29 February 2008

Ask and You Shall Receive

I was thinking that I didn't have anything to blog about. Life running along smoothly, nothing really out of the ordinary happening. Knitting the same thing as last time. Children haven't done anything too weird or obnoxious.

Then I decided I would get out the swift and ball winder so I could ball up the last skein of merino for Daughter's stole. I took a couple of pictures to illustrate why I usually wind my balls twice. Invariably I get the wrong end when I start, and the yarn gets hung up which causes it to be under a lot of tension. Photo #1 shows what 880 yards of lace weight merino looks like when it's wound much too tightly.

So then I pull out the yarn from the center and wind it again. This loosens it up quite a bit. Photo #2 shows how much larger the ball is after the second winding.

After taking these photos I figured, "Well, it's not all that interesting, but I guess I could make a blog post out of it." Then I decided that while I had the swift and winder out I might as well wind up a skein of Rayon Silk from Interlacements. This would be that part where the knitting fates laughed and said to one another, "Watch this!"

The first hurdle I got to was that the skein was very heavy, 16 ounces. I love my swift, it serves me well and often, but it was a little overwhelmed by the weight of this baby. After performing some creative gymnastics I was finally able to get the yarn loaded on the swift. I then began cutting off the ties. For those who aren't familiar with how a skein is put together, imagine that you are putting away your vacuum cleaner. If you're like me you wind the cord around between your palm and your elbow. A reeled skein is like that, only bigger in diameter. In order to keep the yarn from getting all tangled up it is tied in several places, usually two or three. As I started cutting off the ties I discovered that there were a lot more ties than there usually are, and they were in strange places, but I didn't really think too much of it at that moment.

I got all of the ties cut off and started winding. I had no end of trouble. Things were sliding off the bottom of the swift, the yarn kept getting caught, and finally I ended up with this:

Make sure you click on that to make it bigger so that you can really appreciate how much yarn is twisted around the center of the swift. After straightening that particular mess out and figuring out a way to proceed, even with the large mass of hanging yarn (put the swift on a kitchen stool. The big yarn tumor just swirls around it,) I proceeded with the winding. Imagine my surprise when the end of the skein came off of the swift... but there was still a huge amount of yarn left on it. Curious, I checked for another loose end and discovered one. I had to take everything off the swift, however, because it was such a tangled mess. As I was trying to untangle things I discovered one of the tricks that the fates had played on me. It wasn't one skein of yarn. It was four that had been bundled together. I checked the label to make sure that I wasn't losing my mind. It says, "1100 yards per approx. 16 ounce skein." I'm sure they meant to add, "4 mini skeins bundled together," but the printer must have left that part off.

I put one of the remaining 3 skeins on the swift and what do you know, this time it wasn't so heavy that it was falling off. Hooray, now we can get cracking on this! Not so fast. This particular skein should have also had a warning label. Something along the lines of, "Abandon hope all ye who enter." I have never wound such a tangled, knotted, messed up bunch of yarn in my life. I swear to you that I never got more than 3 cranks of the winder before the yarn got hung up and I had to stop and untangle it. It took 35 minutes to wind about 250 yards of yarn. I did eventually get it all wound and now I have this to play with.

So for anyone who feels like they don't have anything to blog about, just wait. Those fates will get to you eventually.

Fashion to Freeze In

Daughter and I went shopping for her Easter dress and confirmed that there is not a dress designer alive who lives north of the equator. I know that Easter is supposed to be when we kick off spring, and some years it's late enough that the cute little sleeveless dresses are somewhat practical. In 2006, for example, it was a lovely warm day, so Nephew, Daughter and Niece were just fine in their warm weather gear.

But Easter is in March this year people. In fact this is the earliest Easter that we've had in roughly 90 years, and it won't be this early again for another 200 years, give or take. None of us will ever see Easter this early in the year again in our natural lifetimes. (For those who choose to cryogenically freeze yourselves, you may get another chance, but why would you want to thaw yourself out just to experience another freezing Easter?) March is not the time of year for cute little dresses with skimpy to no sleeves, at least not in Chicago. Naturally the dress that Daughter chose has two cute little straps, so she will be adorable when we're wheeling her off to the emergency room with an acute case of hypothermia. I imagine that the egg hunting will be lots of fun as the children attempt to pick up slippery plastic eggs while wearing their gloves and parkas.

With luck I can help stave off some of the chill, as I have finished the body of her stole and have only the edging to go, so there's hope that it will be ready by Easter. It's made with KnitPicks Dye Your Own laceweight Merino, so it should help warm her up a bit. That and the parka she'll have to wear over it.

22 February 2008

Winter and my Discontent

This is not my favorite time of year. I like going outside every now and again. I like to look at the flowers or stroll through the forest preserve. (For my relatives in the UP, the forest preserve is the tiny piece of forest they didn't develop into suburbia. You'd just call it "the back yard.") I like to go outside and sit in a lawn chair and knit out in the sunshine and listen to the airplanes roaring overhead birds twittering in the trees.

I could live with the cold, really I could. If we had enough snow to do something with. There's not enough to ski on, there's not enough to ride a snowmobile on. And the sidewalks that didn't get shoveled after the last snow are now covered with ice making plain walking treacherous. There's just enough to be annoying and useless. Even though there's not much I am willing to be a good sport and box the whole mess up and send it on to one of the polar ice caps. I understand they're melting and I'd sure like to do my part to help out that situation.

So as I sit here bemoaning the sad state of weather affairs (it hasn't been above freezing in many, many days) I receive this in the mail:

Oh goodie. Tropical plants. Let me just go get comfortable and browse this baby over.

Gee, it looks like Husband put away all of the comfy chair cushions. I wonder why he'd do a thing like that. Now to decide where these lovely plants would look best in my garden. Maybe a little something over by the clematis?

Or maybe it would look better over by the asclepias?

Or perhaps this is just some kind of cosmic joke that played out in the Chicago suburbs today.

There is a glimmer of good news though. I have discovered that the Harlot will be in Madison on the day before my birthday. I have already spoken to Husband and arranged a little road trip. I have also arranged that Husband will be in charge of getting daughter off to school the next day, so I can have a bit of a lie in if I want to. True, I will have to wait for 2 more months, but at this point it's about all that's getting me through my days. That, and knitting lace.

20 February 2008

D is for ...

First, D is for Dad. That's he and Daughter on the breakwall at Presque Isle in Marquette a couple of years ago. Dad's a tough one to put any kind of label on. He's a very conservative, hardworking guy. He's never bored and always has a long list of things that need to be done, nearly all of them outside between the months of March and November. He makes his own wine, maple syrup, apple cider, and pickles. Brother and I learned many things from him, most especially the value of hard work.

Next, D is for the Dead River Basin. The Dead River is located in the middle of the U.P. It is dammed in several places, and there is a large storage basin (basically a slow moving lake) in the middle. Dad built a cabin on the basin in the mid 60's. The cabin is composed of 2 rooms, a sleeping area with 3 bunks, and a kitchen/dining room/ living room area. There is no running water, and no electricity. When Brother and I were little we spent almost every weekend of the summer at camp. We learned to swim there, we learned to fish there, and we learned that Grandpa Van got mad when we ate all of the fish he had prepared, forcing him to eat peanut butter. It is still my favorite place in the whole world, even though you have to get there by boat; the road doesn't go all the way out to our place.

And finally D is for Dart. He is our social cat. He loves everyone and will jump in their lap especially if they don't like cats or are allergic. He and his 2 sisters were born under our front porch. We had recently had a cat put to sleep, so it worked out well that we got to keep him. His name is short for D' Artagnan. I was thinking he should be named after one of the Three Musketeers (since we found 3 cats) but Athos, Porthos, and Aramis didn't really have the right ring to them. He's grown considerably since we got him. His all time record was close to 24 pounds. As a comparison Cookie weighs almost 9 pounds.

14 February 2008

C is for...

C is for clever, after a good long time of being not clever. Let me explain.

Over the course of my life I have used my feet a lot. As a result my heels are beginning to look and feel a little rough. (This might be a bit of an understatement.) For the last 2 years, especially in the winter, I find that it's good to put some good lotion on my heels at night just before I go to bed. (I like Burt's Bees Coconut Foot Cream) While this is good for my feet it caused a problem. I didn't want all of my good foot cream to get rubbed off of my feet while I was sleeping. I decided that the logical thing to do was to put on socks. I tried this for a couple of nights, but ended up kicking the socks off in the middle of the night because my toes just don't like being cooped up. They seems to like the cool refreshing feeling of sheets, not the confined space of sock toes. So I solved my problem like this:

This would be the not so clever portion of my life. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I, a card carrying knitter, used these cut off gym socks for over a year until I had an A-Ha moment about 2 weeks ago. I was looking through a yarn catalog and saw some unusual socks. They had no toes or heels. They were basically stirrup socks. While I wasn't interested in those socks per-se, it did finally cause my brain to think of my lotion socks and think, "Hey, I could knit some socks that would work for night time foot cream use." I found 2 skeins of Maggi's Merino Aran wool and made these:

Having used them for the past 3 nights I can say that they work wonderfully. No lotion on the sheets, warm feet and free toes. Clever, after a good long time of being not so much.

Oh, and C is also for Cookie, who was completely unwilling to pose for a picture. She's our cat who doesn't like people. She's basically just a cat food recycler and leg sleeper on-er.

12 February 2008

They're Entrelacy

I finished my entrelac socks. This is the first time I have done entrelac (other that a couple of practice triangles at a guild meeting) and I'm happy with how they turned out. If you're going to try this you just need to keep in mind that you have to decrease your stitches by about 1/3, unless you're trying to create slouch socks. They also use up a little more yarn than plain stockinette. I was getting a little nervous towards the end of the second sock. It didn't look like I was going to have the same amount of ribbing, but it worked out and I have 6 feet of yarn left. Husband even commented on them, which never happens. He said they look warm, like a campfire.

This morning I'm taking Dad over to visit a conifer specialist. Dad's bringing him some pictures of this witches broom. Apparently every now and then a tree (this is a black spruce) grows a ... a branch tumor I guess you could call it. This is a particularly fine example of a broom, or so I'm told. Dad's hoping to take cuttings and have it propagated.

Later That Night...
We had a lovely trip top Woodstock to see Rich Eyre at Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery. We thought we'd go up (~1 hour drive,) chat for a little while, then start home and maybe eat lunch somewhere on the way if it was late enough. Well, we got there at 10 and left at 2. Rich can talk. We talked and talked, and then we walked around as much of the grounds as we could with a foot of snow everywhere. I was wearing the new socks, but didn't wear the correct shoes, so my toes did get a bit frosted. Then he drove us around to look at his mother's house and his home, which is where his research plants are, along with acres of other cool stuff. It was quite a day. We got home just in time for me to go get daughter off the bus.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you look at a map, it's that part on top that doesn't look like a mitten. On some maps it looks more like a piece of Wisconsin than Michigan, but we belong to Michigan. We usually shorten Upper Peninsula to U.P, then pronounce it semi-phonetically as Yoopers. A Yooper is a hearty breed of person who (in most cases) loves the outdoors, doesn't make a lot of money, and is likely to be of Finnish ancestry. You can hear many jokes about Aino and Toivo getting into trouble because of their lack of intellectual prowess. The photo below depicts two true Yoopers who gave Dad a helping hand with directions while they were trying to locate the Witches Broom.

I should point out that these particular Yoopers are actually Polish, rather than Finns, and their names are Uncle Tom and Cousin Dave, but otherwise these are fine examples of Yooperhood. (And to begin to imagine their accents, please rent the movie Fargo.)

06 February 2008

Have Some Manners

I think I have decided on what to do with the sock. My inspiration came from the Annetrelac Socks from the Holiday 2007 Interweave Knits. This is the second go round as I didn't bother to do any decreasing before I started the entrelac part. The resultant sock would have fit nicely on any rhinocerous. I'm not sure if I decreased enough, but I think I'm close this time.

It's snowing in Chicago again. Shocking, I know. Even better than the fact that it's snowing is having daughter home again because of the snow. This is her second snow day in 2 weeks. It's not that I don't enjoy having her around, it's just that I don't enjoy having her around so much. To make the day even more complete Husband decided not to go in to work today, so he's working from home. Oh, and did I mention that I've had a tremendous cold for the last couple of days? I think we can all safely expect that nothing of consequence will happen at my house today. I could bemoan my sorry state of affairs more, but there are plenty of people who have it worse than me. At least I can flush my toilet without having to melt snow first.

I'm sure with this new batch of snow Daughter will want to go sledding this afternoon. We went last Friday and I was reminded that there are people, even here in the Chicagoland area, who don't seem to know the basics of good manners while sledding. If Miss Manners hasn't covered this in one of her column, she should. Having grown up in an area that gets close to 200 inches of snow every year, I have some personal experience and would like to share some suggestions.
1. When ascending to the top of the hill, each sledder should carry his own sled. While she may be dressed in a similar manner to a sherpa, your Mother is not there as your personal sledding assistant.
2. Please remember to use the restroom facilities BEFORE putting on your long johns, sweat pants, long socks, snow pants, heavy boots, warm jacket, scarf, hat and mittens. Announcing that you, "HAVE to go NOW." Will only lead to offensive language on the part of your sherpa mother, and prematurely end your trip to the sledding hill.
3. After sledding down the hill, do not walk back up on the sledding surface. Make your way to the side of the hill for your return trip. This will decrease the chances of you being struck by another sledder as well as keep the sledding surface clean and smooth.

4. If you are a teenage girl and choose to disregard number 3 and choose to sit with your friends in the middle of the hill, you need to peacefully accept the consequences of your actions. One of the consequences will be that the mothers at the top of the hill will aim their children at you with every intention of knocking your silly twittering selves off the hill.

5. Be sure to remain well hydrated, but keep in mind that over hydrated children will be driven home to use the facilities and not returned to the sled hill.

6. Looking cute is good, but if you are the child of a knitter and refuse to wear a hat, remember that besides the certainty of catching you death of a cold, you are shaming your mother in the face of the whole world. Think about that missy!

01 February 2008

Random Stuff Friday

Daughter has taken up a new hobby. I'm not sure if I need to be worried by this or not. At first I thought that perhaps Barbie was joining Cirque and doing some kind of acrobatic routine, but the second time I found her (hanging from the ceiling fan chain in my bedroom, by the way) she seemed a little more...uncomfortable.

We need to install avalanche warning signs around the front door, as this is what's waiting overhead today.

Even Moose is having a bad day. Did I mention it snowed in Chicago last night? Moose lives on the front porch which is sheltered from the snow most of the time.

I've gotten to a decision point on my new sock. I need to decide what kind of pattern, if any, I'm going to put on the tops of my socks. I've tested a few and decided I don't like them. I'm either really boring and only like plain socks, or I'm really finicky about what I'm putting on my socks.

And finally, a couple of pictures from our Christmas trip to Colorado. On the coldest, snowiest day we were there, we drove to the Ouray Hot Springs. We were in the water, which ranges from 96F to 106F for about 3.5 hours. In order to get the right mental picture keep in mind that with water that temperature and air that temperature there's a lot of steam in the air. There were lifeguards all bundled up in parkas and balaklavas, but they couldn't see more than 6 feet most of the time. The best part was that when we got out someone had taken the towels that Daughter and I left next to the changing rooms. So we did what any other person in that situation would do. We borrowed someone elses towels. If they were yours, I apologize for the frozen state of your towels when you got to them.