Thursday, July 30, 2009

Better

Not every home improvement requires major bucks. Sometimes all it takes to make a big change is a can of paint.

Four year-old Adirondack chairs from Ace Hardware.



We had applied several coats of wood preservative over the years, but it had all but worn off, giving it a rough, patchy look.

Enter a can of Benjamin Moore’s Alkyd Porch & Floor Enamel in Evening Blue (color is much more vibrant in person than on-screen), and a few rounds of sanding.



A second chair is a coat behind the first, but I hope to have it re-assembled and finished by Saturday.

It looks A-MAZE-ING!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Progress, in 32nds of an Inch



I finished the first in the pair of Serviceman’s Socks yesterday. Yay! That only took me… let’s see…

According to my projects page in Ravelry (Ravelry link), I started the Serviceman’s Socks project in December, 2007. Well, actually my first blog post that announces the cast on was dated January 3, 2008. Let’s go with that date. It sounds so much better.

Since I finished sock #1 yesterday, July 28, 2009, that’s one year, five months, and 25 days. That’s roughly 480 days that this project has been on the needles.

The sock is 18 1/2" from toe to cuff.

That means that I knit an average of .038" per day on this sucker. 1/16 inch is .0625". 1/32nd of an inch is .03125. In other words, I knit at the blistering rate of a little over 1/32nd of an inch of sock every day over the past year and half. That’s quite a feat, considering that each knit stitch is roughly twice that size.

Guess I better get a jump on the second sock if I want to wear them before I’m forced to move to the old fart’s home.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dude, Spellchecker isn’t enough for your Brand of Dumb Ass.



This morning’s headline. No, the story isn’t about the residents of Montara organizing for a strike and storming their subdivision. Though that would have been a darn interesting read.

It is, however, about a sudden and severe storm that formed last night, causing extensive damage.

On the upside, Mr. Atkins managed to spell all four words correctly.

It will be interesting to see how long, if ever, it takes for the paper to realize and correct the mistake.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Taking a Can-Can Do Approach

Turns out that I’ve developed a complex social hierarchy among my craft projects: I treat them much the same way as I envision kindergarten teachers do their charges.

I have my over-eager “A” students who seem to breathlessly excel at skipping, and playing with others, listening during reading hour, and resting quietly during nap time. They are no trouble at all, and are the projects I wish for when meeting deadlines (though they are admittedly a bit of a yawn).

Then I have the children who excel in one or two things, but perhaps have never been taught how to tell time, and never learned their full names. These projects are much more common place, and are fine except for a few rough patches along the way when they require a wee bit more attention than most. The Serviceman’s Sock is a great example. It’s a WWII-era Red Cross pattern. My particular pattern and wool came from a cool tin kit sold by the Red Cross a few years ago. It had been hibernating for over a year, then last winter-ish I had completed the first heel flap of an otherwise boringly plain sock, and hit a major snag. The flap was about 1/2- 2/3rds the width and height it was supposed to be, and solid like a little rock. There was no ribbing as you see in the pic now.



I put it in time-out for a long, long time. Then I spent a few weeks trying to figure out where I went wrong. Or how, I mean. I finally gave up on that, and frogged back to where the heel flap began. As I started over, the flap began to form exactly as it is meant to be. My best guess is that when I slipped, I slipped as if to knit. That would have twisted the stitch, and possibly been enough to tighten the gauge. At any rate, I’m past one snag and on to boring bits again for a while.



On the opposite end of the scale from the “A” children, are those who have undiagnosed ADD or ADHD, along with a host of other physical and developmental problems. For my Can-Can lace tunic, let’s throw in Mosaic Down Syndrome, Asberger’s Syndrome, and severe dyslexia.

I started working on this in the car on the way to and from Holland, MI earlier this year. I used Addi’s for their pointy properties, and all went surpisingly smoothly until we hit a bump in the highway at exactly the wrong point in my knitting, and I ended up with stitches in space, which then quickly and with seemingly no resistent slipped apart. It was horrific.

As soon as possible I frogged the entire tunic and began reknitting with new needles that were super-pointy, but non-slippy. And the knitting was easier, yes, but I would quickly lose track of where I was in the lace pattern and end up with giant freaking mess. I mean, I had no idea where I was in the pattern below, so the only thing I could do was frog and begin again.

This happens so many times, I can’t tell you. I think I’m paying attention. I think I’m being careful. Then my mind drifts to an interview I need to conduct, or an article I need to finish, or wondering how I’m going to tell my close blood relative that the reason I don’t want her to know where I live isn’t as much about her creepy crack-addict husband, but about her and her crazy.

Yesterday I removed Can-Can from it’s time-out bin, and we sat down for a long talk that included Excel spreadsheets and drugs. I have transferred the pattern to an Excel doc for every line including the plain purl rows. For these WS rows, the show the purls as well as the line above it, written backward in pattern so I can tell where I am and what I need to do if things have gone wrong.



And it seems to be working. I still have issues, and in one pattern repeat I found an error. But I knew what it was supposed to look like, so I simply corrected the problem in the next row so that I still appear to be in pattern.

Because there will be mistakes, and I will get off the track from time to time. But now that I’m armed with all the gear of an Army-level orienteering class, when I do get off track, perhaps I can beat my way through the brush to get to the right spot, rather than going back to the beginning to start again.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Homecoming of the Family Jewels

The day has finally arrived. I’m totally moved in. Not unpacked. Not house completed. But moved in. It’s been eleven months. ’Bout time, I say.

The night before we were to bring the last of our furniture home, I had a dream that related in an odd semi-rational way the next day. It was an old house dream.

I had suffered from a series of these for several months following our house sale. It always involved me traipsing around the old house, either as an anonymous invited guest, or as someone who snuck in. I would wander around, looking at our old rooms that now contained their furniture and their decor. The house always looked great, but upon waking I always wondered why I had them. After all, I had zero emotional connection to that house. It was no longer ours. In fact, even though we had lived there for 20+ years, it feels like it was never ours. The dreams stopped when I realized that I was looking at our old rooms completed, and that was never the way they lived. We were always in the middle of a passel of half-done projects and dreams for the future. The house wasn’t “done” until we were moved out and prepping it for sale. Then it looked kick ass. My decision, in real life, to make a deadline of our anniversary move-in to have the house look complete to strangers, put an end to those dreams. That was, until Thursday night.

So Thursday rolls around, and I have another old house dream. This time we were invited to stay by the new owners, who vacated the house for the night to allow us to sleep there. Don’t know why. My dream scenario had us staying there a week after we moved out. Anyway, the next morning I’m wandering around the house, tidying up and bundling up the last of the limbs I’d clipped and abandoned upon our previous departure. When I went into the bedroom to make the bed, I ran into the new owner. She was sitting in a chair beside the bed, patiently waiting for us to leave. We began chatting (this was the first time we’d met), and wandered into the dining room as we talked. Her two dogs were rough housing. As I looked around the room, I noticed that my cats were there, too. I’d failed to move them with us to the new house. Now they were hers, really, because I’d abandoned them. I approached this gingerly.

“You know that my cats aren’t supposed to go outside, don’t you? I can take them with me today if you’d like.”

She paused only briefly, then said, “I had to put one of your cats down for her own sake.”

I knew instantly she meant Eclair.* Eclair probably hadn’t handled the transition to the new homeowners well, and particularly not the presence of overactive dogs.

At that point I made myself wake up and stay up. No way to start the day. (And for the record, I would never, ever leave my pets behind. Ever.)

Why would I have such a bizarre and heartbreaking dream? Because I had abandoned some of my furniture in our old town. Not really truly abandoned. We moved these pieces to a restorationist in advance of our move so that they would be complete and beautiful when they arrived at our new home. But it’s been a year, the latter half of which the restorationist has been hard at work, researching, inventing, and painstakingly restoring. Now the pieces were finally done, and we were bringing them home.



The pieces are stunning. The photo above is one, and the most massive. It has been in my family for generations, made two hundred years ago for my grandfather’s grandmother’s grandfather, who was integral in construction of the Rideau Canal that runs between Ottawa and Kingston, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It took two round trips in a cargo van to bring them home. A third van trip took us to Suburban Lawn & Garden where we loaded up with Witch hazel ‘Diane’, destined to turn a bright red in the fall.

The run out to the hoop house required two golf carts, his and hers.



And even with the cargo van, we barely made it.



We ended the day exhausted and sweaty (the heat index was three digits), but glad to have a couple of cold pints.



And glad to have the last of our babies home.

* I shared the dream with Michael later that morning. “It was Eclair, wasn’t it.” That cat has a rep, I tell ya’.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Small Pleasures

Early morning garden work, pulling weeds when the grass is as dewy wet as after a rainstorm. Then a fresh cup of coffee and a read while my damp feet dry out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some Kind of Eye Candy

It’s time to celebrate. Torchwood returns tonight. Yippee!! It’s been absent much, much too long, and I’ve missed my Capt. Jack.



To help me segue back into Torchwood’s fold, last night I watched The Making of Me John Barrowman on BBC America. If you are of the belief that homosexuality is a choice, then you will probably want to pass on this one. But I found the science behind human sexuality to be fascinating. And besides, gay or not, that man is some kind of eye candy!

My only question is: if he is American-born, why does he speak with a thick Scottish accent to now-American parents who emigrated from Scotland? ’Cause the rest of the time that man is as Midwestern America as it gets! ETA - after investigating this further, I found that John came to the U.S. when he was eight, and his native accent comes out when he’s with family or friends.
A Mother of a Finished Object

Yes, they are finally done: the three new living room curtains. They look deceptively simple, don’t they? They are so not! The saga is roughly as follows.



First, when we took possession of the house, the existing window was a poorly built and half-rotted bay, with ivory mini blinds installed in each pane. We knew that we wanted better curtains, and that the new window would basically be the same size as the old, so we picked out a lovely chocolate polyester fabric bearing a loopy steel blue embroidery; as well as a contrasting fabric for a valence. The plan was to make pencil pleat floor length drapes.

Then we finished the same style of drape in the bedroom, and discovered how very little of the window was visible even when the curtain was opened fully. The Roman shades I’d made for other areas of the home opened widely, on the other hand, so we decided to change curtain styles. That meant that I now had about 3x to 5x more fabric than I needed.



Also, this type of fabric (as I discovered on the similar content bedroom curtains) has no clear grain line and the embroidered pattern, while repeating, repeats along approximately a 5° angle to the grain line. So that’s not a help in cutting straight lines, either! And unlike the previously planned drapes, goofs would be readily visible in the Roman shade versions.



Also, I needed to make the pattern flow from curtain panel to curtain panel, which was less than easy because I had to factor in seam allowances, so the pattern match wasn’t cut to cut, but rather fold to fold.



And, the center panel was too wide to use out of one length of fabric, so I also needed to match it as best as possible down the center of that panel by seaming with a second length. Even doing my best to cut and sew this to match, I discovered that the bolt had been embroidered unevenly as it rolled through their machinery, which would have been painfully obvious were it not for my kumihimo braid tacked down at that seam.



Plus, because of the sheer nature of the main fabric, I needed to use a heavier vinyl black-out lining for these shades, rather than the thin natural fiber stuff I used on Roman shades elsewhere in the house. And as I’ve already whined in previous posts, this was one challenging task.

I taught myself to make kumihimo braid, using a 24-strand flat braid Peruvian pattern in the three-color rosebud variation. I whined about that process plenty, too. Check the kumihimo tag links to find these posts. In the end, I made 67.5" of length, and required every bit.

This time around, I tried to resolve the lining issue by first sewing the lining to the main fabric along the same sewing line that the rod pocket would later use, setting my sewing machine at the longest possible stitch setting, and pinning the holy heck out of it. This was only marginally successful, so I found myself picking up the presser foot at various points, and dropping it down again an inch or two later down the sewing line whenever I could see it scrunching (main fabric) or stretching (lining). Then I pinned the rod pockets on, and sewed them on with the main fabric on top, using the earlier basting stitches as a guide. Again, only marginally successful. I still experienced scrunching even with all these precautions.

I nearly finished yesterday, but discovered I needed an additional 9 brass rings after the fabric store was closed. So today was the day. They are up. They are done. And they look magnificent! Every step that distressed me during the process was worth the end result.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Finished Object(let)

Yesterday was one of those days that just made sense. At the same time I was preparing for a phone interview with a deputy prison warden (for an upcoming online AAA Missouri article), I freed myself from a prison of my own making: braiding the trim for my last living room curtain.



Cutting the bobbins off was scary as hell. I had calculated that I needed to 63.5" in length for the curtain face, plus additional to fold under. Since I had ended with 64.5", I decided to watch another episode of Law & Order Criminal Intent, reaching a whopping 67.5".

Then and only then did I take scissors to the braid.



Which I immediately took to the sewing machine to tack down the beginning and end, hoping to avoid a disastrous unweaving.

So that’s it. My first, and probably my last Kumihimo braid. For a good long while, at least.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Score!

After an absence of several years (when I was either out of town, or babysitting contractors like last year), I was once again able to partake of the offerings at my LYS during the town’s annual sidewalk sale. Talk about bargains! Talk about a crush of humanity, second only to crowd’s gathering for Spain’s Running of the Bulls!

I arrived at a little before 8 a.m., later than I would have liked, because one of the town’s main arteries was barricaded off - a fact I only discovered late in the game. So be it. There were still a handful of parking spaces left, and I managed to maneuver through the crowd outside the nearby Toy Store without screaming at that 6-year-old to “get the F out of my way!” tempting as it may have been.

Fortunately, once I was surrounded by wool and my knitting homeys, I was able to calm right down.

At times like this it is critical to look not just at what are on the tables, but also what is under them, a secret I shared with Dee Anna when she noticed the bounty in my arms. That is where whole bags of single dye lot yarn can be found. This is where future sweater’s hide. I ran into at least four of my knitting crew, also loading up on goodies. Several things I picked up, only to reconsider and set down. Money is an issue. Time is an issue. And I have no specific project in mind.

In the end, I brought home this:



in sufficient quantities to make one winter sweater, and one spring.

Afterward, I navigated through the crowds toward the Bay Leaf, where they had a miserable excuse for a sidewalk sale - four tables inside at the rear of the store, past all the great non-sale merchandise. The sale items were lame, but I happened to bump into my two sisters there, geared up in their annual sidewalk sale backpacks, bemoaning the fact that many of their favorite stores have closed or relocated. That’s okay, too. The lack of a pressing need to run to the next store gave us time to participate in group sisterly gritching about our mother. Priceless!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Birth of Weekend Rituals

Last year was super crazy. So crazy that partaking in our new town’s offerings—as both settled residents and tourists do—was completely off the table. No time no time. Put out the most raging fires first, and wait to handle the rest only as each starts to go out of control. This containment strategy was necessary, but not wise for long-term mental or physical health.

A year later, as we near or move-in anniversary, I find that “containment” is no longer an accurate description of our lives. Oh, we still have a ton to do, yes. But they are the projects of a more settled person. Now rituals and partaking of small pleasures are slowly being integrated in our lives.



Like an early-morning visit to the farmer’s market,



followed by breakfast at a sidewalk cafe.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tipping Point

Last night we appear to have hit a milestone with the landscaping. Hitherto, any work that we put into the lawn and house exterior (time, $) has helped the appearance only slightly. As in, that new bed with the row of arborvitae looks infinitely better than the old row of cedars we cut down, but the rest of the yard still looks like crap. Or, that new Marvin window is much better suited than the rotting bay window, but that bed of river rock on exposed clear plastic under the window is still butt-ugly. But last night all that changed.

End of season nursery sales were the inspiration for the day. The week previous I finally finished pulling the plastic out from under the rocks, and re-edging the border (that bed of rocks has been put down so long ago that the lawn was encroaching about a foot into the rock bed, and so much soil had built up everywhere else that the plastic was laughingly useless as a weed barrier anyway.)



Two nurseries, $250 dollars later, and enough late afternoon sun intake to cause us now be suffering from the effects of heat exhaustion, the front bed looks beautiful. And the best part is that it no longer is followed with a “but,” as in “the front bed looks beautiful but the entry sucks.” And the entry does suck. But somehow the overall beauty of the landscaping disguises the butt-ugliness of the entry.

Nice.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Home Depot Hate-Fest

Home Depot seems to have an infinite capacity to irritate me. Their customer service sucks so much at all levels (corporate on down) that - in my opinion - you better hope what you want is already in stock and on the floor and that nothing requires ordering.

Like last year, when we closed on our house and had only semi-working garage door openers that were quite frankly dangerous. Given that, I asked the salesman over and over how soon they would schedule installation, and his best answer was “we’ve never had any complaints.” A week later without a phone call to even set an appointment, you better believe I was complaining! I ended up cancelling that order and switching to Sears. Wish I’d gone there in the first place.

Most recently I went to the local brick & mortar looking for shade cloth, which I recalled they had carried the year before. The clerk informed us that their Atlanta office had not sent a supply for the 2009 year, but that we could order several shades online. So I did that. July 1. According to their web site, the shade cloth was in stock, and would ship in 2-3 business days.

Fast forward to July 7 (yes, that is nearly a week later). Not only has it not shipped yet, but I received an email stating that my order was cancelled. It gave no explanation. It offered up no alternatives.

I called their online customer service, and was informed that the product was no longer in stock. (Interesting, because I’m checking the web site, and it still shows that the product is in stock.) I offered a few kind customer service suggestions, then the clerk placed me on hold to verify that a similar product in a different shade would be in stock that I could order instead. I waited on hold for nearly 10 minutes. Then I gave up and hung up. Because even if the answer were “yes,” I have lost complete and total faith in that company. In the immortal words of my former neighbor as he was setting fire to his girlfriend’s car, “Eff you and the horse you rode in on, <bleep>!”

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming of Michael Jackson: Fans in Mourning.
Rounding Third Base and Heading for Home

At last night’s measure, I have completed 48" of braid for the front window, toward an end goal of approximately 66". That probably still sounds like I’m a long way off, but I’m about to hit a major psychological milestone that should give me a much needed second wind to complete this. That milestone is 50", and it’s just two inches (or an hour of Judge Judy plus an episode of Law & Order Criminal Intent) away.



Once I reach 50", then I have just 16" inches to go. Every inch I complete from that point forward will feel like a more important inch than any I’ve done up to this point. Of course, I’ll want to do a much more accurate measure of the length I need before I cut the braid off the bobbins, so 66" may in fact be 70". But at that point little shall I care.

To be quite honest, I’m getting sick of this project. It’s not that the process is unpleasant, or the product less than desirable. It’s that it is taking such a tremendous amount of time out of each and every day, and the trim/curtain are major obstacles in my anniversary “house completion” goal. I can, and have, worked on other things instead of or alongside the trim. But every day I do that pushes my completion back another 1-2 days. In other words, it whacks the joy out of both the curtain/trim project, and whatever project I slid alongside.

Speaking of joy, last weekend’s trip to Home Depot rewarded me with the remaining 8 dowels I need for the Roman shades. Oh, sure. Dowels aren’t hard to come by, per se. But finding 8 straight dowels is unbelievably challenging. Fortunately, Home Depot seems to have recently received a new shipment of dowels, so I was able to find my 8 by only eyeballing half their inventory, instead of the entire inventory I usually have to sift through just to find 4.



Morning stroll.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A BBC Post Made for Me

Oh happy day! Did you see this post? It gives me hope. Makes me feel that as a pot-a-day drinker I am working toward a positive end result - not simply feeding an addiction.

Not that Alzheimer’s runs in the immediate family. Oh, my grandfather’s grandmother suffered from age-related dementia many years before the medical community had given it a proper name. And then there’s my grandfather (her grandson), who - although never given such a diagnosis - beat his retirement home roommate over the head with his cane. Since this was a man he liked, there might have been a tad bit of dementia that came into play, me thinks.

But me? Naw. Not as long as there are coffee ground upon this earth shall I suffer from its perils.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

In Transit

Yesterday was one crazy-ass long day. It began simply enough with a client meeting, though that turned out to be much more extensive than most and took us straight to lunch. Before the day even began I knew that the rest of the day would be a write-off. Still, I thought that write-off time could be spent running a couple of errands but mainly weaving trim for the curtains. Would it? No.

From 12:15 to 7:45 p.m., we visited Pier 1 5 times. Not the same Pier 1. That would be weird. But three different Pier 1s in three different towns. And a visit to World Market thrown in for good measure. And the reason for this has goes back to that countdown clock you see in the left hand column.

I have determined that I will no longer appear to live in a half-done home. Given this, I am looking around the house with the eyes of a stranger. Some things are easy. Like all the mirrors and artwork sitting on the floor near where they will finally be hung. Or the half-painted rooms. Or the curtainless windows. Other things I have managed to shield from my vision, simply because of the immensity of the task ahead of us. But now that many of these items are now completed, I need to re-vision the home. And what I saw nearly made me barf.

The worst area turned out to be the solarium that for nearly an entire year has been furnished with folding all-weather camp chairs. And not even the deluxe kind with cup holders sewn into the arm rests. These have no arm rests. No cup holders.

To solve this issue we attempted to purchase two matching clearance wicker chairs and ottomans from Pier 1. Except that our local Pier 1 (store A) only had one. So after a grueling all-morning meeting at a client’s office, we stopped at that town’s Pier 1 (store B), and discovered that they had exactly one, too.

I asked the salesclerk to call my local store (store A) to ask them to hold their chair and ottoman, and then I would buy the one from this store (store B). She called store A. They still had the one, yes, but another person was en route to buy it. Quickly we did a phone order to secure the set from store A. Then we bought the set from store B. And we hauled it out to the car.

Where it would not fit, no matter how we twisted and turned the chair.

I called the parental units and drove to my father’s place of employment to borrow his vehicle. I left our car, then drove back to store B to pick up our furniture. Then we hit the highway to unload it at our house before we could drive to store A to pick up that set. Cushions? No time. We had picked up the car around 1:30, and my father got off work at 3. Especially with an absolutely necessary stop for gas, we had no time to spare.



Back to the house to unload furniture (have I mentioned that we hadn’t eaten yet?) then back on the highway at 2:30. Would I make it in time? Nope. Fortunately I had called my mother so she was there to pick him up when he got off work. We picked up our car, then caravanned to the parental home to return the folk’s car. After a quick swing through the drive-thru at Sonic for half-price drinks and an order of tater tots, we were back on the highway. We stopped at our home long enough to empty the trunk (the ottoman had fit) and use the facility, then we were back in the car, heading to World Market to buy a cafe table and two chairs for our patio (also on sale). You know, somewhere to have coffee in the morning, or beer in the early evening? We barely squeezed them the car, unloaded into the garage, then headed back out for cushions at store A.

Now store A had two matching seat cushions we liked, but only one cushion for the ottoman. So I had them check surrounding stores’ inventories. Store B had none. That left Kansas City, which has multiple locations, several of which showed between two and five of our cushion in stock. We called before putting the car in drive. The first store had two in inventory, but none in reality. The second had five in inventory, but none in reality. - You’ve probably determined by now that Pier 1’s inventory system is crap - The third (or was it the fourth?) had one ottoman pillow. By this time it was close to 6 p.m. We swung through a McDonald’s drive in for sustenance, then drove straight for store C in city C. There we bought not only that cushion, but a birdbath as well. Then back in the car.



We had left the house around 9:20 a.m., and finally returned home around 7:45 p.m. Talk about a long day! But soon, very very soon, one more room will be company ready. Paint, curtains (after the coupon World Market promised me arrives - we have a little less than 24 hours before I start getting pissed off ) and a shade cloth currently on order from Home Depot will round out the staging phase of the solarium. More will come later. We plan to replace several panes of glass with screen/storm inserts, and level out some weird rough fill holes in the floor, for example, but these are things that we will know about, not the world at large.

Onward.