Thursday, September 29, 2005

Signs of autumn

This morning in Iowa: 37 °F / 3 °C

When I waved Terry off to work at 6:00 AM, I could see my breath. Orion stood tall in the south, and to the east, Leo held the crescent moon in his teeth. Yesterday was positively blustery - cool, breezy, and drizzly. It won't be long before I have to take all of the turtlenecks out of storage, and find my flannel jammies.

I don't sleep in the flannels, though. They are my weekend writing wear of choice when NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes around.

NaNoWriMo started out as a challenge among a few friends to write a complete 50,000 word novel in November. The next year, a few of their friends wanted to try it. In their sixth year (2004), more that 40,000 people signed up for the challenge, and over 7,000 succeeded at writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days.

"No Plot, No Problem" is the motto of the undertaking, and also the title of founder Chris Baty's fine book about how to write a 30-day novel. The idea is that by challenging yourself to write a lot of words in a short time, you don't have time to let excuses or your internal editor interfere with you just putting words on paper.

I've done NaNo for three years, and reached the 50K mark late on November 30 in two of those years. The experience has taught me:

  • Writing a romance is hard.
  • Writing a mystery is hard.
  • Writing a buddy story is really hard.
  • You can meet some pretty cool people. (I hooked up with the Pikers on the NaNo forums. And Warrior made it possible for me to meet Chris Baty, who is the nicest guy you would ever hope to meet.)
  • I should have paid more attention in typing class.

Nevertheless, I am planning to stay up late Friday, so I can sign up for the 2006 edition as soon as the forums open at midnight, October 1. [Edit: Now they are saying that the new forums will not be ready until about dinnertime here in the heartland. That is good. Save the unreasonable sleep patterns for November, when I really need them.] After last year's attempt, which had a good first day, and then quickly fumbled and stalled from the interference of real life, I swore I was not going to put myself through it again. But a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to someone, and a title flashed into my mind, quickly followed by a few ideas.

Aser just announced that she, too, will be back for another year. Who else is with us?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Bad cats, bad cats!
Whatcha gonna do,
Whatcha gonna do
When they come for you?
Bad cats, bad cats!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Laundry day

I sorted some laundry on the bed, then went off and flicked wool for awhile. When I came back to the laundry, it had been overrun.

My bad for piling clothes on top of her blanket. Katie let me know how she felt about it:

This is also the same look we give to comment spammers. Sorry, guys, but I finally broke down and turned the spam blocker on.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Wool washing

I waited until Saturday to wash my wool for spinning class, so I wouldn't gross out Terry.

I filled the sink with room temperature water and mild soap, and got out my wad o' fiber. It looks like someone scalped Harpo Marx in my kitchen.

Then I added the wool to the water and pressed on it gently. You don't want the water to be too hot or cold, and you don't want to agitate the wool vigorously, or it will felt.

A sink full of wet wool smells like the sheep barn at the fair. You old 4-Hers know what I'm talking about. Looks like it, too. You can see a piece of hay at the bottom of the picture. As for the other, darker bits of effluvia floating in the water - use your imagination. (Oh, don't bother. My friend Hope called while it was soaking. "I remember the sheep at my sister's farm," she said. "It was dingleberry central.") Suffice it to say, the sink is getting a nice Clorox rinse later.

I removed the wool, drained it in a colander, and rolled it in a towel to blot up the water. Then I created a makeshift hammock to continue the drying.

Now it looks like a big lump, and I am obsessing about whether I agitated it too much and felted it by mistake.

Katie, as usual, was eager to help with the photo shoot by playing with the spindle and the slicker brush.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Adventures in spinning

Last night, my knitting pal Margie and I bravely threw ourselves into an adult ed class, "Sheep To Scarf." The course listing described it thus:
Introduction to the basic techniques you need to make a warm, wooly scarf from an Iowa-grown sheep. Using just a few simple tools, learn to clean, card, spin, dye, and then create a scarf. Materials include raw wool, fleece brush, drop spindle and knitting needles or crochet hooks. As your hands work, discuss the problem of diminishing sheep breeds, the characteristics of wool fiber, the wonderful spectrum of natural dyeing, and more.

I've always thought that people are more well-rounded when they know how to make things from scratch, be it a sweater, a loaf of bread, a song, or an ultralight airplane. So wouldn't it make sense, I reasoned, to know how to spin the yarn I knit with?

The instructor, Kay, is very down-to-earth, and understands that you probably don't want to make a big investment in equipment before you know if you even like the hobby. So instead of using big paddles to card the wool, we used this:

Yep, it's a standard kitty slicker brush. On the left is some of the prepared wool Kay brought with her. On the right is some I "flicked" myself, by holding a bit of wool on my thigh and brushing it. So far, so good.

Then, we started spinning. First, we did some finger spinning (holding a bit of wool in one hand and twisting it with the other) to practice drafting (feeding the wool out in appropriate sized bits). My finger spun bits are at the right.

Once we were totally baffled by that process, we took up the spindles. These are low tech spindles, made of 7/16" dowels stuck into a block of wood. We tied on some yarn to use as a leader, fed some of our wool into it, and gave the spindle a twirl.

Then we picked our spindles up from the floor and tried again.

And again.

I finally got a big enough hunk of wool attached to the yarn, spun about 6 inches of wool, and got stuck. Kay showed me how to pull the wool apart so it would feed better.

It was slow and ungainly, but I finally got my little handful of wool spun. I wish I could say that the photo did not do it justice, but sadly, it does. My "yarn" is tragically uneven, and has bits of fluff hanging off of it that will not go anywhere.

We have homework before the next class.

Kay sent us each home with a bag of wool, straight from the sheep and full of dirt and sheepy smell. We are to wash and dry our wool, and then start flicking and spinning it. Washing it will be my weekend project.

As we left the class, Margie and I discussed how it was probably good for us to be reminded how hard it is to teach your hands to do something new. That's our story, anyway, and we are sticking to it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Signs of Winfield

Some camping groups at the Walnut Valley Festival like to distinguish themselves with interesting signs.

And others advertise their upcoming events.

Some of the signs are entertaining quite by accident. Where else would you put your kid’s tent but here?

Then there is this one.

Horse Tenets?

Meanwhile, in other festival news, it was breezy Thursday, and the sun finally came out for a couple of hours. Our moat dried considerably in 12 hours since the first picture, and our intrepid menfolk constructed a footbridge. Once again, the red arrow points to my truck.

When the sun came out, so did the kittens at the horse barn.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Where's FEMA?

As you may know, I am vacationing at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. One of the challenges of attending a week-long outdoor event in Kansas is trying to predict what kind of weather to prepare for. This is the report of my first 36 hours here.

It was hot on Tuesday as I drove down. When I arrived at the campground Tuesday afternoon, it looked like there was some weather coming from the southwest. And come it did, with lightening, thunder, and rain. Once it passed us, we were able to take a good look at the cloud from the back side.

It cleared off so we could see the gibbous moon.

Wednesday was uneventful, and more of our fellow campers arrived. There was rain again Wednesday night. We woke up Thursday morning to this.

The damage was done. No sense in worrying about it until after coffee time.

This culvert separates us from the rest of the world, and from the portapotties. Apparently we had 1.7 inches of rain yesterday, the highest in the state. You can see that the water has already subsided some. The mud, of course, persists.

Suitably fortified with caffeine, the menfolk started by dumping the water.

And in short order they had the wayward cabana restored to its original glory.

That done, Roy P. (that’s him on the left) and I headed into town for some coffee and internet access at College Hill Coffee. It's a nice little place in one of Winfield's lovely old houses, and warm and dry to boot. The staff is friendly and not the least bit preturbed by having muddy, smelly people take up residence.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Meanwhile, in August

I'm going to be traveling for a few days and probably will not have much internet access. So, to tide you over, here are some more pictures from last month's Nebraska vacation.

When you are lucky, you get twenty minutes of lovely sunset:

But before that happens, you have hours of this:

I challenge anyone who was educated in an American elementary school to look at that picture and not think of Woody Guthrie's words:

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway.
I saw below me that golden valley.
This land was made for you and me.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note, I bought this:

The Beer-Bottle Scope. Basically, it is an 18x50 monocular. 18x is pretty aggressive for a handheld instrument, but it also has a thread so you can mount it on a camera tripod. The quality is so-so, but then my viewing eye is also of so-so quality, making me a terrible judge of optics.

Here, our handsome spokesmodel demonstrates its use.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A penny for your thoughts

I was sifting through my change the other day when I saw this:

One doesn't see wheat-back pennies much these days. I think it's been about 50 years since they were minted. But something about this one was different. That's a color picture above. Where is the distinctive copper color we see on pennies?

I turned it over:

It is a 1943-S steel cent, made during World War II in an effort to conserve copper for the war effort. It's not especially rare (millions were produced) or valuable, but people hoarded them because they were different, and one does not see that many in circulation. This is the first one I have ever seen. And yes, I did stick a magnet to it, just to make sure it was really steel.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Self portrait with grasshopper

Monday, this little fellow rode on my car windshield as I drove to the office. I admired his resolve, and fretted that he would not last long if he disembarked in a downtown metropolitan parking garage. There's not too much foliage around there, other than discarded cigarette butts.

Amazingly, when I left work three hours later, he was still waiting patiently on the car. I fretted again as we drove home, careful not to make any sudden moves that might cause him to blow off. Not to worry. He survived the trip, and even stayed put while I dashed inside to get the camera so I could take a picture of us together.

Here is a closer look at him, without the distraction of spotty windows and my reflection.

Even closer up, you can see his red eyes and the feet that can grip glass at 35 mph.

At the office

Who is that bag of hot air in the boss's office?

(I'm kidding, boss. You usually dress better than this guy.)

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I saw part of this interview on Meet the Press this morning. It left me speechless and in tears, and I'm a crusty old bird who doesn't well up that easily. (Thanks to Marilyn for ferreting out the link so I could see the whole thing.)

Somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Modern times

It still amazes me that I can sit on the bed in a hotel room in Great Bend, Kansas, and post information to the internet from a laptop that is not plugged into anything at all.

It amazes me even more because I am here for my high school reunion. So many things have changed since 1975 - computers being one of the most obvious. Terry always reminds me that I have more computing power in the PDA in my purse than my school's huge punch-card computer had in 1974. Even PDA has changed in meaning. Back in the day, that stood for Public Display of Affection.

Tonight, we gathered at a local bar to get reacquainted. Some people I remember. Some names I recognize. Some people I do not remember at all. It's even worse for me, since we moved away before I graduated, and I missed the last year and a half with these kids. But it was still fun, and I look forward to tomorrow's activities - a tour of the school, and dinner at the former country club.

Here's a tip for anyone who is going to a reunion beyond the fifth. Tonight, I heard two different people say, "Everyone is easy to recognize. Their eyes don't change." I don't know if I agree, but it is worth trying.