Monday, October 30, 2006

The Duty of Being Eldest Cat

Late last year I had to euthanize my 18-year-old Persian mix, Addy. She had been a pistol for years. She was a stray who had been rescued having a litter of premature kittens under a car in a business parking lot. No one answered the Found ad. To be honest, I never warmed up to her. She had very little personality, even less intelligence, and she was a stubborn S.O.B. As she grew older, her faults became more pronounced. And since she was a long-coated cat, she required regular care, that became daily care when about age 7 she was no longer able to care for herself.

From age 7 to 18, we had to take her to the groomer several times a year for a lion cut. She loved the look, and she would prance around with her bandana and her perfume. But by age 15, she had become aggressive during grooming, and we could not have her medicated because the last time we had, she...well...she tried to have a B.M. but was unable to finish the job so we had to help her out.

From 15 to 18, the vet became our groomer, and the beast that was returned to us was an angry beast. But it had to be done.

Around 16 years she began to lose weight, so we set up private feeding sessions for her with canned food of every ilk. For every session I would call and call, but she would creep to the top of the stairs and stare at me as though I were a goblin out to get her. So every day I would call and call, getting the rest of the crew manic in the process, until finally I would march up the stairs, sweep her into my arms, and take her back to the kitchen. At 17, an X-Ray revealed the immediate need for an enema, so for the next year I had to mix laxatives in her food. By 18 she had refused all but homecooked chicken in broth. The end came on Halloween when she lost bladder control and her urine was bloody.

As we put her remains in the back of the car and drove home from the vet’s office. She had a muscle reflex in the form of an unmistakable “MEOW”. Stubborn even about her dirt nap.

Addy’s death immediately turned my relatively spry 15-year-old blue dilute tortie Collins into Eldest Cat. And she, too, has turned deaf. I have to give her glucosamine supplements to help her arthritus, but because she hates having doors closed on her, I have to feed her publicly. The other cats circle around me like sharks in bloody waters, sparring in little battles as the hope of canned food becomes real. I call and call. I find her curled up in a cat bed. She is awake and staring at me with wide eyes. I pry her body out of the bed and carry her to the kitchen where Eclair has become so stimulated that her tail has pineconed. I plop a couple food dishes down. Collins eats greedily. She loves canned food treats. Of that I have no doubt.

But she has to perform her duty as Eldest Cat.
Finished Objects: Washcloths and Baby Blanket

“Me Time” comes to an end today as I pick up my world-traveller husband from the airport. Though the time was short, and my to-do list was barely scratched, I did manage to get quite a bit done.

On the knitting front, I finally finished the last of the “spa washcloths.” The remaining yarn went to my mother-in-law who likes to use Sugar 'n Cream to knit dishcloths in the winter. Except for the bias garter design, which I’d already been using to wash T-Bone’s chin with Phisoderm for her feline acne, the rest will probably find their way to my kitchen to be used as pot holders. They are quite thick, and will do the job nicely.

I also finished the baby blanket. I probably should have done one more repeat, but it’s a nice size as it is, the baby is due any day, and I’m about to leave on a business trip. So there. I’m done.

That leaves my current projects as the: Caftan Pullover, Vest, and River Forest Gansey. Plus, I pulled out my old tatting equipment to re-learn and finally make the Christmas tree ornaments I’d planned and purchased supplies for about, oh, say, ten years ago. And I’m winding the dyed cotton yarn, but that’s going to be a long-term project because it’s a giant tangle.

I leave for Texas in four days, so I’m looking to my knitting bag for an appropriate project to work on on the plane and during breaks. A sock project is tempting because it is so portable, but I’ve never done socks before, so a business trip is probably not the best time to learn. Instead, it will probably be the gansey. The section I’m on now is tedious and repetitive, so it would be nice to make some headway on it.

So that’ll be it. The gansey. Unless...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mixed Results

Yesterday I finished the dye bath for both the frogged cotton sweater, and the wool cardigan I had decided to leave whole. The cotton turned out a lovely shade of purple, and while it won’t be any fun to detangle the once-separate skeins, I think it will end as a lovely bath mat, perhaps.

The cardigan, on the other hand, ended in disaster, and is now at the bottom of my kitchen trash can with wet coffee grounds tossed on top.

As you may recall, I first put it through a dye removal process, and I was surprised that it came out blotchy. I put it through a second time, then let it rinse in the rain. I chose a plum dye, and it soaked it up immediately to a very intense color. Even though I had an accurate dry weight, the dye bath didn’t come close to exhausting after simmering for an hour, so I rinsed it out and treated it in more vinegar since the rinse water was pretty dark. Then I put it in the washing machine on a knit cycle with more vinegar, and a second cycle with mild soap to take out the vinegar odor.

That’s when I discovered massive holes on both sleeves.

While it could have been caused by any number of things, including possibly damage to the fibers by the dye removal chemicals (I don’t know if that’s even possible), I suspect that the blotchy condition of the sweater may have been an early indicator of fiber damage by moth larvae. That being a possibility, I’m quite happy to get rid of the thing, even though the dye bath (except for the giant holes) had made it a stunning color with hints of the multiple colors of the base yarn. And as the chill of winter nips at the windows, a house cardigan would have been welcome.

So be it.

Finished a third washcloth this morning, and cast on for my last. The remaining yarn is destined for my mother-in-law who loves to knit washcloths in cold weather.

The thing I’ve discovered with this project is that I don’t like knitting with cotton. The fiber, or at least the Sugar 'N Cream fiber that was the only 100% cotton Hobby Lobby carried, is stiff and unfriendly. It feels like I’m knitting with string from the hardware store. If I were making a project that was meant to be stiff, like perhaps the hanging plant liner on “Knitty Gritty”, then that stiffness wouldn’t bother me. But a washcloth?

The irony that the only dye project that was successful was the cotton, has not escaped me.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The “idea” of being a knitter

I got my hair cut yesterday, and took along the baby blanket to sneak in a row or two before my appointment. The hair dresser (not my usual gal) asked what I had been working on. “A baby blanket,“ I replied. “Oh. I should pay you to knit me one.”

There must be something in the water at this salon, because every hair dresser under the age of, say 35, is either currently pregnant or has a baby under one year.

I smiled at her. “I’ll be happy to teach you how to knit.”

No. She wasn’t interested. She didn’t have the time, she said.

I got the same reaction from my other hair dresser.

And last winter my niece said she wanted to learn to knit, so I tried to teach her. She spent more time telling me and everyone around her that she would never be able to learn, than paying attention to what I was showing her. At one point I even held her hands and we knitted together so she could figure out the hand motions. She never did learn, but she certainly enjoys telling the story of how I tried to teach her.

The same thing applies to writing. Many people say they'd love to be a novelist, and have an idea for a story, but few are actually willing to put in the time to learn the craft, put stitches on a needle, or words on a page.

While not all of us are interested in knitting more than a basic hat and scarf, we should all be applauded for our willingness to make mistakes. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t make plenty when they began. Nor do I know anyone who can make a sweater without fixing a dropped stitch or a cable that crossed the wrong way.

An easy way to never make mistakes is not to try. In our imagination, we could have made a full wardrobe of runway-worthy sweaters, or won the Booker Prize for a novel.

So pick up the needles and knit. In life, we often cannot fix our mistakes. But knitting is magical. In knitting, we can fix anything.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A new “me time” tradition:

Silly shoes!

Bought these at clearance prices at Kohl’s.

With Mike safely on his way to South America, I pulled into Lawrence on the way home. Of course, I expected to purchase many things at Yarn Barn, but nothing spoke to me in a way that over-rode my better sense, so my entire purchase was a bag of soda ash to replenish my dye kit. Total cost: $1.07

Then I stopped at Borders for my Personal Shopping Day. Craft magazine has finally hit the store shelves, but they are big fat liars, or at least, bit fat stretchers-of-the-truth. Two cute-as-a-button knit robots grace the cover next to a the words “Stitch a Robot.” Wonderful! But as I dug into the magazine, looking for the instructions, I discovered the robot instructions were for a different design in crochet. hrumph! All is not lost, however, because I’m pretty certain I can approximate the ’bots depicted on the cover without their help.

The issue also contains instructions for knit boots, an LED tank top, and a wall-mounted cat condo made out of corrugated cardboard, among many other projects. I gotta love a magazine that includes both a knitting pattern and a project that requires “basic soldering skills.”

So, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been rather busy trying my hand at dye processes. I first attempted a dye removal process on a thrift store find - a Kohl’s label wool cardigan. It and two other sweaters cost me a whopping $7. The cardigan is a Fair Isle pattern, and while my original intent had been to frog the sweater and re-use the yarn, in the face of all that frogging, I had to admit the sweater fit me darn well as it was. It was just, well, darn ugly. Or, let me rephrase that. It was not in a colorway that suited my complexion or personality. So instead, I opted to remove as much of the original dye as possible to prep it for a re-dye.

The color came out unevenly, and I’ve done the process twice. At this point, I believe it won’t even up, but continue to wash out in a blotchy way. So this is it. It’s an experiment, and ultimately meant to be worn around the house on cold mornings, so I’m good with that.

Next up was to dye - actually dye - remnants of the christening gown. I am not at this point going to reveal my ultimate plan for this gown. Oh, I’ll let you know what happened to it whether it succeeds or fails, but I’ll keep the plan under my hat for, well, suspense purposes.

So, why am I dying a christening gown?? Good question, sad answer. Last year, a week before Christmas, my brother-in-law died in a fire that nearly destroyed the family home and killed the family dog. My sister had been the last to use the family christening gown, and it was on the floor where the fire was concentrated, and stored on the top shelf of a closet. While the fire itself was confined to the opposite end of the home, the heat and smoke destroyed everything that was on that floor. I had tried to use a chemical process to remove the soot, but the heat had broken down the fibers and it crumbled in my hands. And did the soot come out? No.

What to do with the gown?

All my siblings had been christened in it, as well as their children, and now their children’s children. Considering the circumstances of its destruction, the usual methods of disposal were abhorant. Throwing it away seemed careless and burning it was like pouring salt in a wound. Other options included burying it, and letting the wind carry it away.

Then I had a stroke of genius. Or maybe it was just a stroke.

At any rate, I dyed fragments of this gown in blue and teal.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cookin’ up somethin’ good!

What’s that in the large enameled pot steaming away on the stove? Is it stew? Chili?

Nope! Stay away from the fumes, honey, cause Sally’s trying her hand at dying. Started out de-dying one sweater and part of a fire-ruined christening gown, then divided the gown fabric into two piles and attempted two colors schemes.

I’m writing this quickly in between 5-minute stir sessions. Pics and details to come later.

Also, a landmark moment for me: I designed my first knit pattern. Okay, it’s nothing complicated. It’s just a baby blanket. But it’s a pattern, and I worked it out mathematically. That’s something!

Called my mother to tell her. She started knitting in earnest at the same time I did, but she’s stuck in the prayer shawl loop. Very active in church, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but her strong desire to stay away from any pattern that would require her to “pay attention” causes me to suspect I’m adopted - something my husband has always suspected, as well.

So I didn’t expect her response to be anything more than “great, I’d love to see it when you’re done.” I got that, sure, but then she added that she wanted the pattern because her prayer shawl group has decided to branch out and make baby blankets for the infants that are christened at the church. I can see where this is going...

Tomorrow I am dropping off DH at the airport, and will spend multiple hours in Lawrence for the start of “Me Time.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Finished Object: Felted Christmas Tree Ornaments

I put the final touches on the needle felted ornaments this morning. Ribbons attached, wires hidden, I’m ready for Christmas.

The basic directions were in Holiday Knits: 25 great gifts from stockings to sweaters by Sara Lucas and Allison Isaacs. I stress basic, because the instructions were pretty vague, and I could not, despite my best effort, get a product that looked like the photograph.

Having said that, I actually like my versions better.

I couldn’t find pre-dyed roving in an appropriate colorway. While I sort of liked the superwashed roving, the clerk told me it wouldn’t felt. While I didn’t believe her - this is needle felting, not felting in water - I also wasn’t willing to “bend” the rules the first time out the gate. So instead I purchased un-dyed roving, and packets of Kool-aid.

The dye process was blissfully simple, and my favorite turned out to be mango. And while I hated the grape result, when I combined it with strawberry-lemonade on the felted ball, both versions turned out to be leaders of the pack.

Instructions for Kool-aid dye are widely available over the internet.

The worst part of the needle felting experience was that it required a heck of a lot of poking. Poke, poke, poke, ouch! Poke, poke, poke.

...and the WIP that Caper dunked? It survived the experience. Got to admit, these look a lot like toys and come with handy carrying ribbons.

I put aside my chocolate story this week to concentrate on a ghost story for a podcast. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up. Could be another week because the main podcaster is on vacation and his minions are filling in.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dear Aspera,

I know you were humiliated down to your toes by the “procedure” we performed on you this evening. We put it off as long as we could. You’ve been increasingly uncomfortable over the past few weeks, and let’s face it, you sealed your fate when you scooted across my stomach this morning.

Please remember that we do this because we love and care for you. At least you get to go to your happy place - the garden to chase butterflies - while we do this to you. It is we, or really me, that has the short end of this stick. It will be over soon. And when it is, you can recover in the arms of your lover, Caper, or your daughter, T-Bone.

Run along now. I’m going to scrub my hands, pop open an Alley Cat beer, and try to forget all about it.

And...Caper, honey. While I appreciate that you pulled it out of the water bowl before I came home, I really wish you had left my WIP out of the water bowl entirely.

Tomorrow I will have a FO report.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rainy days are best shared with a friend

After temps in the 80s over the weekend, a cold front has desended upon us. At 2 in the afternoon, it is 52 with a steady rain. Classical music is playing, a mazurka, I think. News breaks warn that the first frost is possible overnight. I’m trying to write on my cozy, but when the sound of the forestry department’s chainsaws and chippers get to be too much (they’re giving the easement trees a much-needed trim), I retreat to my craft pile to needle felt more decorations for the Christmas tree.

Here, former-feral Aspera and her boy-toy, Caper, share a cozy bed. The old lady, Collins, dozes inches away.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Career drawbacks

Today we went to Kansas City to finish reseach and photography for an article about chocolate getaways. First stop was AndrĂ©’s Confiserie Suisse, a shop that makes chocolate that is oh-my-god-this-good-deserves-to-be-in-heaven. I was good while I was there, but purchased a few things to take home. The first on my hit list is a dark chocolate-coated almond. Someone, please, make me stop! Just one more. Just one more.

It’s a small bag. I’ll run out at some point. Of course I did buy some other things...

The second stop was the Chocolate Festival. It is a fundraiser for a charity, and had demonstrations, raffles, and tons of activities for kids. I didn’t find it nearly as tempting as AndrĂ©’s, but I was impressed with this chocolate sculpture.

The day was beautiful: sunny, high in the upper 80s, and with trees tinged with the colors of autumn. It will not last. Wednesday a front will bring rain and overnight temps at or below freezing.

I pulled out one project to work on during the long drive to KC and back. Last December I was suckered by the lies of Knit It! to start making spa washcloths. “You’ll likely find you can knit several in a day.” NOT! It could be that the local yarn (I stopped at Hobby Lobby) was too stiff and slowed me down. It could be that the seed stitch is not my thang. Dunno. I just know that the first washcloth, a garter stitch knit on the bias, took me about two months to complete during breaks with other projects. And the seed stitch I determined to work on while I used the exercise bike at the Y. And I haven’t been back for 5 months. So I’ve had this stupid washcloth sitting around, frowning at me everytime I became tempted to start a new project. “What about me? What about me?”

I bound off on the car ride home. That still leaves two patterns, and I already have the yarn, so I’ll finish them. I will. And when they are done, I will use them to wash T-Bone’s feline acne’d chin with Phisoderm.

The other pic is of Eclair, wishing I would go away so she can continue her underblanket nap undisturbed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finished Object Alert

Woo-hoo! Ryan’s Hat has come out of blocking, and I put the finishing touches on the baby booties.

I discovered what I believe is an error in the Ryan’s Hat instructions, and have emailed Interweave about it. It seems to be missing a
reduction row on the earflaps. Also, I had to increase the size to fit Michael’s head, but fortunately the increase made the pattern repeat perfectly, rather than their work around stipulated to fit the original size.

With the booties, I ran out of yarn to make icord ties for the final two pair, so I originally opted to make a “ribbon” out of the leftover organza from the christening gown. But the organza was a booger to work with, and I had opted for hand sewing with the silk thread, but it was too slick and the organza kept springing open. That meant that either I had to a) sew it on my machine or b) come up with a different plan. Since I didn’t have the right needle for silk, decided to go with “b,” and bought simple white ribbon for the tie. I also wanted to create something that would enable the booties to be stored with the gown, and each pair to stay together.

What I decided on was a simple zippered lingerie bag to which I attached a white ribbon loop so it would hang off a hanger. And to keep the pairs together, I found simple gift bags at Michael’s. They are a silvery-white translucent fabric with white ribbon closures. The lingerie bag was 97¢ at Walmart, and the gift bags were 99¢ each at Michael’s.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Wisdom of Periodic Cat Inventories

As I prepared supper, I drained a can of tuna in spring water into a bowl and put out the all call. Aspera was first on scene, followed by Eclair and even the old broad, Collins, who came at an amazingly quick pace giver her age and arthritic joints. The surprise was that the boy who is driven by his stomach was nowhere to be seen. Even after I called a second time and a third.

Michael and I puzzled over this as we began to eat. I knew I had seen him recently. When? While I was cooking supper. I was folding laundry. Sheets. I opened the drawer to put the summer sheets away, and the boy jumped in. I abandoned the drawer, but a few minutes later when I walked past, the boy had moved on so I shut the drawer.

I put down the fork. “I know where he is,” I said.

Michael laughed and sprinted down the stairs, returning with a boy in his arms. Yep. That’s where Caper was - happily wedged between sheets and towels.

On the work front, I’m busy with a tough, tough assignment: a midwest chocolate story. Saturday I will be conducting onsite research at a chocolate festival in Kansas City, and visiting a Swiss chocolatier. I may, in order to do my job properly and thoroughly, have to purchase product for a more indepth story.

I bound off Ryan’s Hat today. Will post photos when the blocking is finished.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Today’s Ah-ha! moment and a small skillset victory

To increase, either with a yarn over, or a make 1, and not have a hole, knit through the back loop. I’d read instructions that made this stipulation, but it wasn’t until today that I understood the why of it.

Today I knit in continental style with my left hand, and English with my right, to make the intarsia pattern on Ryan's Cap. It felt awkward, sure, but it worked slick as a whistle.