Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ABQ Part 2

The first day of our drive to Albuquerque was perilous, sure. Shall we discuss wind? But after that wind turned into a righteous springtime thunderstorm, the weather turned still and beautiful. By then we were on Route 66 heading west to ABQ, where every few miles or so there is a decidedly junky souvenir stand.

I wonder sometimes what kind of person pulls in for a soda and bathroom break, and comes out with a mounted cougar.

My favorite part of the trip was the discover of Nob Hill, a section of Route 66 that has attracted a host of funky artists studios and galleries.

We also hiked

and took a balloon ride

were serenaded over Mexican food at the famous El Pinto restaurant

and took a tour of the Acoma Pueblo

You know: stuff.

A late winter storm blew through ABQ early in our trip, and we followed its remnants home.

Made it to far western Kansas before the day of driving through high winds (again) got the best of us. We dined with a schizophrenic off her meds at a Wendy’s where the staff couldn’t count to two (as in two baked potatoes, and two drinks) surrounded by buckets catching condensation from the restaurant’s failing HVAC system.

If ever there was a day that called for a cold beer, this was it. Unfortunately it was Sunday, and that part of the world doesn’t abide by no heathen behavior such as selling alcohol on God’s Day. At least not at the town WalMart.

At least the hotel subscribed to AMC. Ending the day with a new episode of Breaking Bad helped to counter the rest of the day.

It’s good to be home.

Monday, March 30, 2009

ABQ Part I

I stayed at a beautiful Albuquerque Sheraton that had only weeks before completed a massive renovation. The staff was solicitous and the décor beautiful, though it referenced its American Southwest location not at all. Unfortunately the hotel suffers from decisions made by sleepwalking executives in California.

Take the pillows, for example. When the bed was fresh and newly made, the pillows were delicious fluffy clouds stacked too high for one to reasonably recline. They were a beautiful picture. But they were joke pillows, squishing down further and further through the night until they provided zero support for the head and neck. Thank goodness I had brought my own pillow on this trip (and wool pillow from Frankenmuth, Michigan) or I wouldn’t have gotten any quality rest at all.

A new “feature” of the Sheraton is a place called the Link, which is a pubic computer station and hot spot positioned conveniently across from the bar. This is the only place in the hotel where guests can connect to the internet free of charge. Internet was in the rooms, too, but for a little under $10/day. YOW. Guests therefore have a choice of paying for internet in their room, or using the Link for free. The hotel line (and I’m not making this up. I sat through the propaganda – I mean PowerPoint – presentation) the Link offers business travelers a rare opportunity to work within a group of people and not isolated in their rooms. They show food and drink orders being brought computer-side surrounded by masses of business-clad humanity.

Okay, let’s analyze this a sec, shall we?

I am a business traveler and I am working on a campaign for a new product launch. Am I going to want to work on this where my screen of confidential information is easily visible by dozens of strangers around me? No.

I am a business traveler and I need to hold a conference call meeting over the internet. Am I going to want to make this call surrounded by dozens of strangers? No.

I am a business traveler, and I want to make a web cam call home to tuck my three-year-old in bed long-distance. Am I going to want to do this while surrounded by dozens of drunk partiers? No.

Entering passwords? Catching up on online banking? Don’t get me started.

The truth as I see it, attempting as I am to unspin the spin, is that the hotel wants to make the only free option be so unworkable as to force their guests to cough up the bucks to connect in private.

And the Link didn’t work on other levels. One fellow traveler couldn’t read any email containing the word “wine,” which as travel writers is a bit of a sticky wicket. Another needed to send an email but couldn’t because the address was case sensitive and the Link computers apparently wouldn’t allow it. And me? I attempted to read a couple of knitting blogs when I got an alert telling me that it appeared I was violating the terms of use, so it was going to slow my bandwidth down to 56k for the next ten minutes.

Guess it’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of the Link.

One of the last criticisms I will share is for their version of the Earth Hour celebration. You know, the hour where everyone is supposed to turn off non-essential lights in order to make a statement about energy savings and saving the planet? The hotel began by plastering the rooms with photocopied memos about the event for two preceding days. A third round of memos were at our place settings during the propaganda breakfast. The hotel was to, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday March 28, turn off many of the lobby lights, dim hallway and elevators, etc. Candles were everywhere, as were helium balloons containing glow sticks to turn them into glowing orbs. And staff wore glow stick bracelets. Okay, is it just me, or are balloons and glow sticks worse for the planet than a few watts of electricity? I’m sure the Sheraton muckety mucks have already sent out a blast of press releases to let the media and public know just how ecologically minded they are.

It’s a shame that a hotel with such nice staff and such a beautiful (but as I understand painful) renovation has made a series of bonehead mistakes. And don’t get me started on the bathroom layout. Um, Designer Dudes? You may be double jointed, but most travelers are not. So reaching backward to get the tissue is a rather awkward and uncomfortable regular event. Just sayin’.
I do appreciate the plethora of outlets, thought.

More on ABQ when I get home.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Break, Breaking, Broken

Last week I went down, hard. Not from an actual fall, but from the flu. At least I think it was the flu. So many of the symptoms of cold and flu are identical, you know? But a solid week of little to no energy = flu in my book. It also means I had time to do relaxing things, like read!

I finally found my box of leisure books after the move. Among the stacks was my then-current read: Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World.

Bored? Shouldn’t be. It’s a fascinating account of human and political history, and I’ll never look at a banana the same way again.

I also finished the Wolf Hat. Which I hate. Because it SUCKS!!!
Why? I had a serious gauge issue. I knew something wasn’t right early on, but I had to knit quite a ways before I could be certain. And by then the birthday gift deadline was looming. Did I think the recipient would wear it no matter how it looked? Unlikely. Did I think his wolves would eat the wolf hat? Very likely. Given all of that I forged ahead and made adjustments necessary to finish it.

It doesn’t look bad flat.

On a human, however, is another matter altogether.


But it really taught me a sharp lesson, and that’s that I need to sweep aside deadline projects as soon as possible so that I can return to knitting for pleasure.

I finished my knit meat on the knit meat in cheesecloth curtains. Now I only need to sew the sandwich part and they can be hung.

I watched TV. A lot of TV. Breaking Bad? My new favorite series.

Now the flu has become bronchitis and and typical seasonal allergies. I’m so pretty.

I’m also on the way to my first press trip of the season. Winds were crazy on the highway yesterday. Crazy and quite dangerous actually, but we chose a route that had has heading partially into the wind and not 90º to it, so this is what we saw rather than semis blown over:

We spent sunset at the Cadillac Ranch in the land of ya’ll’s:

My phone rang as I got back in the car. It was my uncle, who had just received his hat. I told him were I was.

“Oh!” he said. “The whore house?”

Um... no...

Okay, I’m not shocked that he wouldn’t have known what the Cadillac Ranch is, but that his mind, lacking that information, came up with as the most likely place I would be - a WHORE HOUSE?

Enjoy the hat.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Maru Dai on Crutches

Is Maru Dai is verb? Perhaps not, and doubly so given that verbs describe an action, and my Maru Dai-ing is so slow as to be practically a non-action. Still, using a range of crutches that probably defy every rule of the art, and offended its many multi-cultured gods (as well as the gods of grammar), I have Maru Dai-ed successfully for exactly two pattern repeats.

In my last post, we ended with the Maru Dai set up and ready to begin braiding.

Here I have added a piece of painter’s tape to the base so between work sessions I can tell if my stand has shifted 90 or 180 degrees from its desired position.

I attempted my first pattern repeat before I headed to Knit Lawrence, and I didn’t even make it through Step 1 before I realized that this was not going to work. I mentioned that there are like a bazillion bobbins hung off the mirror (the top of the stand), right? Before I move any of them, I can see exactly where I am based on the color arrangement. But as soon as I move my first pair of bobbins, that color arrangement no longer exists.

I begin by adding four more strips of painter’s tape to the top of the mirror, which will surely throw off my tension as the braiding book clearly states that any nicks or dings to the mirror surface will throw that tension off. Screw tension. I’m more concerned about keeping my colors straight. The strips essentially create east/west/north/south zones.

Then I make major adjustments to the pattern I’m following, because see how tiny it is sitting next to my stand?

I need to keep track of where I pick up bobbins in comparison to the other as-yet-not-moving bobbins. Then I need to figure out where to drop them on the other side in comparison to the other bobbins. Then I need to figure out which two bobbins on that other side need to be moved, and where to drop them on the first side.

When working on east/west sides steps, this is challenge enough. But there I’m only dealing with four bobbins on each side. But when it comes to the north/south steps, I am faced with eight bobbins per side. And to make matters even more complicated, once I move the first pair of bobbins out of eight from the south to the north, then I’m faced with ten bobbins on the north of which I am supposed to move a very specific two to the south. It’s all quite complicated, really.

Before heading to Knit Lawrence I left Michael with the task of scanning and vastly enlarging the pattern into individual steps.

That helped a significant amount. Then I noted which bobbins were which color on the diagram for the first part of Step 1.

Since the colors are rearranged as soon as I move the first bobbin, I chose not to mark the diagrams for the remaining seven steps.

My next crutch is to scrunch together all the bobbins that are not part of the next step, so I can fan out the active bobbins.

That definitely helps (and also probably screws up the tension), but to help even more, before I move the first two bobbins from north to south, I place the two bobbins I will subsequently move from south to north on top of the mirror. That really takes the guesswork out of which of that group is moved.

Theoretically, once I complete Steps 1-8, my colors should be arranged once again as they were when I began.

And you know what?

They do! They really really do!!

Since this is a project that requires lots of breaks, and I have a house full of cats who would be tempted by the ring of danglies on the Maru Dai, I have also taken to throwing an old fitted twin sheet over the stand between sessions.

It’s almost like Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility! It becomes an object utterly lacking in interest to my feline companions.

Progress photos will come only after I’ve completed a length of braid that can be seen without a magnifying glass.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I iz Smart (long but with lots of photos)

Kumihimo is progressing slowly. I have decided to discard the idea that I’ll have the front window curtains completed before our trip, much as one discards a used Kleenex—quickly and with no regret. After all, we’re talking three curtains. While the outer two are simpler in construction, I really need to install the middle one first to ensure they all fit. And the middle one is not only larger, but has two center seams, and I need to finish and attach the braid before I attach the lining. There is no reasonable deadline that can be placed on the braid since:

a) I have never made Kumihimo in my life,

b) I have never seen it being made,

c) I have chosen a rather complex pattern that is well to the back of my Braids book,

d) that uses the most bobbins of any of the braid pattern within said book.


e) that to make the length of finished braid I need requires a large room’s length of fiber on each of the bobbins.

Given all of the above, I really don’t need the added stress and pressure of an actual unreasonable deadline.

Oh, and did I mention that I actually need to, eh hem, work?

While there has been no actual braiding that has been achieved after a week of effort, I have managed (I’m pretty sure) to get it set up.

Winding the purportedly correct length of fiber requires my warping board and a sturdy floor lamp.

The warping board end will be the center point in the mirror.

So here I have tethered them all together using mop string and a hitch knot.

Here I separate the strands at the point of twining.

Having cut the fiber at the lamp end, I lay the fiber on the mirror.

Before I go any further, I need to make the counterbalance bag. Bear with me. Things are about to go wrong.

To do this, I take all 24 of my bobbins and place them on a scale.

They weigh 4 lbs 5.8 oz. (Don’t bother counting the bobbins. This picture is missing four of them that I discovered later had rolled under my curtain fabric.)

Then I make a counter balance bag out of remnants of Amy Butler fabric from my bobbin lace pillow display board. To come up with (what I believe is) the required weight, I need to either buy lots more fishing weights, or use few fishing weights and toss in a hand weight.

I go for the hand weight.

Then I need to make slipping hitches

for all 24 bobbins.

I begin winding them slowly and evenly across the mirror, using my pattern and the twining as a guide.

A knitting needle through the center of the braid temporarily locks it in place until I am ready to hang the counterbalance bag off an S hook.

Then voila!

I carefully read the instructions (again) before cutting away the twining. That’s when I read this, “Maru Dai tension can be controlled either by using 24 bobbins all the same weight with a counterbalance of about 37 percent of total bobbin weight, or by using 100 gm bobbins on the east/west side and 70 gm bobbins on the north/south side.”

Erm... I only have one weight of bobbin, so I need to use the second method of tension. That means that I need to take off the counterbalance bag and recalculate.

Here’s the proper counter balance weight, and my new much smaller bag that will contain them all nicely. Note that the hand weight became completely unnecessary.

And once again set up.

Since taking this photo I’ve added a strip of painters tape to the base with an arrow pointing north, to ensure that I don’t mix up my directions whilst in process.

My colors:

Fingers crossed, I should have some sort of braiding happening before the end of the weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Government Double Speak

Excerpted from an actual Library of Congress email on U.S. Copyright issues: “The Copyright Office will hold public hearings on possible exemptions to the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works.”

Not as much a double negative, as a triple or quadruple negative. A gal practically has to diagram this one out to know what the heck they are talkin’ about! But I guess that’s one way to keep public hearing crowds down.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Now Entering a Chartreuse Tunnel

While other bloggers seem to think that daffodils and budding trees herald the arrival of spring, around these parts we use an entirely different method: cat barf.

Cats barf year-round to be sure, but in the spring they shed their winter coats, which is ingested during regular grooming, and which subsequently gets barfed up in the form of hair balls. That’s just the way it is.

And then we have Eclair. Beautiful little Eclair with the larger-than-life attitude that will send the rest of the cats fleeing the scene at a glance. Eclair suffers from seasonal allergies which amplify her year-round allergies, making her one fat barfing machine. Fortunately, modern veterinary medicine is a magical thing.

This morning she had her regular vaccinations updated, and got one honker of an allergy shot to boot. Here she is an hour after we got home. If you look closely, you will see that she is beginning to lose her grip on reality. The world is starting to go soft, and the room is dancing in pretty colors.

Four hours later, she’s taking a bath in chartreuse light, and there is a constant hum in her ears.

I predict 48 hours of peace ahead.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Got an offer this afternoon to co-host a live radio show out of the U.K.

Life is full of twists and turns, isn’t it?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

24 = Cool Beans

After 15+ years of owning not one but two Marudai for making Kumihimo (Japanese braiding), and actually making Kumihimo exactly none times during those 15+ years, I am actually (gasp) making Kumihimo!!!

Here is where you should utter the words “Oh, my God!” in the voice of Carla from Top Chef Season 5.

Question 1: Why did you buy the Marudai in the first place?

Answer 1: Because I was in the process of renovating and decorating a Queen Anne Cottage, and I thought it would be super-cool to hang paintings off actual picture rail with actual cording instead of driving nails into the wallpaper. And Kumihimo would have made some kick-ass cording.

Question 2: So why didn’t you?

Answer 2: Because I got hung up on making net bags to be the counterweights for the bobbins, and that turned out to be waaayyy too time-consuming, so instead I opted for making a simpler twisted cord using a hand crank cording thingy that broke after its fifth use. And ultimately I decided that driving nails through the wallpaper was not a wicked sin after all. (Besides, last year when I re-picked up the net bag project I discovered that it had been doomed from the start.)

Question 3: So why didn’t you sell the supplies?

Answer 3: Because I horde hard-to-find craft materials and obscure reference books. And if Marudai isn’t obscure at least in Kansas terms, I don’t know what the hell is.

Question 4: And you’ve never had another project come up that called for Kumihimo?

Answer 4: Erm, for awhile I was going to make a felted cozy for my iPod and trim it with bits of Kumihimo and sling it over my shoulder with an ultra-cool Kumihimo braid. Then reality set it and I realized I would never actually use such a cozy because it would be impossible for me to access the click wheel on the fly, and the cozy would be in the way while doing yard work. So the answer is, no.

Question 5: Why now?

Answer 5: Because I need a braid of some sort for my new living room window.

I’ll step outside the Q&A blog form for just a sec to explain.

When I purchased the living room curtain fabric last fall, the plan was to make floor-length lined drapes with pencil pleat headers, and a valence. Before these curtains got made, however, I made the same basic drapes for the bedroom, and thus realized that the outside of the drapes either needed to extend well beyond the sides of the windows, or we would be faced with a relatively small opening when open. Pencil pleat headers aren’t very give-y.

In the meantime I’d been making Roman shades like a freakin’ Roman shade goddess for all the other windows in the house. They are crisp and clean, and when open all the way they let in tons of light. Or they may be opened partially at many different points. The fabric that I had purchased for floor-length drapes is now going to become Roman shades. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that my new windows are configured quite differently than my old ones. (Come to think of it, that’s still good news.) I have a large picture window in the center, flanked by two narrower casements. Clearly what I need to make are three Romans: one large center, and two narrower side shades. The side shades are no problem. The center window, however...

It measures 56" across.

The pattern portion of my drapery fabric measures 53" across.

What to do, what to do?

I have decided to make the center shade out of two widths of fabric, allowing them to meet in the middle with a section of plain background fabric stolen from the wide non-patterned selvages. Rather than having these seams show, I will cover them with Kumihimo braid.

Back to Q&A

Question 6: What type of braid are you going to make?

Answer 6: Pattern 33.3 Rosebud, a 24-strand Peruvian flat braid out of Braids by Roderick Owen. I purchased three colors of suitable fiber from Yarn Barn last week, and I think together they will make a quite lovely braid.

Of course, it was only after I decided on the pattern and bought the fiber that it occurred to me to count my weighted bobbins to see if a 24-strand braid was going to be possible.

I dug out my basket of bobbins and counted. 15+ years ago I purchased exactly 24 weighted bobbins. Yay me!

Question 7: Where did you purchase your Kumihimo supplies?

Answer 7: Lark, way back when Lark books had a small catalog store of art supplies.

Question 8: Why do you own two stands if you’ve never made anything with them?

Answer 8: Michael purchased one for me for my birthday oh so many years ago. A surprise which was ruined when Lark called me to confirm the shipping address on my Marudai. But I digress. Quickly after it arrived and was assembled, the wooden top (known as the “mirror”) split along a grain line. Lark had excellent customer service and they sent another Marudai without batting an eye.

Question 9: Where are the pictures?

Answer 9: This post would be filled with photos were it not for the weird storm system overhead that is turning everything an orange-green color. Photos will have to wait for a sunnier day.

And perhaps, just perhaps, there will be progress photos as well! Tee hee.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Beginning of Travel Knitting 2009

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, travel knitting is in the extended forecast. Not for weeks yet, but still, it’s something I need to consider. Because my decision on suitable travel knitting projects directly influences any home knitting I do between now and then.

Let’s examine what is currently on the needles, shall we?

Wolf Hat.
This project has filled with doom and gloom. Despite my careful and repeated swatching to get gauge, it is so over and above where it should be in size, that I pick it up only reluctantly.

If it were a hat for me, then I would so totally frog and start over with a needle two-three sizes smaller. But this isn’t for me. It’s for an adult with a larger than average head. And while it is my belief that it is still way over-sized, that doesn’t mean it is. And I might err on the other size of fit. You know, the side where it never gets worn at all. And also that person’s birthday came and went Tuesday. So I’ll keep plodding along, and better darn well have this done and shipped before I leave on my first trip of the season.

Knit Meat in a Cheesecloth Sandwich.
I have finished the first of two identical panels, and am over halfway done with the second. While I’d love to be oh-so-done with what is essentially a human-high scarf, I do have more pressing projects in the meantime. Like making the curtains to fit my new front window so I can leave down with something better hung than the current Kraft paper strips that are taped to the window with painter’s tape. (Oh, and not only are the living room curtains going to be three separate Roman shades, but I’m ramping up my skill set by modifying it with a totally new craft to me. More on that later.) So no, no cheesecloth sandwich pre-trip. But, the mindless garter-stitch would make an excellent project for hours and hours of passengering. Ding

Handspun & Red Corduroy Pillows
Again, the sewing part of the pillows is not going to happen before we leave. No reason to bust my ass getting the knit panels done either, then. The mindless stockinette stitch on broomstick needles would, however, be a fast knit for the car. Ding, ding.

Car time = approximately 24 hours total. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to make a dent in an old project. Time to dust off the sea feral purse.

So there it is, folks. Four days of 6 hour each passengering. Three knitting projects.

Unless something unusual happens in the next few days, my next post will be about my adventure with kumihimo.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

You are now under Advisement

While preparing habanero chilis do not, I stress do not, touch your eye or any part of your face around your eye. Not even slightly. Not even with the back of your hand. The pain is excruciating and enduring. And it’s quite difficult to finish dinner squinting at it with one good eye, though I’m sure it is comic relief to anyone unaffected within viewing distance.

That is all. We now return to our regularly scheduled knitting program.