Monday, January 29, 2007

Baseboards? What baseboards?

Sock knitting continues apace, the blue sock and the tan sock competing for my affections. One sock of each is finished up to the heel, and the blue sock is taking the lead (alpaca feels so much nicer in the hand than cotton!). But the tan sock is nagging me... And the orange socks, they're just such a simple pattern; I can work on them anywhere so they're cruising along guilt-free. Nothing much else on the needles, just the boss's baby's sweater waiting for a zipper. So many projects in the wings...

Another fun-filled home improvement weekend, and another set of learning points to add to the growing list.
1) When someone suggests you should rent an apartment, gut the house, and fix it all at the same time, don't completely laugh them off.
2) Always allow for the following time calculation: [amount of time estimated to complete project] + [amount of time estimated to complete project] x 3. This accounts for the time it takes to prepare the area before actually beginning the project. Our goal this weekend: put up baseboards in living room. Score? Zero baseboards installed. Time was instead spent on preparing walls and removing old baseboards.
3) Similarly, always allow for the following financial calculation: [estimated cost] x 3. This accounts for the little things you don't take into consideration, the things you didn't expect to have to deal with, and the unavoidable 2nd and 3rd trip to the hardware store.
4) If you finish the floor before you do the walls, you will damage the floor.
5) Outlet box, then drywall.
6) There's a reason some people stuff empty spaces with newspaper and use cardboard as drywall - it's really damn hard to do home improvement correctly. What's even harder is being the latter type of home owner in a house previously owned by the former.

I also insisted this weekend on purchasing my own set of basic tools, to be placed in a toolbox that no one but me can touch. Needless to say, one screwdriver is already missing, and I know without a shadow of doubt that I'm responsible. Damnit.

In the continuing parade of finished objects of recent months:
shedir back
I love this hat, and it breaks my heart that it doesn't fit my head better. Further experimenting with blocking will hopefully change that.
Shedir hat by Jenna Wilson from special Knitty issue. Completed early January, knit almost entirely in Grenada.
Yarn: Special Alpaca yarn, purchased at NJ Fiber Festival
Needles: Size 3 16" circular
Modifications: None. I will probably tack up the front edge, as I like that it's long enough to cover my ears, but in the front it hits my eyebrows.
Would I make it again? Absolutely. A bit of a pain doing the cables with this yarn (not very forgiving), but the pattern was very clear and a joy to knit. Check out some of the other versions other people have made to see clearer stitch definition.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Are we ready?

Are we ready for a woman/black/hispanic president? This question was all over the news the past few weeks, and it's been slowly eating away at the patience in the back of my brain (that's where I store my patience, that's why I show so little of it). The fact that NPR (a "liberal" news media, though if they were so liberal why was this issue even a question?) did weekly segments on this topic for a month frustrated me. But what really threw me over the edge was the content of interviews from across the country. Women claiming that a woman couldn't be a good president, people of color denouncing a black man as president. But the most frequent complaint I hear isn't that female/black/hispanic individuals wouldn't make adequate presidents - (I mean come on, could they be worse than a guy whose basic qualification is a penchant for the game Risk?), it is that they aren't electable. Is that a reason that all of these countries should remain more progressive than the US? Bolivia? Panama? Freakin' Serbia? It is my belief that if the news media would quit making gender/race an issue, it would fall away. No, people won't neglect to realize that Hilary is a woman or that Barak is black, but maybe if we quit trumpeting the idea of "firsts" we could pay attention to what they say. "The first" is always scary (Remember pedaling your bike for the first time without mom/dad holding on? Wasn't it easier if you didn't realize until after you were halfway down the driveway that you were doing it on your own?). And if we must talk firsts, how about the first husband/wife couple to both be president? The first President born in Hawaii? The first president to have been raised in a foreign country?

In knitting news, things are going to be all socks all the time for a bit, so I'll be posting some finished objects that I haven't officially posted before:
me at 31b
in progress (the real color is somewhere in between these two pictures):
aran in progress
Aran Skirt from Vogue Winter 2005. Completed just in time for Thanksgiving 2006.
Yarn: Knitpicks Merino Style in Nutmeg, about 10 skeins (much less than the pattern called for)
Needles: Size 5 and 6 circulars
Modifications: Row guage was off, so fewer rows. I don't like sewing seams, so I sewed the sides and then picked up stitches to knit the waist section in the round. I also kind of made up the crochet stitch that attaches the elastic at the waist, and was pleased with the result (not sure I'd be able to replicate it, though). I've blocked it gently once, but might try again with actual pins. The weight of the yarn really lengthens the skirt, and the hem is uneven as the seams are more rigid than the rest.
Would I make it again? Only for a lot of money. I loved the cables and it's beautiful, but I was ready for it to be done long before it was wearable. Don't think I'd ever make another skirt out of 100% wool; it needs some cotton or other fiber to give more structure and reduce weight.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Progress and detour

Clipping along on the Socken it to the Family Socks. Managed to hit the guage I wanted spot-on for Parent #1's socks (wasn't a totally blind guess, that lovely orange sock for myself was similar enough in weight that I could extrapolate). I'm making this one up as I go along, taking the chevron pattern from one of the fantastic knitting resources I obtained this Christmas. About half-way through the leg of sock #1.
parent#1 leg

The sock for Cousin #1 hasn't faired so well. The yarn is wonderful - such luxury and departure from the stiff, slippery cotton - but the pattern just isn't going to work. I'd planned to use this one, and it had fair promise, but double-stranded fingering weight alpaca/silk does not like to cable. Oh, I'm sure it works well in other people's hands, but in tight-guaged sock knitting I was spending too much time cursing. The yarn is also probably going to get very fuzzy with wear, so all of that hard work would be quickly lost.
cousin#1 take1

How far did I get before I realized this sock was doomed?
cousin#1 take 1 close up
Yep. A whole three rows into the pattern. Turns out the designer tricked me. I thought, oh, 80 stitches per row isn't so bad, especially when it will be so pretty. Except that after the ribbing rows there was a row of increases. 108 stitches. 108 stitches with cables in every single row Sneaky.

So I've abandonded that pattern and picked one from the archives of this group. It's a nice pattern, one I would never have knit until I saw the many variations different knitters had created. Plus I only need to cast on 60-some stitches. Muuuch better. I'm not much for knit-a-longs (Sock Wars did me in), but I decided to give it a try for 2007. I expect that 6 members of the family will be getting socks knit from patterns during this knit-a-long.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Socken it to the family

In place of holiday letters this year, I sent New Year's sock forms. Members of my family were encouraged, in the most knitterly way possible, to send me their shoe size and color preferences to be entered into a lottery for some hand knit socks. If everyone responds there will be far too many feet for my two little hands, but I'm already enjoying the interaction this has created - receiving the return letters in the mail, looking for patterns and yarn that suit individuals who are so far away and who I see so rarely.

I'm off to a slow start.
socks for the family

(KnitPicks Shimmer (Alpaca/Silk) in "Morning Mist" for one cousin and Stork (Cotton) "color #30" for one parent)

err...socks for me

(two color socks finished, orange socks using Jitterbug yarn given me by Cathy)

I'll add my progress to the sidebar. Now back to knitting - must go to work tomorrow, which really cuts into knitting time.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Taking stock

Fresh from California, with more yarn than I know what to do with. I visited Imagiknit in San Francisco and was very impressed with their organization - one room was 50%+ wool, one room was -50% wool. Within each room the yarn wrapped along the wall from thickest to thinnest. Nice. I kept it under control, purchasing the yarn for my next sweater project and sock yarn for Dad's Christmas socks.

Oh yea, and we hiked through Muir Woods, ate great food, saw Anselm Kiefer at SFMOMA

(Cathy, Brant, and brother Ryan on the trail)

Then it was off to Sacramento for Brant's paramedic exam (before you ask - yes, he passed). While he spent the day toiling through a practical, I slept in, knit, and explored the city. Found Rumpelstiltkin's yarn shop (they have the best web address). Not too spendy here, either. I put down the gorgeous yarn for yet another scarf (how many does one person need??) and instead bought green and brown for a friend's baby-on-the-way and a bit more sock yarn.

Home again and unpacked, I decided some organization was in order. This is what I've bagged up to donate/find another home for:

So I'm left with only this much yarn in my "stash":

Except for this. We don't talk about this box. Therefore it doesn't really exist.

But plans are in the works for socks! More soon...

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I highly recommend cajoling a friend into enrolling in medical school (or vet school, that's fine, too) located on a tropical island. Being a northern girl, I don't think I could handle living in said climate for months on end, but having a place to crash and a friend to tour around with was great. On a more serious note, staying on the island (rather than bopping in from a cruise ship) also took some of the sting out of being the rich American faced with heartbreaking poverty. Both remained true (me rich, them poor), but it felt different.

We spent almost every day on the beach, but this one took my breath away:

Walking down the paved walk I expected to walk out onto a patio at a rich American resort, but no. The palm trees and out-of-control ferns framed the entrance to a beautiful wide cove. The sand was white and soft, the water was ideal for bathing. The waves were persistent but fun - enough movement to remind you that it certainly wasn't just bathwater.

Swimming in a rainstorm on Christmas was also noteworthy (alas, no photos of that beach).
sa reading
There was much yarn work (Sa hasn't crossed over to the dark side yet - she thinks she's safe with her crochet hook), some Buffy watching, some walking on the beach. And a bit of rum drinking - it's cheaper than soda there, so you have to be careful.

In addition to all of the lounging (that weather really does take a lot out of you, even if it was the "cold wave" that everyone kept apologizing for) we did a bit of touring about. A Canadian couple drove us all over the island - to the hippie organic chocolate factory

{I love the story of this place: Americans who did a good thing. Check out their website. Buy chocolate. (I couldn't bring enough back for everyone, but some of you should be checking your mailboxes)}

and a rum distillery that makes some of the nastiest stuff I've ever tasted.
Rum Distillery

Mic bravely threw back a whole shot, while we three girls shared one. Thank god we did - it felt like I'd painted my lips with fire. 75% alcohol. 150 proof. Can't even take that on a plane, ladies and gentleman, because it's too flammable.

Our final stop of the day was the rainforest. It wasn't quite what I'd expected, but maybe because the entire island felt like a rainforest, so I was expecting even more lusciousness. I was blown away by how many hours we spent on the road. The entire island is a mere 20 miles tall by 10 miles wide. My commute to work is almost as big as the island, yet with the mountains and rough roads (nonexistent roads in places) and insane drivers we spent an entire day canvassing a mere half of the island.

The views were beautiful every time I turned my head, the company and hosts were charming (who knew so many med/vet students would be fun to hang out with?), and my live-in personal chef kept my belly full and my tastebuds happy. Reviewing these photos makes me start to forget the hassle of Air Jamaica (really, I'd just have carry-on next time, what could go wrong?). It helps me come up with excuses about returning again rather than visiting a dear friend who is in England (do you realize how chilly it is there?!). It also makes me think of that half-serious conversation about finding a teaching job on the island...

More photos of the trip
Details in case you are thinking of visiting (or even dreaming about visiting)


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Today I am an artist

The luggage arrived (at my door at 1am that normal?) with all of my cords and cables. However, I'm going to put off talking about Grenada and Christmas loot. Because today, for the maybe first time ever, I feel like an artist.

Brant has been commissioned to repair and repaint a mural on Livingston Campus at Rutgers. The deadline is soon, and due to student break the accessibility to the building has been really, really limited. Thus, since he had to work this weekend, I went in alone.

The mural is huge - 9 feet tall by 60 feet wide. It's overwhelmingly big, which is why I devoted my entire weekend to it, trying to chip away at the amount of work left ahead of us.

Up until today I've been very deferential to Brant, giving him all of the credit, calling myself his lackey or his groupie. But today as people were asking me about the mural I found myself taking some ownership of the work we're doing.

I've had many conversations with people, trying to understand what makes an artist. I think it boils down to talent and creativity. Well-intentioned friends have called me an artist, pointing to the way I incorporate found objects into my home decor and the way I dress and put colors together. Brant reassures me that no one is born with drawing skills, they simply have an aptitude that they hone through practice and repetition. Yet I've never really felt like an artist.

My role models are expanding. This guy has been accused (in my presence) of making crafts rather than making art. But what is it that throws people? The repetition? The materials he uses? I also just acquired this book, and the creativity of her designs goes beyond the rearrangement of traditional knitting motifs and patterns that so many designers use. I've also seen so much art that has made me think - "I could do that!" But that's the difference between artists and the rest of us - not only did they think of something, they also did it. And that's another element of being an artist - following through on an idea and putting in the work to get something done. (There is a contemporary artist who would dispute this - was it George Brecht? - as he would simply frame a card with the idea for a piece of art. If you wanted to, you could follow the instructions and make the indicated piece, but in his definition of art it was the conception rather than the execution that mattered)

Today I felt like an artist because I was painting. I have developed some skill - I'm not great, but I recognize the vast improvement I've achieved thanks to hours of holding a brush. And although the design is not my own, I'm interpreting as I go, doing my best to match color and intent, and there is a teensy element of creativity in that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Resolution wrap-up

I'm not a big resolution-maker. I love the idea of self-improvement, and I particularly like the idea of mentally surveying the previous year and looking for areas that need some help, but annual resolutions just seem like a poor way to do it. The gym is always crowded in January and even into February, but a New Year's resolution is rarely enough to have a lasting effect on someone's behavior. Try to remember in June to ask some friends or neighbors how their New Year's resolutions are going. See how many even remember what they resolved.

If you are going to make a resolution this year, may I make a couple of suggestions:
1) Make it specific. How many miles a day do you want to walk? How many pounds do you want to lose? How much $$ are you going to save each month? Vague ideas ("exercise more" "save some money") won't last and are easier to cheat.
2) Make it small. Focus on something that can reasonably be accomplished in 1-2 months, or something that is only a slight step beyond your normal routine.
3) Involve a friend or family member, or keep track on a calendar or journal.

For 2006 I resolved to floss every day. Yea, I received many a raised-eyebrow "Are you serious?" kind of look when I told people last year. But being a mostly non-flosser this was quite a commitment for me, and I figured that unlike the typical resolutions of weight loss and other elements of personal improvement, this was one that if I failed to maintain, it would still have benefit.
Score: 20% . I was great through February which was a record for me, both in terms of flossing and resolution maintenance. After that it slowly tapered off as the year wore on, though I still did it more often than I would have otherwise with the nagging, 'I did make a resolution...' in the back of my head.

Here's the list of resolutions I'm kicking around for this year:
Go to the gym at least twice a week. This one is a little weak and too predictable. It's definitely something I want to do, but making it a resolution is sure to backfire. I'll feel even worse than usual on the weeks I cop out.

Eat fresh fruit every day. I've used this one before. I like it, as it reminds me to keep fresh produce in the house. I like to think I eat fairly well, but I rely heavily on canned/frozen foods.

Start and maintain knitting journal. I have scraps of ideas and projects kicking around the house, and I'm tired of looking at the piles. Also, when something works I'd like to have record so I can reproduce it, and when something doesn't work I'd like to have record so I can improve it for the next time.

Why I don't recommend Air Jamaica, part II

1) Despite reassurances that our luggage would arrive "tomorrow" the delivery date remains ambiguous (4 days later and it's still sitting in Grenada).
2) The phone number I was given to call about my luggage was a) incorrect and b) useless as the office (once I had the correct #) is only open during the week.
3) The website devoted to tracking delayed/lost luggage doesn't work.
4) Employees of Air Jamaica really, really don't like to look up status on lost luggage. Two employees feigned ignorance of the possibility until I informed them that there is a stinking website where I could do it myself (if the website worked).
5) I leave town again in 10 days - will I have any luggage to travel with?

In the intermin, please enjoy the photos that Sa has been posting.