handicrafts, knitting, projects

Knitting for the unravelled

It has long been my dream to be a knitter. Not just to knit, but to be someone who jauntily whips out a sweater with ease, who is learned in the ways of lace, who is not scared of patterns that require slipped stitches and yarn overs (yarns over?). A long time ago I knitted two scarves, and that was as far as I ventured into the dark and murky waters of yarn manipulation.

Fast forward to autumn 2017: I decided, moved by I know not what impulse, to resume knitting. I made a scarf, about which I have already posted. It was an important step in several ways: not only did it get me back in the swing of knitting, but I tried several things I had never done before: I made my own pattern, I used three different colors of yarn, and I learned how to join yarn. The success of the (rather itchy) scarf gave me the confidence I needed to move on to bigger and better things: baby blankets.

Since my mom is the person who taught me how to knit and is my main knitting resource, I talked to her about my renewed interest in the craft. She lent me a book of baby blanket patterns, and I decided the first one looked easy enough that I dared brave an attempt at it. The next step was finding the right yarn: I wanted a pastel material that was soft enough for a baby’s delicate skin. I had something of a bias against acrylic when I set out and had cotton in mind, but the yarn I ended up with was indeed acrylic, not only soft, but machine washable to boot! An important consideration for any textile that is going to be used primarily by or for babies.

Pattern: chosen. Yarn: found. Now, to begin the actual knitting. I cast on. I counted and recounted the stitches. And I tried. And attempted. And tried again. Over and over, I had to pull the yarn out. I can tell you, it is very demoralizing to tear out hundreds of stitches, redo them, and have to tear them out again. But I was learning.

The very beginning (next stop: Frustration Station!)

Not only my brain, but my hands were in training. My knitting is generally very even, but I have an unfortunate tendency to knit too tightly, and my actual technique left something to be desired. I was using my pointer finger as leverage against the knitting needle at every stitch, which was rather painful (and Against the Rules).

Progress–by this point I had figured out what I was doing and no longer needed to rip things out

As time went on and I became more comfortable with the pattern, however, my muscle memory developed and I was able to relax somewhat and begin to shed some of my bad habits. I came out the other side a better, more confident knitter.

Whoa-oh, halfway there! (Whoa-oh, knittin’ on a prayer!)

The end of the saga: I finished knitting the blanket in time for the baby shower, and it is currently being used by my new niece! I am currently at work on another blanket of the same pattern, for another expected niece (I am VERY excited). Lessons learned: do not give it to fear of yarn. And keep on trying.


bonsai, houseplants, nature, projects

Bonsai seedlings, week 5 update


It’s been five weeks since we planted our bonsai seeds, and I am happy to say we have seedlings for each species of tree. I was a little anxious about the Norway spruce (picea abies) because it had only one seed, but it sprouted! Oddly enough, we also have only one jacaranda sprout (jacaranda mimosifolia), even though that was the plant for which we had the most seeds. I’m a bit disappointed about that because that’s the tree I was the most excited about, but there’s still time for more to grow. Fingers crossed! As for the flame tree (delonix regia), two of our four seeds are growing, and five of the six Rocky mountain bristlecone pine (pinus aristata) sprouted. I’ll be posting more updates as our little bonsai babies grow.

bonsai, houseplants, nature, Personal, projects

Bonsai: a beginning

Both my husband and I love houseplants. Which is why our apartment currently has close to 50 plants in it. (Greenery overload! Some of them are refugees from my husband’s office and need to be re-homed.)

A few years ago, we went to a bonsai show. We wanted to get one for ourselves, but didn’t really feel justified in the expense at the time. Then, last year on our wedding anniversary, my gift to my husband was a juniper bonsai, which currently lives in our kitchen on top of our microwave (why yes, we are running out of flat surfaces on which to put our plants!).

Our juniper bonsai, with a tortoise at its base.

Unfortunately, when it arrived it was infested with fungus gnats, which were killing its root system. After a couple of treatments*  the gnats died and the plant is recovering.

Then, last week, there was a further development in our bonsai saga: my mom gave us a kit to grow our own little trees from seed! Very exciting. And it’s just the right time of year to plant things.

The first step was soaking the seeks for 24 hours. The seeds for the flowering trees changed the color of the water, but the evergreen seeds didn’t. After they had soaked the requisite amount of time, we prepared the peat for potting. This involved pouring very hot water over the little discs of dirt and watching them expand to many times their original size.

After the dirt was rehydrated, it looked and felt like half-cooked brownie batter. In order to prevent mold, the instructions bade us squeeze the water out, which also helped to cool it down. That bit was pretty fun–there’s something very satisfying about sticking one’s hands in dirt and mucking about.

Then it was time to plant the seeds. Unfortunately, we only had one seed for picea abies, the Norway spruce, so I’m really hoping it sprouts. In clockwise order from the top left, the seeds are picea abies, the Norway spruce, delonix regia, the flame tree, pinus aristata, the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, and jacaranda mimosifolia, the jacaranda (I’m very excited about this one! Such beautiful purple-blue flowers). The close up is of the flame tree seeds, whose outer layer peeled off like old plastic.


At the bottom, you can see how much the peat disc expanded, and the last picture labels all the seeds and gives the date on which they were planted. The instruction booklet said that the Norway spruce can live for thousands of years, so . . . perhaps we will have to make arrangements for it in our will. Is there some sort of institution that cares for bonsai that outlive their owners?

They will not be sprouting for a least a few weeks, but when they do start, I will be posting updates about their progress. I’m very excited to see how they grow!

*A triple attack of hydrogen peroxide and diatomaceous earth (to kill the grubs, which do the actual damage) and cinnamon (to prevent the adult from coming back to lay more eggs). To paraphrase Mr. Darcy, fungus gnats “are my abhorrence”.
handicrafts, knitting, projects, Uncategorized

Noodling about with (knitting) needles

In January 2017, I made what (at the time) I considered to be a wildly optimistic New Year’s goal: to complete one knitting project by the end of the year. My previous knitting had consisted of two scarves and part of a hat. I have long harbored delusions of knitting grandeur: knitting blankets, sweaters, even lace. Unfortunately, I also harbor bafflement regarding anything more complicated than knitting and purling. Increasing? Decreasing? The words make sense, yes, but the techniques . . . and then there’s slipping stitches, passing slipped stitches over, yarn over . . . the list goes on.

So I decided that my next knitting project would be something uncomplicated. Something familiar, to ease my passage back into Knitting Land. Yes, you guessed it, I made another scarf. But this time I got fancy–I used three different colors of yarn.

And once I started, I really got into the swing of things, and finished it quite quickly. I didn’t use anyone’s pattern for this scarf, I just made it up as I went along. It’s pure wool, so I’m sure it’s very warm, but unfortunately it is very scratchy, so I’ve scarcely worn it. Not to mention we had an exceptionally warm winter.

The finished product

At any rate, my success with this scarf emboldened me to throw myself back into knitting, and I have another project in the works. 🙂

food, fruit, projects, Traditions

Strawberry Jam


When I was a kid, every year around the end of May, my mom would enlist us to help her in the kitchen with strawberry jam. The kitchen would be filled with pounds and pounds and pounds of strawberries, needing to be washed and hulled and cut into quarters. There was sugar waiting to be measured and pectin packets to be opened, all ending up in a large pan on the stove.

We put the jam in small plastic containers, which were ideal for storing in the freezer. All through the next year (but it was a particular treat in the winter), we would take out one box of sweet red goodness at a time, perfect for toast, PBJ, pancakes, and crêpes.

As an adult, I haven’t made my own jam until this year. I came upon this recipe via my sister Isabella (she scouts out recipes and shares the best ones with me, hooray!). It comes from a book called The Homemade Kitchens: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure by Alana Chernila.

How to turn fruit into jam

  • Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups

The secret that jam makers keep is that making jam is easy, and it can be done with whatever and however much fruit you have. A jar of jam can last two to three weeks in the fridge, so you can make one jar at a time with just a few minutes of stirring at the stove, no canning required. Thicken it with a little sugar, pour it into a jar, and you have jam. If you’re not canning your jam, you don’t have to pay attention to pH or acidity, so if you like to experiment, play around with sweetness, herbs, and other flavors with your fruit. Sugar is a preservative, so take note that if you use less sugar, you’ll need to eat your jam faster. This formula works well with berries, rhubarb, stone fruit, pears, and cantaloupe. Just adjust the water and sweetener according to the water and sugar content of the fruit you’re using. This is a quick jam that’s great for all sorts of uses in the kitchen. In the interest of ease and versatility, this recipe creates a loose jam, and there’s no need to worry about temperature or getting it to “set.”

  • 1 pound fruit, fresh or frozen (weighed after pitting, peeling, or cutting it appropriate)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • Optional: herbs, spices, other flavor additions
  1. Combine the fruit and water in a heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit breaks up into sauce, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Uncover the pot and stir in the sugar or honey. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often to prevent the jam from burning on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and adjust for sweetness if necessary. Allow to cool and transfer to a jar. If you’ve added whole spices, you can either remove them now or leave them in the jar to continue to infuse the jam for a stronger flavor.
handicrafts, humour, knitting, projects

In which I am once again stymied by two sticks and a piece of string

The first section of the hat using practice yarn (why yes, I am very cautious!)

Knitting! Is it some form of wizardry? You take a ball of yarn, add two needles, mess about with them and somehow end up with an article of clothing.

Thus far in my life, the only knitting projects I have completed have been scarves, but, putting fear behind me and venturing boldly into the unknown, I started working on a hat.

Unfortunately, while my stitches are very even, they are also on the tight side, so I may have to switch to bigger needles, as I doubt my ability to knit more loosely with any consistency.

As a novice, I find knitting instructions rather abstruse, but when I puzzle over them with my husband or look up videos online to show me how a given stitch is done, I can usually figure it out. It seems the main thing is to keep on trying. I have a goal to finish one knitting project this year, so . . . we’ll see how that goes.