Tuesday, December 18, 2012


My mom had a milestone birthday this year, so I wanted to make her an extra-nice present. She mentioned that she would like a shawl or drapey scarf, and after looking over a bunch of Ravelry links I sent her, she picked out a few favorite patterns, including Horai. Since she especially liked the smokey gray color in the pattern pictures, I decided to make it using Knit Picks Aloft in a similar color.

I'll admit that knitting this was a bit of an ordeal. Using mohair for the first time made me a little nervous, but that turned out to be the least of my problems. Although the pattern wasn't difficult, it was hard to see the stitches as I was working, so more than once I was knitting along happily only to discover that a dozen rows back, I had accidentally picked up too many stitches when making a "flower" stitch. Aloft is pretty forgiving of frogging, I found, so it's probably a good yarn for a first mohair project.

The main difficulties I had, though, were two problems I've had with my knitting since the beginning: my insanely tight tension, and my tendency to make extremely poor needle choices. This shawl really needed to be worked loosely, not only to get the nice airy, lacy effect, but also because the motif involved a lot of working multiple stitches at a time. It would have been far less physically challenging if I could control my gauge better. And that problem was compounded by my buying silly needles and then stubbornly continuing on with them. Obviously I should have bought at least one size larger than what the pattern called for (I didn't) and they should have been long enough that I could hold them firmly while working through the fiddly bits of this pattern (they weren't - they were 16" fixed circulars, which gave me about two inches of needle to actually hold on to).

And, for some reason, my Horai turned out wider and shorter than the pattern indicated, even though I thought I was following it exactly.

Still, I'm not unhappy with how the shawl turned out. The pattern is beautiful and it really works nicely in the mohair, and I was glad to give it to my mom as a birthday present. I do wish, though, that I had been a little less stupid about its construction, because I could have made it a lot easier on myself.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


When we were planning our trip to Japan, I was a little daunted by the amount of time we'd spend travelling. Obviously, flying all the way from the east coast of North America takes many, many hours (half a day, in fact). Then, once I added in getting from our apartment to the airport, from our local airport to Toronto, our layover there before getting on the plane to Japan, the trip from Narita into Tokyo, doing all that in reverse coming home, plus several hours on the shinkansen traveling around and back to Tokyo... I was exhausted before we left. Clearly, I needed a good travel project.

A good travel project, for me, is something simple enough to put down or pick up again at any point, but not so simple that it bores me or that I'd feel embarrassed explaining what I'm working on if someone asked. That kind of project, I think, calls for really nice yarn to keep me interested and produce something exciting despite the easy construction. My cowl that I made in September, as I mentioned, was perfect in that sense.

For our Japan trip, I decided to make a Baktus scarf, using some Manos del Uruguay yarn that I bought on our trip to New York in February. The pattern couldn't be simpler, and the yarn was crying out to be used, after I considered and then abandoned several other projects for it.

I was pretty sure I might end up finishing the scarf before the end of our trip, since after all, garter stitch and 300 yards of yarn doesn't last too long, even if I was planning to do a lot of sleeping and looking out of windows while we were travelling. Really, I only got about 10 inches of the scarf done on the whole trip, and most of that was on the shinkansen. I just didn't find myself in a knitting mood very much, which was fine. It was nice to take a break from everything.

I did finish up the scarf pretty quickly once we came home, though. Although I was worried that it wasn't really long enough, it magically turned into just the length I wanted after blocking. I really love blocking.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas for kitties

Somewhere in our apartment, there's a Bermuda Triangle filled with the toys that our cat loves most, because she plays with furry things and catnip-y things so enthusiastically that they vanish. Sometimes they reappear (the donut has disappeared and returned twice now) but we usually have to supplement with crumpled-up balls of paper. Juniper thinks these make pretty great toys, but we feel a little weird about literally tossing trash around the apartment. So, rather than buying her another handful of mice to lose, I made her some Christmas toys.

I used the same balls of Sugar'n Cream Christmas colors that I bought several years ago to crochet tree ornaments. This year, our collection of "real" ornaments has grown enough that I didn't feel like making any more, but crocheting something Christmas-y has become a sort of mini-tradition for me. So, why not give the cat something festive?

The pattern is The Ideal Crochet Sphere, which uses math that I don't want to think about (but will happily benefit from) to make a more exact sphere than the traditional method of crocheting a ball. As with the donut cat toy, I made the balls more enticing by tying off a few pinches of catnip inside a piece of pantyhose and stuffing that inside. Juniper emphatically approves - one has already gone missing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two weeks in Japan

It's hard to believe that we've already been back from Japan for two and a half weeks and I haven't gotten around to posting any of my pictures yet. Since I took thousands of photos and don't want to flood my blog with them, I'll just put up a few of my favorites, and link to my Flickr account for anyone who's interested in looking at the rest of them.

Rainbow Bridge & Tokyo Tower
The Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge, seen from Odaiba in Tokyo

We spent about a week in Tokyo, split over five days when we first got to Japan and then our final two days before leaving. It's hard to sum up our time there: we saw and did a little of everything, from shopping in Shinjuku, to looking at artifacts in the Tokyo National Museum, to visiting the boardwalk in Odaiba, to walking around little neighborhoods that felt like they were hundreds of miles from the city. I was impressed by how easy it was to get around - I built a lot more travel time into our itinerary than we needed, but that gave us extra time to see and do more things.

Kids on a field trip looking at the Great Buddha at Kamakura

We also wanted to see more of Japan than just Tokyo. Like many tourists, we made a day trip from Tokyo to Kamakura. Despite it being a very tourist-y thing to do, we loved visiting Kamakura, and it was one of our favorite days that we spent in Japan.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Whale shark and friends in the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

We spent the second week in Osaka and Kyoto. I had been wanting to visit Osaka ever since I found out that they have a great aquarium, and great food. Neither of these things disappointed. The rain all day on Saturday did disappoint, especially since I ended up getting a cold after spending the day with soaking wet feet, but fortunately that was the only truly bad weather we had.

Nara deer

From Osaka, we made a day trip to Nara. Like Kamakura, it was a great day of visiting temples and shrines, and I liked seeing the deer there and feeding them crackers.

Kiyomizudera in Kyoto

The Kyoto part of our trip was, in a way, the inspiration for the whole thing. I really wanted to see their famous maple leaves in the fall, so for a couple of years, we've been saying, "Let's go to Kyoto in November." It was a dream but I wasn't sure it would ever happen, so I'm so happy that we really did make it there. The maple leaves were nearly at their peak when we visited, and it was really beautiful.

Maple leaves at Kodaiji in Kyoto

It was a really great trip - we managed to see and do everything we hoped to do, from the big stuff like seeing landmarks and historic sites, to weird little things on my bucket list like visiting a cat cafe, shopping in a Japanese craft store, and eating okonomiyaki in Osaka and green tea ice cream in Kamakura. If you'd like to see the rest of my photos, here's my collection on Flickr.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The last day on Ur

This evening, Glitch will close down forever. I mentioned the game earlier this spring as a nice, mind-soothing pasttime, especially when one is trying to avoid annoying real-world sources of stress. Glitch was a good place to get away from the real world in general, since it operated on its own quirky, imaginative principles. It was a place where you petted trees, milked butterflies, donated to shrines, and hopped around Mario-style collecting coins.

I'll be honest: it was not my favorite game. There was a large social element to it, which I didn't really participate in, because I'm usually too shy to actively play with other people (even though I love hanging out "in" MMO worlds). There was also a struggle from the beginning to define what Glitch was, what was fun about it, what you were "supposed to do" when you logged in. The point was that it was a different kind of game, and you were supposed to do whatever you wanted, but while some people really loved that about Glitch, for other people it just didn't click. I was somewhere in the middle: I liked being able to just do whatever, but I felt like there wasn't really enough "whatever" to sustain me.

Still, I did love traveling through the world of Ur, seeing new places and collecting coins. And I liked working on my house, expanding it and building new furniture and taking care of my little collection of trees and animals. And I enjoyed the artistic vision of the game. There were a few really beautiful spots and it's a shame that they won't remain accessible online for other people to enjoy.

Since the announcement a few weeks ago - it makes me feel very guilty to admit this - the game has actually been a lot more fun for me. It's given me goals where before everything was open-ended, which didn't really motivate me. Now there's a reason to see places I haven't seen yet, work on puzzles I haven't solved, and make recipes I haven't made before, because soon I won't be able to. I also have a habit in every game I play of hoarding all the good potions and items and so on for the right moment. Not surprisingly, this usually results in me running out of storage space and never enjoying most of the cool buffs and things. Now, finally, I get to use all my stuff! It's really fun to play like the world is ending. And it doesn't hurt that the developers gave us all free subscriptions and in-game money.

Tonight I'll log on to see what, if anything, happens at the end of Glitch. It's sad to witness the end of something that was loved so much, and I will miss bouncing around in the treetops or the clouds or under the ocean. But I'm glad I got to play.