Monday, August 17

The Castle of Elanor and her Prisoners of Yarn

My bedroom--the one ounce of space I have left to me, personally, in my little world and in which I jealously guard my favorite books and yarn skeins--is arranged so as to be the most restful place I can manage to construct for myself, and for my cat.

This last clause means that in addition to my bed (my great grandmother’s wedding present from my great grandfather) and little rocking chair (thrift store!), my antique cupboard and ancient glass-front bookshelves (saved from garage sales and garbage dumps), there are always yarn balls that have mysteriously escaped from their basket and gone running across the room. Frayed and slightly gummed bits of ribbon and string lay gasping their last on the hardwood. Sometimes feathers find their way in, again very mysteriously, and float about the room with the draft. And there is usually a fuzzy ball of warm affection waiting to curl up on my lap, or sit on my shoulder, or settle herself very compactly in a balancing act on top of my feet.

Thursday, August 6

Here are some pictures of knitted socks.

In the recent past, my hobbies have centered around homemaking activities; mostly cooking, household maintenance and craftwork. My work day begins an hour or two before the evening meal and lasts until about 4 a.m.--an odd schedule, but it seems to work out alright as we have people working at home who like quiet mornings, and leaving the dishes till morning is not really something to be done in a small kitchen where people make themselves breakfast and pack themselves lunches (if I don’t get around to them the night before). Everything else revolves around my work in the kitchen but usually I knit in between batches/loaf-risings/laundry loads. And my favorite things to knit are socks. These are my last few finished objects.

Socks knit up fairly quickly, especially thick socks, like these. Blue Moon Fiber Arts’ (BMFA) heavyweight Socks That Rock (machine washable merino wool) is my current favorite, but I’m about to knit through Nancy Bush’s ‘Knitting Vintage Socks’, which will involve much finer work. The first pattern I shall knit is simple and I’ll use BMFA’s cotton blend ‘Sock Candy’.

These socks are also a superwash merino, but not from BMFA. I knitted them for my mother; thick heel, plain ribbing, and a wide toe. She is fond of them but does not like to wear thick socks with her shoes (mostly very tight-fitting and professional). And I thought I ordered another skein of orange, but it turned out to be hot pink. That is why the colors change. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

And my most recent conquests! Usually I knit on 1.25 mm needles (US size 1) but these I had to work on size 0s to keep the gauge. They are also my first pair of toe-up socks: I usually knit socks from the cuff down and finish by sewing up the toe with a magic invisible stitch. By knitting this I’ve discovered that I really like the top-down style. And not the toe-up style. The toe-up style caused me much frustration and called down a lot of brimstone and hellfire. But the socks are beautiful and I get lots of compliments on them.

I shall try to post pictures as I finish projects, but my life has mostly gravitated away from my computer these days; my days go quickly and leave me tired. I think, though, that whatever it was in me that was so exhausted in California and Italy and Ireland is now growing back a little. Perhaps I need/ed the time alone. Anyway, knitting helps.

Thursday, July 23

A conspiracy of snickerdoodles.

I am still within the first five months of being back in the United States of America after a long absence and find the ease of communication (I love the English language) refreshing, yet once I move beyond that in conversation I find little to which I feel kinship. I must have left some part of my mind behind. There are skills required to communicate in this culture which I have not retained. Instead I have replaced them with . . . something. I have a lot of memories, have stored them up for my adventures’ winter.

There is on my kitchen table a Pokémon card in an Italian edition. I believe a young visitor to our house left it by accident and it may take some doing before I find to whom it belongs. I was waiting for the loaves of bread I baked this evening (buttermilk & honey with course oatmeal for crunch). It struck me that, beyond being a forgotten toy, it seemed the remnant of some destroyed civilization. One day a time traveler will frame it and take pride in its pretty runes (which look to me like Lucida Grand). Everything around it in my mind is so very far away from my present life.

Wednesday, July 22

I just watched 'Reclaiming The Blade' for the first time.

Dishes done and porridge on the stove. It has been an air-conditioned day of celebration and general enjoyment in the social sphere (including the ubiquitous American mall) and I am now home. There is always a lot to do here, and I am content with it even though it sometimes feels overwhelming.

My sister and I watched ‘Reclaiming The Blade’ tonight, which we won in a give-away on Twitter, and I bit off all my fingernails watching people spar. I must recommend it to you, if you’ve access to it! I’m surprised at the community of people who are interested in swords and who use them, who make them and revere them. It is somehow comforting. I’m not at all the type to want to be a shieldmaiden or roguish fighter; I’m the type to be content to make banners and cook food and prepare places and hearts to come back to. And yet I feel a keen interest in swords! Curiouser and curiouser.

Tuesday, July 21

The Homemaker at Midnight, or 0300. Whatever.

So today was a bit of a lazy day, but I still made my Monday evening worth the breath: the dishes are done, there is porridge on the stove for breakfast tomorrow; I made syrup (a simple syrup we use for lots of things, but mainly in iced tea and coffee drinks in the summer), and have also put a batch of yoghurt in the warmer (in preparation for making an Indian sweet cheese for dinner on Friday). All this while juggling laundry loads and keeping an eye on the back door for errant felines (a chipmunk, two bunnies, and an assortment of rather sordidly unidentifiable furry creatures have been praised as a result of my dragons' nocturnal forays). I know that is a bit of a parenthetical overload but indulge me.

For my birthday I used a gift certificate to buy some bone knitting needles and am getting ready to use them for an as yet undecided project soon. With them I bought a bone lucet which I am not quite sure how to use. I believe it is for finer work than I normally do but am determined to learn. I am sure I can manage a half-hour of work on my latest pair of knitted socks before I am absolutely exhausted. Tomorrow I'll wake up nearer 11 than 10 (which is a barely decent amount of sleep if one goes to bed at 0400), just in time to do a few things before dinner.

Did you know brass cleaner contains ammonia but that most silver cleaners don't? Some people don't know that. Like me, before today.

And for some reason I have little social life...

Saturday, July 11

Two Good Things About Wisconsin

1. Penzey’s Spices

This is a company that sells the best quality fresh spices and dried herbs as well as soup bases and basic tools for grinding spices, as well as keeping up a recipe book and magazine whatsit; I am most interested in the soup bases and unmixed spices.

2. Civil War Re-enactors’ Merchants

William Booth sells knitting needles and sewing accoutrements of which I am enamored. A beautiful doom and a gift certificate for my birthday later, I now anticipate a package at my door . Soon.

(Sorry I haven't been around. I know your lives have been poorer in my absence. Compy just now fixed and slew of guests arriving soon.)

Thursday, June 11

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Ok, so I moved back to the USA in March of this year, and have been having trouble keeping my blogs ever since: first it was little or no wifi, then it was household work (painting, sanding, heavy cleaning, yard work) and finally my computer started having problems charging and staying awake.

In the mean time, you might be surprised to know how little my life has changed from one country to another. I am still baking and knitting and cleaning quite madly and, thanks to the crummy economic situation, will probably continue this way for a little while. But I won't lie to you; I'm enjoying myself.

I am taking my computer to the Wizard tomorrow. Perhaps it needs a new heart. However, some spoilers:

1. I went to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival in early May.

2. Before we left Venice, I met the last turner with a workshop there.

3. My sister is, as a present for my upcoming birthday, going to teach me how to use a drop spindle. (SO EXCITED.)

4. Since my last entry I have knitted 3 pairs and two half-pairs of socks.

5. We have a real, honest-to-goodness garden at this new house. Soon we will plant vegetables there.

Friday, March 20

In Other News

Aside from my current interest in Morrissey, my life has continued on in its usual aimlessness. I have finished Travel in the Middle Ages and my third reading of the Aeneid (Dryden's translation this time), and am now on to Bischoff's Latin Palaeography and the Longfellow translation of Dante's Divina Commedia.

[The Friendship Arch in D.C.'s "Chinatown", which is like every other part of downtown except for the subtitles.]

If we don't get the things from our house soon I will be relegated to Kathleen Norris and Graham Greene . . . who'd've ever thought? I met one of Norris' great nieces (who also happens to be one of the best literature teachers I've ever had the privilege of hearing) and found out that my great grandmother used to read those decidedly innocent but swoony romances. Someone somewhere (have the feeling it was a male friend who was attempting to wean me from my medieval literature obsession) once recommended Greene to me and I found The Power and the Glory in a used book pile.

[View from the top of the Old Post Office. I liked the bells, best.]

And I now have a public library card, several job applications to hand in and have already begun a few volunteer-type things. Good to see some of my talents put to use, though. Stupid economy.


These are some pictures from the Sunday before St. Paddy's Day--the Americans seem to celebrate all week and with less getting drunk and more turning things green. I really miss good dark beers, and good whiskies. Am having trouble finding any place I'd actually like to get a drink (not get drunk! but a nice pint with friends now and then is nice)--is there something in America against a comfortable, clean atmosphere that does not feel sleazy and greasy? And--seriously, folks--Jack Daniels in the only whisky available?

A contemporary artist of which I am currently fond.

My friends know that I rarely find myself fascinated with living authors or artists, or even interested in contemporary movements. (I'm about to tell you about an artist I really like right now.) This changed a little when I went to Paris a few years ago--something about the place reminded me that it is still possible to see artists as representatives of their art and admirable in their own right for expressing themselves accurately. It takes guts to say what you mean and make yourself vulnerable by telling everyone how you see the world. I know that's not the best way to explain what artists do. I could never claim to "explain" Art. Forgive my bumbling?

But it was my sister's birthday a week ago, and my parents bought her two tickets to the Morrissey concert here AND SHE CHOSE ME TO GO WITH HER. (Which is officially awesome in its own right.) I had heard Morrissey with familiar affection since forever ago--he's been a public figure since before I was born--and my older sister only introduced me to his voice a few years ago when late-night highway drives made it possible for us to appreciate blasting our poor little Honda speakers.

[The day before the concert, we went to check out the venue.]

The Smiths are all quite excellent &c., but have you actually taken the time to listen to Morrissey's voice? Put on your best headphones and anything with his voice in it. Loud enough you can hear his voice properly. Just listen to his voice. Everything else comes in second.

So, the first time I realised how much I loved that sound was when the only track I had on my iPod was Neverplayed Symphonies and I was desperately trying not to be cranky and backseat-drive for my dad as we wound round about places in England we hadn't meant to be. Quite possibly what happened there was me falling in love with a song. That happens, sometimes.

[A really awful picture I took with my iPhone of the Warner Theatre interior before the concert started. Cameras weren't allowed, so I didn't take any during the concert.]

Anyway, the concert was brilliant. I was completely entranced. The music was wonderful, the stage presence of all was really nice--they seemed accessible and (heaven forbid) real. Human. I really could have sat there all night. All week. I'd love to hear Morrissey read poetry, but then that might be even more dangerous than his singing voice. After the concert started the interview and biography readings . . . After the initial obsession (of last week, which was long enough for me as I tend to read and think a lot--and he is still alive, remember), I have decided that I like Morrissey and his music.

Yes. Just like that. A living musical artist that I like. I shall now proceed to buy his music, if I can figure out what media are being used these days . . . mp3, still? Are CDs being phased out yet? I need a record player.

Wednesday, March 11

First week back in the U.S.A.: co-op markets, local knitting groups & new technology.

Did you know they don't charge for long-distance calls in the U.S.? And that there are no roaming charges? And that with an iPhone 3G you can access the internet through the cell line? I didn't know any of this, but I have an iPhone now and am loving it. It has saved me from getting lost, losing family members, not having groceries, etc. etc. And I can check my email. The only big problem from my perspective is that the keyboard, while perfectly usable, is still so small that my fingers move across it very slowly and with much stumbling.

[A much more exciting picture of a piece of pound cake my sister and I shared for lunch on our first day back. Someone at the market had simply made a huge cake, frosted it, and was selling it by the slice. Brilliant woman. Heavenly cake.]

On our first day back we went to downtown Bethesda. We did not know it was a rather expensive part of town, but we did have an appointment to buy cell phones and look at a car.

I had forgotten about bagels. Fresh bagels. Toasted and delicious and dripping with everything good and virtuous. We had them for breakfast, and then found a coffee shop called Quartermaine in which the barista understood proper coffee-related jargon.

[This the market up the street where my sister and I found the miraculous pound cake, and also other lovely things.]

Across the street from the market was a yarn shop, Knit + Stitch = Bliss, which was full of luxury yarns and knitting accessories I could not afford. Most of it was not local or pure or practical, so it wasn't really up my alley, but my sister found an incredibly complex pattern which she has already started and is enjoying fully.

[Knit + Stitch = Bliss]

On Monday my sister and I attended a knitting group that meets near the house we are about to move into. I am really very fond of it already--they were so welcoming and so warm that I felt comfortable immediately. Many of the women (it was an all female crowd) were in familiar lines of work and shared hobbies with us. Everyone seemed at home there. Even if it was at a Starbucks, at least they let us stay until closing and didn't get their panties in a bunch about us moving around tables chairs so as to sit together.

I love being able to speak English and understand almost everything that is said to me. I love finding familiar things that haven't been around for ages. Things have really changed, tho--more than what I can glean from having listened to newscasts and reading papers. It will definitely take a while to get used to.

Still no consistent internet; it will probably take me a half an hour just to keep pressing the upload button on Blogger; stupid thing keeps timing out if you load more than one page per hour . . . Soon, my precious, we will have a real connection to the intarwebz.

Friday, February 27

Personal reflections on the writer's imagination, and also pictures of knitting and cats. You have been warned.

My mother says that people like me build inside themselves a secret world which only they and precious few visitors can enter. The landscapes are detailed and complex, and peopled by imagination and memory (the former being the more prominent by far, according to her). I expect analysts would find a use for it as some kind of mental escape. Figures.

[Clearly, Elanor does not think highly of their opinions. They are, after all, the product of mortal reasoning.]

I have always thought of my world inside and the world outside as having distinct differences not of reality and fancy but more along the lines of faith and imagination, or truth and fact. I'm really not sure why analysts pry, anyway. The world outside has enough problems. It is like an earthly cleric trying to solve faery politics: unproductive, and usually ends with the cleric as a rather bewildered amphibian.

And here's the most recent pair of socks I'm knitting. These are on smaller needles than the last and so are taking a little more time--not much, tho! With any luck I'll be able to wear them on the big transatlantic flight. When I take off my shoes to walk thru security lines people will faint in jealousy, I know it.

Thursday, February 12

Thinking about medieval travel and material objects.

The past few weeks have afforded me little time for anything but coping; when you have dust and mould allergies and the task at hand is to do the final cleaning of a mouldy, dusty house, things can get rather amusing. Then there are the social aspects of saying good-bye to the neighbourhood: though we have several weeks before us, we are already having last dinners and last meetings and last tastes and smells and experiences. The general goodwill of the village and the exemplary hospitality of the individuals therein still amaze me.

[With wool from France; very warm! Just finished these the day before yesterday.]

Still, somehow I end up dreaming. Or, not exactly. Just thinking. I've been slowly changing my daily routines to include medieval material culture; my hair products are all natural now (even my comb is made of horn and not of plastic), I knit my own socks and hats (ok, fine: this is debatable--but it is highly plausible!), bake my own bread, eat my breakfast out of hand-turned wooden bowls, and drink my coffee out of a comfortable little stoneware mug my mother found at a little shop in Glastonbury. All this done while wriggling my toes in their crocheted slippers.

What makes me laugh is that it is so much easier to pack for the relocation process with these things. I don't have a huge hairbrush and large bottles of commercial shampoo to worry about getting caught on things or opening and spilling in my suitcase. I am never bored when I have a knitting project--socks, in particular, are very portable indeed and one can fit in a jacket pocket for those frequent five or ten minute-spans spent waiting or talking. Crocheted slippers are infinitely scrunchable and completely washable, unlike their plastic-soled counterparts. My wooden bowls don't need padding or wrapping in my bag because they are extremely durable. All of these things are comfortable and customisable and familiar.

It makes me feel more sane to have these small amenities amongst so much plastic and mass-produced nonsense. Also it gives rise to a new respect for medieval travel (be it merchant, royalty, or pilgrimage), because I had thought that at least domestic details like these would be more difficult.