I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn


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A cozy spot for weathering the storm

The east coast of the United States is anxiously waiting to see what this newest winter storm will actually bring–if it’s just hype, or the real deal this time. I’m ready for any eventuality (except loss of power–that would be a real drag), whether it’s a bomb cyclone, polar vortex or just some run-of-the-mill bombogenesis. I love a good winter storm. I work at home, so though I don’t get the childlike rush of a snow day, I do get to stay safe and sound in my house, off the slippery streets and out of the bone-chilling cold.

And just in time, my newest cozy spot in the house is just about finished.

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What had once was a closet is now a very functional and comfortable office/guest room/lounge. It’s also got the benefit of being on the second floor, so even when the downstairs is chilly due to our negative temperatures (that’s on the Fahrenheit scale–crazy negative on the Celsius scale), this room is warm and inviting. It just needs some art on the walls and more yarn on the shelves.

Happy snowstorm knitting to everyone on the U.S. east coast!


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Knitting for the old and new year

Did any of you feel like this when rushing to finish up your holiday gift knitting? I managed to get all of mine done on time, though the Christmas 2016 project list was not that ambitious. I completed this Pittsburgh Steelers-style hat for my brother based on the shape of this Stephen West pattern and the color pattern of this aptly named “Go Steelers” hat. It came out pretty good, though I did end up with some visible ladders at the intersection of the double-pointed needles. I was careful to give a good firm tug as I passed from needle to needle, but I’m thinking I may have tugged too hard, leaving the stitches before and after that joining stitch a bit too lax. But, the hat was well-received, so I’m pleased overall.

The other gifts were four scarves in different colors for friends from Wales who were visiting over the holidays and had rarely encountered temperatures as cold as the ones we’ve been having in the Hudson Valley. The pattern was the simple yet very satisfying Easy Mistake Rib Scarf, which knitted up incredibly quickly using Cascade Yarns Pacific Chunky–I was able to finish one of them in a weekend when on the train to and from New York City. Unfortunately, there are no photos of them (and I’m hoping they’re firmly around their recipients’ necks now that these folks are traipsing around Niagara Falls!), but I will be using the leftovers of each color to make myself a scarf, which will always remind me of the lovely time spent with dear friends. I can highly recommend the pattern and the yarn, which knitted up well and provides some nice warmth due to the wool content, while still being easy to care for (wash and dry in the machine) because of the acrylic content.

Once the gift knitting was done, I dove into a long-awaited project for myself–the Bare Branches sweater.

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I bought the yarn at the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival back in 2015 and am thrilled to finally be getting around to working with it. It’s Sonoma by Briar Rose Fibers, a booth many who’ve visited Rhinebeck may be familiar with, as it’s always packed to the rafters with eager knitters. Though I’m not usually a fan of sweaters that need to be seamed in multiple spots (the back, two front panels, and sleeves are all done separately, while the hood is knit off the back and shoulders), this project looked too beautiful to pass up. It’s from Botanical Knits 2: Twelve More Inspired Designs To Knit And Love, which is well worth adding to your pattern book collection (along with the first book in the series, both by Alana Dakos, the talented woman behind the Never Not Knitting blog and podcast).

Started on Christmas Eve, the leafless tree motif seemed the perfect fit for the beginning of what promises to be a long, cold winter.

bare branches sweater


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To resolve or not to resolve …

… that is the question a lot of us are asking ourselves today. This year I’m choosing to set only those goals I feel I can really achieve. I weighed the various options, checked them all for gauge (couldn’t resist the knitting analogy), and found only a couple really fit the bill. These were the goals I rejected:

  • Walk the equivalent of a marathon every week
  • Do yoga every morning
  • Hit the activity goal set on my fitness tracker every single day
  • Do online French lessons at least three times a week (an hour each session)
  • Meditate every day
  • Read at least 30 books this year

Why did I reject them? They’re all too ambitious, they’re all linked somehow to the broader goal of self-improvement and they all carry with them an abundance of guilt should I fall short of the goal. And I would fall short of these goals. I believe that, when making resolutions and setting goals, we all beat ourselves up way too much when we don’t live up to our own expectations. We’re our own worst critics. I don’t want goals that are going to make me feel more on edge, rushed or frazzled. I want goals that make me feel happy, content and fulfilled. So, these are the ones I came up with:

  • Write something at least once a day (blog post, an entry on 100words.com, a letter to a friend, make progress on my second novel)
  • More often than not, when faced with a choice between healthy and unhealthy, choose healthy

That second goal covers the whole self-improvement/self-care spectrum. In restaurants or when eating at home, I’ll try my best to choose something with nutritional value over something easy or comforting, if easy and comforting are unhealthy. In the evening, I’ll either do something creative or active, rather than spending endless hours in front of the TV watching “Big Bang Theory” reruns on TBS. But it also means saying no when that’s what I truly want to do–no to invitations when I’d rather be at home reading or writing, no to changing plans to accommodate others, thereby inconveniencing myself. It also means speaking my mind, rather than keeping feelings bottled up, being myself and not trying to change who I am to impress others. It means being smart about money. The word “mindful” is overused, but it pretty well summarizes that second goal–I’ll think more about my words, actions and behavior and do the right thing, the healthy thing, the compassionate thing and the thing that will bring me contentment more often than the thing that brings momentary (and most often fleeting) satisfaction.

Happy New Year to you all. May you discover what makes you truly happy this year and have it in abundance.


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Counting down to Rhinebeck!

It’s been nice to step away from the blog for a spell, but with the New York State Sheep and Wool festival starting tomorrow in beautiful Rhinebeck, NY, it’s high time to get back to what I love best – knitting, writing, and writing about knitting. I’ve taken notes on the couple of projects I’d like to find yarn for at the festival and am very excited to spend a couple of days among knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers and other fiber enthusiasts.

If you’re going, I hope you have a wonderful time. The weather forecast isn’t ideal for showing off one’s knitted masterpieces, but at least we’re not expecting rain (ugh, wet wool!).

And, if the events in Rhinebeck don’t completely whet your appetite for all things yarn and knitting, head on over to nearby Saugerties, NY, for The Perfect Blend’s annual Sheep and Wool get-togethers. The shop will be open late tonight and tomorrow night and until 4pm Sunday and will be hosting a variety of fun events, such as a book signing and pop-up shop, and offering their usual outstanding hospitality and cozy ambiance for sharing your experiences from the festival.

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Goodreads book review: The Lost Dog

The Lost Dog: A NovelThe Lost Dog: A Novel by Michelle de Kretser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book some time ago, but I wanted to let it settle before writing anything about it, not sure if I loved it or thought it was just OK.

Now that my reading is almost solely limited to bedtime (the lack of a public transportation commute has robbed me of about 2 hours of solid reading 5 days a week), I feel that I often don’t give books a fair shake. When I read, I’m tired and apt to dismiss a book faster because of my weariness than I would if I were reading it while feeling fresher. It never occurred to me though to toss this one as a victim of the “50-page rule,” as I did with the two books I picked up subsequent to it. But until now, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it.

Generally I look for three main characteristics in a great book: a plot that pulls me through the pages; characters I know I’ll miss, as lost friends, once the book ends; and skillful writing that uses images and other literary techniques that are surprising, thought-provoking, and/or beautiful in some way. “The Lost Dog” doesn’t have much in the way of plot. There is a dog that’s gone missing, and the main character does spend some time searching for it. But that’s not what the book is about. This is a pondering book. The characters are observed as they ponder various scenes from their lives, or actual tangible objects, like Nelly’s collection of glass eyes or the neon sign of the girl jumping rope that occupies Tom. We learn a tremendous amount about the characters from the things and events they focus on and how they come to view those things and events over time. But the action is slow, and the plot almost nonexistent.

As far as the characters go, I didn’t develop any real affection for or attachment to Tom, Nelly, Iris or any of the other more minor characters. They were placed under de Kretser’s microscope to be studied, and real academic study requires detachment.

But the writing is beautiful. Here’s an extended example of what I mean by this:

“There was a girl who had been around at parties and clubs when Tom was twenty. She was no older, but seemed stereoscopic: she had starred in a film that had won a prize; her face, smilingly assured below a rakish hat, gazed out from billboards. Then she vanished, summoned by Berlin or LA, and Tom forgot her, until the day, years later, when he and his wife bought a pair of sheets in a department store. On the down escalator, Karen said, ‘You didn’t notice, did you? That was Jo Hutton who served us.’
For days, Tom was unable to evict her from his thoughts, the saleswoman he had barely noticed as she bleated of thread counts; within minutes of turning away, he would have failed to recognize her if she had materialized before him. While the transaction was being processed, he had grumbled casually to his wife about the time their train had spent in the Jolimont shunting yards before delivering them to Flinders Street Station. The saleswoman looked up: ‘The exact same thing happened to me this morning. Doesn’t it drive you mad?’ Then she confided that this was her last day at the city store: she had been transferred to a branch in the suburbs. ‘I live a five-minute drive away. I can’t wait to be shot of public transport.’ She handed Tom a pen and a credit card slip and shook the two gold bangles on her wrist as he signed: a small, unconscious expression of glee at her victory over time and the railways.
Tom tried to picture the girl in the tilted fedora pausing long enough to fret about train timetables but found the challenge too strenuous.
Now, sitting with Nelly in the drafty kitchen, he thought it was an error to equate authenticity with even tones. Existence was inseparable from tragedy and adventure, horror and romance; realism’s quiet hue derived from a blend of dramatic elements, as a child pressing together bright strands of plasticine creates a drab sphere.”

I’m tempted to read this book again, with full knowledge of the plot and character interactions, just so I can focus on the writing. When I’m in bed and half an hour away from turning the lights off, my ability to appreciate and enjoy great writing is stunted. And this book deserves clearer focus, because the writer has delivered some truly wonderful writing.

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For my Nilly

Four weeks ago yesterday I had to say goodbye to my cat Nilly. This relationship was the longest of any of my adult life – homes and boyfriends came and went, but Nilly and I were together for 14 years. I didn’t do the standard “RIP” Facebook post. I had no desire to receive the condolences of “friends” whom I haven’t seen in over 20 years and have no intention of seeing in the next 20. But in the weeks since her passing, I’ve had some guilt feelings about how quickly I’ve set about to normalizing my life with one fewer cat in it (I have two younger boy kitties, Theodore is 7 and Jasper 5). Though painful and sad, I bounced back from losing her far faster than I did when I lost my cat Sunshine to cancer when he was 12 and Theodore’s brother Liam to heart disease when he was 2. Sitting on the porch last night, enjoying a cool summer evening with a gorgeous sunset in the background, I missed Nilly. The porch was her favorite spot. So, seeing as there are many knitters, who are also cat lovers and animal lovers, I’m going to indulge my sadness and guilt a bit by eulogizing my Nilly here.

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Nilly came to me when she was 3 years old. Her previous owner was fulfilling a long-held dream of living in a tropical place and had decided to move to Hawaii. Being that Hawaii has, or at least had at that time, quarantine laws, she decided it was better to find a new home for her kitty in New York, rather than put her through the discomfort of quarantine. This particular cat owner worked with a friend of mine – a friend I’d told about my desire to get a cat, now that I’d resettled in New York and found an apartment that allowed pets. Nilly’s owner and I got in touch, I paid her a visit, met the young Miss, and agreed that I’d take her.

For the first month and a half, Nilly was my only cat. She liked to play fetch with little foam balls, and she was a bed snuggler. She was a lap cat, a hearty eater, and a nice companion. Then, I did the unthinkable and took in another cat.

The friend who had gotten me in touch with Nilly’s owner also had a cat – and a wife and brand new twin baby boys, all of whom were moving from Manhattan to Colorado. It was decided that the move would be tough enough with just the babies, so I was asked to take in their cat, Sunshine. I did, and I don’t think Nilly ever forgave me.

You want to pet the belly!

There was no reason for these two cats to not get along, but not get along they did. There weren’t constant battles, but they never chose each other’s company, they never groomed one another, they never, ever snuggled. Nilly became Sunshine’s antithesis – where he was happy, bouncy, full of personality, goofy and sweet, Nilly became the grouchy, greedy, self-involved princess – in other words, the quintessential bitchy kitty.

I don’t think Sunshine did this to her. I think she had it in her all along. When people throw out the blanket statement, “I don’t like cats,” it’s probably because they’ve only ever had contact with the Nilly type of cat. She’d purr like a motorboat on your lap one minute, but if you pet her in a way she didn’t like, she’d be swatting at you, claws out and with intent to injure, the next. And she had awful timing. I could be sitting on the couch for an hour watching TV with her nowhere in sight, but as soon as I was ready to get up to do the dishes, that’s when she’d climb onto my lap, ready to settle in. Everyone who knew her would comment on her distinctive markings and pretty face, but they’d generally give her a quick pet and step away, or not make any attempt at contact at all. Her reputation was well known.

When Sunshine died of cancer in 2010, Nilly was once again the only cat. She seemed to like it that way, but I had gotten used to having more in the way of cat company, so I decided to adopt two younger kitties. Just bringing one cat into the house and having Nilly as its only feline companion seemed like a bad move. But getting two kitties, who could be each other’s best friends when she scorned them, felt right. So, Theodore and Liam were brought into the family.

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At first, of course, Nilly would swat at them, hiss and growl at them. These little fluff balls upset her so. But then the most amazing thing happened. Liam took an inexplicable shine to her. He adored her, and he worked on her for a solid year to gain her love. And it worked. I have two videos of Nilly licking Liam’s head – a display of affection she never repeated after Liam passed.

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Because Liam loved her so much, I had concerns about how her passing one day would affect him. She was 10 years older, and, I assumed, would go first. I’d get another older female cat, I thought, once she was gone. Maybe that would fill the void that would be left in Liam’s life. But we lost Liam when he was only 2 years old from a previously undetected heart condition. Unlike with Sunshine, who’d battled diabetes for years before the cancer took him, Liam’s passing was sudden and completely unexpected. But the fallout from both was the same – I was bereft, could barely function from the grief, and was left wondering how the home could ever feel happy again. And, Theodore needed another cat. I couldn’t leave him with Nilly as his only feline companion

That’s when my little clown Jasper entered our lives, and we were again a threesome. He didn’t even know the responsibility he had, coming into a home that had lost two of the most amazing cats in the span of two years, but his sweet, open personality and innate joy lifted the pall, and we settled into the new cat constellation.

jasper-goofy

But through all this turmoil, there was always Nilly. Nilly, who needed feeding, attention, affection. Nilly, who never had any major health issues, never made things too difficult – she was essentially a good girl, always doing her business in the litter box, not making too many messes. Nilly, who just wanted to be indulged, liked chewing on plastic bags, and who knew what she wanted and when. Nilly shared seven homes with me. She moved with me from Brooklyn to South Carolina, to the Bronx, to White Plains, back to Brooklyn, back to the Bronx, and then finally to my current home in the Hudson Valley. She complained. She never liked riding in the car. But she adjusted quickly and always found comfort in whatever new home I’d plunked her down in. She seemed especially content here. She loved being able to go outside on the porch. This picture is from the day after we moved in.

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This year I made sure she got as much time as possible out on the porch, knowing that it would be her last summer.

Her ashes now rest on a shelf in my bookcase, along with keepsakes from Sunshine and Liam, whose ashes I did not keep, letting them rest instead in pet cemeteries. They were much more social animals, so I don’t regret that they are forever mingled with the remains of other beloved pets. Nilly only ever wanted to be the only cat, but I never allowed that for any length of time. I thought it was fitting to keep her remains with me. If she could have said as much, I think that’s what she’d have wanted.

Rest well, my friend. If there’s any justice in this existence, you and Liam are now cuddled together and at peace.


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Goodreads book review: The Snow Child

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Positives about the book first: Some of the imagery in describing the Alaskan wilderness was very nice. I find myself drawn to stories where the setting plays a big role in the characters’ lives. And I’m glad there was a not some tacked-on, not-really-fitting-with-the-rest-of-the-story, happy ending. The melancholy mood the book ended with was pretty consistent with the mood throughout the story.

But other than that, I wasn’t really grabbed by this book. After a few chapters, the landscape descriptions became a bit repetitive and lost their luster. It would also have been nice to know more of the main characters’ lives before making the move to their homestead in Alaska. The loss of the baby was given as the main reason for their making such a huge leap, but that was a bit thin for me as a premise. I felt there needed to be more flashbacks to how they came to the decision to make the move and what incentives made them choose such a formidable undertaking. Because Alaska was a very necessary element in the plot, I wanted to find out more about why they went there and not somewhere else – California, the Great Plains, or another almost equally large leap from their home in Pennsylvania.

The story also wasn’t original, as it was based on a children’s folklore tale. I don’t feel enough was done with the story to give it its own character and set it apart from its source. And though the back cover provided hints that the book would be “bewitching,” “captivating,” and “spellbinding,” I found it dragged in places and was a bit too predictable.

There was also a lack of nuance to the characters. Once they were introduced and we learned what they looked like and what their main drivers were, they came across as a bit one-dimensional. To be sure, they were consistent in their words and actions, which is a good thing. Too often I read stories where the characters suddenly come out with behaviors that seem so contradictory to what the author had been trying to create for them, that it’s too jarring and I can’t remain invested in the book. For example, the character of Esther was probably introduced as a light-hearted foil to the otherwise gloomy atmosphere, but her blustery, no-nonsense, unflappable presence became kind of cartoonish.

So, if stories with a hint of a magical element are your thing, this may be a good read for you. It’s a nice story that can be put down and picked back up without losing the thread. But I think it was just that characteristic that left me a little flat.

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