Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eating in Singapore

My original title for this blog was "Dining in Singapore", but "dining" seems too lofty a term for our eating experiences. Yesterday, Joe and Jill took us to a hawker centre, an outdoor complex filled with stalls selling a large variety of Asian foods. We especially loved the refreshing fruit shakes and all the types of seafood that one can get freshly grilled. There was even abalone for those willing to pay the price for it. We got to sample chili squid, satay chicken and beef, Asian fried rice and a big succulent prawn smothered in garlic, shown above. However, the best dish, in my mind, was the wonderfully gooey oyster omelet in the photo below. Strangely, the only other person in our party willing to share it with me was my brother Joe.

We loved the Asian food courts in Singapore. These food courts can be found at most tourist attractions and in practically every mall (and there are many malls here). It is easy to get a complete meal for the equivalent of $3 or $4 Canadian dollars, and one can choose from Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese and Korean cuisines.

At the food courts, you can finish off your meal with a delicious low-fat fruit dessert. I was impressed by the fact that you can buy a variety of fresh fruit by the piece, but what really stunned me was finding out that I can get the following for only $2 (or $1.70 CDN) :

Black grass jelly over crushed ice doused with syrup and topped with longan fruit. Dessert just doesn't get better than this!!

We had other terrific dining experiences, too many to describe fully here, but these included:
  • Chili crab and black-pepper crab at the famous Long Beach Seafood Restaurant.
  • A very good Chinese lunch at a little back-street restaurant that Jill wandered into, after our yarn-shopping expedition in Chinatown.
  • A hearty Indian meal in Little India, eaten on a big banana leaf.
  • Excellent home-cooking by Joe and Jill's live-in nanny, Basil.
  • And finally, the requisite over-priced but tasty Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Green Christmas

It looks like Santa Claus did indeed make his way from the North Pole all the way to Singapore after all! Oliver was happy to see that Santa ate the cookie and drank the milk he left out, and he was thrilled with all the toys Santa left for him. Martin was mostly excited about unwrapping all the pretty boxes. It's great to spend Christmas with family, even if we're 15000km from home!

We really did have a green Christmas here, as we'd decided to spend the afternoon at the Singapore Botanic Gardens building up an appetite for the big turkey dinner. Julia had finally recovered from the jet lag enough to want to go for a run, and the rest of us admired the gardens, including the incredible National Orchid Garden, at a somewhat slower pace.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful ...

After two days of good weather, we had a tremendous downpour that started in the wee hours and lasted through the morning. When it rains here, it really pours! That didn't stop the kids from having a good time outside. Actually, it was quite refreshing walking around the patio, with shoes and umbrellas as optional accessories.

It is strange but rather fun to celebrate Christmas in this tropical country, knowing that our family and friends back home are being subjected to yet another snowstorm and enjoying a very white Christmas. So how do Singaporeans celebrate Christmas? I've noticed that they, like us Northern folk, enjoy putting up bright and colourful decorations. The mall entrances feature huge Christmas trees heavily laden with ornaments, and windows of homes are decorated with Christmas lights and snowflake (yes, snowflake) cutouts.

Then, there are the enthusiastic ice-skaters at the mall. I suppose the skates are rented, as I wouldn't expect these to be in every Singaporean's closet. I loved watching the skaters. The kids seemed to be truly having fun, not beating each other with sticks on the ice like they do in Canada.

And then there are the truly bizarre interpretations of the Yuletide celebration:

First Days in Singapore

It's great being here with Joe and Jill, and the girls are happy to have time to spend with their cousins Martin and Oliver. Joe and Jill have the Christmas tree and decorations up and are planning the traditional turkey dinner, even if there's no sign of snow here. We're all excited about Santa Claus's arrival tonight, though we're not sure whether he'll be in his heavy red coat or just T-shirt and shorts.

The weather was terrific the first couple of days. Well, truthfully, it was very hot and extremely humid according to our Canadian standards, but we're told that it was milder and more pleasant than usual. In any case, it did not rain, and it was always possible to escape to an air-conditioned area or cool off in the pool.

Given the good weather, we decided to spend our first day at the Singapore Zoo, where we saw many interesting sights. Those included animals unfamiliar to us, like the proboscis monkey below, and old friends in different circumstances, like the polar bear munching on a watermelon. The following night, we returned to the Singapore Zoo's "Night Safari", where we took an hour-long tram ride and got a close-up look at the nocturnal animals subtly lit up with an eerie glow.

On our second day, we took the subway into the downtown area. To our eyes, the subway was much like the other parts of Singapore that we'd seen so far: clean, well laid out, efficient, and existing to support the national obsession with shopping. We spent the morning at the Asian Civilization Museum which has a very good collection of artifacts from the countries surrounding Singapore. We then stopped at a pub at the picturesque Boat Quay for a leisurely lunch, and we finished the afternoon with some last-minute Christmas shopping. It's not difficult to find a mall in this city!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Outrunning Snowmageddon

We are now in warm and sunny Singapore! We left home Thursday evening, just hours before the big snow event was scheduled to start, and made our way to Buffalo, where we stayed overnight at a hotel near the airport. Worried about our one-hour connection time in Toronto, Todd had our Buffalo-Chicago flight moved to an earlier time. Despite having to stumble out of bed at 5am, we were glad we arranged the earlier flight, as we took off just as the storm was getting really bad in Buffalo.

We got to Chicago an hour late but still had plenty of time before our connection, which by some miracle, was still scheduled to leave on time. All around us, other flights were being delayed or cancelled. We had a nice, leisurely walk from one terminal to the other through Chicago O'Hare's awesome walkway, complete with music and light show. That almost made up for the hour sitting on the runway once we got on the plane. Finally, we took off, and 15 very tedious hours later, we staggered off the plane in Hong Kong.

Todd, because of his frequent flying habits, was offered a business-class upgrade for the Hong Kong to Singapore trip. The airline very generously offered upgrades to his family members (i.e. Julia and Kate) but refused to offer one for me as I had a different last name. It really wasn't a big deal to me (I just wanted to sleep through the flight at this point) but Todd, being a persistent kind of guy, eventually persuaded the airline to give all of us upgrades. I was pleased in the end that my kids did not get to experience business class travel for the first time before I did, at age 41! Todd and I had an excellent meal, washed down with lots of wine. The kids, having eaten sufficiently earlier, declined the entree but happily accepted the rich chocolate dessert.

So finally, after 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Singapore at midnight local time and were enthusiastically greeted by my brother Joe. We've been here a couple of days and are having a wonderful time so far with Joe, Jill, Oliver and Martin. I'll be posting lots of photos soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One-Hour Earwarmer Pattern

This earwarmer was inspired by one I saw on the Urban Outfitters Web site. I made a few adjustments to make it less fussy for my kid who generally refuses to wear a hat unless there's a windchill warning. At first, Julia thought the one we saw on-line looked silly but then warmed up to the idea of wearing one. After trying on my first attempt, she declared it was OK but she wasn't crazy about the colour. So I asked her what colour she would like. Her reply: "Maybe a white one ... or pink. Red is nice too. Actually, Mom, can you make me a whole bunch in lots of different colours?" Sure, sweetie, I'll get right on it.

Anyhow, here is the pattern to make your own. I used a chunky yarn for the one in the photo, but I used two strands of Aran-weight yarn for another. It ended up a bit wider, and I worked fewer rows. The pattern is easily adjusted to various yarn weights. I called this a "one-hour" pattern. To be totally truthful, it took me a bit over an hour, but I was watching a good episode of Battlestar Galactica while knitting it.

Width at widest part: 3.75 inches
Circumference: 20 inches; stretches to 22 inches.
Note: circumference can be easily adjusted.

1 85g skein Patons Shetland Chunky or other chunky-weight yarn (approx. 50-60m needed)
6mm knitting needles

16 stitches over 4 inches using stockinette stitch

M1: make 1 by knitting into the previous row between current and next stitch
M1P: make 1 by purling into the previous row between current and next stitch
K2tog: knit 2 together
P2tog: purl 2 together
SSK: decrease one stitch with a slip, slip, knit
Patt: continue in pattern by knitting all knit stitches and purling all purl stitches

Cast on 5 stitches.
Row 1: K all stitches.
Row 2: P all stitches.
Rows 3 and 4: Patt.

Increase to full width:
Row 1: K1, M1P, K3, M1P, K1. (7 stitches)
Row 2: P1, K1, P3, K1, P1.
Row 3: K1, P1, K1, M1P, K1, M1P, K1, P1, K1. (9 stitches)
Row 4: P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1.
Rows 5 and 6: Patt.
Row 7: K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, M1, K1, P1, K1. (12 stitches)
Row 8: P1, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P1.
Rows 9 and 10: Patt.
Row 11: K1, M1, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, M1, K1. (14 stitches)
Row 12: P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 13 and 14: Patt.
Row 15: K2, P1, K2, M1P, P1, K2, P1, M1P, K2, P1, K2. (16 stitches)
Row 16: P2, K1, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 17 and 18: Patt.
Row 19: K2, P1, M1P, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, M1P, P1, K2. (18 stitches)
Row 20: P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 21 and 22: Patt.
Row 23: K2, P2, K2, P2, M1, K2, M1, P2, K2, P2, K2. (20 stitches)
Row 24: P2, K2, P2, K2, P4, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 25 and 26: Patt.
Row 27: K2, P2, M1, K2, P2, K4, P2, K2, M1, P2, K2. (22 stitches) Place marker.
Row 28: P2, K2, P3, K2, P4, K2, P3, K2, P2.

Knit central portion:
Patt until length from cast-on edge is 10 inches or half the desired circumference.
(Final circumference should be about 2 inches less than head measurement from nape to forehead and back to nape.) You are now at the half-way point and will reverse shaping for the remainder of the earwarmer.
Count the number of rows completed from marker, including the row that the marker is on, and continue in the pattern for this many rows.

Decrease to end:
Row 1: K2, P2, SSK, K1, P2, K4, P2, K1, K2tog, P2, K2. (20 stitches)
Row 2: P2, K2, P2, K2, P4, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 3 and 4: Patt.
Row 5: K2, P2, K2, P2, SSK, K2tog, P2, K2, P2, K2. (18 stitches)
Row 6: P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2.
Rows 7 and 8: Patt.
Row 9: K2, P2tog, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2tog, K2. (16 stitches)
Row 10: P2, K1, P2, K2, P2, K2, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 11 and 12: Patt.
Row 13: K2, P1, K2, P2tog, K2, P2tog, K2, P1, K2 (14 stitches)
Row 14: P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2.
Rows 15 and 16: Patt.
Row 17: K2tog, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2, P1, K2tog. (12 stitches)
Row 18: P1, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P2, K1, P1.
Rows 19 and 20: Patt.
Row 21: K1, P1, K2tog, P1, K2tog, P1, K2tog, P1, K1. (9 stitches)
Row 22: P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1, K1, P1.
Rows 23 and 24: Patt.
Row 25: K1, P1, SSK, K1, K2tog, P1, K1. (7 stitches)
Row 26: P1, K1, P3, K1, P1.
Row 27: SSK, K3, K2tog. (5 stitches)
Row 28: Purl all stitches.

Knit 4 more rows, knitting all knit stitches and purling all purl stitches.
Cast off and sew ends together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Speedy Cabled Cowl Pattern

I decided to make a cowl to go with the beret and I convinced my reluctant model to pose for a few more shots. This was another fast and easy project that took about an hour in all to make. The pattern is below.

1 skein Sirdar Big Softie
10mm knitting needles

Note about materials: I used almost an entire skein of the Sirdar Big Softie yarn. If your tension is looser than mine, you might want to buy an extra skein for safety, or you can do one fewer row of ribbing on either end, and it won't affect the look of the cowl much. If you are also making the matching beret, then 3 skeins will be more than enough for both projects.

9 stitches and 12 rows over 4-inch square using stockinette stitch.

M1: Make an additional stitch by working into previous row between current and next stitch.
C4: Place next two stitches on a cable needle and hold in front of work. Knit next two stitches on left-hand needle. Then knit two stitches from cable needle.
K2tog: Knit two together.
P2tog: Purl two together
SSK: Decrease with a slip, slip, knit.

With 10mm needles, cast on 41 stitches.

Start ribbing.
Row 1 (RS): *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * until last stitch. P1.
Row 2 (WS): K1. *P2, K2* Repeat from * to * until end of row.
Row 3: Repeat row 1.
Row 4: Repeat row 2.

Next row (RS): *P2, M1, K2, M1*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (61 stitches).
Next row (WS): K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.

Start cable pattern.
Row 1 (RS): *P2, C4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 2 (WS): K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Row 3 (RS): *P2, K4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 4: Repeat row 2.
Row 5: Repeat row 3.
Row 6: Repeat row 2.
Row 7: Repeat row 1.
Row 8: Repeat row 2.

Next row (RS): *P2, SSK, K2tog*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (41 stitches)
Next row (WS): K1. *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Next row (RS): *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * until last stitch. P1.
Next row (WS): K1. *P2, K2* Repeat from * to * until end of row.

Cast off in rib pattern. Sew seam.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Family Update

You might have noticed that there have been mostly knitting-related posts lately. Well, that's mainly because, for the past month, I'm been doing almost nothing but working and knitting, and there's not much exciting to tell about work on this blog. Fortunately, the big pressure at work will be off by Christmas time so I'll be able to enjoy the holidays with family!

However, life is going on for the rest of the family. Julia has been continuing with figure skating and the local track-and-field club this fall and is busily studying for her December exams. (She is sitting next to me right now, reviewing history notes on a Sunday morning.) She has been doing well in school and having fun with her friends too. She and a friend went to see Twilight yesterday and highly recommends it.

Kate got a brand new half-size violin earlier in the fall and is the midst of recital season now. She is with the junior division of the youth orchestra again. They participated in a fundraiser concert a couple of weeks ago and have their first major concert of the season next week. Last weekend, she played in a solo recital (Bach Gavottes from Suzuki Book 3) and just yesterday, she participated in her string school's Christmas concert. It seems like the violin is permanently attached to her these days!

Todd has been doing more business travel and playing guitar when he's at home. He took out this gigantic book of "Guitar Hero" sheet music from the library yesterday, perhaps in an attempt to lure Kate and Julia into his studio to play along with him. He still hopes Julia will get back to piano or keyboard sometime.

So life is good ... but busy, busy, busy!

Speedy Cable Beret Pattern

May 28, 2009 update: It seems this pattern has been very popular on Ravelry, with 111 projects so far! However, a good number of people have said that the pattern fits more like a beanie than a beret. The one I made for Julia seemed beret-like on her, but variations in gauge, head size and yarn might account for the differences. Fortunately, most of the knitters were still happy with the results, but this is a warning that your beret might turn out not so beret-like. I suggest you browse the project photos on Ravelry to get an idea of how the hat looks made up in different yarns. (Note that you need an account on Ravelry to see them.)

Dec. 2, 2008 update: there is now a matching cowl pattern.

Julia asked for a beret to match her legwarmers, so I decided to experiment with some Sirdar Big Softie yarn I had available. This stuff is super chunky yarn and it took me just over an hour to make the beret. I've included the pattern below. If you make it, keep in mind the headband is fairly loose, so the beret looks appropriately slouchy.

2 skeins Sirdar Big Softie
8mm and 10mm knitting needles

9 stitches and 12 rows over 4-inch square using stockinette stitch.

M1: Make an additional stitch by working into previous row between current and next stitch.
C4: Place next two stitches on a cable needle and hold in front of work. Knit next two stitches on left-hand needle. Then knit two stitches from cable needle.
K2tog: Knit two together.
P2tog: Purl two together
SSK: Decrease with a slip, slip, knit.

Using smaller needles, cast on 49 stitches.

Start ribbing.
Row 1: *P2, K2*. Repeat from * to * until last stitch. P1.
Row 2: K1. *P2, K2* Repeat from * to * until end of row.
Repeat rows 1 and 2 once.

Switch to 10mm and repeat rows 1 and 2 of ribbing again.
Increase for main part of the hat.
Next row (RS): *P2, M1, K2, M1*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (73 stitches).
Next row (WS): K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.

Start cable pattern.
Row 1: *P2, K4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 2: K1. *P4, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Row 3: *P2, C4*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1.
Row 4: Repeat row 2.
Row 5: Repeat row 1.
Row 6: Repeat row 2.

Repeat rows 1 to 6 of cable pattern.

Shape crown.
Next row (RS): *P2, K2, K2tog*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (61 stitches)
Next row (WS): K1. *P3, K2*. Repeat from * to * to end of row.
Next row (RS): *P2, SSK, K1*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (49 stitches)
Next row (WS): K1. *P2, K2tog*. Repeat from * to * to end of row. (37 stitches)
Next row (RS): *P1, SSK*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (25 stitches)
Next row (WS): K1. *P2tog*. Repeat from * to * to end of row. (13 stitches).
Next row (RS): *K2tog*. Repeat from * to * until one stitch remains. P1. (7 stitches)

Cut yarn, leaving long tail, and draw through remaining stitches. Pull tight and sew seam.

Note: Minor correction was made to pattern on Dec. 2, 2008. Second row of crown shaping originally had a *P4, K1* repeat. This was changed to *P3, K1*. Thanks to the knitter who spotted this error.

Note: Another correction made on Jan. 19, 2009. Changed second row of crown shaping to have a *P3, K2* repeat. Sigh ... can't seem to get this row right!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Legwarmer and Wristwarmer Patterns

I finished Julia's legwarmers yesterday and as soon as I presented them to her, she said, "I'd really like some wristwarmers to go with those." Fortunately, there was enough yarn left over from the Elann sample pack. Patterns are provided below.

Materials: These materials were from a limited edition sample pack of medium-weight yarns but can be bought separately. They are enough for both sets of legwarmers and wristwarmers.
1 skein Elann Peruvian Highland Wool in Tapestry Blue, 1321 (colour A)
1 skein Elann Peruvian Highland Donegal in Colony Blue, 2163 (colour B)
1 skein Elann Peruvian Sierra Aran in Thistle, 1688 (colour C)
1 skein Elann Peruvian Pure Alpaca in Limoges Blue, 1424 (colour D)
1 skein Elann Peruvian Uros Aran in Antique Blue, 4148 (colour E)
1 skein Elann Incense in Denim, 08 (colour F)
1 set of 4.5mm needles

Gauge: 30 stitches in K2, P2 rib, unstretched

Size: Teen or Women's Small. Length of legwarmer is 17.5 inches, and circumference is a maximum of 15 inches when stretched fully. Length of wristwarmer is 7.25 inches, and circumference is a maximum of 7.5 inches when stretched fully. Increase circumference by adding stitches in multiples of 4 and length by adding stripes as desired.

Instructions for Legwarmers:

For each legwarmer, cast on 62 stitches loosely.
Row 1: Repeat (K2, P2) to last two stitches. K2.
Row 2: Repeat (P2, K2) to last two stitches. P2.
Repeat rows 1 and 2 using the following stripe pattern. Note that the pattern is the same going forward and backward so that you don't have to worry about the orientation of the legwarmers when putting them on.
Stripe pattern: 4A, 4B, 2C, 6D, 4E, 4F, 2E, 8B, 4A, 4C, 2A, 6D, 4E, 6D, 2A, 4C, 4A, 8B, 2E, 4F, 4E, 6D, 2C, 4B, 4A.
Cast off loosely and sew seam, weaving in ends into the seam.

Instructions for Wristwarmers:

For each wristwarmer, cast on 30 stitches loosely.
Row 1: Repeat (K2, P2) to last two stitches. K2.
Row 2: Repeat (P2, K2) to last two stitches. P2.
Repeat rows 1 and 2 using the following stripe pattern. Note that only three of the six colours are used and can be carried up the side loosely if you want to reduce bulk in the seam.
Stripe pattern: 4D, 4F, 2E, 4F, 2D, 4E, 2F, 2D, 2F, 4E, 2D, 4F, 2E, 4F, 4D.
Cast off loosely and sew seam.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Latest Obsession

I could have used the alternate title, "Where I've Been Wasting My Time," ... except the time is not really wasted. I finally joined If you're a knitter or crocheter and you actually like spending time on your computer, you need to join this community. Go to the site and request an invitation. They are letting only about 1000 people in per day, so that they don't put too much stress on their systems. If you sign up now, you'll get an invitation in less than a week.

The site is mind-boggling, and you're hearing this from someone who is not unfamiliar with large on-line communities. There are over 200,000 participants. Who'd have thunk there would be that many knitters/crocheters with computer access in the world? Knitting was such a solitary activity for me for decades. I never minded this much, but I'd had no idea so many people loved this hobby. I was astounded the first time I went to the K-W Knitters Guild about a decade ago, as I entered a large room packed with knitters of all ages (and not the "dozen little old ladies" Todd anticipated I'd see), but I thought this was just because I live in a particularly fibre-friendly city. That might still be true, but clearly there are knitters lurking everywhere.

So back to ravelry. It's like Facebook, but even better. There's the social networking aspect, including a multitude of groups. I joined some (e.g. fans of Philosophers Wool yarns and designs) and was simply intrigued by others (e.g. "Hockey Knit in Canada"). The main attraction for me, however, is the extensive database. You get easy, visual ways to record all your projects, stash, tools, books and to keep track of projects/yarns you'd like to have in the future. You then put the information about projects and yarns into the main database. The result is that, with the pooled information, you have access to photos and details about thousands of patterns (many of them free) and yarns. So if I enter "Needful Yarns London Tweed" into the search box, I can find a dozen ideas, with pictures, of what I can do with the stash that I'd bought last week.

On ravelry, one of the largest groups, with over 2000 members, is one celebrating geekdom. They raise the unnecessary question, "Are ravelers inherently geeky?" Here are people who spend hours on the computer, enjoy "social" on-line interaction with total strangers and are obsessed with meticulously cataloguing every yarn, needle and pattern in their possession. Um, yeah, I guess we're geeks. If you knit or crochet, please join and be my friend on ravelry. My account name is paulinaknits there.

Sunday Craft Update - November 16

It's been a while since I've written an update on all my crafts, and I've got plenty to report. I've been doing a little bit on Jill's Christmas ornament every evening for the past couple of weeks and it's almost finished now. Can't wait to post the photo but it'll have to wait until January, after I present it to Jill in Singapore.

Life has been very busy lately, with major work deadlines and loads of school and extra-curricular activities for the kids. When life's stresses increase, I knit ... and knit. The past couple of weeks, I finished a hat/scarf/mittens set in Plymouth Royal Llama wool and a Peruvian-style hat with yarn from Mount Lehman Llamas. I'll get photos posted eventually.

The bad news is that one of my favourite yarn companies, Needful Yarns, appears to be going out of business. The good news is that their stock has been showing up at, sometimes discounted by as much as 75%. I bought 2 10-skein bags of their London Tweed last week, along with 2 6-skein bags of Elann's house-yarn sample packs. I'm working on leg warmers for Julia with one of these bags. I'm told they're still in style, and they're in the fall collections of a few of Julia's favourite shops. I can't imagine the return of this trend will last for much longer, though. Too bad. I used to think of legwarmers as mostly useless and only slightly decorative fashion accessories. However, we've discovered that they suit very well teenage girls in school uniform (i.e. skirt) standing at a bus stop every morning in the cold Canadian winter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Before and After

On the weekend, Kate had her long hair cut off, and she is donating the 9-inch ponytail to a charity. I think she looks rather cute with the new haircut!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Joe Turns Forty

My brother Joe turns 40 today! We all wish you a wonderful day, Joe! You can read about the surprise party that Jill had arranged on Joe's blog. This photo of Joe and his son Oliver is from their visit earlier this year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin Has Been Good for My Vocabulary

Sarah Palin, with her "g"-dropping and "you betcha" kind of talk, has been accused of dumbing down the American (and consequently, the Canadian) language. On the contrary, my obsession (as Todd calls it) with reading about all things Palin has improved my vocabulary greatly.

The first word I learned, immediately after Palin was chosen as John McCain's running mate, was "gubernatorial", meaning "of or relating to a governor", as in "Palin's gubernatorial campaign". Even my very literate friend Fei Min did not know this one. Am I the only one that loves saying this word over and over? It just rolls off the tongue so smoothly.

Then, in reading Christopher Buckley's now famous endorsement of Barrack Obama, which isn't specifically about Palin but does have a few references to her (including the oft-used line, "What on earth can he have been thinking?"), I encountered and had to look up, "rara avis", the Latin equivalent of "rare bird", which I do know in English.

The word "gravitas" is not new to me, but it's never been part of my everyday vocabulary. However, it's been used so often and in so many contexts (referring to candidates, journalists, advisors, Joes, etc., both possessing and lacking) that I now feel quite comfortable popping it into ordinary conversation.

Then there's the word "mavericky". This word is not in my Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th Ed., so it can't be a real word. All the same, I'm grateful to Saturday Night Live and Tiny Fey for popularizing it, as it's such a great adjective. Maybe I will petition to have it included in the 5th edition of the OSPD.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My First 5K Race

When my friend Laura suggested a couple of months ago that we enter the Oktoberfest 5K race, I didn't take the idea seriously. Sure, I used to run a bit for exercise, but that was many, many years ago and very, very slowly. Since then, I'd run occasionally on the treadmill, but doing even a relatively short 5K race was for serious athletes, not a mouse potato like myself. Being the enthusiastic optimist that she is, Laura convinced me to try the Couch-to-5K plan from So I ran three days a week for eight weeks, and today I completed my very first 5K race.

At the onset, I had a realistic goal of 35 minutes and a seemingly not-so-realistic goal of 30 minutes. I was very pleased when, near the end of my training, I managed to do 5K in 33 minutes. Today, I surprised myself by finishing in 30:11. It helped that most of the race was downhill. Also, there's nothing like seeing a 10-year-old kid or a 70-year-old senior sprinting past to give that extra bit of motivation. I finished 25th out of 54 women in the 40-44 age group, and 509th out of 840 racers. So I'm not going to break any records ... but it's nice to know that, at age 41, I can still try something new that I've never done before!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Crochet Scarf Patterns

You can make this scarf out of any five random chunky or bulky weight yarns of varying materials and texture. Note: chunky/bulky weight would give about 12 to 16 stitches per 10 cm (4 in) if you were knitting in stockinette stitch. You can also combine multiple strands of lighter weight yarns to achieve a chunky/bulky weight. I used the leftovers of the Siesta Blanket kit from Needful Yarns. Don't worry too much about exact amounts. You can adjust the frequency and width of the stripes to accommodate the yardage you have. With the materials I used, each 50g skein had about 60m to 100m of yarn. I had partial (but mostly full) skeins of each yarn and I had enough left over to make the mini scarf and blanket as well. Just make sure you have enough of the main colour, as that is used more frequently than the others.

Finished Measurements:
Scarf measures approximately 120 cm by 20 cm (48 in by 8 in) without fringe. The fringe adds another 40 cm (16 in). To change the length, increase or decrease the number of stitches in the base chain, and/or change the length of the fringe to suit.

Use the following yarns or any combination of 5 chunky or bulky weight yarns.
  • 2 50g skeins Needful Yarns Capri (nylon/cotton) -- main colour
  • 1 50g skein Filtes King Extra Stampato (merino wool)
  • 1 50g skein Needful Yarns Santa Ana (wool/nylon)
  • 1 50g skein Filtes King Knotty (nylon/wool/acrylic/alpaca)
  • 1 50g skein Lana Gatto Venus (mohair/nylon/wool), used double-stranded
  • An 8mm crochet hook
sc -- single crochet
MC -- main colour

Using an 8mm crochet hook, 10 sc = 10 cm (4 in).

Base row: using MC, make a slip knot, leaving a 20 cm (8 in) end. Chain 120. Cut yarn, leaving another 20 cm (8 in) end, and slip through last loop, pulling tight.
Next row: Using MC, make a slip knot, leaving a 20 cm (8 in) end. Sc in first chain of base row, and continue with an sc in each following chain to the end. Cut yarn, leaving a 20 cm (8 in) end, and slip through last loop, pulling tight.
Next row: Using one of the contrasting yarns, repeat the previous row, leaving a fringe on either end as before.
Next rows: Repeat, making stripes of one or more rows of any yarn as desired. If you make multiple rows of one yarn, make sure you do not turn after a row, but instead, finish off the row leaving the fringe. Use MC with approximately twice the frequency of each of the other yarns.
Continue in this way until the scarf is 19 cm (7.5 in) wide, or 1 cm (0.5 in) less than the desired width. Using MC, make two more rows.

Mini-Scarf Instructions:
With any left-over yarn, you can make this little scarf for your favourite stuffed animal in the same way. The scarf will be approximately 45 cm (18 in) long, not including the fringe. Using MC, chain 40 stitches for the base row and follow instructions as above. Leave 10 cm (4 in) of yarn on each end for the fringe. Work a few rows until the scarf is 2.5 cm (1 in) wide. Finish with a final row in MC.

Mini-Blanket Instructions:
I had enough yarn left over to make a blanket for the cow as well. Finished measurements of the blanket in the photo are approximately 20 cm (8 in) by 26 cm (10 in). Using MC, chain 25. Work sc in 2nd chain from beginning and following chains until the end. Ch1, turn, and work another row in MC. Continue doing rows in sc until desired length, changing yarns randomly to create stripes of varying width. Use MC with greater frequency and end with two or more rows of MC. Weave in yarn ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leftover Yarn

My afghan is finished, but I had plenty of yarn left over and I made the scarf that Julia is modelling above. Then, with the remaining scraps, I made a scarf and blanket for Kate's Lil' Kinz cow.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Todd!

Todd is celebrating his birthday in Germany today, with Julia. The two of them went to celebrate his cousin's wedding. Unfortunately, because of work and other commitments, I had to stay at home, but Kate and I have had a fun week here together. Happily, Todd is spending his birthday enjoying good food and drink and surrounded by lots of extended family members. The photo above is from our visit to the Ex. At age 43, he's still young at heart!

Today's a special day for a couple more reasons. Joe and Jill are celebrating their anniversary today, and my friend Don, who was Todd's roommate way back in university residence, is a year older today too. Best wishes to all of you!

Sunday Craft Update - September 21

The box of yarn I bought in April now looks like this. The blanket is about two-thirds done. It's made up of a combination of wool, cotton, alpaca and mohair yarns, and the photo just doesn't convey how very soft and light it is.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Loss to the Literary World

I was saddened to read that David Foster Wallace had died, at the age of 46. I'd read a number of his essays years ago, when I subscribed to Harper's Magazine. (That was before I had kids, when I actually had the attention span to read 20-page magazine articles.) I was amazed by how he could explore every facet of a seemingly mundane topic and draw me into that fascinating world. After reading his essay on cruise ships, "Shipping Out", in my formative years, I'm not sure I'll ever truly enjoy a cruise. (Well, OK, I did go on a cruise with my family. Once. And I enjoyed it ... sort of. Maybe I need to read Wallace again.) Harper's has collected his essays here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dining in Toronto

In the past month, Todd and I had the opportunity to go into Toronto a couple of times and while there, we enjoyed some good food and drink. We are fortunate to have a reasonable variety of dining options here, but whenever I visit Toronto, I'm reminded that I really do live out in the boonies. In some Toronto city blocks, I can find as many sushi restaurants as I can in all of Waterloo.

While the kids were at camp, we wandered around Toronto's Distillery District, a trendy, artsy area with good beer. Here is Todd with his favourite beverage at the Mill St. Brewery. We also had an excellent meal of oysters and tuna at the Pure Spirits Oyster Bar and Grill. We saw some lovely pieces in the many artists' studios there, but several of them left us simply perplexed. One studio was left completely unattended while we were there, and after a brief visit, we understood why security would be considered optional.

After the kids returned, we paid another visit to Toronto, this time to spend a fun-filled weekend, that included visiting the Canadian National Exhibition, with my cousins from Montreal. (More on this later. I'm still working on the backlog of family news stories.)

A dining experience worth mentioning was a visit to Musa. (The Martini Boys give a review and location info here.) This visit was memorable in that it featured the worst service I'd received in a long time. Even so, I would readily go back for another meal, as the food was terrific and the prices were surprisingly low, especially in contrast to the inflated numbers at the touristy Distillery District. From the brunch menu, I had the Tropicana, a generous serving of scrambled eggs, avocado, sausage, grilled fruits (papaya, mango and plantain), potatoes and toast. Gotta love a restaurant that serves whole-wheat toast as the default and that garnishes the plates with longan fruit. Do go to Musa for the wonderful brunch, but don't go if you have to be somewhere right after or if being ignored annoys you. I will have to pay another visit to my cousin, who lives nearby, so that I can try a dinner at this place.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back from Camp

Julia and Kate are home, after two weeks together at camp. We dropped them off on a Sunday morning at the designated meeting point, for the four-hour bus trip up North. The luggage was loaded, the goodbyes were said, and the kids were settled. We stood ready to smile and wave at the excited faces, in anticipation of the bus roaring off onto the highway. Instead, we heard the anti-climactic coughs and sputters of the bus as it tried desperately to match the energy level of the kids and get going that morning. By the time the driver requested a boost, the parents' faces were looking pretty long, and there was no shortage of volunteers. The parent with the biggest car got the privilege of boosting the bus, and finally it was moving. Relief all around. The only thing worse than seeing your kids leave for camp is to see them not leave for camp.

Todd and I, along with his parents, John and Marilyn, saw the girls mid-session on Visitor's Day. Julia and Kate were having a great time, despite a few minor disasters. ("Mom, I forgot to pack my hair straightener!!") Kate, the bookworm, finished all the books she'd brought in the first week but was relieved to find a little library at the camp. Julia, on the other hand, spent much of her free time playing on the sports fields and learning aquatic life-saving skills.

Todd and I enjoyed the quiet and (relative) cleanliness of the house, but truthfully, the house seemed too empty without the girls here. I was happy to see them back and after three days, I am almost finished with the laundry.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Craft Update - August 24

My goal for Jill's Olympic Craft Challenge was to work on my cross-stitch projects a total of 12 hours. I actually managed about 16 hours by the time the closing ceremonies finished this morning. Here is a close-up of Aida, designed by Mirabilia. I've been working on this for ages and have finished about two-thirds at this point. The hand-dyed linen fabric was from Sugar Maple Fabrics which sadly seems to have closed its on-line doors at this time. I love the colours in this piece, but it is rather painful to stitch, as it involves lots of pesky little beads (many of which are hiding in the rug and under the seat cushion right now), metallic threads that fray all the time, and large, boring single-colour sections. I am determined to finish it though, hopefully before the next Olympics.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Martin Turns One

My youngest nephew, Martin, turned one on Friday! This photo of Martin and Kate playing peek-a-boo is from a couple of months ago, when Joe and Jill came to visit. You can see more photos of this cutie here. Happy Birthday, Martin!

A Visit from my Nieces

Last week, my sister-in-law Kimberly and her three girls came to visit. They, along with Todd's brother Tim, were in Canada for an extended visit while the kids were off school for the summer. Unfortunately, Tim had to return to England for work, but we had the great pleasure of having the girls at our house for a few days.

Kate had a great time playing with Lily-Ann and Alexandra, above. The girls went swimming together and enjoyed the new dinosaur exhibit at the museum. Julia was happy to take care of the littlest cousin, Teaghen. They even got matching bears when we went for an outing at Build-a-Bear. We got the opportunity to wish Teaghen a belated happy birthday. She'd turned four just a few weeks ago.

Julia and Kate were glad to also have the time with their Aunt Kimberly, who always lavishes lots of attention on them. All the girls were so well behaved that Todd, Kimberly and I managed to have some time off on our own too. We sadly said farewell after a too-short visit but look forward to seeing them again soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Craft Update - August 10

I am off to a slow start on Jill's Olympic Challenge. I'd committed to doing a modest 12 hours of work on my cross-stitch projects over the course of the Olympic games, and so far, I've put in about an hour and a half. My excuse is that I had a fun a busy week with my sister-in-law and nieces, and I'll write more about that later. However, now that the kids are off to camp, I should have plenty of time for stitching. Here's the current state of my "Fleur-de-Lys" sampler, designed by Jeannette Douglas. I've been working on this on-and-off (mostly off) for about two years now.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Scrabulous Story

Scrabulous, a Facebook Scrabble application, was shut down earlier in the week after its creators, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, were sued by Hasbro. Hasbro owns the North American rights to Scrabble. I, along with half-a-million other users, lost my daily Scrabble fix. Scrabble doesn't often get into the news, but this story was reported in places like The Globe and Mail and Slashdot.

I am normally a defender of intellectual property rights, so I cannot reasonably complain about Hasbro's actions. Nevertheless, I was sad to see Scrabulous go and couldn't help thinking that Hasbro handled the whole situation less than brilliantly. At the same time the lawsuit was launched, Hasbro put up its own legitimate Facebook application. I tried to give it a go, but it was down when I made the attempt, and the reviews I'd read about it were not at all encouraging.

Well, a few days after Scrabulous was pulled, the Agarwalla brothers brought it back as the brand new Facebook application, Wordscraper. Wordscraper is being promoted as a generic word game with rules similar to those of Scrabble. The board looks slightly different, with circles instead of squares, and here's the really brilliant part: the board can be customized with user-chosen locations for multiple-letter or multiple-word scoring. If the user wants to set up the board to look identical to the original Scrabble board, then that's up to him or her.

Is this fair to Hasbro? Well, maybe not, but one can't help applauding the cleverness of Scrabulous's creators and admiring this terrific application, which was already excellent in its earlier form. Many argue that Hasbro has only benefited from the renewed interest in the game, and if they'd embraced changing technologies earlier, they might have avoided this mess altogether.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Problem Solved

Today we found out who won CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? competition. I'd been rooting for Marisa, our local talent, and Jayme, who we'd seen in the Stratford Festival's 2006 production of Oliver!, but I have no doubts that Elicia will be wonderful as Maria.

I generally sneer at reality shows and this columnist has a point. Yet I, along with the rest of the family, couldn't stay away from our TV sets the past few Sundays and Mondays. When Julia was much younger, she danced around the house singing the songs from The Sound of Music, and now Kate is following in her footsteps. The fact that Maria was tall, blond and Austrian (and they're not) never seemed to deter them. I've always loved the movie myself and it's given rise to my favourite scene from The Simpsons.

Homer (after hitting a deer statue with his car): "D'oh!"
Lisa: "A deer!"
Marge: "A female deer."

So having fallen for all the hype, we'll dutifully buy our tickets and look forward to seeing the real thing, a true Canadian Maria, in Toronto later in the year. "The hills are alive with the sound of music ...."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Craft Update - July 20

It's hard to find knitting patterns that appeal to teens (or at least to my teen) but I found a terrific Sirdar pattern book called "California Girls" that features their Luxury Soft Cotton DK. I'd bought the pattern and yarn when Jill and I went on our big yarn shopping spree. Julia picked out this shrug pattern from the book, and I like the finished garment so much I might even borrow it from her one day. I must say that Sirdar has the best pattern books for kids and teens. I have a number of them, all well used, though the ones with baby and toddler patterns are collecting some dust now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Skating Success

The StarSkate program that Julia takes has a series of tests. At each level, there are several tests for each of the components: skills, dance and freeskate. Typically, a skater will attempt a test every few months. Julia had earlier passed the first three dance tests and the first skills test. In the past year, however, she'd not had much inclination to try any tests. Nevertheless, she continued her lessons and kept working on the test requirements.

A month ago, Julia and her new coach decided it was time to try a test again. Todd and I agreed it would be a good idea to try one and see how it goes. Well, the one test turned into four. The coach convinced her to attempt tests for the full year's worth of work all in one day! On test day, I don't know who was more nervous, Julia or myself. Thankfully, Kate had a violin lesson at the same time, so I let Todd take Julia because he's a lot calmer about such things.

It's not uncommon for skaters to fail a test, even more than once. Some skaters take a test even if they're not totally ready, just to get the experience and feedback from the judges. So we were prepared for several failed tests. However, Julia amazed us by passing three of the four tests, including the most difficult one that she was attempting "just for the experience". She failed one over a minor issue that will be easily corrected in time for the next test date.

We were so stunned by the results and very proud of our lovely skater! We were even more surprised today when her coach told us that the skating club chose her as "StarSkate Skater of the Month" for those excellent results. Julia's next test will probably be her freeskate solo in the fall. Her coach is working on the choreography using music that Julia had chosen, and I can't wait to see how that develops.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Final Concerts

Kate finished off her Suzuki Institute with her group concert on Thursday and her orchestra concert on Friday. We then watched the musical theatre group's production of The Mikado, which was loads of fun.

The photo shows the junior orchestra playing in Queen's University's majestic Grant Hall. As a parent spectator, the orchestra class was definitely the most interesting to watch. The progress they made over the week was quite impressive. On Monday, the twenty-five kids, most in the 7-12 age range, received the music for three pieces, each having four parts (violin I, II, III, plus cello). They had only five one-hour rehearsals, and they performed the pieces on Friday afternoon. Sure, the performance was a bit rough in spots, but I find it amazing that they could play together at all. Only a fraction of the group had extensive orchestra experience; some kids had never played in this kind of setting before and were scared stiff on Monday. It helped that the teacher was an incredible instructor -- dynamic, energetic, witty, encouraging and completely in control of the group. I'm convinced that it takes a very, very special kind of person to teach junior orchestra.

The orchestra played a couple of folk songs ("Raggle-Taggle Gypsies" and "Hey Fiddle Fiddle") but the crowd favourite was "Do Wah Diddy Diddy". Kate loved this piece and sang it continually for days. In the confined space of a residence room, this was rather trying. So in some ways, it's a relief the Suzuki Institute is over, but we enjoyed it enough that we will probably do it again next year.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Exploring Kingston

We're almost at the end of our Suzuki Institute week. It's been a busy one, but we managed to find a few hours to explore a little bit of Kingston by foot. Fortunately, the Queen's University campus is well situated. It's a short walk to the downtown area, and one has the choice of walking along the river to take in the gorgeous views or through older residential streets lined with interesting examples of architecture.

Yesterday, we visited the Murney Tower, built in 1846 as part of Kingston's defences. It is now a museum and has a nice display of military artifacts, though Kate found the cellar rather spooky. The tower shows the name, "Murnay Redoubt", carved in stone. Apparently, the tower was originally named after Sir George Murray but was commonly known as the Murney tower, after landowner Henry James Murney. At some point, the second 'R' in the carved 'MURRAY' got changed to an 'N' to make a hybrid name.

Today, we toured Bellevue House, the home of John A. Macdonald. The extensive gardens are as interesting as the house itself, and a treasure hunt kept Kate well occupied during our visit. The house is said to be one of the best examples of Italianate architecture in Canada.

Finally, I have to show the Chez Piggy sign. As mentioned earlier, this is our family's favourite Kingston restaurant. We've stopped in many times en route to Montreal. Kate and I ate at Chez Piggy before the week started, and the residence food drove us to return yesterday night, our only free evening this week. I did suggest trying a different restaurant, but Kate vetoed the idea, not wanting to mess with a good thing. A bit of trivia: Chez Piggy was started by Zal Yanovsky, lead guitarist of the Lovin' Spoonful. Maybe that's why Todd was persuaded to try it out initially.