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A consummation devoutly to be wish’d

Friends, the most fantastic thing happened. Now, to stop everyone getting all excited, I want to make this clear: this is about knitting and knitting projects. We’re not talking life-changing events or meteor showers or anything else that gives you a new perspective on this sparkling rock upon which we’re all spinning around the sun. But I’m excited and it is a most fantastic thing that happened.

I went away on a holiday for a little while with the trusty and valiant M. While travelling, I worked only on a single project: a sleeve to M’s sweater, which has been on the cards since, oh, March. (For the record, let me clarify: this was in August.) (Actually, now I write that out, it isn’t as bad as I thought.) When I got home, all I wanted—and I mean this most emphatically—all I wanted to knit was that jumper. And what’s more: I was burning to finish it.

Finish it I did.

M's sweater neckline

The neckline of M’s sweater which was, I should say, a feat of cleverness

And when that was done, the cardigan loitering in my cupboard—all done but the zipper—started nagging at me. So I got to it, and: pop. Another project done.

The author poses in her new cardigan

FANCY POSE

And then there were the other knitting jobs I had been meaning to get around to: learning the fish lips kiss heel; the beaded cuff I had been meaning to finish; the felted slippers I had wanted to make…

A picture of my new felted slippers

Slippies!

Heck, those only took a week from start to felt.

It’s finally happened. I’ve been struck with finishitupitis. It’s the rare illness that strikes the lucky knitter, and its primary symptom is a consuming need to finish all the projects that are on the go. And when it happens, you run the heck with it.

It’s slowed a little now, but I still just want to work at one thing and one thing only. It’s bizarro pants and it feels really alien to me. But it’s so nice to have finished things! I have on the needles at present: two socks. (Different ones.) And a swatch for an upcoming project. THAT’S IT. Who even am I anymore?

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Hand me that jersey

Earlier this year (July, actually) (shut up, I’ve been busy) I strapped on a helmet and clippy shoes, slotted water bottles everywhere and grabbed some snazzy wraparound sunnies so as to take part in that most noble fibre-based event: the Tour de Fleece!
For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Tour De Fleece is a predominantly online event wherein handspinners elect to spin every day of the Tour de France. You can set yourself targets like “spin my entire stash”, or “spin half an hour per day” or “spin until Australia makes same-sex marriage legal” (although that last one would obviously go far, far past the deadline of the Tour). Since it’s only my first year—I only started spinning in May—I kept my goals simple and elected to spin on my spindle every day, even if it was only for a few minutes. Some days I racked up an hour or so, others I only just squeezed in ten minutes, and every day was worth it.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of every day, but here’s my highlights reel!

Fibre stash in anticipation of the Tour de Fleece

Where we started!

This was my modest fibre stash at the start of the TdF. I assumed, since I was spinning at such a fast rate, that this would barely be enough to see me through to the end of the three weeks. You may laugh. The two drawstring bags (50g each) are corriedale, drum-carded by my LYS owner into pretty rolags. The three plastic bags (100g each) are Ashford fibre packs: the top, dark purple one is correidale and the other two are gorgeous merino/alpaca blends.

The first day's spinning from the TdF

And we’re off!

My first day’s spinning was a scanty ten minutes or so, squeezed in hastily around other commitments, and altogether it felt a bit anticlimatic: but this was the baby steps on my first stretch goal, too. Having only spun small bundles in the past, I set myself the goal of spinning a whole 100g of fibre consistently.

A full cop of purple yarn

My first personal best!

And I did it! It was the finest, longest skein I’d spun up to that point! It took a whole evening of hanging out with indulgent friends who didn’t mind my conversation was carried out with a spindle, but I did it! And it was the finest I’d spun yet.

A sample of spun merino/alpaca on the spindle

Experiments in sheeps

Now onto trying something different and novel: everything I’d spun so far was corriedale, because that’s what was in the bags at the shop. Now: a merino/alpaca blend. I’m calling it Skwisgaar. It was creamy and slippery, and I found it extremely hard to keep it consistent. You can see in the pic above the variations of thickness. Still, pretty stuff!

Spinning from a rolag

Rolags!

Another new thing! Spinning from a rolag! I chose this one because, well, it was there, but I wasn’t in love with it…until I started spinning with it. Holy cow, rolags are fun to spin! I was really into this: I just wanted to spin from it all day. So I did.

A sample of handspun to show the fineness

So fine!

Here’s a closeup of what I was getting out of the rolag—my finest yarn yet! I think the rolag was called Sunset or something? I’m calling it Poison Frog.

Two handpainted braids of fibre.

Oooh, pretty.

And then the local markets had a wool day. The markets themselves were completely unenjoyable—a victim of their own success, as you could barely move for people. I dived into the closest fibre stall that wasn’t groaning full, and snatched up the first two pretties I saw. I decided to get something a bit out of the ordinary for me: the one on the right has patches of mustard, green and pink, none of which are really my colours. But the rolags had shown me that the fibre you buy doesn’t predict the yarn you get, so here goes nothing!

A close-up of handspun to show how fine it is becoming

Fox in spring handspun!

And hot damn is it pretty. This is the braid on the right, spun into a fine single I’m calling Fox in Spring. It’s blue-faced leicester and it was a joy to work with.

Two skeins and one half-filled spindle of handspun

Two and a half skeins of Fox in Spring

I completely love Fox in Spring. I just wanted to spin it forever. But all good things come to an end, and this end was three skeins’ worth! (“Skeinsworth! Prepare the luncheon table, the Buttmichaels are coming for tea!”) I feel like this picture can’t do it justice: the pops of pink and green, and the shades of mustard, are so, so pretty.

A spindle of merino/alpaca

The final challenge!

My last bag of fibre from before the Tour started: another merino/alpaca blend, I wasn’t particularly excited about it, but I thought I should finish it before I started the second braid from the markets day. Skwisgaar, above, had been a bit challenging to spin, but whoa: if I had any doubts about whether the Tour had improved my spinning, they were gone. This time around, the exact same blend was so fine, so precise, and so strong. It was—is, as I’m spinning my second skein and here we are past August—a beauty.

I am blown away by how much I improved just by spinning every day, even only a little bit. I shouldn’t be. I’ve been a musician since I was a kid, and ‘practice makes perfect’ ain’t just a cliché. But there we have it! Another of life’s lessons that I’ll just keep on learnin’.

Watching the Tour itself was not required for participation, but I gave it a red hot go all the same. And I found it far too stressful: how do they ride so close together without falling over? How do they go so fast without devastating crashes? Answer: they fall over and they have devastating crashes! I did not find watching the Tour relaxing! But I did find spinning very, very soothing.

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Splish splash holy cow

So in the midst of the tumult that has been this year, I knit myself a whale shark.

Knitted whale shark smile

Smile, Whaley!

Dawww! Smiley little sucker.

But there was more than just cuteness driving me. I wanted M to get an idea of whale sharks’ gentle friendliness so that when I announced I wanted to go swimming with them, he wouldn’t be scared. I put in some time explaining that they really are more whale than shark: “throat no bigger than a dime!” I said, holding up an Australian ten-cent coin for demonstration purposes. M, who is nothing if not cheerfully accommodating, agreed that a whirlwind mini holiday to the western side of the country would be in order. “You never hear much out of Perth,” he said. “I want to know what they’re up to over there.”

One of the nice things about living in Australia (and I’ll be honest: there’s a lot) is that there’s a lot of cool wildlife just about everywhere you look. Off the north-west coast of the country is a reef called Ningaloo, from the Wajarri word for ‘deep water’. The reef itself is Australia’s largest fringing reef (distinct from a barrier reef, which we’ve also got one of), and just beyond it the sea shelf drops off sharply. So you have a long coral reef followed by a deep deep drop: it’s perfect for whale sharks. They eat the coral spawn and they like deep water.

We flew to Perth via Melbourne: full marks to the incredible Qantas staff who, when our flight via Sydney was cancelled, simultaneously rerouted us, checked us in, opened the boarding for another flight over the PA, requested wheelchair assistance for another passenger, printed our boarding passes and wished us a lovely flight. My stars, she was impressive. We touched down mid-afternoon: our arrival in the CBD was marked primarily by the absence of sunlight and people, and I had the awful sinking feeling I get when I’m scared I’ve set us off on a terrible adventure. We sat glumly in our hotel room for a while, and then three things happened: we found a restaurant for dinner (always a relief, because the vegetarian and nightshade-free thing can be a big obstacle), our cat-focused webcam confirmed the cat feeder was paying out biscuits on cue, and we had a cup of tea. Suitably restored, we decided to head out for a drink and see what we could see see see.

Well. Perth at around five pm is a very different, very pretty beast. The streets were bustling with the after-work crowd, dynamic and busy and full of people: some riding home, some in their after-work athleisure gear heading to yoga/gym/Pilates, some in their suits enjoying $35 cocktails. (We had wine instead.)

The next morning we had a very hip breakfast at a very hip cafe (as you can imagine, I blended right in), which had all of, oh, 14 calories. Delicious and stimulating, but we were headed to the botanic gardens and that involved a long and then a steep walk. Well worth it, but I immediately dragged M to the nearest cafe for second breakfast.

We spent a happy day walking around Perth and exploring it, agreeing that we liked it. The mining boom has had an obvious impact on the landscape: the city overall is old, relaxed and spread out, but the CBD is a tight knot of shiny, towering buildings blaring mining and banking company logos.

After two nights, we said ‘so long Perth!’ and flew a few hours north to Exmouth, the town on the Ningaloo Reef. As we touched down, the air staff reminded us that the airport was also a RAAF base, so no photos or they blow up your camera (I guess). I leaned against the window as we touched down. “M, I think we’re in the desert!” “Yep!” “I’ve never been in a desert!!”

But I guess you want to hear about the whale sharks, huh?

We got picked up the next morning at about 8:00 by the shuttle bus for Ningaloo Discovery. Shuttle after shuttle came past the accommodation: it’s really worth knowing who your company is! We made friends with the guides: one of them described the whale sharks as ‘the labradors of the sea’. Which was far more calming then my endless reassurances of ‘they can’t swallow you: their throats are tiny’. We gathered up a few more travellers and drove out to the edge of the reef: while we went, the guides told us all about whale sharks and their wily ways.

We piled onto a water taxi and buzzed out to the boat: a big catamaran sailboat (also with a motor, so I guess a motor yacht?). From there, it was all systems go: they handed out wetsuits, flippers and snorkels, explained how to navigate them, did the safety briefing, and in we went! We had a preliminary snork over the reef, so that everyone could get a feel for their kit and see how they were doing. M and I have never really been snorkelling (like, once in a rockpool), so we were given pool noodles and a crash course in not dying. Then back on the boat, a round of toasted croissants (seriously), and we followed the spotter plane’s directions to find our whaleys!

They were pretty amazing. Our biggest one was a nine-metre male (that’s nearly thirty feet, if you think in feet) and they were universally lovely. My favourite moment was on my first swim, where the guide was gesturing and saying ‘over there, over there!’ and I couldn’t see a thing — and then looked immediately behind me a HUGE fish loomed out of the blue. I squeaked loudly.

Me, swimming alongside a whale shark

In which I make a jumbo new friend! (Photo by Ningaloo Discovery)

I could talk a lot about the whole experience: it was pretty incredible, but it was also hard. On the day, it was really hard to get past the physical and psychological stuff. I got a bit seasick: between swims, we’d wait on the back of the boat, and facing away from the way we were travelling seemed to be a sure-fire way of inducing seasickness for me. After my third swim, I decided I couldn’t stand having a snorkel in my mouth, and I was done. M had an awful moment on his second swim: his mask sprung a leak and he couldn’t breathe comfortably through his snorkel. As he emptied his snorkel and mask, the rest of the group swam off after a whale shark, leaving him feeling a bit stranded in the middle of a deep and infinite sea. He called out and they came back for him, but it was pretty scary (I, in self-absorbed delight, had swum off happily after a shark). He steeled himself and went in for a third: he later admitted that he knew if he finished on the bad swim, it would leave a bad memory, and he wanted to end on a good note.

Snorkelling is definitely hard work: it’s physically demanding, and if you’re not used to it, it’s psychologically challenging as you force yourself to trust your equipment and breathe deeply and properly through your pipe. And if your equipment fails you, that’s a big deal. Plus the water is deep and is really infinite in all directions: if you feel uneasy about that, you’ll have some mental work to do to enjoy it. After our three swims, M and I decided we were done: I was in serious peril of losing my croissant to seasickness, so we went to the front of the boat and lay in the sun. The crew brought me a lemon and ginger tea, and M and I listened to the spotter plane radioing in the locations of more whale sharks, and my seasickness evaporated. I think there were six or seven opportunities to swim with the whale sharks, but we were perfectly happy basking in the sun and watching the flying fish flit ahead of the boat’s prow.

After a fantastic lunch prepared by the boat’s crew, we headed back to the reef for a final swim: the current was strong though, so after a little while M and I returned to our prime spot on the front of the boat. We’d found a big waterproof beanbag and had a little shade cast as they unfurled the sail, and oh wow it was nice. Then the staff brought around champagne and that was also pretty damn nice. Huge props to Ningaloo Discovery for a fantastic trip.

When we got home, Mum asked if it was life-changing. I don’t know about that. It was a fun adventure, and I think I would actually do it again — there’s a lot of other wildlife on Ningaloo, like humpbacks, orcas, manatees and turtles — that we didn’t get to see, and I’d like to. But life-changing? Life-changing was quitting my job and being self-employed. Life-changing was learning to exercise and rebuilding my body after surgery and starving myself. I think we can’t necessarily pick our life-changing moments, things like giving birth or having scheduled surgery notwithstanding. The things that turn out to be life-changing are sometimes not even recognisable as that until retrospect pins them as a turning point. Amazing, fun, exciting, and an adventure? Totally. Life-changing? Not sure yet.

 

 

 

And twirling, always twirling!

I really have too much yarn already. There is literally no need for me to buy more. I have enough to make M a beautiful sweater; I have enough for socks for years—it’s seriously like apocalypse prepping in the sock yarn basket—enough yarn for another three sweaters for me me me, and then more yarn again for hats, scarves and any other whimsy my capricious heart demands.

So obviously I don’t need to buy more yarn.

But it turns out I know a loophole before I know one.

It’s been a mildly, but constantly, challenging year, in the arenas of both work and wellbeing. Coming back from an early-morning biopsy at my doc, I realised (a) the appointment had finished early; and (b) my local yarn shop (LYS) was already open. I had scheduled my day around not getting home until 10:00, and here we were at only 9:20! The car basically made the decision for me. I had just had a tiny chunk taken out of my arm and the hole stitched shut: why not treat myself to some yarn?

A bit of broader context: I have spent a lot (a lot) of energy this year talking myself out of buying a loom. I do not need a loom. I don’t care how fast it is and how you can make lovely things with them. I don’t need a loom, and I most certainly do not need another hobby. Then my LYS, blessed be thy name, as if in direct response to this decision, began stocking both looms and wheels.

I was resistant to the wheels. They’re big and expensive and take up floor space I’m not prepared to give. But a plain little drop spindle? That doesn’t take up any space. And they are aesthetically pleasant: I find them interesting. As well as all the wheels and looms, however, the LYS has also started stocking wee bags of sliver (pronounced SLY-ver): fibre that has been prepared for spinning, dyed in pretty little bundles. A little bag with seven bundles of sliver, in pretty shades of purple, red, orange and pink (colourway ‘Autumn’)…well hello there. Cheap, too. A cheap little drop spindle and some cheap little practice fibre (cheap as in inexpensive: this is heavenly soft corriedale, and it feels even more luxurious than it is)…damn it, Ashford know what they’re about.

So I started spinning. I knew the first efforts would be ludicrous; everybody’s first efforts are. With that in mind, I decided to just jump in and try it.

A top-whorl spindle loaded with my very first attempt at spinning.

Oh my. I made string!

WHEEEEE!

Oh wow. Oh no. Oh wow. Why didn’t anyone tell me how much fun it is? And how hard! But also how easy, kind of? It’s not hard to produce something like yarn, but it’s hard to produce something like good yarn and hot damn if I’m not on the hunt now.

My second skein of handspun, pretty orange!

Skeined and everything!

Oh wow.

A multi-pink skein of handspun, my fourth effort!

My fourth attempt! More consistent, and a blend of three colours. Gettin’ clever.

Oh no.

Oh wow.

I excitedly sent my parents a picture: my Dadini praised my lack of overspinning (which was generous, because there was plenty of overspun sections) and he and I had a lengthy exchange about the possibility of buying a wheel and spinning More Seriously. It turns out that Dadini’s mum (something of a pillar in her local CWA and a craftsperson beyond compare) used to do bulk orders of spinning wheels on behalf of her fellow CWA members, and my Dadini would, for a small fee, assemble and test the wheels for them. He is, consequently, surprisingly au courant with the ways of spinning.

Having spun up all the bag of fibre, I, uh, bought more. Proud, on one hand, to have not bought more yarn on that specific occasion; less proud that I bought four bags of prepped fibre. But oh, you should see them. I got another bag of ‘practice’ sliver (this is no shade on Ashford’s prepped fibre: I like it for practising because the different colours allow me to easily remember the order I did them in, and thus track my progress); but then a bag of all-one-colour sliver (purple, because me) which I’m going to use to learn how to be consistent over an entire colour. And then there’s two reward bags. This:

A bag of baby alpaca and fine merino fibre to be spun, in a colour like the feeling of morning sun on your face.

Baby alpaca and fine merino: gotta skill up to earn this stuff.

Alpaca and corriedale, with a sheen of silky pretty something in it. It makes me think of autumn dawns

And this:

A rolag prepared by my LYS owner, in shades of dark purple and indigo.

The prettiest colours. Like a bruise or a poetic midnight.

A rolag prepped, as far as I can tell, by the owner of the LYS herself. It’s gorgeous: midnight blue and purple, with slivers (SLEEV-vers) of silver (SEEL-ver) throughout. Oh dear. Oh nelly. Oh nelly nelly nellington.

There’s been a lot of offers to join/do/come along to things that I’ve turned down on the basis that I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head. But since I got another one of those this year too, in a purely frivolous, non-medical way, why not take up the fibre when the universe drops it on you?

Call me Clotho: she who spins.

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Thoroughly Muddled

Last weekend I did the Miss Muddy obstacle run! For those of you unfamiliar with an obstacle run, it’s an organised run that the organisers make more difficult by adding obstacles. Miss Muddy takes it to a level I’m comfortable with: there’s no penalties for missing obstacles (some runs make you do a set number of burpees for the obstacles you miss), there’s no electric shocks (yup, that’s apparently a thing) and there’s no timing on the run. So, if you happen to be among the bone-density-challenged demographic and avoid running, you can walk it. You can opt in and out of the obstacles and stroll comfortably in between them, and you still get a shiny medal at the end.

It was awesome.

The obstacles were fantastic; there was a jumping castle you had to bounce across, and another jumping castle you had to kind of clamber across; there was a bunch of walls to climb over (of varying difficulty and height, which are strangely not correlated); there were monkey bars to swing across; there was a pink-slime-ball pit to wade through (surprisingly difficult) and an ice bath to get through, complete with people armed with super-soakers ‘encouraging’ you to get under water. There were, as the name suggests, mud pits to crawl through (again with the super-soakers), but there were also water balloon fights, colour dye fights, a foam zone, and a bunch of inflatable water slides to slide down. It was like being at the most awesome birthday party ever, but with BYO fairy bread.

It was hard.

I’m pretty damn fit, but even without the running, it was a demanding morning. And it was cold, especially after I’d been through the liquid-based challenges. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, although I had remembered to sufficiently towel up the car before leaving, so I could just fall into it and crank the heating. And the rest of my teammates didn’t come, due to various life intrusions like sickness — nobody’s fault, but I ended up being the sole representative of Team Bad Yogi. It’s a pretty social event, too: the obstacles end up being bottlenecks, so everyone chats or eavesdrops. Next year I’ll send the email out broad and early, and rope in as many chums as I can. The only thing missing from this year’s event was people to hang with.

At one point (probably between the mud pits) when I was cold and wet and stomping my way through scrub all on my lonesome, guided only by someone’s dropped bright pink boa feathers and the sounds of companionable laughter, I wondered why I put myself through all this. It’s hard, and today it was lonely and cold and hard. So why do I put my hand up and say ‘that’s for me!’? And, well, the answer didn’t take a genius. I like it. I like doing hard things: I like challenging myself and finding I can do it — or, at worst, finding I can’t but that it’s okay, because I survived and learned something. I like trying tough things and I like it even more when I meet the challenge. Life has already shown me it can be surprising and unexpectedly dangerous, so meeting tough physical challenges makes me feel a bit less brittle — and then when the really hard stuff comes my way, I can say “this is going to be tough, but I’m good at tough things.”

Let the record show I did every obstacle but one: a rope climb over a shipping container. Sounds fairly straightforward, but consider this: the volunteer manning the obstacle had brought their samoyed, who was delightedly dancing around and barking at competitors. I politely asked for, and was granted, permission to skip the obstacle in favour of befriending the doggo. Good swap, I reckon.

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On the fritz

What the hell?

This morning is Sunday: I awoke, fairly well rested, but still definitely waylaid by some mysterious and sinister Addison’s-dickering illness. My back was sore from the gym (new personal best on squats!), my guts were sore for reasons that are yet to reveal themselves, and I was under-energetic and grouchy. And then the dishwasher greeted me with “E 25” and its “check water” sign illuminated.

Oy. We disconnected the waste hose and drained it. We opened up the waste pump inside the dishwasher and fumbled in the murky water a bit. We blew into the waste hose (that was M, poor chicken) to see if we could feel a blockage. We sucked on the waste hose to siphon out what we could (that was also M, he’s so brave). We unscrewed the sides of the dishwasher to see if we could pull it out of the cavity and get at its hose from the back end (turns out you can’t: they make ’em so you have access to one end only). We cursed and waggled hoses and scooped out bilge with cups. Finally, we had drained out enough water that we could see all the way into the waste pump inside the dishwasher—and saw the purple rubber band tangled around the wheel. A few quick yanks and it came free; we rain the drain cycle and huzzah! It took us some wrangling to get it back into the cavity (I recall from when we installed it, actually, that job was a bugger), but we got it back in, hooked up, and ran a cleaner through it. (It didn’t really need one, but I felt like it had been through a lot and deserved a treat.) Thank heavens.

Then I realised the cupboard under the kitchen sink smelled like…well, poo. And that’s a sure sign that the bilge around where the sink connects to the drainpipe was dribbling. It gets moist and scummy around the rubber washer there and stuff jams in it and decomposes — hence the poo smell. (We’ll get it fixed one day when the house burns down.) We must have jostled it loose when disconnecting and reconnecting the dishwasher hose, which connects to the drainpipe. M gave it some persuasive tightening and I cleaned up all the poo water that had gotten into the tupperware cupboard.

AND then I put a load of washing on and the ‘start’ button on the machine was cactus. Completely cactus. It’s been on the fritz for about three years, but generally by jostling the front panel—and thus, I dunno, resetting the button connection?—we were able to make it go. But not today. Of course not today. Today we (well, M) got in there with screwdrivers, attempting to pry off the front panel and, when that proved impossible, the start button. Once the start button was (perhaps permanently) off the machine, M could wiggle around the connector and managed to get the load started (I stood nearby, rehearsing my electrocution first aid in my hand and vocally registering my reluctance with the fingers-in approach). So we got one last wash out of it, but it looks like we’ll have to call someone this week and get them to have a squiz at our mystery button problem. It seems a shame to dispense with a hardy and faithful washer just because of a frtizy button.

But what the hell’s going on around here? Have all the warranties expired or something? It’s like one of those horror movies where the first sign that your house is crammed with poltergeists is that all the electricals go haywire. Or maybe it’s not poltergeists, but we’ll realise I’ve been cursed (or CHOSEN) or something. I’m scared to touch the cat in case I break it.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be interacting with only the most low-tech appliances, like books and knitting. (And laptop, obviously, for blogging.)

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Fenced

This week our fence is being replaced. It is a consummation that we have devoutly wish’d for some time, and I can’t wait. I realise a fence is not an exciting thing to be sharing with you, but I do not even care, such is my happiness. I realise that the less charitable may read into my longing for a fence some sort of submerged wish to be isolated, to be cut off from and beyond my fellow suburbanites: to you, I say ‘didn’t ask.’

Our fence is was a depressing, gap-toothed affair held up only by the smell of buried cat shit and a nicked Liberal Party corflute. When our charming new neighbours moved in (having purchased the house recently vacated by the cats’ owner) we started talking immediately about fence replacements. They have two charming and lovely hounds, but even the most charming and lovely hound needs a sturdy fence (if only to prevent intrusion by additional charming and lovely hounds that would unnecessarily tax the kibble budget).

I am beyond excited about the fencing. (Another sentence I could never have predicted I would one day type without irony.) And not just for the practical reason that it will be less permeable by dogs and look nice, but also because I kinda enjoy having tradies around. I really, really like watching people who are good at what they do. I like watching competent people work. This is at the core of why I love watching videos of good chefs at work (Jaques Pepin or Thomas Keller, for example) and videos of musicians recording in the studio (the Devin Townsend Project’s videos about recording Transcendence were awesome to the max). We recently went full middle class and started paying someone to mow the lawn for us, and I swear on all things woolly that it’s tremendously soothing to watch. One dude whipper-snips, one dude mows, and a third does odd jobs like weeding, pruning and leaf-blowing.

So there was the excitement of having a new fence, plus the excitement of having capable, competent people striding about the place generally solving my problems. It was great. (For the doubters in the back there: they had already replaced our neighbour’s other fence, the one they don’t share with us, and done a bloody good job, so I had zero qualms about their competency and professionalism. Zero.)

The noise, however, was something I didn’t anticipate. I work at home, and noise can be a surprisingly big problem. I ended up wearing my noise-cancelling headphones (o boon to humanity), which meant that I blocked out all the noise but then leapt out of my chair every twelve minutes because I imagined someone had rung the doorbell. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

The highlight of the day was hearing the chainsaw stop suddenly and one guy yell “FUCK!” I tensed up, reviewing all my chainsaw-related first aid as urgently as I could: but then the laughter and talking started again, and the chainsaw restarted, so whatever it was, they weren’t too worried about it. And there wasn’t any blood on the driveway, so I guess they figured it out.

We have a lovely new fence now, thus making our yard completely impenetrable by doggos and presenting an attractive grey backdrop for future planting. I’m thinking dwarf flax.

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One salty lady

Friends, I want to share with you the tale of the Great Salt Crisis of 2017. It’s a tale that stretches across time (well, back a few months) and delves into some of the more whimsical peculiarities that my body foists upon me and those that I foist upon it. Shall we?

Super important caveat: I’m not a doctor. I’m not a chemist. I’m not an endocrinologist. This is my experience and is not a prescription for your behaviour, your medication, or your nutrition. There’s no guarantee I’ve correctly understood the body’s chemicals and their actions. Please read this as an interesting story only.

Last year, as keen readers will no doubt remember me mentioning, was a bit of a meds maelstrom for me, as my endocrinologist and I trial-and-errored our way towards a new and better cortisol dose that will serve me more smoothly over the course of the day. We finally settled into a good routine in about August, and I’ve been on that pleasant and steady dosage ever since. Huzzah for good medical care, huzzah for an excellent endocrinologist!

It took me a long time to bounce back from the meds maelstrom. Due to some misunderstandings, I had spent the first half of the year on a very low dose, dragging myself from thing to thing in a grey and pallid state. (My endocrinologist, upon hearing about this: “You must be exhausted!” Me: “…I’ve been very brave.”) I lost a lot of fitness, partly (I presume) because of cortisol’s impact on muscle strength and energy/stamina overall, and partly because I simply couldn’t be stuffed exercising. After restoring myself to a healthy dose, we began the long and surprisingly slow course to regaining strength and energy. My stamina was shot for a really long time, and my recovery from exertion was slow and annoying.

Early this year, I noticed I was really getting tired. And light-headed. In early January, while we were camping with friends, the bend-over-stand-up process by which one secures tent pegs into the ground was as a dizzying and exhilarating roller-coaster ride for me. I had to sit down for a bit. Later, while helping my beloved yoga teacher with her latest round of teacher training, I found not only was the bend-over-stand-up process by which we go through sun salutations and the prasarita paddottonasana series completely head-draining, but the whole day was nothing short of exhausting. Something was up, I realised, and it was probably cortisol-related.

I had a sudden flashback: while preparing to go camping and packing my meds, I realised my Florinef (fludrocortisone: replaces the body’s aldosterone) was getting to the pointy end of its lifespan. I checked the bottle: It expired in December 2016. “Aha!” Cried M and myself, high-fiving. I treated myself to half a tablet from a new, unexpired bottle, presuming that even if it was expired, I was probably getting some good out of the old ones, and shouldn’t take a whole new one. I called my endocrinologist. The conversation went a little like this:

Me: “Bad news and good news: the bad news is I’ve been feeling like crud. The good news is, I figured out why! My Florinef expired!”

She: “Really? Huh, that’s weird…tablets don’t usually go off that quickly. How’s your salt intake?”

Me: “My what? Yeah, fine. Aren’t I clever?”

She: “Well, it sounds like you’ve sorted it out. Good job. Just keep an eye on your salt levels for me, okay? It’s been pretty hot lately. Call me if the symptoms come back.”

The next day I felt awesome. The day after that, it was back to blobsville. I double checked my meds: definitely the unexpired, fresh bottle. And yet? Still no good. Fine, I thought. I’ll give the salt thing a look at. Over a mug of miso, M and I had a chat about what we eat. Since I’m allergic to nightshades (tomatoes, chillies, potatoes, etc. etc.), we don’t buy a lot of pre-made stuff. Most sauces and things like that are out, because they usually have a little bit of chilli or cayenne or paprika or potato starch or whatever. So we make our own—and don’t add much salt. Why would you? You get told from day one that salt is the Literal Devil and you Must Not Eat It. It’s second only to fat in the hierarchy of edible evil.

And then we gave up carbs. Carby foods generally contain a lot of salt, even the homemade stuff. So there’s another source of salt gone. And there’s a LOT of discussion on various low-carb forums and sites regarding the need to up your electrolyte intake when you ditch the carbs: it seems that there’s something about the relationship between carbs, water, and electrolytes that shifts when you drop carbs. Not for everyone, but definitely for me. So in the end, my salt intake was extremely scant. Mostly from cheddar and feta. Turns out you need salt to get by, too. It’s important.

AND THEN we have the confounding factor of Addison’s. One of the many roles of aldosterone is to regulate the body’s salt and keep it optimum. If you lose a lot of salt, such as through exercising when it’s hot, or even just sitting around sweating when it’s hot, the amount of aldosterone you produce increases, in order to reduce the amount of salt you pee out. Only, if your body can’t adjust it—if, for example, your body’s only source of aldosterone is a fixed-dose tablet every morningthere’s no message sent to say ‘hey, hold onto that salt, we’re running low’. To recap: I was losing salt through sweat (hot summer days, and also exercise more generally), I wasn’t replacing it in my diet (low-carb, no nightshades), and I was mysteriously feeling ill. And the reason I felt so awesome that day I had the extra half tablet of Florinef from the unexpired bottle? That mimicked increased aldosterone, which (temporarily) reduced the amount of salt I was wantonly discarding.

M was a champ and whipped up the saltiest dinners he could think of. I drank mug after mug of miso soup (800mg of sodium per mug, I’ll have you know!). Lucky I love miso soup. After a day or two of sudden and astonishing energy, I picked up some salt tablets at the chemist and now they’re a part of my daily supplements. I even keep a bottle in my gym bag, because I get sweaty at the gym and sometimes need a top-up.

So here’s the kicker: I feel better than I have since August. My stamina is bonkers good; my energy levels are higher than ever; and when I get out of bed in the morning, I feel awesome (sorry, I didn’t want to tell you). I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been a bit short of salt since we gave up carbs (in July), or if I’ve finally recovered from the six-month cortisol underdosing—but I suspect it’s the first option. This has been yet another astonishing revelation in the category of Quirks of Bethini’s System.

My endocrinologist is the best. A follow-up conversation:

Me: “You were right. It was the salt.”

She: “Well, the weather has been disgusting. Keep it up: don’t be scared to take more Florinef if you need it, but if your blood pressure stays steady, you can keep taking the salt tabs.”

Enter my new toy: a manual sphygmomanometer (blood pressure checker dealie). It came in teal! In a dinky little case and with a matching teal stethoscope!

Playing with a stethoscope.

Testing my new blood pressure dealie on an unresponsive patient.

Turns out they don’t even check you’re a doctor. Anyone can buy them.

Stay salty, everyone!

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Deep and unnerving realisation

I’ve been working on my lovely Pinoli zippered hoodie for *mumble* months now (in case you didn’t catch that, the mumble was a number greater than twelve), and I think I’ve realised the cause behind my exponential increase in reluctance to work on it.

I’m not sure I want it.

I mean, I desperately want a Pinoli, but I don’t think I want the one I’ve (almost) made. Oops. I don’t think I want another dark green sweater; I don’t think I want one made with acryclic; and I don’t think I want one in the fabric I’m producing.

Close up of Pinoli texture.

Picture deliberately chosen to conceal how much I have left to knit.

Boy, that was tough to say.

I’ve been rereading the Yarn Harlot’s blog archives because I’ve had a lot of timeline-critical knitting to do and wanted something I can read without my hands, and something that comes up occasionally is the importance of producing a fabric that will wear well —  something with the spring and swagger that we like in knitting, and that won’t become saggy baggy elephant pants two washes into its lifespan. And unfortunately, I suspect that’s where we’re going.

So I have two options:

  1. Unravel, buy some other yarn, and knit the Pinoli that my little heart craves so earnestly. One with woolly bounce and rad contrast facings. (I’ve also seen someone on Ravelry made one without the stitch pattern and with a squirrel/heart motif instead and I WANT IT.)
  2. Finish, buy some other yarn, and knit the Pinoli that my little heart etc., and quietly consign the first incarnation to charity.
  3. Finish, and by some miracle, find myself in love with it.

While I kinda hope number 3 is what will happen, I suspect number 1 is where we’re headed. I need to figure it out soon, though: I’m getting knitter’s block. It’s like reader’s block, where the one thing you should be reading isn’t at all interesting and you don’t want to read it. So you read nothing. I’m not knitting anything (socks notwithstanding) because I’m not knitting Pinoli.

An odd thing about me (and there are many): I have a mild tendency to anthropomorphise damn near everything. So when I was photographing my Pinoli-in-progress for this post…I felt guilty. So here’s my final prediction: I’ll keep at it now, finish it somewhat resentfully, wear it three times out of guilt and then banish it to the bottom of my drawers until I next have a clear out.

Heck. Pass me my Bendigo Woollen Mills sample card, would ya?

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Ch-ch-goddamn-changes

The Earth turns and I’m on it.

That sounds like a big, momentous opening, but seriously: this year is so far like being strapped to a rocket and it’s both exhilarating (WHEE WHERE ARE WE GOING) and astonishing (who strapped me to a rocket?). I have more work going on than I have in any other year as a freelancer (for the first quarter, anyway), I’m teaching yoga again, I’m knitting up a storm and slowly rehabilitating two quasi-feralised cats: there’s a lot goin’ on.

Did I mention I’ve given up carbs?

Goddamn it, yep. And…I’m really sorry about this…but it’s a bit great. Not in a “whoa, everything I eat is amazing!” way, obviously, because I’m not eating noodles anymore. But (and I didn’t want to admit this either) the difference in how I feel is noticeable. And the difference in M is just incredible. Whereas he was losing whole afternoons before we gave up carbs (I’m not kidding: there have been days where, if we needed to go out, I had to drive because he was so foggy and sleepy), he’s now charging through the days on full throttle, sleeping like a champion and changing the world for the better. It’s awesome. But I tell you what, mates: I’m super glad that we started the whole carb-free shebang last year. This year has been whiplash after whiplash, ever since…like, November? I don’t think I’d be able to get through it if I was still jonesing for udon. As it stands, we’re both tougher than ever, living off cheeses and cream and lashings of olive oil.

I’ve also more or less given up Twitter. I loved Twitter, but a lot of the people I follow are (rightly) doing their (completely justified) grieving on Twitter. And a lot of the things that are guaranteed to ruin me, emotionally, for a few days, are popping up with discomfiting frequency in the news. So if you’ve tweeted something cool lately and been eating your heart out because I didn’t fave it, that’s why. For the time being, I’m sticking to Instagram, where the pictures are of knitting and the comments are optional.

So I’m working hard, reading hard (see previous post), avoiding Twitter, and knitting like the clappers.

Another confession: I’ve gone back to working with animal fibres. The reason I say ‘confession’ is that a few years ago I announced on this here self-same blog that I was renouncing animal fibres for a while. And, I’m sorry to say, a lot of the arguments I made then I still believe. But there is nothing like wool. There is nothing on the whole planet like sheep fibre: strong, soft, light, lush, warm, gentle on the hands, water-repellent and self-extinguishing. And here’s the kicker: it’s renewable and biodegradable. Once I realised all the acrylic yarn I’ve ever used is going to be with future generations (not in an heirloom way, but in a caught in the trachea of a sea turtle way), I decided that wasn’t the way I wanted things to roll. So I’m back on the wool and my heavens it is lovely. I’m looking forward to felting me some slippers come this winter, and you would not believe my rate of sock turnout right now.

You’d think with all this going on, I’d be just sitting quietly somewhere, clutching the edge of the furniture and murmuring soothing things like ‘purl two, knit one through the back of the loop’ over and over. As it is, I’m driving into the skid: I’m learning to cook crazy vegetarian low-carb goods, I’m reading poetry, I’m toying with trying my hand at weaving and I’ve taken up fencing lessons. Life wants change to shake things up? Then I’m a polaroid, baby.

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