Saturday, 29 December 2012

Run, Don't Walk ...

... to see "Les Misérables", the movie that just opened on Christmas Day. If you loved the musical, you'll most certainly LOVE the movie. It's 2 hours and 38 minutes so don't drink a lot of fluids before you settle in. Trust me on that one.

What did I like?
- that it was very faithful to the musical (at least from what I remember)
- the casting was 'spot-on'. I hadn't read many reviews, nor did I know who else was in it other than Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried so I was thrilled to see Colm Wilkinson cast as The Bishop and Eddie Redmayne as Marius. And what genius casting Sasha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers!
- the closeups during the solos were great for being able to hear the lyrics clearly (and lip-reading if necessary). We weren't distracted by stuff in the background. A lot of times musicals are shot with a 'theatre' perspective and fall short. This was truly shot like a movie.
- the singing voices were all strong. I was surprised at how high Amanda Seyfried was able to sing and impressed with the clarity of her voice. I suspect she worked very hard with a vocal coach and it really paid off. I had heard that Hugh Jackman's singing was 'disappointing' (one reviewer) but I felt it got stronger as the movie and his role progressed. Young Cosette's "Castle on a Cloud" was exquisite.
- I liked that the music still makes me cry, particularly the finale of Act I, 'One Day More' with the whole ensemble,  'Bring Him Home', 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables' the Wedding Chorale and Valjean's Death. The first time I saw the musical, I cried from the moment Gavroche was shot through to the end. The second time I saw it, I cried from the opening chords all the way through. There is something in the music that really resonates in me.

If you don't like musicals, you may not like the movie but it's not as contrived as most musicals are. Schönberg and Boublil's music and lyrics (albeit the English translations) have certainly withstood the test of time. Most of the dialogue is sung 'recitative'-style.  I felt the live singing was very courageous on the parts of all concerned and worked very effectively. The songs had to be done in one take - not an easy feat. It has been criticized as 'bombastic' but how else can the assault on a barricade be portrayed? Even if you're not a lover of musicals, I think you'd enjoy many aspects of the movie.

I sure wish I could find my soundtrack CDs. I can't remember the last time I saw them. 20 years ago perhaps? Eeek!

I predict that with the success of this musical as a movie, we will be seeing others hit the big screen in the not-too-distant future. When Hollywood finds a formula that works, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

I didn't knit a single stitch today or take a single picture.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Our Perfect Christmas

We had what I consider a perfect Christmas.
On Christmas Eve we traditionally have a Swedish feast at the home of a former neighbour of Skip's. Then Christmas morning (I slept in 'til 10:30!! It must have been the generous servings of glögg I had) and we opened our stockings and presents with the fireplace channel on the TV.
I made breakfast and then began our Christmas dinner preparation.

I don't make tons of different dishes - usually a bird (capon, this time)
and stuffing, steamed green beans, scalloped potatoes (from scratch), dinner rolls (not from scratch), cranberry sauce (from scratch) and lava cakes for dessert.
The tissue hats are from our traditional Christmas crackers which, in addition to the hat contain a small prize and a fortune. They are a highlight of every Christmas dinner for us and must be worn for the entire dinner.

It was a lovely day and the house continued to smell chicken-y as I boiled down the carcass for soup.

Ollie and I relaxed once everything was cleaned up.

Yesterday I took it easy, watched "The Hangover" with Skip and then the Season 3 "Downton Abbey" Christmas special which had just been aired in the UK on Christmas Day. I actually yelled at the end of the episode. (I can't tell you what I yelled because I don't want to spoil it for you). Season 3 is awesome and I look forward to watching it again every week on PBS.

I got this far on my Lehe lap blanket.
 I just have to finish the top diamond lace border then pick up stitches all the way around and knit the lace edging.I have lots of yarn left so will make the edging quite wide. 6" perhaps?

This is the view out our bedroom window today. We got our first snowfall (6") last night. Who needs a white Christmas anyway?
Skip got to try out the new snowblower - he and 4 other neighbours.

Since I didn't spin on Monday night, I thought I'd get in a couple of hours this morning while I was still in my jammies. It's a crappy iPhone photo but you get the idea.
Here is the singles thus far.
The plan is to use it with this yarn I spun previously.
Perhaps I'll do a shawl pattern. I'll use the multi-coloured yarn for the stocking stitch and the plain yarn for the lace border.

I'm open for pattern suggestions.

Maybe the Two Color Crescent Shawl, or Kleio, or Dream Stripes (although I prefer a crescent shape), or Cladonia, or Vidalia Lace Shawl, or Kashtanea Lace Shawl, or Romance?

I still have lots of the plain roving to spin.

I'm also looking for yarn to knit the Corydalis shawl, a Linda Choo pattern which I saw at the Woodstock Fleece Festival in October. I need 700m of laceweight. It incorporates lace knitting, a semi-circular shape AND it's entrelac! I'm going to have one more look in my laceweight yarn stash before I make a trip to the yarn shop.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Almost Ready

(written late on the night of December 23rd)

I got a lot of wrapping done yesterday and only have a couple more things to wrap. I got the last gifts delivered today.

Skip got a picture of the cookies I baked last week to replace the ones he and Scooter scarfed down last weekend.  I wanted more to munch on and give to people).
I loved decorating the trees, but next time I'll try to remember to put some peppermint flavouring in the icing. I also found some of the vintage cookie cutters from my childhood (crescent and holly) this evening and will keep them with the ones I currently use.

I finished knitting a Honey Cowl that I was commissioned to knit for my neighbour's girlfriend. It is blocked and ready to go. I just need to take some pictures in the daylight.

I have a bit of grocery shopping left to do for our Christmas feast. Skip picked up the capon (we alternate between turkey and capons for Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter as Skip doesn't like leftover turkey) from the butcher this afternoon. It's just a little one - perfect for the three of us.

I still have some running around to do that I didn't get done today but I'm almost ready for Christmas.

We're going to our friends' place for a Swedish Christmas Eve. It's always a lovely gathering of their family and some close friends. We're honoured to be included each year.

God Jul! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Provence Baby Cardigan and TEG

I've had this cardigan finished for a couple of weeks, immediately bought the buttons and then misplaced them. So back to the store to find even cuter, flower buttons. I mirrored the lace panels. It was easy to sew up and lots of fun to make.


I also designed the hat based on the lace pattern on the front of the cardi.

I winged it on the decreases for the crown and kitchenered the last 8 stitches to close the top. I'm pretty happy with it.
The Nana-to-be cried when she saw them. I'm glad they were a hit.
At my embroidery guild (Trillium Embroidery Guild - TEG) last week, we had our usual pot luck snacks and desserts. Traditionally we hold the ornament exchange which involves either taking a wrapped ornament from the table or stealing one from someone who already picked one. I had one ready to go but I couldn't part with it and instead, put it on my own tree. I need to plan better for next year.
There were only 6 participants this year but the ornaments were lovely. I always like seeing how they were framed or finished.

This one used variegated floss and teeny tiny beads.
French knots were the basis for this one wrought by Jeanette that only measured about 1 1/2" x 2 1/2". I should have used a white background to make it show better.
Diana used the finishing technique we learned last month for this punch needle piece.
I like the simplicity of the finishing of this one and the candy cane charm.
Our guru, Carol, created this one.
The rippled silk ribbon and beads were a lovely way to finish this Shepherd's Bush alphabet sampler ornament.
Here are the ones from last year and 2009.

For my holiday stitching, I'm going to go through my JCS Christmas magazines, copy the ones I want to do and make up little kits for myself. That way I can just 'grab and go'.      

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Day 2 of Continuing Education

Yesterday I finished up with the Fashion Design class. Several of the students had their garter stitch rectangles ready for the decreases to create the little flap with a buttonhole.

Melanie (foreground) got hers done and began another project. She loves knitting! The student in the background missed Friday's class but already knew how to knit so jumped right in with the project.
This student also missed Friday's class but quickly got caught up. She cast on left-handed but knit right-handed. Another student was left-handed but got the hang of things in fairly short order. I even started knitting left-handed to show her what to do - it certainly gave me an understanding of how she must be feeling learning a new skill as a southpaw.
Keeron (in the 'GIFTED' toque) spent most of his time knitting standing up and wandering around chatting with various people whilst still knitting. I caught him here in a rare moment when he was somewhat seated with the other two gentlemen in the background. He was really good at maintaining the correct number of stitches in each row. The fourth guy had finished his project and had turned it in so he had wandered off to another classroom across the hall.

Here are 7 that were turned in by the end of the class. Pretty nifty, eh? The other students can finish theirs for marks by the end of this week. Melanie added a braided cord to hers so it could go over her shoulder.
I plan to drop in after the holidays and see how many of them have continued with knitting. I'm pretty sure it will have 'stuck' with at least a couple of them.

It was important to me that the students use wool, not acrylic yarn or a blend. Patons Classic Wool is affordable (especially with Michaels coupons) and we got 4 25g balls from each skein. We probably could have made the balls only 20g. Acrylic yarn has its place (things that will be machine washed and dried) but there's nothing like using real wool. And as soon as students can get bamboo needles to use, the better. The plastic needles were a real pain in the butt.

It was a great team effort.Teaching is so satisfying when one is successful at developing a good lesson and materials that make the students' learning very seamless.

I've still got it... (wink).

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Missionary Work

Yesterday I reprised my beginning knitting lesson for about 15 students in a Fashion Design course for Continuing Education. These are (mostly) young adults who are working towards getting all their credits so they can graduate from high school with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

Erin, their teacher, first contacted me last May and I did 2 classes (5 hours) of instruction and several of them completed their little cell phone cozies by the end of the 2nd class! Here are the pattern and instructional materials. They are free; I just ask that you ask me for my permission if you would like to use them for teaching purposes.
A couple of weeks later I dropped in unannounced and happily noticed that several students had continued knitting; some completing their class project, one was knitting a blanket and one gal had knit a headband with a daffodil on it for her daughter. I felt like a knitting missionary, having converted some Muggles to emergent knitters.

Erin contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I'd come in and teach her new class again. So we set it up again for a Friday (yesterday) and Monday so the students would have the weekend to work on their project and possibly finish it up by the end of the second class.

The class went very well. One student had been in the class last time and jumped right in to knit another cozy, remembering all my previous instruction. Here are most of them beavering away.

There are 4 gentlemen in the class all of whom tackled their task without complaint.

Melanie picked up the concepts very quickly and had progressed this far by the end of the first class.

When I complimented her on her progress, she exclaimed, "You taught me everything I know about knitting!".

There was actually a time when I asked, "Does anyone need my help?" and NO ONE ANSWERED!!! Erin and I were impressed. (For you non-educators out there, that hardly ever happens, especially when the class is learning a new skill).

Doesn't this student look relaxed?
Erin (a fairly inexperienced knitter herself) was very proud of what she accomplished during the class, too.
Erin was also pleased with how the whole class went. By the end, everyone was knitting independently and not requiring much if any help. Erin reminded me that last time I had brought in a helper on the first day. I had forgotten that and was then even more impressed with this class. When I told them how well they had done, some of them thought they had asked too many questions or asked for my assistance too much. I reassured them that when learning a new skill, it is always tricky at first but with practice, it gets easier.

FYI, I always teach the knitted cast-on to beginners. Although somewhat tricky at first, once they have cast on the required number of stitches (in our case, 14) they have already mastered the techniques for the knit stitch and are quickly on their way to completing their garter stitch project. 

I'm looking forward to seeing the students on Monday. I know there will be several who will be excited to show me what they accomplished over the weekend. Then we'll finish the strip of knitting (complete with decreases and a buttonhole), sew up the sides and sew on a button. Pics to follow on Monday.

For any eager beavers, I whipped up this dishcloth and have written up the pattern which Erin can distribute to any interested knitters.
It is based on Grandmother's Favorite dischloth pattern found here.

It is very rewarding for me to be able to combine two of my passions, knitting and teaching, and share my enthusiasm with other potential knitters.

If you knit, you will never be bored. You might get bored with a particular project, but you'll always be thinking of what you'll want to knit next.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Latkes!

I like celebrating everything during the festive season, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa -- specifically the culinary aspect.

I've had a hankering to make latkes the last couple of days. I have an excellent recipe that my friend, Carrie, gave me. It has been in her family for generations and was published in her brother, Mitchell's, book, "The Mensch Chef". The secret is for every onion use two potatoes.

Skip and I aren't big eaters of fried food, but since I've been in possession of this recipe, we partake once a year. Last night was it.

They weren't pretty, but boy, were they good with sour cream. They're also eaten with apple sauce in some circles. And we don't even want to talk about all the oil that was involved.
I cooked a big batch of Toffee Butter Cookies (from my cookie-baking class a couple of weeks ago) on Sunday. Skip deemed them perhaps the best cookies he's ever eaten. I like that they contain crushed Skor pieces (Heath bars for US folks) and Skip likes that they're dipped part-way into melted bittersweet chocolate and rolled in ground pecans or peanuts. A perfect accompaniment for cappuccino, espresso or just on their own.

I have, however, called a halt to baking and have spent the last two days (and late into the night except for going spinning last evening) working on an online scrapbook for a friend for a Christmas gift. I am leaving it for a couple of hours and will go back to it for a final edit and publishing. I don't expect it will arrive in bound form for Christmas but at least it will be done and I can move on to the next task.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cookies!

Early last week I baked several dozen cookies of various types. Today I finally got around to decorating them. I put on the Christmas playlist on my iPod and happily worked for most of the afternoon. I had packaged most of them up before I realized I had forgotten to take a picture.
I used a simple Royal Icing recipe using only 1 cup of icing sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk. I had trouble getting a true red as the dye I had was more of a cerise colour. However I added a drop or two of yellow and it improved the colour (note the round cookies with 'red' icing.

Skip likes sprinkles so I didn't skimp on them. I also flavoured some of the white icing with peppermint which I used on all of the star and flower cookies.

Next time I make round cookies, I'll cut a small circle out of the centre and make them into wreaths.

That reminds me, I forgot to use my holly leaf cutter. My mom and I first used it in 1961 - her first Christmas as my mom. I thought of her a lot today. Our first Christmas together (she had just married my dad earlier that month) , she was trying to think of an activity we (my older sister and brother and I) could do together. So she got us making  and decorating Christmas cookies. Even brother George (who was diabetic) iced cookies - he just didn't lick his fingers. I'm sure that day we had Christmas music going on in the background as well. Such fond memories of that first Christmas together.
Geri, Mabel and Valerie - Christmas 1961
 That's one more thing off my checklist.

A Break in the Routine

On Wednesday, Skip and I got away to Niagara Falls for a couple of days. It's a great time of year to go to the Falls because there's hardly anyone there and the hotels offer really good deals.

Before checking in, we hopped over to the US to do some outlet mall shopping and I also hit JoAnn Fabrics. We had no trouble returning to Canada with our purchases after only being over for a few hours. Yay!

This was our view from our suite on the 29th floor taken with the panoramic feature of my iPhone 4S. Isn't it amazing that such a cool photo could be taken with a cellular phone?

That's the Rainbow Bridge behind the Skylon Tower and the American Falls in the centre of the photo. The building on the right is the Fallsview Casino and the mist of the Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls on the right.

Dinner at the Brasa Restaurant was somewhat of a buffet with servers coming around with skewers of different types and cuts of meat for one to select from.

After looking at the weather forecast the next morning, we went directly to the Skylon to go up to the top for a panoramic view of the area. The skies were clear and visiblilty was great.

The American Falls and Goat Island are on the left. Again, the mist from the Horseshoe Fall blocked the view of the Falls. That tall building to the right of the falls is the Fallsview Casino and the Hilton on the very right.
Here's a better view of the Horseshoe Falls that Skip took.
After lunch back at the hotel, we went to Bird Kingdom to see their collection of exotic  birds and animals.This kookaburra didn't seem bothered by us at all.
There was a nice variety of parrots: a Green Wing Macaw,
 an African Grey,
and a Blue and Gold Macaw.
 
 He liked to wave at people going by.
This is a White Cheeked Bulbul from Asia.

This Victoria Crowned Pigeon is from New Guinea.
We were fortunate to get to see an immature Scarlet Ibis.
 My favourite bird was a multi-coloured Gouldian Finch from Australia.
Here's a better photo by Martin Pot. I'm thinking those colours would make amazing sock yarn.

Bird Kingdom a nice place to visit on a crisp winter day as the indoor climate is tropical. The sun was quite low in the sky so the light was not great for taking pictures. This place is not well-advertised but it's definitely a worthwhile place to visit while in Niagara Falls.