Tag Archives: knitting

Life updates, spring 2018

It occurred to me the other day that I have not updated my blog in MONTHS. I realized that I should probably remedy the situation, but I quailed at the idea of writing some long book review or deep-thoughts post on, like, LIFE, man. So, I decided instead to do a little bullet-point post of stuff that’s been happening with me lately. (This is not unprecedented; when I first started this blog in 2012, I used to write short little posts about inconsequential nonsense all the time. Here is one on a hilariously named brand of South African crackers. And here is one on — no kidding — all of the chores and errands I had to do one day). Anyway! Here are a few things that have been going on in my life:

  • I’ve decided to get off my duff and attend a fiction workshop this summer. I’ll be attending the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop in Ohio in June. This means I’ll be spending a week sleeping in a dorm room on an extra-long twin bed, away from my kids and Al, a prospect which is both exhilarating and anxiety-producing. Hopefully I’ll come away from the week feeling inspired and having generated a whole lotta new fiction. More updates to come!
  • Since reading Back Sense, I’ve tried to stay physically active, but have struggled to find a workout that doesn’t jack up my back while giving me endorphins. (Pilates on the Reformer is great for the core, but it can be kind of tedious). Finally, in December I found Barre3, which combines elements of yoga, Pilates, aerobics, and ballet barre and is hard but fun. I much prefer it to other barre-based workouts I’ve tried in the past (looking at you, The Barre Method). And, bonus, the studio here in Old Town offers childcare! I have been going three times a week and I’m feeling strong. Plus, it gives me an excuse to wear cute grip socks.
  • In podcasting news, Whine & Roses is kaput, since Previously.TV decided to drop their coverage of all Bachelor-related shows (*single tear*). But since Whine & Roses met its untimely end, I’ve been a guest on both Extra Hot Great (discussing the Netflix dramedy Everything Sucks, among other TV things) and The Blotter Presents (discussing the classic, 2004 true crime documentary The Staircase), so check me out!
  • I’ve started keeping track of my reading. I read a lot (30-90 minutes a day, sometimes more, never less) and I wanted a record of what I’ve read so that I can look back and remember, if not, say, specific plot points or characters, the general idea of each book. Here’s a photo of my reading log, which shows that I’ve read 16 books since January 7, which comes out to roughly one book a week. At this rate, I’ll finish more than 50 books this year, and without this log, I won’t stand a chance at remembering all of them, let alone writing about them. (NB: I used to write a lot more fiction book reviews on my blog but I felt as if I was shouting into the void. But even if I never write another review again, at least I’ll have my own record of what I read).

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 11.01.09 AM

  • After reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Catherine Price’s How To Break Up With Your Phone, I’ve been working hard to change my relationship both with my phone and the internet in general. In practice, this has meant deleting all social media apps from my phone (painful at first, liberating later) and spending way less time looking at social media sites on my computer. I’ve found that stepping away from Twitter and Facebook has lessened my interest in them; in other words, as long as I stay away, I find it easy to maintain my distance. But it’s SO easy to slip back and let them waste my time. I’m trying to find a balance between NEVER going on social media sites and spending hours mindlessly scrolling. Meanwhile, I was such an Instagram fiend and find it so addictive that I have deleted it off my phone and must re-download and sign in every time I want to use it. It may sound like a needlessly baroque way of controlling my social media usage, but it works.
  • I learned to crochet! Not much to say about it except that I’m proud to add another yarncraft to my arsenal. When the grid goes down, I’ll have no idea how to grow food or find clean water, but I’ll be warm as hell. Maybe I’ll knit (or even crochet, now!) myself a post-apocalyptic lean-to.

That’s it. You’re all caught up with my life. Byeeee!

(Knitting) book review: Knockout Knits, by Laura Nelkin

Non-knitters, take a break! Today’s post is knitting talk heavy. Just a friendly disclaimer. Knitters, keep reading!


It’s already November, which means it’s time for me to start my Christmas knitting. It’s probably more enjoyable for me to make things for people every year than it is for people to actually receive the things I make, but I do try to knit somewhat interesting (or at least practical) things for the special people in my life every year. Hence, I was excited to take a look at Laura Nelkin’s Knockout Knits, which promises “new tricks for scarves, hats, jewelry, and other accessories.” Accessories make the perfect knitted Christmas gifts, because they don’t necessarily take forever to make, and if your recipient doesn’t actually like what you made, she won’t feel like a jerk for throwing it out or never wearing it (unlike an unwanted sweater, which can haunt a closet for years).

I decided to dive right in by making one of the book’s shawl patterns, the Las Cruces Shawl (I won’t say here who I’m making it for, so as not to ruin any Christmas surprises). I chose the Las Cruces Shawl because it looked pretty and the skill level required was described as “Intermediate.” I should note that I chose an intermediate-level project not necessarily because I am an intermediate level knitter (I think I’m probably inching into “advanced”/obsessive territory at this point) but because I wanted something that would go fairly quickly and wouldn’t kill me in the process, but also wouldn’t be boring or monotonous to construct.

I started on the pattern and immediately (like, within the first line of the pattern) was forced to use an unfamiliar cast-on method. But that was fine, because Nelkin conveniently included a page reference number to a guide in the back of the book that includes diagrams for several increases, cast-ons, and other techniques. Handy! I wish more knitting books would have easy-to-use reference guides like this when they make use of not-super-common techniques.

My notes on the pattern

My notes on the pattern

So, I cast on, started to knit, and soon encountered another technique I had never heard of. Luckily, Nelkin had that one covered, too, in the beginning of the book, where she describes (and has diagrams for) several stitch-elongating techniques. So far, so good.

Work in progress

Work in progress


The shawl I’m making is constructed of two mirror-image triangles that will later be joined together via a center panel. I’ve made one triangle and am almost done with the second. I read ahead in the pattern to see how this whole center panel thing is going to work, though, and now I’m feeling nervous. The instructions on how to join the left and right triangles are scant, and in reading them, I can’t picture how it’s supposed to work, at all. *Gulp.* I went onto Nelkin’s Ravelry page in search of answers, but found none (although I did find an errata to the relevant part of the pattern, which I’m hoping will help when the time comes). So, I’m not sure how this is going to turn out. I’m hoping it’ll be one of those things where, once I start knitting, the pattern will become obvious (this often happens to me — turns out I’m kind of a learning-by-doing type person), but right now, I’m feeling a little anxious about finishing this shawl correctly. It’s too bad, since I was so pleased with how many diagrams and guides Nelkin otherwise included in the book. Why not a longer explanation about a non-obvious joining technique such as the one this pattern requires? I’ve been a serious knitter for two years and I’ve never encountered a pattern like this one before, which suggests the technique in question is not a common one, so a little more detail on how it works would have been appreciated.

Apart from my unease about the instructions in the Las Cruces Shawl, I’m happy with this book (so far!). It has a lot of fun accessories patterns that I could see myself making for people this year, including some cute mitts (Prolix Mitts), a cloche hat (Folly Cloche), and a lot of nice patterns involving lace. Nelkin also has a whole section about knitting with beads, which I find both intriguing and intimidating. Maybe I’ll get to that next Christmas. I also love the look of the book and I appreciate that it’s slim and compact and fits neatly onto my already overstuffed shelf of knitting books.

Hopefully the shawl will turn out okay and I’ll overcome my trepidation re: the obtuse pattern instructions. If not, at least this book will look nice on my shelf!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.


(Crafting) book review: Super Stitches Sewing, by Nicole Vasbinder

Normally I do book reviews on Tuesdays. But you know what? I’m breaking the mold this week (and might continue to break it in a streak of rebelliousness against my own rules). Enjoy this midweek book review!

I am a glutton for crafting books. When Al and I were living in London and moving from corporate apartment to hotel to corporate apartment every few weeks, my loads of books came to be such a burden that we had to rent a storage space in the city so we wouldn’t have to keep lugging them around. And I felt lost without my knitting and sewing books. There’s something nice about having a reference library full of resources for those times when you get stuck on something, need inspiration, or just want to indulge in some wishful thinking. Some of the crafting books in my library fall more on the inspirational side of the spectrum (for example, Best in Show: 25 More Dogs to Knit, by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne, is pure knitting eye candy), but when I was first (re)teaching myself to knit last year, I tore through Jennifer E. Seiffert’s Fearless Knitting Workbook, and when I got into sewing, Diana Rupp’s Sew Everything Workshop was similarly helpful. Having practical, easy-to-follow guides on hand, especially when one is still learning a craft, is essential.

Some of my crafting books

Some of my crafting books

I was happy to discover that Nicole Vasbinder’s Super Stitches Sewing is both practical and easy-to-use. Its premise is very straightforward: it demonstrates, in clear drawings and simple text, 50 common machine stitches and 18 hand stitches. The book is meant to be used as a reference guide: if you come across a stitch on your sewing machine that you want to know how to use, pop open the book and look it up. Or, if you’ve always wondered how to do a darning stitch, for example, but aren’t sure what it entails, you can look that up, too.

super stitches

Hand stitching still scares me and I avoid it at all costs, so I decided to face my fears and test out a few of the hand stitches in the book. I sat down with a piece of scrap fabric and some thread and attempted one of my old nemeses: the backstitch. And — I think I get the backstitch now! For those of you who sew, you may be thinking, “What kind of idiot doesn’t ‘get’ the backstitch?” Um, this kind of idiot. Something about it always confounded me, but the diagram and instructions in the book helped me to see that it’s actually really easy. Oh. So, guess I can backstitch now.

Look, Ma, I can backstitch!

Look, Ma, I can backstitch!

I’m glad to have this book to my shelf because I think it’ll come in handy as I attempt more sewing projects over the coming months. I bought an adorable stuffed animal kit online and have been putting it off because it involves so much hand-stitching, but I think I might be able to muddle my way through it with this book by my side.

The only complaint I have about the book is that it’s not a workbook. It doesn’t claim to be, of course, but as someone who learns by doing, I would have enjoyed a couple of simple exercises that combined some of the stitches to actually make something. But this is a slim little volume with no fat or fluff; it lays out the stitches, and that’s it. Recommended as a reference guide for beginning or intermediate sewists, or for advanced sewists who aren’t sure what the heck the Walls of Troy stitch is, but would like to learn.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review!

The London Knitting and Stitching Show

Any knitter will tell you that there’s just something about yarn that’s — how do I put this without sounding weird? — alluring. A ball of yarn, after all, is more than just a ball of yarn: it represents infinite possibilities. “What could I make with this?” a knitter thinks, as she strokes a ball of downy, grey angora, or a skein of chunky tweed wool. Half the fun of knitting, in my opinion, is standing in the knitting store and imagining the possibilities. This is how one ends up with a knitting bag overflowing with yarn and needles and three different projects going at any given time. (Hypothetically, of course). So, imagine, if you will, how it felt for me to stumble upon this:

IMG_4322 IMG_4320

In case it’s not immediately clear, those are GIANT PILES OF YARN. Giant piles of discounted yarn! I had to stop myself from diving in. Where is this knitting Elysium, you may be asking? Why, at the London Knitting and Stitching Show, of course, which took place over this past weekend. It was so incredible, I had to go twice.

On Friday, I went to the show with one of my newfound friends from sewing class and we had a blast. There’s something really fun about walking around a convention center filled with yarn, fabric, needles, thread, beads, and other crafting supplies with another person who also finds those things exciting and beautiful. Together, we wandered around the cavernous Alexandra Palace and admired the many stands full of lovely textiles, yarns, and supplies. We also took two workshops: a cross-stitch sampler class, and a paper cutting class. Turns out, cross-stitch is pretty easy (but not that interesting, in my oh-so-humble opinion), and paper cutting is HARD, especially for someone like me with dangerously poor knife skills. But there’s something so invigorating about learning a new skill, especially one that involves using your hands to create something pretty.

My first day at the show, I tried to be restrained and not buy very much. Hence, I only purchased one new Rowan pattern book (the fabulous Nordic Tweed one) and the yarn for the awesome Nordic mittens in the book, plus a package of discounted yarn from one of the giant piles. I had to pass up a lot of other cool knitting stuff I wanted to buy, including a kit to make Latvian mittens, which, in case you’re not familiar, are awesome:

Image courtesy of folkcostume.blogspot.com

Latvian mittens (image courtesy of folkcostume.blogspot.com)

But I figured the Latvian mitten pattern was a bit above my pay grade (I still need to learn how to do intarsia), so I passed them up. Sigh.

As the weekend went on, I found myself thinking a lot about the show and a few of the items I had passed up, so on Sunday, I took a shuttle bus full of old ladies back to Alexandra Palace and did some more shopping. This time, I stocked up on beautiful tweed from Magee of Donegal (I’m planning on making a quilt), discounted books and Liberty print items, and a pack of deeply discounted Rowan Cashsoft yarn. I left feeling satisfied and super energized about my various knitting projects. Right now, for instance, I’m working on an afghan with a cool “lovers’ knot” pattern. I really look forward to working on it at the end of each day. What can I say? I’m a knitting nerd.

All those cables are a pain to make, but they look so cool!

All those cables are a pain to make, but they look so cool!

Sewing has taken a back burner for the time being, since our living situation continues to be up in the air and I haven’t felt like making the trip to buy fabric and then to the sewing shop to use their machines. So I’ve returned to my first love, knitting, which I can do right from the comfort of my own couch — or hotel room, or plane seat (assuming they let me take the needles through security). Al and I might be picking up and going on an impromptu vacation tomorrow, and you can bet I’ll be bringing my knitting bag along. I also happen to be in one of those dreaded down periods in my writing, so it helps to have fun projects to distract myself with. You know what they say: When all else fails, knit an afghan.*

* No one says that. But let’s make it a thing.

Traveling v. settling in

For almost a year now, Al and I have been lucky enough to live abroad: first in South Africa and now in the United Kingdom. When we signed up to do this international stint, we wanted an adventure: namely, the opportunity to live in and travel to new places. And we’ve certainly gotten that. When we were in Joburg, we got to travel all around Southern Africa, and now that we’re here in London, we’ve gotten to go to Scotland (twice!), Denmark, and Corsica, and hopefully we’ll get to do a bit more traveling before we leave. It’s pretty awesome. Al and I look at each other sometimes and reflect on how lucky we are to be able to do this.

BUT. (You knew there was a “but” coming, right?)

The truth is that the price of being mobile (or, to put it differently, being hobos) for a year and a half is that there is a crap ton (i.e., a lot) of uncertainty about where we’re going next, and when. The way we’ve chosen to do this within Al’s company has meant that we must go where Al gets staffed, with little notice ahead of time. So, although we’ve been in the UK for three months now, we don’t know how much longer we’ll be here, or even where we’ll go next if we don’t stay here. There’s always a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our heads in the short term, which means that we have to be really flexible. And being flexible is hard.

Have international driver's license; will travel.

Have international driver’s license; will travel.

The other day, for example, we had to move out of our corporate apartment and check into a hotel for one night and then move back into the corporate apartment. In preparing to do this, we realized how much stuff we had accumulated (and I will take credit for a lot of it: my sewing and knitting habit adds up to a lot of crafty detritus) and how annoying it is to have to haul all of it around London. We resolved to do a purge of our stuff when we get back to DC, and in the meantime, to put a lot of it in storage so that we can move more easily on short notice, if we need to. This is the sensible solution; it’s always better to have less stuff.


The stuff I’ve accumulated — sewing books, knitting needles, yarn, cloth, thread, scissors, the handmade products of my labors, and so on — represents, to me, a life in one place. And, despite my love of travel, I really like living life in one place. Don’t get me wrong, traveling is great! But I enjoy having a home to come back to afterwards. And home, to me, means a place where I have bags of yarn and needles, books on shelves, tea and edibles well-stocked, and clothes put away in closets and drawers. When you’re living out of suitcases for extended periods of time, it just doesn’t feel like home. I’ve realized that the main tradeoff to being wild and crazy guys/gals who travel around the world on a moment’s notice is that you must leave behind the stuff that makes a place feel lived-in. Al and I have always differed a bit on this front: he relishes the thrill of traveling to new places. I do, too, but I’ve always preferred settling into a place. I like traveling somewhere and then putting down roots, getting to know the place, pretending to be a local. This is what I did when I moved to Brazil, for example. And to be honest, I’ve really started to settle into London, which means, if we have to leave, it’ll be hard.

I’ve been trying to adjust my attitude about uncertainty. I remind myself how lucky we are to be doing this and how exciting it will be to see new things. If the trade-off for traveling to marvelous new places and having adventures is that I have to put away the cozy trappings of home and shake up my comfortable routine, so be it. That’s what we’ve chosen to do. But it’s nice to know that when this adventure is over, we’ll be staying in one place for a while.

Until then, I’m going to take my knitting bag with me.

On sewing, knitting, and the impulse to make things

I’ve always loved making things. As a kid, I did latch-hook; I made beads; I wove hemp necklaces; I painted; I sketched; I sculpted. I was always making something. I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t have several projects, of various sorts, going. As an adult, I never lost my desire to be constantly creating things, but there were long years during which I figured making things just wasn’t something I got to do anymore. There was never enough time. Or energy. Working at a law firm, I found that I was so unhappy with my work life, I had little energy after work to devote to being creative. Instead, I’d come home from work and watch TV, or read, but I wouldn’t create anything more elaborate than dinner because I just didn’t have the energy. Consequently, my creativity languished for a long time. Then, I quit my job and rediscovered unstructured free time, which has been an absolute joy. I am now an adult who gets to make things during my day. In fact, my job now requires me to be creative: I get to tell stories for a living. Best job ever, right? (Well, best job ever for me, anyway).

Me and one of my masterpieces

Me and one of my early masterpieces

As I mentioned a while ago when I talked about knitting, I love to do activities in my downtime in which I am creating something — that is, in which I am making a product of some sort, whether it’s a hat or a casserole, that I did not have to invent from scratch. I like following a knitting pattern or a recipe and ending up with something I can be proud of, but which I did not have to pull out of thin air. I love knitting, especially, because in the end, you have a product — something you can wear or use — and, best of all, the knowledge that you made that product with your own two hands. So satisfying.

There's something nice about seeing your husband wear a hat you made.

There’s something nice about seeing your husband wear a hat you made.

So, I decided, given my love of knitting, to seek out sewing classes in London. I’ve wanted to learn how to sew for years but never got around to it (see: law firm job), and I figured there’s no time like the present. Thus, early last week I reported for a four-day, twelve-hour Intro to Sewing class at the lovely Sew Over It in Clapham North. And I loved it! I came back from my first day of class, completed pillow cushion proudly in hand, and told Al that I was “pretty sure” I could “master” sewing. Yes, I used the word “master.” No one ever accused me of hedging my bets. I was encouraged, you see, by my early success at creating things made entirely up of square pieces of fabric sewn together in straight lines. To give you an idea, here are the projects I completed in my intro class:

Cushion cover

Cushion cover with buttons

Tote bag

Tote bag

Makeup bag

Makeup bag with lining and zipper

Feeling on top of the sewing world, I immediately signed up for an Intro to Dressmaking course, figuring that after another twelve hours of instruction, I’d basically be able to start a side business as a seamstress and/or make all my own clothes from here on out. But oh!, dressmaking brought me low. My first day of class was intensely humbling. We made a circle skirt, which is so named because when you hold it up, it’s in the shape of a large circle with the waistband in the middle. It sounds simple — and the pattern looked simple — but that circle skirt nearly broke me. I messed up the hem line, the waistband was bumpy, and, when the dratted thing was finally done, I found that I had made the waist just a tad too small, so that the back would not stay closed if I so much as breathed. Ugh.

I was convinced, the entire first two days of dressmaking class, that I was the dolt of the classroom. I had trouble visualizing what the teacher was telling us to do. “Stitch here,” she’d say, and I’d wonder, “But why?” I didn’t understand the why of any of it. Why do those stitches go there? What will happen if I put them somewhere else? What larger purpose are these stitches serving? This inability to visualize my final product, it seems to me, is the biggest difference between my experience with knitting and my experience with sewing. For whatever reason, perhaps because knitting is necessarily a much slower process of construction and one has time to wrap one’s mind around the contours of what one is making, knitting is just not as confusing as sewing. Sure, while knitting I may have trouble executing certain tricky maneuvers or I may accidentally mess up the measurement of a piece of work, but I generally understand why I have to do a certain thing when I see it on a pattern. With sewing, though, the patterns are just big pieces of paper, and I don’t think my spatial visualization skills are quite finely tuned enough to picture said pieces of paper arranged into items of clothing. Folds, in particular, confuse me. There are no folds in knitting.

Long story short, my first two days of dressmaking class were stressful. My Type-A, detail-oriented inner lawyer (who, let’s face it, is probably always going to be with me) was freaking out at every mistake and berating me for not understanding the instructions. I was dismayed that other people in the class seemed to zip right along, with no signs of nervous sweating. This made me even more nervous (and sweaty). I left class that day feeling discouraged, with my misshapen, ill-fitting skirt stuffed into a plastic bag.

The next day, though, we started on a simple shift dress, and things began to make a little more sense. I understood a little more clearly why I was doing things. Yes, there were certain parts of the pattern that I found confounding, but mostly, things made sense. And, in the end, my dress came out really well. It actually, believe it or not, fits me. I’ve sewn my first piece of wearable clothing. Huzzah!

Summer shift dress

Summer shift dress

So, what have I learned from the experience of learning to sew? One, I can’t expect everything to come easily to me right away. Not to brag, but I was a bit of an (idiot) savant at knitting. I was good at it right away, and could master new skills easily by looking at a book or watching a YouTube video. No teacher required. Sewing is not like that for me, and that’s okay. It is going to take a bit more practice and patience on my part to get good at it. Second, it’s good to learn a new skill, even — and perhaps especially — if you’re not good at it right away. Keeps you on your toes. Life gets boring if you don’t have to stretch now and then, after all. On her blog The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about the three levels of fun: challenging, accommodating, and relaxing fun. Learning to sew is challenging fun. It’s hard and frustrating at first, but as you get better at it, it gets more fun — and that’s more rewarding than coasting at something you’re already good at.

Here’s to more challenging fun, then, and to always making time for making things.

Goodbye, Johannesburg

I can’t believe I am leaving South Africa tomorrow. I got here at the end of October 2012, which is somewhere between yesterday and a long time ago, and tomorrow I’m departing for London. Weird. I thought, after spending over seven months on the ground in South Africa, it would be fitting to write a piece about what I liked about my experience here, what I didn’t like, and what I learned. So — here goes nothin’.


It’s no secret that I wasn’t a huge fan of Joburg. From the beginning, I wasn’t psyched to move to this particular city (even though I was excited about the adventure Al and I were embarking upon together), but  I was determined to keep an open mind about this place and give it a chance. I think it’s fair to say, at this juncture, that I did give Joburg a chance. I was prepared to let it win me over. It just — didn’t. I don’t want this to devolve into a long list of things that I hate about Joburg, because no one needs to read that, but suffice it to say that this city and I were not meant to get along.

Bread at Vovo Telo - one of the best parts of Joburg

Bread at Vovo Telo – one of the best parts of Joburg!

For one thing, you need a car to do anything here. Al and I shared a car, our trusty 2008 Toyota Yaris, but he took it most days for work, since he had to go to clients’ offices and meetings and such, whereas I worked from home. Fair enough. But that ended up meaning that on days I didn’t have the car, I was functionally housebound. You can’t walk anywhere here (no sidewalks, dangerous, etc.), and there’s no viable public transportation. So I spent a lot of time by myself. Inside. And until a few months ago, that was okay. I embraced my inner introvert, I got to know the afternoon TLC schedule (Say Yes to the Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, Jon & Kate Plus 8), I cooked dishes that required obscene amounts of prep time (including this one, which I highly recommend if you have an afternoon to spend grinding spices), I knit (oh, did I knit), I wrote (duh), I got hooked on several TV shows on Netflix (Being Human UK: life changing), and things were pretty good, overall.

I got REALLY into knitting.

I got REALLY into knitting.

Then, a few months ago, I hit a wall. I just got sick of not having much of a life outside of my house. Part of this frustration was compounded by the fact that Al and I had not invested heavily in our social network here. We made wonderful friends, of course, but most of them worked crazy hours during the week and traveled on the weekends, which meant that during the weekdays and early evenings, I was pretty much left high and dry if I needed social contact with other human beings. The thing is, I’m not someone who needs a ton of time with other people to be happy. But I do need options. I’d like to have the option of setting up drinks with someone, for instance, or the option to just leave the house and go do something by myself. When I lived in Sao Paulo by myself and my friends were traveling or otherwise not around, I used to take myself to the movies, and I could walk to the theater. But here in Joburg, I couldn’t do that. And after a while, I got pretty sick of it.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

Now, the flip-side of all of this, of course, is that while we were here, we invested heavily in travel, and I am very glad we did. In nine short months (more or less), we traveled to Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Namibia, as well as pretty extensively within South Africa (Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Kruger, the Drakensberg Mountains, Durban, and more). Plus we squeezed in a trip to Italy, and I went to North America twice (first by myself to San Francisco, and then with Al to Ottawa, DC, and Mexico City). So, not too shabby, if you ask me. I am so, so grateful for the experience of living here and being able to travel so widely in Southern Africa and within South Africa, in particular. Joburg, while not awesome itself (in my opinion), is a great jumping off point for seeing all sorts of amazing stuff in this region.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I’m also grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a country — and a part of the world — that I knew pretty much nothing about before I came here. To be honest, I still kinda don’t get it. South Africa is confusing and complex and confounding, but I’ve enjoyed being here and trying to figure out what’s going on around me day to day (that is, when I step foot outside of the house). It’s a country that has a lot of problems (inequality, corruption, wastefulness, racial issues), but it’s also a place with incredible potential and some of the most stunning natural beauty (flora and fauna) that I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a special place.

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

I probably won’t miss the experience of living in Joburg, per se, but there are definitely some things I will miss about being here. A short list would include the low cost of living (and especially the cheap, high-quality steaks, nom), the incredible (and cheap) wine, my adorable local knitting store, and the great weather.


I will miss you, knitting store.

So, all in all, these last nine months have been a rewarding adventure. Even for all of my complaints about Joburg, I wouldn’t ever take back the time we spent here, because it afforded us such incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore this region. And I will always remember my kitchen table in Joburg fondly, because this is where I launched my fledgling writing career. Me and this table, we have history now.

And now, off to London, our next adventure. Onwards and upwards. Seacrest out.

Rediscovering knitting

The latest news from these parts: I’ve finished my novel and I am now officially a knitting addict. Yes, that’s right, I sent my novel off to a few agents this week (huzzah!), and although I have a few other projects going on at the moment, I suddenly have WAY more time than I used to, and knitting is filling that gap quite nicely. Quite nicely, indeed.

I learned how to knit as a kid from my mom, who is a very accomplished knitter, and who learned at the feet of a Knitter Extraordinaire, my grandmother. My grandmother is seriously the best knitter in the world, you guys. I think part of it is being Irish – it’s in their blood to cook a mean potato and knit a mean sweater – but she’s also just talented. She knits little clothes for teddy bears and tiny little Christmas stocking earrings, she felts purses, and she can knit up a cardigan while drinking a cup of tea, doing a crossword puzzle, having a conversation, and watching TV. I aspire to this, but I am not there yet. For now, I can knit while watching — okay, listening to — TV, and sometimes while having a conversation, but if the pattern gets complicated, I have to stop and stare really hard at the pattern and then stare really hard at the knitting, and swear a little bit, and this tends to derail the conversation. Luckily, Al doesn’t mind.

My motivation for picking up knitting again was that I needed something to do that was creative but not creative in the same way that writing is. With knitting, you are creating something with your hands, in the sense that you are bringing something into being, but you’re not inventing the pattern (at least, I’m not!) so it’s not taxing in the same way that writing is. When I write, I have to dredge things up from the depths of my brain, examine them, perhaps throw them back, dredge again, put the remains on paper, and then shape and perfect them until they are presentable. When I knit, I just have to follow a pattern and try not to eff it up.

I decided to relearn the knitting basics by doing a lot of sample swatches out of a book called Fearless Knitting Workbook. I highly recommend the book for the patterns but not necessarily for its instruction; I think the author has a super confusing way of explaining the basics. For clear instructions on technique, I recommend Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book (unbeatable) and the excellent Stitch ‘n bitch, The Knitter’s Handbook. Anyway, I worked my way through some of the swatch projects in Fearless Knitting to refresh myself on some techniques (stitches, decreases, increases, reading a pattern, binding off, etc.). I also relied on YouTube, which is a veritable smorgasbord of knitting videos. Overall, I was pretty happy with my learning curve.

My precious(es)

My precious(es)

In the photo above, the swatch in the upper right was my first effort, and it was, as one would expect, meh. The one in the upper left was my second attempt, which was better. The one in the bottom left was my third swatch – a proud Canadian maple leaf with some mistakes, but the pattern was crazy, give me a break – and the one on the bottom right is a dishtowel I made by knitting on the diagonal, if that makes sense. After doing these four swatches, I felt ready for the big time, so I decided to start on a pattern for a cowl. This is what my project looks like so far:

IMG_2596 IMG_2598First of all, let’s all agree right now that this yarn is the bomb. It’s from Japan, it’s called Noro, and I’m so obsessed with it, I want to marry it. Second of all, the cowl is going well – I learned how to slip stitches and do a cable cast-on, as well as some other schmancy techniques, but guess what? Turns out as I was knitting away on my circular needles, feeling like a boss, my cowl was becoming twisted on the needles and I didn’t notice. So when it’s done, it’s going to be what Al refers to as a “mobius scarf.” Sigh. Oh, well. This is all for the sake of learning, you see.

My next projects will be a beret for me and a cool knit beanie for Al. I can hardly wait to go to my local knitting store tomorrow. It’s called Arthur Bales and it’s adorable. Here’s a picture I took of the outside:



Precious! I also love that all of the employees are grandmas who know their way around a ball of yarn. It’s everything I want a knitting store to be: a little bit old-fashioned, a little bit disorganized, and filled with old ladies and yarn. What more do you want?

Anyway, if you can’t tell, I am Jessie-Spano-levels-of-jazzed about knitting these days. I look forward to it, it brings me joy, and I think it’s something I am going to be doing for the rest of my life. Beware friends and family: you are all receiving things made out of yarn this year for Christmas.


Lady of Leisure

Yesterday I took a break from writing. Well, not entirely. I wrote a blog post in the morning, and then frittered away an hour reading blogs and news, and then I went to the gym, and then I got a pedicure and had lunch with a friend. And then I came back home and thought, What shall I do now?

The reason I took the break from writing was because the previous evening, I had finished the latest round of revisions on my novel and had sent it to one of my readers/critics to look over before I did anything drastic, like send the manuscript off to agents. Now that my revisions were done, at least for the moment, I didn’t feel like writing anything, but I also didn’t feel like just sitting there, useless. I had to think of something to do.

I thought, Maybe I’ll pick up my knitting again. I have some nice knitting books and I figured I could do some knitting exercises and practice a bit before attempting to dive into the world of sweaters and bunnies. I searched our apartment and realized that I had not actually brought my knitting needles to South Africa. I brought the knitting books, but not the knitting implements. Which is like me, really.

Then I thought, Maybe I’ll read. But I read every day, a lot. All the time. I had just spent my entire pedicure reading (and ignoring the pedicurist’s snarky comments about my dry heels). A crossword puzzle? I do those every day, too, when I watch TV or listen to podcasts. Watch TV? Too defeatist. Cook? It’s 3:45 pm. Go for a walk? I live in Johannesburg, so that’s not gonna work. Go to the gym? Already did that.

Photo on 2012-07-29 at 14.15


The problem is, there’s this urge in me to always be doing something, to always be busy, to always be thinking. It’s hard to suppress it. At times when there is genuinely nothing for me to do – for example, when I am waiting for feedback on my manuscript – I feel that I must occupy these quiet periods with something useful, or at least creative, or else I am just taking up space, and then what good am I? Point being, I could definitely never be a Lady of Leisure. I would go bonkers. I’d probably end up institutionalized by how bonkers I’d go. But I realize, of course, that this is a good problem to have: deciding how to pass my afternoon when there are no demands on me. But, to be honest, it’s a struggle.

Eventually, I decided to compromise by watching Brideshead Revisited (the 1981 miniseries with Jeremy Irons, not the ghastly movie version with Michael Gabon – the horror!) and doing a crossword puzzle. Not exactly what you’d call productive, but at least I’m not watching The E True Hollywood Story: Lindsay Lohan (again). Eventually, I ended up planning and cooking dinner. I made this, one of my all-time favorite Middle Eastern dishes, which I used to chow down on with some frequency when I lived in Detroit. It turned out well, but next time I’d add sultanas, I think.

Anyway. I really wish I had brought my knitting needles.