Thursday, December 26, 2013

That darn cat, part 2

Finn is an indoor-outdoor cat. I tried to turn him into a strictly indoor cat when I first got him, and that worked over the winter, but then he began terrorizing the household in his bid to go out. We reached a compromise: I let him out after dark (for the protection of the local bird population) and he comes back in in the morning to sleep all day.

Such was the fair weather schedule. Now that winter is here, he still wants to go out, but once there, he usually does not want to stay. If it is below freezing and/or there is snow on the ground, his enthusiasm for outdoor activities falls precipitously. Now, if he stays out at all, it is for only a few hours in the evening.

The problem is, he repeatedly wants out during my waking (and non-waking) hours. Apparently, he thinks the weather may change between now and the last time he was out. At first, I thought, Dumb cat! It is still cold and will be cold for the next few months. But actually, if you think like a cat, it makes sense that he would need to test the waters periodically. After all, he can't check the weather report or read a thermometer. Even in fair weather, every time he steps out the door, the weather may be a surprise - cooler, hotter, wet, windy, sunny, etc. And if it is at all tolerable, he tolerates it.

Re the non-waking hours, if he stays in at night, he invariably wakes me around 3 or 4 in the morning, wanting out. I was hoping he would be the kind of cat who would sleep on the bed with me, but when he does, it is only to keep an eye on my movements. If I get up in the night, he tries to lead me out of the room to do his bidding. Otherwise, he stands guard at the patio door, watching for night critters, and when one appears, he wants OUT. I finally had to banish him to the West Wing at night.

Sleep on, fair Finn, and, like the rest of us, dream of warmer days.

Friday, December 20, 2013

That darn cat

Cute kitty-under-the-xmas-tree photo FAIL

Cute pets-falling-all-over-each-other-to-get-inside photo FAIL

Cute cat-watching-birds-through-patio-door photo FAIL


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I lack the personality for this

After a year or so of combining knitting, gardening, and me into one blog, I've decided to go back to separate blogs for each. I am also toying with the idea of copying the knitting/gardening/me-related posts from this blog to the others so they will each be in one appropriate place. That sounds like a really tedious time-consuming task, so we'll see how far that idea goes. I haven't decided just what to do with this blog, though. Home improvement? Advice column? Fantasy football? Any suggestions?

For knitting posts, visit Bitten by Knittin.

For gardening posts, visit Woodchuck Acres.

For posts about me, visit October Rose.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

This old dog learned some new tricks

Even though I have been knitting for years and even though I have knit many pairs of socks during some of those years, I figured there were still some things I could learn from the Yarn Harlot, so I signed up for her "Knitting for Speed and Efficiency" and "Grok the Socks" classes at Simply Socks. I was right and wrong - not only did I learn something new, I learned a whole bunch of somethings new.

First off, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee provided us with a brief history of knitting, which is relatively young as far as fabric-making goes. Before knitting, there was weaving and people wore what amounted to foot bags for socks. Knitting was born in the Middle East, then traveled to Spain where, despite the plethora of merino sheep, the Spaniards preferred their yarn to be made from silk. Eventually, knitting reached the British Isles and the Brits came to own it, which explains why so many knitting terms come from British place names and people names: Aran, Fair Isle, Kitchener, etc. And everyone knit - men, women, children. Wars were won on handknit socks.

The bulk of the "speed knitting" class involved learning lever knitting, also known as Irish cottage knitting. Rather than have me try to explain it, click here to see the Yarn Harlot in action. What kind of gripes my ass is, I used to knit in a very similar (if slower) manner, the right needle propped on my thigh. But I wasn't confident enough to believe this was a valid way to knit and caved when others questioned my method. Also, I could not figure out how to continue knitting this way when using circular needles, so I switched to "picking", a.k.a. Continental knitting. But the resulting fabric was never as even or as sturdy.

Stephanie had suggestions for speeding up your knitting, regardless of whether you are a picker or a thrower or what have you. One is to "spring load" the fabric by scrunching it up on the left needle so it practically leaps onto the right needle as you knit. Also, when turning your work, do a "kick turn" instead of a "hard reset", simply pivoting the needles to avoid needless fumbling. Have someone video tape you as you knit by holding the camera over your shoulder, then examine your knitting movements for anything that is not knitting. I am guilty of sometimes pushing the left needle to get the old stitch off it, then welcoming the new stitch to the right needle with a little stroke. Spring loading eliminates both of these quirks, so now I knit more smoothly and slightly faster.

The goal of the sock class was to provide us with enough information that, given a skein of yarn and some needles, we could crank out a pair of socks without resorting to a pattern. Sizing socks for adults is a easy as measuring their hand: the length of the hand from heel to fingertip is approximately the same as the distance between the bottom of the calf muscle and the top of the heel flap, which is the same as the distance between the end of the heel turn and the start of the toes. We also learned the difference between picking up stitches and picking up and knitting stitches - do the former when working the gusset. But you know what happens if you don't follow all the rules for knitting a sock? Nothing. You will still have a wearable sock even if you don't turn the heel and don't close the toe with the Kitchener stitch.

I have been avoiding knitting socks for my granddaughter because I didn't want to put all that effort into something she would outgrow in a matter of minutes. By the end of the sock class, though, I was nearly done with one toddler-sized sock because - DUH! - knitting tiny socks for tiny feet takes almost no time at all.

One thing I hoped to accomplish with these classes was to jump start my knitting mojo which has been flagging lately. Needless to say, mission accomplished.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Under the spell

We came.

We knit.

She conquered.

Even though it is really hard to tell from this photo (my next phone will have a better camera), that is the Yarn Harlot. She came to Fort Wayne, sponsored appropriately by Simply Socks.

The talk she gave was extremely entertaining, if a bit earnest (she cares how the world views knitting and knitters - when she gets to be my age, she probably will not anymore). Even better were the off-the-cuff stories she told during the Q&A, some poignant, but most hilarious. I had to put down my knitting because I literally laughed so hard I cried. She also told us some secrets which I won't reveal here - you will have to follow her blog to learn them. We have a secret from *her*, though, which I also will not reveal. Yet.

I did not hang around for the meet-and-greet because I will be participating in two classes she is teaching before she wings back to Toronto. More on that in a few days.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Afghan love

When I wake up under an afghan, it is really difficult to leave that warm cocoon. In bed or on the couch, I just want to snuggle deeper and doze on.

All my afghans are crocheted, all from acrylic yarn. Most were made when I was in my twenties, and those were left behind when I divorced. My daughter recently rescued them from disuse and delivered them today. What a great early xmas gift!

Monday, November 18, 2013

That was the weekend that was

When I wake up in the morning, it takes me a minute or so to figure out what day it is and what I'm going to be doing. Saturday that was easy - it was manure day! I wasn't sure I'd be able to get manure from my usual source, but we finally made contact Friday night, so Saturday was a go. My SO and I fetched two loads and spread one in the garden and the other in the area formerly known as the meadow but now designated as the incipient orchard.

Saturday was also leaf day. I don't have any leaves to speak of, but my neighbors do. Friday I made arrangements to be on the receiving end of one neighbor's leaves. This did not seem to entail any extra effort on their part - they pick them up with a riding mower and instead of dumping them at the edge of the street for city pickup, they dumped them on a plastic tarp and I dragged them into my backyard. Most of them went on the aforementioned incipient orchard, a few on the paths in the garden.

Then I performed the final mow of the season, picking up grass clippings and using them to cover the manure in the garden. That night it rained, which fortunately damped down the leaves so none of them blew away the next day when we had near-tornado force winds.

So Saturday was an outdoor day. Sunday was an indoor day. People will be here, in my house, in November and December, so it was time to attack the cobwebby corners and mop the acre of linoleum that stretches from family room to kitchen to mudroom to laundry. Today I did a bit more - we can now see through the patio door (beagle nose prints are particularly difficult to eradicate) and kitchen window, and at least some of the dust has been vanquished. There is more to do - there is always more to do when it comes to housework - what gets done, gets done.

Today was supposed to be fiber day, but I actually started on that last Friday night, when I blended ALL the KoolAid-dyed roving. I literally did not get off the couch for two hours, that's how engrossed I was. And sore - is there such a thing as blending shoulder? Too much repetitive movement with my right arm. Tonight I spun a few of the rolags. Interesting, to say the least. And fun.

I intended to do more fiber-oriented activities today, but there was that bit of cleaning mentioned above and some gardening to get me off the couch and into the fresh air for a while. The garlic is planted and the Brussels sprouts harvested (yes, the groundhog did not get them all). The container plants have been relocated to the garage. Just like housework, there is more to do, and again, what gets done, gets done.

The rest of the day was spent wrestling with turning a heel on a sock, the second sock of a pair, so you would think it would be easier, but no. Between the two socks, I turned a heel four times. I'm knitting this pair of socks toe-up with a short row heel that involves double wraps, and I think I am done with toe-up socks for a while. I have proved I can do them if necessary, and now am going to return to top-down for a while. Maybe then I will get more that two or three pairs knit in the course of a year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Very little proof

When I work from home, I sit in the West Wing and rest my eyes by watching the birds in the backyard. Most of what is there are LBJs - Little Brown Jobs - sparrows and finches. Except for the juncos, no snow birds have arrived yet (although I think I hear the nasal call of a nuthatch on occasion).

Since most birds seem to favor peanut splits and black oil sunflower seeds, I decided to cut back to just those. And unshelled peanuts for the blue jays. And some niger just to get rid of it. And cracked corn. No more safflower, though - I watched too many non-cardinals fling that expensive stuff to the ground.

But then I accidentally purchased striped sunflower seeds instead of black oil, and whole corn instead of the cracked. Rather than take them back to the store, I just put up more feeders. So now there are six.

I have seen something besides the usual avian visitors, but no pics because 1) I am not fast enough, and 2) they are too fast (which helps explain the lousy quality of these photos). I swear to god, one day I saw a robin with a bright red breast and the rest of it was almost all *white*. Really! According to the Internet (which knows all), albino and semi-albino robins are not unheard of. True albino robins do not live long because they go blind. This particular one apparently was just passing through, as I have not seen it since.

An unusual LBJ I saw was a white-crowned sparrow. At least, I think that is what it was, which while not impossible, might be a bit unusual in this particular corner of Indiana. Or maybe it was a white-throated sparrow, which is more likely. Since that white crown was so eye-catching, I am sticking to the first identification. Again, he has not been back since, so cannot confirm.

Hopefully, this red-bellied woodpecker will hang around all winter.

Last Friday I watched this little guy make trip after trip between feeders and patio. He must have quite the cache somewhere close by. All day long, back and forth he went, occasionally joined by one or two other chipmunks from other corners of the yard. The squirrel baffles keep them from climbing the pole, but there is plenty of forage on the ground.

Speaking of squirrels, I see them in the nabe but not at the feeders. Not yet.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

More reds, part 2


Mystery tree

... and around the pond at work...


Virginia creeper

Mystery berries

Mystery tree

Mystery shrub

Mystery 'shroom

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I still knit. Really.

Not that long ago, it was common for me to knit ten or so pairs of socks a year. This year: two, maybe three. What am I doing instead? I'm working less (and my supervisor won't let me knit during meetings anymore), but I am also exercising more, spending time with my granddaughter, binge watching entire seasons of "The Good Wife" and "Damages", taking up new hobbies, yardening, etc. The days are just packed.

I did manage to finish a pair of socks recently, though.

  • Pattern: Diagonal Lace Socks, from Socks from the Toe Up, by Wendy Johnson
  • Yarn: Zwerger Garn Opal Surprise in colorway 4067 (would you call that "Camouflage" or "Autumn in New England"?
  • Needles: US1
  • Modifications: Abbreviated the repeat when I got to the leg to eliminate columns of double-purl stitches up each side. At least, I think that is what I did.

I've been diligently concentrating on learning to knit socks from the toe up instead of top down, thinking there would be less worry about running out of yarn. But the toe-up socks I have knit seem to use up more yarn than the top-down ones. In fact, this time I nearly ran out of yarn before the tops were a decent length.

This yarn shortage may be because usually I knit ribbed patterns that allow me to put some negative ease into the socks, whereas the toe-up patterns I chose are not ribbed and have no ease. In fact, they are a bit loose. So for my next pair, I chose a ribbed pattern. We'll see how they work out.

More reds, part 1

In my yard...

The Japanese maple 'Bloodgood' just keeps getting redder and redder.

Wentworth highbush cranberry is still turning.

Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre' has fruit and its leaves are just starting to turn.

The leaves of the chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliant') are catching up with the fruit.

Ditto the cranberry cotoneaster. The bushes look like they are on fire.

The purple leaves of the smoke tree (cotinus coggygria F. purpureus) are giving way to red.

Rhododendron 'PMJ' turn a bit red in the fall.

They are not supposed to bloom, though.

Winter lettuce mix of some sort.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Johnny can't read

Growing up, it was not uncommon for the kids in my family to occupy themselves while eating breakfast by reading the cereal boxes. It did not matter that we each read the same one every day. We were eating breakfast and one cannot eat breakfast without reading. Grownups read the newspaper; kids read cereal boxes.

As you can see above, there is an alarming dearth of reading material on today's cereal boxes. Reading scores are down. Dare we say there is a connection?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

File under future fun

Yesterday I went to a 2-hour soapmaking workshop, which was more like a 1.5-hour demonstration. I came away with a book (The Natural Soap Book, by Susan Miller Cavitch), some soapmaking recipes, and a couple of samples, plus a headache because the room, while high-ceilinged, was not vented. (I think the instructor was a bit cavalier about the fumes lye emits.) The batches made during the demo produce around 40 4-oz. bars of soap, enough to last me about 5 years, but there are small batch recipes to be found online. I see this as a new hobby, but one that is practiced sporadically. And sometime in the future, like after retirement.

My dad was a chemist in his working life. When I was in high school, I earned a D in chemistry, would have flunked it altogether if I did not understand how to balance equations. I think the problem for people like me is in *how* they teach chemistry and other sciences. It all seems so abstract until you do something like make soap and discover that lye is not just caustic but reactive - when mixed with water, it heats up to 200 degrees! I did not know that (even though my daughter told me it was part of a scene from "Fight Club"), and my interest in *how* that happens has been piqued. Not enough to sign up for Chemistry 101, but enough I will pay more attention to the "Chemistry in Soapmaking" chapter in my new book.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The reds of autumn

Cardinal flower 'Queen Victoria'

Hydrangea 'Limelight'

Dwarf burning bush

Chrysanthemum 'Cranberry Apple Fantasia'

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Japanese maple 'Bloodgood'

Cranberry cotoneaster

My new wreath

Geranium 'Calliope'

Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliant', aka chokeberry

Viburnum dentatum 'Blue Muffin', aka arrowwood

Pokeweed stalk

Wentworth highbush cranberry viburnum

Lonicera sepervirens 'Alabama Crimson', aka Honeysuckle vinee

Viburnum prunifolium, aka blackhaw viburnum