Friday, August 30, 2013

Four Rooms: Thinking Artwork

Finally, our basement waterproofing saga has come to and end. Everything is dry and sealed up, painted, scrubbed, and, once again, occupied. Those details are for a different post. Today, I'm excited to turn our attention back upstairs. It feels like we've been living with the scars of renovation for a long time. In fact, it feels like we'll continue living with those scars for, well... a long time.

In reality, it will probably only be another month or two before our main floor will be better than ever and our attic bedroom will be more or less ready to live in. A month or two! It will go quickly, or, at least, I hope it will. And then, the decorating will begin! I'm hoping we'll have a little budget left over from the renovations to put towards a few pretty details around the house.

Perhaps some art. At the moment, this is the only piece gracing our walls:


Believe it or not, it was a curb-side find. I love it. It goes with the room perfectly. It's just the right size for over our TV. But, we've got at least three other walls to think about, and I want some art that will maybe stand out a bit, be a conversation piece.

But not too much of a conversation piece. And... let's not break the bank here. So, I've been doing my research, and realized, duh! I could get a painting online! Naturally, I fell into a bit of a  rabbit hole, sorting through collection after collection of gorgeous work.

This one, perhaps, for the room that will become our office? I feel like I could find inspiration in the leaves if I stared at it long enough.


For the kitchen wall, something a little unexpected, perhaps? I love the juxtaposition of the colourful butterfly against the grey sky and the harsh lines of the power lines in this watercolour:


And finally, for the bedroom... I don't know. I feel like the bedroom needs something really special, something that honours an atmosphere of comfort and sanctuary. At the same time, I just kind of really love this painting of a penguin with teacups on its head.


Don't misunderstand: when I say 'art', I'm totally talking prints here. There's no way our tiny renovation budget is going to have the leftovers needed for one of these original paintings. The Husband and I aren't quite at a point in which we're willing to drop so much on something to hang on our walls. But, prints? Yes! Any one of these could be gorgeous. 

Do you have art? Where did you get it? What do you think about the prints vs. paint-on-canvas thing?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Knitting in 500 Square Feet: My Stash

It's been a week and a half since my trip to the Spinrite tent sale. Before the trip, my stash was composed of half balls left over from making three baby blankets. There were also a few balls left over from my inexpert yarn buying skills from my university days, when I made this pink afghan. Finally, there was one full ball of yarn, a deep teal that I'd bought partially just because I liked it and partially because I had planned on working it in to one of those colourful baby blankets.

My stash fit in a single wicker basket, shoved carefully out of the way beneath a dresser. It was never in the way. It never provided a challenge of storage. But, as the fiber arts ensnared my attention and made my fingers itch for project after project, it quickly became insufficient. I wanted to be able to look at my yarn collection and easily pick out a new project. I wanted to keep up my pace. I didn't want to take a break between each finished project while yarn shopping.

Enter the Spinrite tent sale.


Over the past month or so, I have realized there are two different kinds of fiber artists when it comes to the yarn stash thing.

The Stash Minimalist: These knitters, crocheters, and spinners are responsible. They only buy the yarn they need for a specific project. In fact, many of them are also one-project-only artists. They buy the yarn they need for a specific project, and then knit that yarn before they buy more. Some minimalists buy lots of yarn, but know exactly what they're going to do with every ball they buy before they buy it. Their stashes end up looking a lot like mine used to: half balls and excess from projects, but not much more.

These knitters care less about the yarn itself and more about what that yarn can become. For them, the importance of yarn is the in potential it carries in each twisted thread.

The Stash Enthusiast: These fiber artists have whole rooms dedicated to their stashes. Shelves and shelves. Boxes packed away of every type of yarn imaginable. Cheap. Expensive. They love it all. Some of them could probably open a store with their stash. This is the kind of knitter or crocheter who walks away from every yarn store with a ball or five that they bought just because they like it - no other reason, no plan in place of what to do with it. Plain and simple, they love yarn.

These knitters care about the potential contained in each twisted skein of yarn too, don't get me wrong. But, for them, the joy found in yarn is in the yarn itself, the softness of the thread beneath ones fingers, the brilliant colours of well-dyed fibers.

Of course, these are exaggerated generalizations. You can't peg knitters, crocheters, weavers, spinners, and all other manner of fiber artists into two narrowly defined categories, but I think there may be a spectrum here. Unfortunately, my stash fit into the Minimalist category, but my knitting interests were developing into the Enthusiast category. I wanted yarn. Lots of yarn.

With this attitude, I went to the Spinrite tent sale. It's no surprise, then, that I came home with far more yarn than I meant to. It's unlikely I'll be able to work my way through it in time for the sale again next year. There's a good chance I wouldn't be able to work my way through it in time for sale in two years. But that pile of yarn makes me unendingly happy none-the-less.


The whole lot hardly fits on my kitchen table. Of course, this brings me to a new problem. A single wicker basket tucked away out of sight is no longer exactly an option. Where on earth am I going to put it all? We have 500 square feet of living space at the moment. Our home is not exactly set up for a stash that stretches for miles.

We have a pantry in our back entryway. It's a little bit of a mess. It's a part of the house that is so easy to close to the door on. We used to share it with our previous tenants, our food filling half and theirs tucked into the other half. Since they've been gone, I've done a good job of filling the shelves, messily piling bits and bobs, loose papers, games, and random napkins. I knew I could consolidate, organize, and find a little space for my yarn. Scratch that. A lot of space for my yarn.

It's the perfect spot really. It's out of the way. Hardly noticeable. But it's easy to see what I have and sort through the find the next yarn for a new project.


I know: my stash is nothing compared to that of a lifelong knitter. I'm just starting out, I guess.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Weekend Progress: Renovating at a Leisurely Pace

The days to our tenants' move-in date are ticking down fast. We are nearly ready for them - we have one room left to paint, some trim to nail on around the new windows, and lots of cleaning to power through. It's going to be another long week, but it will all be worth it in the end.

(Once we're there, once we're finished, I hope to give you all an update tour of our basement apartment, but, if you're curious, you can check out this tour, circa 2011.)

I spent Saturday morning painting trim and adding a little extra mud to the wall to fill in some nail holes and drywall patches. Mud takes a while to dry, which it must do, thoroughly, before you can sand, which you must do, thoroughly before you can paint. I oh so wished I could have gotten to that painting. This is why:


Yup. We're painting one of the bedrooms in our rental unit fuchsia. It's a gorgeous colour. It's called 'Racy Red' by CIL, but I definitely see a lot more pink than red in it. So bright. So bold. Because we were going to be painting anyway, we gave our tenants their choice of colours. The owner of this bedroom was shocked when I wholeheartedly agreed to go with fuchsia, as long as she picked out the swatch - it was not something I wanted to get wrong! I am so excited to see it on the walls and, I may admit, I'm eyeing the walls of a closet. We'll have just enough left over so, why not?

Saturday afternoon, I came upstairs to this mess:



We had been living with one half of our space beautifully finished in a dark bamboo floor. The other half was the original hardwood, scuffed and worn through the varnish. Last week, it was time to get rid of it. Of course, that meant moving everything and condensing it into one side of our tiny little house.

Here's the trick to living in your house while you're renovating: get used to it. Whatever it is. Piles of tools. Dust. Most of your possessions crammed into 300 square feet of space. Just, get used to it.

And then, clean up. We were having guests over on Sunday, so once the old flooring was gone, everything needed to magically get put back to normal.


In was a long day, but in the end, worth it. We have so little left to do in the basement, I find myself no longer stressing out about it. Even the list of things remaining for the attic seems manageably short. Soon, I'll be making design plans for our office/guest room and, of course, our attic suite. I'll be living in a house full of closets. I'll be able to budget for pretty things instead of studs and windows. And, most importantly, I'll have my evenings back, for cooking delicious food and putting my feet up to knit.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kingsley and the Cone of Shame

Fleas haven't much freaked us out around here. We have a cat who wanders the street, cavorting with the neighbourhood strays, and two dogs who visit the dog park on a regular basis. Fleas are gonna happen. Admittedly, the first time Mocha got them, I freaked out a little bit. But, after I realized how easy it is to eradicate them (a round of Revolution for everyone for a few months and some serious bed sheet washing), I stopped worry about them.

Except, the last time our pets came down with a case of the critters, we didn't have Kingsley.

This time around, by the time we realized we were too late with our Revolution treatments, Kingsley was already going nuts. Mocha had never reacted so severely to flea bites. A little research and we learn that some dogs are highly allergic to the saliva of fleas. Apparently, our boy is one of those dogs.


It nearly broke my heart when we found the spot. It was hidden in his fur, which is growing longer and longer, even though he's still be shedding fine white hairs all over the house. We knew he had been itching a little more than usual, but by the time we realized how serious it was, he had already licked his skin raw. We trimmed it up, disinfected, and picked up a little bling for him at the pet store.

And, now he's sporting a fancy green cone of shame. It seems unfair, punishing Kingsley for our mistake. He runs into door jams. He gets his cone caught on the edge of the bed when he jumps onto it. He can't snuggle his head into the pillows on the couch like he used to.  I suppose watching him struggle around the house is our punishment, but it hardly seems sufficient.

Thankfully, everything is healing up nicely. And, we've learned our lesson: no more slack on the flea treatments!

Happy weekend! We'll be painting and getting everything clean and shining in the basement for our new tenants. And, hopefully there will be plenty of sleep in there... I've come down with a nasty cold and I'd really like to shake it soon.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Attic of Awesome Update: What We're Living In

My house is scarred. Sounds dramatic, but I don't know how else to describe it.

When the inspector came the first time, he instructed us to add a few more supporting posts in order to hold up the attic floor joists. We did that, a job that involved cutting into our walls and nailing in some two by fours, and called him back, at which point, he happily gave us a pass. But, of course, with so much else going on in our house - finishing up the basement for our new tenants, and a mile-long to-do list for the attic renovation itself - we haven't got around to patching those holes. And, I expect, we won't get a chance to do so for a good long while.

This really wouldn't be so bad if these scars weren't right in the middle of our living space.


Sure, we try to distract the eye with a bit of artwork over it. I don't know. Is it working?


This scar is a little more difficult to avoid, considering it runs right down the middle of our house. This is where the wall used to be. There are still holes in the floor. Sometimes the dogs lose toys down there. We have to be careful when we sit at the table, to not slide the chairs around too much and lose a chair leg down the crack.

And then, there's this scar: 


 No, this one's not reno-related. This is puppy related. This is the remains of our old couch in all its torn apart glory. Before the dogs moved on to the arms, I tried to salvage another year or so out of it by picking up some nice big cushions for the back, and it kind of worked:


But, inevitably, by the end of the day, the big pillows would be smooshed down into the cavity of the couch or thrown on the ground, and my living room would be back to looking scarred and messy.

We're renting a dumpster for a variety of renovation related detritus and I am actually excited to say that this couch will finally be going with it. We'll be back down to one couch in our living room, but fall is coming and with it, cooler temperatures. We won't mind snuggling close while watching TV, right?

The dogs have made me nervous about buying another couch though. I keep reminding myself that Kingsley has only just hit a year - his best years are yet to come! The chewing has already slowed down significantly and one day, we will be able to trust both of them with a beautiful, brand new couch.

I'm just not sure when that will be. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to survive the Spinrite Tent Sale

On the weekend, I went to the Spinrite tent sale.


Spinrite is the company behind Bernat, Patons, Caron, Sugar'n Cream, Peaches'n Cream, and Phentex yarn. Craft store yarn. Nothing super fancy or high end. But, some pretty good yarns none-the-less. I'm kind of proud of Spinrite. Its head quarters have been based in Listowel, 45 minutes from where I grew up, since its conception in the early 50s. Out of rural Ontario came some of the most popular, most widely used yarns in the world.

Once a year, they host a huge two week tent sale to sell off all the yarn that's been languishing in boxes for far too long, colours that have been discontinued and yarns that have proven unpopular. And, of course, everything is cheap, cheap, cheap.


I met up with my mom (above!) and my aunt for the sale. My mom used to go every year when I was small and stocked up on yarn to make us sweaters and afghans and all manner of other knit works. It was a good thing she and my aunt were there: the sale proved more overwhelming than I expected, so I was grateful to have two experienced knitters at my side to help me wade through the sea of fibers. I had two goals in mind going in: develop my stash and buy some pretty yarns just because so I could have some things to work with when I found a pattern I liked; and buy some yarn for some specifically chosen patterns. Focusing on both of these things was certainly my downfall. I left the sale with way more yarn than I expected, so, surprise, surprise, I blew right past the budget I'd set for myself before going into the sale.


Having now had a day or so to think about it, I have some tips for surviving the Spinrite tent sale or, in fact, any yarn blowout sale.

Know what you want. You'll be most successful at this sale of you have a very clear idea of what it is you're looking for. Bring a number of different patterns with you that you'd like to make. Know the weight and amount you need for each pattern and shop for specific projects. You may not find the perfect yarn for each pattern you bring, but you'll certainly walk away with one or two options to start. I went looking for yarn for these patterns.

Lower your expectations. While you definitely want to have an idea of what you want, keep in mind you aren't likely to find what you want if you have too definite of an idea of what you want. At this particular sale, for example, there was not a single ball of white yarn anywhere to be found - unless you were interested in a shaggy novelty yarn. I saw little of interest in terms of colours among the classic wool balls and neutral colours were lacking in general. And, I quickly determined that I wasn't likely to find three coordinating colours for the afghan project I'd like to start.

Understand your gauges. Fingering, worsted, aran, DK... it's all mixed in together, one box of extra chunky next to a lace weight sequin yarn. And, to make matters more difficult, it's not necessary labeled 'fingering', 'worsted', 'aran', etc. etc. Almost everything is labeled by its specific gauge (ie, how many rows of how many stitches to make a 4 inch by 4 inch square). I think gauge and weight must be one of the most confusing things to understand as a beginning knitter. Make sure you know exactly what gauge of yarn you're looking for in order to get the weight you're looking for. Most patterns will specify this as well as suggested yarn weight.

Don't forget numbers. Everything seems so cheap at the Spinrite tent sale, but allow me to offer you a sincere warning: it adds up, fast. On top of that, because the numbers seem so reasonable, so unattainable anywhere else, walking into that tent, it feels like you don't actually have to pay any attention to those price tags. You do. You really do. Part of the problem with this is that you lose track of what you've dropped into your ginormous garbage bag as you move around the tent. Do your best to keep track, at least an ongoing tally in your head. Next time I go, I think I'll be bringing a pen and notebook with me to keep track and avoid the sticker shock at the cash register.

Relax. It's just a yarn sale. It will happen again next year. You don't need to buy all the yarn, but in the same breath, it's ok to go a little crazy, to splurge a little. It's supposed to be fun, after all! Buy some yarn just because you like it, just because it catches your eye.

I made a video! It's a little shaky - but I think it will give you a sense of what it was like under the tent with the aisles of yarn, box after box after box.



Have you ever been to this sale? Or something similar?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Herbs from my Garden: Basil Pesto

My camera and I have been having a bit of a weird relationship lately. It's been spending a lot of time closed up in its carry case, neglected and ignored. I haven't had much of a desire or a reason to pull it out. This past weekend, however, I was off on an adventure around the city with a couple of my favourite girlfriends. What better time to get some good shots, right? I scrubbed up the lens, worked some drywall dust out of its mechanics, made sure it was packed away well, and we headed out on our two day extravaganza.

As we were walking down Church Street, I spied a little yarn bombing. For the uninitiated, yarn bombing takes the fiber arts and turns them into street art (or litter, depending on your point of view). This yarn bombing was rainbow coloured and decorating the trunks of a couple trees. I pulled out my camera for a quick shot, flicked it on and... no card. My SD card was at home, sitting in the SD slot of my computer.

Hmph.

I whipped out my phone and snapped a couple quick shots using the mediocre camera and put my camera away with a sigh.


Barely a block down the street, I decided this was silly - I was not going to carry my camera around all weekend in its useless state. We popped into a random tech store at the Eaton Centre and I slapped down a credit card for a brand new, 8GB card. That should keep me going, right?

Two hours and maybe 30 photos later, my battery died.

Whether it's one or the other, this situation has been defining my relationship with my camera for the past number of months. This wouldn't be a problem - not really - if it weren't for the fact that, occasionally, I want to take pictures of things in order to write blog posts about them.

Case in point: pesto.

A couple month back, after I shared my little kitchen herb garden, two or three of my twitter friends requested recipe ideas to go with each one of these herbs. Yes! I thought. That's a great idea! I mean, totally outside my abilities - I've hardly been doing any interesting cooking, let alone documenting it during this waterproofing/attic renovation chaos. And, I'll be honest: I have no idea what to make with all that sage.

Basil, on the other hand, is easy. Good thing too, 'cause I have basil coming out of my ears. There's the basil pot I planted. There's a patch of basil in the garden, planted by our previous tenants. And then, there's the four beautiful basil plants I've been growing in my kitchen window.


They were going a little wild and desperately needed to be cut back. Pesto is perfect for knocking out large quantities of basil. Also, it's delicious.

By the time I got around to making the pesto, my kitchen window plants had gotten a little crazy and my SD card had disappeared again. This was my thought process:

"Fine. I won't make pesto. We'll have something else. KD. We haven't had KD in a while. Since... last night."
"No, that's a bad idea. We should have the pesto. It will be delicious. Look, I already have the pasta boiling on the stove. I just won't bother documenting. No blog post."
"But then the basil will have to grow back before I can talk about it on the blog... and that will take forever! Which would mean I'd be even less likely to do any kind of herb blog series."
"I suck at blogging."
"Wait! I have a camera phone! True, using my camera phone might not make me much better at blogging... but I least I will have blogged!"

(Are you thinking of starting a blog? Don't. It's a bad idea.)


Indeed, my basil plants were going nuts and desperately needed to be cut back. They smelled amazing. Tasted amazing. So, I started snipping away. I don't do anything special to cut them back. I snipped the stalk just above a couple healthy leaves. You don't want to strip it bare - it won't keep growing then. Where you snip it, the plant will develop two more stalks becoming thicker and larger with every trim.

You need about 2 cups of leaves.


(I had closer to three cups.)

Take those leaves, and put them into your food processor with

1/2 cup grate Parmesan
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

Process this up a bit. Now, depending on the type of food processor you have the next step will be easy or super easy. You want to slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil while the machine is running. I have one of those food processors that comes as an attachment to an immersion blender. At this point in my life, it works for most things. Obviously, I can't run the food processor and add things at the same time since the lid is attached to the power button. So, I just added a little bit, pulsed, added a little bit, pulsed, added it all, and ran the thing for 15 seconds. I'm not exactly the most patient person.

According to the recipe, you're now supposed to season to taste with salt and pepper. I don't actually recall doing this, and mine tasted fabulous. But, if you like things salty, season to taste!

Obviously, you can't just eat pesto for supper. That would be... weird. I put it over a pasta with a bean medley. And it was amazing.


In hindsight, I should also have added some kind of vegetable. I mean, basil is vegetation. But it would have been more balanced with a little more green. Green beans from my garden would have been amazing. Or peppers. I don't know. I'll admit; I have a tough time getting my vegetables. Vegetables and I? we just don't always get along.

This recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking, which is the single most used cookbook in my house. I love it. I love it so much, I own two copies and can't bear to part with either one. If you don't own a copy, you should go out and get one. I guarantee it will be useful at some point in your life. Alternatively, you can find the actual recipe here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Project Attic of Awesome: Update and Ideas

Understandably, our attic renovation is moving about as fast as a tree grows. By that, I mean, yes! It's moving! Progress is happening! But, it's really really hard to see it and even harder to appreciate it.

We've been waylaid by our basement troubles. But, no big deal: the Husband has been slapping the last bit of mud on the walls and we're nearly ready to paint the whole space to be ready for our new tenants' end-of-August move-in date. We've even asked them what colours they would like and I'm kind of excited by their choices. (A deep rich blue. A soft green. A bright, cheerful fuchsia.)


In the meantime, we booked our inspection. Once you have your building permit and you're ready for the first inspection - the structural inspection-  you call up the city, and the inspector will return your call to book a time within the next day or two to get the inspection done. I was shocked how quickly the process went. I was not shocked that we did not pass our inspection the first time. This seems to be relatively common, so we were expecting to have to re-do or add things, despite following our plans exactly. Our inspector, at least, was looking for stuff to get us on. He wanted three more supporting posts. He wanted additional hangers. He wanted a letter from an engineer to confirm our posts were sufficient.

One weekend later and a few more holes in our walls, we called him back. A pass! We can officially move on, officially put down subfloor, officially move into our attic bedroom!

Ok, maybe not yet.

But, we are closer to having a beautiful attic suite. And, I'm starting to think I should maybe get prepared and start thinking again about how I want the space to look. Not that it will start looking that way right away... in fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if we live with subfloor and un-drywalled walls for at least a short period of time up there. But still. Perhaps I still aught to start developing a vision for the room?

I know one thing at this point: I want to keep the colour scheme more or less on the cool side. I want the space to be bright and clean. I want it to feel large. I mean, it is large (approximately 300 square feet!), but a lot of that space is unusable due to the steep slope of the roof. The ceiling is not going to be a full 8 feet anywhere, either; but I don't want the space to feel closed in.

Over the weekend, a friend of mine and I were chatting about wallpaper. It was in a completely different context - her nursery! - but since the conversation, my mind has been mulling over the thought. I love the look of one wallpapered wall, a statement that draws the eye in. A quick glance around the Internet uncovered this one:


Would something of the like work well along our straight wall? Or, perhaps the wall that travels down the stairs? Or both? Or, would it be too busy? Too blue? And how would I decorate the rest of the space with this pattern and colour in mind?

I'm feeling clueless, and not seeing the space actually in existence is not helping. I know, though, there's no rush. Eventually, the floors will go down and the drywall will go up and I'll be able to stand in the middle of the room and think. If nothing comes to me, so be it. We'll throw some paint on the walls, hang our clothes in the closet, bring our bed up the stairs, put it under the little row of windows, and call it done.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guest Post: Ksenia of Balanced Ways: DIY bathroom renovation under 3K

Hello everyone! Today, I am absolutely thrilled to have Ksenia from Balanced Ways as a guest here on the blog. Shortly after I discovered her blog, she emailed me to see if I would be willing to feature her bathroom reno - once it was finished of course. No way was I going to say no to that, especially after she sent me the photos of the final product. Enjoy, and make sure to drop by her blog to say hello!

-~*~-
Hi everybody,

First off, thank you, Jeanette for having us here today. Your sweet little blog with lots of stories, tips and ideas on renovating and living in smaller home has been a great source for us when we bought our little semi. Today we're super excited to share our completed main bathroom project.



As you can see, the room wasn’t too bad to begin with. The previous owners had replaced some of the finishes but unfortunately, didn’t do a thorough job and soon after we moved in, some things started to go out of order. So we decided to give our DIY skills a go.



Right from the get go, my husband and I knew that we wanted our room to be minimalistic, modern and fun. We both knew that traditional tub was not something that suited our lifestyle, so we converted the tub space into a stall shower. We also knew that we wanted a glass half panel in the shower instead of a traditional curtain, so we made sure to budget that “splurge” in from the very beginning and saved on everywhere else we could. For example, we didn’t opt for luxurious finishes like marble or granite but chose simple tiles instead. Our vanity, glass shelves and mirror were all from Ikea.


While a limited budget was our main supervisor when it came to choosing finishes, our main decorating challenge was the fact that there was no natural light in the room. We had to find a way to keep the room bright and inviting without a window.


White tile on the wall and the floor was a no-brainer and the glass panel also helped reflect so much needed light, we also decided to tile the whole wall in order to get that extra bit of reflected light without breaking the tile pattern. I find it helped a great deal. A couple of pot lights in addition to the vanity light improved the lighting issue as well.


As for our decoration choices, all white bathroom wasn’t gonna cut it for us. While very stylish, sleek and super trendy, it wasn’t fun but a bit too sterile for our taste. So we decided to inject some colour. Couple of funky paintings and bright accessories sure added life and dynamics to the room.


I love hearing how our guests react when they use this room, it's always a conversation piece, believe me:)

The whole DIY took us about seven months to complete and less than $3K from the family budget.

Hope you enjoyed our reno adventure!

Cheers,


K&V 

Thanks Ksenia! You and V certainly put a lot of work and personality into that bathroom, and I love it! 

To see more of Ksenia's house, read about the renovation process, find a few new recipes, and more, be sure to check out her blog!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Works in Progress: A Cowl and a Beret

For the first time I ever I have two knitting projects on the go. With good reason. For the first time ever, I understand the need for at least two projects on my needles.

I finished my latest scarf (which I will photograph and share here... eventually. Don't let me forget!) on Thursday and had a whole Friday evening and Saturday morning stretched out in front of me before my knitting date with a good friend. We were headed to the Knit Cafe for the afternoon, and I was determined to pick up my very first non-acrylic, non-craft store yarn*. But. That was a whole 20 hours away.

So, I pulled out a ball of super soft yarn, a colour I decided not to work into my last baby blanket, found a pattern, and cast on. By the time I arrived at the Knit Cafe, I had frogged (knitting lingo for ripping all the stitches out) and re-cast.


And then, of course, the skeins of yarn, the multitude of options, caught my eye and drew me in. With a little help, I chose a fingering that wouldn't break the bank, bought a set of needles that were way more expensive than I expected**, and set to work casting on a lacy beret in a grey merino wool fingering.


When I bought the merino, I figured my pretty blue cowl would go into hibernation for a few weeks while I knit feverishly away with that beautiful grey, fine yarn. I surprised myself: despite being delighted with my new purchase, I found myself gravitating toward the little cowl a couple times throughout the weekend: on the two hour drive to visit the Husband's mom for her birthday; sitting on the couch, watching the last episode of Orange Is The New Black (amazing show, if a bit a harsh).

This is why: working with fingering for the first time and working with such small needles (3.25mm), especially with such a complicated pattern is a few steps above my skill level. I like working a few steps above my skill level. It forces me to learn new techniques, to not get too comfortable with my knits and purls. It's a thrill, I suppose, working through a piece of the pattern I don't quite understand to arrive at the final product with a proud 'Aha!' The cowl, on the other hand, is comfortably within my skill level. It's got a beautiful lace pattern, but it's not a complicated lace pattern. It's easy to follow. And, easy to modify for my own knitting preferences. It's perfect for moments I don't need to concentrate on my knitting too hard.

This has got me thinking a little bit about knitting, and learning, and the steps from beginner to master. Where must we start? What are the steps from those first few stitches to being able to knit anything that comes my way? For me, it's been this:

Step One: Knit. Just straight knit. Probably using straight needles. But not too many stitches on those needles. After all, I remember progress being very slow and awkward with those first stitches. This is all that is needed to make a very simple scarf.

Step Two: Purl. I probably learned to knit one row, purl the next. Garter stitch, this is called. I made very simple slippers using this stitch when I was a child. They were just squares of knitted fabric, folded up around the foot and stitched to make a slipper. My sister was making properly formed slippers, if my memory serves me correctly, but I never really got to the point of figuring out decreases to make the toe.

Step Three: K1 P1. By the time I really learned that combinations of knit and purl stitches could make patterns, I was learning on my own. My mom taught me the basic knit and purls, but I lost interest pretty quickly as a kid and didn't pick it up again until university. I made one or two simple scarves with tassles using a knit 2, purl 2 pattern (called ribbing), then tucked away my needles for another few years.

Step Four: Super simple lace. Mixing in yarn-overs (bringing the yarn around the needle to create an extra 'stitch' before knitting or purling) and k2tog (knit 2 together) decreases creates little purposeful holes in knitting, which, when done in a repetitive pattern creates lace. I love lace. I discovered how simple it was to do just a couple years ago with - you guessed it - yet another scarf.

Step Five: More complicated lace! Because, in reality, there are infinite combinations of increases and decreases that create beautiful patterns in fabrics. I feel like this is the stage I`m at, trying out all sorts of different patterns, and learning to read lace charts.

Step Six: Cabling. Admittedly, while I think I'm at Step Five, I know I can cable. I made a tiny little scarf for Mocha one year that had a cable in it, just to see if I can do it. Cabling is a technique that involves moving stitches in order to twist them and create a really cool braided affect on your knitting. One day, I will return to this technique so I can master it with confidence.

Step Seven: Colourwork. Mixing in different coloured yarns to create patterns and stripes. I have never done this! One day, I will.


These are just 'straight' techniques, meaning you could learn them simply by making scarf after scarf after scarf. I started trying to continue this list with techniques used to create other things, like hats, socks, sweaters. Except that knitting doesn't work like that. Making scarves is not a requirement for learning these techniques. I could have learned to knit and purl, and then jumped right to making socks. I didn't. I feel like I'm still comfortable in that scarf stage, even if my scarves have gotten a little more complicated. Who knows what the next steps of learning are going to look like for me. I'm pushing past it, into the realm of hats.


I have known how to knit for years - ever since I could hold a set of knitting needles probably. I am still amazed how much there is to learn, how much is still out of my reach.

* There is nothing wrong with 'craft-store yarn'. In fact, I'm headed to the ginormous tent sale in Listowel at the Spinrite outlet in order to stock up on Bernat, Caron, and Patons yarns for my stash! I love the stuff. But, I also love supporting local small businesses, and there are such a plethora of local yarn stores here in Toronto, it seems a shame not to treat myself and pick up a beautifully spun skein of wool every so often.

** AddiTurbo 3.25mm, 40cm circulars. I'm hoping to buy a set of interchangeable circular needles soon, and I'm trying to decide between bamboo - like my ChaiGoo circulars that I'm using for the cowl - or metal tips before I spent the $100 or so on of full set.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Adventures in Waterproofing, Part 3

Kingsley has been helping us out with our work in the basement. It's kind of funny because, when he first arrived in our house, he wouldn't go down the basement stairs even if you coaxed him with treats. As we worked to drywall today on this beautiful holiday Monday, he would hardly leave our sides.


Last I talked about our basement and our waterproofing issues, we had just finished covering the cinder block wall with a coat of waterproofing cement. It was already starting to look awesome.


And then, we picked up our game even further. We re-studded the wall and called in the big guns.


The spray-foam guns, that is.

(Actually, I have no idea how spray-foam is actually sprayed. I wasn't present when this magic happened.)

When we ripped down the wall originally, we found a layer of styrofoam sheeting behind the drywall, insulating and providing a little bit of waterproofing support. We're not fully sure if this is a legit way to insulate a basement, and it didn't seem to us like a particularly good way. We knew that, since we don't want to do the full exterior waterproofing, we were going to need to go for something a little more reliable.

As soon as the spray foam was finished, we could drywall. Finally, it's looking like a room again.


We can see the light at the end of the tunnel! The new windows are arriving this week. Our new tenant has requested a beautiful dark blue wall colour. Soon, we'll be able to set this project aside and return our focus to the attic renovation!

Did you miss any of the messy waterproofing story?

Part 1: In which our basement floods
Part 2: In which we come up with the first layer solution

Friday, August 2, 2013

Nerdfighters, Geeks, and Self-Identification: Or, How I wish I could be a part of that

When I was in elementary school, I went to Get Connected! Camp with the girls' club I was involved in at my church. I took along two books: Sassinak, by Anne McCaffery and Elizabeth Moon and, perhaps, something by Mercedes Lackey or Piers Anthony. (I must have been reading Sassinak, because I remember it being there very clearly, while the other is a wee bit hazy.) By this point, of course, I was aware that kids don't read. I was even aware that kids who don't read find kids who do read suspicious. Weird. That week, spent living in a cabin with 10 other girls, eating in a cafeteria with plastic cups, and signing purity pledges around campfires, was the first time kids who don't read succeeded in making me cry.

It was so simple. This is what happened: a couple days of razzing. Snide laughter. And then, my books disappeared. Gone from the corner of my bunk. I railed and demanded. I attempted the "This isn't funny," argument. I was met with blank stares and barely contained twitters of laughter. When our counsellor arrived to interrupt this scene, I shut my mouth, climbed into my bunk, pleaded homesickness, and cried.

My story is, sadly, not unusual.

My childhood was filled with geekery. I was very young when I realized my family was different than the norm in our farming community, and developed an intense sense of pride for that difference. We didn't have a television, but unlike the majority of my generation, I don't remember a time when we didn't have a computer. We made a weekly trip to the library; I was reading the Dragonriders of Pern by the time I was in grade 3; I started playing text-based roleplaying games when I was 12; I even taught myself how to code my own! I wrote. I read. High fantasy. Science fiction. Urban fantasy. Books that blurred the lines between all the sub-genres. Dragons, and fairies. Mining crystals with music. Deadly threads that fell from the sky. Seventh sons of seventh sons with healing powers. Chosen ones. Adventures, and so much imagination.

Somewhere in high school, maybe university, I lost touch with all that. Became embarassed of it, even. I 'de-geeked'. I stopped playing roleplaying games. (Have you ever told someone that you play MUSHes? Yeah, try it sometime.) I started reading Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley instead. I took myself out of the make-believe and insisted on the mold of the real world. I don't believe I can disconnect this change from the missing books and the giggles of children who didn't understand how cruel their behaviour was.

Nerds. Geeks. Reclaiming these terms from the bullies has been a big thing on the Internet the last couple years. I've recently started watching the Vlogbrothers, who call themselves and the members of their community nerdfighters. While participating in NaNoWriMo last fall, I met and befriended a handful of self-identifying geeks, busy writing those fantasy and science fiction novels I so loved as a child. And, most recently, this video went kind of viral, celebrating feminine geekery.

The world is coming to a new understanding of what it means to be a geek. It has less to do with what you do, and more about how you do it. Wil Wheaton (Ensign Wesley Crusher on the starship Enterprise - Star Trek!) explained this pretty well at the Calgary Comic Expo this year. "Don't ever let anyone tell you that thing you love is a thing that you can't love," he says. I love this statement.

I don't identify as a geek. Perhaps I should. We've been watching - devouring, even - Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. I've been a Doctor Who fan since 2006. I still read as much as I can. I've returned to writing and NaNoWriMo. I've been going crazy for knitting lately, which, turns out, is an activity well suited to nerdfighters and geeks. But, in general, my life is not filled with the typical trappings of geekdom. I play board games occasionally, but don't love them. I hardly even know was a MMORPG is. Video games? My fingers have never understood those controllers. I have no great love for technology. I've read and watched Lord of the Rings, but I couldn't quote anything from it at you, and even my once vast knowledge of Harry Potter has faded to vague recollections and a memory of an old love.

(I still remember almost every detail of the world of Pern, though.)

But none of that prevents me from being a self-identified geek: rather, I don't identify as a geek because I don't love things the way geeks do anymore. I crumpled too easily under the stigma as a child. I didn't just suppress; I stopped. In some ways, I wonder if I would say the same thing if I were growing up in today's shifted geek culture. Would my love of all things science fiction and fantasy have been fostered and encouraged? Would I have found enough like-minded people to support and be supported by as I read and wrote whatever I wanted without concern of rejection, of another missing book? I have no idea. But I love that John and Hank Green, Wil Wheaton, NaNoWriMo, and the DoubleClicks are making it acceptable to geek out.

I also love that my geeky friends accept my lack of geek with open arms. I might not identify as a geek, but I love hanging out with them. Try it sometime - geeks are some of the most loving, accepting people I've ever met.