A Study in Subtlety – Stone Molly

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About a month ago, I saw a beautiful skein of Malabrigo Rios sitting in a basket in a yarn shop in New Orleans. (The Quarter Stitch in the French Quarter. And yes, before you ask, of course you should go. It is small and colorful and packed with amazing things and friendly, helpful people.)

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It was relatively unassuming. Just pale and brownish, a bit of a pastel rainbow going on. The color name listed is Piedras, spanish for “stones.” It reminds me of smooth river stones or collections of seashells. Items that seem drab and brown from far away but reveal rainbows of color on closer inspection.

Dan was skeptical, but I saw that it was going to knit up into something special. Something that would show off that hand-dyed splendor for which Malabrigo is known and coveted. However, it’s also some pricey stuff, so only one skein went home with me.

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While it was sitting on the swift, being wound, I noticed those beautiful rainbows even more.

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I mean, look at that! It’s not screaming out to be noticed, but it’s so pretty that I can’t even stand it. What do you do with only one skein of a yarn like that?

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If you guessed make a fabulous slouchy hat with lots o’ texture, you are right! Meet Stone Molly.

The pattern is Molly from the very talented Erin Ruth at knit me a song. I can’t pretend that the name didn’t draw me in, as this particular combination of colors plus pattern name makes me think of Molly Hooper from Sherlock. (Let’s all pretend that my post title didn’t give that away.) It doesn’t appear as though her blog is still up and running, which is a shame, because this hat is an engineering marvel.

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First off, you are working in two different stitch patterns that have two completely different row counts. The mistake ribbing (or waffle stitch, if you want to make yourself hungry while talking about your knitting) has a 3-row repeat. The cable has an 8-row repeat. Completely non-divisible and yet totally balanced. Genius.

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Secondly, the decreases in this hat are deliberately placed in order to interrupt the stitch patterns as little as possible. They only take place on knit rows so that the purl stitches in the ribbing track all the way up the crown. There are no attention-grabbing spirals or squares, just fields of purls and cable that inexplicably get smaller and dwindle towards the top. It would have never even occurred to me to do such things.

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Thirdly (and in my opinion, bestly), the cable pattern does not just unceremoniously cut off once the decreasing begins, which is something that happens often in lesser hat patterns. This cable subtly tapers down until it melts into the background, and when the hat is on, the effect is of a wide cable that evenly decreases all the way up to the top of the head. And also, just one cable element to be worn rakishly off to the side? Yes, please!

In order to make this hat with only one skein of Malabrigo Rios (which clocks in at a generous 210 yds., normally fantastic for a hat, but maybe not for one with so much texture and slouch), some modifications did have to be made, but I was sure to incorporate these as seamlessly as possible into the original pattern. I fought the good fight in trying to make the whole thing with just one skein, but I ran out of yarn with only 5 decrease rounds to go, and all that beauty was certainly not going to be sullied with the clumsy addition of another yarn for the top. I did some math, ripped things back out to the appropriate point, and soldiered on.

Now, in order to knit this as I did, you have to go and download the original pattern because it is so much genius, and you definitely want to support those designers that make these beautiful, elegant things, yes? Then take a look at my changes as follows:

The original pattern states, “Repeat Rnds (1-3) 18 times more.” Instead, I only did 15 repeats of the entire sequence, ending up with Row 2 instead of Row 3 of the cable pattern. This way, the ribbing section remains intact and only the cable crosses need to be moved around within the crown decrease section. I know this doesn’t make much sense without the pattern in front of you, but that’s why you went and downloaded it, right? Right.

Now for those decreases. Only some of the rows deviate, and this is only to offset the cable crosses so that they remain the correct proportions for the cable to decrease seamlessly into the crown. Here are the way that those rows should now read:

Row 5: P1, k12, p1, knit to end
Row 6: P1, C6F, C6B, p1, knit to end
Row 11: P1, k8, p1, knit to end
Row 12: P1, C4F, C4B, p1, knit to end
Row 15: P1, k8, p1, k2, (k2tog, k3) to last 4 sts, k2tog, k2
Row 16: P1, C4F, C4B, (p1, k1) to end
Row 19: P1, k4, (p1, k1) to end

And that’s it.

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The combination of all that texture and the subtle rainbow striping of the yarn results in a hat that looks like a rich coppery brown from afar, but reveals hidden rainbows of color close-up. Not to toot my own horn too much (but really, what else is blogging but that?) I feel like this was the perfect marriage of yarn and pattern, and I can’t wait for the fall so that I can wear it everywhere.

Kai-Mei (or…Dark Purple Socks Are Impossible to Photograph)

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I have had a skein of Mountain Colors Bearfoot in Mountain Twilight sitting around in my stash for at least 6 years now.

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It is, quite possibly, the most beautiful sock yarn in the entire world, and I was hoarding it for years simply because there were no patterns that justified its use. It’s a superwash wool, mohair, and nylon blend that you would swear had silk in it due to how soft and slippery and smooth it is. The color is the absolute darkest blues and purples imaginable, with little bits of magenta and gold streaks. You can understand why I wanted to wait. Instead, I would just occasionally take it out of its drawer and pat it admiringly, and then put it away with a bit of a sigh.

Recently, I attempted to make Cookie A.‘s Kai-Mei socks with Noro Taiyo, and the result was…a mess. The yarn was simply not right in any way, shape, or form for the delicate goings-on of Kai-Mei.

Mountain Colors, though? Perfection.

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Kai-Mei is a joy to knit, especially if you are a big sock-knitting nerd, like me. It has a wonderful little lace flower-heart-type motif that is not only asymmetrically placed, but also runs across the top of the sock diagonally due to a lovely bit of increasing and decreasing engineering ingenuity.

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I know that it doesn’t sound like much in words, but a whole bunch of knitters just thought that sounded totally awesome.

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This type of gusset decreasing results in a relatively normal-looking ribbed sock on one side…

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…and totally bad-ass diagonal lace on the other.

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Here’s Cookie A., stating it much more succinctly and poetically:

Shifting the gusset decreases to one side of the lace panel causes it to angle across the top of the foot, demonstrating that the path taken need not be traditional.

How do you not immediately mark that with a post-it with an exclamation mark on it and pledge your most precious skein of sock yarn to it? You are just compelled.

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This pattern is not without its tricky bits, though. Firstly, there is a whole lot of 3×3 ribbing that you have to get yourself through before you get to the exciting part.

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The heels are fairly standard as well, and you are so excited to do this diagonal lace thing that you just fly through it.

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And while you are knitting that awesome diagonal lace, you run up against a configuration like this. You have one needle with the standard amount of stitches, one with only a few that are consistently dwindling away, and one with a whole boatload that are getting difficult to navigate. If you’re doing the right sock, add in a stitch marker there, just to make things more interesting. It becomes like a weird little balancing act, trying to knit all of the stitches properly and follow the pattern while also avoiding dropping all of the stitches accidentally off of the tiny needle (which may have happened once when I decided to slide my stitches to the end of the needle with a little too much gusto) and piercing yourself in the hand with all of that extra needle that is sticking out at all sorts of odd angles. It’s very porcupine-y.

Why not just rearrange stitches, you ask? Well, the spaces between your needles are acting as your stitch markers, letting you know when you transition between thematic elements, so unless you want to add in several more stitch markers (you don’t), you suck it up and carry on to your triumphant end.

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One of the more entertaining parts of this process was blocking the socks once they were finished. As already established, this yarn is super dark. So dark that it looks like a different color in every single picture, I know. (The most accurate ones are probably the first one up top, and the one of the skein by itself. Everything else is a mishmash of electric blue and magenta.) It takes a lot of dye to make sock yarn that saturated.

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Meaning that my sink, which is already kind of a strange shade of pink, was looking pretty festive after the socks came out. Funnily enough, even though they left behind hot pink water, there was not a single mark on the towel that they were left on to dry. Must have some kind of magic, those Mountain Colors people.

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These socks, after their brief photoshoot and moment in the spotlight, are being sent along to a lady who really loves her purple, and I do not think she will be disappointed.

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I feel similarly after knitting these socks as I do after every knitting project that I would call “challenging” or one that introduces me to a new technique or construction method. I get so excited to knit them that I fly through them and sacrifice important things like vacuuming my house regularly in order to complete them. And then after that…I’m a little sad. I wish that I had gone a little bit slower and let them last a little longer, much like when reading the last chapter of a great book, you simultaneously need to know what happens next, but also are painfully aware that the end is coming.

Maybe that just means that I need to knit another pair.

Boring Can Be Beautiful – Plain Vanilla Taiyo Socks

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When Dan and I visited his family in New Hampshire around Christmastime, we made it a point to visit a wonderful little yarn shop in Littleton called the Yarn Garden where I picked up a skein of Noro Taiyo, not really having any other specific plans except “special socks just for meeeeee,” which is usually the plan every time I touch sock yarn of any kind.

For those of you that do not know the way of Noro yarns, you need to get yourself to an LYS (Local Yarn Shop, for the unfortunate non-knitters. We have a lot of acronyms in the knitter world.) and investigate this wonderful stuff. Noro is a Japanese yarn company, known for wildly inventive and unpredictable colorways, a thick-and-thin-slightly-splitty-and-charmingly-containing-vegetable-matter type of spinning style, unique fiber combinations, and a slightly elevated price tag. Things made with Noro yarns are often the most beautiful handknit objects in the world, and the projects that showcase the various ways that different knitters choose to highlight Noro’s beautiful color changes tend to become personal points of pride.

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Case in point, my Noro Kureyon scarf, hat, and gloves set, affectionately referred to as Phase Shift. I made these six years ago, and they are still my favorite things to wear in wintertime. Putting on your Noro hat and scarf is like sending out a beacon to other knitters because you can be sure that they will recognize Noro’s stripey glory and give you, at the very least, a knowing nod of approval. It’s like that way that people who own Jeeps always honk and wave at each other. Except sometimes we tend to stick a hand out and and grab each other’s handknit scarves and hats and sweaters and flip them inside-out. That’s when you really know you’ve found a kindred knitting spirit.

Back to these socks.

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I hemmed and hawed about what to do with this investment of a yarn for a long while, pouring over my sock books (yes, you have to have more than one), trying to think of what to do that would do justice to this crazy colorway.

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I mean, look at that turquoise! Out of nowhere. So bright against the grayed out teals and blues and buttercream.

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Stitch patterns were considered, swatches were made…even half of a sock in a beautiful Cookie A. pattern was knitted, but things were just not working out. The thick-and-thin nature of the yarn did not play well with fancy stitches, and the abrupt color changes obscured any type of vertical elements. So what to do?

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It became evident fairly quickly that plain and simple would be better, and I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Knitting Rules! by the Yarn Harlot herself, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Her pattern for A Good, Plain Sock is definitely something that every knitter out there needs to have in their arsenal. I’ve used it many, many times before (my Southwest Anklets and Stripey Anklets, just for reference), and what’s fantastic about the pattern, or recipe, which she calls it, is that it can be custom-tailored to a person’s foot or to an unusual yarn with relative ease.

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As a person with short, wide feet and very high arches, I really appreciate this style of pattern-writing. Once you’ve gotten your numbers down for your particular weirdly-shaped foot, custom making socks that fit perfectly is a simple affair.

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It turns that that super simple and boring 2×2 ribbing and plain stockinette is the best thing to show off all of the weird beauty of this yarn.

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The weird slubs and bits of cotton and silk, the sudden shifts of thick and thin, the random stripe sizes and color changes…the boring suddenly becomes beautiful. And, I’m happy to report, that even though this yarn is only 17% wool, it splices like a champ, which is a must when you’re dealing with self-striping yarns.

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The cats got themselves involved with the photoshoot, as well. It probably didn’t help that Dan was cutting the grass and making all sorts of sounds outside that needed to be investigated.

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And then Trip needed to see if he could walk on top of the mirror, just for fun.

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This cat is a menace. He won’t stop until he makes it to the top of the ceiling fan. And then the roof.

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After the frustration of the pattern deliberations and the mis-start, I am so happy that these came out so lovely. I even have quite a bit of yarn left over, and I’m debating what to do with the leftovers. Perhaps some sort of cowl-type thing? Or something paired with a solid to emphasize all that striping even more?

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I’m afraid that if I go on Ravelry to further investigate what people have done with their Noro sock yarn leftovers, I might walk away from the Internet with several more skeins of it on the way to my house. It’s probably best to wait and enjoy these beauties by themselves for the time being.

Frozen Yogurt for Breakfast

My birthday was about two weeks ago, and I wanted to be sure that I had something interesting and delicious to eat for breakfast on that special day.

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What? You don’t eat ice cream for breakfast? You should really sort out your priorities.

While I agree that it’s probably not the best practice for everyday life, birthdays are special days where general eating rules should be able to go out the window. Plus, it’s frozen yogurt, so let’s just pretend that makes it more acceptable.

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I had never made frozen yogurt before, but I knew that Jeni would be able to guide me through it with flying colors. Plus, I knew that I was going to have to draw on a reserve of patience that I normally do not have when it comes to frozen treats. Making frozen yogurt with a fruit sauce takes 2 solid afternoons worth of work, and you need to be fairly precise about what you’re doing.

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At first, I was considering just going with the plain lemon frozen yogurt, but when I saw this suggestion, I knew that blueberries had to become involved. Both recipes are from the first book: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and I have a feeling that I will not feel truly complete until I have made at least one batch of everything in it. Then, I’ll move on to the second book. Let’s hope there’s not a third because I might never find true ice-cream-related emotional fulfillment. (Just kidding. I would buy it immediately, if only for the opportunity to leaf through the pages and sigh wistfully.)

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The first step in making frozen yogurt? Draining yogurt. The first time I ever heard of this concept was in a post years ago from everybody likes sandwiches about this amazing-sounding orange yogurt. I have always kept this concept in the back of my mind, but never got the opportunity to practice it until this day. I have a feeling that my local grocery store employees would have looked at me funny if I asked them where they kept their cheesecloth (It is still a major moment of confusion for them when I pull out my own shopping bags. One step at a time.), so I decided to go with the coffee filter option, which seemed to work beautifully.

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That yogurt needs to drain for several hours, so overnight was the best option. Next? The blueberry sauce. I figured that making it during the day before was a good idea, although I wasn’t anticipating the delicious smell and the way that the idea of fresh blueberry sauce sitting in the refrigerator would taunt me the rest of the day.

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Blueberries and sugar get tossed together and heated up over the stove until the whole house smells like you’re baking blueberry muffins.

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Blueberry sauce might be the prettiest purple of all the purples.

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The draining yogurt and cooling blueberry sauce sit in the refrigerator for a day, waiting for their ultimate destiny.

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The next day, lemons take over your whole kitchen. You zest them into big long strips.

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You juice them up.

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You make lemon syrup.

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And then you boil up that zest with your milk and cream and sugar and all of the other white things in your kitchen.

Speaking of white things…

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How did that yogurt do? How much liquid can really be in there anyway?

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I think I actually gasped. This moment was on a par with the time that I finally got to squeeze out shredded zucchini. So much unexpected greenish liquid. It was weird. But again, so worth it. Getting rid of that extra stuff helps to make the frozen yogurt base incredibly silky and smooth, with as little incidence of ice crystals as possible.

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Check out my mise en place. I’m getting so much better at this.

After things are boiled up, the various whiskings begin.

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You whisk in cornstarch slurry. You whisk in cream cheese.

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You whisk in that lovely thick yogurt.

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You whisk in your homemade lemon syrup.

Your arm gets tired.

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You let things chill out. (You do some dishes now, because to wait until you’re finished has previously proven to be a bad idea.)

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You strain out those pesky lemon zests.

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You get this amazing silky concoction, that, if I were I lesser woman, I would have eaten straight from the bowl with a spoon like lemon curd without a care in the world. However, one of the few things that I am willing to sacrifice for is the prospect of having ice cream, so I kept that impulse in check.

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You spin it up, and then do some more dishes. It’s a good idea to make ice cream so that you have an excuse to do some dishes, really. Let’s keep telling ourselves that.

Then, the assembly begins. I think that I’ll just let this go by like a stop-motion movie. You guys know what’s up.

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Such pretty stuff, with all those alternating layers of the lightest yellow and deep purple.

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Seal it up, and let it go. That’s right. More waiting. At least four hours, or if you’re like me, until your birthday.

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And then again, if you’re like me, deny yourself the pleasure of digging right in on your birthday morning so that you can take pictures first because you are absolutely ridiculous.

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But this beauty needed to be documented. The lemon frozen yogurt is super smooth, tart, and bright, much lighter than its traditional lemon ice cream counterpart. The blueberry swirl is sweet and fresh, with the tiniest bit of iciness and chewiness from those whole berries. The whole things just screams summer. And when your birthday is on the first day of summer, could there be anything better?

Now get inside from that crazy heat and stand over a hot stove and make yourself some frozen yogurt. It’s totally worth it. And your dirty dishes will thank you for it.

Squirrel Updates? Well…

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First things first. A boy, and a girl, and a squirrel went on a road trip from New Orleans to Austin.

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The squirrel, we’ll affectionately call him Jeff (because that is his name), was a little confused.

He didn’t know that he was being transported over to his new future owner, the amazingly funny Mr. Eddie Izzard.

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“Who’s this guy?”…he seemed to say. He was about to find out.

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My brother and his fiancée gave us a wonderful experience to celebrate my birthday this year: tickets to see Eddie Izzard’s new show, Force Majeure. Jeff was packed up into a lavender tote bag and carted off to the show, where he got a fantastic seat.

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The squirrel’s perspective might leave a little too much to the imagination. Here:

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Just imagine a fabulous man in a fancy suit, complete with top hat and umbrella standing right in front of that and being incredibly funny. That’s what it was like. (We are good little rule-abiding audience members, and we didn’t do any illegal picture-taking or recording during the show, so this is as good as it gets.) Make sure you add in the fact that I was smiling so hard that my face hurt. And clapping. And giggling like a lunatic. And really appreciating how many times the name Jeff got dropped.

Now, we need to back up just a little bit. Upon arriving at the venue, I made sure to find a responsible- and kind-looking usher-type security person so that I could ask them the best way to make sure that Jeff the Squirrel got to Eddie Izzard. All of the ladies I spoke to were extremely kind as I got sent higher and higher up the ladder of responsibility. My final conversation took place with a lovely woman who told us that he would be conducting a Q&A session in the lobby about 15 minutes after the show, and that she figured that the best time to see if I could get it to him would be then. We thanked her profusely and then walked into the theatre to enjoy the show.

And enjoy it we did. The man does not disappoint. He even threw out a bunch of callbacks to older bits, particularly lots of references to the Death Star Canteen (click it up for Lego interpretation hilarity), much to my happiness. He is, quite possibly, the only man in the world who can make a whole theatre full of people laugh while talking about human sacrifice. And for that, I adore him.

After the show ended, the audience began to travel to the lobby and condensed around the stairs, much to my chagrin because I am a very short person. Everyone was extremely eager to get photos and videos of the Q&A session, probably because documentation was not allowed during the actual show.

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I was a little bit closer than this (Dan stayed off to the side in order to avoid the crush), but when you are not much taller than five feet, it’s very hard to make yourself noticed, even if you have a squirrel.

I had done my best on the days preceding the show to alert Mr. Izzard to the fact that I would be bringing him a handmade gift to the Austin show, but I didn’t receive any response, not really to my surprise.

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I am aware that most famous people with social media, especially extremely busy touring comedians who are also training for a marathon and preparing for a political career (Seriously. He is amazing.) probably do not do much of this for themselves. Either that, or they might not think that I am all that amusing, but I’d rather not think about that too much. All the same, I was hoping that he got the message and that it might have been slightly memorable enough to get through.

Unfortunately, it did not. I attempted to hold up Jeff in his lavender tote bag at every opportunity for question-asking, but was not really noticed, as far as I could tell. After the session was over, he was out of there fairly quickly, and I found my way over to the same super nice security-lady that I had spoken to before. However, this time, she handed Jeff the Squirrel off to a rather unsmiling man with an official-looking security headset. Even though he assured me that he would definitely pass him along, I got the feeling that there was yet another man in Austin who was not terribly amused by me or my handknit-animal shenanigans.

So Jeff went off into the ether, and I, ridiculously, had not enclosed any information with him as to my name or the name of my blog.

I know. I am terrible at self-promotion, apparently. I did send out another message into the Internet and directly to Eddie Izzard about Jeff’s fate, but I have not yet received any sort of response.

Cue the sad trombone.

That’s not to say that the whole trip ended up on such a blah note. Dan and I had a really great time, mostly stuffing all of Austin’s various food offerings into our faces, if my iPhone photos are any indication.

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Mexican food.

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Italian food. (I am such a sucker for anything with a completely obvious label, especially if it’s edible.)

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Argentinian food.

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Ice cream food. (I just typed ‘ice cream good’ on accident. This is the truth. Amy’s double chocolate chip with Reese’s peanut butter cups. I didn’t want to leave this place.)

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And some of the most delicious sushi ever set in front of me.

Plus, I made rice pudding for my brother and his fiancée…

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And assisted in harvesting some okra, which are now sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to pickle them. I am so excited.

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Can we talk for a second about how beautiful okra flowers are? I had no idea. I want to fill my whole backyard with this stuff.

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I also received another amazing present, my very first manicure and deluxe pedicure experience, from my brother’s fiancée. I had only ever gotten a manicure once before, during my freshman year in college, and the lady doing it pretty much spent the entire time yelling at me about the state of my cuticles, so we’re just going to say that it doesn’t count. I had such a wonderful time being pampered, because it is certainly not something that I would ever have thought to do for myself. Anyone else in the healthcare field knows how much nursing can tear up your hands, and I felt (and still do even later!) super special and suddenly very ladylike. I took the opportunity to show it off and admire the teal against my newest pair of socks (details to come later).

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So? The final verdict? I can only hope that Jeff made it to his final destination safe and sound with Eddie Izzard. If not, I hope he ended up with someone who thought he was cute and will take care of him and that he didn’t get thrown in the trash. I’m going to try my best to not let the uncertainty get to me, because it was such a lovely trip and a wonderful present to receive.

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I will definitely not let any of this experience change my mind about knitting tiny animals for people who mean a great deal to me, especially if they are famous people. I am aware that it is a strange thing to do, but I feel that there are way weirder things to be known for on the Internet. I can only hope that they get to their owners eventually.

Maybe next time.

Mr. Izzard, I Made You a Squirrel (or…Jeff the Squirrel)

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I love Eddie Izzard. I’m not sure when I saw or heard him perform for the first time, but it was love at first sight/listen. He is the funniest man alive. Everytime I hear someone say that they did something absolutely insane (or when I catch people sleeping in the big squishy chairs at the bookstore), I hear his “like you do” in my head in that wonderful lilt. I also hear his voice whenever I say the word “jam.” I offer “cake or death” at every opportunity. I like my coffee covered in beeeeees. I have declared that the mouse is under the table, the cat is on the chair, and the monkey is on the branch.

Those who aren’t in the know don’t realize that this stuff is hilarious. Story of my life.

Dan gets it, though. He even got me a birthday cake covered in beeeeees.

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See?

My brother also knows about my deep-seated love, and he surprised us with tickets to go and see him in Austin this weekend as my birthday present this year. I may have danced a little when he told me. More than a little. I then concocted a plan that seems extremely similar to a plan that I had last year around the same time: I would knit Eddie Izzard a squirrel and present it to him in some way at his show, just for him to have for no reason. Like you do.

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This little guy is named Jeff (obviously) after Jeff, the god of biscuits, Jeff Vader, Jeff Jeffty Jeff, and all of the other strange Jeffs that find their way into Mr. Izzard’s wonderful stories. (Oh my god, I just saw that they sell an “I’m Jeff Vader” t-shirt on his website. Waaaaaant.)

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He has been interrupted during his frantic acorn eating with distressing thoughts as to whether or not he left the gas on.

Fabulous.

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Twins, yes?

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The pattern for Jeff the Squirrel came from the adorably titled Knit One Squirrel Two by Rabbit Hole Knits, purveyor of all sorts of knitted cuteness. His acorn came from the Spiffy Little Acorn pattern by Revati Poole, also so tiny and adorable. (Ravelry links all, by the by.)

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I think that knitting and sewing on those teeny tiny little ears was my absolute favorite part.

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Making his slightly worried facial expression runs a close, close second.

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And that huge fluffy tail was a great deal of fun as well, even with the ridiculous amount of tiny knots and unwinding of yarn strands involved. The tutorial for this is located here. I had some trouble finding it at first on the main site, so I figured that anyone else who wanted to join in the fun shouldn’t have to waste time searching for it, too. All you need for it is a pipe cleaner and a good movie to watch while you make knots.

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Whenever I see this picture, all I can hear is, “That squirrel is looking at me,” in my best Brian Fellows voice.

This little guy was just a joy to work on, and I was more than a little sad to finish him up. However, I know that he’ll bring joy (or at the very least, delighted confusion) to an all-around fantastic person, which more than makes up for it.

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The only trouble is…how do you manage to give a squirrel to Eddie Izzard? With my David-Sedaris-owl-giving, there was a book signing involved, which made the whole hand-off of the adorable knitted item a lot easier. This is a whole different type of event, a stand-up show in a big theatre…I have no idea how to present him with his squirrel. Ideas have been tossed around like waiting out at the backstage door after the show, speaking to security guards and having them pass it along, passing it hand-over-hand (crowdsurfing the squirrel!) until it reaches the stage…All equally weird and seemingly likely to fail. I’m thinking that I might just send him a tweet linking to this post? I have no idea. I would like to just come off with as little of a hint of stalkerishness as possible.

All I want is for an awesome person to have a handmade gift. And how could you say no to this face?

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You’re right. You can’t.

The Summer So Far? Ice Cream and Muffins!

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Hello there. It’s been a while. I’m afraid that I have been reveling a tiny bit too much in the fact that my semester ended and doing some things that I don’t get a lot of chances to do. Like what, you ask?

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Sitting near lakes during lovely sunsets.

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Having lunch dates with my love. (At Dat Dog, of course. Overloaded hot dogs and Barq’s in the bottle should be the opener for every summer vacation.)

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Knitting a little squirrel for Eddie Izzard. Like you do. (Pattern is the hilariously titled Knit One Squirrel Two, by Rabbit Hole Knits, a lovely little bit of knitting that turns out some very strangely shaped little items. Don’t those tiny squirrel leg/haunches look like drumsticks? And the squirrel body? I can’t even get into that.)

We’re going to see Mr. Izzard in Austin at the end of June as a special birthday treat from my brother and his fiancee. I’m still wondering exactly how I am going to manage to give him a squirrel as I do not have any idea as to whether he is into the whole autograph-and-shaking-hands-with-fans situation after his shows. Anyone have any ideas short of me going on Twitter and telling him that I really want him to have this tiny squirrel, no strings attached? I’m pretty sure that I will be sent to awkward-Twitter-stalker jail for that one.

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Eating frozen yogurt out of cups that depict some sort of crazy dystopian mountains-vomiting-rainbows insanity.

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Listening to the charming words of Mr. Kai Ryssdal, (in person!) everybody’s favorite sassy business radio host.

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Reading Infinite Jest and giggling when I see references to children’s pictures books and M*A*S*H throughout, although I don’t think David Foster Wallace much cared for the antics of Hawkeye and Trapper John (I almost wrote B.J., but I’m pretty sure he was only into the early seasons).

Playing this game with Trip almost every single morning. He crouches in the corner now and waits for me to wake up so that I can get that sunbeam-iPhone-reflection going for him.

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Watching awesome bands and eating crawfish with wonderful friends. (And the Ghostwood even has a new 7″ out called Empty Cosmic Gloom that you should purchase so that you can get your fix of New Orleans pop punk goodness.)

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Causing my right thumb to go numb by X-Acto-ing tiny stencils of popular movie symbology so that I could tattoo them on small children. I do weird things for work sometimes.

Speaking of…

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Dressing up as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for our Summer Reading Kickoff party at work, where we all dressed as our favorite characters from novels (graphic novels included) that were later turned into films. Dan is responsible for the amazing goggles and war-hammer, and yes, you should be jealous of that fact. This was the first time where I ever got so into a costume that I would consider this ‘cosplaying,’ and it’s weird to think that my first time cosplaying happened on the clock at Barnes & Noble. I had some fairly extreme wig + goggles + tights + combat boots anxiety, but had an awesome time nonetheless. Especially after the event was over and I spent 3 hours at the information desk helping people, being the only person inexplicably in a costume in the entire store. I’m sure I confused some people. Except the people in the graphic novels aisle. I’m pretty sure that I delighted them.

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Making Jeni’s Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk Ice Cream, from her amazing first book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

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I didn’t get to eat much of it, as it was contributed to a work potluck in the break room, but it was some delicious stuff.

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It was a reason to actually go out and buy buttermilk, something that I do not normally do, even if a recipe tells me to.

Now I am in the situation where I have an awful lot of buttermilk that is going to go bad soon if I don’t use it up (How can you tell if buttermilk has turned, by the way? This is an important question.), so some baking just had to be done. Loaves of banana bread were mixed up and baked, but I still had more left over, so I turned to another old favorite.

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Pinch My Salt‘s delicious Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins were a great way to get up early this morning to use up that buttermilk, plus make my whole house smell like oranges, which is always a plus.

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Just one swipe on that grater, and it’s all over for me. I love oranges. I need a more emphatic word than love, but my hands still smell like oranges, and I’m too distracted and enchanted too care.

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Just lovely.

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The oranges are zested and juiced, and then combined with whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and some wonderful warm spices.

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I always like this moment right before I whisk together my dry ingredients, when you can see all the different colors and textures. It’s like sand art, in the best sense of the word.

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The wet ingredients are not nearly so attractive unmixed. Or mixed, frankly.

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But chunks of walnut make an appearance as well. I like to keep the chunks fairly large just to make these muffins as rustic and homey as possible.

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I’m going to pretend that that’s also the reason why I don’t smooth out the tops of my muffins, but laziness is probably also a factor in that.

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But look at that gorgeous cracked top! It’s so worth it. The tops of these muffins are sweet and have just the right amount of crunch. The bottoms are moist and orangey and buttery and full of whole wheatiness.

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You can even pretend that they’re still healthy when you dump a bunch of butter on them and enjoy them with some tea on a Friday morning. I have made these muffins countless times, but this is probably the first time with actual honest-to-goodness buttermilk, not fakey whole milk and vinegar kitchen hacks.

There’s only one problem. Even with all of this hearty buttermilk-based baking, I still somehow have buttermilk in my refrigerator. Apparently in Louisiana people must be drinking this stuff, because I can’t think of any reason why I had to buy a whole liter of this stuff. What on Earth am I going to do?

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Oh dear. Summer has only just begun. Someone ask me to make them an ice cream cake, quick.

Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. Need I say more?

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There were a few days last week when it really felt like spring here in New Orleans. Dare I even say summer? All I know is that I saw a lot of shorts and sandals for a little while, which got me thinking of ice cream. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of ice cream.

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The day that I ended up making ice cream, however, ended up being the day when a cold front swept through, dumping tons of freezing rain on all of those people in their shorts and sandals. I chose to soldier on, ignoring the weather and rejoicing in my tiny amount of free time.

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I ended up taking my own advice and toasting up some coconut to go into my coconut milk base. It was definitely the right way to go.

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I had made some brownies (the always delicious Moosewood Fudge Brownies, this time without the chocolate chips and with pecans instead of walnuts because there were no walnuts to be found in my house) earlier that week, and the last two brownies were just sitting there on the counter, feeling lonely. What else could I do but chop them up and throw them in there? It was just the right thing to do. Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream. I just couldn’t resist.

Toasted Coconut Brownie Ice Cream
adapted from the Hungry Mouse‘s 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 13 oz. cans of coconut milk (for some reason, the only ones I could find this time were 13.5 oz. each, but I don’t think it caused any problems)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut (or unsweetened, or flaked, whatever you want)
2 1/2 leftover brownies (Whatever your favorite brownie recipe is. You already know mine. I usually cut up my 8×8 baking dish into 9 pieces, so each square of brownie is somewhere around 2.5″ square.)

Directions:
Toast your coconut by spreading it in a thin layer on a baking sheet and putting it into a preheated 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Be sure to watch it closely and stir it often, because it browns up really quick. I only needed 5 1/2 minutes. Chop up 2 of your brownies into little brownie cubes, and then leave the 1/2 brownie to the side for crumbling.

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Dump your coconut milk (being sure to avoid spraying coconut milk all over yourself and the kitchen counter, like I did), sugar, and vanilla into a large food processor.

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Doesn’t that look a little bit like miso soup? It’s weird. Blend things up until they appear more presentable.

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Pour your coconut milk base into your prepared ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You’ll only have to process it for about 30-40 minutes total.

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Add the toasted coconut and crumble up that remaining 1/2 brownie piece into the ice cream base when you only have 10-15 minutes left to go on the processing so that they are well-distributed.

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While you’re waiting for the rest of the spinning time, put some brownie cubes in your waiting ice cream container. This is how Jeni makes her delicious chunky ice creams, so we are taking a page from her. She is a genius.

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When the ice cream is done spinning up, pour a little bit over those brownie pieces, and then put some more brownies on top.

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Repeat.

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Until there’s no more brownies or ice cream. I made sure to cover the entire thing with a layer of the coconut ice cream base so that the brownies were totally submerged, just to avoid those brownie chunks drying out. Cover the top of the ice cream with a piece of parchment paper and then put on that airtight lid. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 8 hours, but overnight is best.

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We did end up trying some that night, after 8 hours of freezing, and there was still a bit of graininess to the texture. However, this had completely disappeared by the next day. It’s definitely worth the wait.

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The sweetest of the coconut and the richness of the brownies and pecans work really well together, I believe. Dan declared this the best ice cream I’ve made so far. That’s saying something.

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Now if only the weather would cooperate.

Unexpected Comfort – Banana Bread and ASMR

We all find comfort in different places.

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Sometimes these places are easy to find. Sometimes all it takes is pulling out some frozen bananas that you have cleverly hoarded for this very occasion…

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…and letting them sit on your kitchen counter until they look really, really disgusting.

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Yep, totally gross. Ready to go.

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Still gross.

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Now we’re getting somewhere. You mash up those bananas and mix them up with various other kitchen items like butter and sugar…

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…eggs (to make it totally awesome and neon yellow)

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…vanilla and buttermilk…

(And let’s be honest, no one ever has buttermilk in their house. Just mix up a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with whole milk and pretend that you are on top of your life enough to have fresh buttermilk at all times.)

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…flour (both all-purpose and whole wheat, just so we can pretend it’s healthy), baking soda, and a little bit of salt.

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Grease up two loaf pans, and be pleased with just how clever you are by saving all of your butter wrappers for this specific purpose.

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And then realize that your house might have a bit of a butter problem, because this box of butter wrappers isn’t running out any time soon.

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Sprinkle those future banana breads with some oats, just so that we can pretend that they are healthy some more. Stick them in the oven and let that banana scent reassure you that the comfort is coming soon, especially on a rainy and cold day in the middle of April in New Orleans, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

Now, while that bakes, we’re going to take a little break to talk about comfort coming from totally unexpected places. About a year ago, I was listening to This American Life in my car, and I had a moment of such surreality that I had to pull over to finish listening to the show. It was an episode called “Tribes” (you can listen to it here), and the segment named “A Tribe Called Rest” pulled me out of my usual passive listening state and blew my damn mind.

Done listening to it yet? Good. As a middle-schooler, I loved watching painting shows on PBS more than anything else in the world. Bob Ross was an utter joy for me. His calm and lovely demeanor, combined with the scratchy sounds his paintbrushes made when he was tapping out some happy clouds, would give me the chills every single time. I would feel tingles run down the base of my skull into my neck, and for some reason in the backs of my knees, just hearing him talk. There was another woman I used to love as well, who wore lots of turquoise rings and painted her acrylics with lots of different weird mediums mixed in, like sand and other crazy textures. The sound of her palette knife scratching in those artfully rendered sand dunes, and her rings clicking together…I have the feeling that if you would’ve have walked by my room when I was watching this, you would have seen tiny-Jinger, sitting completely still on the very edge of her bed, eyes tilted up to the screen and glazed over with quiet joy. I was so into this that when I went to high school and the times for these shows changed, I set up my VCR to record them for me while I was at school, so that I didn’t have to miss them and their head-tingling goodness.

It’s probably getting a little awkward in here, so let’s check on that banana bread.

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Looking good. Right on track.

I started watching QVC and HSN soon after that, rigging up my old push-button TV with the UHF dial to catch the jewelry shows whenever I could. There was just something about the quiet reverence with which these people displayed and measured earrings with their tiny rulers that would keep me entranced for hours. My favorite memories of summer camp involve sitting in a circle and playing tracing games (where another person traces words on your back or sings a little song that involves tickling and trying to give the other person the chills…you ladies know exactly what I talking about) or braiding each other’s hair. I love going to get my hair cut, not because I care anything about the state of my hair usually, but because the tiny scissor sounds and personal attention give me tingles the entire time. I’m always a little let down when it’s over. My favorite movie scenes involve those of quiet intensity, where the person on screen is performing some sort of delicate or complicated task, and we get to watch it quietly.

Need examples?

 

 

Confused yet? If you didn’t listen to the episode, you might not realize that my life almost exactly parallels the one of the producer, Andrea Seigel, author and screenwriter and general all-around interesting lady. She too was entranced by painting shows and the Home Shopping Network, and goes in pursuit of attaining more “triggers” via YouTube, finding out that she loves watching makeup tutorials. I did the same exact thing. She had no idea that there was a whole community of people dedicated to this phenomenon, and neither did I. Turns out, it has a name. ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And it’s simultaneously awesome and really, really weird.

Immediately upon getting home that day from listening to that This American Life episode, I went in search of these ASMR videos and fell down a crazy YouTube rabbit hole (like everyone does) of people just like me. People speaking quietly and intently while folding napkins. Or leafing through books. Or practicing calligraphy. Or decoupaging coasters. Or pretty much anything else that you can think of. I discovered that, while I do not like going to the dentist in general, I absolutely cannot get enough of someone pretending to be my dental hygienist, speaking to me quietly and executing a complex series of maneuvers to make it sound like they are realistically cleaning my teeth. It sounds bizarre, I know, but these videos bring me comfort in a way that very other few things do.

I have always had an overactive brain. I would never claim that it was out of control in any way, but I have a very difficult time not hearing and internally commenting on everything that is going on around me. At night, I usually have to make myself fall asleep (I have come to think of it as “turning off my brain”) by reading until I find myself asleep with my face in my book somehow. I have a never-ending string of useless trivia winding itself around at all times of day, and most people have no idea unless they try to tell me something that I just know is incorrect, and it takes more self-awareness than I usually have to keep my mouth shut.

I tend to do everything fast. I tend to speed-read, not the skimming of information just to get the gist of something, but just reading incredibly fast, so much that I cannot share reading materials. I type fairly fast. I work out math in my head quickly. I usually only have to hear something once to remember it for far longer than I ever will need to. This type of ridiculous way of thinking usually doesn’t do much harm except in making me look like a smart-ass, but I really can’t help it. Baking and knitting are seriously some of the only things that I can do at a reasonable speed (and some people who watch me knit even accuse me of stitching too quickly), and they tend to bring me comfort in that fact that they remind me that I am physically capable of slowing down sometimes, and that when I do, good things usually happen.

Speaking of baking…

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Done! Let’s let them cool down a bit before we slice them up.

Even though I am not the type of person who dives obsessively into fandoms (yet), I have found another tremendous source of comfort in this community and this (it sounds weird to say it) way of life. ASMR is not just about sitting in front of the computer, listening to people make clicking noises (although, let’s be honest, that’s a lot of it). It’s also about slowing down and appreciating simple activities. It’s about finding pleasure in small things. It’s about breaking down a task that brings you joy and making it last as long as possible. It’s about treating yourself delicately and kindly. It’s about taking care of your brain.

Let me let Heather Feather, one of the greatest people making these videos, break it down for you:

That video right there has helped me to…not to fall asleep really, but to turn off the part of my brain that keeps me from relaxing like a normal person on more than one occasion. It’s fairly goofy, but it’s also kind and sweet and full of amazing creativity. Just like the rest of the ASMR community.

I didn’t think that I would ever post about this, or really ever tell anyone other than Dan, but last week, one of my clinical instructors apparently listened to the same episode of This American Life that I did and came away with a slightly different opinion on the matter. I’m not saying that what she said was…insulting, but she told our clinical group about ASMR in a way that started with something like, “You wouldn’t believe what some people do for stress relief. I heard something on the radio the other day about this weird thing where people like to listen to clicking sounds and people talking quietly on the computer, and that’s how they relax. Isn’t that bizarre?” Not exactly the most ringing endorsement. I took a cue from my totally amazing friends, both online and in real life, and decided to take control of the situation and love the things that I love out loud and not feel weird or shamed by it. I said, “Yeah, that’s ASMR, and I have it.” And I proceeded to relate much of what I have already typed to 7 pairs of very bewildered eyes. And it felt great. Not just owning up to it and defending something I love, but how I surprised myself in disclosing such information to a group of people that I have not known for very long.

Let’s slice up that bread, okay? It’s waited long enough.

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Want the recipe? Here we go.

—–

Simple Comfort Banana Bread
adapted from Ms. Betty‘s recipe, of course

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened (plus, don’t forget those butter wrappers for greasing up your loaf pans!)
4 large eggs
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 6 from the freezer, where everyone who can’t eat a whole bunch of bananas before they turn brown should be throwing them, right?)
1 cup buttermilk (again, who are we kidding with this? 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus enough whole milk to equal 1 cup works just fine)
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
old-fashioned oats, for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make sure that the oven rack is positioned so that the tops of the loaves are around the center of the oven, to ensure even heat distribution. Grease up your two loaf pans with your butter wrappers.

Mix softened butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and blend until well-mixed. Add the bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk all at once and mix until smooth. Then dump in both flours, the baking soda, and the salt and mix until just moistened.

Divide the batter evenly into your two loaf pans, and then sprinkle the tops with the oats. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the loaves to cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes to an hour before attempting to take them out of the pans. Run a butterknife along the outer edges first to ensure that the loaves are sufficiently loosened from the pan before flipping them out. Then, wait until they are fully cooled, at least 2 more hours, before slicing them up.

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You will make a mess.

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I usually slice these up into 12 pieces each, wrap them up in aluminum foil, and put them in the freezer so that they are ready for breakfast and lunch emergencies whenever.

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If you take one out of the freezer before you drive to school, it will be defrosted and perfect when you pull it out of your bag for lunch. It will make everyone jealous.

—–

So, why combine ASMR and banana bread?

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Maybe it’s just that I’m constantly reminded how much I need to slow down and enjoy life. That the best things in this world are the ones that we take the time to craft for ourselves and truly appreciate. That we all need to take a break and relax, and whether that involves sitting down to enjoy a slice of banana bread with a cup of tea or putting on your headphones to enjoy the fact that someone cared so much about you and your weird loves that they pretended to be your dentist or your spa technician or your travel agent or whatever…it’s your thing.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it’s dumb. It’s totally awesome, and so are you.

Mischief Managed

There is a special kind of joy in making something that you know that someone is going to love.

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My friend Bailee (introduced earlier on the blog by taking some super awesome pictures while I made pie) is the biggest Harry Potter fan that I have met. Possibly the biggest one ever.

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Those in the know now know that she is not messing around.

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She loves all of the best things in all of the best ways. I’m talking about that kind of unabashed, un-self-conscious, super-hardcore-fan love that gives artists a reason for making more beautiful art. She loves things out loud, and makes sure that everyone else knows about all of the awesome things that they might have missed out on because they were too busy trying to look cool and pretend that they wouldn’t really rather spend any day of their lives drinking wine and watching Sherlock instead of anything else.

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What do you give to someone like that?

Well, first, you know that accuracy is key. You do some research and you find the Harry Potter scarf pattern to end all Harry Potter scarf patterns, Atypically Knit’s Prisoner of Azkaban scarf.

This thing is a beast. 521 rounds of pure stripy stockinette wooliness. Plus casting on, then binding off. And weaving in all those ends!

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Not to mention all that fringe.

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This thing is an undertaking that is only worthy of the most deserving. Those people who will indulge you on your Tom Hiddleston obsession. Those people who will always take the time to listen to your problems and give you their respect by telling you theirs. Those people who know how to rock a crazy woolen scarf in New Orleans weather.

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Which sometimes means wearing it right next to a stone lion right where Brad Pitt sat on a park bench in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even if only the photographer loves that movie.

Down to brass tacks, then we’ll get back to the modeling, I promise.

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This was stitched up over countless hours in Brown Sheep’s Nature Spun Worsted (link is to Paradise Fibers, where I ordered this yarn and had a lovely yarn shopping experience, in general), a fantastic workhorse worsted wool, perfect for projects that need to look absolutely perfect and last for a good long time. It’s got some fantastic stitch definition, something you don’t often see in the 100% wool universe.

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I went with the colors Blue Knight and Gray Heather, trying to get the most accurate Ravenclaw scarf that I could. There’s plenty more suggestions for yarn types and colors in the pattern, but I think that these in particular look beautiful together.

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And can we talk about that fringe?

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I know that fringe can be a major pain sometimes, especially after you’ve done so much knitting and yet you are still not done. In order to get this fringe looking its best, I flat-blocked the whole scarf first, being sure to keep the stripe jog along one side seam. After it was dry, I attached the fringe one tiny bundle at a time to the open ends of the scarf, closing them up by working through both sides of the fabric. I feel like this left a much cleaner seam that would have resulted if I had chosen to sew things up first.  Then the fringe got steam-pressed and trimmed up a bit, just to make things more evened-out, but not too severe.

Back to the modeling? Yes!

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Mardi Gras is actually the perfect time of year for scarves, because the New Orleans weather just cannot figure itself out. It can be simultaneously windy, sunny, and freezing, all during the same 3 hours that you are standing and waiting for a parade. This scarf actually made its first official public appearance while Bailee, Dan, and I went to Nyx, Bailee’s first ever Mardi Gras parade.

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It works well as a babushka, whenever needed.

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But, in all actuality, and I am quoting here, you could wrap it around your entire head and still have enough left to keep your neck warm.

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(I know that I just heard collective groans from Gryffindors everywhere. There are just no stone ravens out here, I swear.)

It’s huge and warm and ridiculous, with just enough class to go everywhere. Just more reasons why everyone needs to have an excessively long double-sided woolen scarf.

But not this one. It’s already taken.  And loved.

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