29 October 2008

Unintended Consequences

A couple months ago, our veterinarian suggested adding a little bit of pumpkin to the cat food. His Imperial Majesty Copernicus was having some lower digestive tract issues, and a high fiber diet had the potential to improve the situation. The fiber does seem to have helped His Highness. And I think the vitamin A may also be helping. (If there are any veterinary students out there looking for a thesis project, the effect of high doses of vitamin A in geriatric cats might be a topic worth evaluating.) In any case, both critters eat the same food, so both critters have been eating cat food with pumpkin for a couple months.

Today I decided to carve my Halloween jack o' lantern. Because I didn't feel like cleaning off the kitchen table -- be very afraid when the postal carrier has a rubber band around the stack of mail-order catalogs -- I decided to simply sit on the kitchen floor and carve. And this is what happened:
Yes, that's Sophia at top right. The pumpkin is on the left, and the big bowl on the right is full of pumpkin guts. And Sophia is eating them. The Russian Kitchen Mafia now thinks that pumpkin is appropriate culinary plunder. At least it is cheaper than smoked salmon. Just don't ask me to share my butternut squash soup with her. I have to draw the line somewhere.

28 October 2008

An Abundance of Riches

I'm writing this post in response to Amy's post here.

She writes:
It makes me wonder (and I don't KNOW - these are ONLY my own thoughts) if life really IS so expensive? Or is our over-advertised, over-privileged, over-expected, over-processed American lifestyle inspiring us to feel 'poor' instead of blessed and abundant?

It's a great thought. Yes, there are some days we feel poor. There are many wonderful expensive luxurious things one might do in the world. Travel. Collect something fabulous. See all the best shows. Make some major upgrades to the house.

But what do I, personally, most need to feel happy? A little food. Potatoes are my main comfort food -- give me those good ol' time carbohydrates. Hot tea is my beverage of choice. Games are good. Yarn to knit with. Books to read. A few favorite movies. Some good music. Clothes that make me feel like me. My zippy sippy so I can get around. And, of course, my big Cuddly Hubby, my critters, and good friends. After all, how am I going to play the games without someone to give me the competition?

In the final analysis, none of these (except the critters) are terribly expensive. My zippy sippy cost about $17,000 brand new & tricked out, and that is a very good price for a car these days. I buy a new outfit maybe once or twice a year -- if I've spent $2000 in a year on clothes & shoes, then I was really indulging. Then again, my weight has blessedly been very stable. And I tend not to be too hard on clothes. I have many, many games and could spend a lifetime just getting good at the ones I already have. I have a stack of books I'd like to read, and some on the shelves that wouldn't be so bad the second time around. I have lots of cds, although there always seems to be more to explore in the world of music. I fill up the tea stash a couple times a year -- that's between $100 to $200 for a whole year of drinking at least one cup a day and several in the cooler months. It is much less expensive to be a tea aficionado than a wine aficionado.

Right now, I have over 150 separate items in my stash on Ravelry. That's name of yarn and colorway -- some of these items have multiple skeins of yarn associated with them. I could conceivably knit and design in peace for several years without ever having to leave the house. And I have a wonderful library of knitting books. Now are there some ideas I have that would require new purchases? Yes. But there are also lots of wonderful things I could do with what I already have.

I guess my point is that I agree with Amy's implication. Sometimes we have to stop and look around at what we have instead of what we don't have. My home isn't perfect, but it works pretty well. I am surrounded by people I love and critters I love and the few objects I require to pursue the activities I enjoy.

A couple weeks ago, the Cuddly Hubby and I had a date night. He brought home McDonald's food. We watched the pilot episode to Chuck, which I had seen but he hadn't. And we had a really nice evening. We connected over something we both enjoy, just like way back when we met in college. In some ways, it was a better night than our anniversary, when we went out for an expensive dinner in Buckhead. The focus wasn't on the fancy food, it was on just enjoying each other's company.

So, as the holidays come and it is tempting to throw good fiscal sense to the wind, remember that the number of dollars spent is not a measure of how much you love somebody. And remember that it is good to be grateful, and good to give back. You never know when you will be deprived of the opportunity to do so.

27 October 2008

SAFF

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair. Doesn't sound too dangerous, does it? Okay, here's a wide view of the main market area:
I would like to point out that I was very well behaved. I bought one skein of TOFUsies in a colorway that I could have bought earlier in the summer, but had balked and it was gone. And I bought a nifty little wooden box thingy for transporting in-work projects on double-pointed needles. I did spend a lot of time talking to independent dyers about a whole lot of special sock yarn, which is part of why I was so well-behaved.

This was my first time at SAFF, and I really didn't know what to expect. I went up on the bus trip that Elyse of Only Ewe and Cotton Too had organized. Many thanks to Elyse and Bill! There were lots of AKG and NGKG people on the bus. We left about 7:15 AM. Had to ask the bus driver to turn on the lights so that we could knit, because the sun wasn't quite yet up. But it was a lovely morning with beautiful fall color by the time we got to Asheville.

There were even more AKG and NKGK people already at SAFF. Many of them were taking classes. Lois took a sock class with Charlene Schurch! (Envy, envy.) The guys were, of course, the talk of the show.
I saw lots of Ravelry buttons as well. And I bumped into lots of people I know. I guess between two guilds and the shop, I'm getting to know a lot of fiber fanatics in the Atlanta area.

This fine gentleman had something I had heard about but never seen before -- a sock machine. I could see that operation of it required the proper balance of weights on the fabric and tension on the yarn. And it doesn't hurt to have good dexterity for using that little hook to move stitches around. At this point in the process, he was bringing the purl bumps from the cast-on edge up on to the needles so that the folded-over cuff could be formed on the next row. This is like making a very large tubular cast-on. An impressive demonstration of a machine that truly could be used for a cottage industry.

And as there were animals, I just couldn't resist one picture of the bunnies:They are so cute. And these two weren't quite as silly as some. There is some breed that has long fur on their ears, so that they look as if the ears are made from leftover 1970s shag carpet. These two rabbits just look like very shaggy rabbits, nothing weird otherwise. I have to admit that I am maybe just a little bit sorry that I didn't buy any loose angora fiber to spin on my drop trindle. Well, I suppose that will just give me a reason to go again next year, yes?

22 October 2008

Happy Critters

By the current standards of the household, this is a very good picture. This is a good picture because it was taken earlier this afternoon, and there are two happy critters, both enjoying their late afternoon naps. Copernicus (in the hidey-hole) had a seizure Monday evening about 4:40 PM. The Cuddly Hubby was home at the time. I had just set Copernicus up on the kitchen table so that I could administer his daily electrolyte fluids. Copernicus started spinning around in a circle. I picked him up and held him closer to the floor, so that he wouldn't fall off the table. After about 30 seconds, I started to figure out what was happening. Still hanging on to the cat, I grabbed my purse and told the Cuddly Hubby that he was driving. The seizure had let up even before we were completely settled in the car, but we drove over to our vet (Cat Care of Vinings) anyway. She did some blood work tests but couldn't find anything wrong. She did send us home with medicine to be administered anally -- "I know I've asked you to do some strange things already," she said -- but we, mercifully, haven't needed to use it. Once again, I am left being deeply grateful for another day with my pets.

And do let me be fair here to Sophia as well. The Russian Kitchen Mafia -- motto: It's all about the culinary plunder -- had a stroke back in February while the Cuddly Hubby and I were on a Valentine's Day vacation along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Again, we have no evidence of what caused the stroke or if we should expect another. Sophia, of course, feels that she is PERFECTLY FINE. To her credit, my determined little furry grey predator made a nearly full recovery in just a few days. So this year, both cats have had sudden unexplained medical crises.

Here's a picture of why we put the effort into the pets. The Cuddly Hubby worked a lot of overtime this year. Last month, he even pulled a couple all-nighters in order to finish a report. One of those nights, he came home about 5 AM. I, of course, stayed in bed asleep. I think 5 AM is a lovely time for REM sleep, don't you? The very tired Cuddly Hubby decided to watch tv for a little to unwind. Within five minutes, both cats showed up, curled up on him or next to him, and purred appreciatively. (The picture above is a representative one I took on another day, while everyone was watching a collegiate football game.)

So, if you have a special pet at home, be sure to give out lots of love.

11 October 2008

Mittens in Atlanta?

Ok, this may sound really bizarre, but we did a mitten knit-along in Atlanta in August. Really. People knitting Fair Isle mittens in the Deep South in August.

The Fall 2008 Vogue Knitting arrived at the shop. Several of us were batting around ideas for the Wednesday morning Knit-Lit / Knit Along. The shop had gotten in the kits for the Potpourri mittens featured in the magazine. People had been talking about wanting to learn Fair Isle. The next thing, somebody said we ought to buy the kits and make the mittens. In fact, so many people signed up and bought kits that the shop had to order extra!

The kits contained two standard 50g skeins, one each of Claudia Handpaint blue boy and natural. There's about a quarter of a ball of citrus and just a few yards of cherries. I used my handy kitchen scale to weigh everything ahead of time. I used about half or a little more of the balls of blue boy and natural. I used most of citrus and just a few yards of cherries. Koigu and Jitterbug are similar to Claudia Handpaint. So if you want to change the colors and have leftover sock yarn lying about, you might be able to use up stash bits for the orange and red. If you made the mittens a little shorter or substituted different colors for a round or two of the pattern or made the thumb different, you might be able to stretch to get four mittens (two pairs) out of the 50g skeins. You should be able to get one adult pair and one child's pair out of the kit. Also worth mentioning, the blue boy yarn in the kit was more variegated than that in the sample pictured in Vogue Knitting. You may wish to compare my mittens and those in Vogue Knitting to see if this effect matters to you.

I should mention that I had a lot of trouble with over-twist in Claudia Handpaint. I can't say for sure that it was the yarn -- it might have been me and the two-handed Fair Isle technique. I can say that when I wet-blocked the finished mittens, the yarn r-e-l-a-x-e-d. Things blocked out nicely and the lumpy tension improved dramatically. The yarn also softened and bloomed. So, do not be afraid to let the Claudia Handpaint take a dip in the sink. It likes water.

The cast-on in this pattern produces a lovely picot edge. I did not follow the pattern perfectly. I prefer a centered double-decrease for the fingertips, so that's what I did. And I extended that line across the tips rather than grafting -- this made the chain stitch I'd established run all the way to the tips. I significantly narrowed but lengthened the thumbs and also repeated my decrease on them instead of just pulling it all together in a circle. One thing I didn't change and am sorry I didn't -- the thumb springs a little too soon for my hands. I should have worked 16 rounds of pattern instead of only 8 before inserting the thumb. The contrasting red line cuts across the bottom of my palm rather than delineating my wrist. Or, if I knit it again, I might want to knit a true thumb gusset.

Another tip for newer knitters -- it is easy to get lost in the pattern once you start the decrease rounds for the finger tips. It might be easier to plot it all out on graph paper.

And for you Fair Isle knitters, I carried citrus underneath but in my right hand and natural above and in my left hand on the cuff. I should have changed on the mitten body, but forgot to. So the mitten body was knit with blue boy carried underneath and in the right hand and natural carried above and in the left hand. Consequently, you'll notice that the ring pattern seems a little stronger and bolder on the cuff.

All in all, a good kit and a good pattern. The Fair Isle pattern is only 8 stitches tall (and the 8th row is all one color), so it isn't difficult to do. There are only a couple rows where you'd need to trap the carried yarn in the middle of five stitches -- most rows don't require any trapping. I'd definitely recommend this project as a class for people who want to learn Fair Isle technique.

Now, where can I test these out on some snow?