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran. Another sharp, finely realized novel about being a teenage girl, this one a lot funnier and dirtier than French’s.
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell. IT guy falls in love with one of the newspaper employees whose emails he’s been hired to monitor. A little dated tech wise, but a pure delight to read, which I did three times in 2014.
Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin. The Happiness Project author’s latest is about how our personalities shape our habit formation and how we can use our self-knowledge to support developing habits that make us happier.
Family Life, Akhil Sharma. There’s a lot of warmth, humor, and sorrow packed into this slim volume.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion. Logical-in-the-extreme scientist decides it’s time to marry, develops The Wife Project to find his ideal mate, meets a woman who’s the opposite of everything he thinks he wants. Super charming and funny.

Knitting and unknitting

Good news first, right? I love this hat.
IMG_4149.JPGIt’s Scrollwork from Brooklyn Tweed, knit from my dwindling stash of cashmere. I have to admit that I didn’t love knitting it; the cable pattern never quite became second nature to me, though the pattern itself is extremely clear and easy to follow, and the fact that the yarn was several very fine strands held together meant that the knitting and cabling both had to go very slowly, but it was worth it.

And this sweater turned out exactly the way I hoped:
IMG_4227.JPGIt’s Chalkstone knit in Berroco’s Ultra Alpaca Light, which is finer gauge than the pattern calls for, so I ended up knitting a couple sizes up from where I normally would. The lace pattern was easy to memorize and I love the fancy-relaxed vibe the finished garment has.

This one, alas, is getting ripped out and the gorgeous yarn repurposed.
IMG_4247.JPGI’ve always liked Cobblestone. I think the simple design is lovely and the way it plays garter and stockinette off each other is very elegant and sculptural. Unfortunately, the fit on me wasn’t great. It’s designed for men’s broad shoulders, which I don’t have, and I didn’t find the neckline especially flattering. Plus, in hindsight, I think it looks better in a rustic wool than the drapy alpaca I used. I’m planning to use the yarn for another Effortless Cardigan, which will suit it perfectly and produce a garment I’ll wear a lot.

Also, man, my hair is getting long. Maybe today is the day I search out some braiding tutorials online…