Saturday, December 22, 2007

Early Christmas

T and I pretty much pick out and buy our own presents, so there won't be much surprise when Christmas rolls around. I did get a couple of gifts I wasn't expecting, though.

My knitting friend Nancy gave me this cute little bumblebee tape measure from Lantern Moon.

Yesterday, I bugged out of work early and joined Margie and Amy at a 50% off sale at a local yarn shop. I looked and looked, not seeing much I had to have, and then I saw this:

It's a Jordana Paige satchel, the same style Carin and I armwrestled over when she visited last summer. And it was the last one in the store, and it was half off! *swoon*

Obviously, it became my little gift to myself.

It holds a ton o' stuff. In this picture, it has two socks, two scarves, and a shawl, and it still has room for more.

After realizing yesterday that I haven't finished any knitting projects in ages, I decided to suck it up today and finish the i-cord handle for the Blue Jeans Purse.

I'm going to add a lining to it, but knitting-wise, it is done. And darned cute, if I say so myself.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

[L a s t] [w e e k ' s] [w e a t h e r]

We had rain. We had ice. We had sleet. We had snow. We didn't have it as badly as some folks. Our power stayed on, and our trees stayed mostly upright.

A couple of days later, the sun came out and the ice glistened prettily.

Each day, the snow in our yard showed new animal tracks - deer, rabbits, squirrels, and who knows what else.

Off topic: I was involved in an online discussion recently about various types and sizes of memory cards. For the benefit of those involved, here is a picture showing the relative sizes. From left: xD card, USB drive (this particular one is a converter for the micro SD), SD card (also a converter), micro SD. The micro SD fits into the back of my cell phone, and the converters allow me to move the data (pictures, usually) to my computer. I need to do that one of these days, so you can see my picture of the back of Hillary Clinton's head.

[edited 26 April 2008 - I tweaked the title because I've been getting hits daily from people who really want to know how the weather has been. Not that I mind having them stop by, but it seems cruel to disappoint so many seekers.]

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Weird weather we're having

We started getting weather alerts on Thursday about the ice storm coming on Saturday. T and I were both off today, so we planned to hunker down at home with a pot of chili.

I heard it raining and sleeting when I woke up. That continued all morning, interspersed with occasional bits of snow.

We didn't bring the newspaper in until noon. By then, it was buried in the stuff.

It warmed above freezing in the late afternoon, and we decided to try going out for dinner. Our side street was still mucky, but the main roads were just wet, not icy. Parking lots still had a lot of slushy gunk, though. It was like walking through a Slurpee.

And yes, this is excellent weather for knitting - but I didn't take any pictures.

November is over, and so is NaNoWriMo for another year. This year (ta da!) I'm a Loser. I'm certainly not going to play the "I'm a winner just for trying" card. The requirements for winning are clearly spelled out, and I did not achieve them.

I'm not really upset that I lost, though. I knew going into November that there were a couple of extenuating circumstances that would make it tough to write 50,000 words. I did write just a hair under 20,000, which is still a nice hunk of writing. I went to a couple of write-ins each week, including one last night. I got to know some of the local Wrimos better. Most amazing, I unearthed some characters and situations that I would like to keep working with. Since I Don't Write Fiction, this is breaking new ground for me. So for those reasons, I consider the month's attempt a success.

Katie has her annual check up with the vet next week. I hope Dr. Lisa doesn't notice the laser implant in her left eye.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spindler true confessions

Here is my spindle collection.

At the back is the homemade spindle from my "Sheep to Scarf" class. In the front, from left, are a handmade spindle from Annie May's eBay store, a Louet, a tiny Cascade, a Schacht convertible, and an Ashford. The two on the left were gifts from Amy. The Cascade was a souvenir from Minneapolis. The Schacht came from Rose Tree in Ames, because I thought I might want to compare top whorl and bottom whorl spinning with decent spindles, although I have not yet tried it as bottom whorl. (Non-spinners: The whorl is the flat piece. Top whorl or bottom whorl refers to where the flat piece is in relation to the stick as you are spinning.) I have absolutely no recollection of obtaining the Ashford. Maybe at the sheep and wool festival a couple of years ago? Stitches Midwest? Yarn Barn? I honestly don't know. I like it a lot, though.

I had spun some on the purple fiber before, like, a year ago. Earlier this week I finally took it off the spindle and made a little fist sized skein out of it. Then, I prepped some more of the fiber, using my new "predraft the heck out of it" technique, and spun it on the same spindle. Vive la difference!

The first yarn is on the left. See how it is fat in spots and really thin in other spots? Look how much more consistent today's batch is in the Extreme Closeup.

I'm pretty pleased with myself about this one.

My young friend Lillian commented recently, assisted by her mother, that I should be careful not to suffer a similar fate to Sleeping Beauty whilst spinning. No needles are needed with drop spindle spinning, so I am probably safe.

Katie would disagree, though. I keep my spinning gear in a small Rubbermaid box. A few days ago, I took out a spindle and set it on top of the box while I fussed with the fiber. A spindle full of yarn has some characteristics that are irresistible to a kitty - it rolls funny, it has stuff she can grab onto, and the little bit of fluff at the end looks sort of like feathers. So naturally, she had to make a grab for it.

And conked herself right in the head with it.

She yelped and ran away. Then she turned around and bitched at it some more, before skulking off to another room for some private time.

For two days, if I so much as touched the spinning box, she was on high alert, backing away slowly and leaving as soon as possible. She relaxed a little bit today. She even sat on the bed while I took the picture of the spindles - but she stayed well away from them.

Today in History: November 29th was my mother's birthday. She's been gone almost 4 years now. Her housekeeping lessons are implemented chez moi on a hit or miss basis, but she gets all the credit for teaching me that You Can Make Things, and for never once telling me that one of my creative ideas was stupid or couldn't be done.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanskgiving snow

On Wednesday, it snowed all day. On Thursday, after Thanksgiving dinner, T and I went for a walk on a new section of trail along the Des Moines River.

We saw a bald eagle, but were not quick enough with the camera to get a picture.

Meanwhile, at the house, we were growing some impressive icicles on the garage.

I don't know where the finches are hiding now, but their nest is full of snow.

I noticed the other day (when it was shirt-sleeve temperatures) that the lilac was budding. It had started leafing by the time the snow came.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Spinning 101

Since the last time I tried spinning, I have acquired a couple of books about spindle spinning, and another spindle, once again courtesy of my friend Amy. She had a "learn to spin" kit with a some luscious teal roving, and had decided she was not going to learn to spin with it.

The roving is SO my color, that I knew I needed to get much better at spinning before I attempted it.

I bought a hunk of "ugly" roving to practice with when the KnitWits went to Minneapolis a couple of years ago.

This is a fairly compact little rope of fiber. It needs to be loosened up so fibers can slide past each other easily. The process of stretching out the amount of fiber that will be spun is called drafting. Loosening and stretching the fiber before you start to spin is predrafting.

Everything I read about spindle spinning, in books and on message boards, suggested that you can't predraft the fiber too much. I started by loosening the rope laterally, until it was a flat, thin sheet. (At the bottom of the picture, you can see the ropey part for comparison.)

(Sorry, no photos of the rest of the process. I was home alone.)

Then I pulled off a section about two inches wide and started tugging it gently lengthwise to start the fiber slippage. When I had an long airy tube of fiber, I attached it to the spindle and started spinning.

I used the "park and draft" method, which gives newbies a little more control. I spun the spindle to build up twist in the yarn, then stopped it with my knees or on the floor while I fed more fiber out. The excess twist travels up the new fiber. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the strand of yarn gets too long, then wind it onto the spindle and do it all again.

One of the fun things about dyed fiber is that it's really hard to predict how it will look when it is spun. As I said, I wasn't crazy about this roving, but the yarn is sort of pretty.

The learning curve of spinning is learning how to make the yarn the same thickness and with the same amount of twist. I'm not there yet, but at least some parts of it look like I want them to look.

I shall keep working on it.

I spent Thanksgiving with my two roommates, for whom I am truly thankful. Also, we managed to cook a modest sized meal, for which I am also thankful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November livestock report

My NaNoWriMo writing is going very slowly. Not badly, mind you. The writing is somewhat promising. It just takes forever to get the words down on paper. I'm not out yet, but I am in the "screw Thanksgiving and write 5000 words a day" neighborhood.

To make matters worse, as I was staring out of the window yesterday, I saw Chuckie, and what little concentration I had flitted away as I watched him. He was furiously eating and grooming, alternating with basking in the sun, but by the time I got outside with the camera, he was ready to skedaddle back under the shed and start hibernating.

A few hours later, we were having chilly rains, and snow is in the forecast for mid-week. See you next spring, Chuckie!

As long as I was outside, I looked for the finch nest. After the trek into the wrong neighborhood earlier this year, the finches packed up and moved to the suburbs, aka the middle lilac bush. Now that the leaves are gone, I can see where exactly they have been living.

Meanwhile, Katie found some wildlife of her own.

See it there?

When it gets cool, the ladybugs start heading inside. Their combination of slow walking plus noisy flight tantalizes Katie no end. I knocked this one out of the lampshade to a safer location - safer for the lamp, anyway. She's wrecked more than one lampshade by crawling into it to swat at something, and knocking the whole mess over.

Once the bug lost her interest, Katie resumed mellowness, reposing in Terry's chair where she can be near me, but not too near.

Coming in the next edition of Get A Grip On It: Yarn! Knitting! Spinning! And with any luck, an amazing and inspiring come-from-behind flurry of NaNoWriMo writing.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

She writes, a little

Nanowrimo has started, and so has my annual descent into the fresh hell that is fiction writing. This year, in lieu of a big scary story, I am writing "a man walked into a bar" stories. It's all the same bar, and I anticipate having enough through-story that I can call it a novel. But when the chips are down, I can just pick out a character from my little notebook of ideas, and write a thousand words.

And the chips were down today. I frittered away most of Thursday, but managed to eke out 1678 words, and even better, they didn't suck. I thought that was better, anyway. It turns out that, unaccustomed as I am to fiction writing, writing well freaked me out. I squandered most of Friday and all of Saturday. I was already 4000 words behind this morning. Things were grim.

Thank goodness there was a write-in, and thank goodness, Karen's first words to me were, "I'm behind, too, but we are going to get at least 1000 words before we leave." And so we did. I abducted a character from my friend Aser, and by the time it was all over, I had over 2000 words. I'm still behind, but less drastically that before.

Tomorrow, the reality that is a full time job returns to taunt my aspirations.

After frogging about an inch of the Flamingo sock, I have done the tiniest bit of knitting on it. I'm trying to negotiate a toe-up, gusset-and-flap heel on it.

I'm also trying to conquer spindle spinning again. Amy gifted me a spindle and some beautiful teal fiber. I want it to be yarn, but I need to improve my skills first. My first gambit: Predraft the hell out of the fiber. (Nonspinners: Drafting is sliding the fibers slightly apart lengthwise as you spin. Commercially prepared fiber is somewhat compact. Predrafting is loosening up the compacted fiber before even attempting to spin it.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

We interrupt this program

A few weeks ago, someone on the Lime & Violet message board mentioned the Share Senseo program, where you can apply to get a Senseo coffee maker, the kind that makes individual cups of coffee using prepackaged pods) for just the cost of shipping and handling. You take a little survey, and if they determine that you are the sort who will chat up your friends about their product, you are eligible.

I actually spent some time with my personal assistant, Miss Google, looking at the pros and cons of the product before signing up. The major gripes were that cup sizes were small, pod selection was limited, and pods were pricey. Since I don't drink, nor want to drink, a lot of coffee, the promise of small servings was actually tantalizing. The price of the pods seemed less than the price of buying, or brewing, more coffee than I wanted and throwing most of it out. I'm not much of a fuss about coffee varieties. Once it gets past Colombian, my mind starts wandering.

In short, I am their target customer. I filled out their survey, was selected for the special, and sent them my $15.

I've had the Senseo for a few weeks now, and it it exactly what I need it to be - an easy, non-messy way to get a small cup of coffee. By small cup, I mean about 4 oz., perfect for the "cups" with your grandma's china service. You can double the pods and fill a small mug with the two cup setting. I know, for some people, four or eight ounces is merely an appetizer, but for me, it is just about right, especially with a little milk added.

As I said, I'm not terribly picky about varieties, but I have purchased a few pod packs besides the one included with the coffee maker. I think the Colombian and Kenya blends were somewhat better than the generic Medium Roast, and I wasn't too crazy about the flavored "Paris" coffee.

Cleanup is easy, since the coffee is completely contained in the pod, and most of the parts that come in contact with the actual coffee, as well as the water reservoir, are removable.

One downside for me is the size of the unit. The footprint is about 12" x 9". I have a small kitchen with limited counter space, so this takes a huge hunk of it.

All in all, I am happy with the Senseo. I don't know that I would have spent the money to buy one at retail price, but I'm glad I have this one.

If you want to try getting your own freebie, go here. If they turn you down (the cads! How could they?), I still have the discount coupons they included. Write to me at gmail if you want one.

Why am I writing all about coffee today? Because Nanowrimo has started, and I am already looking for any excuse not to write. But I have started. That's good.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Caught in a Web

Yesterday, I gathered up all of my unfinished knitting projects and assessed how long it would take to finish them. I mean, I have a shawl that just needs to have fringe attached, and a bag that needs an i-cord handle. There is no excuse for those to still be unfinished.

So today, I finished them right?

Wrong. Today I was seduced into working on the Charlotte's Web shawl. I bought the yarn the last time I was in Omaha, with the help of crackerjack enablers Eliza, Minnie, and Tara.

The shawl is knit with five different colors of variegated yarn - sometimes alone, and sometimes in alternating rows. The order above is the order they will be used, starting with the neck edge on the left.

This is my third attempt at making Charlotte's Web. I tried it a few years ago, with different yarn. I had little lace experience and no stitch markers, and it quickly became a disaster.

Since then, I have bought stitch markers at almost every new yarn shop I visit, the way some people buy postcards or souvenir spoons. I started the shawl with this yarn a couple of weeks ago, but I messed up the lace pattern. Repairing it turned out to be more time-consuming than starting it over. Now I am through the first single color, and midway through the first alternating section.

Can you see the white thread about a third of the way up from the bottom?

That's dental floss. Because of the earlier problems, I decided to use a lifeline. I threaded a needle with the dental floss, and ran it through a row of stitches that were known to be correct. Should there be another unfortunate incident, I would only have to rip back to the lifeline. So far, knock wood, everything is fine. I did drop one stitch, but with some deep breathing and a pair of double point needles, I was able to repair the damage.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

'Tis the season

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner.

I have absolutely no ideas this year, and I expect work is going to be more stressful that usual, due to an unanticipated absence on the team. But after five years, it's just what I do in November.

The October weather is certainly cooperating for indoor activities like writing - and knitting. It has been blustery, and today was rainy off and on.

I started the month with the intention of getting some knitting projects finished before it was time to write. Instead, I have been starting projects. The Knit Wits went to Iowa City, and I started a new project in the car on the way back. I've started not just one, but two, lace projects, and I've made two baby hats.

Just winding this ball of yarn was a project, requiring me, T, and some borrowed equipment.

It doesn't look so dramatic here, but this is a pound of yarn - enough for a sweater. It's about five inches tall and seven inches across, and it is destined to be a shawl. The only reason I haven't cast on yet is that I need to photocopy the pattern first, so I can scribble on it at will.

Most of the photos I have taken with the cell phone recently were blurry, but this one was good. And it makes me laugh.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Surprise and delight

T and I went out for lunch at a nearby deli. As I was waiting in line to order my sandwich, I noticed that one of the women in front of me looked familiar. I caught up with her again at the cash register, and said her name. She turned around and said, "Oh! It IS you!" She invited us to join them, which we did, and had a delightful visit.

We were friends in college, and for awhile we lived across the hall from each other in the same apartment building. Then she moved out of state, and I hadn't seen her for, gosh, close to twenty years. She and her partner moved back to Iowa to be closer to their aging parents.

And here is the kicker. She works two blocks from my office. What an amazing world.

This evening, T and I went to my co-worker's wedding. She is a fiend about organization, and it paid off. Everything was tasteful and beautiful without being ostentatious. The one thing that went wrong was really out of her control - the limo had a flat between the church and reception hall.

And bless her heart, she made sure that the whole event was kid-friendly, since a lot of their friends had toddlers. At the entry area to the reception, there was a basket with crayons and coloring books and Gummi candy for the young 'uns. (Bags of caramel corn for the adults, too.) She made the books herself, with clip art of wedding things. They were brilliant, and the kids had a great time coloring while we waited, and waited, for the limo to arrive so we could eat.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dinner time


A squirrel by our oak tree out front--

Princess Katie and her dihydrogen monoxide habit--

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Emergency vacation

It's a long story that I won't bore you with now, but many of my September travel plans have become confounded. T and I did get away last weekend, though, for the Iowa Star Party at Whiterock Conservancy.

I wasn't even there 24 hours, but I met a nice cat who looks a bit like Katie, except this cat liked strangers.

Lectures were held in this barn.

We had the best meal I've had in awhile.

Grilled pork chops, scalloped potatoes, green beans, cucumber salad, and homegrown 'maters - oh my! There were also brownies, but T's plate was already overfilled. His brownie is on my plate. I didn't take a picture of my plate, because I didn't want you thinking I was gorging on brownies. Ahem.

Despite the many food-like names for the following, it is not good eating.

Cow pie, cow patty, cow chip, meadow muffin... We were camped in a mowed-down cow pasture, so one had to be on alert at all times when walking about.

I didn't have any mindless knitting, so I started some.

That's a toe-up sock in Opal Flamingo. Yes, I'm using circs, and it is going okay. It's up to about four inches now. I used Judy's Magic Cast On from Knitty, and it was slick - no provisional stuff to worry about.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

TOFUtsies at last

(Warning for any Rockin' Sock Club members who happen by: There be spoilers here. If you don't want to see them, don't look too closely at the cat picture, or at anything after that.)

The Tofutsie socks are finished.

I stand by my claims that the yarn splits like a son of a *st*itch, and pools in a way that I would not have chosen, but it knits up into a lovely, soft fabric. The yarn, if you haven't been following along, is a high-tech mix of wool, cotton, soy silk, and shellfish shells.

Katie is stunned to see the camera out.

She had a nice surprise today. The hot weather and rainy weather finally gave way to a gorgeous late summer day, with clear skies and pleasant temperatures. I was able to open the windows and let her, and the house, breathe some fresh air.

Another advantage of the nice weather: The guys are finally starting our third renovation project of summer, putting new siding on the garage. It was supposed to start a month ago, but the contractor broke his hand, and then the weather got challenging. I'll be glad to see it done.

Okay, on with the spoilers. The August RSC kit arrived yesterday, and I love it!

The yarn is Flower Power, the pattern is Summer Of Love Lace Socks, and the package includes two temporary tattoos. I cannot wait to cast these on. I need to hurry, too, because the time frame for making shorty lace socks is drawing to a close in the midlands. I wound the yarn today, as well as some Fleece Artist that I got at The Studio in Kansas City.

The Fleece Artist had a break in it, which is why there are two unequal balls.

In writing news--I have no writing news, but next weekend is the Piker's annual folly, 10 K to Labor Day. The idea is to use Labor Day weekend as a warm-up for NaNoWriMo by writing 10,000 words in three days. I think T is working at least one of those days, so I should get some writing done.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shooting with the camera

My new cell phone has both a camera and one of those teeny little Micro SD cards, which allows you transfer pictures to your computer without having to pay to e-mail them to yourself. For those times when opportunity strikes and a real camera is out of reach, this little sucker is handy.

Then at Office Depot the other day, we found these little doohickeys that let you turn your Micro SD card into a USB drive. Score! Now you can see the kinds of spontaneous things that entertain me.

Katie had to go to Miss Kim's for a few days while we re-did the bathroom. This pathetic face dogged me all the way home.

KnightStar, of course, is always very excited to find a chess set in public - at Starbucks, for example. I set up the pieces to humor him.

He refused to play me, though, since I had few more than the standard 16 pieces.

I did get a couple of squares sent off to the Greensburg project.

When the Knitwits went on the yarn crawl a couple of weeks ago, we stopped at a rest area, and saw this sign.

I've lived in the Midwest my whole life, but I don't remember ever being cautioned to keep the livestock in the vehicle. It seems like a good idea, though.