Prayer Shawls, etc.

•April 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Since there are lots of shepherds in the Bible, I figure they might still have some sheep in Israel. 

Some people have expressed interest in having me pick up some lovely yarn in Israel and making a prayer shawl out of it (or some other knitted piece). If this is something you would like, send me a message (leave a comment, or @jenniferbatt on Twitter)! Of course, this is all yarn dependent. If I don’t find yarn, you will get your money back!

Tinkertoys!

•March 24, 2013 • 2 Comments

For non-yarn people, a swift is a contraption that holds skeins of yarn (giant loops) and spins easily.  Usually, knitters want to wind yarn from a skein into a ball.  Thus, you would put the skein on the swift and let it rotate as you wind the ball.  The other option is to put yarn into skeins.  This is more common for those who spin their own yarn.  I am not one of those people, so we will move along. (Actually, this whole post is about the second option, even though I don’t spin.)

Swifts are usually sold for $50-$100, which is out of my price range ($0).  I contemplated one on eBay that was $46 – including shipping from China.  I pondered.  I thought.  I decided to be wise and look at reviews for this particular brand.  There were no reviews to be found, but I found something much, much better.  I happened upon a wonderful website that details how someone can make his/her own swift with Tinkertoys!  (Be warned:  The top of her blog has a picture of rats.  Since rats are gross, you may want to close your eyes and scroll down a little bit before reopening.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)  With this brilliant idea in my head, I searched eBay, Kijiji and Craigslist for Tinkertoys.  Of all the ones for sale, the lowest price was from a guy named Nelson who lives near Kensington Market – and I was headed there the very next day! 24 hours and $10 later, this is what I made:

Swift 1.0

 

My very first swift 🙂  I just need to change the sticks for skeins of different lengths! My heart was warmed 🙂

One reason for needing (wanting) a swift is because I had a small eBay breakdown.  A couple of days of weakness and…  well, I discovered recycled yarn.  Cashmere.  Sigh.  You see, people will buy sweaters made from nice fibres (cashmere, silk, lambswool, etc.), unravel them and sell the skeins on eBay.  (Yes, I could hunt for nice sweaters in my ‘hood, but this seemed like a good place to start.) So, I bought a few.  Just a few.  Really.

The first one I received was red cashmere that was as crinkly as crinkly could be.  Knitting any kind of lace would be ridiculous if I couldn’t straighten it out.  So, I put it into skeins (you can’t wash balls of yarn), soaked it overnight, then dried it while weighing it down, hoping for straight yarn.

This is my swift and ball holder.  My arm got tired of holding the ball and the holder didn’t make as many mistakes as me.  A regular swift wouldn’t have had little handles to push, so Tinkertoy gets another couple of points for that.  (I should point out that I have altered the hub of the swift since this picture was taken.  It looks like a reactor core, but is now more stable.)

Swift + Ball holder

This is the skein before washing.  See the crinkles?

Pre-washed skein

Aren’t they cute, all lined up?

Cute little skeins, all in a row

After soaking, I stretched the yarn using cans of tomatoes and the hand weights I should probably use for actual exercise.

Stretch!

This picture isn’t the clearest, but the yarn is noticeably straighter after the whole process is done.

Straight!

That is the story of my beautiful swift and short-lived eBay craziness.  The end.  I hope.

Christmas Stories

•February 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Timely, I know.  I got this book (ebook) before Christmas and I finally read it this weekend.  You might think this is a problem, but I respectfully disagree.  When do we need the hope of Christmas more than in the depths of February?  I do not jest! February can be dark – grey and oppressive.  Reading stories of hope and light (literally) gave me a much-needed boost.

 

Christmas Stories, by Max Lucado, is a collection of short stories, thoughts, and scenes centred around the coming of Jesus in the tiny town of Bethlehem, and the hope that has followed ever since.  Many of the stories and snippets are from prior works of Lucado’s, collected into one volume with a specific Christmas focus.  Hence the title.  It is a little strange that the first half of the collection is “Christ is Celebrated” and the second half is “Christ is Born.”  After all, that is not chronological order.  Nevertheless, it flows.

The first section is dominated by “The Christmas Candle,” the story of a small English village and their Christmas miracles.  It is a charming story that is engaging and poignant.  It has no real twists and turns, but it is moving all the same.  It is probably my favourite of the collection.

The second section contains various stories of Christ’s birth.  One perspective is Gabriel’s; another is Joseph’s.  One story – “An Angel’s Story” – is one that I had heard in part many years ago.  In the back of my mind, I had always planned to look it up and read it from start to finish.  In fact, I chose this book with the hope that this story was included.  It tells the angels’ side of the story.  There was a fight between light and dark leading up to the birth of Jesus and this is a compelling retelling.  I found “An Angel’s Story” interesting, but it seemed unbalanced.  Most of the story told what happened before Mary became pregnant.  This is not a fatal flaw, merely something that drew my attention.

As I look to the whole, it is clear that Max Lucado’s classic style of parable and direct teaching is present.  His ability to write simple stories that mean a lot is a gift.  If you are not a fan of his, you won’t like this book.  If you are a fan, you will.  If you are somewhere in the middle, I suggest you try it.  There is always something wonderful about a Christmas story.

 

*I received this ebook from Booksneeze in return for my honest review.

Research and E.M. Forster

•February 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Have you read The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster?  If not, download it here.  (No, this isn’t illegal.  It has been in the public domain for years.)  Written in 1909, Forster foresaw Skype, television, YouTube (sort of) and our general dependence on technology.  Keep in mind, in 1909, most people didn’t even have electricity (see 2:15 and 2:45).  Above all of Forster’s revolutionary ideas, the scene that stays with me more than the others is one on research.

Yes.  Research.

****

“Beware of first- hand ideas!” exclaimed one of the most advanced of [the lecturers]. “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element – direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine – the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought LafcadioHearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution. Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives. But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied, for in history one authority exists to counteract another. Urizen must counteract the scepticism of Ho-Yung and Enicharmon, I must myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch. You who listen to me are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than I am. Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for they will learn what you think I think, and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain. And in time” – his voice rose – “there will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation seraphically free from taint of personality, which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine.”

****

Are you still with me?  This is the scene that I remember every time I am required to do research.  I am currently struggling with one class in which I am required to use “quality sources,” but I have only the vaguest notion of which are quality and which are crap.  My last paper was based on sources that were too old.  Too old… for commentary on the Bible.  Which, I might point out, is much older than my sources.  Granted, there are some new arguments now that were not commonly circulated then, but are they actually new ideas?  Or, are they based on A, which is based on B, which is based on C through J?  We must learn from the knowledge and wisdom of others.  We must not reinvent the wheel every time we need to ride to the store.  Yet, there is something deep inside me that feels as though I am simply reorganizing old thoughts with new margins and font.

Ad Hoc Kitchen: Layered Gnocchi Casserole

•February 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A couple of ladies asked if I would post the recipe for a casserole I made a couple of weeks ago.  Since I didn’t use a recipe and since this is the case for most of my cooking, I am adding an occasional blog special called Ad Hoc Kitchen.  Today is the first entry!

Layered Gnocchi Casserole

In a LARGE casserole dish (I used a glass pot that was 6-8″ high and 12″ across), layer the following ingredients.  You may want to spray the dish with a non-stick spray first.

  • 1 can spaghetti sauce*
  • 1 eggplant* – diced
  • 1/2 bag gnocchi (that’s all I had)
  • 3 zucchinis – chunks
  • 1 can chick peas
  • 1 can mixed beans
  • 1 green pepper – chopped
  • 1 onion – in rings (you’ll notice I forgot these, then crammed them in the sides)
  • corn (I forgot this, but it would have been great!)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes + garlic + salt + pepper (I mixed them all in the can, then poured it on, undrained)
  • shredded cheese (it may work better to put this on as you plate the dish; my cheese disappeared into the layers

* I used half the can of sauce and six slices of eggplant for eggplant parmesan, but this would work fine if the whole can and eggplant went in.

Cover and bake at 350′ for about an hour or until the zucchini is cooked.  The zucchini was the last item to soften for me.  I took the lid off for the last ten minutes to crisp up the cheese a little.

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Creativity & Discipline

•January 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

At first glance, creativity and discipline are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  We’ve all heard how discipline can enable people to become masters in a particular field, but we don’t often see the direct benefit of discipline on creativity.  Yet, these are my two themes right now.  These are areas in which I want to improve in order to reap the benefits.  

There are lots of ways people can create.  I prefer to knit and write.  I love creating something from someone else’s design (because it usually works out properly the first time), but there is nothing quite like creating the design and then creating the product.  I have designed a few knitting patterns, but mostly on an ad hoc basis.  I have never created a design that works for sizes S-XL or clearly written anything up that someone else could understand.  But, I want to.  I want to let my brain expand a bit and create new designs! Of course, I want people to like them.  I want them to be successful – whatever that means.  But, mostly, I want to create.

For writing, I need (need!) to finish editing the story of my road trip.  I want to blog more.  I want to write other things… Things I don’t even know about yet!  I don’t want to let essays steal away all of my words.  I want them to get the creative juices moving.  Again, I want appreciation.  I want success.  But, mostly, I want to say something worthwhile and say it well.

That’s the creativity portion.  Where is discipline, you ask? To be sure, there is discipline in practicing my craft and honing my skills, but the discipline I must find is in everything else.  If I take eight hours to do my History reading this week – instead of two – I have six fewer hours to work creatively.  If I sleep late, I take away time to create.  If I loaf around on YouTube, I lose creative time. If I don’t exercise or eat properly or sleep well, I compromise my mind and body – reducing my ability to create.  The time I waste comes out of creative time, because I still need to read textbooks, write essays, clean, cook, etc.  Those things don’t go away just because I overslept.  What gets cut from the schedule is a new blog entry or editing time or fiddling with a tricky cable pattern.  

In short, discipline creates space for creativity.  It frees up time dedicated to creative pursuits.  This can’t happen by accident; that’s why it is a discipline.  It must be enforced and pre-meditated.  There is grace, yet there is purpose.  Lately, I’ve had all kinds of grace and no real purpose.  So, keep me on track.  Feel free to phone me at 8am (or 7am), just to make sure I won’t waste the morning.  Ask me to see what I have created.  Ask if there will be a new blog post this week.  Pester me.  I give you permission.  If my discipline is lax, you can help get me on track.  Don’t let me off lightly if I fizzle on this one.  I mean it!  We are in this together, folks.

A Princess Doesn’t Hoard

•December 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

If you have ever been to my apartment, you have seen my wall of books, movies and CDs.  There is the storage room with multiple shelves filled with binders of teaching materials.  On a good day, you may have also seen the spare room, which is currently overflowing with yarn, Christmas wrapping stuff, candles, school stuff and my ancient VCR.  The closet is huge by city standards and the majority of it is full of yarn.  My “stash” – that’s knitting lingo – is large, but not considered crazy by most people who knit or craft in some manner.  They don’t understand why it is mostly acrylic, but that is another story.  Oh wait, it isn’t.

You see, I am a hoarder.  I’m not the sort of freak they put on cable TV shows that has thousands of old TV Guides piled on every available inch of floor space.  I am the sort that has a bag of miscellaneous string, just in case I need a piece of string.  My apartment is cozy (not scary) and even the spare room is functional when it is not time for finals or Christmas shopping (knitting).  But it is full.  It is organized overcrowding and there are two simple reasons for this:

1. I am a sucker for anything that is on sale or free.

2.  Once I’ve got it, I won’t ever let it go.

I have friends who love shopping and sales and new clothes, but they don’t feel sentimental attachment for any of it.  They feel completely free to let the old go when the new arrives.  But, this sounds expensive and fraught with trouble.   (This doesn’t even consider the environmental cost of constantly purchasing new items.)  What if I buy a new sweater to replace my old sweater, but the old sweater is still perfectly fine?  And it is a different colour?  And I have room for both sweaters if I just move this box…

The simple life has always drawn me in.  I can easily picture myself living in my little cabin in the woods, growing my own food, etc.  For some reason, I don’t picture the extra wardrobe I squashed in behind the door, the tote bins in the rafters or the 10 extra towels – just in case – in the linen closet.  I don’t even picture a linen closet.  The lines are clean, the floor is clear and there is no clutter. Beautiful!

My post-reverie plan is always to get rid of my current clutter so that I can move toward my Laura Ingalls/Survivorman goal.  I sort my clothes, my books and my general collection of stuff only to find three or four items for the Salvation Army.  How is it possible?  I blame my father.

My dad is handy.  He can build, fix or design just about anything.  The best part is it can all be done with what already exists in his basement!  I grew up with the notion that if I could poke around in enough of Dad’s little plastic drawers or through the old boxes on top of the paint cans, I would find the one elusive piece that would save the day.  I might need a new cord for my sparking hairdryer or epoxy for my shoes or a coat hanger to snake my drain.  Often, I would come downstairs with the intention of solving the problem myself, but my dad would take the hairdryer from my hand and go off in search of a screw driver.  He knew where everything was and he didn’t want me messing up his system.  Or re-wiring small appliances.  If we took the time, we always found the perfect fix to the problem… because he never throws anything away.  Anything that could possibly be useful was kept in a baggy or a box and placed with its counterparts.

This is why I have a bag of string – and I use it.  It is also why I could start a small second-hand store with just the stuff in my living room.  I have become attached to every single thing in my world.  Even string.  I can’t get rid of any of it.  From time to time, I manage to purge a substantial amount, then I go back to hoarding.  I want to have space on my shelves.  I want to have room in my closet.  I want to move to my next apartment/house/retirement facility without needing a full-sized moving truck.  I want to feel that it is just stuff.  I can take care of it and be blessed by it, but not owned by it, not hemmed in or buried under it.

In fact, God doesn’t want this either.  One thing He said to me a long time ago (and I should have listened better) is that a princess doesn’t hoard.  Can you imagine Prince William having a bag of string?  Or an old sweater that he might wear.  Maybe. If it gets cold enough.  Monarchs don’t worry about where their meals will come from or if they can afford the whole Agatha Christie boxed set.  They live in abundance.  There is nothing they can’t have, which means there is nothing they can’t give away.  That is how I should be.  I am a princess, too.  I am a child of the King and have access to the whole Kingdom.  Why do I constantly hold on to trinkets when I know that I will never go without?  I will always have enough.  I will have enough to survive and I can count on being surprised by God with those things that I never dreamed of having.

And, so, I will continue to chip away at my closets.  I will get rid of my acrylic yarn.  I will remember that my donations are gifts to someone else.  I will remember that giving teaches me trust.  I will remember that how hard it is to receive new blessings from God if my hands, closets, shelves and drawers are already stuffed to the brim with things I don’t really need.  I will become the princess I was made to be.  With a small bag of string.