Rainbow Ripple Love

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I don’t really have very much clever to say. Just look at this beautiful thing that I made for a minute.

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Just…

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…it’s so pretty. So pretty that I was honestly surprised when I was done that it was something that my fingers actually made.

Anybody else ever get that feeling? Some sort of crafting-based imposter syndrome? Just me? Okay.

Anyway, this lovely thing was made for my friend and coworker KB, who just gave birth a day or two ago to her first baby. There’s been a bit of baby-craziness around work lately, with 6 different ladies having babies within the last 6 months, and that’s just on our floor. And there’s still more to go, so I’m not quite done posting baby blankets yet for this year. With so many tiny babies popping up, it was inevitable that some of them would get covered in my handmade love, yes?

KB and I went through Ravelry for quite a long time, looking for the exact perfect blanket. She didn’t want to know the gender of the baby ahead of time, and she was definitely game to go for something bright and fun and colorful. She was also really into the more classic vintage look of crochet, rather than knitting. She’s a good person and a good friend, so I was willing to suffer through the pain that crochet puts my fingers through for her.

When we got to the project page for Celeste Young‘s stunning Rainbow Ripple Baby Blanket, we both fell in love. What a gorgeous pattern, full of opportunities to be creative and make all kinds of different crazy beautiful starbursts. However, it’s hard to get much better than the original pastel rainbow, and that’s what KB wanted. I got as close as possible by sourcing the Berroco Comfort through a few different places (mostly through the good, good folks at LoveKnitting.com), but I could not find a skein of Limone to save my life, probably because it’s discontinued. Instead, I subbed in Buttercup, and I don’t think anyone would have known if I hadn’t mentioned it. Whoops.

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Want the full color list? Grape Fizz (9708), Boy Blue (9707), Robin’s Egg Blue (9714) (which is actually the most lovely greenish-gray teal), Buttercup (9712), Peach (9704), Pretty Pink (9705), and Chalk (9700).

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Working on this was also a really great experience, despite the finger pain involved. Am I holding the crochet hook weird or something? I get cramping and soreness in my middle and ring fingers on my right hand, no matter the project or the yarn or the tension involved, every single time I crochet. This doesn’t happen with knitting, unless I’ve been working on something for hours. It might also have been worse this time due to the crazy amount of handwritten SOAP notes and scholarly hand-typed nonsense that I have had to produce this semester, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the cause.

Enough complaining. This thing was a joy to create. I’m always a sucker for simple design that turns into something really elegant, and those perfectly lined-up double crochets in those chevrons really do it for me.

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I didn’t even get freaked out about all of the ends I had to weave in. It was nothing but love.

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The only thing that I changed about the pattern was adding an extra “double” row of the white at the end, just to make the final border look more…final.

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Rainbow in the sink!

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Blocking this was a bit of a challenge, due to the fact that once the whole thing was done, it was larger than my blocking mats, so some creative pinning had to take place. I guess this means I need to send out into the ether a wish for some more awesome Knit Picks interlocking blocking mats to magically appear on my doorstep. However, that means that this blanket is big enough for all kinds of tummy time and snuggling for a good long time.

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It was worth it. Such good chevron starburst action.

I had quite a bit left over of all of the wonderful Comfort colors, so I knew that I needed to make a special friend for the new baby to go with the blanket.

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Enter Frank. I was so into the Robin’s Egg Blue, that I knew I wanted to feature it, and I had the most leftovers of the Grape Fizz. It’s lucky that they work so well together in Deja Joy‘s Tessa the Turtle Amigurumi pattern.

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I literally squealed when I realized that the crochet stitches made a little “ridge” between the top and bottom shells. You have to love those little details.

The only thing that I changed about the pattern on this one was using my standard felt muppet-y eyes, firmly stitched in place, rather than plastic doll eyes. I think he looks a little bewildered, but friendly, perfect traits for a first soft friend.

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As for the name Frank, when I finished him up and presented him to Dan, I said, “What do you think this guy’s name should be?” I fully expected turtle puns or T-related alliteration. Dan turned towards me, glanced at the turtle, and said, “Frank,” and then went back to watching Nascar.

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Frank, it is.

Both KB and baby are still in the hospital after a little bit of a rough entry into the world, so let’s all send them some good vibes. Hopefully they’ll both be home soon, safe and warm and wrapped in rainbow love.

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I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow

Can we talk for a second about Chuck Palahniuk?

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My infatuation with his work started sort of atypically for me, but not for the rest of the world, with the fact that the first inkling I ever had of him was the movie Fight Club. For once, I didn’t read the book before the movie. I didn’t even know there was a book before the movie. I was 17 and not yet shaped into the devour-er of bizarre dystopian fiction that blogs before you.

That movie blew my damn mind.

Initially, the only reason I wanted to see it was because I had a massive crush on Edward Norton and wanted to see every single thing he was in. (The crush is still sort of there, especially Primal Fear-era Norton. Oh man.) I left the theatre feeling like I had just seen something that I shouldn’t have, and my consequential deep-dive into all things Palahniuk only reinforced that.

I made my mom buy me (in addition to being the awkward person next to me in that movie theatre, poor Mom…actually, to her credit, she’s a surprising fan of this type of stuff and subsequently made it through awkward viewings of Pi and Trainspotting as well during this formative period in my life…) the novel of Fight Club, which I read in one day on my way to NYU for college interviews. Then came Invisible Monsters, and I was completely hooked. Then Survivor. Then Choke, which is still and will always be my favorite. Then he couldn’t even write books fast enough for me to read them.

You could say I was a fan.

I have still maintained my fandom over the years, faithfully reading each new work as it comes out and adding most of them to my permanent collection. I still reread Choke and Diary every couple of years just for fun and to cleanse my palate between the Jodi Picoult guilty-pleasure novels I find myself into now. (Seriously, can there be two authors more different from each other? I have no idea why my brain works this way.) When I saw that Mr. Palahniuk was going to be coming to New Orleans for a book-signing this month, I realized that I had to add him to the increasingly-long list of admired people, especially authors, who receive a handknit gift from me.

But what to make? The answer came almost instantly. A throw pillow, emblazoned with an anti-capitalist message, of course!

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Say hello to I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow. (Easily downloadable and printable PDF pattern right here, plus the chart you’ll need to embroider Tyler Durden’s anti-establishment message on your pillow. And your heart.)

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Some notes on the making of this here pillow, so it’s easier to make your own:

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The knitting here is ridiculously easy.

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The duplicate stitching is a beast.

If you’ve never tried duplicate stitching before (or you’re not as obsessed with it as I am), it might be good to practice a little on a swatch (maybe your gauge swatch that you’ve diligently knitted, right?) before you move on to the finished project. Here’s a great tutorial from Purl Soho to review if you’ve never tried it before (be sure to follow the “V” stitch portion for our particular pattern).

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To perform a duplicate stitch, you insert a yarn needle threaded with your desired yarn into the base of the stitch you’d like to embroider over, from back to front. Then, you thread the needle underneath the “V” of the stitch above the one you’re working on, pull the yarn snugly, and then bring the needle back down into the base of the stitch where you came up. You’re basically following the yarn through the stitch as it loops up and down, but only doing it one stitch at a time.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your tension consistent. You don’t want your embroidered stitches to be too loose and floppy because then you’ll be able to see the knitted fabric underneath, and everything will just be a mess. If your stitches are too tight, there will be all kinds of puckering and strangeness, which will be near-impossible to block out. Just practice for a bit on some no-stakes stockinette swatches, and you’ll be good to go.

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You don’t want to make your working yarn too long, or you’ll end up tangled all the time. Make sure, as you’re moving from area to area, that you leave enough slack on the back of your work that the fabric doesn’t pucker, but not enough that you’re getting tangled up and catching on loops back there all the time. The way that I do this is to put 2-3 fingers against the back of the fabric and under the slack as I’m pulling the yarn across and making my first stitch, keeping things loose, but not sloppy. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to look at the back of crazy embroidery? All knitters love that stuff.

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You’re going to wet-block your pillow before sewing it up, just to give those letters a chance to even and flatten out, plus to get your edges straight, which makes things so much easier.

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Mattress stitch everything up almost all the way, leaving the stuffing until the very end. Afterwards, I gave mine another good hit with the steam iron, just to make sure that everything was fluffed and puffed and perfect.

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I feel like someone was watching me.

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—–

One other important moment before we get to the main event.

I went to get all of my Chuck Palahniuk books, just to make a super-cute picture (and it worked, right?), and I decided to look up the page in Fight Club where our famous quote resides.

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Hmmmm. Turns out that the internet steered me oh-so-wrong. I, like probably 99% of the people on the planet, had completely forgotten that the bar scene in which Tyler states, “The things you own end up owning you,” is completely invented for the movie. In the book, the narrator, musing to himself before he has any idea that his apartment is no more, states, “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

As much as I love the phrase “lovely nest,” that sentence is a little too long to put on a throw pillow. I was mortified that I remembered it wrong, but then Chuck ended up agreeing with me, saying that it didn’t matter and he thought that it was great. Yeah, that was awesome.

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I’m getting ahead of myself.  When I got to the book-signing, I patiently waited my turn, sitting almost entirely in a plant with pillow in tow, chatting with some lovely people who traveled 900 miles to see him. That’s some dedication.

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The book-signing was to celebrate the release of Fight Club 2, the graphic novel continuation of the original novel, which is stunningly gorgeous to me already, and I was only flipping through the first few pages. From what I gather, there’s some 4th-wall-crossing mind-bending author-acknowledgment stuff going on, a la Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and I am always on board for that. I am so excited to dig in.

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The moment to present my gift was nearly here, and the wonderful people at the Garden District Book Shop caught me looking very coy, wearing my Hamilton shirt in honor of the 212th anniversary of his duel with Burr. Yes, I can’t just geek out about one thing at a time, apparently.

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Can we talk about this man? What a gem.

Not only was he doing the entire event in his bare feet, but he proclaimed the pillow beautiful and asked me all kinds of questions, for which I had extremely short and insufficient answers. Maybe because my brain was overloading with awe.

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He posed me with the pillow so that he could take a picture of it! How freaking cute is that?

He asked me how long I had been knitting (16 years!), and what made me start knitting in the first place. I was honest with my ridiculously lame answer and stated that I saw a friend knitting during a lecture my first semester in college and decided that that was something I needed to learn how to do. No awesome family-heritage-based or raw talent story. Just boredom. If only I knew how much it would come to define me as a person today…

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He personalized our books with the most wonderful messages!

And then…

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…oh yeah.

I had to go with choking, of course, being that Choke is my favorite of his novels, but all I can see when I look at this picture is how genuinely happy Dan looks to be abused by a famous author. I don’t even know how he managed this winning smile because my facial expression is only 30% pretend here. I don’t know if it was the height difference or what (or the fact that he was standing on a cooler behind us), but Chuck Palahniuk actually managed to take my breath away a little bit. More than a little bit. That man’s got some arms.

We strode out of there on top of the world. I’m still smiling, sitting here the next day. I can’t wait to read my book and dive once again into Mr. Palahniuk’s twisted world, knowing that he now knows how much he’s shaped mine.

Seriously, Chuck, thank you. You’re one of the good ones, and you deserve all of the decorative throw pillows life can give you.

Drachenschwingen is the greatest name for a pattern. Maybe ever.

Seriously, if you are knitting something called “Drachenschwingen,” all you want is for people to ask you what you are making so that you get to say “Drachenschwingen” as many times as possible.

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I don’t know why I didn’t end up taking German in high school, because German and German-sounding words are the most fun to say, especially when they are completely out of context. (Everyone remember extra strapazierfähig? How could we forget?)

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These awesome dragon-y socks first made an appearance on the blog waaaay back in July as my plane-knitting project as I made my way to Los Angeles to be super fancy, meet LeVar Burton, and go to the Emmys. I know, I know, but trust me, my life is not normally that exciting. Usually I am sitting on the couch knitting while watching Gilmore Girls and eating crackers.

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Pictured: knitting and Gilmore Girls in the background (the episode in season 2 where Rory tries to win Dean back, btw). Not pictured: crackers, but trust me, they are there.

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Do your best and try not to fall in love with those awesome tiny finicky one-stitch cabled loops! You won’t be able to. All of Scarlet Plume‘s amazing sock patterns are stunning, and she’s definitely a huge fan of the twisted one-stitch cable. I think that she and Cookie A. would be fast friends.

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Part of the charm of knitting these socks lies in the sheer joy of using Pagewood Farm‘s Denali to make them. Every single skein of everything Pagewood Farm makes is so gorgeous that I have to take a breath and compose myself when I’m trying to make a decision. Denali in particular is a superwash merino and nylon blend that’s perfect for hard-wearing socks and making those tiny little twisted stitches pop.

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And the color! My knees get weak.

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From far away (and in the in-progress pictures taken in my extremely dark hobbit-hole living room), the colors in the Woodsey colorway blend together into a sort of greenish-olive-goldish-brown, but up close…little bits of blue, purple, white, emerald…heck, there’s even some little hints of pink in there. I can’t think of a better color to evoke the glittery iridescence of dragon scales. That is, if dragons were real, as we all wish they were.

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Quick side story:  Once at the B&N, a woman was browsing the kids’ science and nature section with a frown on her face for several minutes. I went up to her and asked her if she needed any help, and she told me that she couldn’t find any books on dragons. I directed her over to some picture books and the folklore and mythology section, and she looked at me like I was a crazy person and asked me why none of the books had any photographs of dragons. That was the day that I had to explain to a grown person that dragons weren’t real.

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Back to the socks. My very favorite part of the cable pattern on these socks is how the twisted stitches on the sides sort of “peel off” in layers to travel and form the loops in the center. Really beautiful stuff.

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There is one thing that threw me off a little bit about this pattern, and I’m not sure if it comes from a difference in pattern-writing conventions in different countries, but there’s a little bit of weirdness in the decreasing for the gusset area that might make things difficult for those new to knitting socks. Most patterns start the rows in the middle of the bottom of the foot, keeping the decreases together in one round. This pattern starts each round at the beginning of the cable-patterned top of the foot, giving each round a decrease rather than alternating plain and decrease rows. After I figured out what was going on, it totally made sense. However, if I came across something like that again, I’d probably rewrite the rows for the section, just to spare myself the mental gymnastics.

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That said, I am so excited to have finally finished these so that I can wear them around. I need to get myself a pair of those clear Chuck Taylors so that everyone can ask me about them. Then I’ll get to say “Drachenschwingen” over and over again and delight in these socks all over again.

Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

—–

It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

Mr. Burton, I made you a scarf.

I wanted to start this post by talking about Reading Rainbow, but it’s honestly a difficult thing to put into words.

20150916_100300I have always been a reader for as long as I can remember. A voracious reader. According to my mom, I started reading by myself at age 3, thanks to the greatest Little Golden book ever, The Monster at the End of This Book. I made my mom read that book to me over and over again every night until I had memorized the entire thing, and then I started reading it to her instead.

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In either first or second grade, my class participated in some sort of Newbery-sponsored reading contest where you could record all of the books that you read during the school year, and the person who read the most in the class got a special medal. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I used my Scholastic book order to go off on a crazy self-inflicted reading binge, finishing over 40 books that year. The next highest number in my class was 10. This was probably the first time that I have approached a challenge in this way, competing all by myself for an award that no one else really gives a crap about, but it was certainly not the last.

20150916_130532Whenever my brother and I got home from school, PBS was always the first thing on our minds. We would watch 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, and Reading Rainbow every single chance we got and revel in this world where the kids who liked math and science and reading were the norm. Reading Rainbow in particular was my favorite. I would write my own book summaries in the back of my school notebooks, hoping one day to deliver them professionally in the “You don’t have to take my word for it” section. I loved the extended storytimes where the book pages were animated on the screen and made the story come alive. And I especially loved it when LeVar Burton was on some sort of adventure that tied in with all of the featured books, like going to Space Camp or digging up dinosaur bones.

Last year, my brother and his wife told me that they were donating to the Kickstarter campaign to revive Reading Rainbow as an interactive app, and I thought that was a fantastic idea. Then, later, they told me that because of their donation, they were invited to go to a Reading Rainbow event in Los Angeles sometime this summer. Then, they told me that part of the cast of Star Trek: the Next Generation was going to be involved. Then, they asked me if I would like to go with them.

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Attentive readers will know where my brain went next. I decided that not only did I need to go to this event, but that I also needed to knit LeVar Burton a Reading Rainbow scarf. Because, of course.

20150912_18212320150914_170017 I wanted to make something reminiscent of the original Reading Rainbow logo (which I never noticed only has 5 colors in it! Did anyone else ever notice this?), so I headed down to McNeedles, an LYS that is becoming one of my favorite places to be, and told them my master plan. Not only were they on board, they helped me pick out exactly the bright, primary rainbow of colors that I wanted. Knitters understand these things.

20150915_172113It’s got a big color-blocked section on one side, with all of the accompanying ends to weave in. And then a big duplicate-stitched golden double-R on the other, like the original logo. 20150915_173703 I didn’t bother writing anything down for it, because if you can make a Harry Potter scarf like this one, you can just wing it and make it whatever size you want.

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This one is made out of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Nature Spun Worsted, with 50 stitches cast on in a tube and lots o’ blue fringe to close up the ends.

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Also, I’ve taken special steps to make sure that we don’t have another Jeff the Squirrel debacle, just in case.

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Cap definitely approves of the labeling. And the color scheme, too, I think. Primary red and blue all the way.

20150916_131047Here it is modeled by the lovely Michele, friend and coworker and extreme lover of books. She approves as well.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if this Reading Rainbow event will include any sort of Q&A or meet-and-greet or quick hand-shaking, but I do know that I’ve got to be more aggressive in getting this to Mr. Burton himself. So, I’m calling on you guys out there in Internetland. If you’ve got the means to let somebody know about this so that he knows about it, please do. Help me out. Take to the Twitters and Tumblrs and Facebooks and let LeVar Burton know how much you love him and appreciate him and let him know that one of us has a labor of love to give him at this event on Saturday the 19th.

Also, it would be great to make sure that I do not come across as the creepiest person ever.

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I’ll do my part, but I really need your help in making sure that this thing doesn’t end up in a trash can in some event hall after the show. I normally don’t ask for stuff like, but this one’s super important to me, guys.

I am so excited for Saturday that I can’t even come up with a good way to end this post. Oh man. Reading Rainbow is so awesome. Go watch it on Netflix right this second. You’ll be glad you did.

My Grandmother Made Things

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Grandma Winnie made quilts, mostly, and when I was a kid, it was very rare to see her sitting down without an unfinished quilt in her lap. She would hum a never-ending sort of rambling melody to herself, completely unaware that she was doing it, as she held onto the embroidery hoop and made countless tiny stitches by hand. She had a room in her house totally dedicated to her quilting and sewing, with shelves of meticulously organized fabrics, arranged by color and texture. She had a closet full of patterns, templates, and stencils, because she believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing it by hand. She made my mother’s wedding dress. And all of the bridesmaids’ dresses. And innumerable baby blankets, bonnets, booties, Christmas stockings, tree ornaments, flower pots, ceramic figurines, pies, cakes…you get the idea. If there was something happening in your life, no matter how small, she had something that she had made at the ready to commemorate the occasion.

She passed away last Tuesday, a few days shy of her 94th birthday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Her strength was in her determination to live a simple life that was filled with things she loved. She married my grandfather right before he left to go fight on a battleship in World War II. She gave birth to my mom, Diane, while he was still out to sea, and had to wait for him to come back from across the world to meet his first child.

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She was an effortless hostess, working hard behind the scenes and never even thinking to complain about the fact that she had yet to sit down while everyone else was already having their second helping of Christmas dinner. She collected porcelain dolls and romance novels. She grew mirlitons and figs in her backyard, and she loved to travel.

When I was a little girl, I was inundated with pink things. Pink stuffed animals, pink clothes, pink hair accessories, pink everywhere. By age 12, I was sick of it, even the beautiful Cheer Bear quilt that Grandma Winnie had made me for my 5th birthday. I wish that I could find a picture of this glorious quilt where it wasn’t completely obscured by stuffed animals, but trust me when I say it was super cool.

Here.

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Just imagine this adorable bear surrounded by diamonds in every conceivable shade of pink. Cute, right? I know.

Anyway, I railed against the tyranny of pink in a big way. Even though I was a spoiled ungrateful child who had absolutely no idea how long it took to make a full-sized quilt for a double bed, she listened. She sat me down at her house with a huge pile of quilting magazines, and we went through them together for hours, picking out just the right pattern with exactly the right fabrics for my new, grown-up, pink-hating self.

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She stitched down every single flower and kitten by hand with blanket stitches of love. And I returned the favor by laying on top of that quilt and doing my homework every single day until all of those stitches wore out, and the appliques were peeling off. And then she did it again, fixing every piece and mending the holes with embroidered hearts. She knew that these things that she spent the time and effort to make were meant to be loved and enjoyed. They were useful objects that had no place hanging on a wall or being folded up on a shelf somewhere. If it fell apart, she could fix it or make you a new one. That was what she loved best.

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She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease several years ago, and at first she was just forgetful. She would misplace things and forget about the fact that she had already made dinner that night. When my grandfather passed away, it wasn’t the sudden downward slide into dementia that people were expecting, more like a slow fading away of the parts of her personality that were uniquely hers. She didn’t make things anymore. She forgot that she even knew how to do so.

The moment that most broke my heart was when I once went to visit her in her assisted-living facility when I had just started nursing school. She sat down on her bed to look at the crossword puzzle books that I had handed her and started absent-mindedly patting the crocheted throw on the bed next to her. I complimented the blanket, saying that it was very pretty (a very cool, seventies sort of retro zig-zaggy thing in shades of red and gray), and she smiled and said, “Oh, thank you. I don’t even remember where I got it.”

I said, “You made it.”

Her eyes got wide as she looked at me, and looked back at her blanket. “I did?”

I nodded. She said, “Well, I don’t know how to do stuff like that.” And then she traced the outlines of the ridges with her fingers. “I used to, I guess.”

I wanted to cry and give her a hug, but I decided against it because she wasn’t really sure who I was. She could tell that she was supposed to know me, but had decided that I probably worked there, given the fact that I was wearing scrubs at the time. Instead, I went and cried in my car after I left.

She was the one who had taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to quilt, how to embroider, how to work a sewing machine even though it still terrifies me. How to be delighted in the small and the handmade. How to love bird-watching. How to do crosswords. Right now, my brain can’t even process what it would be like to forget how to do these things. These things that were such a large part of who she was. Of who I am now.

However, she never lost the core of herself to Alzheimer’s. She was, till the very end, unfailingly kind. She was always up for eating something delicious and watching everyone around her have a wonderful time.

317She still graciously accepted gifts. She loved chocolate. She made an effort to smile at you and ask you how you were doing, even if she wasn’t totally sure she knew who you were. She didn’t understand why everyone wanted to take pictures with her and why she was so popular, but she smiled all the same.

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423She danced at my brother’s wedding reception, with all of the people who loved her most surrounding her and holding her up.

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On that night, when I walked over to her sitting near the edge of the dance floor, I held my hands up at her in a boxing stance, like one of those boxing nun puppets, wheeling my hands around as I came towards her. She returned the gesture and punched me in the arm, and said that she’d knock me out. I used to do this to her in her kitchen all the time when I was in high school and had started to grow taller than her. My cousins and my brother and I all did, for some reason. She punched my arm on the dance floor, and I almost cried. And then we danced.

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I can’t even deign to compare myself to this amazing woman, this woman who was full of nothing but patience and kindness and good advice. This woman that knew that most problems could be solved if you just talked them over with a glass of milk and some vanilla sandwich cookies. I couldn’t say that she was even the grandparent that I am most like, but she’s definitely the one that I most wanted to be. That I still want to be. I make things, too, and I put a part of myself into every stitch or recipe, just like anyone would, I suppose.

But when she made things, she made people happy. She made a beautiful life. May we all be so lucky.

Azure Waves of Grain

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I haven’t gotten to knit much so far this year, mostly due to the fact that I am in my very last semester of nursing school, which entails a whole lot of paper- and journal-writing, preceptorship-ing, and NCLEX-reviewing. I actually graduate (YAY!) in the middle of May, and I am saddened to think that I will soon have to find new things to complain about, one of which, if you can judge me by what my priorities were during this last week of Spring Break, will certainly not be “not knitting.” I went on a rampage this past week and finished up a very fiddly and fancy-pants project that I’ve been working on for waaaay too long.

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I mean, look at all that lace! Miles and miles of lace-weight alpaca with perfectly lined-up columns of yarnovers. Looking at it all pinned out…I even impressed myself a little bit.

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The pattern is the simple and lovely Waves of Grain by Rosemary Hill, in the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. In the pattern, she has these beautiful poetic musings about the amber waves of grain from “America the Beautiful,” but since I went with the blue and silver thing here, I think that Azure Waves of Grain is a delightful play on words. Just try to talk me out of a good pun. I dare you.

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With a project like this, where the lace itself is relatively simple and full of long runs of straight lines, blocking wires are a truly amazing thing.

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You can buy your own set here at KnitPicks, like I did. (Oh, and get those blocking mats, too, while you’re at it! They will also save your life over and over again.) You weave them carefully in and out of the yarnovers on the ends of the rows and pin them back, and voila!

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When it’s totally dry and you pull out those pins, you see these glorious super-straight rows that make you weep a little bit. For those unfamiliar with lace knitting, the piece that you end up with after the knitting is complete looks a bit like ramen noodles. No matter what kind of master knitter you are, the yarnovers are a million different sizes, the edges are wobbly, and everything is just a big mess.

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Blocking makes everything beautiful again. And blocking wires in particular prevent any weird scalloping or yanked-out corners and edges that destroy all of that hard work.

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This was also the very first time that I attempted knitting beads into anything, and this was definitely a good project to start with. In this particular pattern, the beads are not pre-strung onto the yarn, but they are threaded onto the individual stitch itself with a teeny-tiny crochet hook, right before the stitch is worked into the pattern.

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Toothless approves.

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I got these particular clear glass and silver-foil beads at Michael’s, and I waaaay overbought them, so someone needs to find me another project to use them up (or let me know if you have a dire need for them as well). Having the beads on the end of the shawl gives it a nice little weight and swing, plus the beads make a wonderful little clicking sound when you’re moving around with it.

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Lace in the sunlight always makes me weak in the knees.

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Now, I need to find an occasion to wear this, other than traipsing around the house and pretending that I am an International Woman of Mystery, but I think that it’ll be perfection for any sort of dressy occasion. And I’m graduating soon…hmm.

I met Joy the Baker and gave her an eggroll. True story.

On Tuesday, Joy the Baker had a book-signing here in New Orleans before she started on her book tour for her new offering, Homemade Decadence.

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No one who reads this blog, or reads any food- or baking-oriented blog (or maybe any blog ever) should be surprised to know that I have a fairly serious girl-blog-crush on Joy the Baker. Doesn’t everyone? She makes absolutely beautiful food, blogs about her mistakes, has a feisty orange cat, and rocks cool tattoos and glasses. She might be who I want to be when I grow up (and perhaps who my blog personality thinks that I actually am), even though she is only 1 year older than me. She just recently moved here in January, and I am so glad that she’s here in my hometown to enjoy the food and weirdness along with us, although I am extremely jealous of the amazing morning light she gets in her French Quarter kitchen.

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For her book-signing, I decided to continue my self-imposed tradition of bringing small knitted objects to famous people that I feel have influenced a part of who I am. Perhaps you might remember when I gave David Sedaris an owl? Or attempted to bring Eddie Izzard a squirrel? Well, this time I decided to bring Joy the Baker a present, but it was for her lovely orange cat, Tron-Cat, who makes the occasional appearance on her blog and whom I decided needed a little bit of knitted love.

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Unfortunately, I made this decision on early Tuesday morning, and then had to wait until I was finished with class, and forced myself to rush home as fast as possible to knit an eggroll. That’s right, an eggroll with catnip. The pattern is from the Spring 2003 issue of Knitty, Feline Dim Sum by Julie Falatko, and it is so freaking cute that I can’t stand it.

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I love how that picture of the wonton toy stuffed with catnip looks so illicit up there.

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I had previously used this pattern in 2004 to make some little toys for my brother’s cat, Chunky, and it was only about 5 minutes before she discovered how to bust open the eggroll and regale herself in catnip all over the floor. Slight adjustments had to be made.

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It’s only catnip! I promise!

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In order to keep things super secure in there, I first stitched down the flap as instructed, although I did it extremely crookedly for some reason. Let’s chalk it up to nerdy excitement and being pressed for time.

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Then I tacked down the corners of the top of the flap, just for good measure, running the yarn along the top for a few stitches…

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…then pulling it back down and tying it into a knot…

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…and finally threading the ends through the middle of the stuffing to hide them. I left all of the ends long inside there in order to prevent any accidental, or cat-rage influenced, unravellings.

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Then, it got a label and was photographed. Notice how I suddenly had the presence of mind to let the recipient of one of these gifts know my name and the name of my blog? After the Eddie-Izzard-and-Jeff-the-Squirrel debacle, I’m never not shamelessly self-promoting again. I managed to get everything done in 2 hours and 15 minutes, with just enough time to pick up Dan and head to the bookstore.

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I’m pretty sure that this is the moment when I said, “I have a present that I made for you, but it’s not only for you. It’s for your cat.” Notice the adorable confusion? This was the intended effect.

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She told me that I couldn’t possibly be for real, but she seemed delighted all the same.

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I know that I was.

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She was also super funny and adorable in person, just as I suspected. I managed to keep my fangirl-type tendencies in check as much as possible, and somehow didn’t embarrass myself or trip over my shoes the entire time. A triumph of the human spirit.

And can we talk about this amazing book? It’s got so much fantastic stuff in it (so many ice cream recipes!) that I haven’t even been able to properly absorb it yet. My winter break from school will certainly be filled with delicious things because of this wonderful lady. Joy, thanks so much for being lovely, too. Don’t ever stop making people happy. Good advice for everyone, really.

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.

Dan made a scarf. And then he made it look cool.

I have no idea how long ago it was now, at least 4 years ago probably, but one day Dan decided that he wanted for me to cast on some stitches for him so that he could make a scarf. He had been attending my knitting-and-socializing-while-eating-ice-cream-and-sandwiches group every week for months without a project of his own, and since he had already been taught how to knit, and could surely be taught how to purl, then he could definitely make himself a scarf.

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On Tuesday, that scarf officially became a reality.

During this past week, New Orleans…shut down. There was snow and ice in the forecast, and we apparently have absolutely no idea how to handle such things, so we were stuck inside with just our cats, our Scrabble board, our extensive collection of ridiculous movies, and our knitting to entertain us for two whole days.

I don’t know how we survived.

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(Look at that lovely even tension! Can any of us say that our first scarves looked anything as nice as this? I certainly can’t, that’s for sure.)

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In true Dan fashion, he just took whatever random balls of yarn I had left over from a project and made them into something effortlessly cool. Remember his freehand pumpkin masterpiece? It was something like that, just spread out over several years’ time.  He doesn’t really ever have a plan, and he doesn’t really ever care. He just makes cool stuff. Those of us who have to try really hard to be cool (and fail most of the time) will always be in awe of this talent.

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He decided that it should be 1×1 ribbing.  I taught him how to purl.  He decided at some point that it should have some big color block stripes. Just on the side. For no good reason.  We made it happen.

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And it’s genius. It reminds me of racing stripes in the best way possible.

We took the scarf out today in the now mid-60 degree weather (it makes absolutely no sense to me how 62 degrees is possible two days after 20 degrees, but thinking about it too hard will make my brain hurt), and pretended that it was cold enough to wear.

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I think I’ll call this one, “Dan with Bird House.” He’s such a great model.

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No, seriously, he really is. And I can tell that he’s really pleased with his work (even though, let’s all be fair, this is about 3% Jinger since I did cast on, bind off, and block this for him, plus teach him how to knit in the first place…maybe let’s even call it 5%), even though he’d never admit it.

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He just looks super cool.

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And helps the rest of us look cool by default.

Good job, babe. I’m proud of you. Now make me one, or I’m going to steal it.