Tuesday, October 23, 2018

When the Apocalypse Happens, You'll Want Me Around.

My boys like to remind me that, because I can't run due to various orthopedic impediments, I would be of little use during the coming Apocalypse.  And while it's true that I probably can't outrun a zombie, I do have other skills that should make me valuable enough to warrant a body guard or two.

"So," I ask them, "when all of this happens, and there aren't any stores, how are you going to get new clothes?"  The general response is that they don't believe this is even worthy of consideration.  The only relevant skill was zombie killing.  "Do you know how to cook over an open fire?  Can you take raw wool and turn it into a sweater?  How about weaving a blanket?  Can you do that?"

At this point they just stare at me in utter disbelief, as if the one and only skill worth having is knowing how to kill zombies in multiple ways.  I remind them that, while I can't really run, I'm still a trained martial artist; I just need the zombie to be in range.

I know how to decapitate with a bamboo staff.  (I mean, if it's a zombie, the head isn't firmly attached to begin with, so a bamboo staff, properly swung, should do the trick nicely.)  I know how to punch, kick, and get out of holds.  I have been trained on how to use another person's mass and momentum against them to render them incapacitated.  Plus, I have lots & lots of pointy knitting needles and I'm not afraid to use them.  Finally, I'm really not at all bothered by the idea of hurting someone trying to do me harm.  I won't start a fight, but I don't have a problem finishing one.

While my sons and I joke around about my relative value in such a society, it does make me wonder about how all of the skills that I have spent a lifetime (so far) acquiring, practicing, and, in some cases, mastering, are actually valued in the present day.  I'm not speaking about just my family members, but by society at large.

I remember the reaction that bringing a spinning wheel to the pool club elicited from other members. We spent countless hours at the pool when the boys were younger and since it was too hot and humid to knit, I brought the wheel.  One older gentleman, from a former Soviet-bloc country, told me how he remembers how his grandmother would spin so that the family could have warm clothing in the long winters.  Anyone under the age of ten wanted to sit in my lap and work the treadles.  Others came up to me, completely confused as to what I was doing and I was doing it at all.  One lady was kind enough to remind me that there was a yarn shop about twenty minutes away, so there was no real need to go to all the trouble of making my own yarn.  You should have seen the look on her face, so pleased to be giving me such vital information.

While I don't expect absolutely everyone to be able to do all of the fiber-related activities that I do, I do expect most people to not freak out when the power goes out.  Being able to get through a week or more without electricity can be challenging, but it certainly isn't impossible.  I can remember a few storms when the power was out for days and days and many of my friends solved the problem by checking in to a hotel for the duration.  They looked at me as if I were the crazy one by staying home.    "Why would I leave?" I would ask, dumbfounded that it was even an option.

"How do you cook?" they would ask.  I have a fireplace, a gas grill, and a charcoal grill.  Check.  "What about water and showers?"  I have bottled water for drinking and downtown had power, so I showered either at the gym or a friend's house.  I'm just down the road from a small pond that would do in a pinch.  Check and check.  "Aren't you cold at night?" I refer you to the paragraphs above which refer to knitting.  I also quilt, so keeping warm gets a double check.

I also like the idea that I was teaching my boys about self-sufficiency and problem solving.  It's easy to throw money at a problem to make it go away, but staying and dealing with the situation was a far more valuable lesson.  Don't get me wrong-it was a lot of hard work, but I have never, ever regretted staying at home instead of going to a hotel during that long blackout or any that followed.

Questions would come up and asking Google wasn't an option, and it was fun to work through things together.  (Also, without the internet as a distraction, it was amazing how much more interesting the cats became as a source of entertainment.  I think they felt neglected when the power came back on.)  They learned how to entertain themselves without an electronic screen and to pitch in and get things done around the house.  They started to see the family as a team that needed to work together in order to get through the day.  You just don't learn these things while dining on room service and watching Netflix in a hotel room.

So, yeah, in many ways, I feel like I'm ready for an Apocalypse.  Evidently, I've spent most of my life training for it.  Just get me a bodyguard and let me do my thing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sprints and Marathons

In my humble opinion, there are generally two types of projects-and I am quite convinced that this applies to more than one category of craft.  There are sprints and there are marathons.  Sprints are the projects that are quick and relatively easy to complete, or the project is so absolutely engrossing that you can't possibly consider doing anything else (and I mean anything, including housework, feeding your children, or any other mundane task that dares to interfere with the current obsession).  And then there are marathons.  These are the projects which seem simple enough at first, but take forever and then some to complete.  You know what I'm talking about.

For me sprints are socks made out of self-striping yarn.  I have a pattern in my head for these, a very simple ribbing for the cuff and then stockinette for the rest of it except for the heel flap.  Call me simple, but I just love seeing how the next color in the sequence will knit up, even if I'm on the fifth repeat of the striping pattern.  I just can't help myself.  A sprint can also be the modular cardigan that I made years ago that required about 37 colors of yarn (really, more like 18).  I would stay up to 3:00 a.m. just to see how the next color would play out compared to everything that came before it.  (This is not a good thing when you have toddlers or a job.  Learn vicariously.)  Because I spent so many compulsively sleepless nights on it, that sweater was done in a flash.  A sprint can also be some quickie cowl or fingerless mitts that strike your fancy & would make a great addition to your Christmas stash of knitted gifts AND it only takes a few hours to pull off.  In my case, those items are not something that suit my personal taste, but I know someone who would love to have it.  Sprints.  We love them because they are fast, they fulfill some flight of instant gratification fancy, and then they are done so we can focus on something serious.

That brings us to marathons.  My apologies for being repetitive, but you know what I'm talking about.    Marathons are the projects that just seem to take forever to reach the half way point, let alone get finished.  I envy people who run actual marathons: by and large, they are done with theirs within a 24-hour period.  In the knitting world, this would indeed be considered a sprint.  I once had a sweater on the needles that had been around longer than I had been married, and I had been married for 14 years at that point.  And the  only reason it was as far along as it was, was because I had had jury duty about 10 years before that. (I'm pretty sure Strunk & White would have issues with that last sentence.  I must have been absent that day.)  In more recent history of my knitting career, I offer the Bateaux Mouches scarf and Zick Zag Scarf as further proof.

Please, please understand that in no way do I want to do either pattern or designer any kind of disservice.  I love these patterns.  The items are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.    All I am saying is that these patterns took me eons to complete.  And to be really honest, I have yet to complete my Zick Zag Scarf.  I started the Bateaux Mouches scarf because I see a therapist weekly and I like to keep my hands busy, and it's garter stitch, so no thinking involved.  I had no idea that it would take so long to complete.  And it's not as if I only worked on it during my therapy sessions.  Turns out that thing is HUGE.  By the end, when you have a zillion stitches on the needle, I could not even get through one row during the hour-long therapy session, and I'm not a slow knitter.

As for the Zick Zag Scarf, it turns out that counting to 5 is much, much harder than I thought it was, because the pattern requires the knitter to knit 5 stitches & then either increase or decrease. I can't tell you how many rows I have had to frog because I failed to count to 5 and then perform the next required task correctly, but only five rows back.   That, combined with the fact that it calls for a total of four balls of yarn and when I had finished two, I measured the length of it by holding the last finished row at the back of my neck only to discover that it was too short for me (I'm tall & like to wrap my scarfs twice around my neck) so I had to buy two more balls of yarn.  I am currently almost done with the first four balls.  I optimistically hope to be wearing this a year from now.

Did I mention that the Bateaux Mouches is knit in laceweight and the Zick Zag is in fingering weight?  These are not marathons, they are Ultra Marathons. (Look it up; it's a thing.)

I suppose there is an argument for the middle-distance type of project and that it is entirely valid and that I have probably knit more projects in this category than in any other.  These are the projects you knit pleasantly enough and they are done in a reasonable amount of time with relatively few surprises.  To me they are exactly how I like my trips by airplane to be: uneventful, predictable, and nobody got hurt.  But, let's face facts, it is the sprints and marathons that we tend to remember.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Universe Needs A Different Hobby

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently took leave of reality and purchased four fleeces in the hopes of turning them into a felted rug for my upstairs hallway.  Both of you who read that post are aware of the fact that I'm up to my ears in fleece in various stages of cleanliness.

I don't know know if I mentioned this before, but I tend to be lazy.  My whole approach to housecleaning is based on entropy, that the laundry doesn't have to be done right this second because, chances are, it's not going to suddenly sprout legs and make a break for it, leaving me with something entirely inappropriate to wear to yoga.  Past experience with this phenomenon has given enough validation to my theory that I'm willing to risk leaving the laundry in a pile next to the washing machine  or the dirty dishes in the sink on a regular basis.  They have always, ALWAYS, without fail, been there when I was ready to deal with them, and I'm pretty sure there's a different force in effect to account for all the missing socks.  I'm not procrastinating. I'm prioritizing; there's other stuff that has to get done first.

So a smallish mountain of fleece, limited time, and internet access led me  to find articles about the Fermented Suint Method of cleaning fleeces.  It's too easy to be believed.  Basically, you get a big tub of rain water, a really greasy fleece, and you put the fleece into the tub of water for a while.  You keep the icky water that the greasy fleece soaked in, because, believe it or not, that's the first thing you're going to soak the next fleece in to get most of the ick out of it.  I couldn't believe it, I thought the whole thing to be a cruel joke, because really, why would you put the thing you want to clean into really dirty, stinky water?  And then I saw that Judith MacKenzie wrote about it.  If it's good enough for Judith Mackenzie, Wool Goddess of the highest order in this house, then I should give it a shot.

Irony #1 of all this is that the fleeces I have are Finns.  They are not greasy.  Not at all, really.  So this meant that I had to go and buy yet another fleece that's greasier than Finn so I can clean the ones I have.  So I did that, and now I have five fleeces to deal with.  Five is more than four, so by trying to make my work easier, I gave myself more work. I'm really hoping it will all even out in the end somehow.

Irony #2 is that the rain started on my way to the festival (after it was too late for me to put a tub under my downspout), the whole time I was there, & stopped when I was about twenty minutes away from home on the way back.  Everything I read said to use rain water, and I didn't have any.  So I used my well water & crossed my fingers.

Irony #3 reared it's ugly head by raining for the first two days my tub of well water and dirty fleece sat on the patio.  I didn't bother to put another tub under the downspout because I already started this nonsense with well water.  So now I'm at the point of no return, unless I buy yet another fleece (that would be #6) and wait for it to rain hard enough to fill a big tub with rainwater.

Number 4 showed up about an hour ago, when I decided to outside to check on the tub & see what was going on with fleece #5 and my well water.  I didn't go out and check because it started to rain.  At this point, I'm pretty sure that the fleece washing deities are trying to tell me that the well water isn't going to work, and there still isn't a tub under the downspout to collect rainwater.

I'm also pretty sure that the Universe is just bored and decided to mess with me for sport.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ten Things

Today I realized some things.  Ten things, in fact.  Here they are:

1. My three-season porch looks like a group of Rastafarians stopped by on their way to the Buddhist monastery the next town over and asked me to cut their hair before they got there.  But that's not what really happened.

2. I honestly had no idea what I was doing when I bought four--that's FOUR-- fleeces, at once, with the ludicrous idea that I would wash them in my tiny kitchen sink, dry them on the porch, and then card them with my little drum carder to make a rug for my upstairs hallway.  In my "spare time".  If that doesn't count as a break from reality, then I really don't know what does.

As you can see, my kitchen sink is ridiculously small.  I think the people who put it in didn't cook.  And it is just not up to the task of getting fleece washed in anything resembling "efficiently".

3. My psychiatrist is woefully underpaid.  (Refer to #1 & 2 above.)

4. I console myself with the fact that I can't afford to pay her what she deserves by knowing that having me as one of her patients affords her no small amount of job security.  Newly single Mom with a severe fiber addiction and two teenage boys living at home?  Yup, I'll be keeping that weekly appointment for YEARS.

5.  It took me two days to wash two of the fleeces and get one drum carded batt.

6.  This is not going as quickly as I had hoped.

7.  All of this means that I am now finding random bits of fluff all over the house.  This one is on my dresser, which is upstairs and at the opposite end of the house from the porch.  I don't know how it got there.

8. Maybe there's still a market for ZZ Top novelty beards in case I don't get the rug made.

9.  Maybe it wasn't a good plan to use the one batt I made as a ZZ Top novelty beard.

10.  The cat doesn't care about any of this.  Lucky bastard.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Amoeba and I

I recently found out that a lovely couple from my yoga class are expecting their first baby.  This made me very happy for a few reasons.  One is that these people are very, very nice and I think they will make fantastic parents, even though I don't really know them all that well.  And loving couples having a wanted baby is always the happiest of news, at least in my book.

The other reason is that now I have a little person to knit for.  I'm at that awkward age between being young enough to have kids of my own but too young to have grandchildren.  Most of my friends are about my age, so they aren't having any more babies who I can knit for, either.  I don't have a big extended family, and I don't have any siblings.  There are no cousins or other family members having babies; the family well is dry in that regard.  So I have to find babies to knit for, and when I do I get really excited about it.  It's like I've been given a really nice gift and I get to share it.

Cute little things in bright colors and tiny sizes.  Just the thought of it makes me want to start making pompoms to attach to the tops of little hats.  Bootees and sweaters and hats, Oh My!  A person could OD on exposure to this level of cuteness.  Well-not really of course.  It's baby stuff.  There's never enough of that kind of cute and all the sweetness and love it represents.  Never enough of that.

So this little person is getting a BSJ* striped in maroon Zara & a multicolor stripe whose ball band is long gone.  The colors are not very baby-ish, but the parents are Asian and these colors will look great with the baby's complexion.  The little person is a boy and I wanted the jacket to look like a boy's jacket.  Something that will look cute with tiny little jeans and other boy stuff.

Well, I got the thing almost done--almost done I say--down to the last dozen rows or so, and noticed a mistake waaaay back.  Back far enough that I had to rip 2/3 of the darn thing out because there was no way I could fix the mistake any other way.  Apparently I had lost track of which stitch was the center stitch for the double increases.  Instead of having a nice straight line of increases, it was wavy and looked terrible.  That was not a good day to be around me, I'm telling you. (Note to self: make appointment for a check-up with the eye doctor.) Out it came, mistakes fixed, and now it's back on track.  I hope.  At lease the lines look straighter now, and the amoeba I'm knitting is definitely more angular than it was.

I love the look on people's faces when they ask what I'm making and I have a BSJ on the needles.  Just love it.  When you tell them that the blob you're producing is a jacket they just don't believe you, not even after you explain it.  They think that you're just messing with them, or that you're a really bad knitter who is unable to come to terms with the fact that you have messed up your project beyond all hope of rescue, or that you're just a crazy lady who has too many cats at home and knits blobs because it's all you know how to make and you're not violent so your family lets you keep the pointy sticks.

Because, really, shouldn't the name of this sweater be the "Surprise! It's Really Not an Amoeba Jacket"?  Or "See? I'm Not Crazy and It Is a Jacket".  But I guess that only really works if the recipients see the work in progress because you don't give it to them in its ambiguous, amorphous, amoeba-like state.

On the other hand, wrapping up an unfinished BSJ & giving it to the lucky recipient could be pretty funny.  Imagine the puzzled look when the expectant Mom opens the box & holds up something that is utterly unlike a jacket for all at the baby shower to see as you call out, "Don't you just love it?  It's the cutest thing EVER!"  Then they'll really think you're the crazy lady with too many cats who can only knit blobs.  But you won't care because you'll be laughing too hard to notice.

*Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you know what BSJ stands for.  For those of you who don't, (that would be the other person reading this blog) it stands for Baby Surprise Jacket, one of many patterns made famous by the great Elizabeth Zimmerman.  The pattern is available here: http://www.schoolhousepress.com/patterns.htm

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MacGyver Would be Proud...If He Knit

Not too long ago, I made a hat.  This one, the Lillehammer hat from YarnZombie.  I used essentially the same colors, but reversed the light and dark and used red instead of the chartreuse-y green.  My version looked like this:

I used three colors of Cascade Superwash DK.  I don't have the color numbers, but it's black, a light gray and red.  My version also started with a provisional cast-on and a 3" hem that is turned to the inside to add another layer of wooly warmth over the ears.  I took out the provisional cast on and did a K2TOG to attach the hem to the hat so I wouldn't have to sew it down later.  (You'll be able to see more of that in a minute.)

So, being the polite gentleman that the recipient is, he put it on and declared it "Perfect!"  And then the cold weather, the dreaded "Arctic Vortex" hit this part of the country.  Now, I love the cold.  My definition of truly cold weather is going outside and taking a deep inhale through the nose only to have your nostrils freeze together.  That's when I start thinking about a hat and zipping up my coat.  It was that cold.  

But the hat did not make an appearance.  I was a bit crushed curious about this, so I asked.  He told me it was just a little too short and didn't quite cover all of his ears, and he didn't like to have cold ears.  

Back to the drawing board.  I didn't want to re-knit the whole thing.  I'm a bit lazy, and I'm trying to cross stuff off of my to-do list, not add finished things back on to it.  So, I channeled MacGyver.

Now, this is where I could give you the long, drawn out version of the story about how a knitting friend and I joke around about being the "MacGyver of Knitting".  By that, we mean finding creative ways to get ourselves out of a knitting nightmare we have managed to get ourselves into.  A weird extra triangle on the edge of your huge entrelac shawl, that you noticed just now but is 4 rows back? Fold it into a triangle & stitch it down.  Nobody will ever know.  Changed the gauge of your project and now the neckline is funny?  Run that sucker through a serger.  It will never show from the front.  Like that.  The problem gets solved and nobody gets hurt.  Soooo--

I snipped the black purl row that was the turning ridge for the hem and put the hem and outside hat stitches each on their own circular needles.

Then I attached a ball of the leftover red yarn and made the hem longer.  When it was long enough, I connected the black yarn, did my purl row to turn it, and then knit a longer ribbing in black.  I couldn't find any of the gray, so the two color rib was eliminated.  I knit the rib longer than the pattern said, and then added enough rows to make the outside length of the hat long enough to cover the deeper hem.  One really long row of kitchener stitch in the black yarn later and VOILA!  

A finished hat that was MacGyvered into submission to keep a pair of tender ear lobes roasty toasty in the cold and...

you can't tell the extra work was done on it unless you look really, really close.  And nobody got hurt in the process.  

While it's a nifty trick to pull off, I really don't want to do that much Kitchener stitch ever again.  

Really.  But I think MacGyver would be proud.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Day

It is snowing here where I live in Connecticut, as it is in most of New England.  I love the snow, and living in a coastal town we don't get as much snow as I think is appropriate for a proper New England winter.

The storm is bad enough that school was canceled for the day, and I'm home with my boys.  Even though they devoted a large-ish portion of the day to napping, I'm glad to be home with them.  Charlie did help me make the meatballs for the spaghetti sauce, and Eamon topped the pizzas we made for lunch.  Right now, he and a friend are walking over to the little country store that's about a mile away to get some half & half so I can make some hot cocoa when they get back.

I have been trying to catch up on my Christmas knitting, which is not going as smoothly or as rapidly as I had hoped.  And no, I can't show you any photos because I don't want to spoil any surprises.

But I can show you some photos of how lovely my neighborhood is when it snows.  I just love it here this time of year.  There is a little lake just up the road from my house, although we refer to it as The Duck Pond.  One of the hurricanes took out the tree that used to shade the benches, but it is still a lovely, tranquil spot.  And yes, sometimes I do go there in the nice early summer or warm fall weather and enjoy the view while I knit.

The neighborhood is very quiet right now.  No cars, no landscapers zooming around or running their equipment to spoil the stillness.  Just the occasional bird, or the sudden rustle and tussle of squirrels chasing each other.  It is exactly the kind of winter day I love.  Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful.  

It makes me feel so lucky to have this view from my desk. I just want to sit here and enjoy it until the sun sets and brings a close to the day.