Monday, April 11, 2016

April 11: A tale of two sweaters

It's barely mid-April and I've already made two more sweaters this year than I did last year. Of course, I didn't make any sweaters last year, but that's beside the point.

The first sweater was Stopover, which I knit as part of the Bang out a Sweater KAL hosted by Mason-Dixon Knitting. This was a fast, fun, frivolous project – it's Lopi at a loose gauge, fast to knit, light as air and very warm. It only took two weeks from cast-on to bind-off and I've been wearing it a lot. I don't do them often, but I really enjoy online knit-alongs. It's great to see what everyone else is making – there are infinite interpretations – and the excitement really spurred me along. I love this sweater.




The second sweater is Bedford. I actually started this one on my Christmas vacation – got the sleeves finished and the hem cast on before I dropped everything to make Stopover. Whereas Stopover was a quick knit, this one was a bit of a slog. It's made of Briggs & Little – a nice Canadian yarn, pretty rustic, with a fairly heavy grist and no small amount of vegetable matter spun in – knitted at a fairly dense gauge. The finished sweater weighs more than a pound. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's basically waterproof.


I've got lots of thoughts about product vs. process, fast and slow knitting, wearability and durability after knitting these two sweaters but there's some sorting out to do first. Which one will I be wearing in a year, three years, fifteen years? I have my suspicions...

Friday, April 1, 2016

March 31: Report from the Niagara bureau


Spent yesterday travelling, and there were so many modes of transportation involved (bus, plane, moving sidewalk, car on a boat, car, car in a violent downpour) that I didn't think about meeting my daily writing commitment until I collapsed into bed at the not-at-all dignified time of 8:50 p.m. In my defence, I'd been up since 5:30 a.m. and had changed time zones, so I'd earned my faceplant moment, but still. The end of the month arrived not with a bang but a whimper.

I'm visiting family in Ontario for a few days. Today I drove around my hometown with the windows down, listening to the songs of my youth on the radio (on the oldies station: woe!), and it didn't take too much effort to feel like I was back in university, enjoying one of those few precious empty days between the end of exams and the beginning of my summer job.

Spring is a little further along here, but not much: the grass is greener and the maple branches are heavy with red buds. Earlier today, thick black storm clouds rolled in across Lake Ontario, and I caught a glimpse of a stand of weeping willow trees, backlit by the mid-morning sun, glowing chartreuse against the sky. I've yet to see any real leaves, though, and I've spied precious few flowers: maybe I'll drive out to the greenhouse tomorrow to get my fix. Either way, I've got a date for a walk with my favourite two year old, and we'll see what we can find. Diggers and trucks and buses, probably, but the joy of discovery will be the same.

PS Thanks for accompanying me on my month of blogging. I appreciated all the comments. It's always great to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March 30: Restlessness


Today: red maple buds glowing in the late afternoon sun, the company of a raven on my walk through the park, a cacophony of starlings, a tiny fir tree on a distant spit of land, daffodils almost ready to flower, coltsfoot blooming among shards of brick in an abandoned lot, pastel skies, the fading moon.

(Look up!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March 29: Dishevelment


Walking home the long way, my eyes refused to rest on the horizon. I'm tired of the sombre grey clouds and the skeletal trees. Every so often a gust of wind would send a leaf skittering across the pavement like a mouse. But it was never a mouse. It was the detritus of the autumn long past: leathery oak leaves, lacy half-rotten beech leaves, the occasional strip of birch bark, tumbling down the sidewalk to adorn half-dead lawns or snag in the branches of the winter-barren hedges.

And then, oh yes! under the leaves and behind the deadwood, I'd catch a flash of bright green or a little patch of purple. My heart would lift at the thought of tender leaves and tiny crocuses, and I'd squint and look harder, only to have it drop at the sight of a scrap of cardboard or a discarded plastic bag. That's spring in Nova Scotia for you: hope, elation and disappointment, all jumbled together like mulch.

It felt exactly like when you're walking through a crowd and you unexpectedly catch glimpse of one of your familiars. Just the sight of the back of their head, maybe, or the cadence of their walk; a whiff of perfume or the timbre of a laugh. Heart quickening, knowing it can't be true, you pick up the pace anyway...only to get closer and see that no, of course, it's not them. Sometimes it's almost too much to bear.

But sometimes you do see a familiar face, one that breaks into a grin at the sight of you. And sometimes you round a corner and find a sheltered garden with a southern exposure, home to a fistful of the palest mauve crocuses, a wee clump of snowdrops, heads bobbing, and a forsythia bush full of the promise of spring.

March 28: Everything's a metaphor


I do not like colouring, but I'll make an exception for colourwork charts. I spent part of Monday afternoon working up a chart for Cruden, which I'd like to be my Squam sweater. (Full colourwork on 3.25 mm needles is ambitious, but it's a vest, so it might be achievable yet.)

When it comes to colourwork I rarely go off-script, preferring to leave the complicated decisions to the experts. I haven't spent much time developing my colour sense, and I'm not always great at predicting outcomes. But it's time for that to change, so I spent some time with the pencil crayons and then I started swatching.

And I'm learning a lot already. I thought the green would really pop against the blue (it's basically invisible) and that delicate light pink that I love so much looks...completely insipid. I'm resisting the urge to rip it out completely and choose a different sweater entirely. I'll change up the colours and keep going. You have to start somewhere...


Monday, March 28, 2016

March 27: Easter bonnet


I had plans to make all sorts of things this weekend, but (hot cross buns and sweet rolls aside) in the end it's been a weekend of small milestones: another couple inches on that sock, joining sleeves to body on that sweater, and finishing up this cute little baby bonnet. It's a gift for a friend who loves purple. Ran out of yarn before I could make the ties, so subbed in bias binding instead. Pretty cute.

(Pattern; yarn)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

March 26: Go forth


The morning forecast called for clear skies and sunshine after a night of torrential rain, but no such luck. Instead it was cold and grey and not even the birds seemed inclined to wake up. Even after four cups of tea I could see their point. 

Finally, well after noon, I gave up on waiting for the sun and headed out anyway. Off to the fabric shop, where I bought some fabric for a quilt and talked about (of course) hot cross buns; then across the Common and downtown. Stopped in for sundries at the grocery store: tulips, cheese, a baguette. I bought a cookie from the coffee shop at the library and ate it as I wended my way through the DalTech campus. There's something so satisfying about knowing the little back alley shortcuts that I didn't know before. 

Finally, I stopped in at the coffee shop for a chai to drink as I walked back along the boardwalk to the ferry terminal. By then the sun had come out in full, and the harbour had transformed from the morning's gunmetal grey with whitecaps to brilliant blue. There was lots of boat traffic to watch, and a cold enough wind coming off the water that I didn't mind the too-gingery drink. 

On the way home, I sat up on the open deck of the ferry for the first time this year, and marvelled again that such a ride could ever feel quotidian. 



Friday, March 25, 2016

March 25: Hot cross buns


Good Friday: one of those days when it always seems to rain. It's pouring now, but the downpour held off for most of the day – though heavy mist meant that foghorns were the soundtrack while I baked these hot cross buns.


The hot cross buns of my childhood came eight to a purple-printed bag and I suspect they weren't much more than a glorified hamburger bun spiced up with cinnamon and whatever was left from the Christmas fruitcakes. But they were a special treat each year, and I still remember them fondly. One year I tried six different recipes to try to recreate them. No luck. This year, though: success.


I used this recipe, which was both hilarious and instructive. My only modifications were to change the type of yeast (I used regular, not instant, because it's what I had on hand; I decreased the amount of milk accordingly) and to soak the raisins/currants in boiling water for 10 min before draining, patting dry and adding to the dough. Oh, and the glaze is a bit of honey mixed with hot water, because I didn't have any apricot jam.

The recipe yielded 15 sizeable buns, dictated mainly by the room I had on the baking sheet and my desire not to faff about with turning and switching pans. I should have organized a tea party...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

March 24: Forbearance


I woke up just before the alarm and stood in the dark at the kitchen sink and drank a glass of water looking out at the moon. Full, yellow like an egg yolk, perched atop a column of clouds in the westward sky. Half an hour later on the other side of the house, the rising sun turned the clouds a dozen shades of pink and purple as I got dressed. Jeans and a sweater. Casual Thursday.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Reading and writing. Thai red curry for lunch. The careful crafting of emails. A shopping trip to stock up on hot cross bun supplies. On the walk home, the tang of woodsmoke in the air, and the trill of a finch nearby. Weather more like November than March. There's a storm rolling in and I'm looking forward to a quiet day at home tomorrow.

Some days you take great strides, and other days you just have to put one foot in front of the other, choosing kindness and a smile again and again. It might not be all the work, but some days it's work enough.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

March 23: making plans


One day left before the weekend and I'm pretty excited about four days off. I've got serious sewing plans and the forecast is calling for rain for most of the weekend – a perfect excuse to stay inside and sew. Of course, then there's the sweater I'd like to finish, and the baby bonnet that's halfway done, and that second sock I started...not to mention that I'd like to give bagels another go, and I said I'd make rolls for Easter dinner. Four days suddenly doesn't seem like much time at all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 22: Each one in turn


After dinner we stood outside under the nearly full moon and kept reminiscing until it got too cold, and I was going to miss my ferry, and they were headed somewhere else, and so finally we went our separate ways, again. I headed east and they headed west, which seems to be the way of things, and on the boat ride home I thought of half a dozen things to write and discarded each one in turn.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March 21: Not such a bad thing


Say what you will about the time change, it is nice to be making dinner when the sun is still well above the horizon. The window over the kitchen sink looks west – if there weren't any houses in the way I'd have a clear view down to the harbour – and the best place to be around 4 pm on these early spring afternoons is puttering in the kitchen as the sunbeams work their way across the kitchen floor.

I say early spring but really it's late winter, and the sun doesn't shine every day. This morning began with snow flurries followed by freezing rain followed by ice pellets; around noon all the tree branches were glistening with a thin coating of ice. They glinted in the pale sun as though they'd been dipped in quicksilver, and as the wind picked up I knew a sliver of disquiet; the last thing you want when there's ice in the trees is a windstorm. But the weather was warm, or warm enough, and the wind helped with the melt and by the time I headed home everything was just wet, wet, wet.

I walked home through the park, cast iron fence beaded with raindrops, trees shrouded in fog, everything dripping. It was quiet: no bird calls, no dogs barking; just the vague sounds of water doing its work. I've yet to smell spring (you know: damp earth, worms, cut grass, the smell of a greenhouse early in the season); right now everything just smells cold and clean, with a faint mineral tang, like cold water from a deep well in a tin cup.

But things are coming to life. The forsythia bushes have changed from winter's drab to spring's yellow, almost fluorescent in the evening's gloom. Thin crocus leaves have pushed their way through the soil, and the fat buds of the tulips aren't far behind. If the weather cooperates, we might even see some April flowers. Last year it was agonizing to wait until the beginning of June to see lilacs in bloom, but last year we still had snow on the ground till mid-May. Who knows what's in store this time around. We can but hope.

Last night I took the ferry across the harbour to meet friends for dinner. The nearly full moon hung big and low in the sky, so thin it was almost translucent, like a sliver of soap or a well-handled silver dollar, edges thin from wear.

Tonight the moon was invisible, hidden behind the thick grey clouds. I hunkered down, with comfort food on the menu (chicken pot pie, lemon squares) and Paul Muldoon on the radio, and as it turns out, maybe one more winter night wasn't such a bad thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March 20: Ghosts


I went downtown for dinner with old friends and saw some ghosts along the way.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19: A finished object


I spent most of my day rug-hooking. I've got no shortage of chores and errands to take care of, but my reward after a week of slog is to spend my Saturdays on whatever creative project takes my fancy. It's nice to set obligations aside and just focus on doing something with my hands.

So this morning, while the sky cycled through its current routine of watery sunshine, ominous clouds and surprise flurries (enough with the snow already), I settled at the kitchen table with my hoop and my hook and my big bowl of wool strips. For the first time since I started this project I was able to settle into a rhythm and, lo and behold, suddenly I was picking up speed. My hands, which are so accustomed to knitting, where they're working in concert and in plain sight, had finally figured out how to work on either side of the linen. Left hand tensioning the strip of wool, right hand working the hook like a robin in search of a worm, away I went. 

(Suddenly, all the advice from the woman who taught the class and my friend who finished her rug in a week all clicked into place. I *had* been packing my loops too tightly; as soon as I loosened up, everything got a lot easier. It only took five sessions before it clicked.)

And once I was on a roll – well. That was that. I set my sights on a finished piece and away I went, stopping only to step out for a market run. (If you get there around 1 pm, the bakers have all the bread on 2-for-1.) Other than that, it was all hooking, all the time.

I finished up around 5 pm:


Hooray!

Friday, March 18, 2016

March 18: Slow and steady


It's been a while...but I'm back at it. (Some days, you just can't knit another stitch on that massive grey sweater.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March 17: Still it thrills



Walking home through a snow squall, my heart yearns for tender green leaves and the gentle sounds of spring. But then – oh – still it thrills at the sight of birds in flight, silhouetted black against the grey-white sky.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

March 16: Take notice


Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

– excerpt from "Sometimes," by Mary Oliver

My friend Sherrie wrote about noticing today. She is a first-class noticer, with a wide-ranging eye and a thoughtful approach to the world. She also happens to live in a very beautiful part of the province, and her daily commutes take her past stunning beaches, wide-open ocean views and rolling hills. I love seeing glimpses of her days.

My daily commute starts in a dog park, takes me to a mall parking lot, and then wends its way through an industrial park – not quite as inspiring. But I still put my noticing skills to work.

It's tempting to get caught up in the unsavoury details: the scurf of crumpled transfers and sidewalk salt on the floor of the bus, the faint whiff of mildew and stale cooking fat, the snatches of overheard arguments. But there are reasons to smile: the two awkward teenagers, flirting over their math notes; the young boy playing peek-a-boo with a baby in a bunny hat. The unrestrained joy of the skateboarder who hops off the bus and onto his board and skims across the early-morning-empty parking lot, feigning hands-in-pockets nonchalance.

Outside, look up – stand at the traffic lights, waiting for your turn to cross, and watch the clouds scud across the sky. Watch the ravens as they stream across the Bedford Basin – they fly east in the morning, west again at night, heading home to roost. Watch the way the traffic lights shimmer when they're reflected in the puddles (because it's raining yet again). Here's the forsythia hedge by the high school, suddenly tinged with yellow, sign of hope; here's the wild rose bush, an oasis in a parking lot.

God (or something good) is in the details. Pay attention to the very very big things, and the very very small ones. Get up close; drop your mittens, drop your bags, hunker down. Muddy knees don't matter; the season's first snow drops do.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 15: Fly away home


Just in case you were worried I was going to write about poetry all the time now (but what about the knitting, Austen?!? the people cry), I thought I'd take a break to introduce you to my new pet, George.

I opened my eyes after rinsing the shampoo out of my hair this morning to be confronted with the sight of this little guy marching determinedly across the bathroom ceiling. I wasn't sure where he came from, where he was going, or what exactly he's doing awake on March 15 (it's warmer than it was this time last year, but not by that much), but I was sure that he couldn't stay where he was.

And that is how I found myself standing at the kitchen sink, wrapped in a towel, constructing a makeshift terrarium (i.e., using a steak knife to stab holes in the lid of a Thai takeout container) at 7:15 this morning.* A rather wilty-looking houseplant sacrificed a few leaves to the cause; I might throw a carrot top in there later. (I should figure out what ladybugs eat, I guess, and how long they live.)

*Sometimes it occurs to me that certain aspects of my life would be easier to explain if I had a six-year-old. This was one of those times.

Monday, March 14, 2016

March 14: The body remembers


Do you think about poetry? What's the first poem you remember*? 

Until fairly recently I would have told you that poetry wasn't really a part of my life any more. Sure, I did my time in school: memorized the obligatory Wordsworth in Grade 6, confronted Marvell's coy mistress and Arnold's shingled beach in Grade 12, spent time with Williams' red wheelbarrow in university. But there's no time for poetry when you're late for the bus and you have deadlines to meet and hey, dinner isn't going to cook itself.

And yet.

Buses and deadlines and dinner notwithstanding, I always have scraps of poetry running through my head. It's a rare day that I don't conjure the line "had we but world enough and time," when I walk home through the cemetery, and this time of year always puts me in mind of the opening lines of the Canterbury Tales – I can't wait for "Aprille's shoures soote." (April showers, May flowers – we all know that song.) 

As it turns out, there are little scraps of poems, rhyming couplets, stray stanzas scattered throughout my mind the same way that I've scattered tchotchkes around my apartment. Some of them are silly – "Alligator pie" is right up there with my tiny hand-painted garden gnome as far as utility, but they never fail to make me laugh – and others more serious. Some of them have become touchstones for me – words as familiar and comforting as the smooth beach pebbles that I've carried from home to home, or my oldest and most cherished needlework tools.

I didn't really realize it until I went on a few dates with a fellow recovering English major. What to talk about, when the local game of "who do you know?" resolves itself within two degrees and three blocks of home, and talk of grad school politics is too depressing? You need a different lingua franca: in this case, eventually, poetry. Build a foundation with Beowulf and Chaucer, ignore Shakespeare for the most part (even though you could spend a week or two just on common idiom, never mind the puns), hurtle though the 18th century, and then ensconce yourselves in the modern era, with your Larkin (too bleak for me), your Bishop, your Oliver and Alexander. You can learn a lot about someone by their choice of personal poet laureate, it turns out.

(I prefer the latter three; I'm a god in the details person, it's the professional noticers for me.)

And now the poems are flooding back, and the workaday turns of phrase that occupy my nine-to-five aren't at all sufficient. I'm picking up poetry books again and revelling in poetry podcasts (oh! if only these had existed when I was in university, way back in the last century). Where once poems seemed mostly like wordplay to me (rhyme and meter; fun and games), now I experience the emotion more clearly; every time a phrase comes back to me it gains a bit more resonance. Now I see how poems can be living things.

(Attention without feeling...is only a report," said Mary Oliver in this interview. It is one of the most thoughtful things I've ever heard and well worth a listen.)

*My first poem: Winnie-the-Pooh's Tiddly-Pom Song, of course...tied with The Cremation of Sam McGee.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March 12 & 13: Half a dozen ways of thinking through a problem

I'm not a good muller-over. I can't sit down with a cup of tea and think a problem through from start to finish. Whether it's a crossword puzzle clue or a personal conundrum, I do my best thinking with the back of my brain, when it looks like I'm not really thinking at all.

In an effort to solve all the problems of the world this weekend...

....I made a pie. (Pro tip: when you discover that the cherry pie filling doesn't come close to filling your 10-inch deep dish pie plate, stir in a generous cup of finely chopped apple.)


....I made four quilt blocks:





...I kept knitting (and knitting and knitting):


...I went for a walk downtown:


...and to the waterfront:


...and took a minute to look out to sea.



Not a bad way to spend a weekend, I suppose.

Friday, March 11, 2016

March 11: Perseverance


Just when it seemed spring's advance could not be checked: more winter weather. Snow sifting down like icing sugar and sighs. That clean wet scent; the sounds of squeaking boots and dripping icicles. It's not quite over yet.

Everything is arches on a day like this. In the woods, boughs are bent under the weight of snow and ice, and the tall grasses, their feathered heads heavy, reach gracefully to the ground. The mushrooms that cling to the dead birch tree wear snowy caps, their curves accentuated by the layer of white. By the roadside, slushy puddles meet truck tires and the dirty water arcs up over the sidewalk, and the thick snow curls away from the shovel's blade.

In the middle of the afternoon, a flurry of activity caught my eye. A banditry of chickadees was playing in the stand of birch trees outside my window. (Have you ever noticed how perfectly the black-capped chickadee matches a birch tree? The greys and whites and blacks, the faintest blush of pink. The bouncy attitude.) They flitted about for a little while, bouncing on the ends of the branches, showering one another with tiny snowfalls, half-heartedly looking for bugs to eat, then flew away. Later I saw a bush full of starlings, one sitting at the end of each branch, like the blooms of some sort of avian rhododendron.

On the way home through the park, white-limned branches glowed pale yellow against a darkling sky. Closer to the ground the raspberry canes, all grace and poise, made their own bid for attention, their dark red branches like blood against the snow. A single crow hopped from tree to tree, watching silently as I progressed from gate to cairn to burial ground.

On Dahlia Street, a tiny squirrel, confused, paused midway across a telephone wire, tail trembling.

(We persevere.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 9: Choice and repetition


I've long been fascinated by the idea of alchemy – the transformation of dross to gold. The idea that you can take a handful of basic ingredients, and through the laying on of hands transform them into something greater than the sum of their parts – what greater magic is there on this earth? Take the alphabet and form words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then books; take flour, yeast and water and bake a loaf of bread. Sticks and string make a sweater; seeds, soil and sun will eventually yield a crop.

Of course it's not quite that simple – there's the matter of focused attention and deliberate repetition. Even the most basic creative tasks require your presence: choose the words, knead the bread, knit the stitches, weed the garden, say "I love you," again and again. Sometimes you can coast along, but momentum only gets you so far.

Better then to make the choice, again and again: look at the options, weigh the outcomes and choose the one that fosters growth and serves a larger purpose. Make the choice and get to work: even when it's boring, especially when it's challenging and uncomfortable.

Maybe it's a sock you're making, maybe it's yourself, but without the choice, the work, the transformation, you'll never get the gold.

The Wild Rose
Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
once again what I chose before.

–Wendell Berry

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

March 8: ...



I don't have much to say tonight; my mind is miles away. Blue skies and sunshine today, then knit night (tea and gentle conversation; I can't emphasize how much it means to me to have found this little group of knitters) and a quiet ride home on the ferry. A year ago I swore that commute would never seem quotidian, but today I was so engrossed with my phone that it took real effort to look up and outside. Then, of course, I was glad I had; otherwise I'd have missed the sight of the inbound ferry as it slid past us on the port side, glowing like a jewel box as it churned its way across the harbour.

Today was International Women's Day, and I took a moment to give thanks for the cadre of amazing women in my life. I am lucky to have a host of strong, true, smart, passionate, kind, funny, talented, supportive, inspiring, take-no-prisoners women as friends – some of those friendships go back 30 years, some of them are just a few months old. These women have seen me through thick and thin, ups and downs, through cross-country moves (and back again). We share the minutiae of day-to-day life, and occasionally solve all the problems of the world together, too. I feel so privileged to be a part of their lives, and to have them as part of mine.

Monday, March 7, 2016

March 7: Commonplace


I'm not a great keeper of date books and diaries – my appointments and to-do lists are scattered across half a dozen different date books and calendars between home and the office, and you're more likely to find my daily reflections scattered across the Internet (or archived in my inbox) than carefully compiled in a notebook. 

But something that I do enjoy is keeping a commonplace notebook. This is an off-again, on-again pursuit for me as well, but it's one that I find very satisfying. A commonplace book isn't a diary or a journal – it's not for tracking my days or working through problems – but rather a catch-all for all the bits in between. A diary can tell you where you went, when, and with whom; a journal can tell you what you did while you were there, who said what and what it all meant. But a commonplace book catches the rest of it, and in the end provides a much different portrait of a life over a period of time. 


This is a picture of two commonplace books. The one on the bottom of that pile saw action from 2005 to about 2009. Unlike a traditional commonplace book, which is filled mostly with quotations, mine is stuffed with all sorts of things: postcards and travel passes, itineraries and postage stamps, news stories, crosswords, poems torn from the New Yorker, quotes scribbled down from the radio. Recipes, menus and wine labels. Scraps of fabric and yarn. Things I'd forgotten about entirely until I opened it back up again, and then the memories came flooding back. The sunny Sunday we spent at the New York Public Library. The recipe for those Italian lemon cookies. That melancholy Elizabeth Bishop poem I love so much. The book weighs about 5 pounds.

The book on top – still new, and so a lightweight – is the commonplace book I started on Saturday. It's been a while since I kept one – most of the notebooks in my life right now are full of grocery lists and outlines for articles long since published and pulped – but I feel a period of growth and reflection coming on (or maybe it's just the optimism of incipient spring) and so it seemed like the right time to start anew.

When possible, I like to take a commonplace book with me when I'm out – the better to capture things I've overheard or jot down scenes I'd like to remember. I glue things in when I can, or jam them into the binding. When I'm travelling, I carry a little pencil case with a small pair of scissors and a glue stick and some washi tape to make that part easier, but I'm not into perfection. I think these should look a little bit scrappy – just like my life – so I'm ok with pasting things in with banana stickers and using empty sugar packets as bookmarks.

And so it begins again. I started with Ars Poetica #100: I Believe on the first page; I'm not sure what will come next. I'm looking forward to finding out.

(Do you keep a book like this? I'm curious!)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6: Bagels



One of the things I miss most about living in Toronto is the bagels. Specifically, I miss the all-night wood-fired bagel shop that was at Yonge + St. Clair, between the subway stop and my apartment, that was never, ever closed. Didn't matter what time of day or night it was; if I wanted a bagel, it was a matter of two blocks there and two blocks home again. That's where I got my first meal after getting back from New Zealand at some ungodly hour (and after many other flights), and it was a regular stop on my way home from the pub. It was also a reliable source of quick, cheap lunches, whoops-I-was-supposed-to-buy-the-department-breakfasts, and hanger-prevention bagels.

There's no bagel shop between the ferry terminal and my house. Well, actually, there is a place that sells bagels, but you've got about a 15-minute window on a Saturday morning to get your hands on one, and it's actually an egg-bacon-avocado-sprouts sandwich...on a bagel. It's delicious, but it's no good to me at all at 11:49 on a Friday night.

So this weekend, feeling decidedly nostalgic for The Bagel House, I took things into my own hands.


Turns out it's not actually that difficult to turn one's house into a bagel house. I used this recipe from the New York Times – adapted slightly to suit my purposes and the ingredients I had on hand. I've recorded the adaptations and notes here. This version of the recipe will give you 9 bagels, 4 of which you should immediately give away, unless you feel like eating 9 bagels in one day. (I'm not judging; they're delicious.)

Montreal(-style)(sort of) Bagels

1/4 cup warm water (approx. 100ºF)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pkg dry quick-rising yeast 
1/2 cup warm water (approx. 100ºF)
1/4 cup honey
1 whole egg
2 tbsp canola oil
1 1/4 tsp teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups bread flour

3 L water for boiling
1/3 cup honey 
Cornmeal

In small bowl, stir sugar into 1/4 cup water; sprinkle yeast over top. Let stand 10 minutes, or until yeast is foamy and has doubled in size.

In large bowl, mix together remaining 1/2 cup water, honey, egg, oil and salt. Stir in yeast mixture. Add flour, stirring until too stiff to mix by hand. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until a soft, supple dough forms, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Let dough come to room temperature (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch dough down, knead briefly and let rest.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. In Dutch oven, combine water and honey and bring to a boil. Pour cornmeal into bowl.

Divide dough into 9 equal portions; roll each portion into an 8- to 10-inch long log and then form into ring, rolling join between hands to seal. Transfer to towel-lined sheet to rest for 15 minutes.

Working three at a time, use slotted spoon to transfer bagels to Dutch oven. When bagels bob to surface, flip and continue to cook for 1 minute more. Remove from water, dip in cornmeal and transfer to cookie sheet. 

Bake on bottom rack for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden.

Notes:
I chose to proof the yeast separately because the first batch (done with all the water, plus sugar and salt) didn't work. This is an extra step but you get to see if your yeast is stale early in the process. The original recipe called for room-temperature water; it's March in Canada, so that's obviously not optimal. 100ºF seems pretty standard, so I went with that.

I thought these were a bit sweet; next time I'll reduce the honey in the dough to 2 or 3 tbsp.

The original recipe has a 20-minute rise, then goes right to forming, boiling and baking. I ran out of steam (and appetite), so let the dough sit in the fridge overnight. This is a perfect plan if you've got brunch company coming. Look at you, living in a place that doesn't have bagels but still serving fresh bagels for brunch! 

I used cornmeal to coat the bottoms of the bagels because comments on the original post said the bagels stuck to the pan. Next time, I might coat the bagels entirely in seeds, but I didn't have any on hand this time around.

The original recipe called for 25 minutes at 450ºF; that's way too long. Stay nearby and use your nose!



Saturday, March 5, 2016

March 5: Bits and pieces


I awoke at 4 a.m. to the peculiar glow of a snowstorm under streetlights, and by the time I got out of bed a few hours later the street was thick with snow. Eventually I got booted and suited (snow pants: the best thing I've bought in the last 18 months) and stumped down to the market for bacon and eggs and all the rest. I had what I've come to think of as an "aggressively domestic" day: I've got dough proofing overnight for bagels tomorrow, I spent hours at the sewing machine and I did a bit of knitting, too. I find such satisfaction in those homely pursuits.

In other news...bits and pieces I've been thinking about lately:
Oh, and this:

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.

(That's just an excerpt; read the whole thing.)

Friday, March 4, 2016

March 4: First green



Today I saw the first tiniest green leaves on a tree that I pass on my way into work – so startling in their verdancy that I stopped and backtracked, sure that they were a joke, glued on as a trick. But no: they were the real thing. Look at that tiny green minutely detailed magic. It's a miracle.

At some point last June, sitting in my office with the window open, I looked up in astonishment at the sound of running water nearby. But no: the wind had picked up, and I was hearing the sound of the breeze in the birch trees. Over the course of the brutal winter, I had completely forgotten the sound of rustling leaves. I knew the sound of shovels against ice; the squeak of boots on pack snow; the particular series of bangs that the snowplow made as it dropped its blade and headed up the hill outside my house. I'd forgotten the rustle of leaves and the patter of rain and the flirtatious peeping of chickadees. Everything was winter.

Indeed, at some point, maybe around the time the third metre of snow fell, the idea of ever seeing green again – let alone there being so much green that I could actually hear it – had stopped to even feel like a possibility. I didn't even note the lack until it had been filled again. How often does that happen in other aspects of life? What else am I missing? I can only hope that if I keep my eyes and my ears and my heart open, I'll notice it when it comes around again.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

March 3: Beeswax


Is there anything better, on the kind of night when the wind is so cold that it burns your cheeks and brings tears to your eyes, than coming home and lighting all the candles you can find, then drawing the hottest bath you can and sinking underwater? Close your eyes and breathe in the steam and the honeyed scent of melted beeswax and imagine a midsummer day: the warmth of the sunshine on your upturned face, the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, the smell of grass and green and clover, the sky that clear clean blue, the promise of a swim in the lake in the very near future.

It's not that far away, not really.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March 2: The gloaming


Last night, instead of my regular walk through the park, I walked home through the subdivision; it's a longer walk and you trade a sweeping harbour vista for glimpses of the local lakes, but it's not bad. The last time I walked that way the sidewalks were sheets of burnished ice, gleaming under the streetlights, but almost all our snow is gone now and yesterday the sidewalks were all clear. The sun was on its downward swing, and the light was long and low and golden. It seemed like everyone I passed was smiling.

When I got home, the view out the back door was of tree branches outlined in black against the watery blue sky, like an intricate paper cutting. A murmuration of starlings. A lone crow, headed home. I watched as the colour on the horizon changed from apricot to pale yellow, and caught the briefest flash of green just before the sun disappeared. 

Tonight, I caught a ride home with a colleague. We scuttled across the parking lot with our hoods up, dancing around puddles; the highway was a blur of rain spatter and brake lights. Everything seemed grey.

At home again, waiting for the kettle to boil, looking out the back door, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the set dressers misread the memo and decorated for Halloween instead of early spring. It's a dirty black night, rain rushing sideways, fog illuminated orange by the sulphur streetlights; the wind is howling. Off in the distance, the freight train sounds its warning. Time to retire with tea and knitting, I think. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

March 1: Shine a light

Once in a while I get it into my head to write every day for a month (20132014). It's not always easy to keep up the momentum but it's always worthwhile.  I missed last year; I'm sad about that. Today marks the first of 31 entries I'll be making here in March. This year, I have a theme: Shine a light.



Tulip time arrived without fanfare this year. Suddenly, there they were, next to the front door in all the grocery stores: cellophane-bound bundles of tender green leaves and tight-lipped buds, slivers of red and pink and orange peeking through. Six for $5, eight for $6, ten for $8, or get sixteen for $6 if you don't mind buying the blowsy ones past their prime, on last-chance markdown in Nova Scotia's trademarked buy-one-get-one style. 

In my world, fresh flowers have their own line item in February. In the long, dark winter, they're a necessity, not a luxury; they're worth the trouble of double-bagging against the cold, tucking inside my jacket, walking swiftly home while a rogue stem drips onto my sweater. (Desperate times, and so on.) 

At home, I trim the stems and plunk the flowers in an old juice jug. They smell of greenhouses, damp earth, the colour green, and hope. I keep watch over the next few days as they unfurl in the warmth; as the tight buds turn to lush flowers and the tender stems keep stretching, outreaching the neck of the vase. 

(They say that tulips are the only flowers that keep growing once they've been picked. They say you should add a penny to the water to keep them from drooping.) (They say a lot of things.)

For all their beauty when fresh, I like tulips best when they're a little past their prime. They are beautiful in the beginning, but I love them more when their initial lushness has faded – when the petals begin to dry out and contract, and suddenly you can see the underlying structure, the lines and veins, and the colour seems to be concentrated. Backlit, the petals glow like stained glass. 

A few days later I'll come home to find the petals scattered on the counter amid crumbs of pollen, and then it all begins again.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Make make make

What do you do in Halifax in the dead of winter? If you're me, you make, make, make.

Since last we've met, I've made quilt blocks:


(courthouse steps)


(orange peel)

I've made socks (not matching):


(basic 3x1 rib in madelinetosh sock; measuring out my flights in DPNs)


(early morning knitting: ankle sock in Arne & Carlos)

I made a pillow:


(so basic but so satisfying)

I started a sweater:



Many other things have been afoot, but I find myself a bit short on words these days. Back soon...