Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Blessed Return of Feline Stomach Cleavage

Miss Eclair is back in fighting form after a few weeks of debilitating illness. It began around 2 a.m. on an early December morning with sounds of barfing at the foot of our bed. And not a single barf, but serial and wretched. She continued like this several times a day for the next few days, and I tried in vain to get in under control by giving her stomach calming medication that we always have on hand, and mixing up a batch of Amoxycillan (also, always on hand). When nothing worked it was time for a phone call to our vet who immediately prescribed IV fluids to help with the dehydration, and other drugs in injection form so that could not be thrown up. When I brought her in for that visit she weighed a hefty 11.5 lbs. Over the next two weeks I noticed that she was reluctant to eat her dry food and it appeared she had lost weight so I added canned food do her daily diet. Still, when I brought her in for a weight check and reevaluation the Thursday before Christmas, she had lost a whopping one pound!

The vet drew blood and sent it to an outside lab for three panels, and we took a chest film. The film showed nothing conclusive, and neither did the lab results. A little dehydration, sure. Results typical of an allergic reaction, sure. We continued her on antibiotics and nausea medicine over the holiday weekend, and added Prednisone to the mix. Her appetite had increased, but she was still refusing to eat dry food. That’s when I became suspicious.

I had initially attributed her dry food aversion to a sore throat, but as the days ticked by, I recalled that her serial barfing had begun within 24-48 hours after opening a fresh bag of food. None of the other cats were ill, but Miss Eclair is nothing if not sensitive, so I could not rule it out.

Tuesday morning I went back to the pet store and purchased a fresh but small bag of dry food of that same brand and flavor. I poured it into a different bowl on the other side of the kitchen from her usual feeding station. Miss Eclair ran to it, sniffed, purred, and hunkered down to eat. Hmmm. This continued for the next few days until my next pre-holiday weight check and evaluation. Her weight had increased 1/2 lb from the previous week, and her coat looked much, much better. I mentioned to our vet everything I had done and my suspicion regarding her food. She was relieved, and agreed that it was likely a bad bag. It could have been improper storage, or there were too many vitamins in it...any number of variables regarding that batch could have caused her symptoms.

I called the pet food company and described the situation. You could have knocked me over with a feather when their customer service person said, “I hate to say it, but yeah, it sounds like it’s the food.” I exchanged that bag for another with a different lot number, and started weaning her off the drugs. I also have been inching her new bowl closer to her old bowl, because even washed and filled with new food, she’s turned her nose up at it. Association is a bitch.

This morning she strolled into the kitchen and found her new bowl empty, so she strolled over to her old bowl. She sniffed, ate a bite, then purred, hunkering down to eat. Crisis over. We’re all glad. As her health improved she lost her patience regarding medication. She may look sweet, but trust me. Miss Eclair is a puncher.

What a Heel!

My first sock has rounded the heel and is now into the homestretch of the toe. The pattern is the Madder Ribbed Sock from Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush. It wasn’t difficult, but it still had its challenges. First and foremost was the challenge of working with double points. Now I’ve worked with double points in the round before, but never this small (US 1), and for some reason I had a difficult time figuring out how to handle the needles under my left hand. About two inches of leg was all it took to get my stitches even and tight. I would have loved to watch someone knitting socks to see how their hands worked, but the best I have available to me is Knitty Gritty, and even if they were demonstrating socks when I ran into that problem (they weren’t) I know from other shows that the knitter has to hold his or her hands in an awkward way for the knitty cam so that would have done no good. The other issue was the color. I chose Gems Pearl in Navy, and while I don’t regret that decision (it’s a color I would wear - I can’t say that for a lot of sock yarns on the market) the dark color made it hard to differentiate between knits and purls.

I am closing in on completion of the first sleeve for the River Forest Gansey, and hope to bind it off before the end of the long holiday weekend.

And I’ve done a gauge swatch for the Man’s Turtleneck from the Fall 2006 issue of Knit Simple. As tempting as it is, I won’t cast on until I complete that first gansey sleeve. I suspect once I do it will sail along as it is will be worked in two strands of Lamb’s Pride worsted on US 11 needles.

Lack of sweaters has been frustrating but we’ve lucked out with the weather. While Colorado and western Kansas has been hit hard with two severe winter storms, eastern Kansas has enjoyed rain and temps in the high 40s and 50s. Even the earlier storm, that knocked out power for much of St. Louis and parts north and east, somehow missed my town.

Last week we began searching for new upholstery fabric for an Empire loveseat and chair, and lack of options in town took us to Hancock Fabrics in Lawrence and then Kansas City. This turned out to be a dangerous trip because two things intersected. The first was Mike’s mention that he would like me to make a new quilt for the bed. I balked at that at first because our new mattress has made the bed a favorite place for our feline army so I know it would have to withstand claws, teeth, and barf. He clarified that it be something durable and simple. Ohhhkayyyy... Still dubious, I strolled around Hancock looking at their decorator fabrics (Score!) and noticed a shelf of plaid flannel marked down to $1.09/yard. Flannel would be warm and sturdy, and a perfect topper to a winter bed.

We had held off purchasing the decorative braid for the chairs until we had a better estimate of our need, so yesterday we drove around in the rain looking for a suitable trim. Once again, Topeka let me down, so we headed back to Lawrence and Hancock Fabrics. We left with a bag full of trim and enough flannel for the quilt top for less than $30. My plan is to use a king-size flannel sheet for the backing, and an inexpensive blanket for the filler. Both can be picked up for a song during the end of season sales. While I don’t intend to use the blanket this winter, I will get the top pieced. Cutting begins today. Color A: 63 pieces, Color B: 110 pieces, Color C: 96 pieces, and Color D: 96 pieces. Yeah, it may take awhile.

Have a healthy and happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Welcome to the Quilt Zone

Much of the holiday weekend (when I wasn’t cooking a turkey, cleaning, or wrapping gifts) was spent at my cutting and sewing table working on the Shield quilt design from A World of Quilts by Beth Ann Williams.

For most people, I assume the piecing process is a solitary activity. I, on the other hand, have plenty of “help” in the form of a ticked tabby by the name of Caper.

Going at it slowly and with plenty of patience, the piecing went fairly easily with one exception. Sure, that exception felt like I had skidded off the highway at 90 miles an hour, but a buff and wax job (and the loan of another brain) was all it took to put my quilt back on the road.

You see, the main body of the quilt is comprised of nine colors of rectangles arranged so they form arrows in to the center of the quilt. The individual colors are cut in long strips that are sewn to another color strip and then another in a predefined gradation. When the last strip is sewn, it is sewn to strip number one, forming a tube. Then that tube is sliced crosswise into short tubes containing each of the colors. Now comes the fun part.

One seam is unpicked so the “tube” becomes a flat strip again, but a flat strip of multiple colors. The first seam is easy because it’s the seam between the first and last strip. Then a second tube is chosen and a seam unpicked, and this time it is the next seam down in sequence. As each tube is laid flat, the color that was at the top for the first strip slowly works its way down to the bottom. Then it works its way back to the top. A second tubes is worked in the same way, with the exception that when they are laid flat, the bottom color rectangle is removed from the entire set.

From this process I have diagnosed myself with a new medical condition: color dyslexia. The first tubes were easy to unpick because the colors of one fabric to the next were markedly different. But as I worked my way down, the colors and the patterns were remarkably similar and I became confused about which seam I had already unpicked and which seam I had yet to unpick. This condition was aggravated by a ticked tabby cat who continuously jumped on to my fabric strips as I worked through the mental gymnastics. I would pick him up and set him on the floor, start working through the process again, and BOING - cat on fabric once again. “MIKE,” I wailed. “I’m having color dyslexia!”

As of this morning, the quilt top is done with the exception of the binding fabric.

Yesterday we went to Sarah’s Fabrics in Lawrence and picked out both the binding and backing fabric. I’m hoping to have the entire quilt assembled and basted today.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Secret to Being a Middle-aged Man Magnet

While many women over forty might argue that marrying men are hard to find, my personal experience proves otherwise. Oh sure, I’m not in the market. In fact, I recently celebrated my 22nd wedding anniversary. And yet, I have men lining up to marry me. Men that I’ve never met. Men that I’ve never emailed. Men who haven’t even seen my photo.

I’ll let you in on my secret: It’s my Christmas wish list.

There are two things about my wish list that make strangers say “I gotta meet this woman.”

The first is what is not on the list: jewelry. I have not asked for anything made of diamonds, gold or silver. No precious gems, bracelets, necklaces, or earrings for me. Why would I? Wearing them gets in the way of my projects and are a poor choice as an investment.

The second is what is on the list: power tools. I asked for two this year. My electric drill is tired from two decades of regular use, and my old chainsaw ran out of grease and makes a terrible shrieking noise when I start it up. So I put them on my list along with a few other items.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law are from a different era and simply cannot believe that I truly want such things as power tools. And neither can my sister-in-law who thought I must, instead, want a really cute set of martini glasses she saw in a catalog. (In case you’re wondering, martinis are not my drink of choice.) But brother-in-law - my husband’s brother, and husband of said-SIL, totally “gets” this.

They hosted a holiday party last week. I begged out because I was coming down with this cold, but Mike went and reported back that two photographers from Kansas City want to marry me based soley on BIL’s boasting about his cool SIL and her Christmas wish list.

Now this may seem like an isolated incident, but I will say now that when I hit my 30s and I had college men passing me their email addresses in front of my husband while we dined out. When I was in college I didn’t get as much interest as I get now, but it turns out that certain college men love to talk to women who like a really good beer.

Know your beer, and be handy with tools. That’s the secret to being a middle-aged man magnet.

And in case you’re wondering, I found a lovely chainsaw under the tree this year (thank you, BIL) along with a six-pack of Bitburger that is chilling now.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Frogging Christmas!

It’s around 7 a.m. and two days before Christmas, and I just realized that the sleeve for the River Forest Gansey (now around 18") has to be ripped back to the garter stitch cuff. Why? Because it seems the increase rows were supposed to be started in Pattern A, NOT Pattern B. Hrumph! I hate unclear instructions!

At least this wasn’t intended to be a Christmas present. Still, I’d kind of hoped to finish this in December so I could start another sweater project or two...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Finished Object Alert

It’s done! The V-Neck Vest from the Fall 2006 issue of Knit Simple is done! I worked it up in Heilo by Dale of Norway. The color was discontinued, so I picked it up for a song at Yarn Barn’s annual sidewalk sale this summer. That meant I was stressing a bit about having enough yarn to complete the project, but as it turned out I have two complete skeins left over.

Still need to wash and block it, but it fits like a dream. It’s so good, in fact, that I plan to wear it today to complete my holiday grocery runs.

I hope to hear from my vet today. Little Eclair is a sick, sick girl. Even after two weeks of antibiotics she is simply not herself. Yesterday I took her back to the vet for a recheck. She had lost a pound in two weeks! Okay, so she was a chubby girl and losing weight the right way would have been a good thing, but I’ve heard the term “fatty liver syndrome” tossed about with her in the past, and it appears that it has claimed her. The vet sent her blood out to a lab for three separate panels, so I should know something firm today.

And speaking of sick, I have been under the weather for the past week. It hit my vocal chords first, and there have been days when no sound has come out. Then the fluids started moving - good - but it means I cannot sleep fully reclined. Even fully dosed on Nyquil or Dayquil I am a mouth breather. Last night I threw in the towel and slept in an armchair. I figured that it wasn’t going to be the best sleep in the world, but it would be better than not being able to breathe. I’m that way. It seems to have been a good decision. I woke up feeling pretty good, and while it would be nice to not have to venture out into the world today, I prefer to finish my shopping without the crush of Saturday crowds.

The weather has been lovely. We had nearly an inch of much needed rain a few days ago. This was the same storm system that has trapped holiday travelers in Denver. In fact, the major east-west highway closed less than a hundred miles west of here due to the storm. The part of the road closed directly because of the weather was maybe a hundred miles further west, but lack of shelter for stranded travelers forced KDOT to close the highway east of that position. As of this morning the highway has been re-opened to the Colorado border, but I expect travelers to be delayed for days to come.

In the meantime, the vet has called with an Eclair update. The panels showed nothing firm, but indications are that she either has an internal parasite or that her condition is due to allergies. And since she just had a deworming a few months ago, it is more likely than not the allergies. Good news, as that is easily controlled through Prednisone and I already am stocked on that for Miss T-Bone’s “Poor Doer Syndrome.” Sigh. I don’t think most pet owners have a larger pharmacy for their pets than they have for themselves.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Increase 1 stitch each side every 4 rows 23 times. Sigh...

Sleeve one of the River Forest Gansey. I’ve already completed the 27 repeats of Pattern A and completed the transition rows. Now it’s countin’ time. I see no other way to complete these increases accurately than to use two stitch counters - one for my rows, and one for number of rows increased. And may I say, the instructions bite.

Take the beginning of Pattern A, for example. The hem and cuff are both made in garter stitch using smaller needles than the main body. Then I switch to larger needles and begin the chart.

The chart begins with a WS row (in other words, working the chart from left to right), and the stitches are numbered from right to left. There is a 24 stitch repeat with a boundary that is a simplified varient of the 24-stitch repeat. The width of the boundary depends on the size of the gansey. So, for example, to do the sleeve in my desired size, I am to work the chart from stitch 6 to 36. Sounds simple, right? Try following the instructions as written (except I’ll exclude the other sizes for clarity):

(WS) P1 (selvage st), begin Row 1, St. 6 of Adult Gansy Chart, work 24-st repeat 2 times across, end St 38, p1 (selvage st).

Again, st 6 and st 38 refers NOT to knitting six stitches and 38 stitches, but to the beginning and end points on the chart. But, wait. If the first row were a RS row, then sure, I would begin st 6 and end st 38. But I’m not. I’m working on a WS row from left to right, so I’m beginning the chart at 38 and ending at 6.

Somehow I hadn’t noticed this when working the front and back, and it was only when I started the first sleeve that I developed that stress headache behind my left eye. Looking back, I must have marked up my chart, then ignored the instructions. There’s something to be said for that.

Of course, now that I’m over half-way done with the sleeve, I have serious doubts that it will be long enough. Mike has long arms, so I compared his measurements to the sleeve length in the book. Their measurement for the finished sleeve seems to be 19". His arms measure 24 1/2". WTF?? Yes, it is best that he purchase shirts that are cut for talls for the additional length, but when he wears normal shirts, they are NOT 5" too short.

So I next checked the photographs of the completed sweater to check the pattern change possition on the sleeve vs front. The boy’s sweater shows the pattern change lining up exactly. and if I need to add length, it should be in Pattern A, so just have him try on the sweater, and place the cuff to fall on the desired spot near his wrist and compare. Um. It lines up exactly without adding ANY additional length. So now I’m thinking that the measurements on the diagram are wrong. All I can do is exactly what I’m doing - fearlessly knitting forward knowing that I’ll likely have to rip back to the transition rows.

I have cast on for the second sleeve so I can take a break from my multiple stitch counter work on sleeve one. At least Pattern A is mindless and portable.

I ironed and organized the fabric for my quilt today. I don’t trust myself to wield the rotary cutter today (it’s easy to frog knitting in the face of a mistake, but mis-cut fabric is much harder to fix), so that will have to wait a few more days. My gumbo article is due Friday, and if I can get it sent off Wednesday, that’s Thursday and Friday I can devote 100% to quilting, if I’m so inspired.

Tomorrow I will wrap up the last of my holiday shopping and purchase the turkey so I can spend the next week thawing in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We’re on a Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels

That’s how my morning weatherman described the forecast. We’ve had tastes of winter. Even a good ice storm. But twelve days before Christmas when the normal high is upper 30s or low 40s, it is expected to be in the 60s. Friday the forecast calls for a high from the mid-60s to even upper 60s. Michael and I are planning to leave work early that afternoon to do some serious deck sitting.

Eclair is under the weather. Our puddin’ sack of a calico had been puking at least once a day for five days, and my normal methods and procedures for getting it under control were not working. So Monday I took her to the vet for a shot of antibiotics (that way she couldn’t throw it up), and we hooked her up to an IV to get some fluid under her skin. Almost 48 hours later, she still isn’t feeling well. The puking has stopped, but I guess you could say the lights are on but nobody’s home. We’re giving her time to recover because the shots can have a negative impact, but keeping a close eye all the same.

I asked Mike to find her baby pictures. She was born in our house to a foster cat.

It was a bit cooler yesterday but the winds were calm and the day sunny, so I felt a serious need to run errands. Stop one was to my sister’s office to drop off “Nana Arts and Crafts” supplies. I had a large chunck of white felt leftover from my wreath project, and half a bottle of glitter glue, and both those things sounded like good supplies for winter projects with the grandchildren. And they were. Turned out she is making Christmas dresses for the two girls, and the white felt is going to become purse pockets. I actually couldn’t quite picture what she was talking about, but she knew, so that was all that mattered.

Good thing I stopped by. Last year I made a butt-ugly Aran shrug from the Fall 2005 issue of Knit It! The shrug is warm on cold evenings watching TV, and that is its full and complete purpose. It has an odd fit, and the wide collar makes it quite heavy at the neckline but, of course, the shrug stops right under the boobs. (The model was shot reclined on a bed with her long hair fanned out, and her elbows cocked. Hard to see what the actual fit would be like.) Certainly not appropriate for a night out on the town. My mother, on the other hand, swooned over it. Even insisted on taking it to her prayer shawl meeting to show everyone. I can take the hint, Mom. I wasn’t going to make her this one because, well, it was butt-ugly. But I did find a shrug pattern on the Berroco web site. The main body is knit, but it has a wide crochet edging. I don’t crochet, but last I heard my sister did. I mailed her the pattern as I was leaving for South Korea last spring, asking if she would want to team up for our mother’s Christmas present. She reluctantly agreed, stating that she hadn’t crocheted in many years. But she agreed.

Went to South Korea, returned, and on the drive back from the airport I stopped at Kansas City’s The Studio to pick up the yarn. If you don’t already know, let me tell ya that Berroco Ultra Silk is out of this world expensive. I dropped about $100. The Christmas present quickly became a Christmas/birthday present. I knitted the shrug in no time, and by late May or early June had it back in my sister’s hands along with instructions, practice yarn, and a how-to book.

She could not figure it out, and really needed someone who crocheted regularly to demonstrate the stitch. Finally she foisted the task on an abrasive woman at her office who asked to have an advance look at the instructions. That was over a month ago. The lady has now admitted to having lost the instructions.

Task for today: print out new set for sister.

And, because of drama between my sister and my mother, and how this shrug would look if she attempted to finish it in time, the shrug will NOT be completed.

Drama? Long story, but a very abbreviated version is that my sister is upset about plans to pave over her husband’s cremains and/or remove them with a backhow (understandably) and is trying to find out her rights involving his cremains so she can remove them herself before the biodegradable container is destroyed - and my mother is less than sympathetic with her plight. And the one-year anniversary of his sudden and violent death is next week. The situation is ironic. As my sister so wisely put it, we weren’t born this way, we were created. In other words, we are our mother’s children.

I’m almost finished with this round of editing on my cozy, and hope to have it completed Friday so I can reward myself over the weekend by beginning the quilt. I’m also finishing a food-centered article about Louisiana’s cultural diversity. A very well known New Orleans chef has agreed to do a phone interview. Stoked is the word for that.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Finished Object Alert: or one sweater that will not make an appearance in the family Christmas photo
No, it’s not because the sweater stinks. I’m not wowed by it, but it’s mostly in my head and not in the head of the casual observer. No, this sweater will not make the Christmas photo because my father in law wants my husband and I to wear our Old Chicago Holiday Mini-Tour T-shirts. As of Sunday afternoon we’re just three away. Dinner tonight will bring it down to one, and we’re due for dinner with the in-laws later in the week so there you go.

I’m getting a bit tired of their food (and we usually only eat out every other month), so it’s a good thing we’re almost done.

The sweater is the Caftan Pullover from the Spring ’06 issue of Interweave Knits. It turned out to be surprisingly heavy, and the pattern called for the front to be open all the way to the navel. Again, didn’t like that. So I added a (gasp!) hidden zipper.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finished Object and a Three-Way (Get a Room)

While not a knitted object, here’s my completed wreath in an ice-blue and white felt. I was inspired by a holiday episode of Creative Juice on DIY. Their version used a styrofoam wreath, poking rectangles of felt into the foam which made it look a bit like a shag carpet. It may have looked alright, but I imagined it as light and flimsy (they even cautioned not to try to make set the felt too densely or it would break the wreath) and so looks didn’t matter to me. But I could see a core idea that I could use.

I purchased a metal wreath ring, and since the only one at the store had a shallow profile, I padded it with polyfill fiber. Then wrapped the ring with white felt, and overwrapped it in a wide blue mesh ribbon. The felt stars I made pretty much the way they demonstrated on the show, though I tried to make them a bit more elaborate than their versions. I also added touches of blue glitter glue. I attached the snowflakes to the wreath by threading a narrow gauzy ribbon through the grommet, through a bed, and back down through the grommet, wrapping the ribbon around the wreath one or two more times to where I placed the next snowflake.

I really, really, do have a finished KNITTED object to show you (the Caftan Pullover) but it needs a light ironing from being on the drying rack, and that sounds exhausting right now.

But for a cute fix, here’s a snap of yesterday’s three-way that made it difficult to work on my cozy. I mean, how could I turn my back on that much love?? The large cat at the bottom is our boy, Caper. The blue dilute at the top is T-Bone, and the meat in this love sandwich is T-Bone’s mother, Aspera.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Basil

For the past, let’s say eight months, I have been a regular listener to a non-knitting podcast that, while not being knitting related, is a favorite of one of the most revered knitting podcasters in the world. “Basil” and I disagree on many things, and agree on some things, but I have always found her viewpoint interesting.

One topic that we agree on is prosthletizing. She and I despise it. I say, it’s great that you believe such and such or thus and so, but please don’t be so egotistical as to believe that you are right and I am wrong. Keep your religious beliefs to yourself, please. No knockin’ on my door to set me on what you believe to be the right path.

As I was listening to her on rant about yet another topic, I realized that she herself is guilty of prosthletizing of a different sort. Ironic. So, dear Basil, you have viewpoints. I get it. And to back up your viewpoint, you’ve cited that this activity is illegal in 23 countries around the world.

Well, dear, I hate to tell you this, but I can count more countries than that that would throw you in jail for speaking out against your government as you are doing. You can’t use that as proof that your position is correct. Get off your high horse, girly girl. In the meantime, “UNSUBSCRIBE.”