Friday, December 27, 2013

Opals in the summertime

Today dawned clear and bright, so we slopped on as much suncream as possible and went to the beach at the end of my street.

Have you ever seen a sky so gorgeously clear and blue (or a pair of Raybans so handsomely worn?)?

We initially set up on the beach closest to the yacht club because the building provided the shade I need to not burst into flames when my pitifully pale skin is exposed to the sun. This is the view from my towel.

Nice, right? But after three dogs urinated within five metres of our resting spot in ten minutes, we decided to move to the non-dog beach 200m down the road.

Not a bad view from the second spot when I am lying down, either!

These are the Opal socks as they currently stand. Due to a Christmas Day inability or unwillingness to count any rows, the heel flaps are different sizes so therefore so are the gussets. I don't think it'll be a massive deal but I guess we'll see. These socks are my stress-free pair so, honestly, I'm just not going to think about the possibility one of them won't fit.

I'm definitely going to run out of wool before finishing the pair but, again, I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

For the moment, I'm happy enjoying my beach, sunshine and general summer holiday happiness :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Twas the night before Christmas...

I finished the Soleus socks two days ago with plenty of black wool to spare (photos to come soon). On the same day I found another pair of sock needles in the same size that I had (definitely oddly and possibly drunkenly) hidden in a desk drawer. On the very same day, my cat found a ball of sock wool from my stash and dragged it onto my bedroom floor. It seemed like such a serendipitous coincidence to have all of those things happen on the same day I felt compelled to give myself a gift that I would really really love.

My Christmas present to myself this year is the decision to knit my favourite thing (stockinette socks) out of my favourite wool (Opal) with no deadlines or stresses attached to the project at all. Usually on Christmas eve there is a family birthday; however, this year the birthday boy has a lovely new girlfriend and is spending the night with her so, for the first time in eight years, I get to spend my Christmas eve exactly how I want to - eating salad, knitting for fun, drinking red wine, watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and hanging out with my boos Sam and Lucy. As Lucy would say if she was a) a talking cat and b) very fond of puns, it will be a purrrrrrrrrfect night!

I just can't wait :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 FO #17: Advance Australia Fair socks

I can honestly not believe it is the second-last Friday in 2013. Where has the year gone? I feel like I have so much 2013 left in me to live!!

These socks were actually finished way back in July for my dad's birthday, but the man is an international traveller and I never managed to organise it so that the socks and he were in the same place in the same time. Last weekend I trapped him with the promise of editorial assistance and homemade brownies and finally managed to gift him the present that was ready to be given so long ago. 

They fit perfectly and he seemed to like them. They were knitted in Patonyle (colourway 3333) so I was happy to make them because knitting with Patonyle is a dream - it's so soft - so all in all, a massive (if very delayed) success.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WIP Wednesday: End of year edition

Today is the last WIP Wednesday of 2013! I haven't done many of them this year; primarily because since I've been working very slowly on big projects, weekly tracking of my knitting progress would bore even my closest, most interested friends.  

For example, the Luxury OpArt blanket.

It looks pretty much the same as last time. Trust me, it's bigger! It's just not very interesting to look at (although I am loving the knitting. It's so brainless - it's like knitting Valium. Guaranteed to reduce stress levels.)

I had a conversation with my sister yesterday, and she said to me that she is incredibly pleased with the present she has bought with me. This immediately led me to start worrying that the present I have for her is not good enough (why does Christmas have to be so stupidly stressful?), so I pulled out my three-quarter finished Soleus socks.

I'll definitely get it finished before Christmas but I suspect I'm going to run out of black wool before I run out of sock knitting. Urgh!! I refuse to worry about this - if there's not enough black wool, then she'll just have to be happy with the present I got. Gift-giving should not be a competitive sport!!

This final item is not a WIP, but I wanted to show you how adorable my cat is. She does this thing where she locates the point at which sunshine and shade meet and lies as close to the sun as she can get without it actually directly touching her.

Unfortunately, she doesn't understand that the sun is huge ball of fire that is being orbited by an always spinning Earth, so when then shade-sun line inevitably moves, so does she. The poor thing must never get any REM sleep because she has to get up and readjust her position every fifteen minutes or so. It is honestly one of the cutest, stupidest and funniest things I have ever seen.

Till next time :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

A day at the zoo

As I shared on Friday, I have been feeling a bit mentally fragile this December. While I know it doesn't work for everyone and I would never, ever tell someone who is depressed to just go outside, what always helps me when I'm feeling pressured is just removing myself from the situation that is causing me distress. In this case, it meant breaking my usual routine and…

*excited drum roll* 


I love the zoo more than words can possibly express. It is one of my favourite places in all of Melbourne.

My No.1 favourite zoo destination is the elephant enclosure.

I was literally 10 metres from an elephant that was bigger than my car! 

And a younger one who adorably kept showering itself in sand, then water.

Why? I don't know, but it was adorable.

It was possibly not the best exhibit to start with when I was feeling a bit down because the sight of these lumbering moving around made me cry because they are still being poached today and their natural environment destroyed. Humans are seriously the worst.

But then I realised that although humans are without a doubt totally the worst, there are some good ones who are helping species reproduce and care for them. Watching this little week-old baby elephant (who is not quite as big as my car but not far off!) feed made me cry happy tears. It was a really beautiful sight and I am amazingly lucky to have seen it.

My second favourite location was the butterfly enclosure. As always, I resolved to plant butterfly-friendly plants and stop complaining when caterpillars eat all of my basil and bay leaves.

And, as always, it was hilarious to watch the big, manly Sam get freaked out by all of the shiny but harmless birds. At Melbourne Zoo, there are peacocks that wander around on the paths hanging out with all of the visitors.

And there are birds that hang around in trees, looking fantastic.

Neither of them look scary at all! What a weird, being afraid of birds of paradise.

Sam's favourite animals to visit are the Giant Tortoises. There's two tortoises whose home is off the main thoroughfare, which meant that there isn't a lot of traffic through there and, for a short time, it was only Sam and I hanging out with these amazing beasts.

We were quiet, like the signs said (apparently tortoises are shy) and we were lucky enough to see this one literally come out of its shell and start to eat.

I felt unbelievably better after my day out. I really am a very lucky person :)

By the way, you see that rail in the photo above? That is literally the only barrier separating the giant tortoises from everywhere and everyone else. I think even in the wild it would not be possible to get this close to the animal. It is truly wonderful and amazing.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

RIP Joan Fontaine

RIP Joan Fontaine.

You were always my favourite de Havilland sister.

Thank you for making two of my favourite movies, Suspicion and Letter from an Unknown Woman.

Thank you for writing my favourite celebrity memoir ever.

Thank you for having a crazier relationship with your sister than I do with mine.

Thank you for being such a wonderful Hollywood star.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Social conventions are stupid

I find December a hard month to get through. Primarily, this is because I am quite introverted and December involves a level of socialisation that I find difficult to cope with. It’s like there’s this unwritten rule that it is absolutely vital to see every single person in you know Before Christmas, as if 25 December is some magical date that, if you haven’t renewed your friendship vows by, they will be declared null and void and your personal relationship will be irrevocably harmed. (As a side note, I feel exactly the same way about hen’s dos. After the wedding, the bride will still live in the same house with the same partner working in the same job as she did before the wedding. The only difference is that after the wedding they will have dropped the equivalent cost of a three-month trip in Europe on a really big party. Ironically, it’s childbirth that really changes the rules of friendships and with pregnancy there’s sadly not the chance for one big last messy night out.)

To be able deal with everything that is required of me in December, in the past I have approached it like a military exercise. I write a list of people I need to see and book them early with dates, places and times. I write a list of people I need to write cards for and have the cards written ready to be posted on 1 December. I write a list of people I need to buy presents for and have the presents ready and wrapped as soon as I can. I do everything in my power to make everything run as smoothly as possible. I am like a well-oiled well-run Christmas machine, making Christmas happen with a precision rarely seen outside a Swiss watch factory or the German railway system. There’s no room for flexibility but I get shit done. 

This leads me to the secondary reason I have trouble with December: it makes people go crazy. I start being involved in hour-long discussions of how to deal with the fact that Auntie Doris doesn’t like turkey but Uncle Mike thinks it’s not Christmas unless there’s a full turkey dinner. A reasonable answer would be to ask each person to bring a dish that they’re happy with eating (and, maybe if Uncle Mike realised what an effort it is to make a moist delicious turkey he wouldn’t be quite so fussy about wanting one every single year) but instead there’s drama that usually involves the person hosting cooking two or three different meals to appease each of the four people attending dinner. People spend too much money on presents and then get upset about the presents they do or don’t receive. They drink too much and have fights with their partner about who agreed to be the designated driver and who just can’t control themselves around an open bottle of sparkling wine. It’s exhausting.

Part of the Christmas preparation for me is the making of Christmas gifts. I’ve embarked on different projects over the years: knitting everyone in my family a pair of socks; knitting just some a pair of socks and, this year, knitting two pairs of socks. But I don’t know if it’s because of the unseasonally cold weather or just general end-of-year tiredness, this year I have less tolerance for the Christmas drama (I don’t care if there’s chicken instead of turkey. I don’t care if you order pizzas! It’s about the company, not the food. And, if you insist on cooking the whole meal yourself and not accepting any offers of help and not allowing anyone else to bring any food, I do not want to hear one single word about being a martyr to the family. Not one.).  In a first since I have started knitting as an adult, this year I have absolutely no desire to knit gifts for anyone else. So, instead of working on the socks I was planning to give away, I have worked on nothing other than this:

Isn't it gorgeous? It's an Op Art knitted in Luxury 8ply in Sunflower and Purple Storm. 

The pattern is super simple - one knitted row followed by one purl row, changing colours as required. Rinse and repeat until the blanket is the desired size or the wool has run out. Stress free, cheerful and soft to the touch, this is exactly the project the doctor ordered. With the aid of this blanket, I might just be able to make it through the month...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 FO #16: Infinitude scarf

The other day I was playing around on Twitter and I stumbled the account of someone I know in real life. I had that moment of shock that you get when you see someone in a context that you don't expect them but then, like all good voyeurs, I checked out the list of posted tweets. What I found surprised me a lot. This person, who in person has a fairly unremarkable appearance, is hawt in photos. Like I seriously checked twice it was actually the person I thought it was, that's how dramatic the change was.  How does that happen? I often can't even recognise myself in photos and there is definitely not an improvement in the photographic me as opposed to the real-life me. Take this photo for example.

I'm wearing a great scarf that's made up of lofty, soft fabric and super-cute pyjamas.

But do I look sexy? Frankly, I look a little bit ridiculous.

I tried doing the robot to see if it would make me look more fun, like the kind of person who stands out on social media. But no, the movement just blurred my forehead, making it seem elongated and dolphin-esque.

A close-up that avoided my face revealed only that I missed one end when I was finishing the blanket and that it takes only minutes for cat-hair to gravitate to black tops.

I give up! At least the scarf looks good.

Maybe next time I might try putting on some makeup...

Pattern: Infinitude Scarf by Jeni Chase
Yarn: Bendigo Woollen Mills Rustic 12-ply, one whole ball in some dark green colour whose name escapes me.
Notes: Cast on the number of stitches for the large size. The scarf got a lot bigger after blocking, so it can now be wrapped around three times. That does mean it's super warm but unless you live in a climate where you need that much warmth, shorter might be better. Otherwise, a satisfying, easy and quick project.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

2013 FO #15: Serenity-ish blanket

After what feels like months plugging away on the six-stitch garter-stitch border, this week I was finally able to cast off and block my Serenity blanket. Yesterday was beautiful and sunny and the baby is being delivered in three days (by pre-booked cesearean) so I decided to gentle block it outside in the sun to make sure that the blanket was dry and delivered to the mother before the infant was. I like the idea of a baby being delivered in to the world with an item that was crafted solely for them.

Lucy, of course, thought I'd placed it there just for her. I hope this new bub is not sensitive to cat hair!

I think I should really call it a Serenity-ish blanket because I heavily modified the finishing of the blanket to fit in with my very particular ideas of what a blanket should look like (square, big and concluded).

The original pattern had the lace and cable inside finishing halfway through a 'leaf'. There is no way I could have an incomplete leaf on a blanket of mine, so I continued the pattern so that the unfinished leaves were closed. The already closed leaves were continued to the border with a seven-stitch cable, and the inner section was then finished off with two purl rows.

I then did 20 rows of bee stitch (10 of the two-row repeats) before knitting another two purl rows and finishing it all off with a six-stitch garter-stitch border.

This resulted in a blanket that is big enough for mum to use it as a lap blanket if she wants as well as being the perfect size to wrap a baby in.

I am very pleased with this blanket - I think it's gorgeous and perfect for a summer baby and was fun to knit - the knitted present trifecta.

Pattern: Charts A, B and C of the Serenity blanket, then modifications as outlined above.
Yarn: Almost two full balls of Bendigo Woollen Mills Cotton 8-ply in Daffodil
Notes: Fun! A great project.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Not-Quite Nigella: Fork-split English Muffins

There appears to be only two temperature settings in Melbourne at the moment - very cold or very hot. After a Tuesday where the temperature reached 37 degrees, today it dropped to a balmy 17. Brrr!!! So I thought in honour of the change in weather I would make a nice afternoon tea - hot buttered English muffins.

There are heaps of different recipes on the internet and they're all kind of different - some use milk, some water, one even used natural yoghurt! Some need two rises, some three, some use active dry yeast, others instant, others a combination of yeast and baking soda. In the end, I just went with the Home Made Fork-Split English Muffins from Not-Quite Nigella, primarily because I had all of the ingredients and it only had two rises and I was hungry.

The first step is to mix milk, yeast, butter, sugar, egg, salt and flour and knead for eight minutes until the dough is elastic.

I put the bowl in a warm place to rise…and promptly forgot about it! When I remembered I was making bread about four hours later, the bread had exploded.

I therefore ended up with a massive pile of muffins, which I covered in polenta and left for a second rise. I did a variety of shapes and sizes because I wasn't sure what size or thickness will make the most delicious muffins. To prevent any suspense, they all taste the same regardless of the shape, the bigger ones just took longer to cook.

I don't know if I've mentioned this in the past but I have the world's slowest oven. It's a lovely big expensive oven bought by the previous owner who was unfortunately for me terrified of burning herself. Therefore the oven has all of these safety features that mean that a) it is impossible to hurt yourself when using this oven and b) everything takes twice as long as it would to cook in this oven than it would in any other oven in the world (is it wrong that I was just about to crack a joke about how this is the oven that Ted Hughes should have bought? I am a terrible person.)

The beautiful thing about English muffins is that they can be cooked on the stove, meaning that I (wonderfully) do not have to cook them in my oven. All you need to do is pop them in a covered dry frypan for 7-8 minutes a side (about 10-12 minutes for the thicker bigger ones) and you end up with beautiful fluffy delicious ready-for-the toaster English muffins.

Yummo! These are toasted and topped with real butter and jam and were just delightful.  I may never buy another English muffin again.

Lucy decided to help me get over the feeling of fullness from eating too many by lying on my belly.

But she couldn't, because it was too huge, so she just lay next to me and purred a bit. Thanks, Lucy, for trying. I appreciate your help!