30 December 2011

Washing machines really do eat socks

The washer has been acting weird for the last few days – insisting that it has too many suds, and trying over and over and over again to drain the water from the drum.

After yet another load of laundry got stuck in a seemingly endless cycle, I decided to do some troubleshooting. A quick Google search suggested that the problem was most likely a clog somewhere in the drain line, and gave hints as to how to find the drain and clear it.

With the help of the Reluctant Farmer, we got the washer tipped on it’s side and the drain hose removed. Nothing much in there, just a bit of lint. Then we attacked the other end of the drain hose and lo and behold … a sock was stuck in the drain pump.

Really, a sock.

Now I have no idea how a sock can get through those little drain holes on the sides of the washer drum and manage to get itself stuck in the drain, but we now have proof: washing machines really do eat socks.

25 December 2011

Did you get an eReader for Christmas?

Looking for something to read with that new gadget of yours?

Well, let me help you!

The story of our first year or so at Apple Jack Creek – including the adventures of installing a massive crossbeam on the house in the dark, living in a shed with no heat and no plumbing, and doing electrical work when you’re really not trained for that sort of thing – is available for free right here.

Also, my friend Risa Bear has a book titled Viewing Jasper Mountain, which has just been published in electronic format by Apple Jack Creek Books. Risa is a fascinating individual: she lives on one acre in Oregon, has chickens who live in an actual chicken moat around the big garden, cooks on a wood stove as often as she can, and writes about her life. If you like reading about real people genuinely living “the good life”, you’ll enjoy her book. It’s available here – and until January 12, you can use the coupon code NY49T to get it at half price, so just $1.50. Take some time to browse the Smashwords site – there’s a lot of interesting self-published works there, some of them free, none of them very expensive.

Oh, and if you didn’t get an eReader and want to read the stories anyway … go right ahead. You can download the text as PDF, or you can get a (free) copy of Adobe Digital Editions or the Kindle reader to work on your computer.

For free books, see if your local library has electronic books available for signout. Ours does – just log in to your library website and look for electronic books. They may have audiobooks, too, which are wonderful to listen to while you are doing other things (like, say, knitting!).

If you enjoy audiobooks, consider an Audible membership – when I had the long commute every day, I listened to audiobooks while driving and the monthly subscription is a really good deal. An excellent combination with your iPod or smartphone!

Books are great.

24 December 2011

Christmas Memories

Christmas is the time of the year, for me, that is filled with the most memories.
When we were small, we spent every holiday season at my grandparent’s house in southern Ontario. Grandma and Apple Jack were the kind of grandparents you’d read about in a story book, the kind any kid would be happy to have. Grandma would laugh at your funny tricks and let you eat the sugar cubes and give you coffee in a china cup from Nassau, with lots of milk and sugar. Apple Jack had a huge leather rocking chair in front of the wood stove and he loved to sit there with a grandkid on each of the wide, flat chair arms, helping us feed the fire, using the bellows to make the coals glow, or heating toast for bedtime snack with the big long fork. At breakfast there was always Apple Jack’s home made black currant jelly on the table, served with a special spoon that had a notch in the handle so you could hang it on the rim of the jar and not get your fingers sticky. The morning was filled with the smells of bacon and coffee. Dinner was at the great big dining table set with the good dishes, there were nuts piled in the footed dish painted with sepia pine cones, and there was always ribbon candy in a bowl on the side table. The tree was frosted with the special fake snow made from soap flakes, the ornaments (which were already ancient when I was a child) glittered in the light from the tree, the stockings were laid out on the couches and chairs. There was real snow banked up on the window ledges, we had cousins to play with, an attic to explore, and, more than likely, Laurence Welk’s Christmas special would, at some point, fill the living room with music.
I know that the holiday travel was hard on my parents, I know that in the mysterious world of grownups there was always some tension … but from my viewpoint, Christmas at Grandma and Apple Jack’s house was all I could ever have wanted. After we arrived, once the grownups settled down to talk, my sister and I would walk through the house, touching all the familiar objects that never shifted between one visit and the next. That inevitable stability, that certainty of familiar comfort was, I suppose, a way of touching our roots, of feeling our history. I am still comforted by the old things: on difficult days, I drink tea from a china cup that was my Grandmother’s.
I miss my grandparents very much. I would love to have seen Grandma hold my infant son and make him laugh, to have watched Apple Jack hoist my boy into the air with that same grin, that look of complete, unfettered joy I know so well. My grandparents opened their hearts to us grandchildren, and we could feel it. They loved us with absolute abandon … and the memory of that love is a gift greater than any that I have ever unwrapped beneath a gorgeous, glittering, snowy tree.
Christmas is my time to remember – not just my grandparents and the many traditions of theirs that we still keep, but all of my past, all of my story. I never want one of those perfect, colour-coordinated Christmas trees with all the ornaments following some kind of theme, I want no matched sets of commercial sameness. As I unwrap each ornament and hang it on a branch, I remember: there is the little angel with Jessica’s name written in gold on the banner she carries and here is the wreath made with flowers from her funeral, there is the shell we got when we took that trip to Hawaii with my parents, here is the glass ball from my sister that’s decorated with images of happy children from all over the world, here is the tiny hockey stick that my parents gave to The Boy the year his team went to the city championships, and oh my, here is the really ugly blue fabric ball I made when I was little, studded with sparkling beads and trailing a ratty red tassel… let’s put it towards the back.
My story is there on the tree, and I remember. We tell the tales to each other as we decorate, so that the stories are passed to the children, too.
Yes, I always cry at Christmas time, for a little while. My sparkling tears are the gift I give to those who now live on only in my heart.  Like melted snowdrops the tears fall from my cheeks and glitter for one final moment … then they dissolve away as the light from the star atop the tree glows and I am filled with the sure knowledge that love, the gift of this season, is here, surrounding us, enfolding us, carrying us from the past, into the present, into the future.

20 December 2011

Winter Festivals

Dear People Celebrating the Festival of Lights just now:

Happy Hannukah to you and yours!


Dear People Celebrating Winter Solstice tomorrow:

Hooray for the return of the light!


Dear People Celebrating the birth of the Christ Child:

Merry Christmas!


Dear World:

No matter what our faith may be, I think we can all - especially this time of year, this far north - celebrate the miracle of Light in the darkness. Spring will, indeed, come ‘round again, the days will, indeed, get lighter, there is, always, hope of redemption, hope of new beginnings.

May there be peace and light for us all.

A hopeful believer

05 December 2011


I intend to publish Just Keep Knitting as an electronic book at the same time it comes out in print, so I’ve been doing some research into the best way to convert a text document intended for paper into pixels that will work on a variety of reading devices.

I have found a workable solution in Smashwords: this allows me to upload the book once and have it available pretty much everywhere (the Amazon store is bringing Smashwords content online this month, and they already distribute to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and the Apple store).

However, the book’s not ready for the big time yet, and I needed to do a test run, so I took the blog postings from the first year or so of our adventures at Apple Jack Creek and consolidated them into an eBook. An evening’s work doing copy and paste and cleanup, and voila, there’s a book!

If you have an eReader of some kind and would like to indulge in some nostalgia looking back on the crazy early days of our life out here, you can download a copy of the book here … and it’s free!

If you run into any technical issues, please let me know: this is a test run to see if I’ve figured out the necessary rules for formatting and so on. I did have to do several uploads before I was satisfied with the basic look of things, but as I do not have an eReader of my own (well, besides the iPod touch which I do use on occasion) I must content myself with testing in simulated environments. There are a lot of pictures, so it’s not ideal for a small screen, but I’m curious to know what you think, if you do have a look.

And if you stumbled across the book on Smashwords and have subsequently found your way here to the blog … well then, welcome! Do say hello, I’d love to meet you.

04 December 2011

Dear Kitty:

I am sorry to have been remiss in teaching fire safety to you.

When an ember from the fireplace lands on your fur, you must not run. You need to STOP, DROP and ROLL. When you run, the ember just lights up more and if you keep running, it will not just singe your fur and cause the house to smell awful but it will get to your skin and that will hurt!

Good for you for letting us catch you and douse the ember with water. Thanks for not scratching us while we helped, too.

We promise to move you from your nice warm spot by the wood stove next time we add a fresh log, just to be safe … honestly, embers don’t fall out very often … but if this should ever happen again, could you PLEASE just follow the basic plan?


We care about you.


Your People

(one of whom happens to be a firefighter - and if he saw you running through the house with your fur on fire, he’d probably douse you with the extinguisher … so be glad he wasn’t home and you only got put in the sink!)

02 December 2011


So I got the Christmas things for the Small People finished off today: they are too little to read the blog, so I can tell you about what they will be receiving.

Princess Girl will get this top-down “recipe raglan” sweater: there’s a set of calculations you can do that tell you how many stitches to cast on for the neckline and where to do the increases and for how long and you just keep on working your way down and the thing turns into a sweater. It’s quite amazing, actually, and was a great way to knit this as I had just *barely* enough yarn, so I was able to use up all the pink, then knit the green for the bottom of the sleeves (which are 3/4 length and bell out into little ruffles just below the elbow) and continue with the body of the sweater (which has a flare at the bottom,it’s not just hanging oddly) until I had only enough green left to do the button band and collar. The yarn was actually a Christmas gift to me last year, from The Reluctant Farmer. He suspects that qualifies this sweater as regifting, but I’m thinking that in this case the gift is in the labour and design, not the yarn.


Her brother will be receiving this Dead Fish Hat, modeled here by The Boy who generously offered his head for test fitting.


I made one like this for another small person I know, and while it was here awaiting delivery The Smaller Boy (who used to be called Dinosaur Boy but that just doesn’t seem the right name for him anymore) kept trying it on and admiring it. So, The Smaller Boy shall have one of his very own.

With those knitting tasks out of the way, I need to go back to book project knitting. Except, you see, when I woke up at 5 am (due to the howling 90 km/h wind, which has finally died down) I was attacked by another shawl design idea. Attacked, I tell you, it simply would not leave me alone.

I think I know who to blame, too.


This beautiful, very shiny, very bright green (it’s actually a lot brighter than the photo would suggest) bamboo yarn arrived in my mailbox yesterday. I won a contest at Flannelberry Fibre and this gorgeous, shiny stuff was part of the prize – along with a bottle of Soak wool wash and some tea! (Flannelberry has another contest on just now, if you have used any of the yarns she carries – Lorna’s Laces, Malabrigo, Noro, Sirdar, Fleece Artist and more - she’s offering prizes for submitting reviews, and as you can see, she sends out good prizes!)

Anyway, as I lay there in bed listening to the wind rattle the windows and make the wind turbines hum, I thought about a lovely green spring shawl made out of this bamboo. I expect I will knit this stuff up into an Aeolian shawl, actually, but I had shawl design on my mind and it simply wouldn’t let me go.

So, after making a batch of jam-filled biscuits, finishing up the aforementioned Christmas gifts, and before going back to the projects I really need to be working on, I started designing a shawl.


You see, this ball of nice green wool was lying there right on top of the sedimentary layers that form spontaneously in the fibre room. Very much like the green of the bamboo, but already wound up and perfect for testing out a design idea. And the circular needles were right here beside me, and my daytimer (which has a section for knitting pattern notes). Before I knew it, I had the beginnings of an almost-circular shawl. I think I’ve even figured out how to continue the design through the rest of the shawl body – a very simple curving series of yarn overs that suggest movement and the cycles of life. Very spring-like and hopeful. Well, it is in my mind … we’ll see what it looks like once it is actually knit up.

I did manage to put it down after I had enough done to get the general idea of the thing, and I’m once again working on the Lighthouse shawl. This is slow going as each round is now 576 stitches. It takes a very long time to knit 576 stitches. Still, I’ve got to add at least another five more centimeters to the radial measurement before it’ll be big enough to start the border, so … yeah. I’d best find that audio book and get back at it.

Just keep knitting… and knitting… and knitting…

01 December 2011

Seed to Blossom

I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid,
More accessible
To loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
To live
So that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom.
And that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

- Dawna Markova

with thanks to Philip Carr-Gomm