Saturday, February 21, 2009

Good news

Snoopy's tests came back all clear - looks like he had a spare life after all. But apparently it's nearly time to put him on" seniors'" food. The concept of Snoopy and seniors does not compute. He has the most adorable kitten-like attitude, even during this difficult patch. He's only 9 but apparently he's got very early-stage kidney problems. So he and his brother are to be weaned off the "McDonalds" of cat food (apparently that is how the vets describe the most popular dry food sold in Australian supermarkets) and put onto the (far more expensive) "Science Diet". I can't even accuse the vet of having a vested interest as he doesn't sell it himself.

I've also been stash busting, knitting another hat (or two)

This is a simple top-sown hat made using about 1 1/2 skeins of Jo Sharp Ultra dark brown that I picked up for about $6 on Ravelry.

Plus another Israeli soldier hat

Friday, February 20, 2009

So you want to craft for bushfire victims...

For those not on Ravelry (why not??? Go sign up for an invite.  You only have to wait a few days; I waited months for my invite)...
  • Blankets of Friendship (knitting or crocheting 30cm/12" squares to be sewn into blankets for survivors of the bushfire) have their own blog and yahoo group (international participants welcome)
  • For those in Melbourne, Meet me at Mike's has a list of local businesses that are accepting and storing handmade items until the relief agencies can arrange appropriate distribution.
  • Handmade Help is focussing more on sewing projects and making up hip and colourful bags of supplies for kids who have lost everything.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

3 Calorimetries Full

I love knitting Calorimetries - they are a fast, fun knit that is great for stash busting - and fun and useful to wear too.

I've knit my first Calorimetry for a swap partner who likes the colour blue and things that are both quirky and useful. I used some left-over Merino Supreme, the softest wool I've ever encountered that is unfortunately no longer being made, and finished it with a little sheep button I acquired during a recent swoop at Clegs. If that's not both quirky and practical, I'd like to know what is.

I was happy how it turned out, and I had some wool left over, so I cast on for another swap I am taking part in. I even found a second identical sheep button.

I STILL had some wool left over and managed to find YET another identical sheep button, so I decided to make a Calorimetry for myself.

So there you have it. 3 identical Calorimetaries, each adorned with a sheep. Three bags full.

Snoopy: The economic stimulus cat

Snoopy is doing his bit for the economy, with every cent of our up-coming economic stimulus payment earmarked for the local vet.

For once he isn't directly or indirectly responsible for the loss of one of his 9 lives.

Since the move, Snoopy hasn't been his usual perky kitten-like self. We thought he was stressed and depressed from the move but last week J found a lump on his front paw. We thought it was a cyst but the local vet found that it was a solid lump.

We made the decision to allow the vet to remove the lump, which also entailed removing a toe. Domestic cats can live quite happily minus a toe - and the loss of a third of Snoopy's ear some years ago doesn't seem to have impacted negatively on his life.

The lump is currently being tested. Hopefully it is benign. If it isn't benign, hopefully the vet got the whole mass and his blood tests are clear for cancer markers. If they aren't, we have some serious decisions to make. We are adamant that we won't let him suffer.

Fortunately Snoopy seems to be quite relaxed and pain free now. He hates the cone but we can't risk him getting to his wound. We can only hope for the best. Snoopy has stared death in the face many times before; hopefully he still has a spare couple of lives to get through this one.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dispatches from the front line

My friend who volunteers for the SES has returned from one of the main bushfire relief stations and given me a new perspective on why the aid agencies are asking people to hold off on their donations of food, clothing, furniture and basically everything but money and blood.  The simplest answer is, "there is nowhere to store it yet". 

Two days after the fires, the community centre was literally overflowing with clothes, food, children's toys and bikes.  A separate giant marquee was filled with household furniture.  The Department of Human Services coordinator was flat out trying to find space for telecommunications, insurance companies, banks, Centrelink and emergency relief agencies to set up their services for the victims.  Every hour literally dozens on well-meaning people came up to him wanting to donate their time or goods but inadvertently causing more chaos.

A farmer who had lost his house showed no interest in the piles of furniture and clothing.  His main concern was for stock that had survived the fire but were in danger of dying of starvation because the bridge connecting his property to the main road had been burnt out.  Could the SES send a team to rebuild it today?

In Judaism there is a prayer said during the harvest celebration of Sukkot asking for the right amount of rain and the right amount of sunshine to be provided at the right times in the season.  A substantial rainfall is crucial while the seeds are germinating but fatal for a crop that's ready to harvest.  Similarly, bright sunlight that is necessary for a mature plant to grow will kill a freshly sown seed.  It's not enough to pray for sunshine and rain; we need it at the right time and in the right amounts. 

The same could be said for donations after a natural disaster.  In a year's time, people who have rebuilt their houses will want and need furniture to put in them.  But in the meantime, while they are staying in friends' spare rooms and crisis accommodation they cannot accept these donations and the furniture needs to be stored somewhere.  The Salvation Army has had to take out a 12-month lease on a warehouse and shop front in Whittlesea to accommodate some of the donations, and this of course costs money that could otherwise be spent on more immediate assistance.

On the day of the fires the police visited a hairdressing salon in a nearby town and asked if any staff could be spared; many of those who had escaped the fires had singed and burnt hair and what they needed before they could even start to consider the future was something as simple as a humanising shower and hair cut.

So at the moment my hats and other well-meaning donations for bushfire victims are sitting in my spare bedroom.  Until I get the word that the time is right for them to help, rather than hinder, the relief efforts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I can't look at the news any more

Well if you're reading my blog you can probably see I am trying to channel my fear and obsessiveness in a useful direction.  I think the phrase "there but for the grace of God go I" pretty much sums up how I'm feeling.

I can't look at the news any more; it's got to the emotional pr0n stage.  I don't want to intrude on people's suffering and grief.  All I want to know is how is the appeal going, what's the death toll and what can I do to help.  I live 7km from one of the worst-hit areas and I have no desire to go and see what happened - unless it is in the context of me being actually able to help out. 

Oh, and I just discovered we are 20km from Kinglake, not 30km...

They've been burning containment lines and I am very glad this has been well publicised because even knowing this I get very nervous smelling the smoke. Apparently the winds are picking up again and we can only hope and pray things will remain OK this weekend.

We live in a mad country - apparently there are parts of Queensland managing to experience both drought AND floods at the same time.  What the...???

It's amazing how much everyone wants to give; I just hope people realise the help will still be needed in the months that follow, after the media coverage has gone away.  I find myself questioning everyone's motives, including my own, in this outpouring of grief and generosity - there are similarities to the days after Princess Di was killed in the car crash.  Is there something inherent in us as humans that we need to vicariously experience others' pain? 

I figure that as long as I focus on doing practical stuff to help those in need, I can live with whatever my motives are.

There was an article on the ABC website about how Queensland flood victims were donating to the Victorian bushfire appeal.  I found myself thinking "Yes, of course they want to send all their excess water down south!"

I really am counting my blessings; I am well aware that if there hadn't been a wind change last Saturday night, I could have been one of those homeless, injured or killed.

Knitting news
I'm making a Calorimetry for an upcoming swap - my partner describes herself as "somewhat quirky" and I'm tempted to sew a few of my novelty buttons onto it.  If that's too quirky for her, she can always take them off.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hats away

And I have no idea how this yummy 'Baroness' yarn could possibly have been ordered from Hazelknits :)

Why it is worth knitting for the bushfire survivors

Public relations consultant and writer Liz Tilley who lost everything in the 2003 Canberra bushfires yesterday wrote an excellent article on how to help those affected by bushfires for Crikey.

As a knitter, I was especially interested in this part:

Some of our most treasured items are the ones that were made, with love, by complete strangers. The quilt that was one of the hundreds that arrived from all over Australia, the hand-knitted rugs that my children like to snuggle under in winter. If you make jewellery, make a few pairs of earrings or a necklace. If you make toys, make something for the children who have lost theirs. If you knit, make a winter scarf. If you sew, make some table placemats or a beautiful table runner. If you're an artist, paint a picture or frame a drawing.

I still find it incredibly moving that people cared enough to put time and love into making something that has now become a new family treasure for us.

And if you want any more proof that a single person can make a difference, with one phone call and one email I was able to convince Crikey editor Jonathan Green to mark this article a 'free' read on the site. So you don't have to be a subscriber to access all of Liz Tilley's tips on how to help out the survivors of a natural disaster both now and in the weeks and months ahead.

Knit a hat to say thanks to an SES volunteer

I have also managed to put up a pattern of my SES Beanie for anyone who wants to make one as a thank-you for the volunteers who have given so much of their time and effort. Make as many as you like to give away, and print off copies of the pattern for other knitters - just ensure any copies include my name and the note that these beanies are not to be sold without the express written permission of both myself and SES Victoria.

Donate to the Red Cross and win my Beaded Silk Artyarn

Fellow Raveller Serendipity is running a raffle on her blog with great prizes for anyone who donates $10 or more to the Red Cross Appeal. I've donated a skein of Artyarns Beaded Silk (pale pink colourway) valued at US$34 (AUD$50+ on the current exchange rate!) as a prize. It's gorgeous yarn but not quite the right colour for me and I've been terrified of ruining it by actually knitting with it. In some ways it is a relief to give it away to a good cause (and I have another one anyway... don't ask me how I came to spend so much money on unsuitable but delectable yarn). So go show her how much you've donated to the Red Cross and be in the running for some really lovely stuff.

Still knitting
I have been intending to work on a CFA Beanie (based on the SES Beanie)... but I've been too busy churning out the little Knut Hats for another good cause. It is a most addictive pattern and I am almost relieved that I am running out of suitable yarn to make more. Oh yes, I also have to do some knitting for swaps I am taking part in. Lucky that I am theknitaholic!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Knut hat

I whipped up this Knut hat on the train today; it's a great superfast knit and I think I'll make up a few more of them for Craft4aCause. It's hat 9 (I think) in my 52 hat challenge project - somehow I don't think I'll have any trouble meeting the hat a week goal.

I was knitting an Israeli soldier hat on the train this morning but somehow got distracted and ended up having to unravel half a hat of warped rib. I needed an instant gratification project after this.

I think I've over-committed myself with all this hat knitting. I can't knit as fast as my brain thinks or I commit myself to more projects. I've come up with another timely one for the bushfire appeal - more details in a day or two.

Knitting to satisfy the need to feel useful

It's sad that it takes a tragedy to bring out the best in people.  As of 10am this morning - less than 2 days after setting up their Victorian bushfire appeal - the Red Cross had collected over $15 million in donations.  If you haven't yet donated, go here.

Hundreds of people have lined up at blood collection centres to donate much needed blood and plasma.  Our local relief centre at Hurstbridge had a huge sign "Thanks but we can't accept any donations".  Al the relief centres are being overwhelmed by people wanting to give clothes, toys and household goods.  Everyone wants to help, wants to give.  I spoke to a friend in the SES who confirmed the State Emergency Service was sending crews to affected areas.  "I put up my hand but there were 50 people and only 3 trucks."  All these people are volunteers, most with full-time jobs or their own businesses.

The news is not looking good for Raches on Ravellry.  The death toll is up to 173 (including 22 in St Andrews just 7km from my home).  Last night she put up a post asking for our thoughts and prayers; her husband hasn't been seen for more than 60 hours, the police found his car but nothing can be confirmed yet. Today she took down her blog and Facebook profile.  But it could take days or weeks for things to be confirmed - many victims will only be able to be identified by their teeth and jewellery - and comparing dental records takes time.  Just last week J had an appointment with our new dentist who's fascinated by forensic dental work and was uncanny in her summation of his dental history.  Today she could very well be putting these skills to use for more important things than just impressing new patients.

The Australian knitters have already started knitting squares for a friendship blanket for Raches.  It looks like we'll have plenty of squares to make blankets for other victims.  Yes we know that wool blankets can be bought far more cheaply than the yarn we are knitting but a handknitted blanket says we care.  It also satisfies our need to do something, anything to help.

We're also putting together knitting survival kits for those knitters who have lost everything - a pair of needles, some yarn and a pattern.  We don't know where to send them or how to distribute them but once the immediate chaos is over we know they will be appreciated.

I can only hope that all this goodwill, all this wanting to give, is still in place in a month or six months of a year's time when the bushfire victims will still need our blood and love and money to rebuild their shattered lives.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A taste of living on the edge of a war zone

Like everything in life, good or bad, this past weekend has been an incredible learning experience.  As I type, the death toll is 107 or 108 (depending which news article you read) and is expected to rise further as police and emergency workers trawl through the charred rubble of the state.  One of my fellow Ravellers, Raches, has lost her home and possibly her husband - he has not been seen for more than a day. Fairfax is updating a Google Map of the devastation.  It is very sobering to realise that we were only a few kilometres and one wind change away from being a point on the map.

Many people who lost their homes and sometimes their loved ones describe their town as a war zone.  And as I reflect on this past weekend I realise this is a good analogy.  All weekend, J & I were glued to ABC radio and the internet, trying to keep track of what was happening, trying to decide what was best to do and realising that we were in a situation that we had little control over, subject the the often unpredictable forces of nature.  After we had packed a box with our important documents and set up hoses there was little we could do but follow the news, follow the weather reports, follow the CFA updates and look and smell outside.

We became obsessive watching and listening to the news until I realised that this way lay madness.  You cannot put your whole life on hold.  Somewhat guiltily we put on the laundry (was it wrong to use water while fires raged in the distance?) and tried to watch a DVD while J kept track of the news on his laptop. 

If we had to go, what would we take with us?  The weekend taught me how little material possession matter.  We kept the cats indoors and had their cages ready if we needed to make a getaway.  I looked at my stash and rued the fact I had just finished bringing all my purchases home from work.  There was hundreds of dollars of yarn that could be replaced but would be a huge loss.  I looked at my pile of completed but unworn hats and vowed that if the house survived, I'd to post them out the following week to various charities.  There was no point to them just hanging around not being used.  I also decided that I would make more of an effort to knit up and enjoy the gorgeous luxury yarns - I wanted to get some pleasure from them before they disappeared.  We'd take our computer boxes and photos and a couple of bags of clothes.  There was no room for any more and I was amazed at how easily I was able to emotionally let go of all my stuff.

I wandered around the house.  What else to do?  I picked up my needles and started knitting another hat.  I had no idea if it would be for an Israeli soldier or homeless Big Issue vendor or someone who had lost everything in the Victorian blaze.  But there was a comfort in the knitting.  It was something productive to do.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Too close for comfort

Seven kilometres from our house, 4 people lost their lives in Victoria's worst-ever bushfires.

In the township of Kinglake, a mere 30km away, at least 12 people are dead and the town may have been more or less wiped off the map - it's so bad that even the emergency services can't get in yet.

We've been on high alert since yesterday afternoon but so far, thank God, all is OK. There was a small grass fire two streets away but fortunately the local CFA - which is just a few hundred metres away - managed to get it quickly under control. Today the wind has turned in our favour and the temperature has dropped (we reached a record 46.4 degrees Celsius - 115 degree Fahrenheit in the shade yesterday) - all we can do is pray for proper rain now.

Technology is both wonderful and terrible - as well as tuning into ABC radio, we can checkout the CFA updates and someone has even plotted all the fires on a Google map.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Male logic

Re: The camera cable.  My dear, lovely, darling husband decided to use the camera - which I have no problem with - but for some reason he put the camera back on my desk while leaving the cable attached to his computer in another room.  I saw the camera on my desk foolishly assumed the cable would be nearby - probably buried somewhere under all the yarn and hats in my room.  At least it enforced a bit of a tidy up.

Re: The Magic Yarn Ball and other Australian-based swaps - if you are on Ravelry, hop along to here Australian swappers

If you are not on Ravelry and are a knitter or crocheter, you have no idea what you are missing out on.  Go and sign up for an invite - it now takes only a few days to be let into the secret lair; I spent MONTHS on the waiting list.  It's free - although all the temptation inevitably leads to more expenditute on stash, needles, etc.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Proof that simple hats are the best (for wearing)

I finished Foliage

And here is a picture of the Edge of Lace Hat

But the most comfortable and flattering to wear is the good-old simple-ribbed hat (fourth one in the Hats for Israeli soldiers project, knitted out of 12ply Bendigo)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

MIA: one camera cable

It's so annoying.  I finally got off my backside to photograph my finished items, along with some newly acquired skeins of yarn (Hand Maiden silk...) only to discover that the camera cable has gone MIA.  No cable, no uploading of photos.  Grr.  Particularly as I've promised to upload pics of the silk on Ravelry.

So it will be another blog post dependent on the 1000 words instead of a pretty picture.

Finished: The Israeli soldier hat
Started: Foliage

Foliage incorporates two things I dislike - knitting a hat from the top down (as I find the first few rounds very fidgety and annoying) and lace (because no matter how much I concentrate, I always make mistakes, ending the row or round with too few or too many stitches, requiring extensive tinkering).  But I had a reasonable amount of the inappropriately named Dream in Color Blue Lagoon (believe me, it's green in real life) that might stretch enough for a small hat and the colour was just begging to be used in a leafy pattern.  Top-down hats are actually the best when you're not sure if you will have enough yarn and I have the option of doing the brim in a different colour if necessary.

I also think it is good for me to stretch myself and actually try knitting a few different hat patterns.  I am no longer a beginner, even if I do hate skinny needles and skinny thread.  I've queued a heap of hats on Ravelry and may actually knit some of them.  So far Foliage hasn't been too bad; in fact I'm fairly sure I may have used this lace pattern in a cardigan I made for a friend's daughter.

The Stashbuster hat ended up going in an 'Angel' parcel to a fellow Raveller, whose partner flaked during the recent birthday swap.  I figured I might as well build up my karma points while I could; I know what it's like to miss out in one of these swaps and have others angel me.

I'm organising the next 'Magic Yarn Ball' swap for the Australian knitters - so far 21 have signed up.  I figured this was a good swap to organise because it should be relatively easy for everyone to do what they've committed to (famous last words).  What you do is wrap Iittle treasures (such as buttons, stitchmarkers, ribbons, little bottle of scent, etc) up in a ball of yarn, with a few beautiful gifties peeking out at the edges, and give it as a gift along with a pattern they can use the yarn for. As the recipient crafts with the yarn the treasures fall out one by one, and they discover the fun as they knit or crochet.  I believe it started out as a kids' thing but we are all young at heart.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Random thought

'Life is beautiful' says the tattoo on my waiter's inside forearm.  I check his wrists; they seem uninjured but I can't help thinking the tattoo is there to remind him in case it all seems too much for him one day.
I am one tapestry needle away from finishing off my fourth hat for an Israeli soldier.  I forgot to pop my sewing needle tube into my knitting bag this morning, so the last six stitches are waiting on the DPNs.  It's the first hat I've made with the Bendigo 12-ply and it's come out nicely, although quite heavy.  I'd probably recommend making the hats with the 8-ply in the future.

I've had a crazy idea of putting together hat making kits and selling them on a not-for-profit basis for charity knitting.  I now know why retailers are so attracted by Made in China products.  It would cost me at least $15-$20 to buy a new 4mm circular needle and set of DPNs in Australia - a price I am willing to pay for an individual item for me, but which is unaffordable on a mass scale.  I can get 20 such sets from China, including postage, for just over $60.  They wouldn't be the best in the world, but they would do an acceptable job, and would enable me to put together a kit with instructions, needles and enough pure Australian wool to knit two charity hats for well under $20.

Do I want to do this?  Even if I had the time to market the kits to schools and social groups, I fear I would be going down a slippery slope in the guise of a good cause. I try and avoid buying cheaply-made products for myself, particularly from countries with a poor record in regards to the treatment of local workers (although avoiding all  Made in China products is virtually impossible these days).  Even though I would be using locally produced wool, how ethical would such kits be?

I realise that these are the dilemmas every local business and probably most charities have to consider.  I work for a not-for-profit organisation that like everywhere else is under financial stress but so far, at least, is committed to upholding the ILO conventions in regards to employment standards.

Maybe I'll just concentrate on my own charity knitting and and non-knitting paid work, and let some other knitter with more free time consider the hat knitting kit idea.

Monday, February 02, 2009

"I cannot believe you are knitting in this heat," J says to me.  "According to the paper we are in the midst of the worst heat wave in 100 years.  Your boss even told you to work from home on Friday because of the train tracks melting."

"True," I agreed.  "But we are inside now, the power is back on and the air conditioner is working.  According to the thermostat it's just 25 degrees in this room."

"You are making me feel hot just watching you knitting."

Remote blogging so no pics (yet).  I knocked up The Edge of Lace Hat from 101 Designer One Skein Wonders over two  evenings using just half a ball of Malabrigo Yarn Merino Worsted.  This is quite possibly the softest and most decadent wool in the world.  I contemplate an entire jumper in the yarn.  I'm not so sure about the hat pattern - the lace border is nice and it's nice to knit up a hat using just 50 grams of wool but the straight three-needle bind off gave rather odd twin peaks to this hat - fine if you want a quirky look but I prefer a more traditional finish.

"What do you reckon about an entire jumper in this?" I ask J, showing him the hat.  He shudders in horror.

"Do you think all purple is a bit too much?"

"Oh, no - it's a lovely purple," he says.  "Very you.  But I just can't talk about wool in this heat."