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First

October 23, 2013

Us, October 13, 2012
Photo by Sphynge Photography

One Year

Us, October 13, 2013.
Photo by a random dude passing by.

Chris and I have had a lot of firsts together: first Thai food (me), first dog (him), first law degree (me; also, only law degree), first time trying not to kill a law student (him; also, kudos on that one.)  We’ve had eight anniversaries, three international trips, and shared a home, a dog, and (have I mentioned?) a really ridiculous amount of Thai food.  It almost seemed as if being married wouldn’t be any different, except for the shiny new rings and my last name.  But you know what?  It is different, and our first wedding anniversary feels like a big deal.  This first year was awesome, and exciting, and I’m looking forward to so many more firsts.

Happy anniversary, love.

A Knitter’s Guide to Commuting

October 4, 2013

I complain about my commute a lot.  When I’m feeling particularly bitter, I like to brainstorm lists of the things I could be doing with the 12ish hours a week that I spend hauling myself to the office and home again.  (In case you’re curious: brush up my Spanish at the community college, write letters, actually manage to exterminate the dog hair dust bunnies, get more sleep, attend community events, make stuff, dedicate extra time to the piano, start an Etsy shop – believe me, the list goes on.  And on.)

On the other hand, when I’m feeling less grouchy, I realize that in some sense, I’m a little bit lucky.  About half of my daily commute time is spent on a the train, which means (other delights of public transit aside) that I have about an hour each day in which no one needs anything from me.  It’s pretty difficult to work on BART, so I rarely do it, and limited cell reception means that I’m largely unreachable by phone, text, or email.  Instead of sitting in traffic like the poor souls in the parking lot that is Highway 101, I can read, blog, or knit for 60 minutes a day.  I thought I’d share with you my sanity-saving commute kit, in case you’re also navigating the public transit jungle.

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  • Reading material.  Pretty obvious, but I’d be remiss to leave it out.  I’ll also say that though I was initially opposed to owning a Kindle, it turns out it’s wonderful for commuting – it’s much lighter than most books, and easier to hold while standing in a crowded train car.
  • Notebook and pencils.  Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I love being able to make lists, plan projects or holiday surprises, and draft blog posts with pencil and paper.  Sure, all of that can be done electronically, but I like this way better.
  • Water bottle and (not pictured) snacks.  I usually have a little bag of trail mix with me, for those times when all that’s sanding between between me and a commute tantrum is the handful of nuts in my bag.
  • Audiobooks (also not pictured).  I have a serious Audible addiction.  I haven’t always loved listening to books read aloud, but audiobooks (particularly those that I’ve read in physical form already, so I’m not worried about missing key plot points) are wonderful for knitting, standing-room-only trains, or while walking between the train station and the office.  Podcasts are great, too.  (Aside: I’m way behind the times, but I learned today about podcast apps.  I’m trying this one at the moment, and so far it’s awesome.)

Knitting

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Most significantly, though, my knitting goes everywhere with me.  I usually have a small project in a drawstring bag (I made mine, but Etsy has a ton of options.), along with a few key notions. (Every now and then I’ll need a needle gauge or a stitch holder, but that happens so rarely that it’s not worth carrying them just in case.)

Project

Socks (Ravelry link), gloves, a laceweight shawl, dishcloths or something baby-sized (Ravelry link) are your best bet.  (All of the linked projects were knitted largely in transit.)  I like easy-to-memorize stitch patterns, since I find it hard to frequently reference a printout on a rocking train. More complicated or bulky things live in a basket by the couch at home, and I always have at least one fussy/bulky project on the needles to round out my commute knitting.  I can’t show you what I’m working on now, because it’s a gift!  I promise to show you sometime.

Needles

Double-pointed needles are a bold choice, both for the poking factor and breakage risk, but I remain loyal (though coveting a solution like this).  6-inch DPNs seem to be the best compromise between won’t-slip-out-of-your-project (I’m lookin’ at you, 4-inch needles) and won’t-poke-your-neighbor-or-snap-in-your-bag (less hazardous than 8-inch needles, but not infallible).  Circulars are perfect for commuting – they don’t get in the way like straights do, and your project is less likely to slide off in transit.  And you can knit back-and-forth on them, just as you would with straight needles.  Wooden or bamboo needles are the most fragile option (metal and plastic are both sturdier), but I prefer them anyway.

Notions

As a longstanding commute knitter, I can say with authority that you don’t need a full selection of notions in your day-to-day bag.  I used to carry my whole notions bag, but in the interests of schlepping less stuff, I’ve pared it down to these essentials:

  • Scissors.  A must-have. I like these little ones, because they’re lightweight, small, and not too poky.
  • Tapestry needles.  It’s so frustrating to get to the final bits of a project (grafting, bind-off, weaving in ends) and not be able to finish because the tapestry needles are at home.  I love this little case (in which (I think) Clover needles are sold), since tapestry needles are wily little guys.
  • Tape measure.  Yours is probably the nifty retractable kind.  This is what I had on hand, so it’s what I use.  Works just fine to measure gauge, which means you can leave that gauge tool at home!
  • Row counter.  I don’t always use it, but it’s good to have.
  • Stitch markers.  When I don’t have them, I want them.  It’s pretty much a guarantee.

And that’s it.  Bam.  Lightweight, takes up very little room, and includes everything I need 95% of the time.

Sanity maintained.

My Diamond Shoes Are Too Tight

October 2, 2013

Or, Our Fortunate Misfortune

Tablet

I love this – Chris set up my tablet on the pass-through above my kitchen sink so that I can see recipes online while I’m cooking.

Do you ever feel a little overwhelmed by electronics? The endless buzz about the latest and greatest gadget, the op-eds and questionable studies about how much screen time is okay and how much will turn you into a vegetable, the condemnation from the emphatically smartphone-less, and the lurking sense that 10-year-olds probably don’t need cell phones? (Do they? Have things changed that much since I was 10?) Meanwhile, maybe you just want to have some fun with a nifty toy and check your Facebook feed on your commute, thankyouverymuch.

Electronics are a fact of my world. In this community, where you can hit Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and about a thousand other technological household names with the nearest available stone, smartphones and tablets are almost ubiquitous (particularly among my generation, though increasingly among others as well). If yours is a year or two old — dude, why haven’t you upgraded? Chris’s job requires intimate familiarity with just about everything with a power button, so toys rotate in and out of our house on a more or less endless conveyor belt, which is a little disorienting for someone who loves power outages and oil lamps. (And my smartphone. I admit it.)

First world problem, I know. My life, it is so hard. (To quote Chandler, “My wallet’s too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!“) As someone who works in homelessness, I am uncomfortably aware that for many (most?) people, the problem of how to limit smartphone attachment is about as pressing as the problem of how to greet the Queen of England.

So what am I writing about, then? The fact that I have a blog at all (and the leisure time to write it) marks me as a person of extraordinary privilege, globally-speaking. The fact that I’m writing this on my Droid means I’m among the world’s income elite. Odds are, if you’re reading this, so are you. I agree with many of the critics of the American addiction to glowing screens: we should step out from behind them more often and appreciate the physical world, connect with the people sitting right next to us as well as those across the world. But what I haven’t heard much about (and maybe I’ve just missed it – maybe you all are way ahead of me on this), is how lucky we are to be having this conversation at all. So sure: let’s unplug more, and enjoy our face-to-face contact. Let’s be more conscious of our must-upgrade tendencies. But let’s also appreciate our good fortune to have this problem in the first place. After all, I’m posting to the Internet from a train, underground. How cool is that?!

For a similar thought expressed much better (and with infinitely more humor and, um, some cute graphics), check out Louis CK on Conan O’Brien.

My September Kitchen

September 26, 2013

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September is a little bit mind-bending, isn’t it?  It’s the warmest month of the year here on the Northern California coast, so just when the light begins to slant and the evenings come earlier, bam!  Barbecue weather.  The farmer’s markets are an absolute riot – there’s so much produce, even the September crowds can’t keep up.  The apples and winter squashes have started popping up, but there are still peaches, and tomatoes, and berries, and grapes.  All of which means my kitchen has been a busy place.  This September, we’ve:

…enjoyed our first meals outside on our tiny new backyard table.  (Okay, fine.  I’ve eaten my first meals out back.  The gents are rather less keen on al fresco dining.  Thanks for the table, Mom!)

…eaten cornbread.  So, so much cornbread.  (Fun fact: substitute half butter, half bacon grease for the shortening and use bacon grease in the skillet, and watch generally self-contained adults go a little insane.  We’ve nicknamed this “crack bread” at our house.)  I like it best leftover for breakfast, crumbled in a bowl with chopped fruit and whole milk, eaten like cereal.  So far, cherries are my favorite, though peaches are also delicious, and so are chopped, cooked apples (just microwave for 30 seconds to a minute) with a little maple syrup.  As an aside, I’ve had good luck substituting a gluten-free all purpose four for the white flour in this recipe.

…canned tomato sauce (simmered overnight in the crockpot this year – hands down the way to go), peach butter, ginger peach jam, pear sauce (all three recipes from the fabulous book Put ‘Em Up), spiced pear butterapple butter, and apple maple jam.  The apples and pears we canned as a group effort at my aunt’s house, but the peaches and tomatoes — yes, that was me, covered in peach juice and sweat, scrubbing burned peach butter off, well, everything 15 minutes before dinner guests were due.  Very elegant, I know.

…marked high summer with an annual batch of ratatouille, from Molly Wizenberg’s wonderful book.

…baked and eaten with glee many batches of impossibly easy and improbably delicious bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Seriously — if you aspire to bread baking without much success, try this book.  It’s amazing (and probably available at the library!).

…given the grill a good workout, with barbecued chicken, grilled corn on the cob, and the best eggplant you’ve ever eaten.

…made this tomato, herb and goat cheese frittata twice.  Before tomato season is done, do yourself a favor and make this.  So, so delicious.  (For goat cheese-haters, it’s also tasty (though not quite as magical) with cream cheese.  And I’ve substituted dried herbs for the fresh with no problems.)

…eaten apples in oatmeal, in muffins, and sliced with sharp cheddar.

…discovered coleslaw.  Not Your Mama’s, to be specific.  Oh, my. 

Peace out, September; you’ve been good to us.

Holy Blog Post, Batman!

September 24, 2013
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Photo by my talented friend Caroline, at http://www.sphynge.com/

Hi. It’s been 18 months since I was here last, and let me tell you – I’ve missed y’all. A few things have changed since we chatted last: Chris and I got married (and oy! wedding planning, O delight and bane of my existence), Chris changed jobs, and we’ve talked lots about where this next phase of our lives will take us. For now, though, lots of other things remain the same, and I’m happy to be back here.

There are a few changes in this space, too: a new name, a wee makeover, and hopefully a little bit of a broader focus. I like talking about apple butter and homemade Christmas decorations as much as anyone (and more than most), but that’s not the total reality of my life, and likely not of yours, either. (If it is, please don’t tell me. The envy would be too much.) So every now and then I’d like to zoom out a bit and explore the intersection of domestic and public, of Little House and White House. After all, no one knits in a vacuum.

Don’t worry, though. I’m too much of a craft-mad, tradition-hungry, excitable Pollyanna to avoid the yarn-talk for long. I’ve got lots of things I can’t wait to babble about.

Much love,
Ashley

Scenes from a Sunday Afternoon

February 21, 2012
tags:

Bread

Window

Muffins

Quilt

Seedlings

Salad Garden

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It’s quiet.  It’s one of those magical moments in which we’re scattered across the house, each of us busy with our own projects, maybe accompanied by a napping dog or two.  I love these moments.  The weekly chores (vacuuming, I’m looking at you) are done.  Evening plans are cancelled.  There are no obligations, no expectations.

I’m in the kitchen, baking.  I hear the shrieks and giggles of my neighbor’s children through the back door, which  is propped open to catch the still-chilly early spring breeze.  Honey drips onto my hand from my measuring spoon.  Sweet bliss.

Upstairs.  A quilt in progress begs for attention, but the warm late afternoon sun is slanting across the floor.  The quilt can wait.

On the front porch, I carefully fill eggshells rescued from the compost with potting soil.  Ginsburg noses up behind me, curious.  There is potting soil under my fingernails, in my hair, covering my apron, and in my clothes.  I have just planted a salad garden in an old wheelbarrow, and I am not tidy.

Later, there will be soup for dinner, and bread in the oven.  We’ll watch a movie, close the doors and windows against the dark, and enjoy each other’s  company.  But for now, it’s quiet.

A Week In My Kitchen: ‘Fessing Up Edition

February 17, 2012

Kale and Eggs

Hi.  It’s been a little while since I last told you about my menus and budget.  Long story short, I’ve had some bigger stuff (!!) than my budget on my mind, which means I’ve fallen back into some old habits.  But while I was sticking to my budget of $40 per week, I learned a few things.  Most important is that while I had thought that I shop and cook only for myself, that’s actually not true.  Somehow, I managed to forget that though my food choices are very different from Chris’s, we actually do share a meal a couple of times a week.  Add to that the times I (happily) share with our roommate or invite friends for dinner, and $40 suddenly doesn’t go very far.  Sharing food with the people I care about is so very important to me, and a “No! You can’t have any soup because I’ll go over my budget!” approach just feels… wrong.  That said, a budget is essential — I just need to do a little more thinking about what an appropriate budget for me is.

But moving on — here’s what’s been happening on my kitchen this week:

::delicious green smoothies and soft boiled eggs in my egg cups from Amsterdam, or sauteed kale with garlic and egg, for breakfast

::huge salads, complete with grated beets and carrots, baked tofu, and feta cheese at lunch

::quinoa. I owe my sister thanks for talking me out of my quinoa fear, and now I can’t get enough of it. This week’s version is creamy and vegetabley and belly-filling. (I used cremini mushrooms, leeks, broccoli, and peas.)

::broccoli soup. I think I’ve shared my love for the broccoli soup from Apples for Jam before, but really. It’s on the menu at least once a month. There’s a similar recipe here.

::fast mac and cheese. Have I sent you here before? This is brilliant – homemade mac and cheese that tastes enough like what’s in the blue box that Chris will happily eat a huge bowl. Except it’s made with cheese you grate yourself (no strange powder in sight!), and I have all the ingredients on hand. (Scroll all the way to the bottom for the recipe – but read the rest of the post for more detail.)

::honey herb soda. Makes me want to marry my Soda Stream. (Sorry, Chris.)

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