Thursday, January 26, 2012

Making Lists

Guys, I'm so tired! Oh, what a dreadful beginning to a blog post, don't you think? It's been, well, quite a month. A very busy month. A month where you look at your email and think: I can't. It's just too much! But then you get some sleep and you wake up and have some coffee, and then on the way to work you give yourself that pep talk (Just make a to-do list! Just put a star next to things you absolutely have to do today! The rest can wait! It will all work out!) But at the end of the day, you realize you've put a star next to everything on your list and only been able to complete, say, a quarter of the items. And so you go home, and it's dark out, and you think to  yourself, I'm going to make some dinner and relax. I'll do some knitting! But you go into such a state of relaxation after dinner that you can't fathom pulling yourself up off of the couch to get your yarn because suddenly nothing has seemed more interesting to you than the show Restaurant Impossible! and the feel of your puppy's warm head on your lap.

I can't remember where I read about this--gah, it might have even been Eat Pray Love--this "American" tendency to over-work and over-rest. To live in a constant state of anxiety and fatigue and (ultimately) resignation. When did my lists get so long, and become so unachievable? It's not healthy, you know...I firmly believe brains weren't made to work at this speed. 

I made a personal to-do list last week, too. (I'm all about the lists.) It reminded me a bit of the list I made in college, when I was dead broke, of things I would buy if I came into a little bit of money. These included a UCLA T-shirt, a haircut, and a bra. No joke! Is that not the saddest list you've ever seen? (And no, I couldn't even afford a t-shirt from the school I was attending, and yes, I did have other bras, but they were all worn out).

My list last week was actually, in some ways, much more ridiculous, if only because most of the tasks are normal things that normal people should be able to accomplish with relative ease. Some highlights included: get a driver's license (expired over a YEAR ago), buy Word (no joke, I do not have Microsoft Word at home), fix hip (my hip hurts!), get a new phone (Blackberry circa 2008, people), and yes, buy bras. (The bra buying, incidentally, is the only thing that I have accomplished. What is it with me and bras??)
Oh, I'm being too negative now. Let's spin this another way: today's post is really to tell you what's to come!

Today was actually the day that I was planning to do my latest Nancy Drew book review. But I just couldn't do it in this frazzled state! I really want to paint the picture for you of the Shark Submarine, and Nancy's impostor, and the time bomb in her bungalow. It was soooo good! Actually, I was at TNNA in Phoenix last weekend (that's The National NeedleArts Association conference), but I forgot my Nancy Drew, and I was very depressed about not being able to finish it. It would have been a perfect time to read Nancy Drew, all bundled up and lonely in a hotel room, eating Twix bars from the vending machine. But unfortunately, I had nothing to read, so I had to watch terrible TV, including some movie set in the 1950s starring a skinny Vince Vaughan where he is constantly smoking cigarettes. (It was not a good movie.) But on the last day I was in Phoenix, I found this pretty copy of Emma at the local Urban Outfitters, and Jane Austen literally became my new best friend. We ate several meals together, and she stayed up with me the whole flight back. Plus it's a pretty embroidered cover!

Oh guys, I'm talking too fast now, aren't I. I will end by saying this: I WILL (promise promise) write about Nancy Drew soon. Very soon. And I will also tell you why I put this cute photo of my dog Camper at the top of the page: Because it snowed in New York while I was in Phoenix, and it was Camper's first snow! Robb, bless his heart, documented the whole event for me, video and everything. But this one--this photo here--it's the one that both breaks my heart and melts it. One of these days (one hopes), it will snow, snow again, and I shall watch those snowflakes fall on his sweet, black head. And THAT is the kind of thing that makes all of those lists--those horrible lists--become totally irrelevant.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Bread

This time of year, the littlest of setbacks can be heartbreaking. I sometimes think to myself, in the midst of one of these fits, if you can't deal with this, then how on earth are you going to deal with the REAL stuff in life? The things that are actually hard?

I am describing, of course, the way I felt last night when my sourdough bread baked up awful.
On Sunday night, I was so tired. I was going to meet up with a girlfriend for some wine and cheese and I just couldn't do it. We postponed until the following night, and I thought to myself, I shall make bread! I will be that awesome friend who flakes on Sunday but makes up for it on Monday with a fabulous loaf of homemade bread--the perfect carrier of cheeses, be they soft or hard!

Though I was tired, I pulled my sourdough starter out of the fridge for examination. I'm sorry to say, it's been some time since I've used the starter--maybe six months?--and the batter had developed, well, I guess you could call it a grayish-black film on top. Now, my dad had warned me this might happen. NOT that he is the most trustworthy source on when it's time to throw food out...this is the man, after all, who recently ate a jar of unsealed olives we had sent him cross-country and reported they had "a slight funk" but still tasted great. However, the man has been baking sourdough bread for thirty years and hasn't died from it, so I thought it wise (or at least not insane) to accept his advice of "scraping off the black parts" and using the batter beneath it. Which I did (much to Robb's horror). And then I mixed in some more flour and water in equal parts to freshen things up. Voila! I was ready to bake some (possibly toxic) bread.

I mixed up my batter and let it rise overnight, and in the morning I woke up, thanked my lucky stars (and MLK) we had the day off from work, and then I set about making my dough, which got stuck in my friendship bracelet while I was kneading it (which is the most hipster statement I've ever made in my life).

Two hours of rising, punch it down, another hour and a half of rising, punch it down. Split it in half and let it rise again.

I must say, this day-long ritual of bread-baking started to have a familiar ring to it...a winter ritual of rising up now and then, only to be occasionally punched down. Over the smallest things really (perhaps we're more delicate in winter.) A really good cup of coffee can make my day, a wintry mix on the way to work can make me feel ill. And don't get me started on the pot of paper white bulbs that shot up into the air so so fast in December (glee!), but decided to dry out just before they bloomed,  their tall green stalks reminding us of their unfulfilled destiny. Making me wish they were onions instead. Something at least useful. January is all about the ups and downs. January makes me want to take a box of cookies into the bathroom and eat them alone in sulky silence.

I baked the bread at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, but the loaves looked so anemic, so pale and pasty. I knew they weren't done. And so I let them bake for five more minutes. Robb put on his sweatshirt; the puppy carried his leash around in his mouth. They were waiting for me so that we could all go to the dog park. And I kept saying, it's almost done! You can't rush the loaf! Five more minutes, another five minutes. Soon it had been over an hour. The dog was laying on the floor in front of the door, wishing he could take a box of cookies into the bathroom and eat them alone in sulky silence.

I took out my loaves, knowing in my heart of hearts that they were not done. But also knowing that they would probably never be done. That there was something wrong with the fundamental chemistry of the bread, with the leavening agents, and hell, probably with the grayish-black film on the starter, too. And sure enough, when we returned from the dog run, I sliced off a piece to find a slackish doughy loaf. I smothered it in butter and ate it. I sprinkled it with kosher salt and continued eating it. And then I cut off another piece from the other underbaked loaf and ate it the same way. It was hot and there was too much butter and it wasn't at all what bread is supposed to taste like. But melted butter and kosher salt can make anything edible.

I ate two slices and sulked, thinking I should probably eat them alone in the bathroom. Instead I licked my fingers, picked myself up off the couch, and walked with Robb to work. On the way there, snow fluttered in a spontaneous burst, and we looked up at it as we passed under streetlights. It was just refreshing and just pretty enough to help me forget the wasted day, my head rising toward the dark sky and the promise of a breadless night with friends.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Totes Tie-Dyeing

For reasons that are far beyond my understanding, there is one photo in the Bust DIY Guide to Life that calls out to me like a beacon: the tie-dyed tights. Every time I was asked to pick an image--whether it was for the catalog, promotions, or even the back cover of the book--I always turned to this photo. Why do I love this photo so much? Is it the pink and black against the blue? Is it the toes that point in? The inoffensive flats? No, I realized, it's the actual tie-dyed tights. I really really like them.

It took me awhile to come to this conclusion. You see, 99% of the time, tie-dyeing is pretty icky. It is typically presented on baggy t-shirts (which I hate) and in a bunch of primary colors (which I'm not that crazy about). I can't in good conscience make fun of the type of people who are famous for wearing tie-dye, since I was, after all, a person who briefly yet decidedly did not shave her legs just one decade ago (I referred to my hairy calves as my "man socks"). But even in my hairy leg days, I just wasn't into the tie-dye thing.

For the record, some technological glitch occurred several months ago, and the entirety of this blog post following the previous paragraph was deleted. (So yes, until today--September 23, 2012--if you went to look at this post, you would read about my hairy hippie legs and think the post ended there.) To rectify that problem, I will attempt to (briefly) re-create what the original post said. Or what I "think" it said. It went something like this:

When my friend Stacie got married, she bought all her bridesmaids a cream-colored cashmere scarf. I wore it a whole bunch and it got dirty (coffee drips on the subway, I believe?). So I decided to tie-dye it to hide my filth. 
First I folded the scarf accordion style from short end to short end. Then I tied rubber bands around it, equally spaced.
I put a bunch of RIT dye in a pot (pearl gray, maybe?) and I think I boiled it. And then I put the scarf in the pot.
When it came out of the dye pot and I clipped the rubber bands off, it looked like this! I was VERY excited.
Then I wore the scarf. The end!

Note, I think I mentioned in my original post that I was considering tie-dyeing my wedding dress, and I wanted to let you all know that I did not.

THE END. (Again.) 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Warning: This Post Has No Photos

I would like to preface this post with an apology: I'm sorry that I've been so talky-talky and not crafty-crafty these past few weeks! Much like a typical, predictable human being, I do believe that I've been using the end of year/beginning of year markers as a time of reflection. And while I have, in fact, been "making" things, I've been holding out on you, dear readers, because I've got some other shit on the front burners and I have a hankering to sort it all out. And so, I choose to use this wee little platform to foist my thoughts upon you (er...I mean, share with you). Don't you feel lucky?

I'll begin by telling you that I have been reading The World According to Garp. I have an obsessive tendency to finish every book I start--even books I hate--which was how I found myself reading all of A.S. Byatt's Possession as well as John Irving's most recent book, Until I Find You, in which I am almost positive he had no editor (or a very scared editor--someone who felt too intimidated to turn on the track changes and just have at the manuscript).

It was funny that I hated that book so much, because I loved John Irving's earlier book, A Prayer for Owen Meany. Have you read this book? You should really read this book. I read Owen Meany slowly--very slowly. It was the first book I had ever read where I simply did not want it to end, where I loved opening up the book and being in Owen's world for just a few pages each day. I was 19 when I read it, so who knows how I would feel about it now. But I am certain about this: the best part about Owen Meany is that it had a great ending. Oh, how I delight in a great ending! It has to be one that you didn't see coming. It should be fairly equal parts unhappy and happy. It should be insightful, and complex, and rich. The composition should be unfussy. It should sting your eyes a bit. It should have that airport feeling, of departures and too little oxygen. Since Until I Find You was a total let-down and Owen Meany was one of the most satisfying books I've ever read, I thought I would give John Irving a tie-breaker.

The World According to Garp was actually written before Owen Meany. I have 53 pages left to read and I have no idea how it's going to end. Or what the book is about really. But I like it. Much like Owen Meany, it's about the characters. Unlike Owen Meany, I don't particularly like the world that the characters are living in. But I do appreciate this: that the main character, Garp, is a writer, and that every step of the way, he struggles with his imagination, and goes long stretches of time--years, even--without writing.

I can relate to Garp's struggle.

I read a passage earlier this week, spoken by Helen, Garp's frustrated wife: "You should do your own work, Garp. Just your own work. You used to say politics were stupid, and they meant nothing to you. You were right. They are stupid, they do mean nothing. You're doing this because it's easier than sitting down and making something up, from scratch. And you know it. You're building bookshelves all over the house, and finishing floors, and fucking around in the garden, for Christ's sake. Did I marry a handyman? Did I ever expect you to be a crusader? You should be writing the books and letting other people make the shelves." And then at the end of her speech: "That's the kind of thing people do who can't write."

Oh Helen, how right you are. Friends, it has come to my attention that for the last several years (or maybe even the last decade),  I have been literally fucking around in the garden. From playing in bands to starting an Etsy business, I have done plenty of things that I enjoy (and I am extremely glad to have had those experiences), but I have not hunkered down and sunk my teeth into that activity for which I feel the most passion. I need to be writing.

Not to say that there is anything wrong with knitting, crafting, cooking, baking, or fucking around in the gardening. In fact, I think the reason I haven't been writing all of these years is because I was not sure of my topic. What do I have to say? I'm no expert. Who cares about my feelings? That's what a journal is for! This blog--this blessedly wonderful acre of land in the vast woods of ye olde internet--it is mine all mine, and it has become the topic that I was looking for all along. How did I not see this? For the past year and a half, I honestly thought I was honing my skills as a crafter, but the truth of the matter is this: I'm only a so-so crafter. I'm no great designer. I'm no artiste. And I have no interest in becoming a bag-making entrepreneur.

But I sure do like to write about it.

Perhaps my most wonderful discovery is that none of it has been wasted time. The hours and hours and the intense energy that I have poured into creating items for my Etsy shop or working in my garden--this has proved to me that I have the time and I possess a great amount focus. So why not put it toward the thing that I find the most exciting. And perhaps the most terrifying.

And so, the year begins with a slight cosmic shift. The blog is still called Knit Yourself Pretty. And it is still about making your life feel pretty through the act of making things--whether the project turns out nice or not. The posts will still contain pretty photos. I will still make things; some of those things will be ugly. But I may be saying it all a little differently from here on out. After all, I'm a writer first, crafter second. Now I know.