Monday, May 28, 2007

'Cause I love my guitar*

Live music just does it for me. The only thing better than seeing one of your favorite acts playing an all-stops-out show is seeing one of your favorite acts playing an all-stops-out show with great friends. I've made some of my most favorite memories in just such circumstances and got a chance to wax nostalgic about a few of them this past weekend with a friend I hardly see anymore. During this great conversation we were having, he and I both agreed that being surprised by an unknown opening act or seeing an impromptu performance can be just as exhilerating and gratifying (and sometimes moreso) as the big anticipated concert. Case in point. One of the best guitarists I've ever heard was a busker on the corner of North Michigan Ave and Monroe in Chicago. I stood in the cold for 20 minutes just to hear him play and he never missed a beat, despite the bitter March wind that was whipping off the Lake that afternoon.

This line of thought reminded me of a website I stumbled onto a few weeks ago -- a French blog called La Blogothèque that is dedicated to capturing what they call "Takeaway Shows" to film and releasing them on the web. Essentially they contact bands/musicians who are touring through Paris, and then follow them around the city as they perform a few songs for whomever they happen across. There are some really great bands that have been a part of this little phenomenon (The Arcade Fire entry is both chaotic and fascinating; Andrew Bird's is understated and charming; Sufjan Stevens' is quirky and dizzying.), but far and away, my favorite is The Shins.

Click below for 23 minutes of truly great music. It's worth it to go back to read the text at the link above, as well.

I wonder if the French folks who heard The Shins playing that day had any idea what they were witnessing?

This video captures why I chose to learn to play the guitar over the piano. The portability, as well as the range and versatility of the instrument make it ideal for the kind of music I like to make. I'm reminded of what I love about guitar, even this morning when the fingers of my left hand are raw from too much playing yesterday.

For me, with summer always comes the thought of lightening up and eating lovely fresh produce from the Farmer's Market and friends' gardens. This year, I've jumped headlong into the adventure of caring for a wee garden of my own -- a risky prospect given that I have had, in the past, a terrifically black thumb. No matter! We're going with "the triumph of hope over experience" perspective here. And to that end, I've turned my back deck into what is at the moment a lush and verdant container garden, with overflowing pots of basil, oregano, mint, thyme, rosemary and such. A few tomato plants and some jalepenos have made their way into the mix, as well as some flowers and coleus. It's really lovely. I find myself feeling oddly excited about harvesting my own tomatoes in the coming months, if I can manage to keep them alive in the interim.

So in anticipation of my future tomato bounty and upon requests for it, I'm going to share my favorite summer pasta recipe here. It's quick, easy and light (only 335 cals and 9.8 g of fat per serving) but best, tastes divine and is improved even more by a nice salad, a glass of crisp wine and good company, shared al fresco.

Greek Spaghetti with tomatoes and feta

2 teaspoons olive oil
Small bunch (1/8 c) fresh oregano, chopped roughly
Small bunch (1/8 c) fresh basil, chiffonaded
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 c. diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 c. sliced green onion
1/4 c. choppped fresh parsley, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 c. hot cooked thin spaghetti (cooked in lightly salted water)
1 c. (4 oz) crumbled feta cheese, divided
Freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oregano, basil and garlic; sauté 30 seconds (don't let this go too long else you'll scorch the garlic and it will taste bitter). Add tomato, onion, 2 tablespoons parsley, and juice. Cook 2 minutes or until heated.

Combine tomato mixture, spaghetti and 3/4 c. cheese; toss gently. Top with remaining cheese and parsley and sprinkle with pepper.

Yield: 4 servings (Serving size: 1 1/4 c.)


I'd like to see you out one night
Dressed up like a race car driver
You'd push the engine all the way
Then I know I'd love you
But if I see you out somewhere
You might think that I don't care
'Cause I love my guitar
I love my guitar
We always stay up late at night
Up in my bedroom
Sometimes we get carried away
Banging the wall, banging the floor
Burning both ends of the midnight oil

-- Jump, Little Children "My Guitar" (Magazine)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

But you're the light on my shoulder*

Well, it's been a busy start of summer, and here again, I find myself in a state of not having blogged in ages.

There's been knitting, of course, in the last few weeks, but I've spent a fair bit of my free time playing my guitar, Stella. Stella is a G-series Takamine which I was gifted for my birthday last July. She's a beautiful instrument with a lovely warm sound and great sustain, but after nearly a year of piddling around with her, I'm still quite a mediocre guitarist. Well, that's not really fair; I'm still learning is all, but the net result has been that no one outside of my immediate family has yet heard me play. I'm a confident vocalist, and was at one time quite accomplished, so I'm not used to struggling musically. Adding an instrument has been a great challenge, but one that's loads of fun. Most importantly -- and this was the reason I wanted a guitar in the first place -- it's gotten me to sing more frequently.

So why all the practicing lately? I have a batch of friends who will be getting married in the next year or so (don't they always seem to come in waves?) and I've already been asked to sing and play for three of these weddings. So, I've been excitedly learning new songs and getting used to the idea of playing in front of audiences of a few hundred people. One song I've chosen is Susie Suh's "Light on My Shoulder." I love this piece so much. It's very simple and unpretentious, sentimental but not cloying. The lyrics are a bit spare and perhaps predictable, but somehow it seems to really work with the melody. I've not yet mastered the fingerpicking, but I've made the vocals my own, and I think it's going to come together very nicely.

The second song I've learned is Leslie Feist's "The Park." This one is even simpler to play: just three chords with minimal fingerpicking. My picking is not perfect yet, but I managed to get the pulloffs to sound quite nice as of this evening. Rather than the guitar, it was the similarity of Feist's voice to my own and a friend's (very correct) suggestion that I would love the song that originally attracted me to "The Park." I might tweak the somber lyrics on this one to make it more wedding-worthy, but it's a beautiful melody and will play to my strengths to good effect, I think.

Now the challenge is to knit something beautiful to wear to these weddings that will stay on as I strum. Maybe an elongated Clapotis...

Broadripple Socks: one complete, the second at about the 2/3 mark. Should be able to finish these this week sometime. I'm very happy with how they are turning out! The colors have pooled a bit, but I so love the combination of this colorway and pattern that it's not bothering me too much. I think my sister will adore them and can't wait to see her face when she opens the package. I think I'll wait to surprise her until we're around the fire with marshmallows in hand.

It's really hard to photograph socks when they are on your own feet. I'll get some better shots of them on my sis's feet in a few weeks.

The toe:

A little (unfocused) leg detail:

My weekend has been great. I went to a friend's house for game night with the girls on Friday... which involved the consumption of some of the best brownies I've made in ages and then devolved into fits of laughter and ultimately a broken dining room table. No irreparable harm was done (aside the ruined table) and our hostess was thrilled to be able to go buy a new dining set. Saturday, I joined a big group of friends in congratulating a favorite twosome from our gang on the happy occasion of their engagement! Lots of dancing around to 80s music... lots of silly toasts... lots of great food in even better company. And today, we took a boat outing with a small clutch of friends and enjoyed a fabulous dinner of grilled pork loin with my marbled mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus. The whole weekend was very chill and precisely what we all needed.

Some fun moments:

More soon. I hope these few electrons find you all happy and healthy.

It's easier to fall and harder to stand.
It's easier to cry and harder to laugh.
And I don’t know how, I don’t know why
But you’re the light on my shoulder
When I'm tired.
It's easier to run and harder to be still.
It's easier to think and harder to feel.
And I don’t know how, I don’t know why
But you’re the light on my shoulder
When I'm tired.
It's easier to hide and harder to trust.
It's easier to hate and harder to love.
And I don’t know how, I don’t know anything
But you’re the temper in my voice
When I sing.

- Susie Suh "Light on My Shoulder" (Susie Suh)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind

Preface: I should have realized this blog had no prayer of staying "just a knitblog."

My sleep has been a trainwreck the last week and a half or so -- partly because of the 71 page monstrosity and partly because of a fight and partly because of a string of really vivid, distressing dreams. I won't dissect the dreams here (In truth, it always amazes me when people talk about their dreams openly on the internet -- feels a bit like uploading one's unconscious for all to sift through. No thanks.), but the most disturbing one involved my being tied to a huge tree and attacked by an army of poisonous snakes. Oh, font of neverending joy.

So what do you do when you can't sleep and you're hungover from excessive caffeine consumption, writing into the wee hours and feeling frustrated that the one knitting project you want to be working on (Icarus) is feeling impossible? Crank the tunes and cast on a sock, of course! Well, this one was prompted by the epic phone conversation I had with my little sister on Saturday. As sisters are wont to do, she made me feel about 6000% better, so I decided to take she-whose-feet-are-eternally-icy a pair of handknit wool socks as a surprise next month. Enter Broadripple. Isn't this yarn (above) just precious? It's KnitPicks Memories in S'mores, which happen to be one of sis and my most favoritest treats ever. I love this pattern too: slightly lacy, easy to memorize, works up fast. It just works on so many levels. I hope she loves them, but I really wouldn't mind if she doesn't, because I'll just keep them for myself. Bonus on sockknitting for her: our feet are almost exactly the same size (mine are shorter, but hers are narrower). ;)

“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem.” -- Rollo May

I've really never considered myself to be "crafty." I can't really explain why, but I think I just have a negative association of myself to that word. I think somewhere along the line, someone I respected must have equated "craft" with idleness and wasted energies, and the (preposterous) notion got stuck in my brain that one must avoid such things. But nonetheless, I've always liked to create things. When I was told in the eighth grade that I had to take either a woodshop class (no way) or "personal living skills" (e.g. home ec), I was mad that those were my only options. I wanted to take another science class or maybe drama, but not cooking and sewing! I think I probably scowled for a week straight, but ended up absolutely loving the class. So much so, in fact, that in ninth grade, I took both the advanced cooking and sewing courses. It's funny to me that now, as an adult, those kinds of things are among my favorite things to do.

My friends from undergrad call me MiniMartha (of the Stewart variety) for my knack of pulling together parties "out of nothing" -- like a MacGuyver of Entertaining or some such thing. There's a good reason I've been Maid or Matron of Honor in nine weddings. Well firstly, I have great girlfriends who've really honored me by asking me to stand beside them on their wedding days, but I think they also know that I'll do all the bridal things well. I tend to go all out. So, for whatever reason (most likely offender? the half decade I've spent doing little aside from grad school), I've been flying my Crafty flag a lot lately. It was beyond time to redress the deficit, friends.

Other than knitting, I've also beaded a few things in the last few months. My favorite is the amethyst and pearl fob I made for my embroidery scissors. Now, no matter how far they've slipped to the bottom of my knitting bag, I can dig them out in a snap.

I whipped up a few (dozen) stitchmarkers, too.

Hmmm, maybe I'll find some cool beads and make mi hermana a pair of earrings too. She's worth it.

Before I go back to struggling with Icarus and the ridiculously beautiful, but ridiculously fine yarn I've chosen to work with, I have finished objects that keep slipping my mind to photograph, most likely because they've been on my feet since I finished weaving in all the ends. I present... le fong du moi! Erm, but look past my swollen, allergic toesies and my less than perfect pedicure.

Pattern: Fong! by the inimitable Kathy.
Yarn: Regia Cotton Color #5408
Needles: Size 1 Clover Bamboo DPNs. When I make another pair of these, I'm gonna use 0s I think. My finished Fongi are a little loose, but they work beautifully and I love them to bits.
Mods: I added a single garter stitch on either side of the... flossy part, which I also knit in reverse stockinette so the curl would match the curve of my... toe cleft. Okay, I feel horribly dirty writing about this. Is it just me?

"I will be the answer at the end of the line
I will be there for you while you take the time
In the burning of uncertainty, I will be your solid ground
I will hold the balance if you can't look down
If it takes my whole life, I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it, worth it in the end
‘Cause I can only tell you what I know, that I need you in my life
And when the stars have all gone out you'll still be burning so bright
Cast me gently into morning
For the night has been unkind."

-- Sarah McLachlan "Answer" (Afterglow)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

So I need some fine wine, and you, you need to be nicer

It's finally here! The yarn order I've been waiting on for over two weeks.

I'm normally a very patient person, but I've been itching to get this stuff in my hands since the moment I placed the order. You see, I could not begin my beautiful Icarus shawl until I received this package. And since it's a KnitAlong, I'm way behind! Oh well, it's probably for the best... a larger plan at work since I've been so busy this week that I couldn't have knit much on it anyway and having it around would have only enticed me horrendously.

But no matter! It's here now!

The complete haul:
- Five balls of beautiul luscious Peru DK Luxury in Imperial Purple (70% Fine merino, 20% alpaca, 10% silk). Mmmmmm, this stuff feels amazing.
- One hank of Lane Borgosesia Baruffa Cashwool in Plum Wine (100% extrafine merino laceweight). Also very very soft and yummy. The color is a little off in these photos. It's actually more purpley than it shows up here on my monitor.
- And lastly, three balls of stretchy Cascade Fixation in Calypso.

And after a spin on the swift, we're all balled up and ready to knit! Maybe I'll get some time later tonight to cast on.

And now, along with the beauteousness of my yarn, I present the sad, ugly spectacle of a very drunk David Hasselhoff being begged by his 16 year old daughter to stop drinking. What a sad, sad scene. This man needs professional help, yesterday. I hope he gets it and is able to get his act together. How embarrassed he must be to have had his daughter see him in this condition. I'm resisting the temptation to email this to a few people I know...

"So I need some fine wine, and you, you need to be nicer
For the good times and the bad times
That we'll have
Sometimes we talk over dinner like old friends
Till I go and kill the bottle,
I go off over any old thing,
Break your heart
and raise a glass or ten."

- The Cardigans "I Need Some Fine Wine, and You, You Need to be Nicer" (Super Extra Gravity)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Devil May Care

It's Lost night! I'm taking a break, curled up on the sofa with what I've come to call a Pomcranodka, recipe courtesy of Kathy, and writing this entry during commercials. Kath will be pleased to know that I even mixed my drink up with a wistful longing in my heart and a flippant devil-may-care attitude.

Today was boring and yet, productive. It was rainy and cool, so I opened a few strategic windows, lit some candles, locked myself in the study, blasted some Miles Davis, and wrote all afternoon.

... and tomorrow will be more of the same.

I heart Sayid!


At last, here's Mini Cooper (ha!), the new nephew. I snapped this picture the afternoon I met him, when he was two days old. All swaddled up with a full belly after dinner. Such a cutie.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cuz you've been gone exactly two weeks, two weeks and three days


Miz DiFranco has nailed it again. Over two weeks since my last blog post = unintentional radio silence. Radio? Well something. It's late. I've been wanting to post a new entry at least a half dozen times, but Blogger has been a pill -- I could log in, even leave comments, but not post a new entry.

So hi, hey there, hello! How are you?

My little angry bunny toy thing up there just about says it all for me lately. Last week, I got an unexpected email that's had me insanely busy ever since. In short (because if I go into too much detail, it will just hack me off again, and I'm really trying to be a big girl about this), I was told that the mammoth project which I should still have months yet to complete is due... by May 4th. So needless to say, I've been scrambling to work at getting that finished up and out for delivery ASAP. Any random prayers/good vibrations/thoughts you can spare my way would be super fantastic. I can't wait to just be finished with this and be on to the next.

Knitterly things, you ask? Those have been frustrated as well. I'm still working on Samantha's Dashings, but being that I cast on for them as soon as I bound off Tiffany's pair, let us just say, I'm bored. I feel stalled about halfway through the first one, but I'm hoping I can power through it this weekend and get them finished up.

I'm (impatiently) waiting for a my latest yarn order to be delivered so I can launch into my first foray with laceknitting. I'm participating in the International Icarus Along with darlings Kathy and Theresa. I'm afraid I'm hopelessly out of my league on this one, y'all, but I'm resolved to give it a solid effort. After all, it's just modified knits and purls with tiny, teeny yarn, right? The ladies keep reassuring me how doable this pattern is, but we'll see. One thing's fo sho, I'm gonna keep the Voodoo stuff far away from my yarn to avoid the hexation K's been messing with. Whew. :) But I digress. Back to my stash enhancement. I've got a few other bits of yarny goodness coming along with the gorgeous merino laceweight I chose for Icarus (Lane Borgosesia Baruffa Cashwool in Plum Wine) -- some Peru Luxury DK for a Clementine Shawlette for myself and a few balls of Cascade Fixation for giftknitting.

I cast on for a gift for another friend and even took it to a "Knit Out" my LYS hosted last weekend, but too much chatting and not enough paying-attention-to-what-I-was-doing means I'm gonna have to rip back 9 or 10 rows and fix two mistakes. I'm afraid I've got more projects on the needles right at the moment than I care to divulge. I seriously need to work on getting the FO:UFO ratio up a bit.

Ack. Enough griping. I don't want this blog to turn into Complaint Central. Pursuant to that end and in effort to turn the tone 'round on this entry, I offer the following Seven Items of Pure Joy and Delight:

1) First things first! Two dear friends of mine are making a documentary about music which I've had the complete joy and absolute privilege to be a small part of already. They've been shooting footage for this project since last November and are in the editing phase at this point, with the odd interview still to be captured. This week, they released a promotional trailer for the world to gawk and marvel at (I'll be the first to admit my bias, but I'm truly marveling over here). For those of you who know what I look like, watch carefully: I show up a few times in this.

The project's website is still in development (oy, another thing that needs my attention as soon as this paper is turned over), but check out the MySpace page for more information. The blogs posted there outline a lot about what's upcoming and who else is involved. Very exciting stuff, and I just can't stop grinning about any of it.

2) Harry Potter. Okay, I've seen all the films, but haven't taken the time to read the books until now. My goal is to finish all of them before the last book is released in July so that I can do the dorky stay-up-all-night-reading bit along with the rest of the world for once. I finished Sorcerer's Stone today in between writing sessions and started on Chamber of Secrets tonight when my fingers were nearly numb from typing. You think I'll make it by 7/21? :)

3) My dog is such a Mama's boy, it ain't even funny. I'm in intense love with my dog, as anyone who knows me even a bit will attest, but even I must concede, he's been extra precious the last few days. I think he knows I'm stressed and tired because he's not left my side when I'm at the house, and when I do have to leave, he whimpers at the door as I go. Adorable.

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4) Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight. I really love to cook, and this happens to be a favorite meal in our house. Turned out deliciously.

5) The Office Season 2 DVDs just arrived in the mail and are now waiting patiently for me to finish up everything so I can have a marathon viewing of them.

6) Ani DiFranco. In concert. With Todd Sickafoose. The day after my birthday. I shrieked when I found out I would be able to go. CANNOT wait.

7) Putting together packages to send out in the mail in the next week or two. I've got goodies going all around the world, yo! I adore sending little boxes of love!

There we have it. I'm sure there are many more, but I arbitrarily chose seven to start, so seven it shall be! I promise I'll take some pics of my Noro scarf tomorrow. It's been rainy and gray here the last couple of days -- to the point where it looks like I live in Seattle or something -- and every time I think of needing to snap a few, the light is super meh. And this yarn deserves some beautiful sunlight.

"Cuz you've been gone exactly two weeks
Two weeks and three days
And let's just say that things look different now
Different in so many ways
Cuz I used to be a superhero
No one could touch me
Yeah, not even myself
And you are like a phone booth
That I somehow stumbled into
And now look at me
I am just like everybody else"

- ani d "Superhero" (Dilate)