Monday, December 31, 2007

Peace, Love, and Harmony To All

Peace Love Harmony To All, originally uploaded by gooseflesh.

I have zillions of New Year's resolutions. My favorites are the ones I made for my husband. He got two computer-generated lists to pin to the wall.

I have resolutions for my kids, too. They will Finish What They Start, Pick Up What They Put Down, and Clean Up After Themselves (mostly that last one).

For myself? There are the usuals: lose more weight, exercise more, walk the dogs daily (a bit difficult on our never-plowed, icy-when-it's-not-muddy dirt road), make lots of money, transform my rat-hole of a house into a showplace (or at least make it comfortable, clean, and well-lit), and donate about a metric ton of our possessions to Goodwill.

More serious, if not necessarily more obtainable, I'd like to reduce my family's carbon footprint. The best resource I've found is The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, which recommends what actions we can take to most effectively reduce our impact on the planet. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (who wrote the book), the most important action I can take, eclipsing all others, is to drive less.

Unfortunately we have chosen a lifestyle that centers around driving: we live in the country and commute to work and school. Short of selling the house and moving to a small home in the city, we are stuck with an enormous oily footprint.

So most of my efforts are largely symbolic: eliminating petroleum products wherever else I can. I had no idea, for instance, that laundry and dish detergents are typically petroleum-based. The mountain of petroleum-derived plastic recyclables that we haul away from our house each month (in the car, of course) doesn't make me feel any better. (Why is it so difficult to find refills for those thick, heavy containers, seemingly designed for permanence rather than waste reduction?)

Meanwhile, if saving the planet (surely a worthy goal) takes up most of my efforts, I am perhaps not focusing where I might make the biggest impact: on my children. I want them to be the most thoughtful, compassionate, responsible, and useful people they can be. What concrete actions I can take towards this goal will be my real resolution. I'm not sure what actions these will be, but this year I will try to find out and do what I can.

Rats and mice. I was just going to eat fewer cookies. . . .

Saturday, December 22, 2007

a little holiday music

I'm shamelessly scamming this video from another site (Mason-Dixon Knitting). It's wonderful and I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


skunk, originally uploaded by aquave1vet and shared through a Creative Commons license.

Trick-or-treating went very well -- lots of friends, lots of candy, lots of fun.

But a trick awaited us at home: our dog Emily got skunked!

Thank heavens I'd stocked up on hydrogen peroxide for my safer, gentler cleaning routine -- I used a gallon of it on her, along with baking soda and dish soap, then followed it up with a wash in dog shampoo.

The peroxide/baking soda mixture works amazingly well -- Emily was essentially odor-free after just one wash. It just took me awhile to realize that the one spot of elusive scent that remained was on her snout.

Swabbing down the bathroom, then using odor-neutralizing spray throughout the house capped off the trick. We went to bed smelling not exactly like roses, but not of skunk, either. A good thing, too, as Emily sleeps on my pillow.

Please note that this cute fellow is not my skunk. I didn't get a picture myself; this one is from Aquave1vet on flickr.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why I Can't Finish My Quilt

There's a large, furry weight on my quilt, anchoring the cloth so that it won't go through my sewing machine.
This weighty thing also takes lightning-swift swipes at the thread, the needle, and my hand, which disturbs the sewing zen.
It only disappears when the long, unattached binding strip, trailing across the desk and floor, attracts its attention, and its claws.
I love my Spock-cat.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

kitten problems

We are not doing well with kittens.

Spock (one-year-old silver tabby) is fine (probably -- see Isis, below).

Citrus (12-week old orange tabby) was diagnosed with a previous spinal injury that left him gimpy and not reliable in the litterbox. Our vet adopted him from us and is rehabilitating him for placement in a home that can handle his special needs. (I love my vet!)

Isis, Citrus's replacement, (10-week-old tortoise shell) tested positive for feline leukemia. I didn't realize how bad this is -- basically, it's a death sentence*. And it's extremely infectious to other cats. She is currently isolated in a bathroom until we get the results from a more accurate laboratory test. If that is positive (and the vet says it almost certainly will be), we'll have to euthanize her.

The vet feels that Spock's risk of having contracted it from her is low, as he is older and more resistant, and has only spent one week with her. Nevertheless we will have to have him retested in four to six months.

So it's kind of a hard weekend, with Isis basically on death row until we get the second test results. It should come in Monday or Tuesday. In the meantime, we are trying to give her love and attention without focusing on the outcome. She deserves all the love she can get.

Think good thoughts for my daughter, please. She is taking it hard.

*I understand that one can keep a cat with feline leukemia comfortable as long as possible -- apparently 85% die within three years -- but not with other cats free of the disease. We don't think it's fair to Spock to keep her, or fair to Isis to keep her in a very confined, separate space long-term. While there is a small chance that she could overcome the infection, it is only a small chance, and would take months before we knew for sure.

ETA: On September 24, the second test came back positive, and we put Isis down. My vet was wonderful, treating Isis tenderly and crying right along with me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

what time is it?

Photo by Duncan McNeil (dmcneil) on, under a Creative Commons license.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So am I nuts, or what?

This morning I had coffee with some very good friends in a local cafe. It's brand new, with minimal decorating. Other than furniture and a small fireplace, the most prominent piece in the room is an enormous clock, probably 2 1/2 feet across, visible from every seat and table (not the clock above -- that one is in Scotland).

I've been there four times. Every time, the clock has shown the wrong time. It's not just a little off -- it's way off, not even close to the hour or minute.

The first time, I figured the place was new, with many details not yet worked out (want cream or milk in your self-serve coffee? You have to ask for it. The cashier hands you a gallon jug.).

By the fourth time, I was amused and a little irritated. I'm enjoying a coffee, staring at an enormous clock face which tells me it is 4:24 in the afternoon. Huh. I thought it was more like 9 in the morning. Silly me.

It's not important, just disconcerting. So today I timidly asked the cashier if she could maybe set the clock to the proper time.

She looked at me like I was nuts. "It's decorative," she said. "It doesn't need to be set."

I hemmed a bit and commented that it was running, so would it be too difficult to just set it to the right time? "I don't have the authority to do that," she replied.

Um, perhaps the manager could set it? "He doesn't have that authority. Only Corporate does."

I must have looked astonished, because she got defensive. "Look," she said, "we figure everyone has a watch or a cell phone. No one needs to look at the clock for the time."

I was speechless.

But am I nuts?

(p.s. You still have to ask for the gallon jug to put white in your coffee.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

kitty video

Nothing extraordinary here, just our cats being cute.

Citrus, the little orange kitten, has some congenital problems that make it difficult for him to walk,* so it warms my heart to see him having fun.

*The vet assures me he's not in pain, and he can walk, albeit a bit unsteadily.

Friday, September 07, 2007


My mother-in-law passed on last year. She was a woman of remarkable generosity and talent. As the wife of a Navy officer, she moved her family across the country -- and an ocean -- many times with efficiency and grace. And she was thrifty: she could squeeze a dime till it screamed, let alone squeaked.

One of her talents was sewing, from cushions to tailored suits. And by going through her sewing supplies, I'm awed once again by her thriftiness. Several spools had different threads on them, just dabs of each. I'm guessing that she wound leftover bobbin thread onto empty spools to save for the next time she needed that color.

She saved every snap and fastener, even if its mate were gone. Perhaps she saved them for mending, or just from habit.
And there were jars upon boxes of buttons, sorted by color and sometimes type: I wonder what she used the purple buttons for. Clearly most of the buttons were used, cut from old clothing. Somebody must have worn a lot of shirts with little white buttons!

I'm sorting through the threads, buttons, notions, needles, and fabrics, choosing some to keep and some to pass on to others. (If anyone needs grey buttons, I think I have several pounds of them.) While I don't keep my thread ends, I am going to put one of the multi-colored spools on my sewing table to remind me of my mother-in-law, her talents, and her thrift.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fear the Kitten

Today we received two new family members. My daughter has longed for a cat for years now, since our last cat died of lymphoma. So we planned, and read up on cats, and finally made a trip to the shelter.
Meet Spock.

Nothing to fear in Spock. According to my son, this cat commanded us with his eyes to take him home. He purred and rubbed against our fingers through the cage bars and told us he would be a very pleasant companion.
And so he has proven to be, in the space of an afternoon. He made his name known on the car ride home, perhaps a record for our fastest-named pet. And after a brief adjustment period in an unused hallway, Spock made peace with the dogs and found his bathroom, his food dish, the couch, and our hearts.
This one-year-old kitten also had the grace to arrive neutered and with his rabies inoculation. What a thoughtful fellow!

Fear and trembling, however, may now ensue:

She looks harmless enough, this darling eight-week-old tabby kitten with a big purr, rabbit-soft fur, and the cutest little paws. You can't tell from this picture just how small she is: this is one tiny little kitten. The "awww" factor is high here. She grabbed my daughter's heart as soon as we walked into the shelter.
Citrus, as she is now named, told our dogs quite firmly and loudly that They Are Not Welcome In Her Presence. I have never heard a growl this loud from any cat. She also has a fearsome hiss and lightning-strike paws. While the dogs have learned not to approach her, just the sight of them arouses a constant low humming growl in her tiny little body.
Luckily she likes us just fine. We are making allowances, as she is so young and so small. It must be quite frightening to enter a household with animals many times larger than herself.
In the meantime, however, Fear the Kitten. She can roar.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Grandmother's Granny Squares

When my father-in-law moved to a smaller place recently, he gave us a lifetime's worth of treasures. Months later, we are still fitting them into our house. Wait till I show you the delicate crocheted lace! There is also a garage full of tools, but they're for my husband's blog, if he ever starts one (heh).

My daughter and I were going through one of the boxes a few weeks ago and pulled out this colorful crocheted throw. As my husband's grandmother was an accomplished needlewoman, we believe it to be her work.

At first glance (and whiff), I wondered if it was worth restoring. There were at least fifteen holes, some of them quite large, and it was dirty with age and smelled very strongly of mothballs. But daughter was entranced (and so was I) so restoration ensued.

First came several trips through the washing machine. This removed the dirt, but not the smell. I put it outside in the sun for a day. What a miraculous transformation! The odor dissipated, leaving a mild yarny aroma that isn't unpleasant at all.

Next I attempted to crochet replacement squares. After three or four, I came up with a recipe that, while not exactly the same, looks nearly identical and is the same size.
(Note: the three on the right are original centers that I salvaged. I just had to add the black border.)

The next part terrified me: cutting out the damaged segments. Nine squares needed removal; in the end, I cut into two more by mistake, so that brought the total to eleven (this doesn't include small holes that I'll simply darn).
In theory, this should have been easy: find the joining thread and cut it. But over the years, the yarn had become fuzzy and matted. It was difficult to distinguish the yarn used for joining from the yarn of the blocks. And of course, all that yarn is black. I only cut into surrounding blocks twice, which isn't too bad, though I did say a few choice words. ("I didn't say that," I told my children. "No, you didn't," they agreed.)

I have asked myself if it's really worth putting all this time into repairing an obviously worn-out blanket. It does have sentimental value, but it really is extremely worn. (There are many, many more holes. If I were going to do a proper job, I'd remove much more of the black yarn and re-crochet it. As it is, I'm going to take black yarn and just darn the heck out of it.) But yesterday, my daughter came over and sat down by the blanket, spread out on the floor while I looked for holes. She pointed out differences in the yarn between squares, and even in the same square. We thought about who might have made those replacements, and when. We counted the blocks made out of a single variegated yarn, versus those done in two or three colors. We picked our favorite colors and styles. My daughter likes the orange ones because they look like flickering flames. I'm partial to the three-color ones done in shade gradations.

So much thought and work went into this blanket over the years, by more than one pair of hands. I love the story it tells, and the questions it raises. And I hope it will last one more generation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

hang in there . . .

while the world reads Harry Potter. I just got my copy today but am saving it for vacation up north. We leave Monday morning -- I hope to be reading on the beach by mid afternoon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

perfect summer day

But first, a joke:

Guns don't kill people. People kill BANG oops.

(You kind of have to say it out loud.) It's from one of my favorite TV shows, This Hour Has 22 Minutes on Canadian television.

Today was gorgeous: sunny and hot, but with a nice occasional breeze. I planned to spend a good bit of time power washing the deck, but machines don't like me and it quit. (Bad switch. We've already replaced it once. You have to mail order a replacement. Don't get me started.)

So the kids and I swam in the pool, and played with the dogs, and I put new syrup in the hummingbird feeders, and it was just just a bit too hot to work in the gardens, and I really wanted to sew. So I took the sewing machine and ironing board outside.

It was wonderful. The birds weren't at all discomfited and kept up a steady presence at the feeders. I was surprised that even a very gentle breeze made surprisingly loud background music for my sewing. It was peaceful and simply wonderful.

The kids saw me having so much fun that they came out of the air-conditioning to join me. They made their own dinners (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, canned ravioli, and hummus on crackers) and brought them out. We sat and ate and again I wondered why we don't do this more often.

Tomorrow is supposed to be thunderstormy, so we'll probably be inside. I'm so glad we had today.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

horse camp

My daughter is at horse camp this week and we are both loving it. She rides and grooms and sweeps and cleans tack and does lots of other horsey things. The kids also swim, use paddle boats, drive golf carts, fish, and make crafts. One rainy day they listened to a tribal story told by a young man of Native American heritage who works at the stable.

My daughter's assigned horse is a sleek chestnut quarter horse who is 16.3 hands high. Very high. I'm used to butty little quarter horses, not tall lovelies like this one. He seems to be a good sort, gentle and with reasonably good brakes and moderate acceleration.

The staff is amused at my constant picture-taking ("She's still taking pictures of the horses!") but very tolerant. And there is so much to photograph: barn swallows in their nests, baby bunnies, miniature horses, shetland ponies, ducks, chickens, hatching eggs, a llama, and of course horses.

Here's a tiny little pony:
And some chickens:
How about some baby bunnies?
And another gratuitous horse picture:
I have been told that my daughter is a natural rider and should have private lessons. While I am impressed with her early skills, I view this more as a sales tactic, soon to be followed by "your daughter really needs a horse -- I have the perfect one for her." Yup, right. Not gonna happen.

One of my husband's co-workers urged him to buy a horse: she has horses she got for free (rescues and retirees) and claims she spends only $600 per year on each one for food, boarding, shoeing, and routine shots. My husband still remembers the $15 bird I bought that racked up $700 in vet bills (bird intensive care is expensive) and isn't buying her argument, or a horse. I must have become an adult when I wasn't paying attention, because against every fiber of my being, I agree with him. (Sob.)

I found the llama very amusing. I can see why a llama played the starring role in The Emperor's New Groove: this animal has attitude to spare. Check it out:

This is the first picture I took during camp, and it is my favorite: the counselors bringing the horses in from the field for the campers' first lessons.
N.B. Camp was last week -- I couldn't figure out how to upload a video until just now. And how could I deprive you of a grainy video of a llama chewing? C'mon now. That's art.

N.B.B. Next post: art camp.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

flowers for you and seven random things

These flowers are for you, whether you read my blog regularly or are here on a momentary visit. I welcome all three of you! (or maybe four if net traffic is heavy!) The flowers are especially for those who have no garden of their own.

Peonies are perfect garden plants. Their blooms are enormous and showy, implying arcane knowledge and diligent care on the part of their brilliant gardener. The truth is that they have few pests or diseases, are extraordinarily long-lived, and need no maintenance. What could be better?

My friend Lysne has tagged me with a meme, my first: seven random things about myself. Well,
1. My one true talent is spelling. I can spell virtually any word. This amazes my children, who are geniuses in many areas, but can't spell their way out of a paper bag.

2. I notice little things, while the big ones breeze right on by. A tiny little bloom, a shaft of sunlight, a clever turn of phrase -- these capture my full attention while the enormous weed, coming thunderstorm, or main thesis might escape me entirely.

3. My house exists in my imagination far more strongly than it does in reality. I see my living room with its blue walls, taupe-colored furniture, bamboo flooring, intriguing art and objets d'art, and enormous coffee table for books and tea and feet. Others see the builder's white walls, mashed-down carpeting, ratty mismatched furniture, garage-sale bull's horns as the only decoration, and tiny little apartment-sized coffee table that really can't support more than one book and a small foot. Someday vision and reality will match.

4. I'm pretty good with gardens, but any vegetal matter in my house is a dead plant walking. Usually several months without water do them in. The few plants I've watered have usually drowned as thanks for my efforts.

5. In grade school, middle and high school, and even college I was one of the smartest students, earning awards and accolades and a disgustingly high grade point average. In graduate school, I was suddenly the dumb one. Even my closest friends called me the dumb one. I didn't mind it from them, but my self-esteem took a real beating during those years.

6. I'm fascinated by vampire lore, and read any vampire novels I can get my paws on. (There's a lot of dreck out there.) I want more than almost anything to write my own.

7. Number One on my lifelong want list has always been and continues to be a horse. I'm an awful rider -- I really want a horse as a pet and a friend.

Hey Harriet, what are seven random things about you?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May's flowers

The day begins with walking through wet grass
In a slow progress, to visit the whole garden,
And all is undecided as I pass,
For here I must be thief and also warden:
What must I leave? What can I bear to plunder?
What fragile freshness, what amazing throat
Has opened in the night, what single wonder
That will be sounded like a single note,
When these light wandering thoughts deploy
Before the grave deeds of decisive joy?
"A Flower-Arranging Summer," May Sarton
I always hesitate to cut flowers in my garden, but I am always glad when I do. No matter how much time I spend outside, it seems I am indoors longer, so flowers on the kitchen counter are there to please my eye for far more time than they would have done outdoors.

Or perhaps, as the single live representative of nature in the house, the flowers seem larger, more important, more intense in every detail next to dishes rather than trees.

My Proustian madeleines are apple blossoms with their petals white-blushing-to-pink and their delicate sweet scent. Gnarled old apple trees, left uncut on an untended lot in the middle of the suburb, bent close to my bedroom window in my childhood house. We rarely opened windows in that house because of my brother's allergies, but on fine spring days after the long Michigan winters, my mother would open my bedroom windows to let in the fresh air, and I would stand on my bed and peer out at the apple trees.

The previous owners of my current house were wise gardeners, siting the most fragrant plants closest to the windows. Lilacs bloom outside my kitchen window; honeysuckle vines engulf the deck outside my bedroom door. And in the small space between the house and garage blooms a delicate ornamental crabapple buzzing loudly with fuzzy bumblebees, with my head stuck right among them. I inhale the precious scent and remember all that is fresh and young and innocent and simply happy.

I did cut daffodils this year, not because of their abundance but because of their scarcity. Oddly, many of mine did not come up or bloomed poorly. At their height, a late storm bent their heads to the ground. Rather than see the flowers sprawl, I cut them short and brought them indoors for small vases next to my sink, sewing machine, and bed (three of the four places I spend most of my time -- the laundry area seems too sterile for flowers).

When I am able to be outdoors, I work in the garden. Weeding in spring is always amazing. There are so many weeds, so healthy and big, bigger every minute. It is an odd joy to pull them, to feel their vigor, yet to have no guilt in ending their lives. (Well, not really ending them, for they always re-sprout.) Weeding in spring is indeed a "grave deed of decisive joy."

"Transplant dominoes" is my favorite gardening activity. This garden needs daisies. So I dig out a few clumps of daylilies to make room, then march across the yard to the daisies and shovel up good clumps of them. Back to the daylily holes I go, and pat the daisies in. Now, where to put the daylilies? A march round the yard is in order; there is a good place. But that place currently holds another plant, which has to move out. I must tramp a path as convoluted as the kids in "Family Circus," trailing their dotted lines behind them as they traverse their yard.

Here are some hostas that I took from the side of the driveway: the Deer Buffet, for the antlered rats munch nearly every plant there to the ground. They please me nestled against the rock. Theirs was an unusual case: I did not need to move any plants out to fit them in, and I didn't put anything in the holes they left along the drive. The deer have food enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


(note: photo edited 25 January 2008 to remove copyrighted material used without permission)

It is such a joy to work in a clean space. After a massive de-cluttering and de-stashing, my craft room lets me breathe. Sometimes it takes drastic action to re-invigorate one's creativity: I packaged up three quarters of my fabric stash to give away. That process was agonizing. Each piece reminded me of its original purpose, whether for a particular quilt or because it cried out to me with its color and design. But it was too much wealth, requiring endless organizing, and became a burden. I couldn't face the bins and boxes of fabrics calling out to me, rooting me in the past when my tastes have changed. With the stash and the mess gone, this room's quiet is somehow quieter than the rest of the house.

The drawers and magazine bins are from Ikea, which has finally opened a store only two hours' drive away. Following the dictum that life is too short to hoard one's treasures, I cut into some of my remaining favorite fabrics to cover the drawers and bins. The chocolate and pink ones on the left are by Denyse Schmidt, who puts colors and simple shapes together in a way that is completely refreshing. The animals on the right are by Beebe Moss, Ami Simms' mother, who has inspired a whole movement to raise money from quilts to research Alzheimer's disease. And the bins in the middle have the coolest paint-by-number birds and flowers, half finished. (My husband had to study them to see if the numbers on the unpainted portion were consistent; he thinks they are.)

The glass vase is for those little thread clippings and fabric scraps that would otherwise inevitably end up on the floor. I found it at a garage sale, I think. I love its curving flower petal shape and gently weathered surface.

The quilt is a top I put together in a fit of inspiration a summer or two ago at my parents' lake house. My mom very generously took me to her lovely local quilt shop and let me pick fabrics to make a quilt. I loved the old-fashioned florals in the shop that day and added regimented squares of navy blue to smarten them up. I was reminded of the garden design advice of the English gardener Penelope Hobhouse: Structure! Flower gardens need structure! Put in some statues and shaped shrubs so that the soft billows of flowers have something to organize them.

That summer I only completed the top, and it has languished amid other unfinished quilts until now. It was the first project I chose to work on in my fresh new start of crafting. So far it has close spirally quilting across the center, and leaves and straight lines in the white borders. Next, the navy half squares at the edges need their second halves appliqued on (I decided not to machine-piece them into the border fabric), then the binding applied. It's very exciting to me to see the different facets of quiltmaking come together to make an object greater than the sum of its parts (or so I hope).

There seems to be a lesson here: from strict structure comes creativity. And I'd wrap up this post with that bit of wisdom, only I'm not sure it's true. For everything, eventually, ends in chaos (the rest of my house is a huge reminder of this principle), whether it's a craft room or a house or endless paperwork at the office, and I don't want my life's purpose to be fighting chaos, battling the inevitable. That sounds like drudgery. The fight isn't, after all, with knights in armor and bright slashing swords (no blood in my fantasy, please). In my reality, it's more likely scrub brushes and dishes and laundry that never end, like the pails of water in Mickey Mouse's Sorcerer's Apprentice. And when the battle invades my crafting space, inspiration withers.

I had intended the floral quilt with its regimented squares to be the destination of my musing: the free form of creativity bounded by a structured form. But I think, instead, it's the paint-by-number fabric design. Here is the promise of an orderly progression of art: begin with the outlines, then label the colors and fill them in. When all the blank spaces have their prescribed color, the artwork is done. No mess. No wandering, or wondering. It's structured from beginning to end.

But what makes this particular design so wonderful is that it is forever unfinished. The blank spaces, marked only with their obscure numbers (is 17 orange? maybe -- but maybe not) are what draw the eye, jarring against the colorful completed portions. The promise of a destination is there, the direction is given -- or is it? Maybe it's not the process, nor the completion. Maybe it's that moment when we think we can see both, when we're almost, but not quite, sure we have the path.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wildlife Recovery

(note: edited to correct name)
Last weekend we saw a raptor presentation of the Wildlife Recovery Association. This is Joe Rogers with an eagle unable to return to the wild. (Joe is fully licensed -- y'all know we unlicensed masses can't keep even a single feather from an endangered bird, right?) Those are some really serious talons.

While the eagle was the showstopper because of his size and striking appearance, I was most taken with the owls. We saw a variety of species and learned their calls, habitat, and food preferences. (I didn't take photos, except one of the eagle, because I was busy watching the birds! Sorry about that.)

Joe had several little tricks to demonstrate aspects of the birds. With the great horned owl, he very carefully poked a pencil through its neck feathers from front to back. It looked like the bird had been stabbed right through its neck -- but as he explained, the neck is actually very small, and all that bulk is feathers. "Bet you didn't know an owl makes a great pencil holder!" he joked.

Joe held one of the hawks fairly close to an audience member, and it stared the person right in the eyes. "They do that right before they attack," he said. After a pause, he added, "And basically all the time."

Perhaps the most impressive part of the demonstration was when he gently bounced a hawk on his arm to and fro, up and down. The bird's body moved with his arm, but its head remained absolutely still. It was eerie, and beautiful. This, he explained, is how a raptor can focus on its prey while sitting in a wind-blown tree -- something I'd never even thought about.

On a different note (literally), I heard the call of sandhill cranes this morning -- the first of the spring. Driving home this morning, I saw three of them in a field. Spring must be coming after all.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

counting beans, or playing with my food

I'm knitting mittens, and it's driving me nuts.

The first pair of mittens went well enough. I found a pattern I loved and fumbled my way through, producing a perfectly serviceable pair that I adore, errors and all, and wear every day.

I got more adventurous on the second pair, changing yarns (and therefore gauge) and size, as I was knitting these for my daughter. I chose a different pattern and, true to my nature, instantly made changes. (Can't do anything simple around here, nosiree bob.) This mitten, like the first, has an opening for fingers. It also had a new thumb gusset -- knitterly excitement!

The first mitten went pretty well. I only had to rip it back, oh, six or seven times, and that was for size issues. What really tripped me up was that thumb gusset: specifically, how to make it for the left hand. The pattern states,
Knit second mitten, being sure to reverse instructions to place flap on palm side of mitten.
(I didn't make the flap. I was following the pattern for the rest of the mitten. Well, actually, I changed the top, too, but that doesn't matter here.)

I just couldn't get that thumb gusset to end up on the left side of the mitten. What does it mean to reverse instructions? I counted stitches backwards and forwards, knit and ripped and knit and ripped.

What I needed was a visual aid. Legos? Playmobil flowers? I couldn't find enough similar pieces. No, I wanted something else:

Lima beans. Each line of beans represents stitches on a circular needle. (I'm using two circular needles instead of double-points.) They're joined into a circle, although I left the beans in straight lines. The arrows in the picture above point to stitch markers surrounding one knit stitch: the beginning of the (hopefully left-handed) gusset.

Now I've increased by making one stitch on the inside of each stitch marker.

Here is the final gusset round, having increased four times to make nine gusset stitches.

Now I've put the gusset stitches on a holder. I cast on three stitches to cover the gap, marked by arrows in the picture above.

Take the stitch markers off and hey presto, a side-seam thumb! It can be left- or right-handed!

Looking back at the original pattern, I see that the designer already knew that:
Knit second mitten, being sure to reverse instructions to place flap on palm side of mitten.

One reverses the instructions for the flap, not the thumb. D'oh.

I had tried the first mitten on so many times that it naturally formed around my right thumb. Because the first pair I knit had left- and right-oriented thumbs, I figured these did, too.

The pattern's author recommends Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns, so I surfed on over to Amazon and checked it out. I love that "search inside the book!" feature. Side-seam thumbs explained, just like in the pattern. I am such an idiot. And I'm buying that book.

It takes beans labeled with Sharpie pens to make me understand simple instructions. Please, when you meet me, speak very slowly and use short words. Visual aids will help. You'd better bring some beans.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bad Joke and Fun Book

photo found on flickr, taken by Ron Richardson

What's the difference between a bad skydiver and a bad golfer?

A bad golfer goes, WHACK, "Damn!"

A bad skydiver goes, "Damn!" WHACK.

Is your Monday a little brighter now? (heh heh)

This is one of many bad (but very fun) jokes in Designed to Dieby Chloe Green. I just found this mystery series and am liking it very much. The protagonist is a fashion stylist, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of fashion with its delicious clothes, high price tags, and intriguing people. I wish Green would pack even more fashion detail into these books -- it's one of the best parts.

Also fun is the flirtation among characters, which provides sexual heat without explicit detail. After some of Laurell K. Hamilton's latest, this is a refreshing change. Not that I'm against sexual detail in books. (Mom, don't read this!) If it's hot, bring it on. But sometimes it's good just to have a hint.

The mystery aspect is fairly unbelievable, and I wished for more development of some of the characters, but I'd still recommend this book as a fun read, or even better, a fun listen. C. J. Critt does the audiobook, and she's absolutely perfect for it. Mom, see if you can get this for your trip. (I knew you were still reading!)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

mittens for me

I so rarely knit for myself that I take real pleasure in the process. No deadline, no "will he or she like it?", and the fitting model is always right there.

These are Peekaboo Mittens from the February 2007 magknits. Several people on flickr have knit them already, so I wonder if they're going to be the next super-popular pattern like fetching fingerless mitts.

These are big mittens with a slit in the palm so you can slide your fingers out to handle keys, doorknobs, or the steering wheel of your car. They're big so they can fit over slim gloves if it's cold enough to layer (and it is, yes indeedy it is!).

I made mine with a strand of Jamieson Shetland, a nice old-fashioned bristly wool, and a strand of Baby Alpaca, for softness and warmth, held together. Because it knit to a much chunkier gauge than the pattern yarn, I adjusted the number of stitches down to 28 and did single ribbing around the slit (double ribbing, even on smaller needles, didn't contract with this yarn combination). I wanted a thick mitten, so I stuck with the size 7 needles, but wouldn't recommend that unless you don't mind tight knitting.

Every time I wear these mittens I am absurdly pleased. The color, the texture, and the fact that they are mine make me very happy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

MSU Youth Swine Show

Desperate to get out of the house, I forced the family to attend a Youth Swine Show. Yes, we went to look at pigs. (There's not a lot to do in rural Michigan in the winter. It's damn cold. The local roads are too icy to go walking. And I'm allergic to malls.)

Most of the pigs were sleeping. And they were so cute! (I must admit I had an ulterior motive -- to find a local source of organic pork -- but these pigs were way too adorable to eat.)

The youth were just as sweet. There appears to be a dress code for youth swine handlers. Just as Irish dancing contestants all wear those curly wigs, these kids wore jeans (usually brand new, dark, and so stiff they may have been starched), button-down shirts (often plaid), and braids on the girls.

The Rabbit and Cavy show was going on simultaneously. We oohed and aahed over the most adorable fluffy bunnies, though we were most impressed by the giant ones. (I had to ask: are the really big ones grown for meat? No, an exhibitor answered, they're actually mostly bone.)

This little piggy was asleep with his tongue sticking out. I ask you, how cute is that?

I urge you to attend the Youth Swine Show nearest you. You won't regret it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

web toy

Here's a fun little web toy to play with. Make your own little person!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

try, try again

This headband is identical to the first one I made except for the edging (and lining color -- but it's the same brand and weight of yarn). This time I crocheted the lining and outer fabric together. It makes a neater finish, and I like the look of the crochet -- it reminds me of fancy piped frosting on a birthday cake.

But. It makes a much tighter fit. If I make this style again, I'll have to find a stretchier crochet stitch.

Ironically enough, it's too icy outside to put these headbands to use walking the dogs. Guess I'll have to make another headband!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Doing Things the Hard Way

Problem: cold ears when walking the dogs. Solution: knitted headband. Simple, right?

First, choose a pattern. None in the books I own. The ones I find online are too complicated (short rows, lace). Have to make up a pattern.

Since I want something simple, I decide on a simple stockinette headband with a lining. I don't know how to doubleknit, so I'll have to attach a lining. But how?

Elizabeth Zimmerman to the rescue. I use her instructions for creating a knitted hem, since that's essentially what a lining is.

So: measure head, establish gauge, subtract 2 inches for negative ease, cast on 60 stitches of the bulky yarn. Knit 18 rows. Bind off.

Following Zimmerman, knit into back loop of cast-on edge with my lining yarn, knit a round, decrease periodically to cut number of stitches by 10 percent, knit about half the lining and realize I don't know how to attach the lining to the top edge. Stop.

Turn headband over, knit a second "hem" the same way except attach it to the bound-off edge. Knit the other half of the lining.

Now, kitchener-stitch the two hems together in the middle. That's one heck of a long length to graft, and I don't think I'll ever forget how to do the kitchener stitch.

What works: the headband is stretchy and comfortable. The edges are reasonably neat.

What doesn't: The top and bottom edges aren't identical, probably because my long-tail cast-on doesn't exactly match the standard bind-off. (What does? The cable cast-on?)

There's also a messy little area joining the beginning and end of the kitchener graft, since I was working in a circle. I'm not sure how to do that.

Finally, I've never been happy with the way I join a piece of circular knitting, both at cast-on and bind-off. There's always a visible jog.

I might try it again, this time creating a completely separate lining and using crochet to attach it to the headband at the top and bottom edges.

Or maybe I'll use a provisional cast-on and, instead of binding off, just continue knitting the lining with a different color, then kitchener-stitch it to the live stitches.

Or learn how to double-knit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I always dressed dorky

Here's the proof.

Of course my adorable brother is looking like Christopher Robin while I have a drunk man on my shirt.