Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Failure to Achieve: The Paperless Society

Well, here I am on the third official day of my vacation from work (Friday didn't count because I had to run errands and do the grocery shopping and that's not vacation) and I am still clawing my way out from under my paperwork. On Monday I spent the morning going through my email in-box. Ew. Yesterday was spent clearing out the accumulated junk mail from the last few weeks. Double Ew (ooh, a pun!! Double Ew? W? get it? And yes, all this paperwork does make my head numb; why do you ask?) Today, in a grand finale that is barely half over, I spent the morning paying bills and updating my accounts and I will spend the afternoon going through my real life in-box and dealing with all the bits and pieces that couldn't just be recycled as junk. This will mean writing things in calendars and making decisions and-- save me please!-- making phone calls.


BAH, I tell you.

I'm going to find some lunch and a cookie.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When Weaving Goes Bad, Star Trek to the Rescue.

1.Captain Kirk fixes my weaving

I mentioned a few months ago that I bought a 15 inch table loom off of craigslist.  I warped it immediately and wove a little practice piece, which stunk.  Then I warped it for a strap. I wove the first few inches and that stunk too.   Isabel took over and wove the rest of it, which was all beautiful except for a few stinky spots where I tried to weave. I promise to leave all further strap weaving to her.  She loves to pull the weft threads really tight, which is great for strap weaving and is also why I don't like her to mess with my other weaving.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to weave place mats in some kind of fancy-pants pattern.  Place mats are in short supply around here. For one thing, there are six of us, but most of my place mats came in sets of four.  There is one set that has six mats, but they were woven by someone who stinks even more than I do (or who is underpaid and was given wildly mismatched materials to work with), and five of them developed permanent wrinkles and folds  the first time through the wash, so I hate them. In addition to my table looking perpetually disorganized, my kids drop a lot of food on their mats, so  the mats spend an inordinate amount of time in (or near, if I'm a little behind on the laundry, which I usually am) the washing machine.  And every time I look at one of my looms (there are only two, but I sound much more important if I say "one of my looms," as if there are so many of them) I think how terribly practical it would be for me to weave some place mats on them.

So I sat down a few weeks ago with graph paper and a calculator and planned my very practical mats.  Using the cotton that I have on hand, I would need 448 pieces of string (not the official weaving term, but pretty accurate), each measuring 110 inches.  No problem.  Every so often, when I'm really hard up for entertainment, I'll sit down in front of my warping board and wind some string around the posts and eventually I'll get to the right number.  Or I'll lose my mind.  Either way, it's an adventure.


(I made this warping board myself using about $5 of new materials and a bunch of stuff we had lying around the house from other projects.  A new one would have cost a minimum of $60 and, so far, I'm not sorry about having made my own. I'm kind of cheap that way, although I will admit that after two years of working with my aesthetically-challenged PVC niddy noddy, I finally shelled out $22 and got myself a pretty wooden one. It works better and on looks alone it was worth the money, although there is something to be said for a piece of equipment that you can let your kids step on.)


Today I sat down and began winding the warp (i.e.,wrapping the strings around the posts) in earnest, and I had just wrapped the 214th length of string when I looked at my loom and had a cruel thought:  to weave a project with 448 pieces of string, there need to be 448 heddles, which are the little jobbers on the loom that guide the strings and let you move them up and down to make patterns.

Here is my loom


and trust me, there is no way there are 448 heddles on there.  A quick count revealed that there are exactly 218 heddles on the loom.  Not even half of what the project calls for.

So now what??  I've already wound nearly half the warp.  I'm at 214 ends so far or, if you really want to feel my pain, 23,540 inches of string. I am too far in to give up on this project now.  Plus, I'm stubborn and I refuse to be defeated by weaving.

Heddles cost about $22 (plus shipping) per 100, so it would cost $66 (plus shipping, still) to  add enough heddles to do the project. I paid $100 for the loom (it retails at about $530, new) and a whopping $5 for the warping board (and about the same for some parts to rig a bobbin winder out of an old toy), and I felt pretty good about getting myself started in weaving at that price.  But, as necessary as a certain number of heddles are to make the loom functional, it galls me to think of spending an additional 66% (plus shipping, let's not forget) of my formerly reasonable start-up costs in order to make a few place mats.  To sum up:  300 heddles = NO!

I could stop winding the warp and just re-design the project for the number of strings and heddles that I have right now, but I can't figure out what I would do with 7 1/2 inch wide place mats.  I suppose I could call them towels, but I don't want towels, I want place mats and I'm feeling kind of stubborn about that right now. In theory, I could re-design the project for a heavier string, but I don't own any heavier string.  I own a bunch of the really skinny string and I'd like to be able to use it.

Really, there is only one way out of this little pickle. We're going to have to get all Star Trek-y and pull a  Kobayashi Maru, which is to say that  I'm changing the rules.   In the project I designed, each pattern repeat uses 10 strings and I intended to get the widest place mats possible by warping to the full width of my loom, about 15 inches. Three pattern repeats would obviously call for 30 strings (really I should start calling them "warp ends" already) and would be equal to one measly inch of weaving.  If I reduce the width of my warp by 30 ends (about one inch of weaving width), I will still produce a fabric that is somewhere between 12 and 14 inches (it will shrink in the weaving and then also when washed) wide, which is big enough for place mats. Coincidentally,  the slightly reduced project will require only 418 ends, which is exactly 200 heddles (two packages, not three) more than I currently have.  I think I can live with buying $44 worth of heddles, especially as it will allow me to keep using the skinny string that I already have.  Problem solved.  Win-Win.  Call me JamesT. Kirk.  Although I hope you'll be thinking of the new Star Trek movie and not the original TV series when you do that.

2. Microwave experiments that would have made Scotty proud

While I was busy having hysterics over my weaving, my kids were out playing in the snow.  When my son came back in, all rosy cheeked and chilled from his time outside, he decided to make some hot chocolate.  He's an independent kind of guy, so he poured himself a mug of milk and put it in the microwave. For five minutes.

When he was done, the milk had vanished and the mug looked like this:


What surprised me the most was the absence of the rest if the milk from the inside of the microwave. There was some milk-colored moisture accumulated on the top of the inside, and a thin layer on the glass plate inside, but nothing else.  Where did it all go? And will I be finding it again sometime in the future?

3. Socks that don't relate to Star Trek

I'm moving right along on the List of Knitted Insanity.   Below are the socks for Emma, which I finished late last week.


The socks turned out great, and the longer I worked with them the better I liked them.  The yarn color is all off in this photo.  Imagine a bright spring-like green instead. I used Knit Picks Stroll Tonal and held it double.  The socks are nice and cushy, but I couldn't make them any taller because this is as far as one skein of that stuff will take you.  Tonight I plan to finish knitting the lining for a hat that I made a few years ago (or was it last year? I've lost track) which is too big and not quite warm enough for really cold weather.  I have already cast on for a pair of socks for Matty, although I'm worried that he has grown enough that 50 grams of an alleged sport-weight sock yarn (can you tell that I have my doubts about that?) is not enough for both of his socks.

And that's about all for now.  Even if there were more, I couldn't stay to write it.  I declared a No Electronics morning today, and then extended it to a No Electronics afternoon.  Now that it is past nightfall, my daughter, who was nearly incoherent with horror over the No Electronics thing, is breathing down my neck in anticipation of plugging herself in again.  I fear violence if I don't repeal this brief prohibition.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Fish Tale

What follows is a true story.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as those currently suffering from a criminal level of culinary ineptitude.

Once upon a time, about three hours ago, there was a very nice lady that none of you have ever met.  She liked to think of herself as having above average intelligence, notwithstanding any occasional mental lapses that might indicate otherwise. On the day in question, this very nice lady decided to make fish for her family to eat at dinner.  She was about to crush some crackers for the breading when she thought she might see if she had stored any extra Parmesan bread crumbs in the freezer.  Sure enough, when she opened the freezer, there sat a little baggie filled with brown  crumbs and tiny little white cubes.  There was no label on the bag, but that did not trouble our very nice lady, who was thinking only of how pleased she was to find anything that could save time and labor in the preparation of the evening meal and who didn't much care that she had recently washed out an empty bag marked "parm. br. cr."

The lady dipped the fish in some egg, and placed it neatly into a rectangular dish  containing the crumbs.  She was a little annoyed that the crumbs did not stick to the fish in the usual way.  They looked a damper than usual and clumped in an unattractive way, but it was getting late and the lady wanted to finish making dinner so she could get back to her knitting, which none of you have ever seen posted ad nauseum in a blog. So she persevered, smashing the crumbs on with her fork repeatedly until they stuck, reluctantly, to the fish.  When the oil in the pan was heated, she picked the fish up carefully, so as not to give the crumbs any cause to fall off, and laid the fish in the pan.

When it was time to turn the fish, she was a little surprised to find that the breading had scorched. "That's strange," she thought, "there must be a new hot spot on my stove."  She was even more surprised that the fish smelled unusually sweet, but she had eaten a lot of cookies that day and reasoned that she was hallucinating.

By the time the fish had finished cooking, the lady was beginning to worry that something was amiss.  There was no avoiding the sweet smell.  There was a lot more oil than usual left in the pan. And, instead of a lovely golden crust on the fish, there was a slightly sticky glaze.  She stuck the fish on the plates anyway and called her family to the table.

"I'm not sure about the fish," she told them.  "It seems a little  . . . different tonight."

And they agreed. "Ew," they responded, "it's sweet."

"I don't know why," the lady said. "I used the stuff from the freezer and I can't imagine what I would have put in there except . . . . Oh.  Oh no.  I remember now.  When I made pie for Thanksgiving, I made too much topping.  And I saved it in the freezer."

"But, dear" said her husband, "that means you used . . ."

"Brown sugar and flour and cinnamon and butter!"

"Ew!!!!" they all said, "it's apple pie fish!"

And that, dear readers, is why one should always label the bags in the freezer. Which, of course, I always do.  Don't you?

Of Knitting Plans and Naked Chickens

1. In which I completely lose my head

So it's 2011, right?  And you can't be a knitter at the new year without making some kind of resolution relating the new year to the number of projects you are going to knit. Fortunately, most  knitters are rational enough to be working with numbers in the tens, not thousands. Last year, some people vowed to knit ten shawls in 2010, or ten sweaters, or ten hats.  You get the idea. This year, of course, the goal is to knit 11 of something during the year.  I can't possibly commit to knitting 11 of the same kind of thing in one year because the repetition would cause me to lose what's left of my sanity. Instead, I have gone into full lemming mode and have joined a whole bunch (meaning three) of knitting groups dedicated to knitting 11 projects of any sort.

In the spirit of getting organized, I set 11 goals for myself, ranging from some serious stash-busting to nailing down some new techniques.  I took a good look at my existing yarn and the patterns and kits and projects that still made me say "ooh!" and came up with a list.  Which is 33 projects long.


The really funny part (if you're over the idea of me knitting 33 anythings in one year) is that only one project on the list -- a baby gift in some sort of cottony yarn that I am disinclined to stockpile-- requires new yarn.  Everything else is supposed to be knit from the stuff in my stash.*

*You may wish to say here that it's about stinkin' time that I used some of the yarn in my stash, but I'll have you know that I recently showed a certain knitting guru friend of mine the spreadsheet detailing my stash and, after she finished abusing me for having a spreadsheet detailing my stash, she politely informed me that it was no more than a mini-stash.  Then the man standing next to her, who is not really someone I know at all, insisted that it could hardly even be considered a micro-stash, and that if I wanted to see a real stash, I should see his apartment, which was stuffed full of the yarn that he and his wife had been collecting forever, so there. Really, I had no idea that this yarn thing was so competitive.
And the problem of course, is that I am easily distracted by shiny new yarns and books and patterns and I temporarily forget about all of the projects that I'm already planning to do and I start thinking about --and buying yarn for -- all the really great projects that I just learned about. So, to be completely realistic, I'm doomed.

But I'm going to see how far I get anyway.  Last year, for reference, I finished 21 projects, including more sweaters than I have on this year's list. I figure if I can finish 22 projects this year, that would be good (see, I'm still working with multiples of 11). So I'm looking at my list of 33 projects as very firm suggestions rather than actual requirements. And we'll see what happens.

My plan for the month of January is to finish four of the projects left over from last year.  The first one, the Dorflinger Tee that I made for Isabel, is done.  It turned out to be a quick knit and it looks very cute on her. 
Project number 2 is a pair of socks for Emma.  I finished the first sock on Friday and plowed through the leg and heel this weekend, and this is what they look like right now:


except that they green is much brighter and spring-ier.

Project 3 is also in progress, but is much to dull for a picture.  I am taking some leftover Ultra Alpaca and using it to line an existing hat, which is a bit too large and could really use the extra layer.

Project 4 is the Dryad Scarf that I started the exact minute that I got my Blackstone Tweed in the mail. It is for El Husbando, but don't tell him. I'd post a picture, but the scarf is in its infancy-- barely past the cast on -- and it is so small right now that you wouldn't be able to see it.

The other goal I set for myself was to spin 4 ounces of fiber a month.  My spinning wheel and fiber have been woefully neglected, and I was starting to feel like I couldn't even call myself a spinner any more.  Yesterday I sat down with the wheel and my current spinning project and I churned out two little skeins:


They are a little over one ounce each.  Below is the rest of the stuff from the same source (Hope Spinnery; I collect it every time I go to Rhinebeck):


The colors look a little odd when you see them raw, but they spin up into lovely, muted, heathery yarns.  I'm thinking they would make a nice colorwork hat.  Maybe in 2012.

2. In which my chickens go bald

 Here is Pippa:  She is the fluffy tan chicken in the middle of the picture.


She looks beautiful, doesn't she?

Here is her sister, Gertie.  You might not be able to tell from this picture:


but here you can see that she is molting. Her skirts are not being blown in the wind, a la Marilyn Monroe.  She just looks thoroughly disheveled, with bald patches and partial feathers poking out where the old ones have gone away.


The birds are exactly the right age to be molting, and I have read that the decrease in daylight can trigger it too.  But I kind of hoped that my girls would have the common sense not to take off their feathers when the temperature was in the 20s.  No such luck.


I'm cold just looking at her standing out in the snow in nothing but her undergarments. It makes me want to knit her a little chicken coat.  A chicken cozy, perhaps.  And you know what? 

I wouldn't be the first to do it: Take a peek. I dare you.   And it's an international thing, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Whoops--Hang on a Second

Hello, Blog.  I've missed you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, please, I have to go make dinner. 

Okay.  I'm back.  And I'd really love to catch up on what I've been doing.

Ooops.  Time to go pick one of the kids up from practice.

Now, as I was saying . . .

Drat.  There goes the signal on the dryer. Be right back.

Where were we?

Ah, never mind.  I'll try again tomorrow.