I'm tired and full of meatballs

I'm going to sleep hard tonight. Christmas hasn't worn me out since I was a kid, but it definitely wore me out today. My Grandmother has some pneumonia-like infection, so she wasn't up to making the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner this year. And since my family loves to eat, we weren't about to cancel Christmas. I got a call on Monday from my aunt, a restaurant manager, declaring that we would have to take over Christmas. After doing it with the help of two other people, I don't know how my eighty year old Grandmother has done it alone before. The whole production took two days and many phone calls to accomplish. Yesterday, there was a rice pudding debacle. Yet another reminder that no one in the family speaks Swedish anymore, so maybe making things out of a recipe book with Swedish names is not the best bet. Fortunately, Grandma had hidden away in her recipe box a different, English recipe that I gave her when I was in college. It only took two people fifteen minutes to find.

Today, there were several hours of cooking and drinking. Booze is essential when making a monumental meal. We cooked Swedish meatballs (Grandma's recipe, without the recipe, in Grandma's kitchen. No stress there.), German sausage, combination mashed potatoes and rutabaga, and special spicy mustard. At the same time, I had to secretly do a sewn bind-off and run in the ends on a pair of socks that I made for my Grandmother, hiding them every time that she came into the kitchen. The socks were finished and wrapped just in time to furiously plate everything for dinner.

My aunt and I swore that anyone who made jokes or complaints about our cooking would get a carving fork in the eye. Fortunately, no one in the family requires a trip to the opthomologist. The meal was a success. Everyone ate happily, with compliments to the chefs. I even overheard my Grandmother telling someone, "Yes, Kirstin can make meatballs". I felt so proud. I was also really glad that I was free to cook this year, since my Grandmother and I are the only ones who know the recipe!

I think that the gifts were well received. All but one were knitted. Perhaps the awesome modern fair isle hat that I made for my cousin Chris was a bit too big. I made it big enough to accommodate my Dad's big noggin, reasoning that large heads run in the family. Maybe if Chris had bigger hair to fill it out.... Maria was really excited about the fingerless gloves that I made for her. They're really popular now, but I made them not for fashion, but for practical purposes. Fingerless gloves are better for smokers. My Grandmother held up her socks for everyone to see and said "Oh goody!" when she unwrapped them. I'd also made a shrug/bed jacket for her out of Malabrigo chunky with a bit of a shawl collar to keep her neck warm. Of course, I didn't know that she would be sick at Christmas when I made it for her, but it seemed an especially good present for someone who will be lying in bed a lot the next few days. I got a few books, a brightly colored, glittery St. Mary coin bank, and a digital kitchen scale for measuring yarn. My uncle seemed very confused by that explanation, suspecting that "yarn" was code for something else. Not wanting to seem shady, I explained to him the whole weight/length conversion. The scale will be very handy, since I have yarn to split for the sleeves on my Mom's belated Christmas sweater.

Well, I'm off to curl up under a heap of blankets. Hope that everyone is having great holidays, with family, friends, and good food.


I just realized how close Christmas is, so I'm on another Mad Men fueled knitting marathon. Amuse yourself with this while I weave in some ends.


I am finished with my xmas shopping. Not the knitting, but the shopping. The only painful part about today's shopping trip was the parking. Well, that and the carapace of ice on my car. The weather has finally decided to act like winter: cold, wet, and miserable. Fortunately, I was none of those things.

In search of the new issue of Knit.1 magazine, I went to Borders and Michaels. Ugh. Borders was a zoo, but their magazines are near the door, so it was a quick in and out. Michaels was another story. I'm not a huge fan of big box craft stores. I know that they serve a pretty wide market and they are good for somethings, like emergency notions and guilty pleasures like Cotton-Ease. Well, I discovered that my local Michaels is closing. Soon, by the looks of it, since they were packing everything up while people were trying to shop. I was a little vexed that they'd already packed up all of the yarns that were on sale, but since I don't really need yarn now, I guess it was a removal of temptation. It's all part of a trend. All of the fabric stores in my area closed in the past couple of years, and now Michaels is leaving too. Now I'll have to drive half an hour just to pick up some thread or a crochet hook. How inconvenient.


It's the Holidaze

I have a problem with anything that requires general jollity, so the holidays can be hard. I'm no Scrooge, but I don't always have the holiday spirit. I can maybe sustain a fortnight of holiday cheer, and it's a low-grade cheer at that. Well, it's started to kick in.

I kicked off my holiday season with a tea thrown by my pal Sam. She and her husband Ben really went all out in the pastry department, and there was a sneaky white sangria. I was careful not to let it sneak up on me, as I am still a bit tentative about driving the Beetle in the snow. Also, only assholes drive drunk. I digress... It was a marvelous party, with many knitters and interesting non-knitters, very good conversation, and an excellent book exchange. Sam wore a pink Malabrigo Wicked sweater that made me want to run home and knit the one that I stashed in Dream in Color. She always has the best knitwear, like the multicolor February Lady Sweater in Lorna's Laces Edgewater that she wore in her engagement photos. She also wore a white satin skirt and kicky red striped stockings, which gave an overall "I sing in The Decemberists" vibe. Mental note: must make striped knee high socks in two shades of purple Jitterbug. I wore my Matsuri cardigan, which I am wearing like crazy. It was admired by knitters and non-knitters, and declared surprisingly soft for Noro. I consider it a hit.

The next day, I managed to talk my way out of a Holiday concert. That is too much for me. Also, I've become a music snob since I started attending the opera. A concert and party in one weekend seemed like too much. It's important to pace yourself around the holidays, as it is quite tempting to try to squeeze in too many events.

Tuesday, I went over to my Grandmother's and set up her tree. She always had live trees for as long as I could remember, until one dropped all of its needles in her house a couple of years ago. We then spent a couple of hours decorating the tree with a mind-boggling number of ornaments. The tree was saturated with sparkly, glass goodies. Well, I thought it was saturated, but there was even more on the tree when I went over there this afternoon! Grandma somehow managed to weave garland through all of the decorations and added hanging icicles. It really looks magnificent now, but I am still amazed at the sheer number of things on the tree. There's a lifetime of Christmases on it.

Yesterday, I had an almost perfect day. It didn't have the most auspicious start (an alarm clock, instead of sleeping until I wake). I had an appointment in Wrigleyville until two, then an opera at 7.30, but nothing to do in between. That's a lot of time to kill. Fortunately, I decided on a whim to invite Miss B. out for a drink. I'd begged out of going to a burlesque show with her on Monday, so I wanted to prove that I'm not a big flake. Well, we spent most of the afternoon at my (non) local pub, drinking and crafting. I knitted a sock while she embroidered a penis motif, which was an amusing contrast to the regular crowd, a bunch of Irish guys. Afterward, we headed downtown so that I could park in the cheap but precarious lot and we could hit a really chic bar in the West Loop for a review before I headed off to the Lyric. The cocktails were inspired, really high-end culinary drinks. They were off-menu creations featuring floral motifs. B had a rose cocktail, with a couple of dried rosebuds soaked in rose liqueur gaily bobbing around. Mine was a lavender gin cocktail. Sounds old lady-ish, I know, but it was the essence of the cocktail. It was sparkly and chic and made me feel sparkly and bright. Also, I love lavender (and gin, apparently, but not vermouth. ever.). They were served in lovely, old fashioned round stemmed cocktail glasses that made me think of Wodehouse and Dorothy Parker.

Fortunately, the bar was relatively close to the opera house, because they were ringing the ten minute bell when I arrived. I had looked forward to seeing Madama Butterfly since I bought the tickets last spring, and I wasn't disappointed. The woman who has the seat next to mine was clearly disappointed when I showed up and politely made her move from my seat. I suspect that she's sat there every time I donated my seat back. Her elbow never left my side during the first act, though it might have bothered me more had I not been wearing such a thick sweater. She disappeared during intermission, saying that she'd found another seat and I can't say that I missed her. The performance itself was so wonderful that the obnoxious neighbor was the merest annoyance. The set was a very intelligent design, featuring Pinkerton's house and its landscaping on a giant revolve in front of a drop. The set was so versatile that the turning of the revolve never seemed gimmicky. Of course, opera has the budgets to get all of the elements right. The soprano singing Butterfly was astonishing. When she sang my favorite aria, a chill ran down my spine completely unrelated to the temperature up in the balcony. I can only hope that I Pagliacci, Tristan und Isolde, and Abduction from the Seraglio can live up to it.

About the cheap, perilous garage-- I've joked that it would collapse for months because of the banged up look of the support beams in it. Well, apparently someone else noticed, maybe a structural engineer. When I parked there on Wednesday, about half of the spaces had been killed to make room for some heavy duty looking scaffolding that went from floor to ceiling. The especially flimsy looking column had been encased in wood. Why would I park my car someplace that looks like it might fall down? Well... I might not again for a while, until it looks a little more sound, but they have a special 5pm to midnight $5 special. A total steal compared to the $30 they charge across from the opera house, even if it requires a brief ride on the El.

On the knitting front, I've been taking a breather from the xmas knitting. This will undoubtedly lead to another exhaustion-inducing finishing marathon. Some of that will be literal last minute knitting, but there will probably be a couple hours of swearing like a sailor while quickly manipulating a tapestry needle. Yes, I realize that would be prevented by weaving in ends as I go, but I operate an assembly line of knits: one step at a time, until everything looks like a finished object. Fortunately, I have the steamer now, so my blocking will go a lot quicker. That may aid in further procrastination. I finished the hat for my cousin, the Sheep & Wool hat by Emily Spence, which turned out really well and very cushy. I don't know how a non-knitter will react to all the floats on the inside, but I pleased with it inside and out. I might even make another one for myself after xmas. Other than that, I still have to knit the sleeves onto my three Liesls. I'll have to settle in with a few DVDs and my dpns and get to work.

I've also picked up my Weekend sweater again, with the thought of making it this year's Christmas sweater. No, it won't have sequined candy canes on it, but it is green. I wore the Matsuri cardigan to decorate the tree (I don't know which was busier!), so maybe I'll let it rest on xmas. Fortunately, the Weekend cardigan is knit on size eleven needles and has all of the body parts done. Unfortunately, I thought that I'd already knit one of the sleeves during the show, but it turns out that I hadn't. I think that I can pull this off. If not, I will wear my Liesl, once it has its sleeves. I hear we're going to have a big snow/ice storm, so I may have a couple of good knitting days, with breaks for cocoa, Harry Potter reading, and Winston.


My name is Winston

And I approve of this sweater.

Adventures in Blocking

Sometimes, it is necessary to block a garment once you're done knitting it. Or, you've got an older sweater that isn't its perky self anymore. Blocking. I resisted for a long time, but it really does help. Here is an example of rights and wrongs in blocking:
1. Soak the garment thoroughly, using a wool wash like Soak or Eucalan. Some knitters just spritz water onto the garment, but it doesn't yield the same results.
2. Gently blot or squeeze water from garment. The temptation to wring is high, but don't do it!
3. Lay the garment out on some towels on the rug or your bed. Remember, this will take twenty four hours, so you might have to sleep on the couch.
4. Massage the garment into its desired shape. Want it a little bigger? Well, now is the time to stretch it! For sweaters, I like to make them sweater shaped, checking that the sleeves don't look weird and are the same length and making sure that the hem isn't wonky from shaping.
5. Let dry. Admire your handiwork as it dries, while looking forward to wearing said garment.
6. Once it is dry, try it on. If it is wonky, you may want to dampen it and make corrections. Dry flat if needed.

So, that is the ideal process. Here's what I did with my Matsuri cardigan. I laid it out to dry on the bed, but it was still soaking 48 hours later. I moved it to another location to dry, where it was lain upon by my cat. The areas covered by cat dried fully, but with cat shaped dent. Disgusted, I put the still damp sweater in the dryer on fluff. Fluff. It doesn't have any heat, just air, I reasoned. Will definitely be safe. Was not safe. Upon removing sweater from dryer, noticed that it was pleasantly fluffy. Fluff came at expense of size. Yes, without any heat, I managed somehow to shrink my sweater about ten percent. That ten percent was needed to get the cardigan to button across my big tickets. Sigh. I thought longingly of a drying rack, which would allow air to circulate around or through the sweater as it dried. Maybe it would dry in a timely fashion on a drying rack. So, I headed over the local sheets and shit, which is having a big going out of business sale. They had no drying racks, but they did have a Rowenta steamer that should sell for $100 marked down to $38 after taxes. This is so much better than a drying rack. Now I can freshen up my sweaters without having to soak them in the tub (unless they need it), make my scarves look crisp and professional, and fog up my glasses. I am nerdily excited!

I quickly realized the problem, as I looked at the sweater laying on the bed. I knit the yarn over-gauge. No biggie, because it wasn't a big gauge difference, except when I fluffed it, the yarn reverted to its natural, smaller gauge. Steam to the rescue! The sweater has now been steamed, allowed to set, and lays on the bed awaiting some revisions around the hem. I could have added an additional increase in the waist shaping. If you do decide to steam block, remember that you have to allow the garment to set before moving it, or the blocking will fall out. I learned that the hard way on a silk gown when I was in college.


There are only fourteen days until xmas, and I am seriously procrastinating on the gift-making front. I want to do almost anything but knit those last couple presents. There have been a couple of false starts on the hats (now cut back to only two from three) having to due with gauge. Well, gauge and lack of motivation.
Unsure about the third hat, I called my godmother for advice. She quickly informed me that my uncle never wears hats (How is that possible in this climate?), which would make a hat a wasted effort. His feet are cold all the time, she added, so why not make him a pair of socks? Groan. Actually, something more like a guttural "Ha!" escaped my lips, completely surpassing any internal filters of manners or respect. My godmother doesn't knit, so I had to explain to her that a pair of socks is as much work as a sweater. I like my uncle, but no. Back to the drawing board.

My Matsuri cardigan is currently drying on the spare bed, with an obvious paw print in the middle of the chest. My cat cannot resist knitwear in the blocking stage. Last xmas, he lay diagonally across a scarf for my aunt, leaving a cat shaped dent in the finished garment. Even though the cardigan is still damp, I can tell that the blocking helped. I'm not a professional blocker or anything approaching. For years, I never blocked my knitwear until my Peace Fleece cardigan demonstrated the miracle of blocking. Maybe miracle is an overstatement, unless you're blocking lace. Blocking can really make the difference between homemade and handmade. I live in dread of anything I make looking homemade. I don't use a blocking board or wires and rarely pins. I take the Yarn Harlot approach: I just make it sweater shaped. This works really well. You don't have to knock yourself out blocking.


I was immersed in wintertime ennui when I got an unexpected pick me up today. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich finally got busted for corruption today. Why is that exciting? Well, it's the details. The Feds have been sniffing around him for months, trying to find something that would stick. Seems like a good time to lay low, eh? Well, not for Blago. Instead of playing it cool, he decided to auction off the now vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. He must have known that he was being investigated, so he is either incredibly stupid (doubtful) or unbelievably ballsy to try and pull this off now. I'd suggest watching the news this evening to see if you can catch the courtroom artist's sketch of the disgraced governor and his enormous hair. It's truly a wonder to behold, and especially amusing in cartoon form.

So, I must sound like a real hater, since I find this all amusing. Well, that's Chicago politics for you. We're jaded. We put up with a lot of shit: the CTA is a disgrace, but we have to pay even more for it starting in January; the city just issued a big F-U to drivers by renting all of the parking meters in the city to a private company that will charge 24-7, with no more free Sundays or meter holidays; and it is so goddamn cold. All this and more is treated with an air of resignation. Yes, the CTA sucks, but what did you expect? $6.50 to park at a meter downtown? You might as well take the El, if it ever shows up and doesn't break down on the way there. Meh.

I haven't felt like knitting much, but I am trying to stick to a schedule like the Yarn Harlot. That hasn't exactly worked out. I've always been disgusted by Noro projects where the stripes weren't matched up. Even the samples that Noro sends out don't have their pieces matched. That always struck me as lazy. Now, I know why so many people don't bother. Matching up all of those stripes is a total pain in the ass! The skeins aren't identical, or anything approaching, which means you may have to spend hours searching for the color repeat that you need, winding your skeins into tiny balls that will get lost or patted by helpful cats. I've had to tear out the sleeves on my Matsuri cardigan twice (once each sleeve) to get the color progression right. The second sleeve has been much harder. Serious McGuyver-ing of yarn was involved to get the stripes to almost match. Sigh. I am probably the only person who will ever notice, since the sweater is so busy. I hoped to take a photo to illustrate, but there was absolutely no natural light today. Maybe when it's done.

I still have a couple of hats to make for xmas. I plan to start on them after I'm done torturing myself with this Noro madness. There will be no stripes, nothing to match up, and only comfortable Malabrigo involved in the hats. They'll feel like a vacation, even though they're for heads of Kennedy proportions.


I've spent the past couple of days feeling sorry for myself. Lying in bed mostly and feeling sorry for myself, when not engrossed in knitting and Slings and Arrows. My back was killing me after some emergency raking on Sunday, so I decided to take it easy. Later, I learned that lying in bed is one of the worst things that you can do for a back ache. Not surprisingly, spending a day in bed did not make it feel better, but a long soak in the tub certainly helped.

Maybe it's just not my week. My eyes were itchy a couple of days ago, so I decided to toss my disposable contacts and wear my specs. It's good to give the eyes a break every once in a while (coincidentally, the same days that I was laid up with my aching back). Today, I was off to meet a couple of friends that I hadn't seen in a while, so I decided to switch back to the contacts. I grabbed the bag from under the sink where my contacts were stashed and discovered that instead of containing two boxes of contacts, it held a starter kit of solution. Shit. I have no contacts and I really like having peripheral vision. And the hot/cold glasses fog that happens this time of year? Hate it. I had dinner with my mom at Ikea and suggested contacts as an xmas present. Hopefully, an early xmas present. I have Madama Butterfly coming up and I don't think I can work my opera glasses while wearing regular glasses. Hell, I can barely work my opera glasses while wearing my contacts.

I had dinner with my mom at Ikea. That might seem weird to some, Ikea as a dinner destination, but they have the best Swedish meatballs. Well, the best not made by a member of my immediate family. I got the new 2009 catalog and visited their xmas section. The trip to Swede-o-rama made it feel like the holidays. Ikea has the best stuff for xmas: several different design concepts in tree decor and gift wrapping. I was kind of sorry that I'd already bought my wrapping paper for the year, but strong armed my mom into buying a very sharp set of metallic tone-on-tone patterned paper. Xmas paper doesn't need to look so Christmassy, all Santa Clauses and candy canes. It should look refined and rich, like the present it encloses is a wonderful, well thought-out treasure.

While searching for a present for my cousin Chris and killing a bit of time this afternoon, I wandered into a certain used bookstore at the corner of Clark and Sheffield that shall remain nameless. I will not return there. They always have interesting books in their window display and the occasional copy of Tin Tin, but in the future, I'll just window shop. What did they do to piss me off? Well, they insisted that I check my purse. My purse. Not some voluminous, Lady Bracknell type handbag or giant sack, but one of the smallest bags that I own. Not useful for shoplifting. When I explained that the bag in question was my purse, they still insisted. They kindly offered to let me take my wallet out first (ironically, not in the purse), but I didn't have room in my pockets for the equally valuable ipod and checkbook. I don't like being separated from my purse. I should have left then, but instead I seethed for a few minutes and decided not to buy anything there. I understand that they are concerned about theft, but they could handle it a lot better. So, it's Powell's for me from now on.

In an attempt to expand my wardrobe and break up the xmas knitting marathon, I've picked up one of my UFOs again. I'm putting the sleeves on my Matsuri cardigan. It's a gaily colored cotton and wool blend yarn from Noro, which stripes. Boy, does it stripe. I can't decide if it's ugly or not. It has a definite Noro look, which isn't for everyone. At least it isn't as bad as the garment that one of my former co-workers described as looking like the time that she fed the dog crayons when she was a kid. I want to get the cardigan done in time to wear to a couple of holiday events, which I think is a very attainable goal. I'm in good shape on the present front. Just a few hats to make still. Hats for people with Ted Kennedy sized heads, but that's nothing new. My mother always says that "my" side of the family has thick skulls. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I understood that to be a double entendre.

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