Friday, September 29, 2006

Cold? Flu? Sure!

I'm taking the day off today to do my slow nose leaking in private. I think the folks at the office will appreciate that. If not, then maybe Monday, when I come in with a chapped nose.

I'm finally knitting up the Artyarns I bought, and ironically what was intended as a luxury item for myself is becoming socks for what I call my Mother-In-Law. These are Get-Out-of-Visiting-Free socks: my boyfriend/ partner/ whatnot is going down to Philly on the 14th for a surprise birthday party for her, and I'm still getting over the last trip I took to Philly last X-mas. There is no way I'm going. Not even for Thanksgiving. I will visit my family if I have to. (Hi, family!) So these socks should assauge the guilt.

In Other News
There's a new firewall at work that won't let me access Blogger anymore, which is probably for the best. This means I'll be blogging from home, most likely in the evenings from now on. I'm trying not to amuse myself too much at work with finding out what the firewall will and won't let me access. I'm hearing a lot of consternation all through my studio as my fellow workers try to buy Red Sox tickets, etc., and find themselves locked out. It's at times like these that I really feel one is not truly an adult if one works for someone else, especially if that someone else is a corporate model architecture firm. Too many people are relating to Dilbert, esp. where helplessness to control the situation is concerned. And I'm not just talking about the firewall. At least I don't need to tell anybody when I'm using the restroom, eh?

Not yet, anyway.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boyfriend Sweater

Ahoy! There be pirate buttons here!

I got my boyfriend/ partner/ whatnot to journey down to Windsor Button with me Sunday during the Knit Out to pick out buttons for the black cardigan I am knitting him. (There are actually six of these - five for the button flap, one for emergencies.)

As you can see, he's already getting the required alottment of cat hair in his sweater.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Knitter's Tea Swap 2

You can probably guess what this post will be about. If not, I am about to tell you what I think of tea, chocolate, and sock yarn for the benefit of my swap pal.

I am a bit of a purist. I like black tea, green tea, and herbal tea, but I don't like complicated blends. Irish Breakfast, Lapsang Souchang, etc., go over fine with me, provided they're not flavored with orange peels or something. Same goes with herbal teas. I like mint in my mint tea, chamomile in the chamomile tea, etc. There are a couple exceptions: I love Earl Grey, Gen Mai Cha, and flowers. I have a ton of Jasmine Green Tea and I even have some green tea I got at a framer's market that has organic lavender in it. I like the instant ginger tea that can be found in some Asian food stores. I hate licorice in tea.

You can't go wrong with dark chocolate. I don't give a flying fudge about brand, but the darker, the better. I like toffee. I also have thing lately for candied ginger thanks to SP8.

Sock Yarn
Oh, crap, did you know that I have four socks on the needles and enough sock yarn for 20 pairs? Hmm. (I guess this means I know what I like, eh?)

I've been moving away from bright colors, toward heathered varigated yarns and dark solids. I'm also leaning toward superwash since I am getting lazy. I have more red yarn than I can deal with right now, and I make socks in multiple gauges: 20s =1" (Jawool) up to 6s = 1" (Artyarns Supermerino). My itch tolerance is pretty high.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

French Press Cosy

Materials: about 1 ball (70g) worsted weight kitchen cotton, 4.25mm/US#6 & 3.75mm/US#5 (optional) knitting needles, darning needle, buttons

Size: fits a standard 12" circumference French press

This is a quick knit. I started to write out the instructions but it was making me crazy. I've realized that the fastest and most efficient way I can get this pattern across (with the least confusion) is to draw a Japanese-style knitting diagram. It's really quite simple, but there are some fussy little details that make it symmetrical. Of course, this is because I am totally anal. *sigh*

Friday, September 22, 2006

The world sickens me, but at least there's knitting

There is a painfull kerscuffle happening over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on the issue of race.

I wish it wasn't an issue. I wish everyone could just get along, regardless of perceived race, creed, gender, nationality. Unfortunately, there is no escaping it. The legacy of genocide and slavery lives on in the US, as well as everywhere else in the world. Somebody is always killing or using somebody because they are different or alledgedly "inferior."

It digusts me.

One of my life goals is to live in a country not based on genocide.

Maybe before I die I will figure out what country that is.

In the meantime, we need to treat each other with respect. And behave humanely. Which, considering how humans behave, is an ironic word.

On a less depressed and misanthropic note, I'm making a cosy for my French press.

If anyone is interested in the pattern, I'll post it when I'm done.

Edit: the pattern is here. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Photo Extravaganza

I'm not kidding. If Blogger lets me, I'm going to show you every picture I ever took of the Raglan Cardigan I just finished.

Let's begin at the beginning, as they say. I have a photo of the original thrift store man's sweater at home - but I'll insert that later. Which means for the moment we start with the pattern.
Good Ol' Style 7194, which I first went on about here. I hunted rather desperately for some time for a good basic cardigan pattern, only to discover it on my shelf in a vintage book called Campus Hand Knits. I also discovered after I was half-way through the cardigan that I had a nearly identical pattern that's knit in the round and debated frogging the whole thing to start over. In the end, I nixed this plan because the unevenness of the yarn meant I needed to block every piece face down before assembly for a smooth surface.

This project involved my first pockets, which I talk about here.

They are still virtually invisible.
Below you can see the reverse of the button flap. Edge of the cuff!
Finished sweater! (Blogger won't allow me to post any more photos, so here's a link.)

I used US#8 straights. There was a ton of splicing and tucking, of course, but fortunately this yarn hides it well. The color is actually a brown with a reddish-burgundy cast to it, like the buttons. I think I might have enough leftover yarn to make a pullover vest - we'll see.

Overall, this wasn't as fussy as some of my past projects.

Autumn Fantasy

It's just cold enough today that it's only 9:34 am and I have the shawl and the heater on at work. My Project Manager is likely suspended somewhere over Quebec right now, gazing down at tundra, and what is left behind doesn't know anything more about what my assignment is than me, so I'm going to pause for a fantasy. No one will notice.

This isn't the fantasy about finally finishing a ms and getting an advance that allows me to start fantasizing about quitting my job to be a writer 24/7. Although that one isn't half bad.

No, this an early autumn fantasy. It's not very unlike this one, but it's not rainy right now.

In this fantasy I am in a small apartment in Paris, one of those tiny wedges with a microscopic kitchen, a closet for a bed, an under-the-counter refrigerator and a wrought iron balcony overlooking a historic square that makes up for it all. There's a cafe below, the tables mostly empty. Leaves dance by over the sidewalk and gutters like Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.

I am under a silk patchwork quilt by the closed balcony doors. I am reading Jane Eyre, and I don't have to be anywhere, all day. Maybe not even tomorrow.

Unless I want to pop downstairs for an aperitif.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kitchen Knitting

As you can see, I've been knitting away at the kitchen cotton. This is my Too Big Tea Cosy. It makes a good hat, or even a cat dress, but it's nowhere near the size of my teapot. The pattern is nice, though.

And below you see the kitchen towel I knit Sunday to hang on my refrigerator door. It's a very quick knit.

But don't let the photo deceive you - this towel is sizable.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Light Old West Comedy

Yesterday Carrie K. commented:

"I can't read romance novels. (Much. I like Jennifer Crusie but most of them have me throwing the books at the wall.) It's all so contrived and silly and un-real."

I'm not certain I have any problems with silly and un-real. (See: Terry Pratchett) Contrived? Well, I think it depends on the circumstances. If it's well done, I like silly and contrived and un-real. Unfortunately, it is usually not very well done. Which reminds me...

The Matchmaker
If you read yesterday's post you already know that I am in a tizzy about a romance novel I read recently called The Matchmaker that let me down. (I know, life is so hard!) Since I have been trying to be more serious about my own writing lately I've developed this tendency to read books with an eye for what I would do to fix it. And I'm not talking grammar, punctuation, etc. You can probably tell from this blog that recognizing an adverb is not my strength. No, I'm talking about plot and characterization. I'm not too hot in those areas, either, but humor me.

When I picked up The Matchmaker I was thinking it'd be the novel equivalent of something like Calamity Jane and Support Your Local Sheriff, oddly enough. Light, Old West comedy that's not entirely historically correct but amusing enough for it not to matter. Obviously, I was wrong. Now I am going to tell you in maddening detail what this book could have been, at least in my fantasy world. Then you can tell me if I am totally off my rocker or not.

First off, I would find a reason for a matchmaker to suddenly appear in this quaint gun-toting setting. Perhaps there is a war of the sexes going on (the tavern-goers vs. the Lady's Temperance Society?) that somebody thinks can only be solved by most of the troublemakers getting hitched - assuming that in the process of getting hitched they will come to understand the perspective of their potential spouse, and thereby bringing about harmony. For this to work, it must not get too deep (light comedy), or be too superficial (stupid comedy). Issues do need to be addressed and answered with more than the power of animal attraction. And, to make things interesting, bring in another crisis, as well.

This book would be a parade of Old West stereotypes, with slants on them to make them more refreshing. There would be a gunslinger, gamblers, ranchers, town clowns, prudish women, liberated women, prostitutes, burlesque dancers, cowardly town officials, piano players, bartenders, mustache-twisting villains, the villain's dim sidekick, and possibly a superintelligent horse. There would be a train scene, a tavern brawl, and possibly a shoot-out. Maybe someone getting dragged through the mud by the horse.

The gunslinger - let's call him Jed - comes to town on the same train as the new entertainer, a world-weary, aging singer/burlesque performer and her assistant, who also happens to be her son. the gunslinger is also world-weary and has just bought a ranch near town where he can settle down to a nice, peaceful life. Only, the town is far from peaceful. The war between the temperance women and the boozers is so intense that he can hardly get through a beer. He looks into the problem and realizes that nobody has either an idea of what to do or is capable of doing it. It is left up to him to save his dream of retirement. He becomes the Matchmaker.

The entertainer - let's call her Molly - is too ill (drunk?) to perform the first night of the show, but they're under contract and coming to this one-horse town was her last option, so in desperation her son cross-dresses and performs her act. He knows it by heart, and his mother is old enough and he's young enough that the dark hall conceals his true nature. However, the Temperance League intrudes, led by the mayor's spunky newspaperwoman daughter, Anne. Anne has a bit of a complex about not being feminine enough because she is so independant and forward-thinking: she is the kind of woman who would wear pants. She sees Molly's son on stage, their eyes meet, and it's kismet. However, Anne thinks Molly's son is actually Molly. Anne becomes flustered and leaves on a weak note.

And get this - Jed knew Molly long ago. He is, in fact, the father of Molly's son. But this doesn't get sorted out right away, especially since she changed her stage name.

Etc., etc., etc. Done well - with wit and motivations that don't insult the reader's intelligence - this could be a fun read on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Or at least that's what I think. Have I lost my mind?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Some annoying things I've noticed lately

I went to the thrift store with Jeanette this weekend and picked up a couple books. What I read is relatively random - I've taken to heart the advice Orson Scott Card gave in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (regardless of what I may think of him personally) that one should read voraciously, and as indiscriminately as one chooses. So when I came across a Harlequin Historical romance called The Matchmaker, a Western about a town plagued by the secret mechanisms of - you guessed it! - a matchmaker, I thought, "What the hell. This could be campy fun."

This was the worst book I've read in a while, possibly even worse than a Regency romance I read a couple weeks ago that had scenes that were making me mad. This book was so bad, it didn't even piss me off. It was bewildering.

The author was competent enough - she could string words together in a grammatically correct manner, and they even had something to do with the words that went before them. (Some thing I often have difficulties with...) The problem is what the words were actually conveying. The situation looked promising: a secret meeting in the town tavern by the single menfolk to discuss the meddling matchmaker, and what they're going to do about it. (This might make you cringe, but a silly plot does not always make a bad read. It can make the read. It's called comedy.) Several characters were introduced, the plan devised, and tasks delegated. And then it went down hill.

There was poverty of description. We know what the characters generally look like, what they're wearing, what they're doing. We do not, however, have much of an idea, if any at all, what their surroundings look like. And when the surroundings are described, they're unconvincing for the Old West. Why would a bachelor have a marble pastry table in a house he nevers cooks in? Why would anyone other than the town baker have a pastry table? (I'm not even going to get into the idea of logging in Northern Arizona - that might require geographical research.)

Several characters are introduced as if they're going to be major sub-plots, but then the whole story focuses on the hero/heroine, who are, to a slightly less degree than everyone else, as two-dimensional as paper dolls. Even worse, the heroine is so naive and hair-brained that I was surprised she was allowed out of the house. Almost immediately I was thinking, "If he falls for her, he's just as stupid as she is." Think of Mrs. Bennet, young and in the Old West, spunkily trying to start up a bakery business, and you've pretty much got it. Except for the rack. She has a huge rack. (And it's not for storing utensils.)

It just gets stupider from there, without being funny or entertaining. (Sorry, Lisa Plumley, but that's my opinion. Maybe your other books are better...?)

Why am I going on and on about this? Because books have been making me a bit crazy lately. It's either a promising premise that lets me down in the execution, weak characterization, poorly thought out plots or annoying trends. It's getting very difficult to read genre fiction at all.

Take Jennifer Crusie. I seriously envy her for writing such wonderful light romantic comedy. However, I am getting sick of the word "lush" - she uses it in just about every novel. Lips are "lush", breasts are "lush", etc. This repetition reminds me of when I was on a Koontz reading kick in high school and had to stop because I noticed he had a particular, ten-cent word he used in every book. (Maybe I should try something like that. What do you say to me using the word "ubitiquitous" in every blog post from now on? Or how about "meander"?)

Crusie also describes her women as soft. The hero is attracted to their softness, etc. This isn't just something Crusie is doing, I've come across it in other romance novels. The heros are "hard." You know, everywhere. Abs of steel, etc. I don't know about you, but this whole hard/soft thing after a couple novels is putting me off. When I think of touching flesh - any flesh - I don't think "hard." Skin is soft. "Firm", I think, is a word that appeals to me more. And I don't want to be soft. I want to be Linda Hamilton. (Not that I'm doing much about it, but still...) All this "soft" talk is making me simultaneously feel fat and undesirably skinny.

Perhaps I just shouldn't read romance novels, because I get annoyed when the plot gets slowed down by the characters struggling with their lust or admiring bosoms. I know I've read books that had Happily Ever After endings and romance as part of the main plot that didn't do this in such an obvious and boring manner. (Jennifer Crusie manages this miracle.) Which reminds me of another thing I can't stand: lust posing as love.

The hero meets heroine, and it's lust at first sight for them both. Only, the heroine must maintain her dignity and resist. And she does this badly, because his buns are just so hard. Every little come on from this lust monger nearly has her caving in; where lust is concerned, she has no spine. Fortunately, near the end the hero realizes he loves this woman he has been debauching, so she won't be going of the whorehouse or anything like that at the grand finale. Happiness!

Of course, not every book is like this, but I have to wonder if it's truly inconceivable to have story where an attraction grows from feeling, or with getting to know someone? Just maybe once or twice? Or maybe a heroine who knows the meaning of the words, "No, you philanderer"?

I was wondering if maybe I'm bored with romance and lust, but I don't think so. I think I'm bored with this presentation of it.

But back to The Matchmaker again. This book could have been so awesome. I'm already rambling on far too long, my thoughts meandering everywhere, so I'll stop for now and tell you why I think it could have been so great tomorrow.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New sweaters from old

I'm wearing the vintage raglan cardigan right now at work. I told the architects I work with that I made it, they ooh-ed and ah-ed, then I apparently made the mistake of telling them how I unraveled a sweater from a thrifted man's XL sweater to make it.

Now they think I am insane. Why buy a sweater to make another sweater?

Maybe because the entire sweater cost me about $10, and I like a challenge. To which they reply, what's your cost of labor?

Well, that really isn't the point. The point is that hand-knitting (at least, in this country, these days) isn't something commonly done for a livelihood: it's a craft, an art. It is done for pleasure. So the point is I didn't spend much money on this pleasurable and time consuming craft, and I earned some knitting street creds in the meantime. (Is there such a thing? That brings some interesting images to mind.)

Still, they thought I am foolish and masochistic, and mumbled, "Well, if you enjoy it..." incredulously as they walked off.

At which point I remind myself what they find entertaining: Fantasy Football and running to the window every time the weather changes like house-bound pets. Enough said, right?

The sweater is awesome. I am very pleased with it. No photos yet, but there will be soon.

Edit: a photo can be seen here or here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The dawn was quite beautiful this morning.

Did I just say "dawn"?

Um, yeah. I was jogging this morning. Sort of. Rambling, perhaps. Daybreak is my favorite time of day, but I usually enjoy it by staying in bed. It's difficult to remember at 6 o'clock in the morning that the dawn casts everything in a wondrously delicate and larger- than-life light, and that the day works out better with an early start. At 6 o'clock in the morning I mostly remember that the cat has been waking me every half hour or so "to play" (Translation: "to antagonize me by jumping over my head until I toss a book at him so that he can flee in terror, only to return a moment later, confused by the lack of angry pursuit.") and that the valet won't have the tea and scones ready for at least a couple more hours.

Not that I have a valet. But I'm usually half-awake at 6 am (if even that) so I might think at the time I have a valet, if you know what I mean. And a butler to corner the cat. I tell you, it's hard to get good service after 7 am these days, what with all the racket the alarm makes.

I have almost completed the vintage raglan cardigan. I am at the armpits on the left front panel. Once I block it, graft the band at back of the neck, sew down the button flap and the pockets and seam the right sleeve and sideseam, it'll be done. Oh, and sew the buttonholes together and put the buttons on.

Speaking of buttons, if it wasn't for the complete muck-up of my buttonhole spacing I'd be seaming this sweater tonight instead of knitting it. I spent much of last night dropping stitches and re-knitting the buttonholes. I am beginning to see the appeal of sewn-on button bands. You can see in the link above to an older post about this sweater that the button-band folds over and is part of the front panel. It looks very nice but I can't help wondering if there's a better way.

Anyway, expect a photo extravaganza of this sweater soon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Crappy pictures

But they're better than none, right? Um.

One of the things I've been up to lately is making neat buttons into pins.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

SP8 and my stomach

I had a balony sandwich for lunch today. I'm not sure exctly what I was thinking at the time - probably something about how much I liked them when I was eight years old - but now I'm thinking it was a serious mistake. I'm not even done with my chips and my stomach is complaining. Urgh.

But enough about my digestive system. You may notice that there are no photos in this post. That is because I still haven't gotten off my arse to clear my memory card so that I can take more pictures of the stuff I'm doing. And I am doing stuff. Lots of stuff.

I made some brooches from buttons, I finished one Funky Sock, and I'm nearly done with the second arm of the vintage raglan cardigan I've been making since forever. I've also been tidying up the loose ends of swaps. SP8 is over, so now I can tell you that the person I was spoiling is Knittymama. Of course, I never remembered to take photos of what I sent her, so if you're interested, pop on over to her blog and look around. (Here, here, here and here for photos.) For each package I knit her a pair of baby socks - because I could, and because they're addictive. The yarn for the last two socks was donated by Jeanette since I had run out of suitable odd-balls.

Now I think I'm going to scare up some herbal tea from the office kitchen, and perhaps have a nice lie-down under my desk...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Quote of the day

"The captain glared at him. The sergeant put on the poker face that has been handed down from NCO to NCO ever since one protoamphibian told another, lower-ranking protoamphibian to muster a squad of newts and Take That Beach."
- Terry Pratchett, Eric

Friday, September 01, 2006

Confessions of a Secret Pal

Two business days from now the woman I have been sending stuff to anonymously through Secret Pal 8 will know my identity beyond a doubt, and then she will know what kind of Secret pal I really am.

That's right: she will know that her second package was delayed because I ate her chocolate, and that the third was delayed because I couldn't a find a box. She will also know that I was knitting her socks from Cherry Hill Tree yarn and realize that there are no socks by that description in her final package (which I also sent late.)

I have an excuse, really I do. It isn't that I intended to keep them for myself; I haven't even finished them. It was getting down to the wire and my enthusiasm for all things fiber was at a near all-time low. I had to make a decision: finish one sock (which was riddled with unacceptable mistakes I'm trying to ignore) and send it with a Second Sock I.O.U., or give my Secret Pal some equivalent yarn to make her own socks. She seemed to be on sock-knitting kick, so I went the way of laziness: I doled out the cash for sock yarn and then tucked the half-knit socks into a basket, out of sight. Understandable, right? Perhaps not a complete cop-out...?

I am a bad receivee, too. I have the secret password to reveal my Secret Pal's identity and haven't used it. I also haven't taken pictures of what she sent me in the final package. I WILL. Really. As soon as I get off my butt and clear my memory card. But in the meantime, for those of you who don't already know, here's a clue, courtesy of Arianna's cell phone: