25 March 2012

April 21: Author Visit at Darwell Library

On the afternoon of April 21, 2012, I’ll be speaking at the Darwell Public  Library – first at 1 pm, then again at 3 pm.

Do stop by, if you can spare the time – and if you knit, spin, crochet, embroider, cross stitch, or work on any other kind of reasonably portable handiwork, please feel free to bring it along! Far from distracting me, I find it encouraging to see people working in the audience while I talk. :)

I’ll be speaking about the process of writing Just Keep Knitting, reading a few short excerpts from the book, answering audience questions, and signing books (which will be available for purchase). I will also have all the knitted projects from the book with me, so that people can see the finished items and to serve as a focal point for discussing the healing nature of craft and creativity.

Come by if you can – we are about an hour west of Edmonton or St Albert. The library is just south of the four way stop that is Darwell:  it’s the blue building at the northernmost end of the complex of structures that includes the Golden Age Hall, the Darwell Hall, and the library. I’d love to see you there!

24 March 2012

Just Keep Knitting eBook sale

In celebration of the second print run of Just Keep Knitting (books were ordered yesterday), it seems like a good time to have a sale on the electronic version of the book!

If you’ve got an eReader of any kind (even a regular old computer), there’s a file format that’ll work for you.

From now until Easter Monday, you can get 25% off all purchases of Just Keep Knitting at Smashwords.

Just enter code WZ84X when you check out, and voila, the deal is yours.


23 March 2012

Publishing an eBook on Smashwords

I am, as you can probably imagine, a big fan of the independent publishing movement. The digital era has made it easy for people to get their story out where others can easily find it, through blogs, websites, and eBooks. This means that there is a lot of content to wade through, and you really can’t be sure of what you are getting, but then again, I’ve read some ‘traditionally published’ stuff that was utter drivel. Just because something has a big name imprint on the spine doesn’t guarantee that what is inside the covers is worth your time, anymore than the fact that a writer has taken matters into their own hands indicates that the work isn’t worth a read. (Of course, I’m biased in that regard. Oh well.)

The truth of the matter is that barriers to entry are lower in the electronic publishing world: the up front costs are minimal, and if you can do all the formatting yourself, with a service like Smashwords, the entire adventure is free.

Still, the technological barriers are real impediments for some people. Getting the formatting just so, putting hyperlinks in so that they work in the electronic world, testing the files out on the various software platforms available to see if the book will work in all the different readers … this takes the proper tools, the skill to use them, and some time.

It’s work I happen to enjoy, though: I have the tools, I have the skill to use them, I have the time. I like tweaking Word documents and running the file through the conversion process to see it transmogrify into six different types of documents, all with the push of one button. It’s cool. I like being able to get words up where people can get to them quickly and easily.

If you are a writer and are looking for help publishing your work electronically, I’m available to help. Look here for more details.

19 March 2012

Windowfarm version 1.5

I’ve continued the experiments with the windowfarm and there are actually things growing in there now, though the strategy has been modified somewhat from what I started with.
Most hydroponics systems rely on some kind of circulation to keep the nutrient solution moving past the plants: flood and drain, nutrient film technique, etc. Those are active hydroponics systems. There is, however, also the option of passive hydroponics: hydroculture.
Originally, I was aiming for an active system with the nutrient solution flowing through the window planters in an almost-continuous stream. However, I found that the plants didn’t seem to be getting quite enough water, probably because my circulation was too intermittent and the water level too low. This got me to wondering  if the same strategy I was using for the garlic-in-hydroton-and-water would work with my lettuce and tomato seedlings.
And that called for an experiment.
I took one of the tomato seedlings (started in a cube of rockwool) and put it in a jar filled with hydroton pellets. The rockwool cube got nestled into the pellets, then more pellets packed up and around the cube to hold it upright and steady the plant. Then I topped up the jar with fertilizer water (hydroponics nutrients mixed into waste water from the fish tank, plus a splash of vinegar to bring the pH down a little) and set it in the window.
That’s working quite well! The plant is very happy and growing steadily, the stems are nice and strong and the leaves are a good colour. The hydroton and rockwool ensure that the roots are sufficiently aerated, and the glass makes it easy for me to see the level of the nutrient solution and keep it topped up appropriately.
Given this success, I decided to modify the window planters to work in a similar fashion: I twisted the drain tubes up and clipped them in place so that the troughs are now able to hold water rather than instantly drain it out, and filled the whole thing with hydroton pellets with rockwool cubes of seedlings and the odd garlic plant nestled into the clay marbles. With nutrient solution filling the trough about halfway up, the plants are able to get water and air both without any difficulty, and they are in full light as the window mounted planters are right up next to the glass.
Hydroton does not wick water very well, so it’s important that the nutrient solution be in easy reach of the plants roots or the rockwool cube if the roots haven’t grown out of it yet. The seedlings get started in a turkey roaster with a plastic dome lid that sits on top of my natural gas stove, where the heat of the pilot lights warms the tray to about the perfect temperature for early seedling growth. Once the seedlings pop their heads up out of the rockwool, I transfer them to another tray closer to the window so they can have light but still be protected under a plastic greenhouse dome, and when they seem to be well on their way and are maybe starting to seem a little leggy, I move them into the hydroton troughs in the window, nestling the cubes down deep so that the plants can reach the water level.
Everything is growing quite slowly, but as I am not using grow lights of any kind I think that is probably to be expected. It’s early in the year yet, and though we are getting more and more light, the days are still short in this part of the world. I’m okay with slow growth as long as it is steady. I’ve lost quite a few plants to the experimentation stage – some got dried out before I noticed, some seemed to do well for awhile then gave up when they didn’t have enough nutrients … but that too was expected, as I have never grown things this way before.
As it gets a little closer to outdoor-gardening-season, I’ll be starting some seedlings the more traditional way: I was gifted with a large stash of nursery pots that I can use to start plants for outside, and will be putting those into use in a little while. In the meantime, though, I’m really liking the easy setup and care of hydroton planters and liquid plant food.
Stay tuned for more updates as things continue to grow. :)

18 March 2012

Book Launch Party

Yesterday, there was a small book launch party hosted by a fibre friend of mine who lives in town (a far more convenient location for a party than way out here in the middle of nowhere, to be sure).

A bunch of spinners and knitters came, and my best friend – who does not knit, or spin, and is allergic to most animal fibres - showed up and bravely joined in. Enabling efforts were put into high gear as everyone explained that you can spin cotton, or tencel, or bamboo, and oh my, what about silk? Get her a copy of of No Sheep for You, and she’ll be on her way! Carpal tunnel problems? Bamboo needles and circulars. No room in your house? Check out the travel wheels.

After listening to the high-speed conversation about the shawls in Just Keep Knitting – including a rapid-fire discussion of yarns, stitches, needle sizes and construction techniques – my non-knitting friend shook her head and said, “Now I know how people feel when they are trying to keep up with you and I having a conversation … whoa! This is great … but wow, I’m gonna cut people more slack next time they point out how fast we’re talking!”
We spun, we had soup and cheese and pickles and cakes and cookies and crackers and wine and lemonade and Irish beer, and then one of our friends showed up after playing her morning St Paddy’s Day pipe band gig … and we got to have bagpipe music!

Now tell me, do you know *any* other authors who get bagpipe music at their book launch parties?
I feel so blessed and lucky to have such awesome friends. Thanks everyone for sharing in the joy of the completion of this project – whether you attended the party or not, I’ve had such wonderful support and encouragement from everyone, and it means a lot to me.
The next book will be more cheerful, I promise … and it’ll have more fibre and knitting projects, too!

Oh yes, I must also mention that as of yesterday, exactly one month from the arrival of the printed books, the revenue from eBook + paper book sales has put us into the black … and, more books will be on order as of next week!
Thank you for supporting your local writer!

16 March 2012


Yesterday, I crashed.

We got up early to take the Small People to school, then The Boy and I stopped for breakfast at McD’s (the only food from McDonalds I will eat is breakfast … well, that and french fries), returned a pair of too-small jeans I’d picked up for him a few days ago in the faint hope they might fit, and headed into the city for student/parent/teacher interviews.

The Boy does virtual schooling – this means that he schools at home, but I don’t teach him. The school does all the teaching via online courses and printed correspondence materials and I just supervise. We do go and meet with his teachers a couple of times a year, and we are in the main office for exams and other activities once a month or so as well. On interview days, they always have other things going on to make it worth our while to go in … sometimes there is a craft activity, this year there was an aboriginal musician doing a drumming workshop. And they feed us, which is nice.

The Boy had a few issues with planning and scheduling his coursework earlier this year: the flexibility of the virtual school environment is a huge blessing, but it is also a big challenge. Brick-and-mortar schools tell you what to do when: the bell rings, time to get up and move to the next class, your assignment is due Thursday, no excuses … you don’t plan your life, you do what you are told. In the virtual school world, there are deadlines set – but you figure out how to get there from where you are. This is actually quite a complicated task, one many grownups aren’t all that good at, in fact, and as a parent, I think I had overestimated The Boy’s readiness to handle this. After reading up on teen brain development and realizing that the frontal cortex (where planning and decision making happen) isn’t actually *wired in place* at his age, I can now see why it was so hard for him! It’s not that he isn’t bright, he’s a very clever kid, but teenagers have what amounts to a neurological deficit that makes these particular tasks extremely difficult. He’ll grow into it – my job is to be the coach and help him practice the skills he’ll need, so that his brain learns these patterns while it is getting wired in … then when the wiring is all finished, these planning pathways will already be optimized. Fortunately, planning and tracking and documenting are all things I am pretty good at, having worked in project management in one way or another for much of my career.  :)

Still, that’s work for me (as well as for him). Planning, documenting your work (what we always called “CYA documentation” at the office), double checking that things actually worked the way you expected them to (i.e. just because you hit the save or submit button doesn’t guarantee that the file ended up where it was supposed to go, and it is actually up to you to confirm that it is where it needs to be), those kinds of things. Coaching him through it all has been educational for me as well as for him, I think. And stressful … for both of us.

Anyway, the interviews went well – the teachers and staff are very supportive of forward movement and incremental improvement, so it was encouraging to talk to them and to hear their support of the new approaches we’ve been trying out. There was a presentation on careers in the trades (The Boy wants to be an electrician, and he has the makings of an excellent one already, judging by the experiments and soldering projects he has done around here). The drumming workshop wasn’t really something I’d have travelled anywhere to see, but we had time to put in anyway and I always feel like the artists should at least have an audience after the trouble they’ve gone through to set things up. The drums were neat – hand made in northern Alberta of moose hide and wood.

With school meetings behind us, it was back to the Small People’s school to fetch them at the end of their day, a stop at the post office to mail a couple of books and pick up the bills (and a parcel from my parents!), then home, make dinner and …

… and I crashed.

I got dinner on the table for everyone, and when I sat down and looked at my plate, I couldn’t even eat. I had a glass of water, managed to stay through the meal, then went directly to bed. I didn’t even put my pyjamas on, I just got under the covers and lay there, contemplating the pain in my chest and the pounding in my head.

I dozed fitfully for awhile, then fell deeply asleep. I woke up at 9:30, uncomfortable with my skirt tangled around my legs, and finally put my jammies on. I got a glass of milk and talked to The Reluctant Farmer for a little bit, then went right back to bed and stayed there until morning.

It’s so hard to know when you are about to hit your limits … in fact, I often don’t realize it until I’ve gone way past them and collapse in a heap.

It’s hard. I want to feel guilty for being so weak, I want to say “good grief, girl, what is wrong with you that you can’t even handle the very quiet, very lazy-looking life you lead these days?”

Of course I know that this isn’t about the very quiet, very lazy-looking life I lead these days … this is about the sixteen years of chaos and grief and pain and stress and refusal to slow down and take care of myself that I lived through, and the very quiet, very lazy-looking life I lead these days is called recuperation.

So, I asked The Reluctant Farmer if he was able to modify his plans for today and do the morning drive-to-school that I had been scheduled for, and with a few tweaks to the plans, that worked out. I slept. I’m up now, slowly getting my feet under me and deciding how much I think I can handle today. I have some things that must be done today, including acupuncture and a drive to the food co-op, but the rest of the day can be modified.

I think it’s going to have to be pretty quiet. I’m still recuperating, after all.

06 March 2012

The radio interview on knitting as therapy: live!

I did a radio interview with a station in the UK early in February, and I just now located the posted interview … if you’d like to hear me talking about how I got into knitting, how the book came to be, and how I think knitting helps us cope with difficulties, well, have a listen! (It does end rather abruptly -  but that really is the end ... the full radio show will be posted later on, it's not quite done yet.)
Also, there’s a few other posts on that blog about knitting and therapy – including a question that needs your input.

Book Review of Just Keep Knitting

We have an official book review!

Skipper, a knitter, writer, and all-around interesting person, lives here:

All the time! Isn’t that cool?

You can follow the adventures of life on a boat at her blog, Waterborne – A Live-Aboard Blog.

And, you can read the review of Just Keep Knitting in this post, here!

Tweaks to the blog

A few minor changes made today …
There are now a variety of options for following the blog:
  • you can have new posts emailed to you (Follow by Email, in the green sidebar on the right)
  • you can join with Google Friend Connect (also in the green sidebar on the right)
  • or look for the RSS feed icon (an orange square with curving white lines radiating from lower left corner) to add the feed to your reader (in Google Chrome browser, this is at the far right of the address bar up top)
I’ve also removed the CAPTCHA verification on comments, so hopefully it’ll be a bit easier to leave your thoughts here – I am still keeping comment verification in place, because spam happens and none of us want to be bothered with that nonsense (in fact, I just had to delete one), but I usually put comments through within a day or so of you posting them.

And, below the posts there are now buttons to click, like on Ravelry, to indicate your reaction to the post! I’m excited to see how those work … they look cool, anyway. There's also one-click buttons to email the post to someone, to share it on Facebook or Twitter or your own blog.

So go ahead – tell me what you think!

04 March 2012

Embrace the Frog

When knitters have to undo some of the work they’ve done, it’s called “frogging” – you ribbit ribbit rip it out.

Frogging is an inherent part of design work, unless you have an awful lot of yarn … and probably even then. How will you know if that border looks as good in yarn as it does in your imagination? You have to knit it to find out.  What happens if I do a few rows in stockinette here? Well, knit them and see. If they don’t look right, you can always take them back out. This is one of the wonderful things about knitting: you get your raw materials back. But you do have to be open to the idea that frogging might be necessary, and you have to be willing to yank the needles out and pull back all those stitches if the situation calls for it. You have to be willing to embrace the frog.

Today I found out that an asymmetrical border is a bad idea for a shawl that will have a centre back spine. Of course I knew ahead of time it might be an issue, but until I saw it, I didn’t know just how much of an issue. Turns out, it just didn’t look right. So I’ve started over again, with an integrated border rather than one worked sideways. That’s a couple of days’ worth of knitting that I just pulled out, but the yarn is none the worse for wear (being a lovely silk merino blend), and the beads were all safely captured and put back in the box, and in the process I learned that the border I had designed is really awesome, just not for this project.

So, now I’m trying something else that is completely different – I made it up entirely in my head and was pretty sure I’d end up with some kind of scalloped effect but not positive how it would look. It’s only a centimetre or so long right now, but it is indeed scalloping and I think I like it. I may decide that I like it so much the border becomes the body of the shawl and the whole thing gets worked in this pattern. I haven’t quite made up my mind.

I’ll just knit a bit more and see how it looks. I can always frog it if it doesn’t work out … but I have a good feeling about this one.

01 March 2012

Halfway there

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported the launch of Just Keep Knitting!

As of today, less than two weeks from the date printed copies became available for purchase,
more than half of the books in the initial print run for Just Keep Knitting have been sold.

This means that the initial up-front investment is well on the way to being recouped, which is a wonderful thing: independent publishing provides the author with complete control over the project, but it also means that financing said project is up to the author as well!

The majority of these sales have been to people I know – either in person or virtually – and I want to thank every one of you for making the launch of the book such a huge success.

If books continue to sell over the next couple of months (i.e. after all the people I know have their copy :D) then I will consider a second printing: I’ll be putting some thought into how I can realistically assess the demand for the book in the next week or two.

Thank you again for welcoming my words into your world.