Inevitably…

I finished my second Jane sock! I have a pair! Of matching socks! You have no idea what a big thing this is for me. I have started and frogged about a thousand pairs of socks in the last two years. Anything more complicated than a vanilla sock has died on the needles; anything as complicated or less so has been on life support in a project bag while I recover from hellish boredom.

Of course, at 11 PM, it’s still 80 degrees and so humid that I can feel beads of moisture collecting on my skin, so any wearing or photos will have to wait. On days like this, it’s terribly difficult to think ahead to a day cold enough when wearing wool socks would feel amazing. I long to be cold again. Cold and cozy in bed at night. Cold and dry. Coming home to stew or chili, wearing sweaters, only warming up with brisk activity…ahhh.

It is somehow time for me to really, really make up my mind about Ravelympics Ravellenic Games (dammit. Sigh). A single pair of socks in two weeks might be a bit much, especially since I’ve knitted socks all summer. I have some nice JoJoland Melody I could use, or some Zauberball. I also have that yarn for Sanderling, but if socks are too ambitious, a whole sweater is just crazypants. I could knock out some Christmas gifts. I had some things in mind for people and it’d be good if I got them done now, so I could knit those sweaters for myself once the weather cools off. I don’t know.

There are some interesting things in the works for this fall. I don’t want to talk about specifics now, but I might be getting into a thing where I can do some more writing. And my amazing cousin is finally, finally going to start her cooking blog, so that’ll be terrific. This way, I can get cooking advice without having to bug her personally. I’m sure that’s a factor in this decision altogether. More on that when she launches. I had to put off my Codman research from last week because of a household logistical hairball, but I’m working on something else that doesn’t require me to go out to an archive, so I’m hoping I can get that going soon as well. It may be stupid hot, but things here are never dull.

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Sock…fail?

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I am on the verge of producing two wearable socks. They are not the same as one another, but my diabolical plan to avoid SSS is going smoothly. I finished the first Jane last Sunday and immediately cast on a Francie. Aside from the cast-on being a shade too tight on Francie (it is not unwearable, but I wish I’d made it looser), they are both going incredibly smoothly. I’m really improving at picking up stitches and doing lifted increases. I’ve been knitting for over thirty years and it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I’ve been ashamed of my pickings-up for as long as I’ve been knitting socks (at least a decade now). I could just never figure out how to get it right. Other people would have gone into the yarn store and asked someone by now. I can be special that way. I’ve even been reluctant to ask my own mother. It’s possible my grandmother doesn’t know.

While all of this has been going on, I have been avoiding finishing the pinwheel blanket for two reasons: I have to graft garter stitch, and it’s awfully hot to have the thing on my lap. My cousin reports that she’s having some contractions, and I find myself unmotivated. This isn’t a pretty newborn blanket; it’s a play blanket for rolling around and looking at toys. That buys me another couple of months at least.

Update: In the very short time since I wrote this draft and edited it, my cousin had the baby! Welcome, Declan! Your blanket is…indisposed…and you will have it before you’re old enough to remember not having it.

Last Wednesday, I went in to the Historic New England archives to look at the Codman women’s knitting papers. There was far more than I could see in one visit, so I’m going to have to go back (I have an appointment on July 18). So far I have discovered two things: my French is only as good as my ability to read nineteenth-century handwriting (and vice versa), and grafting in either garter or kitchener is the perennial problem, since I found handwritten instructions for both (in English, thank goodness) among the papers. One thing I’m thinking about now is how to take what’s there and turn it into some kind of interesting story or how to explain its significance to the history of the family. I don’t want to get too esoteric. It was a time when a lot of women knitted; the fact that they did isn’t significant in and of itself. And a lot of women knitted for the WWI soldiers and collected garment donations to be sent overseas. It seems like a rather prosaic activity for such a well-known family. I wonder if there are journal entries that I’ve missed. I should look for that when I go back.

I’ve been interpreting that house for five years this year, and the experience of really knowing the family continues to elude me. It’s sometimes strange, trying to be a historian after many years of being a literature scholar. You can be much more free with interpretation in literature. The characters are fictional; you can’t offend them. But with real people, I’m much more concerned with fairness, and to some degree, with sympathy. I work in their home; I want to like them, or at least understand them. I’m very conscious of not projecting anything on to them that isn’t there. It’s difficult.

This is not my season.

It’s turned chilly again here after that one glorious week, and as a human being, that’s disappointing, but as a knitter, it works for me. I’m on the second sleeve of Rocky Coast, and about halfway up the Hudson’s Bay blanket, and if I can get going, there’s a chance I might actually be able to wear the cardigan before summer sets in. I’m really looking forward to it. My blue Shetland is getting a lot of face time this spring, and it’s a great sweater, but I’ll be able to wear the RCC over short sleeves without making my arms itchy, so that’ll be amazing.

I don’t think my husband is going to let the baby have the Hudson’s Bay blanket. I brought it to the hospital to show him, and he rubbed it all over his face and didn’t want to give it back to me. He’s complaining he’s cold and wanted me to hurry and finish the blanket so he could have it there, but it’s very likely he’ll be home before it’s done, so I brought him something else. The current word is that he’ll be out of inpatient rehab in a couple of weeks. He tells me that the OTs make him wash tables and sort laundry. I asked him if he told them he didn’t know how to do those things before the stroke.

The new spring yarns do not excite me at all. I wonder if yarn stores in this part of the country have an ongoing issue with unsalable spring yarns. I really only buy cotton and linen for towels…and not in the new colors a certain company is providing this season. It’s entirely possible I just can’t handle even a sliver more stimulation in my life, but most multicolored yarns give me a headache a little. That isn’t going to be happening here.

It’s like a sweater for your stomach.

Well, we’re back to March again. It was beautiful on Thursday and I went to work without a coat, but by Friday, it was pretty chilly again, and today I was happy to have my mittens at tour guiding. It’s an aggravating time of year. But yesterday seemed like the perfect day to make the tortellini soup I’d seen on someone’s Pinterest.

I was doomed from the start. I failed to notice that it was a crock pot recipe, and since it was already 4:45, that was out. I didn’t have any white sauce mix because I never do. I know how to make white sauce. Thought I’d improvise those parts of the recipe, but after reading it three times, I couldn’t figure out which parts were about the white sauce mix and which parts weren’t, and finally thought, the hell with this; I can make it up. Which I did. I adapted a little from a recipe for potato-spinach soup from my trusty 1963 Pillsbury Family Cookbook, but mostly for proportions (potatoes have a much longer cooking time). This is better, though. The other was needlessly complicated and had too many packaged ingredients. This can be made either 100% fresh or 100% packaged or anywhere in between, depending on your timeframe and pantry.

Creamy Tortellini-Spinach Soup

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup diced white or yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, with leaves, chopped.
1/4 cup flour
3 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 cups tortellini (I used Buittoni bi-color cheese tortellini; other flavors would be good)
2 cups whole milk or cream
1 cup shredded Parmesan or heel of a wedge in one piece
1 cup frozen leaf-style spinach (or fresh; if fresh, add last and cook little)
1 small can or 1 cup sliced fresh white mushrooms
Pepper to taste

Serves 6 as a soup course or 3-4 as a meal.

Heat butter over medium in soup pot. When hot, add onions, garlic, and celery, and saute until tender but not browned. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add water, salt, and tortellini. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes or until tortellini are done (frozen or dried may need different cooking time; follow package instructions but undercook just slightly at this stage). Reduce heat to medium. Add milk, cheese, spinach, and mushrooms. Simmer until flavors are melded and adjust seasonings. Cover if holding. Serve garnished with more parmesan and a little fresh spinach, if you have.

This would also be great made with asparagus instead of spinach. Or with sausage tortellini, or mushroom.

It’s a really hearty soup. My husband and I agreed that it almost hurt to have more than one bowl, but it was just that good.

Today between tours, I knitted on my Hudson’s Bay blanket. The colors looked too loud when I got the package, but now they’re working up into a just-right blanket, very true to the original. One of the visitors recognized it right away. Lucky boy, they said, when I said it was for my son. I agree. If he ditches it, I’m taking it back. I love it.

Middle

I’ve been splitting my time between my Rocky Coast cardi and my Hudson Bay crib blanket, depending on how much effort I feel like making (and that includes which one doesn’t need another ball of yarn wound before I can start). Rocky Coast is past the infernal yoke increases and into the body, and the blanket is just miles of garter stitch, and neither photographs well at this stage. I still love the Organik yarn, but am finding that it felts to itself pretty easily. The first three skeins weren’t so bad, but the fourth one from last night was constantly resolving into a tangled mess. Let’s hope it’s a fluke.

Something always needs to be wound up, and both of my boys are unnaturally fascinated with the swift and ball winder. The five-year-old likes to use the winder for its intended purpose (and I’ll let him, though I watch to make sure he doesn’t wind it around the gears–that wouldn’t stop him), and the toddler likes to sit on the floor with it and turn the crank just to see the spindle twirl. I may yet turn them on to knitting, though I confess I’ll be just as happy if I only get them as far as winding skeins into balls for me.

I’ve given up on the ladynovels for this month–the nice thing about them is that if the current crop stinks, there will be six more on the first of the month–and gone back to Miss Silver. The second one was great, and the third, Lonesome Road is turning out to be just as riveting. I stayed up too late reading and knitting last night, and I’ll probably finish it tonight. The irony is that I got into them for the knitting, after the Miss Silver article in the Piecework literary knitting issue last year, but there isn’t a whole lot of knitting in them. They’re just good mysteries with occasional tantalizing glimpses of what the Miss Silvers of the world were knitting in the 1930s. It’s a nice bonus, though.

And this is why you shouldn’t read (anything distracting) and knit.

So last night, in a fit of optimism about my ability to finish a warm sweater before the weather turns, I cast on for the ubiquitous Rocky Coast Cardigan. I would like to take a second and gush about how much I love Coastal Knits; it’s been a while since I fell in love with a pattern book and this is just so charming, and I want to make everything in it (and/or go hiking; whichever). I have the nice Organik yarn to make it, and I had the needles all ready, and because I have been knitting long enough to get cocky about these things, I cast on and off I went.

Until–and I must be fair, here: there is nothing wrong with the pattern at all–I realized as I was working along yesterday morning that I no longer had a symmetrical number of extra stitches on either side of the shoulder cables. That is bad. It means that somewhere in the first couple of repeats, I was zinging right along and forgot to do one of the mirrored increases. And in fact, I forgot it twice. I would love to be able to say it was because one of the shorter members of the household caused me trouble, but the truth is that I was knitting while reading a serial novel of the sophisticated woman-of-the-world variety, and I may have…forgotten…what I was doing. The sad thing is that even as far as they go, this wasn’t a particularly good one, and still. Forced to frog the thing because there’s no non-obvious way to make up for missing two increases several rows back, and I cast on again and have nearly gotten to where I was when I went to bed. Oh, well. I am being more diligent now.

Slight digression about trashy literature follows:

Lately even my brain-candy ladynovels are leaving me cold, and I think it’s because I’ve overdosed on the three most prevalent varieties: hot cowboys, hot soldiers, and hot wealthy Manhattan power brokers. They are also disproportionately set in the south or midwest, probably owing to a bigger audience there. I’d complain about being underrepresented, but a) New England does not have a reputation for being inherently sexy; and b) there was one about this so-and-so Cape Cod family, though I maintain that taking wealthy power brokers and putting them on Cape Cod instead of in Manhattan does not make them not wealthy Manhattan power brokers. Nevertheless, Massachusetts girls need love too. Ladynovel authors, take note. If I only messed up a couple of increases, the book wasn’t that good. If I knitted in stockinette for six inches and forgot to cable altogether, there’s your RITA award. Bonus points if you manage to include a knitting heroine without being patronizing.

Mistress of the universe (but only for today).

Isn’t it amazing how finishing something that’s been hanging over your head can make you feel like you’ve conquered Everest? If I didn’t think it was kind of sick to do this, I’d say that the longer you prolong the agony on the procrastination side of the task, the more satisfying it is to actually get rid of it. Why take out insects individually when you can bomb a whole colony at once? …Too revealing a metaphor? I had others, but they were all even worse. Occasionally I need those to wake up my students in the mornings.

I finished the buttons and sleeve seams last night during a screening of Saboteur, not to be confused with Sabotage. It was one of the few Hitch films we didn’t see in my magnificent all-Hitchcock film class in grad school, and I can see why. The 39 Steps gets the job done better on the wrong-man end, and North by Northwest is better for wrong-man, spy thriller, chase across America, and for having Cary Grant. Nevertheless, it was not a wasted evening. It’s always pleasant to spend time with Hitchcock, and it isn’t every day you get to see someone fall off the Statue of Liberty.

Aren’t they darling? They are non-identical, like the boys who will wear them, and that is just as it should be. I so wish I had more than about 1.5 skeins left of this yarn. I bought another green of the LL Shepherd Sport, but it is not this wonderful woodsy color; it’s much more bright green. Bah. This was perfect.

I put this on my project notes on Ravelry too, but the main things about BSJs are to establish a consistent way of doing the buttonholes (ask me how I know…) and write whatever schematic and/or notes work for you. I was working from the Opinionated Knitter pattern, the original that had been in the newsletter, and it helped me to set it up row-by-row so I could tell where I was by counting the number of stitches before the decreases or increases. I also decided in the process which row would have the inc-10 and which row would start the “work center 90 only,” so when I did the second jacket, I knew exactly where I was all the time. Seriously, if you’re going to do one of these, plan to do at least two, because it is so unimaginably easy the second time around, you wonder why it was so hard to understand the first time. Also: if you want to do it in one continuous strand, you need at least 300 yards on the skein (in sportweight). I had to do a join on each of them.

I say this honestly: it was a pleasure. I’m getting so much more done these days, and it makes me like knitting a lot more. So much of the rest of my life is all middle and no finish. From time to time, I need things that end.