The Lion Sleeps Tonight

That’s what Meg has been playing on the piano for the last 45 minutes. I am sitting in my office (with the door closed), trying to string together coherent words and all I can hear is The Lion Sleeps Tonight, over and over and over repeating itself ad nauseam until I think I am going to be forced to lock myself in the dry goods cupboard mumbling “Wim-a-weh” under my breath and hugging sock yarn until normal thought returns to my mind.

(Two weeks until the summer activities start. Two weeks. Wim-a-weh)

As some of you may remember from last year, this week, the second week of June is Birthday Week in the McPhee Clan, and the good times just keep on rolling. My charming brother Ian celebrated an undisclosed number of years on Sunday,


and my wonderful mother Bonnie celebrates an even more undisclosed number of years this very day….


Happy Birthday Mum! As an enormous gift, I am recycling last years photo of you, and sparing you the image that I took on Sunday. It looks nothing like you, though I really do think you have better hair this year. )


My birthday rings in tomorrow, when I am pretty sure that no matter what my plans may have been last week, I will not have managed to turn this yarn (Alchemy silken straw)


into this tank (Roundabout leaf tank from Knitting Nature) Into a tank top before my birthday party/book welcome tomorrow night.


I got held up by my own raving incompetence as I tried to figure simple knitting maths. My thoughts went like this.

If the pattern is knit at 18 stitches to 10 centimetres, and you cast on 24 stitches to start then the width of the strip that you would be knitting would be…. Wait. If it’s 18 stitches to 4 inches, then one inch would be 4.5 stitches so 24 stitches would measure…Hold on. This doesn’t help. If I’m getting 28 stitches to 10cm and the strip is supposed to be 24 inches, no….stitches, then the number of the stitches that I need to have how many inches? Where do I get the inches? (For the love of wool someone get me a drink.) Look. If 4.5 stitches is one inch, and 7 stitches is one inch when I knit it, and an inch is 2.5cm and I ….. Oh (*&^%$! . Fine. 24 stitches divided by 4.5 stitches should give me inches for the width of the strip so I can multiply….Didn’t I ask someone to get me a drink?

At some point in this, Dibble must have felt my cosmic pain and being adept in the dark arts of numeric manipulation, mailed me an excel spreadsheet where all I have to do is pour a glass of wine, enter the gauge I’m supposed to be getting, the number of stitches that you cast on, the gauge I’m getting now, and whammo-bammo, before you can say “Mr. Lancaster’s grade 10 math class sucked” Dibble’s excel spreadsheet of glory spits out the number to cast on and the whole thing comes together. I love her.

That let me make a start, which I confirmed with Tree, who happens to be knitting the same thing, only she’s getting gauge. Now that I’m not getting gauge, but am getting the right width, the only thing left to worry about is trying to knit the leaves into places that will not strategically position them precisely over my nipples, stripping me of the very elegance that I seek.

Good times.

I leave you with this picture of summer in my city.


If you live in Toronto, you don’t need to turn on the tv to know who is winning World Cup Soccer games, you just need to know your world flags. I don’t know what the score was…but I can tell you that Portugal definitely won something on Sunday.

Random Friday

1. I am trying to make the Roundabout Leaf tank from Knitting Nature (beautiful book.) out of Alchemy Silken Straw (100% silk).

(I would show you pictures but I sent the camera to Sam’s track meet with Joe. I thought about keeping it, but my maternal instinct prevailed.)

The pattern is written for a gauge of 18 stitches to 10cm, and the yarn knits up to 26 stitches to 10cm. Although this plan made a great deal of sense to me while I was in the yarn shop (I have no explanation for that now…) I am having some technical difficulties ( No? Really?) with the plan now. I think someone should do some research into wool fumes and figure out what comes over me in a yarn shop that makes me think that all things are possible.

2. Sara knit a really cute watermelon hat, and it struck me that those beads would be a really good way to do a strawberry hat too…

3. For all Toronto based book types, I’ll be at Book Expo Canada this weekend, signing books between 11 and 12 on Sunday. Please drop by and say Hi if you’re anywhere in the neighbourhood.

4. Yesterday was Amanda and Meg’s last day of school, marking the beginning of an entire summer of teenagers standing around my office (which is actually the living room) asking for food and trying to get me weakened enough to allow insane ideas like “co-ed camping” or a puppy. Phrases like “everyone is doing it” and “nobody else’s mother is a lunatic” are already being bandied about. May the force be with me.

What are the chances…

That this guy with a freaking jackhammer the size of one of my children 10 feet outside of my front window


who jackhammered the sidewalk (with no apparent goal that I could divine) for hours and hours today, has any relationship to this big honking mistake in the shawl edging?


That’s what I thought. I’m not taking the heat on this one.

I had a conversation with a friend a little while ago who made the observation that my third book may be suffering from “third child syndrome”. You know the one, where your first child has two baby books, fourteen albums (complete with records of their first nail trimming) a scrapbook and a box of memorabilia, then your second kid has an album and a baby book with some of the stuff filled in, and then the third child has only got three bent photos where they appear by accident in the background of a picture of the damaged porch you took for insurance purposes? Yeah. Me too.

I got to thinking about that a little, and she may be right. I love the third book. It’s just as special as the first two, it certainly represents the same amount of work and passion and love, but somehow (this may be related to my discomfort with praise of all kinds) its the only book that didn’t have a launch party, or even a family welcome. It just turned up (much like my third child) and made itself at home on my bookshelf and was suddenly there, like it had always been. My friend asked me to consider giving it a party. (My friend may just want to get out of the house more, so her motives are somewhat suspect.) So while I’m not giving the book a formal launch, I am always up for a party, and you guys are invited.

My birthday falls on my usual knit night at Lettuce Knit next week, so I’m going to have a birthday celebration/ hey-its-a-book party there next Wednesday evening, June 14th, about 7:00. (Many thanks to Lettuce Knit for forking over the store.) I’ll be getting a year older, signing books if you got one, and buying some yarn hanging with my knitbuds to whoop it up. Come one, come all. I might bring beer.

(Remarks about how having a birthday party at a yarn store makes the most sense they have ever heard of and is not weird at all, gratefully received.)

There’s a Macbeth line for this.

Do you know that feeling of ineffectiveness? The one where your whole day is busy, busy, rushing but nothing at all has been accomplished? I’m so there. I’ve tidied the living room, it’s still a disaster, I’ve mopped the kitchen floor, it’s still sticky. I do laundry, there’s more. I write, I don’t have a chapter. I knit, nothing is bigger.

I’m getting about as much done as a fifteen year old girl with a fully charged phone and a new boy in the neighbourhood.

It disturbs me most when it happens to the writing, (that may be because I have to write successfully for this family to keep having those little luxuries, like bread.) but when it happens to my knitting it practically sucks the will to go on right out of me. Knitting is supposed to be respite from all of that. Knitting is supposed to be the one thing in my life where there is tangible progress. Knitting is CONCRETE. You can count the stitches and the rows and you can have some stinking proof that your life is moving forward.


Sure, sure, you can’t really tell over the course of a day that your kids are maturing. (As a matter of fact, I find it better to look at their growth over months or years. Some of the individual days are pretty discouraging. How is it possible that the girls are becoming women this quickly but are still capable of having an outrageously piercing dispute about sparkle body lotion at 7:15am? There is a secondary question here, one about how it is possible that any children raised on oatmeal and homemade yoghurt by a braless woman could possibly care about sparkle body lotion enough to fight over it, but that’s likely just the fates laughing at me again.) There’s no way to feel like a book is really going to come together over a day, books are too long. These things you just have to accept are slow and organic, but knitting? You’re supposed to be able to get that done.

This is all, naturally, just a very long winded way of saying that Summer in Kansas kicked my arse last night and I’m not on to the edging.

Worse than that, I didn’t read the instructions very well (try to hide your shock) and I thought that all I had left to do was knit on the edging, but it turns out that I’m really screwed there is an elegant picot edging that gets knit onto the long top edge when I’m done the bottom. You pick up stitches all of the way across, then throttle yourself with the circular needle cable work an edge that has you cast on two stitches for every one that you would like to cast off. (You do the math. It makes me want to shred something.)


There was something about sitting in the living room (that is resisting being cleaned) taking a break from the book (which was resisting being written) wearing my last clean tee-shirt (because the laundry is multiplying every-time I leave the house.) realizing that I couldn’t even make progress on my stinking knitting that just about put me over the edge.


I know that freaking out about ineffective time management and accomplishment is…er…ineffective, and furthermore, I know myself and realize that aforementioned freaking out only makes me flail and rage about the house, moving fast and accomplishing nothing, as that sort of tantrum only makes what time I do have completely unfocussed and impotent. What is needed here is to take the stinking shawl and all it symbolizes out to the barbecue and cackle like a madwoman while the sick smell of charring wool/silk drifts across the locust tree is to settle down, pick a goal and make today about efficient, calm work, directed in a meaningful way. That or eat nine pounds of chocolate. Hard to tell really.

To distract you from the absolute lack of interesting progress of any sort, I present…Twins wearing hand knit hats.


Lily in her watermelon. (Lily needs to grow her head and maybe wake up a little for maximum effect in hat pictures.)


Parker in his tangerine. Parker’s hat fits a little better, but he would improve his hat pictures by gaining motor control of his eyes and tongue. Little dude’s expressions are still pretty random. I feel bad about lighting him from one side and making him look crooked, but I bet he preferred it to the flash.


The sweater modeling will have to wait. The size 0-3 months are a little big.

The postman rings…

I have a deep and loving relationship with the Canada Post package guy. All of the tubes, transistors, resistors and wire that Joe gets in the mail adds up to at least a package a week, and yarn related materials turn up regularly enough that we can actually have a relationship with the man. He knows that if it’s from Digikey, is heavy or makes a noise when you shake it then it’s for Joe, and if it’s large, light and silent (and perhaps has been reeking up his truck with the vague smell of sheep shite) ….it’s for me. He’s even begun to inquire what sorts of things are inside our respective packages. Right now he appears just as perplexed by a shetland fleece as he does a box full of 5000 electrolytic capacitors, and I am very surprised that he has not once, not with all of the TTL Logic Gates, hand cards, transformers, merino, wire and sock yarn…not once has he asked either of us what we do for a living. Ever.

I have visions of him driving around Toronto with the window of his truck down (to get rid of the barnyard smell from my latest box) pondering the question of “What are they doing with this stuff?” and only being able to come up with the horrible vision of Joe and I combining our talents and creating (through cyborg technologies learned from watching too much Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica) an evil homemade flock of killer robot sheep living in our basement.

Since I worry about the Postman, I’m going to show what was in the last few things he brought. (See Dude? I don’t know what Joe’s up too…but I’m harmless. Likely odd, but harmless.)

1. That white box with ” Blue Moon” written on it? Sock Club.


Five times a year, beautiful Socks that Rock yarn turns up with a pattern to go with it. This shipment was a colour that I wouldn’t normally pick, and a patten I wouldn’t normally do, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when I was winding the yarn about 20 minutes after it showed up. (I am weak.) Sam’s got her eye on these socks, she’s charmed (as am I, actually) with the picot edge bind-off on this pair.


The binder provides a place to keep the patterns and has handy charts with sock measurments and places to keep notes on the patterns and the foot information of your friends and family. I’m thrilled to death with the whole shebang.

(STR always reminds me of Cara. Did you all know she’s fundraising for Heifer International? Good cause, fibre friendly and she’s almost at her goal. Not that goodness needs any reward, but there are prizes… good ones.)

2. The padded envelope with the phallic shaped object inside? Not what you think. (I already have a hobby.)


A sock-in-progress suitcase. (Remember the tin one (scroll down a bit) available from Woolworks Ltd. at Jeremiah’s Antiques – wait…I’ll tell you before you ask. Her email is ) This is a wooden one, a reproduction of a Shaker device and being made available by Joan. (I got mine right from Joan and you can too, they are $20 and Joan’s having them made in a variety of lengths to match your needles. Email Joan at for more info.) I love the tin one but the wooden one (while it takes up more room in your purse) doesn’t look quite so suspicious on airport x-ray. (They let the tin one on, but I had to let them fish it out of my bag and have a look at it.) This one is going to be for planes and the tin one for the rest of my time.

3. This made it’s way here courtesy of Knit & Plenty.


It’s a supercool “Organizational toolkit for the disorganized knitter“.

(I’m trying to let go of what my public image must be for her to have sent it here. Perhaps I should make an effort, eh?) There’s all sorts of neat tricks in here, needle minders, yarn minders, patternminders….You can read more about it here. I don’t know if it will organize the stash…but it made short work of one of the baskets.

In addition to opening boxes, my knitting and I have had a fine weekend. The sock and I got through the CBC thing.


I don’t know how we got through it, but we did. I go and do these things and the minute it’s over I blissfully forget everything that I said. I know I didn’t swear, I’m pretty sure I didn’t call the host by the wrong name and other than that…who knows? I’ve discovered that doing radio is less stressful than other book things. Probably because it doesn’t matter how my hair looks. Perhaps because you can’t see the audience.

Sam and I took my trekking sock for a trek in High Park.


High Park is a big park in Toronto here, sort of like Central Park but with more wild spaces. We hiked the Western Ravine Black Oak trail and found a field of what I think are wild lupins. Anyone?


I finished Parkers hat.


(The little leaves are from Knitted Embellishments.)

I have four rows to go on Summer in Kansas before I can start the edging, and I’ve promised myself I will get this off needles before I start something new, but I’m getting seriously twitchy. (I think it’s the colour.)


and the sock enjoyed the babies. I love the way they look like they are lifting their little hands away from the needles. (Both babies were so soundly asleep they wouldn’t ever have moved.)


They are home now, and everyone is happy. Mum, Dad and big sister are all smashing, and the babies are getting bigger by the minute. I was stunned today when I lifted Lily. She doesn’t weigh that much more, but she’s got that sudden solidity that babies get after a few days…it’s like their souls arrive in their bodies and sturdy them up a little. Her brother also come fully into himself, and I’m having a wonderful time watching them almost literally blossom.

Tomorrow, cute babies in cute knitted stuff. Or a shawl, or maybe some socks. (I wonder if I’m becoming predictable?)

You don’t want to be here

I am profoundly boring. I have just returned from the hospital (where the twins continue to thrive) and


I am knitting a plain hat, and plain socks.

(I can’t believe I took a picture of that. I am even boring myself.)

There are better blogs to visit today.

1. Go see Sam’s spinning. The woman is to the spinning wheel as Zenobia was to the rule of Egypt. There is no chance that she would take more than two years to spin corridale for her mate’s gansey even though she was being pestered by a wild Rams.

2. Ted is spindling and knitting for lace. (This is, you will realize when you get there, is the understatement of the century. If you doubt me, see this, and this or this. Now close your mouth before flies go in.)

3.Eunny. Enough said.

4. Pacalaga has a baby worth peeking at.

5. Freshisle Fibers has watermelon sock yarn to go with the hat.

6. Wannietta (The fastest knitter in North America) and the Toronto Spiders are participating in the Back to Back Wool Challenge at Riverdale Farm this weekend. Go look. It’s really cool.

For Canadians who are interested, I’ll be trying to to humiliate myself on CBC’s Fresh Air tomorrow morning at (and I can’t tell you how much this works against me) 7:30am. That’s startlingly early for my sort of person, and will probably result in a good chunk of incoherent babbling about knitting. Might be worth turning the radio on for if you’re up anyway.

I shall endeavor to be more entertaining on Monday. Maybe I’ll knit lace.

Update: Apparently (thanks for the tip Lauren) you don’t have to be in Canada to listen to the CBC. I haven’t tested it, but it looks like this page (I’m in Toronto) will let my 7:30am ritual humiliation be heard by a wider audience. Excellent.

Things that can be yours

Much of my blogging time is being occupied by twin management. Both are beautiful and healthy and breastfeeding very well. (All hail their mother. Nursing twins is an intense job. An intense full-time job. A job so big that someone should really sit beside you for most of your day saying “you’re wonderful” and doing all of the other jobs.) To help keep things going well, I’m sacrificing time at the computer to biking up to the hospital and back each day. I’m sure you all can get behind that. Until then, you are going to have to settle for some random stuff that can be yours.

1. I started with this:


Fleece artist kid mohair sliver. (Interesting note? That word is pronounced “sly-ver”, not “sliv-er” like what you get running on a new deck in bare feet. I discovered this while trying to look informed using the word at a retreat. I was gently corrected.) There are two colourways there that I thought were compatible. I spun them separately,


then plied them together to get this:


About 160m of dk/perhaps heavy fingering mohair two-ply, that I’ve donated to Claudia as a prize for her MS ride. Visit Claudia, make a donation and you could win this, or something else really, really good. Claudia’s aiming for $10 000 this year and she’s almost there.

2. While I was sitting around the hospital, I’ve whipped off a wee cotton hat for Lily.


It’s so cute it about gives me cramps. Now is the part where you all email me for the pattern and I break knitterly hearts by explaining that there isn’t one, and I email you back and say “you could totally fake it” and then you email me back and say “No, no. I’m not that kind of knitter. I can’t fake a hat”, and then I email you back and say “It’s not diffusing a bomb. Try it.” and then you email another note and say “I wouldn’t know where to start.” and then I email you and say “If you dressed yourself you’re smart enough for this” and then I email you the steps below.

(I’m trying to time save by just putting it here. Let me know if you really miss the other parts.)

Step one. Measure the head in question. (Lily’s head is 33cm – 13 inches.)

Step two. Find some yarn in dark green, light green, white and pink. You can look for black if you want to do the seeds. (I will remind you now that there are seedless watermelons.)

Step three. Knit a swatch. (Don’t make that face. Do a tiny one. I did 10 rows of 10 stitches.) Measure your stitches to the inch.

Step four. Multiply the number of stitches to the inch by the number of inches around the victims head. (Use a calculator if you feel woozy when I say multiply.) If you have five stitches to the inch, and the head in question is 15 inches, your math looks like this:

5X15= 75. See? Even a math-phobic like me can do it.)

Step five. Cast on this number if your recipient is a baby (their heads grow fast) or a few less than this number if your recipient is likely to have a stable head size for a while. (Hat’s knit the exact size of the head don’t stay on real well. You want it a wee bit smaller so that it clings a little.)

Step six. Knit around and around, changing colours in the places that it makes sense to, and carry on until the hat is tall enough. (This is always taller than you think.) Lily’s hat is five inches tall. (Don’t unroll the roll brim to measure. It’s not going to unroll on their head.)

Step seven. Decrease in a manner that makes sense to you. Me? I like the tops of hats to swirl, so I decrease every 8 stitches on the first round, seven on the second, six on the third…and so on until I’m knitting two together around.

Step eight. Cut yarn, thread through remaining stitches and fasten off. Duplicate stitch on the seeds, if it charms you.

Step nine. Put it on the head of the victim recipient and giggle a little. (Double sided tape helps with toddlers.)

Step ten. Stop and think how this could totally work for other hats. Feel clever.