Saturday, December 29, 2007

Proud to be a Language Geek.

I have to put up something quick to deflect notice from the book review which garnered some mockery from my smart-ass sister and my erstwhile friend.

YEAH I SAID "ERSTWHILE" YOU COCKROACHES, IT'S CALLED BEING LITERATE: LOOK INTO IT. You should be happy there is still someone out here in the blogoverse who doesn't write crap like "this book is kinda cunfuzing but 2di4, ur gonna luv it lol".

After the intensive monogamous Christmas knitting, I find myself somewhat at loose ends. I have several things in my Ravelry queue (oh, by the way: I'm on Ravelry! Whoop-de-doo!) but none of them are really pulling on my skirt, you know? I see something I like, but when I open up the pattern and see the bit where it tells me how many stitches to cast on, I just can't dredge up the motivation. I heave a halfhearted sigh and click on.


I think it's okay to drift rudderless for a bit. I was talking to Karen-of-the-Comments about it, and she said I need a bit of time to come down off my Aran/Print o' the Wave high. I think she's right....and we agreed that, come January 1, I will probably be flooded with inspiration, innovation, anticipation, and determination.

Also, apparently I will be beginning my career as a motivational speaker sometime soon.


My Ravelry queue includes Saartje's Bootees (so cute!), Odessa (very needful in this weather), a Log Cabin blanket (because I just won a bunch of yarn that I think will be perfect for it), and Clapotis (one of these days). I have some WIPs I need to finish, as well - the Anemoi Mittens, a Sirdar cardy for my first-cousin-once-removed, and the second Geisha sock for my farm-girl friend. I should probably get at least one of those out of the way before I start something new...


I don't know. Maybe I'll let the knitting go for a couple of weeks (unthinkable!). Then I'll find my mojo again and the blog will be more interesting.

Well, less uninteresting.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pardon the Sooty Fingerprints

Erudite Mondays (time has no meaning these days) at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 1, Number 2

On Christmas Eve, I received the books I won from McClelland & Stewart's Quest for the Ice Fox game. Everyone knows $100 doesn't get you very far in a bookstore, but I ended up with five titles:
  1. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson
  2. Search of the Moon King's Daughter by Linda Holeman
  3. The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler
  4. Full Moon Rising by Joanne Taylor
  5. The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

There was also, of course, a copy of The Frozen Thames, the book which the Ice Fox game was intended to promote.

I just finished Search of the Moon King's Daughter. It's a novel for young teens: a story about a family in England during the Industrial Revolution.

I don't know about you, but whenever I hear the words "Industrial Revolution" my scalp prickles. I remember my Grade 9 Social Studies teacher introducing us to the concept of "exploitation" - a word which became a standing joke among the [first world, privileged, ignorant, selfish] kids in that class. You know the kind of thing: "Mr. Buhler, Megan is exploiting me" or "I think this amount of homework qualifies as exploitation" or "I'm just gonna exploit you for a minute if you don't mind." It was only several years later, in university, studying the history of Britain and reading North and South, that I began to grasp the horrors of that time.

When I was browsing McClelland's catalogue and came across this volume, I was cautiously interested. I read as many reviews as I could find, and when I saw the words "entirely satisfactory ending", I decided to order it.

The story is set in a small textile city near Manchester. The protagonist is a young girl, Emmaline, employed as a seamstress in her wealthy aunt's house. Emmaline's mill-drudge mother is terribly injured in a work accident, and her subsequent addiction to laudanum motivates her to sell her five-year-old son as a climbing boy for a London chimney sweep. When Emmaline discovers what her mother has done, she sets off to London, by herself, to buy her brother back from his master.

When I first opened it, I wasn't sure whether I'd like the book. There is an awkwardness about the first several chapters, which are not chronological. They are somewhat heavy-handed: it's very clear that the author wants the reader to feel the tension and drama right from the start, before we even really care about the characters.

After the stumbling start, though, the book settles in fairly well. Emmaline's adventures in London are innocent enough...more innocent, I feel, than realism would allow. It's suitable to its audience, though. Emmaline does encounter the nastier aspects of life as a member of London's lower classes: the pregnancy of a housemaid by the son of the house, the starvation and....."exploitation" (Mr D. would be so proud of me) of the poor climbing boys, and the glittering despair of the disease-ridden, hollow-eyed prostitutes in St Giles' district. These and other mature themes (for instance the unaccountable dissimilarity in appearance between Emmaline and her "brother" Tommy, whom the Moon King's relatives icily refuse to countenance) make the book unsuitable for children under a certain age, although they are presented nicely glossed over: dimly lit.

There is one thing about this novel to which I strenuously object. The girl Emmaline is a far stronger, more graceful, morally-developed character than her history would believably produce. Her mother is an addictive, sluttish, alcoholic whose foolish, weak-willed, cuckolded shopkeeper poet of a husband is the titular "Moon King" to his children. After his death his now-poverty-stricken family, including the ill-fated infant Tommy, are turned out into the streets to end up penniless, shivering, and starving in the grimy squalor of mill-workers' lodgings. They live five miserable years there before the loom accident cripples the mother, and yet out of all this Emmaline emerges soft-spoken, erudite, strong-willed, decisive, tasteful, and sweetly deferential to her elders. Without getting into a nature/nurture debate, the whole business requires the partial - if not entire - suspension of the reader's disbelief. Not that there isn't a precedent for this kind of idealization among similarly themed fiction: Oliver Twist, star of the eponymous novel, is another little guy famous for holding onto his sweet angelic innocence in the worst of circumstances.

Reminding myself that I am not writing a term paper, here.

Despite its occasional shortcomings and taken in the spirit in which it's offered, Search of the Moon King's Daughter is, in the end, a satisfactory read. It would be a useful part of a teen's introduction to the depressing - yet exhilirating - industrialised world of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and Thomas "'done-because-we-are-too-menny'" Hardy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Parting Gift

I have missed the last several days, wearing sackcloth and ashes for my dear, departed Dell, so I now find myself on December 23 not having posted much of what I had planned to write.

With Christmas beginning tomorrow (and with the conspicuous lack of time-sucking technology) I have been visited many times by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Fortunately for me, my sister's posts have said much of what was on my mind, so anything I put up might have been redundant.

I don't know where I first heard the......legend? superstition?..... of the animals in every stable bowing as the Eve turns to the Day. I must have been quite young - under ten - because I can remember lying in my attic bedroom in the dead of night, staring up at the sloping ceiling and trying to think if there were any neighbourhood livestock I could sneak up on, to see them kneel to Baby Jesus.

It doesn't seem to be a commonly-known story: I'm not sure I've ever met anyone else who had heard of it. Every Christmas Eve, though, I think of it without fail. It's a fond memory, for me, with the persistent magic of childish uncertainty.

Then, this past fall, I bought a book of Christmas poems for my daughter. It was an emotional read anyway, between the stocking-in-the-dark poem and the one with the line reading "and children pace the crumping snow, to taste their granny's cake again", and the e.e. cummings one that ends with
"and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
'Noel Noel'".

Then I idly turned a page, saw the next poem, and suddenly..... I was ten again, lying in the dark of a steadily falling night, wishing there was a barn handy so I could check and see. I couldn't stop the tears. I felt a rushing flood of wonder and longing just like the one I had felt as a child, and a faith restored, fiercely, in unseen power.

So I leave you with this poem, for me the most moving of all, written, amazingly, by my favourite author.

A Happy Christmas to you, my dear friends.

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

-Thomas Hardy

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Absence, Hopefully Temporary.

So I recently resolved on frequent blog updates, regular book reviews, posts full of brilliant logic and stunning creativity, passionate oration, moving poetry, and artful photography. Instead, my laptop stuck its spoon in the wall, leaving me high and dry until the new hard drive arrives...oh, please, computer gods - let it be tomorrow.

Actually, this is probably more in the nature of divine intervention - forcefully stopping me from clicking my life away. I'm uncomfortably aware of how much "extra" time I've had in the last two or three days. It turns out it's quite possible to both wash the dishes AND clean the bathroom in one day...which leads me to suspect I might have a slight priority problem that needs addressing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why does this choke me up?

The Waiting Game
by John Mole

Nuts and marbles in the toe,
An orange in the heel,
A Christmas stocking in the dark
Is wonderful to feel.

Shadowy, bulging length of leg
That crackles when you clutch,
A Christmas stocking in the dark
Is marvellous to touch.

You lie back on your pillow
But that shape's still hanging there.
A Christmas stocking in the dark
Is very hard to bear.

So try to get to sleep again
And chase the hours away.
A Christmas stocking in the dark
Must wait for Christmas day.

From "The Usborne Book of Christmas Poems"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sense of Accomplishment, Part II

"I consider lace to be one of the prettiest imitations ever made of the fantasy of nature; lace always evokes for me those incomparable designs which the branches and leaves of trees embroider across the sky, and I do not think that any invention of the human spirit could have a more graceful or precise origin."
- Coco Chanel, April 29, 1939


A few months ago, I was talking to my sister on the phone. "I think I'll make this," I said to her, emailing her the link to Eunny's Print 'o the Wave pattern.

She opened the pattern. There was a surprised silence, then "Can you DO that?" she asked.

Yes, it turns out I can.

Print o' the Wave
Pattern: free download by Eunny Jang
Yarn: 1.5 skeins Island Hues (by Sweatermaker) 100% merino handpainted laceweight, 800 metres per 100 grams. Two different dyelots but they work together.
Yarn Source: Fun Knits, Quadra Island. Thanks again, Shelley.
Yarn Cost: $35 for both skeins, of which I used less than 1.5. So about $25.
Needle: 3.5mm Clover Takumi bamboo circular, and 3.5mm Addi Turbo Lace
Cast On: August 12, 2007
Bound off: December 14, 2007
Finished Dimensions: 97" long, 27" wide after an aggressive blocking.
  • The centre panel of this stole just FLEW BY. I think I got it done in just a couple of weeks. But the edging felt so very, very slow. I had trouble memorizing the edging pattern - my brain wanted the repeat to start and end on what was actually row 9, so I kept over-increasing and had to rip back a repeat about 10 times in total. However, I took a break from the shawl when I was waiting for more yarn, and when I came back to it I had no trouble with the edging. It was just a mental block.

  • The fact that I ran out of yarn was so frustrating. If you're thinking of knitting this stole, you should be aware that the pattern calls for 800 yards of laceweight yarn, and I ended up using about 1200 or 1300 - not sure yet exactly what the amount. I had bought the skein of Island Hues thinking it would work because it contained 880 yards. When I had to buy more yarn it was a serious problem - it was handpainted and couldn't be matched. I think the problem is that Eunny created her original version in cobweb weight, so the yardage she specifies for the laceweight was just an estimate on her part. Just keep it in mind if you're queueing this project.

  • I knit the centre panel differently than Eunny suggests in the pattern. She directs you to knit both sides from a provisional cast-on, then graft the ends (what would be the cast-off) together to form the centre back. Instead, I knit the first half from the provisional cast-on, then started from the same cast-on edge to knit the second half. The knitting flows in a different direction to Eunny's, therefore. She was trying to achieve the look of waves flowing down each waves run UP, unless your eye perceives the openwork as the waves, in which case they run down. It's all in how you look at it, and since this is my first lace project and I think it's pretty, I'm not going to torture myself about it.

  • I blocked this shawl very, very aggressively. I soaked it in wool wash for over 30 minutes, then pinned it out until it was so taut it was barely touching the towel underneath. I wasn't consciously trying to maximize the length, but the shawl seemed to want to go long, so I let it Go Long. I did have to re-wet it with a spray bottle numerous times during the blocking process as it had already dried.

  • The Island Hues yarn is beautiful. It's light, soft, and divinely coloured. I did have a few felting moments while knitting the edging on, when the stitches I was working toward got a bit fuzzy and tight. It wasn't a problem, though, and when looking at the finished piece you can't tell at all. The yarn, once blocked, developed a slight patina that I love...hard to see in the pictures but in the flashed shots you can catch a glimpse of it.

  • There are some errors in the edging chart - not a major problem since they are well-documented, but again, if you're planning to knit it, just check first.

I had no model, and had to make do with the timer on my camera, but at least you can see the width here. Shoulders to hips with ease.

There has not been an abundance of natural light here in mid-December in the temperate rainforest, but I don't like the flash: it makes everything appear so prosaic. So, as usual, I took some unflashed pictures: I much prefer them. They may not represent the colour as well, but they capture the lightness and drape, the tactile pleasure of the piece, so much better.

I loved doing this project. I'm so looking forward to doing another lace piece. The knitting is much easier than it appears - the satisfaction of building row after row of a chart, watching the space and direction emerge under your satisfying. And it looks all well and good, until you soak and block it - then it becomes breathtaking.


Thank you for your comments on my Dad's Aran, by the way - it was a pleasure to knit and I'm glad you all like it. I'm partial, myself. Just two days ago I was at my parents' house and he remarked that it was time he had another sweater.....hee hee!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Hating This - Not One Bit.

I must admit I'm proud of myself.

Men's Aran Pullover

Cast on: October 20, 2007
Bound off: December 7, 2007
Pattern: my own, using traditional cables
Tension: Variable depending on chart. Overall, about 22 stitches over 10 cm in pattern.
Yarn: 20 balls (2150 yards total) Elsebeth Lavold's Classic Al, 50% Baby Alpaca/50% Merino Wool. 109 yards per 50 g ball (I've got 30 m left over).
Yarn Source: Webs clearance
Yarn Cost: $69.80 USD, plus shipping
Finished Size: 50" chest, 28" long
Needle: 4mm and 4.5mm Clover Takumi bamboo circular
Techniques: Planning, charting, sketching the cables. Cabling without a cable needle.
  • Wow, this sucker grew. I swatched, reswatched, measured twice, washed, dressed, and did the math over and over - it still ended up a full 4 inches bigger than it was supposed to be. But that's okay.

  • It could be shorter. When my Dad gets it, I will offer to cut off the bottom, pick it up, and knit it down to shorten it. I think it's about 1-2 inches too long. Of course, he might like it as it is. We'll see.

  • This went way faster than St Brigid, despite the excessive cables. Probably because I didn't have to look at a chart EVER.

  • I think the yarn is my favourite of all time. Warm, soft, pretty colours, decent yardage, inexpensive (if you get it at Webs).

  • I knit a double-height collar, folded it to the inside, and sewed the live stitches to the base of the neck. It worked great - very flexible and stretchy because no cast-off edge.

  • The braided plaits eat yarn. But they are super stretchy and they look damn nice.
It turns out the work involved in doing a good job - planning obsessively, swatching extensively, blocking heavily, seaming carefully, foregoing other projects despite your suicidal boredom - is totally worth it.

By the way, this is Mr HalfSoledBoots, who asked that I preserve his anonymity. (Like we'd be looking at him anyway, right? Dude, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE KNITTING.)

Side front detail

This yarn really pops the texture, I must say. I can wholeheartedly recommend it for all your rib or cabling needs. It's smooshy until you block it, when it relaxes and develops a compelling, voluptuous drape. Very pettable.

Saddle shoulder

I like how the saddle shoulder turned out. The plait, with the purl valleys and the single knit stitch on either side, is striking.

I do love me some seaming.

I was a bit concerned how the sleeve seam would look, with vertical moss meeting horizontal moss, but I needn't have worried.

Side seam goodness.

Speaking of seaming moss, can I just draw your attention to the side seam? Because IT'S AWESOME.

Can't keep my lens off of you.

I made a little tag, with care instructions and a dark red wax seal, and pinned it to the back neck. One doesn't want to fall on the last fence - presentation is important.

Don't worry - Dad doesn't read the blog.

This has been fun. Next year, I think I'll make one for my mum.

I won't be at the computer til Monday, but leave me a comment, okay? I'm off to Victoria for a night with Mum. A bit of shopping, a bit of dining out - I'm definitely in the mood to celebrate. I'll be going about the city in a happy glow, thinking fondly of the finished sweater, and planning my next FO post.........

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Samhain Cap

Get a load of me, eh? Posting like a mad thing. (Maybe that has something to do with my losing eight bloglines subscribers yesterday . They are tired of listening to me. Either that or the egg-drink post finished them off.)

But, a finished object!

Samhain Cap
Yarn: Berroco Foliage 53% wool, 47% acrylic, in Cinnabar
Needle: 5mm bamboo circular, magic loop method
Tension: 4 sts/inch, give or take (it's a thick and thin yarn)
Cast On: December 3, 2007
Bound Off: December 4, 2007
Modifications: None.
Notes: The hat could be longer. It's a true beanie, sitting well back of the hairline (except on my six-year-old, which is why I used her as a model). The hat is very stretchy though, and I plan to thread a narrow elastic through the lower edge to help hold it on. I think that'll fix it right up.

Samhain, in the Celtic calendar, refers to the first few nights of November. There is a festival held on those days, to mark the beginning of winter: the "dark time". I thought it was an apt name for a warm, snuggly hat with a celtic cable, knit in a cinnabar-coloured yarn called "Foliage".

Thanks again to Jo of Wild Peculiar Joy, for the yarn giveaway. I still have one ball left and it will become wristers after Christmas.
PS: I do have one other FO.......but I need a model to do it justice. Here's a hint.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ghost of Christmas Past Probably Died of Salmonella Poisoning.

I got an email request today for help with a Wassail recipe. I have quite a collection of these, and in perusing them for this friend-of-a-friend, I found some seriously strange and wonderful holiday libations. This one is from my 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, which vaunts itself on the flyleaf thusly:

The Savoy Cocktail Book
Being a
compendium of
Egg Noggs
Tom Collins
Juleps, Shrubs
Frappe, Fixes and Cups.

Now that....THAT sounds promising.

So, without further ado,

Tom and Jerry Punch
Thoroughly beat up yolks of 12 eggs.
Thoroughly beat up whites of 12 eggs.
Thoroughly mix the two together adding
1 tablespoonful of
powdered sugar to each egg.

Thoroughly mix the three ingredients together. Use large punch bowl. Keep stirring so that sugar will not settle on bottom of bowl. Use medium-size stem glass, china mug with handle or small tea-cup. Put a tablespoonsful [sic] of batter in each cup. Add 1/2 measure Brandy and 1/2 measure Rum. Fill with absolutely boiling water. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Serve with spoon.

So, who's coming over?! Tom and Jerries, my place, Friday night. Complimentary trip to the ER early Saturday morning - we'll rent a van.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Breathe In The Knit

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 1, Number 1

Some time ago, I got Fiona Ellis' new book, "Inspired Fair Isle Knits". I've been perusing it on and off for a couple of months, trying to decide what I think about it. It's an admirably presented volume, with arresting photographs and an interesting premise. There has been a fair bit of buzz about it since its release this fall, so I won't drone on and on about her approach (this book, like others, is inspired by nature).

The designs are nice. REALLY nice. Flipping through, there are several that caught my eye and begged to be added to my mental queue. My favourite is probably "Glowing", which is in the "Fire" chapter, and is knitted from 7 different colours of Mission Falls 1824 wool. For my size (44") I'd need to buy 28 balls, and I don't have a spare $170, so I won't knit that soon. But if I had some 1824 stashed, I would definitely modify the pattern so I could use the colours I had. It's beautiful - a raglan hoodie in a rich raspberry colour with bands of colourwork in plum, orange, teal, cerise and pistachio. The bands are striking: designed to evoke flames, they succeed surprisingly well considering their simplicity.

Another one from the "Fire" chapter is "Sunkissed". This cotton halter is so pretty I almost considered dieting to look good in it. Actually what I'd need is more along the lines of reduction surgery, so as it is, I'd rather just knit it for someone else - someone whose bra straps can reasonably be expected to be less than 1" wide. The design is so rich - the lower edge is knit primarily in umber, with bits of red and orange here and there. As the top progresses up toward the straps, the colours lighten and brighten, with bands of orange, peach, amber and gold. The intro to this design says the colours are placed to mirror the beauty and glow of the setting sun. GORGEOUS. My only problem with this design is, it's knit in 100% mercerized cotton. I personally like to know I've got the blocking magic on my side, to relax and bloom the wool, and to even out any little tension issues. I'd knit this, but not as a first "Fair Isle" project. The frustration of stranded knitting with mercerized cotton would take away a lot of my enjoyment.

This brings me to the main issue I had with this book, on first glance. I am not convinced that the title is particularly apt - I feel that in order for something to be called "Fair Isle" knitting, it should involve animal fibre, a fairly fine gauge, and geometric, repeating patterns. The designs in this book are stranded, to be sure, but I am not sure they qualify as true "Fair Isle". There are a few designs, such as "Crystal", which is subtitled as "Classic Fair Isle Turtleneck", that conform to what I would list the rules to be. This design is in the "Water" chapter, and contains Nordic snowflakes with simplified peerie bands and seeding. However, even here Ellis has thrown a twist into the design by vertically offsetting the snowflake band partway across the sweater. It's not quite a half-drop - maybe a quarter-drop? Anyway, the overall effect is kind of..... well...... it's kind of scroogiewye*. Know what I mean? It sort of sproings my brain a bit. It assaults my optic nerve. I'll show you.

*"Scroogiewye" is a technical term. You might not be familiar with it.

Despite my reservations about the application of the word "Fair Isle" to these designs, I understand what she intends by it. This is the tried and true approach of "a twist on a classic" - modernizing tradition to hopefully introduce it to a new generation of knitters. These knitters might not ever consider undertaking a traditionally coloured, traditionally shaped, fine-gauge, scratchy woollen Fair Isle design, but they'll find themselves drawn to the vibrant, soft, heavier yarns featured in this volume, as well as the simpler, bolder, edgier colour patterns. For someone looking for a first colourwork project, there are lots of ideas and eyecatching designs here. Many garments have the stranded bits confined to bands and edgings, making it easy to impressively showcase a relatively small amount of work.

One really well-thought-out feature of this book is a little two-page spread at the back. These two pages are the book at a glance, with thumbnail pictures of each design, along with the design name and the yarn it calls for. It's a GREAT idea - makes yarn shopping and substitutions much easier, and it's a handy place to go when you can't recall where to find a garment you liked.

All in all, I'm happy to have this book. It's got some downright cool stuff in it. There's the Petroglyph pillow, knit in 50% hemp, 50% wool, with stone-coloured cave-art designs on each of the four quadrants. There's "Spindrift", a beautiful cotton/rayon tank with a lacy scalloped border and pretty, crocheted ties.

And I think I've decided which design I'd like to make first. In the "Air" chapter, there is "Drifting". It's the cutest toddler pullover in superwash merino - plum on the bottom, purple on top, with a charming, almost butterfly-shaped stranded band between. The model shown has the sweetest little butterfly buttons proceeding up both front raglan seams. This sweater would make a great baby gift, especially since much of it could probably be knit from ball ends. Sizes run from 12 months to 3 years, requiring 8-9 balls of DK wool. I've got a friend whose baby girl will be nine months old this winter - I think with a little judicious sleeve-rolling, the 18-month size will work from now til her second birthday. Just as soon as the Christmas knitting is finished, I'll pull this book out again and start the sweater...I think it'll be beautiful.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits
by Fiona Ellis
Design Breakdown:
Children's - 1 toddler pullover, 1 kids' zippered cardigan
Women's - 3 tops, 6 pullovers, 2 cardigans
Men's/Unisex - 3 pullovers
Accessories - 1 wrap, 1 scarf, 1 pillow, 1 felted bag

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ms. Potato Head

This "massive snowfall as November turns to December" is becoming quite a tradition.
But the bear tracks in the driveway were new.
The most convenient snack EVER.

Shame it's a dying art.

Christmas Thank Yous
by Mick Gowar

Dear Auntie
Oh, what a nice jumper
I've always adored powder blue
and fancy you thinking of
orange and pink
for the stripes
how clever of you!

Dear Uncle
The soap is terrific
so useful and such a kind thought
and how did you guess that
I'd just used the last of
the soap that last Christmas brought?

Dear Gran
Many thanks for the hankies
Now I really can't wait for the 'flu
and the daisies embroidered
in red round the "M"
for Michael
how thoughtful of you!

Dear Cousin
What socks!
and the same sort you wear
so you must be
the last word in style
and I'm certain you're right that the
luminous green
will make me stand out a mile.

Dear Sister
I quite understand your concern
it's a risk sending jam in the post
But I think I've pulled out
all the big bits of glass
so it won't taste too sharp
spread on toast

Dear Grandad
Don't fret
I'm delighted
So don't think your gift will offend
I'm not at all hurt
that you gave up this year
and just sent me a fiver to spend.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Eye of the Storm

This is the first week of Advent. It's my favourite season - contemplative, peaceful, warm, happy. There's a lot of hope about it, and an undercurrent of sadness...after all, Easter is only a few months away.

In the weeks leading up to the Nativity, I tend to fall into a rhythm of mental preparation. There's a certain schedule that needs to be kept in order to fit everything in. One doesn't want to get to December 23 and realize she hasn't made the cookies she's had every year since she was a toddler, or hasn't yet watched her roster of required holiday viewing.

Most important of all, one doesn't want to realize she hasn't given herself time. It can be hard to find at this time of year, with frantically excited children, long lists showing little progress, and "holy-crap-I-need-to-do-8-to-10-repeats-per-day". But I need time to be alone, to be at peace, to reflect on my history.

I'd like to take the blog along on my Advent journey. It won't be too involved - I haven't had a great deal of time lately to post, so I'll be putting up things like a cookie recipe every week, and maybe a poem or two. One thing I'd like to do in the next year is structure the blog a bit more, so that certain things will happen on certain days. I think this is a nice way to start.

By the way - notice it's St. Nicholas' Day? Megan, you must be so proud of me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Might as Well Tell You What's Burning my Brain

Today the final clue in the Quest for the Ice Fox was released.

I haven't mentioned it again after the first time, but I have been following the game keenly, honing my skills and sharpening my instinct.....and now I am keen, honed and sharpened into a massive case of nerves. You should have seen me last night, sitting awake until 2:00 AM (when the clue was due to be released), nauseated and shaking, sweaty palms and all.

The clue was posted just a moment before 2:00 AM. I tell you, I have never been so tense as those few seconds, trying to steady my hand enough to type in the latitudes and longitudes. This was the clue as posted:

Clue Eight - Nuns and Habits

The Quest for the Ice Fox. Near Limehouse, upon The Frozen Thames.

51.507048 latitude

-0.032623 longitude

Latitude Clue

To move north along the latitude to the eighth sighting of the fox, add 5052 to the year The Pagoda in Kew Gardens was built. Then divide by a million and add the result to the source latitude.

Longitude Clue

To move west along the longitude to the eighth sighting of the fox, multiply 10167 by two times the number of Henry Moore’s standing figures in Battersea Park. Then divide by a million and add the result to the source longitude. The place upon which you land will help you solve this cryptic clue:

For whom the bell tolls, in a manner of speaking.

The one-word plural answer is your key to this cipher:


And that cipher reveals a two digit number you will need to solve the final puzzle of the Quest for the Ice Fox. Collect these numbers to determine the final destination of our wily, frigid friend.

=======The End Game, at Last!

Congratulations: if you’ve solved all the clues, you should now have a collection of eight two digit numbers, one for each clue solution. Those numbers, as promised, are your keys to finding the spot where the fox finally weighed anchor. Here’s how. Each two digit number is a part of either the latitude or longitude of the fox’s final destination. You put them together like this:

Latitude: C3.C6C5C1

Longitude: -C7.C2C8C4

Got the solution? Great!

Okay. First of all, it's not as bad as it looks. Break it down, it's just a matter of simple steps. The problem wasn't in the solving, it was in the racing - first person to email the correct answer to McClelland and Stewart wins round-trip airfare for two to London in the form of a AmEx travel voucher.

I really felt like I was on my mettle in this game. There was no list of who was playing, but I knew there were about 150 people in the Facebook group, which was the centre of the game. Of those, only a few of us were regularly posting on the discussion board, but that doesn't mean only a few of us were actually working the clues. And of those few of us, two that I knew of were professional geocachers. People who do this for a living.

Anyway, I know you're just dying to know how long it took me to do the was a little under ten minutes. Did I win? I don't know. Ten minutes sounds pretty good - and it felt great - but I did make a little mistake in my entry email. I still can't believe it but I was in such a hurry to send in my answer that I fired off the email before realizing it was supposed to include my snail mail address. When I DID realize it, I seriously felt like all the blood was draining from my body through my feet. Paper white, from the face down. See, you only get one entry, and if you enter more than once they disqualify you.

I did risk sending a second email right after the first, with my address and an apology for missing it, but without repeating the GPS coordinates lest they thought I was trying another entry.

There has been nothing but silence on the part of the contest coordinators today, so I have no clue where I stand. I'm thinking ten minutes would be pretty hard to beat, but I might have bollocksed it up with the non-regulation entry email.

The good news is, it's okay if I didn't win. I mean, I worked really hard for this game, sweating out eight clues over two months' time, but what I liked best about it was discovering that I could do it, you know? That what seemed, at first, to be a bafflingly complex game was in fact well within my capabilities. So the trip to London would be a nice bonus, but just taking part in the Quest for the Ice Fox was absolutely brilliant.

I'll let you know what happens.

Edit: Okay, I didn't win the trip. I DID get one of the runner-up prizes, but.....well, I admit I'm disappointed. On the other hand, if someone beat my time of 10 minutes? they totally deserve to go to London in my stead. Now I'm consoling myself by choosing from the McClelland Stewart catalogue.