Monday, June 29, 2009

Another Actual Finished Object

I know. It’s been like months and months (or at least it seems that way from here) but I’ve managed to crank out yet another finished object in the space of about a week. Yay me!

This pillow is made of red corduroy fabric, containing a panel of hand spun wool knit on 20mm needles. (Yes, I know. Twenty mm needles don’t exist on conversion charts, but they bear a clear 20 on the ends, and they are slightly larger than my US 35/19mm needles, so I maintain that they are indeed 20mm needles.) I stuffed it with a 21 x 21 pillow form.

I blogged about spinning the fiber here and here. It didn’t take long at all to knit up. I think I finished this on the drive to New Mexico in March. But then the backlog of higher priority projects, combined with excessive travel demands, pushed completion to the back burner.

Originally I had envisioned making two pillows, and having the knit panel cover one entire side. However, not only did I not have sufficient pencil roving to achieve this (1 coil spun loosely made 1 singles) but even adding two singles of another dark-colored roving to ply, and knitting at a large gauge, it only produced enough length to make approximately 1 16x16 panel. So I modified my design to create a piped window of corduroy surrounding the knit panel.

I actually like the resulting look better than the original design. How often does that happen?!

I have enough fabric to make a second pillow. But I think I’ll set this on the back burner, and not even call it an unfinished future project. So much to be done, and so little time!

The one year anniversary of moving into our home is coming up late August. My intention is to have each room in our house looking “finished” and “decorated.” That is to say, when strangers to walk in I want them to believe the house is done, though we will know that we have plans to rip this or that out, replace that other thing, tear down that butt-ugly thing, etc. That goes for the yard, too.

Unfortunately, for twenty-two years we lived in a home that was filled with obviously unfinished projects. I’m not sure I know how to live any other way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave

And no doubt. Actual temps have been in the mid- to upper-90s, with heat indexes 100+. It’s not fit for man nor beast out there. Time to seek out a few culinary cures.

Sick and tired of ice tea? I know we are! SouleMama tempted me with her adult variation on rhubarb soda, which includes the addition of tequila and fresh lime juice. Her inspiration actually impelled me to leave my air conditioned home for a sprint across a searing asphalt parking lot in order to seek out the necessary ingredients.

Well worth it! This is the first time I’ve ever made or perhaps even tasted rhubarb anything. The soda was delicate and slightly sweet without being overpowering, and the tequila blended perfectly without being obvious. It was the perfect party drink. This size glass only contained an ounce of tequila, so it certainly wasn’t strong. The only thing missing was a drink umbrella.

Rhubarb is in season, and so are blueberries. Unfortunately blueberries were a no-show at the local farmer’s market Saturday, but that didn’t stop me from picking up a pint at the grocer. Plump and juicy, they were the perfect addition to a new-to-me blueberry muffin recipe in my all time favorite cookbook, penned by the employees of a regional hospital in Ohio. Unlike most blueberry muffin recipes I’ve seen, this one called for whole wheat flour. It proved to be a major hit, rich and wholesome, yet delicately sweet. I sprinkled them with Swedish pearl sugar before baking.

More cookbooks are calling.

Monday, June 22, 2009

OMG—an Actual Finished Object!

Yes indeedy, I have finally completed Knit Meat in a Cheesecloth Sandwich! This is one of several projects I mentioned during the last knit group, saying that I would probably finish off in the near future because I have the luxury of being home for a long stretch. The knit core could have traveled, but I needed my sewing machine to finish it up.

Sorry for the weird photo sizes. iPhoto won’t let me grab thumbnails any more, so I’m navigating my way through Flickr solutions. Haven’t found the magic bullet, yet.

You will see that this provides ideal privacy screening, while still letting in enough light that we can see if someone is at the door. It also continues to provide an unobstructed view for the feline contingent.

I’m exceedingly happy with the results. It is a fresh, new design while hinting at exotic destinations. And at the same time, it is highly functional.
Project Metrics

Calculating project progress is rife with danger. It is intended for motivation, but the results can be deflating. For example: You mean I have to work on this project three hours a day for the next three months to have a chance in hell of getting it done?

For projects that have been around a little too long, like fish in the refrigerator, even startlingly short projections can lead to procrastination: I’ve been working like a dog on this project for two months, and could use a break. If I am only a week away from being done, what’s the harm in starting work on that set of cushions? Just to get a start, you know?

So as much as possible, I try to avoid such projections. I may shoot for a completion date, but measuring progress mid-stream is to be strongly avoided. And yet, I could not avoid it on the kumihimo woven trim destined for the main curtain panel of my new living room window.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us need small rewards as we work. Reaching landmarks and meeting mid-stream goals does wonders for keeping up the enthusiasm levels for long projects. In sweater terms, it’s like hitting the underarm bind-offs on the sweater body, or completing sleeve #1. But with my braid, I had met all those wonderfully obvious progress indicators. I had woven until my counterweight bag hit the floor for the first time, and repositioned it higher. I had woven until the leading trim end touched the floor. Now, and for the foreseeable future, my progress can only be measured by literally measuring it.

I set Sunday aside as a braiding day. I had other things I was working on, but the large block of the day was to be spent sitting at the maru dai stand. Early in the day I measured the completed braid from top to bottom: 26"
Rough measurement of total completed braid needed for project: 66"
Amount remaining to be braided: 40"

Okay. That’s not terrible. That means I’m over 1/3rd of the way through. And while it seems like I’ve been working on this forEVER, there were large gaps of time when work and travel prevented me from progressing for days on end.

Now, if that is how much I need to braid, and I am hoping to have this completed curtain up by Labor Day weekend, is it even possible to meet that goal? To test this, I placed a large paperclip on the braid as close to the top as possible, turned the television to a court show I had recorded last week, and opened my iPhone clock app to its timer function, setting it to play a Marimba in 10 minutes. Then I started weaving.

I tried to work steadily, but not super-fast. After all, I might be able to sprint at lightning speed for ten minutes, but the results wouldn’t be representative of a marathon session. At the end of the ten minutes I measured. I had made approximately 1/2" of braid. That would be 3" an hour.

As exciting as that sounds, I know to halve this, in order to be realistic. During my sprint session I did not have to let any more length out from my bobbins. That takes time. Nor did I have to chase a bobbin across the room that fell of its hitch. That takes time, too. And there’s the back stretching, and trips to the fridge for more tea, and trips to tea disposal facility, and cat scritching, etc. But still, there was hope. And not only will it be possible to complete my curtain for Labor Day, but I think it could be done by the end of July!

Between two half-hour court shows, and the movie Overboard, I was able to complete 5" of braid on Sunday. Woo HOO! Perhaps by the end of today I will have reached the 50% point!

That’s the maximum I can physically work on this project, even on days when it is the #1 Priority. After a while, sitting forward in a chair that is meant to be set back in, and leaning over a maru dai stand, begins to take a toll. But still, knowing how close I am will make it easier to justify more time spent at the stand in the future. Today, for example, I will 100% guilt free weave while my Judge Judy’s are on, and I’ll look for a second hour of something to weave as well. Two inches is my goal for today.

Friday, June 19, 2009

2 Finished Object(let)s, and Strolling through History

After much distress and several meltdowns (including one at the point of installation), I have finally finished the two outer Roman shades for my new front window. Now that they are hung, I see that I need to tack down the room darkening shade lining at the top because it wants to sag and pull the sides in. But other than that, DONE!

I am still working on the woven trim for the larger middle panel, but am approximately 1/3rd way through that process. I call that progress! And since I will likely be home for the next 6-8 weeks, there are plenty of Judge Judy’s that will enable me to continue to make real progress.

A relative is coming to town over Labor Day weekend, and this will be the second visit to our new home. I hope to have the main shade completed for his visit. We’ll see.

The family furniture hit another delay, due mainly to late locks that now won’t be delivered until my restorer is on vacation. But its anticipated return has got me focusing on family history. After going to all this work and expense to have them restored, I want to assemble an information booklet that will stay with the pieces after they are passed on to the next generation. Yes, I’m still young-ish, but the time to deal with this is now when I still have an older generation who can clarify and correct any questions I may have regarding their lineage.

My grandfather’s aunt put wrote a several hundred page tome that includes the ancestry in question, but I’ve always struggled with its organization. Who is related to whom, exactly, has always baffled me. And this history is quite extensive. Let me stress: quite extensive. If I am interpreting this correctly, and the person she names is the same as the person who popped up in a google search, then I appear to be directly related to a man who earned a knighthood because he surveyed the lands taken from the Irish in 1603. Nice!

E-commerce has a way of smoothing many of life’s bumps, so it was e-commerce that came to my rescue with Reunion 9, a Mac-based software that allows me to enter names and known connections, and it, in turn, creates a graphic based family tree. Among other things. My summer evening and wee-morning hours will now be spent transferring names and dates from the history book to Reunion, and snail-mailing questions to an uncle who is the last living person to possibly stand a chance of knowing what my great-great aunt meant by this or that. My mother’s memory is as Swiss cheese-like as mine, and the gg aunt died about a year before I was born.

Being home for a block of time gives me the benefit of progress on curtains, progress on history, and will enable us to make not one but possibly two batches of homebrew, too! I’ve got a few questions for the supply site, but if all goes well I will be ordering an Irish red, and a honey wheat. These will be partial mash kits, so slightly more advanced than our initial batch. I can’t wait!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome to the Land of Consumer Frustration

I am completely astonished that as sour as the economy is, and as many people purportedly lost their jobs, that there are still a good number of ninny’s in employ. Take our recent stay at a Hampton in eastern South Dakota, for example.

The rooms were delicious, yes. But the breakfast bar? I poured a glass of orange juice, and it had that thick furry, slightly earthy taste that I associate with juice dregs three weeks out of date. The hostess was busy at work in their kitchenette toasting muffins and bracing for the impact of a hotel full of pint-sized soccer hooligans who were in town for a tournament. It took four times of calling to her in an increasingly loud voice before she turned around. I told her that something was wrong with the orange juice, and had she tasted it because it tasted out of date. She responded “I’ll check the machine.” Which she did. As in she opened up the reservoir and peered inside.

Who does that? If I complained at a restaurant that the chicken smelled spoiled, would “I’ll check the oven” be an appropriate response? I don’t think so. Maybe if I had said it was undercooked, but not spoiled.

Or yesterday. After I had another failed attempt to buy a book at the local brick and mortar, I tried ordering it online. Their web site prompted me that if I ordered another book, I would qualify for free shipping. So I did. And it also said that I would get free shipping if I requested that they be sent in as few shipments as possible. So I requested that as well. And yet, it charged me shipping.

I sent an email to their customer service department immediately, asking what was up. Turns out that because I requested that they be sent to my PO Box, free shipping was no longer available. EXCEPT THAT THE WEB SITE NEVER SAID THAT. And if I had known, I could have had it sent to my home address, or even to the brick and mortar store. Both would have been free. I made these points clear to customer service. What would have been the appropriate response is “would you like us to change your shipping preference on your order?” to which I would have answered yes, please. But no. Customer Service opportunity missed. I won’t even get into the legal ramifications of failure to disclose on their part. Someone will sue them at some point. Their lawyers can explain it to them then.

And then there was the conversation I had with the phone company today. I received a letter telling me my calling plan anniversary was coming up, and if I didn’t do something about it, there would be consequences X, Y and Z. Except that I had received the same letter in early May and had taken care of it then, switching my unlimited calling plan to a basic one at $5.97/month. With the arrival of the second letter I called again. Seems that the person I spoke to in May hadn’t done anything she said she had. Also seems that that $5.97/month plan she purportedly switched me to isn’t even offered anymore. What they do offer is a 200 minute/month plan that costs $1 less than my unlimited plan, and a 1000 minute/month plan that costs $19 more than my unlimited plan. Who would do that? Be locked into 1000 minutes for almost three times the price of unlimited minutes? No doubt I will be reviewing my July bill very closely!

At this rate I am quite happy that I’m not purchasing a car or house or a sweater’s worth of yarn this year. God knows how that would go wrong!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Passing of an Era

Not only is Blue Heron (definitely) closing its doors, but Border’s seems to be on that same path. At least in my opinion.

Stopped in this morning to look for a few books and music. Once again they did not have the book I was seeking (increasingly the norm), and their music department was essentially empty racks. I toddled over to a customer service rep to ask when they would ever be done with their music reorganization. The answer? They are not. Downloads have cut into their CD sales so much that they are eliminating that department.

Hmmm. People not buying CDs? You mean like all the times I asked about specific music only to learn it wasn’t in stock? Could that have something to do with the fact that people aren’t buying music???

Today I made someone’s day. A friend and business associate was recently bemoaning the fact that his father had taken the family mincemeat recipe with him to the grave. It was true mincemeat, made with meat and not candied fruit rinds bound with suet. I promised him that I would check my grandmother’s recipe box when I got home. Sure enough, she had her own mother’s recipe tucked inside. In other words, it was my great-grandmother’s recipe. While her recipe did contain meat, it did not contain alcohol. Probably because she would have been making the mincemeat during Prohibition. So I sent him her recipe that called for chuck, along with a newer meatless recipe that uses brandy and sherry. Between the two, he’s well on his way to creating his own masterpiece.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Winding Down

Still pouring down rain. We start home tomorrow without having (successfully) seen Mount Rushmore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gray, Grayer, Grayest

Weather has gone from bad to worse. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

More on the Glamorous Life of a Travel Writer

As with many longer-than usual trips, there is often an interval where this is my scenery for several hours:

Yes it is just as relaxing and enjoyable as it appears!

We’ve left Missouri behind and are now in a part of the country where this is the typical male working the reception desk:

Along the way, I’ve managed to make some progress on the knit pillow, moving on to safety orange phase.

Caves, bison herds and monumental stone carvings slated for the next few days. Looking forward to returning home sometime this weekend.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

The anniversary of closing on our new home, that is. Theoretically, gone are the days when I find ditched narcotics and stolen purses gutted of their contents and stashed on my lawn. Now I’m living in the land of waving neighbors and gifts of plants left on my stoop. And one butt-munch neighbor, but my plan is to steer clear of him for as long as humanly possible.

It seems my new lawn appreciates all our hard work, and so it gave us the gift of flowers.

These lilies were apparently here last year, but I swear they never bloomed. Kinda says something about the state of things pre-sale, doesn’t it?

Instead of being able to celebrate by admiring the results of our work - and perhaps knocking a few more things off our to-do list - we found ourselves back on the road where we will be living for the next few weeks. I love the look of clothes after being stuffed in a suitcase for a days on end.

Gramma Phyllis, thank you very much for your suggestion regarding my curtains. I managed to get the outer two panels sewn up with mixed success. Tear-off was something I had considered, but I was concerned that bits would be caught in the sewing and always very visible and noticeable. However, another thought occurred to me as I read your comment: parchment paper. I think I’ll try that when I move to the center panel. It’s a much wider panel than the outer two, and therefore will be much more problematic.

I’ll try to post a few photos of our travels as we go.