Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Essential Tool for the Knitting Bag

Bought new sheets yesterday (bamboo - yum!), and what I once thought of as trash, I now see as handy heavy-duty and see-through small project and tool bags. How on earth did I ever get along without them?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

That’s a Conundrum

Memorial Day Weekend’s numero uno prior-i-TAY was to complete the blinds for the new living room window. I say “complete” but I really mean partially complete as in outer blinds 1 and 3 and not the center blind that will require the braiding that is molasses-slow when I’m working on it steadily and not progressing at all other times like, well, now.

Once again, these babies are Roman shades, which I’ve done eight times already for this house in other rooms. Requires math and the ability to cut a straight line at right angles to the other straight lines. Also requires the use of tools normally found in a garage, and a bit of lumber. But other than that, very straight forward.

I lined all my other blinds with a thin lining fabric, and that was pretty much okay. The lining fabric was poorly made or perhaps under too much tension when it was placed on the roll—or perhaps both—which torqued it and twisted the grain. That meant that cutting the dern thing at a right angle to the selvage was about 2" off grain from one side to the other. Or I could cut with the grain and it would be cut at an angle. The solution was to pull the fabric from one corner to its opposite, righting the grain along with it. Doing so was only partially a success, and created a bubble in the center of the panel. But all sins were absolved successfully once they were sewn and hung.

But using that type of lining on the living room was absolutely not going to work. Because the living room has the television, gets late afternoon light, and the lining fabric lets too much light shine through.

So this time around I went for a thick light blocking lining. Unlike the previous lining, this is more of a vinyl product.

Before I get into my current challenge, I will share a bit of background on this project. You see, this set of curtains has been a pain in the ass from day 1.

Issue a: it is a lightweight fabric without clear grain lines

Issue b: it has a clearly repeating pattern, but one that floats up from left to right

The above two issues combined has made creating straight and perpendicular cuts frustratingly difficult.

Issue c: There are three flat panels that butt up against each other, with the center panel sufficiently wide that it is made up two lengths of fabric. Because the panels are flat, the patterns not meeting or meeting would be extremely noticeable.

Okay then, match the patterns up, right? Easy peazy. Except that the pattern repeats float. To solve this I had to first sew two lengths for the center panel, perfectly matching the pattern (or as much as I could, because as I discovered, the machinery puckered a bit during the manufacturer’s embroidering process. And it does not meet up perfectly along its length). Then I found the correct width to cut the newly created large panel with its requisite 2" side seams. I turned under the seams, pressed and pinned them.

Next I had to find where the pattern met up with the left side panel, keeping in mind the 2" side seam. That meant matching the pattern left and right, and up and down. And remember, I couldn’t just butt the fabric of the left panel to the middle. I had to find where it met factoring in the side seam. This was much more difficult than it sounds.

Once I found the correct right edge of the left panel, I found the correct left cutting edge. Then I had to trim the right seam allowance down to the correct 2".

And start the above process for the right panel.

Have I lost you? Probably. But you at least get the idea that I was super-pleased when I finally had the entire set of panels cut to their proper width and length, and all seams and hems turned, ironed, and hand-stitched. Relief!

So here I am on the home stretch of the curtain project. The lining is cut. The lining is hand-sewn onto the facing fabric. I have made the dowel sleeves, and marked the curtains with their correct positions. It is the afternoon of Memorial Day. This is possible folks! Now I’m sewing the dowel sleeve onto the panel. And that’s where things went wonky. Because I am sewing through three layers of a thickish vinyl product that is grippy, along with one layer of a very thin and pliable fabric. The presser foot grips the lining, while the feed dogs struggle to push the fabric along, resulting in a gathered facing fabric.

Before I ripped and started again, I decided to take my problem to my local fabric store (not the good one, but the one where I bought the cheapass kicking my butt material I’m struggling with).

The consensus there is that I am “in a conundrum,” and that there is absolutely nothing I can do that will work well, except perhaps to hand sew the pockets on. And this is something I am not willing to do. I have done plenty of hand sewing, sure. But this is would be through three layers of thick vinyl and a thinner fabric. Do you have any idea how difficult that would be? To give you an idea, I accidentally pulled the heads off about half a dozen pins while I was working on making the dowel sleeves, simply because the vinyl is so darn grippy. So the thought of handsewing it kinda makes me want to ralph.

Time to bring out the fabric scraps for a bit of experimentation. And pins, lots of pins with good strong heads, are my friend.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

First, let me assure you that he is fine. A bit angry, sure. Who wouldn’t be given the circumstances, I say.

Today I toddled out to the garage to retrieve a tool I needed for my current curtain project (because seamstresses requires tools from the carpentry world to complete curtains, right? Oh, maybe that’s just me.) and I glanced down to the corner where the mole had resided last fall and where we still had a few glue traps strewn about, and I saw this:

It’s a skink, as far as I can tell. And it’s either an endangered broadhead skink, or the more common five-lined skink. One of the two. Apparently they are so similar in appearance that it requires a close examination of the scales to tell them apart. As you see here, it is thoroughly and decidedly glued down, but alive.

This is where all my hours of Animal Planet’s “Animal Heroes” and A&E’s “The Exterminators” viewing has paid off. I immediately went to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of vegetable oil, and used the oil to coat the glue. Then, using gloves and a small stick, I began to gently pry the little beast off the glue. I assumed it would panic as soon as it was mostly free, so I attended to its appendages first in order to prevent it from possibly breaking a limb in a final escape attempt. First was the tail, which got him down to one glue trap. Then the back legs, torso, front legs, and finally the neck and head.

The process angered and frightened him a tad. Thus the evacuation of the bowels. But in the end we got him free of all the goop, and he dashed off for the safety of a nearby bush.

First a baby bird and now a skink... I seem to be racking up the points in the animal rescue department this week.

Now that we have covered the beast part of this post, it’s time for beauty:


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Non-travel Knitting

The night before venturing out to Holland, I cast on for Berroco’s Can-Can in Seduce. This is a delightful lace tunic in fiber that slips through the fingers like spun gold, and I imagine that it and a simple black dress would make the perfect travel companions for a suitcase stuffed with clothes, a/v equipment, and travel brochures.

Did I think it would be an optimum car project? No, but I thought if I were careful, very very careful, that I could get maybe two or four rows done in a day.

That plan worked perfectly on the way to Holland. Rows 1-4 went smoothly. No knitting happened in Holland because the days were so freaking long and exhausting that when we finally returned to our room at night, all I wanted to do was curl up in those luxurious bamboo sheets (described by someone close to me as being like “sleeping with kittens”) and fall fast asleep.

On the way home I spent the first half of the trip organizing my notes and a/v files. Then I pulled out Can-can, and it all went wrong.

First, there are lots of SSK’s in this pattern, and I was on row 5 where SSK’s live and breathe. Second, while trying to work an SSK with my stumpy-nosed needles, the cap on the back end of the needle got caught on the seat belt.

I pulled gently to free it, but the silky fiber flew off the working tip of my slicker-than-snot needle. All of a sudden I had knit lace stitches in the air. I tried to recover them, really I did. But the stitches really wanted to come undone…

and then the car hit a bump…

and it all went dark.

This morning I went to my LYS and bought a new needle, one that was less slick and more pointy, and will attempt again after I have FROGGED attempt #1. I think this is the wise thing to do, as later rows call for an SSSK.

This project won’t see the inside of a moving vehicle again until it’s off the needles.

And a brief baby bird update. Went out to check the hops this afternoon, and I nearly stepped on the little guy. He made it to the sunken garden after I released him yesterday. He’s hopping around and trying out his wings, but has low skills. His mother is still feeding him, so that’s good. As long as the roaming neighborhood cats or predatory birds don’t spot him, he should be fine.
Hey Lady, Whatja Doin’?

Yesterday I started sorting out my craft room a bit, uncovering my half-done curtains and sewing machine for the holiday weekend when miracles will occur and I will get the outer two panels finished. In the window well over my sewing machine I found this staring in at me:

He’s a novice flier, and he seems to have landed in a place with a tricky take-off. I kept on eye on him for a few hours, and noticed that a female sparrow kept landing on the rim chattering loudly to him, but not flying down to feed him. And he was making no effort to fly away.

I debated about interfering, but after confirming that there wasn’t a nest in the well, and realizing that if I didn’t do something I would forever imagine a dying and then dead baby bird above my sewing machine, I donned my garden gloves, picked him up, and set him on the lawn. A hour later I checked, but he was gone. Two hours later I spotted him in the nearby red bud tree. Fingers crossed, this is one baby that has a chance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tending my Hops…

in my new wooden shoes. I’m told that they are exceedingly comfortable when wearing several pairs of thick socks. Hmmm. Sounds like a knitterly solution to me!

Even with one last morning interview, we made it home in one very long day. By the looks of things, we’ve had some intense rain storms while we were away.

This is the Grand River outside Chillicothe, Missouri. Or rather, that’s well beyond the banks of the Grand River.

At home we have a wee bit of water seepage at one end of our basement, and the force of the runoff pushed mulch off one of our planting beds. Note to self, replace mulch with river rock in the runoff stream.

Yesterday we visited our furniture at the restorer’s. It is within an eyelash of being finished. The major piece gleams with its new shellac finish and freshly shined brass hardware. The locks are still out, though. The locksmith took them to a place in Kansas City because he did not have the proper blanks. The gaming table just needs a quick spray of finish to fix an adhesive accident we had within a month of getting it refinished 15 years ago. The footstool is refinished, but awaiting upholstery. The upholsterer appears to be behind in his work.

Given these small delays, and our upcoming travel schedule, we may be looking at late June before they come home. That’s okay. As much as I want the furniture here with me, I would rather that we take our time and do it right. No sense in rushing just to have it sitting in an empty house while we are off gallivanting. It needs to be admired. Often. For lengthy periods. Something that the restorer and his young protege are attending to now while it is in the shop. He really pulled out all the stops on this one, and put way more work into it than he accounted for in his estimate. But it’s an older piece than he has ever worked on, built out of wood that is no longer available, using amazing craftsmanship. The screws are handmade. The wood is hand planed. It was built when Jefferson was running for the office of President of the United States. Like I said, it’s old.

We may hire a professional mover to bring it home. Or we may rent a cargo van and do it ourselves. If we do the latter, we can also use the van to buy a grill, patio seating, and a clump royal birch, none of which are emergencies, but all of which we will need to figure out how to haul home at some point anyway.

We managed to get the plants home safely, and put all the potted ones in the ground last night. Today I’ll take a break from work to plant the various bulbs and rhizomes.

Have a butt-load of work to do over the next two weeks. Yesterday afternoon two more assignments came down the pike, one of which is major and requires extensive coordinating, multiple interviews, and extensive hand-holding. Oh, and if they agree to be the subject of this article, then I’ll need to tack this lengthy stop on the tail end of a trip that has already had several things tacked onto the tail end of. When we walk out the door again, we may not be home again in a good long while.

There appears to be a rumor flying around amongst the pr hosts on my last trip that I am afraid of flying. That, apparently, because we often choose to drive rather than flying in. I guess it’s abnormal. I’m the elephant man of travel writing. We always drive to Arkansas, for example. Little Rock is seven hours away. By the time I drive to the airport, and get there at least an hour before boarding, then fly to a connecting city, then from the connecting city to Little Rock, it is about the same amount of time. Plus, as passenger, I can get a tremendous amount of work and or knitting done. Whereas there is little time that I can have my laptop on when we fly, and it takes a contortionist to wrench it out from under the seat and put it back in for take-offs and landings. And fees? Baggage fees, food, long-term parking. Need I go on?

If we had flown to Holland, I would not have been able to buy all my new fabulous plants, and I would have had to beg one of the pr drivers to take me here or take me there. Unless we had rented a car, and frankly driving is a whole lot cheaper. And I would not have been able to bring two six-packs of homebrew to share with my friends. Something that they appreciated in a major way. In fact, several people told me that it was better than any they had had in Michigan. (hee hee)

Afraid to fly? No. I’ve flown plenty. Aware that it’s often more convenient to drive? You bet.

The revelation about the rumor came about on the drive back to the hotel following our final dinner. Two other writers were in the far back seat listening in on the conversation. At one point I was explaining that I work on the road, and Michael likes to drive. That got the two writers in a heated debate about the difference between liking to drive, and liking driving. And did I say that Michael likes to drive, or he likes driving?

Inane? You bet. And just a tiny sliver of many inane debates and questions hammered on me by one of these two women. For example:

I said that I bought a six of Pickle Tink at Schmohz, and after I explained that that was beer (which I readily admit wasn’t obvious), lady #1 asked
What’s a six? (six-pack)
What do you plan to do with it? (drink it you moron)

Having our own car also means that we rarely share a ride with other writers.

Why do we like to drive (or is it that we like driving)? You tell me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Knitting Amongst the Tulips

Good morning from tulip-y Holland. No, not the Netherlands. Holland. Holland, Michigan.

The town is winding down after their massive tulip festival. Tulips are everywhere, lining the curb block after block after block, and thick in planting beds. Some are passed their prime, but many are still strong and beautiful.

Holland has at least one and possibly two wonderful knitting stores. Unfortunately my schedule has prevented me from visiting up to now, and today they are closed and we leave for home. So be it. I brought with me two new projects that I cast on just before we left home. I’m not aching to buy more wool just to feel more behind in my all my projects.

Yesterday we went to the annual kite festival on the beach in Grand Haven.

And while there we swung through downtown to visit Ground Zero for my knitting obsession. Four years ago it was a little yarn shop with a wonderful inventory and fantastic customer service. Or it was, because the owner relocated the store to a neighboring town a few years ago, before finally closing its doors altogether. But again, more wool is something I do not need.

But we did make a few purchases on the way back to the hotel. We stopped at West Olive Nursery, which just happened to be having the first of their twice a year nursery stock sale. Our back seat is now full of bushes and ornamental grass, that added to a sack of day lily bulbs and rhizomes I bought at Veldheer a few days ago = work for me as soon as we get home, and much jealousy from neighbors shortly thereafter. I also bought a very special pair of new gardening shoes. Pics on that to come.

We finished last night with a tour of the Holland lighthouse. Here’s a sneak peak of one of my new projects.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Joy is…

Visiting a lawn and garden center so big, they issue their customers golf carts.

And among the immensity, finding a rare and beautiful variety of birch that will someday make its way home to us.

See the leaves? They are cinnamon!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


It’s been almost a year since we moved into our new home. There have been plenty of firsts here, like our first ice storm, and our first daffodil (singular). And plenty of opportunities to reflect on the differences between the old place and the new.

I think there is no single better example of the differences than in litter. Litter says a lot about a community and how much or little the people that live and work there care about the place. And it’s not that the new town is litter free. Just a month ago I was driving behind a carload of college boys who in tandem started tossing empty drink cups onto the curb.


Litter at old house:

Old newspapers
Candy wrappers
Empty beer cans and bottles
Crumpled fast food sacks

Those were the normal everyday things that we would pick up–literally—every week. We also had some lesson common but quite extraordinary litter from time to time:

Used tire
Baggies of cocaine (this happened at least twice in the twenty years we lived there)
Stolen purses (again, at least twice)

And there was even one time that we found a sack full of empty porn DVD cases. Or we assumed they were empty. They were thrown away as quickly as possible with as little contact as possible, and plenty of antibacterial soap afterward.


Thus far the litter at our new home consists of two items:

Panera paper cups, usually one per week
Golf balls

I like my new home. You probably guessed that, right?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Government Efficiency at its Best

Over the weekend I received a 2009 Tax Valuation for my business equipment from the county where my business had been located until last year. In other words, my business is not there now, nor has it been since late 2008.

I quickly pulled out the file folder where I keep my photocopy records of past assessment forms (I’m obsessive about photocopying these before I mail the original), just to verify that I had correctly marked the box that reads “I do hereby certify that I did not own or control any property in this county subject to personal property taxation on the first day of January. Yep. That was the box that was marked.

I called the appraisers office as soon as it opened this morning. The employee asked me if I had included an explanation as to why I am no longer in that county. I said no, because there is no blank for an explanation. She responded, “you wouldn’t believe the number of people who mark the wrong box, so unless there’s an explanation we pretty much ignore it.”

The Shawnee County, Kansas appraiser’s office “pretty much ignores” what people swear to on their assessment form…

Add to that the fact that they mailed both the assessment form and valuation to my current address because I had informed them of the new address in 2008 at the time I moved…


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Anatomy Lessons

After suffering from a blocked right ear that refused to pop for over a month, I finally broke down and visited a walk-in clinic. My reasoning was that, while it was probably simply fluid in my sinuses from the (run of the mill non-pandemic) flu I had had in mid-March, and now seasonal allergies (in which case I simply needed to take Zyrtec for a period of time to dry out my sinuses), that it could just as easily have been something else like a foreign body, in which case no amount of Zyrtec would ever do the trick. And I happen to lack the ability to peer down my ear canal. Perhaps you can, but me, no.

I explained the situation to the medical professional in detail. I simply needed her to look in my ear and tell me what she saw. Still though, she insisted on going over my complete medical history.

“What sort of birth control do you and your husband use?”

“When was your last period?”

“Is it possible you are pregnant?” With that last question she nearly glimmered in excitement.

Um, maybe I’m a little out of touch, and perhaps young folk these days have a different way of doing things, but I think it is highly improbable that I have a fetus in my ear canal. Just sayin’.

And so that I don’t leave you hanging, no I did not have a fetus in my ear or anywhere else. Nor did I have a June Bug lodged in my ear. (Yes, this is possible though rare. I’ve been known to watch Untold Stories of the E.R. from time to time.) I simply need to return to my Zyrtec routine (which means I will be taking a nap for the next several weeks) as well as snort steroids up my nose. This will likely put an end to my non-existent Olympic career, which saddens me deeply.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Can’t Get Enough

If this isn’t a Hallmark moment for cats, I don’t know what is: a rainy day, a basket full of squishy blankets and stuffed animals for pillows, and a mother and daughter who clearly adore each other.