Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Christmas Swap to Me!

My friend Julie and I did a Christmas Swap last Christmas based on our love of books and knitting. Julie's gift put mine to shame although I did like my idea of using Little Women. She based hers on A Christmas Carol and included lots of goodies besides yarn to knit a beautiful shawl. I promised myself that this year I would show her up, planning way ahead and thoughtfully buying little items to supplement my book and yarn choices months what did I end up sending two days AFTER Christmas??--My swap box for Julie. I did plan ahead and bought some items in November, but I couldn't mange to send the box on time. Shame on me again.

She, on the other hand, was punctual and once again left me practically breathless! She chose the book The Mitten, which happens to be one of my favorites. I'll admit to having an old, worn copy with chew marks on the spine from when Gidget was a puppy, and besides, that book was Paige or Kai's, not mine. Her yarn-related item was something I've been coveting since I saw it last year, a "mitten" advent calendar pattern and cushy Knit Picks yarn in rich, Christmas colors. Love, love, love it! As further evidence that Julie is the best giver ever, she also sent a beautiful Polish pottery coffee cup. I am a coffee snob. I don't drink "fu-fu" pretend coffee; I drink bold coffee specially ground and brewed for me by my husband every morning and usually every afternoon.

I savor those two cups each day. I used to have a pottery cup that somehow made my coffee taste even better, but it got broken. My Starbucks coffee cup, which I've used ever since, just hasn't ever measured up. It feels "cold." Now, I once again have a coffee cup to truly enjoy. This morning, I spent a relaxing (like I haven't been relaxing most of the last week and a half) hour drinking coffee, eating treats from Julie, and looking at a cheerful Baba ornament that she also included in our swap.

In other news...I'm kind of finished whining about Lyric Tree. I still think the pattern is confusing and over-priced, but the tree is pretty cool, and Paige loves it so far. I have to re-knit the sleeves because they're too long, but I'm feeling optimistic that I will actually finish it, and that Paige will actually wear it...that is, if it gets cold enough. She's outside "laying out" right now. It's probably only sixty degrees outside, but that better than being stuck in a blizzard!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away...Just Yet

I live in Central California, which means that we often have fewer than ten inches of rain a year. Heck, I remember years, when we've had less than four or five. This weekend alone, it has rained over three inches. What a wonderful way to begin my Christmas vacation, with an excuse to stay inside and do nothing other than read and knit! Now, for Russ, Paige, and me, reading isn't out of the ordinary, but catching Kai with a book is a little  rare sight. This may have something to do with him being told he couldn't play "World of Warcraft" until he'd read for an hour, but it still made me happy. He's reading A Christmas Carol, which Julie gave me last year as part of our Christmas swap. I've been reading and enjoying Chocolat and The Lost Art of Reading, and have about five other books sitting by the couch, tempting me.
I had finals last week, which for some stupid reason I thought would mean I would have more free time. I had a party of some kind every night and was pretty busy with school stuff still, but I did get one more set of my little mittens completed. My snowflakes on them are a little wonky, but who said snowflakes had to be perfect.

My most recent knitting project hasn't been too positive. Paige hasn't generally shown much interest in having me knit her anything, so when she said that she wanted me to knit her a sweater, I was excited. I had her browse through Ravelry to find something, hopefully something free. I wasn't too excited when she showed me her choice. It was called Lyric Tree, and it looked kind of "messy" to me, too unstructured. Of course, it was also $8, and the yarn cost $100....and I stupidly went ahead and bought it as part of her Christmas present. If I'd written this post this morning, I would have had to include a couple of cuss words to continue, but I've had a bit of a breakthrough after hours of re-reading the directions and pouring over forums and comments about it. I'd say that at least half of the people have had some of the same troubles I've had. I've decided that the designer is probably talented but inexperienced. She doesn't use standard knitting abbreviations and hasn't included a chart. The tree pattern is really pretty, and maybe I'll be happy with the finished product, but I'm apprehensive about it.  If I had trouble understanding her directions for simple cables, I hate to think what's going to happen once I get to the armhole and neck shaping.

Oh, and besides all of that, Kitty keeps sleeping on it every time I lay it down. Actually, I don't mind that. I think she's cute.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Baking...and More Knitting

A friend gave me her Napa Style catalog a couple of weeks ago, and besides wanting almost everything in it, I found more evidence that knitting isn't diminishing in popularity. I love these little wine bottle toppers. 

I don't need to pay $20 apiece for my "winter apparel" for my wine bottles though.  I used a mini-mittens pattern from Ravelry, to make my own, and I'm pretty happy with the result. I may try to go a little smaller next time. My wine bottle definitely needs a hat, as well!

Besides knitting, I've been spending a lot of time baking. I have had the same sourdough starter since last spring, and I'm almost obsessed with it. I take it out of the fridge and sniff it, ask anyone who's around to sniff it, feed it on a regular basis, and am constantly experimenting with it. The bread above is just simple sourdough bread. I don't even use a recipe anymore for bread like it. It's just starter, flour, and salt, but it's still really good.

A lot of sourdough recipes take a long time to finish but you can ignore it most of the time, so it's not as bad as one might think. This bread was an olive/rosemary bread that was from Sourdough Home. It was so good. I used Santa Barbara Olive Co. calamata olives, which come in a delicious marinade, so I think my bread was probably better than the original recipe.

Hungry family members got to these rolls before I could take a picture. I made these rolls twice last week, by starting the "sponge" when I came home for lunch. I only have about twenty minute, so it didn't take much time to get it started. Sourdough takes longer to rise than regular yeast bread, of course, so it worked out perfectly for me to come home from school and shape my rolls, let them rise another couple of hours, and bake them.