I swear I didn’t touch it

Yesterday, apparently something went bang in the universe somewhere, and entirely unbeknownst to me this caused a rippling cascade of cosmic errors that – although entirely imperceptible to me… took the blog down and entirely corrupted my huge mysql (I don’t know what that is) database. Indeed, oblivious to the problem at all, I went happily to yoga class. When I returned, I had a couple of emails (thank you, Christy and Janey) letting me know that all was not well in the land of comments. I sighed. I had a beer. I watched House. I waited for the forces that be (the forces that be would actually be Ken) to fix the thing. After all…I had done nothing to deserve a blog problem. I had bought lots of room, I didn’t upgrade, I didn’t touch the templates. (I am prohibited the template touching.) Yea, even though I am often perplexed, intrigued and made curious by the software that makes the blog go, I had not touched the software, nor clicked on any buttons in the software. Indeed, though it is my software, I had not so much as adjusted a setting, nor posted to the blog, nor even looked at the computer, in sooth, I had not even been in my home when the cascade of errors erupted.

This morning, the blog was still broken, in fact, things were worse, since the gush of server related faults had progressed to the point where not only could you guys not participate in the blog by commenting, but I couldn’t participate by posting an entry, which seemed to be just as critical a portion of the process. Indeed, when I checked my email this morning, my server had sent me a lot of mail letting me know that it had deep concerns and failures related to its “hpptd, named, ftpd, exim, syslogd, imap and cpsrvd” thingies. I don’t know what those are, but I had a feeling that they were the server equivalent of “pancreas, spleen and gallbladder” so I (still) did not touch anything but backed away from the screen and called Ken on the phone and told him “blog still broken. Make blog go?”

Ken, unfortunately was hampered from helping me by the presence of something he termed “a real job”, and I realized that I was going to have to do the unthinkable. I was going to have to call technical support for the server.

This is how much sock you can knit while you talk to the very helpful Jason at tech support.


It was best for me to knit while he explained what is wrong, because I swear that didn’t understand a single word he said. I pretended to say intelligent things while he “repaired the mt_entry table in the mysql database” and talked about “command line entries”. Jason was boggled at the depth of the problems. He would find one thing that was broken that would lead to another thing that was broken that would lead to …..well. You get it. It’s like when you call the plumber because the kitchen tap is leaking, and he tells you that the problem is the pipe, so he takes apart the pipe and discovers that it’s actually the supply pipe behind the wall, and knocks out the wall, and finds out that the problem is really the larger inlet from the street and the next thing you know they are fixing your leaky tap with a backhoe and a team of guys tearing up the front garden.

Jason kept saying things like “Woah….what the….” and then whistling low and impressed at the breadth of exactly how screwed the whole thing was. (I do not find this comforting in a tech guy.) Every time he went “Holy cow…what happened to the…..” I would knit a little faster. What does he mean “What happened” ? I called him to find out what happened. Is it broken? Is it expensive? Can it be fixed? I need a little feigned confidence from the tech guy….I’m drowning in a huge pool of tech-crap and the fact that he is impressed with how screwed I am is not at all comforting. I would knit, knit, knit…all while suppressing the urge to scream “MAKE BLOG GO!!!”.

All through the process of fixing the thing, Jason quizzed me. What had I done to deserve this? Upgrade? Click on something? Install something? I had to have committed some crime to have created this conflagration of incredible craptitude. In a scene worthy of The Closer, Jason tried to divine the exact moment when I had committed some innocuous action, some click or stroke of the keyboard, seemingly anodyne – but in fact the seed of all that had come crashing down since then. I don’t think he wanted to hold me responsible, but only to be released from the mystery that had consumed so much of our respective mornings.

“Think” pressed Jason, “What, exactly were you doing when the server failed.”

I thought about it, retracing my evening steps, cataloguing all that I had done. Then I answered.

“Downward Dog.”

“Pardon?” says Jason, surely guessing or even hoping, that this was some new application that I have been running on my computer that has corrupted everything.

“Downward Dog dude. I was at Yoga class.”

“Hmmm……” says Jason, and I hear him still typing….

“You wouldn’t expect that to be a problem for the server like this”.

Exactly dude. Happy Hallowe’en.

Cold hands, warm heart

I had a very fiberish weekend, well in keeping with the time of year. The Great Canadian Furnace Wars are in full swing in the McPhee clan, and anything that involves wool is very welcome. Last year the ongoing battle to see who could go the longest without turning on the heat involved a great deal of confusion. My Uncle Tupper and his wife visited Ian, and since Susan isn’t a McPhee, she compelled him to turn on his heat. Ian complied (he is nothing if not a good host) and provided heat for the duration of their visit, then turned it off again and outlasted me from that point.

(I say this means he lost, since managing outside influences is part of the Furnace Wars, and why you turned your furnace on is irrelevant. On is on. Dude lost.) Ian disagrees, and the lack of clarity surrounding who the victor was has only impelled both of us to do better this year.

Ken (who lives downstairs from my Mum) turned on their heat last week, thus disqualifying both of them. (We suspected that this would anger my mother, but it turned out that she had snuck it on briefly the week before) My sister Erin was unceremoniously turfed from the contest three days ago when the temperature outside fell to 0 degrees (32 Fahrenheit) and it was discovered by a mole (my daughter, who was babysitting) that she was using her fireplace to heat her home. Ian and I discussed it, and we were clear. That’s heat. She’s out.

Therefore, the two cheapskates virtuous contestants left in the match are Ian and me. In past years I have been held back from the full glory of my skills by the presence of small children, but now – they are young women and the fact that they carry McPhee DNA could not be more apparent. The girls discussed it the other night, and in addition to the financial and environmental rewards reaped by waiting, they also have embraced the glory of kicking their Uncle Ian’s arse on this, and have broken out the sweaters, afghans, wool socks and hot water bottles to make it possible.

(I think that even if I wanted to turn on the heat now, I would be outvoted.) We are baking bread, we are making soup…and I – armed with the best defence possible (and regretting every woolly thing I have ever knit my brother, since he is not turning it against me) am playing with wool and planning to defend our position in the Furnace Wars with knitwear.

While I waited for the Sunrise Circle wool to dry (slower than expected, probably due to the low indoor temperatures and dampness) I really meant to work on the Rotating Rib socks, but a comment from Linda reminding me of these sent me scurrying to the stash and bookshelf.

I am an enormous fan of the book Selbuvotter, Biography of a Knitting Tradition, by the lovely Terri Shea, since it feeds a chronic low grade obsession with fancy mittens that flares up every once in a while. This beautiful book concerns itself with the handcoverings of the Norwegian Selbu folk tradition, and there’s both mittens and gloves.

I let Amanda pick a pattern she thought was good (steering her off of the gloves) rounded up some Kroy in off-white and some seriously pretty Shelridge Farm handpainted sock yarn, and I went off to the races.


Looks good, yes?


No. It’s an illusion. That is actually a pretty poor mitten for a bunch of reasons, and actually, we can speak of it in the past tense, since it has already met with a vicious ripping and been replaced with this:


I know it doesn’t look much different, but it is. For starters, I decided the Kroy was too stiff and heavy compared to the Shelridge Farm stuff, then there is the fact that upon closer examination I was apparently only doing an “interpretation” of the chart for the cuff rather than the chart itself, which was an error I could have lived with except that it led to a further error (too many stitches) which I then compounded by doing another “interpretation” of the palm chart, which I also could have lived with except that it became obvious that it sort of looked like ass and wasn’t going to come to a point evenly at the top. I knit on for a while trying to figure out if I cared….and by the time I worked out that I really cared a lot….I had the better part of a mitten. (A thousand curses on slow thinking. )

Samantha came out from under the wool blankets she was snuggling in long enough to help me rip it back to zero. I replaced the Kroy in off-white with Sisu in cloud white, followed the chart (what a concept) and now I’m much happier….


As I’ve slogged through though, I’ve realized that there may be a flaw in my plan to use wool as a secret weapon in the Furnace Wars. I think Ian can buy mittens faster than I can knit them.

I’m not as smart as I look

– and I’m not sure I look all that smart right now. As I am some sort of slacker, when knitting commenced on the Sunrise Circle Jacket and I discovered that the yarn is a thousand times better/cleaner/softer having been washed before the knitting, I set to work and washed and dried three skeins worth. Then I started knitting. I knit and knit and last night I finished the left front. (It has all worked out exactly right, thanks for asking.)


and then triumphantly began the right sleeve/ front. (This jacket is a master work of engineering, right smack out of the genius brain of Kate Gilbert. One knits the sleeve, and at the same time as you begin the decreases for the raglan, the front starts to grow out of the armpit.


By the time you have the raglan decreased away, Lo – a whole front (that does not need to be sewn on ) has sprung fully formed from your needles. The woman’s brain is a wonder, but I digress.)


In any event, so charmed have I been that I neglected to consider that knitting uses up yarn, and only this afternoon when I fished into my bag for another ball and came up with air, did I remember that I had really intended to wash more of the yarn before this moment came. Damn.


I’ve washed another skein now, but it’s raining and the dampness surely means that I won’t be working on this tonight. Rather than be disappointed in my inability to plan (at some point I guess I need to accept that this is a personality trait rather than an accident) I have decided to accept that this is a wonderful opportunity to rehash the failed socks from yesterday. … or maybe a hat. Oh…what about mittens? I love mittens, and there was this blanket I liked, and I was going to make a lace scarf, I also bought this great yarn at Rhinebeck, and there’s that sweater for Christmas I was thinking about…where did that kit go? Never mind. The socks. (Or the mittens… Or the hat….)

Maybe I should put that yarn in the oven to dry before this gets out of hand. Ever feel like your own brain set you up?

A knitter has needs

Last night I went out to the Textile Museum for the launch of my buddy Fiona’s new book, and after her clever talk I went up to her to get her to hold the sock (because, you know…that’s what I do) and discovered that clearly my life has come right off the rails because I had forgotten to bring the travelling sock. This is rather stunning, since that poor pair of green socks has accompanied me everywhere that I go for the last 7 months, and all I can imagine is that my failure to bring it with me was some sort of subconscious expression of my desire to not travel for a while. Perhaps a conditioned response or something…like, maybe I’ve become Pavlov’s knitter and I figure that if I don’t have the travelling socks I won’t have to travel. (I am a little simple at times.) In any case, I was forced to hand her some other knitting, and that’s a very good thing, since she knit a little on it, which is more than what I have done.


The knitting in question is the Sunrise Circle Jacket, and while it was whipping along for a while there, it came off the rails where I had to follow line by line instructions and do that trickiest of things….Count.


It’s not that I can’t count (occasional evidence to the contrary) nor that I avoid counting (again, evidence notwithstanding) it’s simply that I knit largely while I do other things, and when I am counting, I can’t do other things. Now that I’m feeling better and I’m not just busy sniffing on a couch, the jacket hasn’t made for the best company.

Therefore a new sock sprang into being, something that I could motor along on when it was too busy or dark to count.


(STR “Downpour” Rotating Rib pattern of my own reckoning.) Sadly, this sock is not long for this earth, as I have arsed up the heel rather spectacularly, made the leg too short, failed to rotate the rotating rib, and as it’s circumference would suit a rather gouty elephant, it is clear now that the whole thing is worked on too many stitches. (I know it looks fine. That’s the ribbing lying to you.) I have known this for some time, but a knitter has needs, and I needed something to knit, and even though I knew this sock was an abysmal example of the art, I just kept knitting. I’ve known it needed ripping with every stitch I’ve put on it, but I can’t cast on in the dark or in fine company, and since that’s where I was…


I just kept knitting. (Don’t look at me like that. I can’t be the only one.) Now it’s hour of reckoning is here and there’s nothing stopping me from ripping it back with all the wild abandon that the piece of knitting junk deserves. Rip-o-rama.

Kiss it goodbye. Adios amigo. Hasta la vista, baby, and don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out.

PS. As a public service announcement for the knitters of Ontario, I feel compelled to tell you that Susanna Hansson is coming to the Kitchener Waterloo Knitters Guild to do some workshops on Feb 2nd and 3rd. The Saturday is the Bohus workshop (youknowyouwanna) and Sunday is her two beaded classes (the knitting is beaded, not the classes) Susanna lives on the west Coast, so this is a rare and wondrous opportunity. (Plus she’s my friend and very clever.) To get in on it contact the Guild.

He is getting smarter

Over the last few years, Joe has become a thousand times more competent in the home than he was when we started this whole crazy thing where sometimes I leave the house for a few days. When first he was left here with the girls, when I came back home the bunch of them would essentially be re-enacting scenes from The Lord of the Flies. We’re not just talking about things like cups in the cupboard the wrong way or him abandoning decent nutrition, no, no….we’re talking about big things. I almost dreaded coming home back then because I knew from experience that though I had been working my arse off out in the world to support this merry band, that when I walked through the door I would be walking into a completely disintegrated environment. The kids would be feral, the house trashed, laundry way behind, homework undone, no food in the house…everything sticky. We’re not talking about the family not keeping my standards going, we’re talking about them not keeping the minimum standards of the public health department going.

The only thing that kept me from killing Joe right where he stood each and every time I came back was my belief that he just needed practice, and because he said things like ” I’m trying Steph, but I don’t know how you do it. I can’t work and do the housework and the laundry and the kids. I’m trying…but I just can’t figure out how you’re doing it.” (I admit that there were times that I was secretly impressed and pleased that it took both Ken and Joe and the occasional pitch in of my sister and mother to replace me.) It also occurred to me that if he was a raving incompetent, that I had to be at least partly to blame. Spoiling him all these years somehow turned him into someone who couldn’t see dirt and waited for the laundry fairy to bring him clean clothes.

Clearly, he needed opportunities, so I kept leaving…I kept expecting things to be better when I came back, I kept talking about how entirely crappy I thought trashing the house while I was gone was, and slowly, both Joe and the girls started getting it together. Don’t get me wrong….this has taken years. YEARS, and I know for a fact that they were cleaning madly yesterday when I was on my way home… but who cares? The point is, it was done when I got here. I’ve been so proud of all of them for becoming so much more independent and capable. They are a very clever lot and I knew they had it in them. Especially Joe.

That’s why I’m not very surprised that now that he has the household somewhat under control, that he has moved on to other challenges. His plan? Now that he feels a sense of ownership for the house, he has a plan to take over every inch of it for his own purposes. I thought maybe I was just being overly suspicious, but there’s no denying it now. Joe is trying to convert our home into a recording studio, he’s just doing it bit by bit. Every time I come back, Joe has taken something else over. First it was the whole basement. I didn’t say much about that. Then a few months ago upon my return I discovered that we are now storing “patch bays” in the kitchen.


The next time, boxes turned up stacked neatly in a corner of my office. I went away another time and when I came back I discovered that four filing boxes of paperwork are permanently stacked by the family computer. Every time I leave, he claims some space that I have to work at reclaiming for the family. For example –


each time I come back these boxes are in the living room and I flip out. After loose my cool, he says he will move them and then it takes weeks to move them, and by the time they are finally moved I am so freakin’ thrilled about the boxes being out of the living room that suddenly it doesn’t seem so insane that we have patch bays in the kitchen. (Still.) I am so dim that it took me months to figure out that the boxes in the living room are all a ruse. Part of a complicated dance to distract me. He doesn’t care about those boxes. I bet they are empty. They are there to distract me from the fact that he’s installed a third computer, and this one is on the dining room table. I thought that he had played his ultimate card when I came home from SOAR to discover the computer set up in the living room next to the coffee table (so he could engineer tracks while sitting on the chesterfield watching James Bond movies.) I wigged out and he moved it back to the dining room. (See? Clever man. The dining room table was unacceptable until I had it in the living room. Now the dining room doesn’t seem so bad. It is a delicate game we are playing over here.) I have known for some time that since Joe was gaining ground every time I left home that I needed a new strategy, but I didn’t know how far he was willing to go until I came back last night and discovered his latest incursion.


This is our dining room….or at least…it used to be. It appears to be an office now…an office almost identical to the one he has in the basement. I am stunned. Obviously I need a counter-plan for some sort of retaliation. This is war, and I’m losing a lot of ground. This time he has got a whole room. I am both concerned and sort of impressed.

Bold move. Bold move indeed.

Rhinebeck Hangover

Naturally, as you will read all over, Rhinebeck was wonderful. Juno and I drove up Saturday morning, models of efficiency that we are, and were installed in the fairgrounds by lunchtime, giddy and thrilled. I could go on for hours and hours about the lovely things I saw, but the pictures really speak for themselves. One of the best things for me about Rhinebeck is not just the wool (though that is pretty damn good too) but the things and people that one gets to see there…

There were sheep. Many sheep.


Goats too.


Men in Kilts (This one is Mel)


This one is the charming David, who not only showed me a little leg, but where the beer was.


Cara is making a baby.


Ruth already did.


The prize winning Blue Faced Leicester fleece.


Kellee loves the sheep.


Brainy lady Alison and Rachel scored big time.


Jess threw a party.


Sarah had fun at the party.


So did a lot of people.


I watched a sheep to shawl competition.


I hugged Mamacate.


Pumpkins were chucked.


Ann wore a hat, while Kay pretended not to know her.


Clara took my picture.


Sheep herding dogs were for sale.


There was Yarn.


There were free range Canadians.


Laurie, Claudia and Sil are held in thrall.


Sheep were shorn.


But mostly?


Same time next year? Definitely.

One on the way

I survived last night, and even did so with relative good humour and happiness, undaunted by my head cold. There was 15 minutes in the car on the way there, when being driven by a what I have been told now was a “real Jersey driver” (I have never gone so fast in a motor vehicle in my life) while listening to him scream at his wife on a cell phone to tell him what exit to get off at that I a) considered telling him what exit he could get off at, so help me or B) thought that perhaps leaving the house had been a significant tactical error. By the time I made it to the bookstore I was so grateful to have been not killed in a fiery and explosive crash that my own personal mucous issues seemed entirely irrelevant.

There was also a 5 minute stretch while I was speaking where I know I must have looked vague and pale, clutching the podium and hoping that I should not faint, not because it is unhealthy to faint, but because I knew certainly that my collapse would be blogged from here to Thailand, complete with pictures. (Such is the nature of bloggers. They would certainly tend to my wilted and prone self, but they would take a picture first, perhaps even with a sock posed on my senseless form. ) Thankfully the moment passed with me still on my feet, a gift for which I will be eternally grateful.

Behold, the Knitters of New Jersey!




Okay, now pay attention, because these people are interesting but I have to write about them quickly, because Juno is standing at the door in her Rhinebeck clothes and I am unbathed and blogging.

This is Megan and Thaya, the cutest wee pixie pre-knitter.


Meet the young knitters, William, Hilja, Leah (she’s the short one, the taller is her enabling mother Maggi) and my stalkers Leah and Briana, to whom I pointed out that if they really want to be good stalkers, they have got to stop getting one of their mum’s to drive them. All the best stalkers have their own cars.





Heather is knitting her first sock


Sue knit a sock of shame. (Once again, only denial lets a knitter accomplish something that size and then actually ask her husband to try it on.)


Here’s Melisa, saying hi to her Mum Mary in Caddagap Arkansas (they don’t see each other enough)


The skein Mavens,


Washcloths, from Australia and Pennsylvania.



Amy’s – Squared.


Dian, Carly and Maria, who met and knit together on the bus each day


Michael, proof here that he turned up and gave me beer as so directed by Tola


and finally, the revered and esteemed Judeth,


Who is donating that rare and venerable copy of the Principles of Knitting for a raffle so we may better raise money for Knitters Without Borders. More about that later, but know that she is a gem among knitters.

Now, wagons ho – for Rhinebeck beckons. I’m there today and tomorrow, today- shopping and enjoying, tomorrow signing (mostly all day) and speaking (at 1:00) in the Author tent, check your programs for how to find that. I’ll be the one with the kleenex.

Reprising My Role

I made it. I won’t say that flying with a head cold was fun, or pretty, but it’s over and that’s that. I drank tons of fluid and went with a high powered decongestant and while there was absolutely an uncomfortable element (especially on decent) it wasn’t the nightmare I had imagined. The drugs had the primary effect of making me feel high as a freakin’ kite, but the secondary effect of keeping the sneezing and coughing down so that I don’t believe that I passed it along to anyone on route. (The guy next to me on the plane was leaned so far away from me into the aisle that he almost took a drink cart to the back of the head. I helped him by leaning into the window. Poor guy. I must have looked like typhoid Mary.) I credit drinking as much water and juice as I could with being the biggest help…I was practically sloshing, but I felt a thousand times better once I was seriously well hydrated.

Juno picked me up at the airport, which is good, since I think I was way too stoned on the cold stuff to have found her house otherwise. I’m considering it a personal triumph that I found the door to the aircraft. I know I must have been looking just fantastic, since pretty much all she said to me on the ride was “poor baby” and “you’re a little pathetic”. Pathetic indeed, since I rolled just about straight into bed and woke up this morning still ill, but better. I know now that I will live, and I must be feeling better, since today, I’m okay with that.

I’ve been ensconced on her couch today, with pillows and a big blankie, drinking juice and water and eating oatmeal and apples, napping and knitting. If a day like this can’t brace me for this evenings gig at Borders in New Jersey, and a Rhinebeck weekend I don’t know what can.

The Sunrise Circle Jacket is looking really good. (Although I have managed to take a picture that in no way conveys it’s charms.)


The first sleeve is done, and I started the slightly tricky business of adding the front circle stitches at the same time as I start decreasing away the sleeve stitches. I started that part last night on the plane, but the cold drugs took their toll on my ability to count and I can’t tell you of the multiple things I discovered wrong with it this morning when I was clean and sober. I ripped back the few rows I knit while I was out of it and took another run. Miraculously, when you aren’t so stoned you can hardly see, the complexity of counting to five is increased remarkably. I’ve put the stitches for the front onto a circular needle I found on Juno’s desk so you can see the odd shape it makes as it forms. Unbelievably, that small half circle ends up being the front of the jacket.


Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to start getting ready to leave. Given that that the cold stuff whacked me out so badly I couldn’t knit straight, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to take it before a speaking engagement. (I know there are those among you who would like me to take it just for the entertainment value it would provide you…but you’ll have to trust me, last night the border guard had to ask me for my passport three times before I connected that he was speaking to me, even though I had walked up to the wicket. Not a good thing. Way too stupid.)

While I feel quite a bit better today, I am well aware that I look dreadful. Any woman who looked the way that I do today would have the good sense to lock herself in a closet rather than go out anywhere, but today doesn’t have that option. I will therefore be drug free, red nosed, slightly sneezey and attempting to reprise my continuing and accidental role as the worlds least attractive woman. Sniff. Good thing I have practice, or I might even feel badly about it.

Pass the drugs

Seriously, could this cold have worse timing? (Yes. Yes it could. Please forget I said that or the universe will accept it as a dare and send me another cold at a worst time, like a year when I am finishing a book the week before Christmas while caring for newborn twins or something.) I am truly miserable feeling today, which has me entirely thrilled.

To my way of thinking, if I feel this bad now, then obviously the cold is maxing out and I shall feel far better tomorrow when I am in New Jersey, and on the weekend for Rhinebeck. Timing is everything, and I am going to be very kind to myself today to try and get well enough to get on the plane this evening. At present, I have deep and serious concerns about what happens if someone who’s head is “full” – to put it delicately, gets on a plane. Is it dangerous? Messy? Will the liquid in my head expand like the liquid in a water bottle? I keep thinking about the way that I saw a bag of chips puff up and expand when they pressurized the cabin a while ago and then doing some extrapolation and feeling the unmistakable stirrings of panic.

I’m taking myself down to the village in short order (if you see me, do not to speak to me. I am not fit for human contact beyond what is absolutely essential) and I am going to buy things I cannot live without.

1. A stinking boatload of pharmaceuticals to try and get myself to the airport. I am normally a very gentle user of these things and rely on natural means to support my health but dudes…..SCREW IT. I am going to embrace better living though chemistry and find a drug or ten that will leave me with the wits to identify my luggage while simultaneously avoiding the head explosion I feel certain will happen if I cannot reduce the amount of liquid present in my head. I am going to look for the words “non-drowsy” and “miracle cure” on the label. If I cannot find them, I may buy scotch.

2. Some buttons, because I am determined, dastardly cold or not, to have a Kauni Cardigan for Rhinebeck. I trimmed the steeks and wove in my ends.


It struck me, while I was concerning myself with these innards, that the inside of the sweater is possibly as beautiful as the outside.


When I return, buttons and drugs procured, I shall fill myself with as many cold medications as it is safe to put in me, and lie on the cool floor of the kitchen with my yarn as my pillow until it is time to go to the airport.

No problem. I can handle it. We’re going to have fun. Party on.