Friday, December 31, 2004

Another New Year's Inspiration

Sharon at Knitknacks came up with a wonderfully inspirational idea on her blog today: Unresolutions. For those of us who don't generally join in the custom of making lists of resolutions we probably won't keep, making unresolutions seems like something we can all cheerfully do, and stick to, for all of 2005. Who knows? Some unresolutions may be such great ones that we'll keep them into 2006 as well.

Here are a few I'd like to add to the pile:

  • I will not apply to be on a reality show. Heck, I won't even watch a reality show!
  • I will not follow directions blindly, especially when I really do know better.
  • I will not add fried chicken and Budweiser to my diet.
  • I will not read tabloids, except to scan the covers while waiting in line at the grocery-store checkout.
  • I will not buy anything featured on a late-night TV commercial.
  • I will not take up the banjo or the accordion.
  • I will not knit anything out of my "pet peeve" yarns.

I'm still too much of a newbie knitter to swear off any techniques just yet, though some appeal more to me than others. We'll see what happens when I get there.

Anyway, happy New Year, all, and have fun keeping all your unresolutions for 2005.

Mousse on the Loose and Other Kitchen Adventures

It's taken a while for me to regret it, but now I'm really sorry I deleted my first blog instead of just putting it on hold. (I felt too guilty because I couldn't keep up with it every day.) It discussed food and cooking and even carried some recipes. Maybe I'll recreate that part sometime.

Our New Year's dinner will be half fancy-schmancy and half simple, and the result ought to be very nice indeed. I asked Greg what he wanted for dinner, and he asked for another beef roast, like the one we had on Christmas Eve. For the fancy-schmancy dessert portion of the meal, I decided to make Frozen Pumpkin Mousse with Walnut-Toffee Crunch from the Epicurious Web site.

It serves me right for blindly following a recipe (note to self: Add this to a list of New Year's un-resolutions... more on that later). I stuck the lovely walnut-toffee crunch in the oven at the exact time and temperature listed in the recipe, and 15 minutes later I ended up with nasty, burned, unusable crunch... plus I ran out of walnuts and couldn't make more.

After loudly describing the predicament in words unsuited to a family blog :-), I decided to wing it and just use the remaining Heath toffee bits in the bag instead of walnuts, and I didn't bake them. I just added them directly to the mousse. Since the freezer is too full to accommodate very many goblets filled with mousse, I froze only two servings and kept the rest in the fridge. Turns out that most of the other people who made this recipe preferred Heath bits to nuts and the fridge to the freezer, so we do still have something to look forward to when dinner's ready. The kitchen test crew sampled the mousse and pronounced it To Die For, so things are looking up.

Greg and Charlie romped in the swamp this afternoon, and Greg's been banging out gorgeous thunderclaps of Brahms ever since. (Speaking of Brahms, it looks as though the chorus will reprise at least some sections of Brahms' Requiem at next week's concert for the tsunami victims. Not sure whether we're singing in English or German, though -- we've done both versions this year.)

Dirt-Simple Slow Cooker Pot Roast

This is the only recipe my mom ever taught me, but I still swear by it on those long-commute days. Greg likes this so much that he probably wouldn't complain if it were the only recipe I knew.

Beef chuck or bottom round pot roast, 2-3 pounds (0.9 - 1.4 kg)
1 envelope of instant onion soup
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of cream of celery soup
4-6 small potatoes, washed
5-6 carrots, parsnips, or a combination of the two, ends cut off and cut in two

Place the potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the carrots and parsnips, and place the beef roast on top. Empty the soups on top of the roast, cover, and cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Concert for the Tsunami Victims

One of the tenors in our chorus maintains the chorale's email list (I keep the one for friends and fans). She just emailed to ask how many people could show up next week to rehearse and then perform with a number of local musical organizations, as a benefit for the tsunami victims. Those are all the details I have right at the minute -- no information on whom the monies go to (the Red Cross, maybe?), what we're singing, or where we're singing... but I'm happy that we'll be doing something.

(I have to admit I'm still feeling a little bruised on the subject of benefit concerts after that incident with the greedy bitch at the food pantry, but I have to stop and remind myself that not all charities behave in such a fashion when you give them money.)

Tomorrow Greg and I (and maybe Charlie) are off to meet friends of his who are visiting from Amsterdam. They've been in this area since before Christmas, but are spending the New Year's holiday in Maine. We'll meet them for dinner along Route 1 someplace. They're dog people whose Sheltie is patiently waiting back in the Netherlands for them, so we may bring Charlie along so they can have a much-needed dog fix.

Greg has finished the fixes he was making to his electro-acoustic music algorithms, and has returned to "real" classical music again. At the moment he's practicing some of his piano pieces, and he spent much of this afternoon revisiting a piece for brass that he was working on before the semester ended.

I don't have much to show for the day, myself. I spent much of it running errands, bopping around Home Depot in search of circline light bulbs and weather-stripping for the garage door, and I had a facial.

(Every month or so, I can count on an hour and a half when all I do is chill out in a room with no telephones or other machines. The only thing expected of me is to lie still while the esthetician slathers nice-smelling stuff on my face and wraps my hands in warm mitts so I can't use them for anything. I don't really do this for my skin. I do it for my sanity.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

New Year's Hopes

Pirate inspired me yesterday. You can read her comments below on yesterday's posting. Anyway, I really like her approach. She has New Year's hopes instead of resolutions... definitely a more realistic way to go about the whole start-anew-in-the-New-Year ritual.

Let's see... If I had to create a list of hopes for the New Year, I'd need to break out the large-scale hopes from the small, personal ones.

Large-Scale Hopes for 2005:

  • A swift end to this useless war in Iraq.
  • Even just the tiniest increase in the world's peace quotient.
  • That somehow this country manages not to backslide completely into the New Dark Ages.
  • That everybody we know and love is okay and stays that way.

Small-Scale Hopes for 2005:

  • I already have an exercise regimen. I hope it pays off.
  • Prepare and eat more green vegetables.
  • More sunshine and walks with Charlie. Less housework. Less freaking out over my job.
  • Restore the house to some semblance of order, even just a little bit.
  • Spend some more time doing art, including more classes at MECA.


I'm so chuffed about my first felted piece that I need to make another one right away. I mean to make one with one of Val's Beardie buttons and send it to her as a thank-you. The ones she sent me all clashed badly with the fuchsia wool (not her fault -- I asked for designs with red bits), but I have skeins of red and dark gray Lamb's Pride here that are both crying out to be knit and felted. (Note the absence of any mention of my UFO (unfinished objects) pile in my list of hopes for the New Year.)

Just for fun, I've started another cheap-and-cheerful scarf for my friend who loves pale pink. This one's in Patons Divine, and it's going well enough in stockinette stitch with a few garter ridges every few rows. The Divine was the exact shade of pink I've been looking for, but the more I knit with acrylic, the more it makes me long for wool.

Back in the frog pond: the red Berroco Glitz. The stuff is a bear to knit on its own because it doesn't have a lot of substance, and the "fuzz" tangles easily. If and when this emerges from the pond, I think I'll combine it with something that has a little more body to it. It should make a lovely something-or-other.

Monday, December 27, 2004

What a find!

I was cruising around, looking for patterns for felted tote bags, and came across this blog: Free Knitting Patterns. Dina has a long, long, scrollable list of lots of free patterns... guaranteed hours of fun just looking at what she's compiled! It's too bad she hasn't updated this site in a year (we all know how life has a rude habit of getting in the way), but what's here is just great.

Ta-daaaah! Finally -- the purse is done! Posted by Hello

Check off the first two items...

I'm happy to report that I've completed two items from my to-do list: completed my sister's scarf, and finished and photographed my very first felted purse. Check out the button on the purse. That's actually a pin with a center of silk-gauze needlepoint. I made it a bunch of years ago at a make-it-take-it class at a CATS festival.

We received about 4" of snow overnight, which makes Charlie very happy. He's waiting patiently for Greg to take him for a "romp in the swamp" this afternoon. If Greg can tear himself away from his electro-acoustic music project, the two of them should have a fine time outside.

Freakin' sweet! Fox Television has a new blog for the new season of "Family Guy." It starts January 16 at 9 PM, which means we have to tape it. Chorus practice starts again that day, and I'd have to fly low to get home in time to watch the show "live".

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Happy Nothing Day!

Ah, it's nice to have a day where your schedule reads Nothing, Nothing, Nothing all day long. We all need such days every once in a while, and I can think of no finer time than the day after Christmas to do a whole lot of nothing.

Well, not really nothing. We slept late, had breakfast some time after noon, and have been catching up to minor, non-demanding tasks since then. I've mostly been doing laundry and putting away the wrapping paper. Greg's been hacking away at his electro-acoustic music project.

We really had a fine time yesterday. Greg played the Christmas morning Mass over at the church and was very well received by the congregation. We met at the Park & Ride near the Turnpike exit, parked his car, and drove down to my brother's house for the annual holiday crowd scene and culinary extravaganza.

My brother couldn't decide whether to serve spiral-cut ham or turkey, so he made both... plus an assortment of veggies and baked eggplant (my youngest sister is a vegetarian, so that was her main course). We ate and drank and were merry, caught up on the news, posed for pictures, played with the kids and their Christmas toys, opened more toys, and met the puppy. (She's a little shy still, but sweet and adorable. People think my dogs are big, but it's hard for me to look at a 110-pound dog and think "She's just a baby.") Greg played the piano and my niece "accompanied" him on the pennywhistle he gave her for Christmas. Next year she may learn some actual notes...

A week's worth of vacation always looks like a lot more than it really is, when you're viewing it from the "before" side. I have great plans on a small scale for my days off. Here are some of the things I hope to do:

  • Read at least one book from cover to cover for pleasure. Greg gave me Vogue Knitting for Christmas -- that one's first!
  • Finish the felted purse and get a picture posted.
  • Frog my "World Series" afghan and get it back on track.
  • Price DVD recorder/players. My old DVD player has been pronounced "not worth fixing" by an honest local repairman who hates to waste time or money.
  • Hang out in Portland at least one day.
  • Finish my sister's scarf.

We'll see how many of these actually get done. Right now, I'm trying to decide whether it's too much work to put on another pot of coffee.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Doogie wishes everyone a Merry Christmas! Posted by Hello

Yow -- Christmas Eve already?!

We're as prepared as we're ever going to be, I guess. The roast is cooking, Greg is practicing his Vince Guaraldi Christmas music, and at least half the gifts are wrapped. The dogs came back from the groomer's looking handsome and sporting discreet red-and-green bows on their collars. The cat doesn't care.

Christmas Eve is our holiday, to be celebrated in as laid-back a fashion as we can manage. We'll unwrap our gifts to each other and the animals tonight, enjoy our dinner, and soak in the hot tub for a while before retiring. Tomorrow's going to be a long day (good, but long).

Greg has a gig as a substitute organist, and he's playing for a Christmas morning Mass in Saco tomorrow. As soon as he's done, we'll meet at the Park & Ride near the closest turnpike exit, park his car, and drive mine down to my home town in Massachusetts.

My brother and sister-in-law, bless 'em, always hold holidays at their place. They do everything up perfectly and serve a massive dinner. All we ever have to do is bring the beer and show up. They have 4-year-old twins (one of each) and a new, 5-month-old Mastiff puppy who is already nearly as big as Doogie and Charlie put together. Her name is Lexus because she's as big as a car. :-) Anyway, we should have a fun time with the family, and then we'll catch up with one of my friends from grammar school and her husband for beer and gossip. We still have to make the long trek home at the end of the day, but that's why there are Dunkin' Donuts shops all over New England. Give us enough caffeine, and we can make the journey.


Thanks to everybody who posted such nice, encouraging comments on the subject of my very first felted article. It's nearly dry -- took almost all day yesterday to finally lose all the moisture. When I get some time in the next couple of days, I'll fasten on the button and take a photo for you. I'm still very pleased with myself.

We lost power here for about 3 hours yesterday evening due to high winds, so we were forced to retreat to the local Chinese restaurant for dinner and a place to linger. I, of course, brought along some knitting. My youngest sister requested a scarf made in fall colors, so I have one in process using Galway Tweed in rust, Electra in a complementary colorway, and Berroco Tassel FX in gold. It'll knit up fairly quickly on big needles, and she'll be tickled. It wasn't intended as a Christmas gift, but if I can deliver it tomorrow with her actual gifts, so much the better.

Well, Greg has moved on to practicing "The Christmas Song" (you know, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Robert Frost nipping at your nose..."), so it's time I got back to assembling our holiday. Merry Christmas, all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Wow -- it really works!

Experienced knitters are welcome to chuckle, of course, but I had another newbie breakthrough last night, and I'm just so pleased with myself that I can hardly stand it. I felted my first pieces by hand, and they came out wonderfully.

One is simply a gauge swatch in Kureyon so I could see how well it felted. It will make a fetching coaster for my desk. The piece de resistance, however, is a bag with a flap and a long i-cord strap from Felted Knits, knit in bright fuchsia Lamb's Pride worsted. It's still drying this morning, but I'll post a photo once I attach a button loop and a button. My friend Val came through with half a dozen fabulous Beardie and sheep buttons, and I'll have a hard time choosing which one will adorn this first masterpiece.

The first cardinal rule of hand felting is: Don't give up! You can squish and rub and squeeze and fondle that yarn for what seems like ages, and it won't show any sign of doing anything. Just at the moment when you're ready to throw up your wet, soapy hands and trundle the whole lot down to the washing machine, just look: your piece will finally show some signs of shrinkage. Let that be an encouragement to you, and keep on squishing until the stitches disappear.

For the bag, the magic moment happened somewhere around 10 or 15 minutes after I started the process. I took the bag out and started drying it, and then noticed that the stitches really hadn't disappeared entirely... so back into the tub it went. After another 20 minutes or so, the bag was completely felted.

The swatch/coaster took longer, partly because it's so small. It could be that the Kureyon takes longer to felt, too, but a larger piece made from the same yarn should take less time.

Of course, now I'm flooded with ideas of great things I can make and felt -- in my mythical spare time. I do want to make a teal Lamb's Pride tote bag for my music and a few more bags before trying out the ballet slippers, though.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Now more than ever: In good company

Travis read my mind and found all the pertinent graphics. They named W "Person of the Year" because "Asshole of the Year" just wouldn't have sold as many copies. Check this out:

Now more than ever: In good company

What Christmas Special Movie Are You?

Your Christmas is Most Like: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

You can't really get into the Christmas spirit...
But it usually gets to you by the end of the holiday.

Merry Kitschmas!

Brought down by the holiday frenzy and the pressure to find just the right thing for every person you ever met, with only 3 shopping days left to go? Relax, cheer up, and check out these links, compliments of my co-workers. I've been laughing all day!

The Twelve Days of Kitschmas


Dave Barry's Holiday Gift Guide (2003 vintage)

Don't forget Archie McPhee, the world's finest purveyor of Devil Duckies, Jolly Roger shower curtains, and cubicle-farm toys that put Playmobil to shame. Don't tell Greg, but I bought him a Beethoven action figure from Archie McPhee as a stocking stuffer. I'd have bought Igor Stravinsky instead, but they haven't made one of him yet!

Really, what bachelor cook or preschooler wouldn't appreciate an Octodog?

I just love this stuff -- it pokes some holes into an otherwise overrated idea of a holiday.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Bush Diaries

PeterAtLarge is doing something with his blog that many of us probably wish we could do. If only the dumb sumbitch would listen -- I mean, read.

The Bush Diaries

Jackson the Labradane and other stories

When you've been active in dog rescue (and on rescue mailing lists) for a long time, you build up a network of online buddies whom you can call on when you need help with a rescued dog. I had the pleasure of getting re-acquainted with my friend Katie in Cairn Terrier rescue this past weekend, all while helping Jackson get to his new home.

Jackson is a black Lab/Dane mix (a new designer breed which I've christened "Labradane" :-)). He's huge and strong like a Dane, but with a Lab's head and ears on the rangy Dane frame. He's a very handsome, sweet dog. He was very unhappy in the Bangor shelter, so a network of great people helped get him to a Dane rescuer in NJ on Saturday. I picked him up in Kennebunk from his first "ride" and brought him down to northern MA, where Katie took over. He was wonderfully behaved, only looking up occasionally to see what was going on. Katie and I didn't get to hang out for very long, since she had miles to cover and a schedule to keep, but it was nice to see her. We caught up on the news for a little while before she brought Jackson to the wonderful lady in Dane Rescue who would be taking him in. Good luck, Jackson! You're in good hands now.


It's been snowing for most of the day today, though we only have about 2" out there. Greg and Charlie took another romp in the swamp, and both came home happy, soaking wet, and panting. Charlie's completely conked out in the bedroom and is probably having happy dreams of snowflakes and biscuits.

Speaking of biscuits, I need to get baking this week, as soon as I can get away from work long enough to do so. One of my few Christmas traditions is to bake up a bunch of homemade dog biscuits (from the recipes on my Web site and bring bags of them to all my neighbors for their dogs. In particular, I owe a huge batch of pup cookies to my wonderful across-the-street neighbor, who always plows my driveway for me and won't accept payment... but he will accept a big bag of goodies for his Lab, Kodiak. Kodi has never forgotten that I give out homemade treats, and he's been my buddy ever since the first Christmas after I moved here.


My copy of Verdi's Requiem came from Amazon today, along with the latest U2 CD. I was surprised to poke through my CD collection to see that I have three copies of Mozart's Requiem, but none of Verdi's. If our organization gets the grants and can raise enough money next year, we're going to perform the Verdi. If we can't, we'll do John Rutter's Magnificat and some other pieces of his instead. Musically, it's a win for us singers either way.

The major expense for a production like this lies in the orchestra. We don't pay the musicians all that much, but we need a fairly good-sized group to play the Verdi. (Our director is friendly with the conductors of a few of the orchestras around here, and maybe she'll be able to finagle a collaborative effort between two or three groups, so that we can all perform without having to hire anybody.)

No rehearsals till mid-January; I feel so free!

Greg's in the living room practicing Vince Guaraldi's "Peanuts" music for Christmas again -- "Linus and Lucy" this time. My friends love to call when he's practicing because they enjoy the background music we offer. (Glad to be of service.)

I updated Greg's Web site and the Maine Composers' Forum sites today, as well as my own.


Another piano-playing dog person who bears visiting. Thanks for your comments, Pirate!


<$The Jist News$>

Chris (aka CrackerSnacker) always has interesting news stories. Many are about videogaming, but he's interested in everything. Check out the story and photo he posted about the polar bear and its Christmas gingerbread! Chris is a nice guy, and deserves a little plug for his blog.

<$The Jist News$>The Jist

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Romp in the swamp

Charlie never really wanted to be a competition dog. He liked tracking pretty well, but really didn't want to run agility, and had only a passing interest in sheep. However, he has finally found a sport he can really get into: hiking.

Greg's a dedicated hiker and has been for many years, so one thing he's been doing since moving here is discover all the good trails in the experimental forest and the local hills. He loves to take Charlie out for a run on one of the forest trails, and they both come back shortly afterward, panting and happy.

I tagged along on today's hike. Greg had found a lovely cedar swamp that he wanted to share with me, at the end of one of his and Charlie's favorite trails. Charlie was allowed to go off-lead, which made his little brown day. While Greg and I stayed to the paths and used the stepping-stones to cross the streams, he break-danced in the snow and bounced through the thin ice on the pools. A good time was had by all.


I've finished up two of those scarves in the pink Fun Fur for the friends who wanted them. I'd started another in red Berroco Glitz on #15 needles that wasn't turning out well, so I decided to frog it. The yarn managed to get all knotted and impossible to frog, so I'll salvage what I can and put the red scarf back together. It wasn't intended as a Christmas present, so no harm done.

Also re-emerging from the frog pond: a throw in two shades of Lion Brand Homespun. It looked really pretty in the photo and knits up quickly, since it uses two strands held together... but I started knitting it during the World Series, and I got so carried away that I made mistakes, even in such a simple pattern. This needs to be frogged back several rows and restarted.

Lesson learned: I'll always need two kinds of projects. One is a "stupid project" that doesn't require any real thought (garter stitch scarves are perfect for this and all my friends need them). The other type is the project I need to devote a little attention to.

Yarns I Hope Never to Knit Again

  • Sirdar Snowflake
  • Lion Brand Homespun
  • Gedifra Hippy

Friday, December 17, 2004

Festivus for the Rest of Us

Greg's a "Seinfeld" fan of the most rabid kind. He has seen every episode multiple times, and has most of them memorized. The show has been in syndication for I-forget-how-many years now, but our local NBC affiliate still shows it every weeknight, and so does TBS. Anyway, they aired the "Festivus" episode last night. It was cause for celebration in this household, though we never did get our own Festivus pole (otherwise known as the handle on the garage pushbroom) up and ready.

Now, if only Ben & Jerry's would bring back the flavor of the same name to the supermarkets. They did bring back an ice cream they now call Gingerbread Cookie, which is Festivus by another name, but only at the scoop shops, not by the pint! I am soooo disappointed. I absolutely do not want to drive an hour to Freeport to get trampled by hordes of tourists and the their screeching, sticky progeny, all for a scoop of the best ice cream flavor our friends from Vermont have ever made.

I gave Greg one of his Christmas presents early, and he's been making great use of it since. I bought him the complete Peanuts songbook by Vince Guaraldi, and he's been having a wonderful time playing all of the music from the Peanuts TV specials. He wants to bring the music down to my brother's house on Christmas Day and play "Linus and Lucy" for my twin niece and nephew.

Christmas Guilty Pleasures

  • Huge, gaudy displays of Christmas lights -- the bigger and crazier, the better. Some of the folks in this area have large front yards, which they've filled with illuminated everything, from plastic creches to the California Raisins. Don't forget the inflatable Grinch!
  • Public "Messiah" sings. There's one in Lewiston on Saturday, and I'd love to go.
  • 24 hours of "A Christmas Story." You'll shoot yer eye out, kid!
  • Those new Christmas tree-shaped marshmallow Peeps.

Not-so-sweet Charity

So what is it about Christmas that brings out the worst in people? I've never been a huge fan of the holiday myself (though I've made my peace with it in recent years)... but every year it seems people just get nastier in the name of peace on earth. Hypocrites.

Here's a prizewinner. I've been so steamed that it's taken me a couple of days to write without gritting my teeth at the same time.

Our chorus is a non-profit organization. Part of our mission involves working with other non-profits in the community to stage benefit concerts, so that we can do good by doing art. Everybody goes home happy.

Well, the problem with being a small, non-profit arts organization in this Age of Dubya is that there just isn't very much money available to support the arts. We didn't receive a single grant this past year, and we are slowly losing money. If we don't start doing some things to benefit ourselves, we'll be broke in 10 years, and no one will get any benefit concerts.

A couple of months ago, our board (of which I am a member) voted to split the profits of our Sunday Christmas concert with the food pantry. We subsequently agreed to cap our income at a certain amount so that the food pantry would receive more. This was explained to the director of the food pantry, who said she understood, and that a gift was a gift. Mind you, the food pantry would still receive several hundred dollars, and that was the lion's share of the income from the concert.

Well, at our board meeting this week, we find that the director of the food pantry, unhappy that we gave her "only" several hundred dollars, had the temerity to complain because she wanted the whole amount of the concert income, and that our gift to her wasn't big enough. Not only that, but she complained to a member of the group (not the board) who also happens to be a business owner and influential member of the community. He wrote a letter threatening not to work with our sponsors any more if we didn't fork over the dough.

The short version of the story goes that the board did end up forking over the dough, so that the director of the food pantry got all of the money, and we got none, and continue to lose money. I hope that greedy harridan enjoys her windfall; it's a shame that families in the county could go without Christmas baskets next year because of this woman's bad behavior. If she doesn't think she's getting enough from the cash cow, she should certainly find another one who might be able to do better for her.

For our part, I hope we find another charity to support next Christmas -- one where they say "Thank you" to a gift instead of "That's not enough -- gimme all you got".

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

And the crowd went wild...

Well, our final Christmas concert is over. I'm happy to report that we had a fairly big crowd for a Sunday night, and that our music was very well received. We love singing at Holy Family because the audience tends to consist mostly of friends and family, and the acoustics are wonderful... so we always sound our best there.

I'm struggling to balance the feelings of relief (one more thing off my schedule and no more rehearsals till January) with the feelings of disappointment that it was over all too soon (didn't get a chance to talk to most of the rest of the folks, or to wish them a merry Christmas). We don't have to wait too long for our next season to start, though -- probably mid-January, give or take a week.

One of the pieces that our director is considering for next spring is Rutter's "Magnificat." I've owned the CD for a while, but just listened to it today. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! If we don't do it this spring, I hope we do it sometime just for the sheer joy of it.


I haven't seen Phantom around for a while. Usually s/he makes an appearance every other week or so, but it's been a while since my last occasional glimpse. I sure hope s/he's all right. (My around-the-corner neighbors are splitting up, and they've either taken all the animals with them or found homes for them all. I think perhaps that Phantom was one of their barn cats who did double duty in our barn.)


I've finished the fuchsia bag and assembled it, and now it's ready to be felted. Boy, if only one could purchase spare time for Christmas! Anyway, I'll try to get to the felting by the weekend and see how it comes out. I have a gauge swatch of Kureyon that I want to felt too, just to see what happens.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

An i-cord Flashback (It's deja vu all over again!)

Well, another small but significant breakthrough has taken place in the world of this beginning knitter. I've made my first i-cord, after meditating briefly over EZ's directions. About two feet into the project, I realized something: the end product looks exactly like the cords we used to produce with those knitting nancies when we were kids, only nicer and with much better yarn.

You remember those -- either homemade by pounding some nails into a large leftover thread spool, or fresh from the store, painted to look more or less like a simplified Russian nesting doll. Oh, the possibilities that came with those gadgets! You'd envision yourself creating rugs, place mats, potholders, and all manner of glorious creations with it... but did anyone ever get past the first few feet of cord before growing bored and moving on to other things?

This particular i-cord, in fuchsia Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride worsted, will serve as the strap for my felted bag. I've asked my friend Val at Showstopper Gifts to try her hand at making Beardie buttons using the same materials as she does for her pins. I'm hoping she has great success with them; I'd like to use one on this bag, and on any I make for doggie friends or for the Rescue auctions.

Music, and Leisurely Sundays at Home

It's funny to think that Greg and I have only been together a couple of years, and already we talk about "old times." Back when we had two houses between us and he was working at his old job in Bangor, we would alternate weekends at each other's houses. The piano was at his house, of course, so on Sundays we'd make ourselves a big stack of Danish pancakes (pandekager, not aebelskiver, for any Scandinavians out there), play Bach cantatas on the stereo, and drink coffee while watching the lake change with the seasons. After breakfast, Greg would play the piano while I'd knit, and we'd continue this long into the afternoon.

It's been a long time since we've been able to have one of those old Sundays, between moving and grad school and work and weekend choral rehearsals and so on. Now Greg's semester is all but over -- classes are done, and his final project is due by email at the end of this week. My choral season ends tonight, and then I'm free from weekend obligations until mid-January sometime.

Anyway, we're having one of our "old-time" Sundays right now. We made Danish pancakes, played Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and "Magnificat," and drank quantities of coffee. Greg is now playing piano, and I've been alternating between adding to my i-cord and working on the laptop. Both dogs are napping, and the cat is probably chewing the blinds in the bedroom again. Sometimes life is just plain sweet.

The first of our two choral concerts took place last night -- and complain as I did about the music, I have to admit that the end result was quite a success. The house was packed -- a pleasant surprise, as we often have to compete with dozens of other Christmas concerts at this time of year. We sounded great -- really. The audience adored the brass, who are funny and charming as well as enjoyable to listen to -- and even the Kids were fun to watch. The concert went by really quickly, and before I knew it I was in the car, headed home. Here I thought the whole thing was going to drag miserably because of the high concentration of moldy oldies.

Tonight is our second concert, held in a big Catholic church. This one has admission by donation, with the lion's share of the proceeds to benefit the local food pantry. Last year, 500 people came to our concert -- probably a record for a local crowd for us -- and the church could have seated a couple of hundred more. Let's see how we do this year. (Last year's program was just wonderful, and we even sang one of Greg's pieces. I'm sure the audience will like this year's just as well.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Crash and burn

Long, long day yesterday. It was worth the trip, but I used up just about every ounce of energy I had, and spent much of today just sleeping.

Greg and I went into Boston yesterday -- drove down to the Newburyport commuter train station and rode in. He played his new piano suite in a composers' forum concert, and got quite a number of congratulations from fellow composers and faculty members. I enjoyed the concert -- the works ranged from the conservatively romantic to the fascinatingly spiky, but there wasn't a bad one among them.

Driving through the snow and freezing rain was a strain and a challenge, and that was what wore me out so completely on the trip. On the way south we passed a car that had flipped over on its roof. The fire truck and ambulance were right behind us, so the driver didn't have to wait very long for help. The trip home was even tougher. I swear the Town of Sanford plows its streets with a steamroller. "Maybe if we just make it look flat, people will think we plowed it." Saw a couple of cars that had fallen for that ruse and gone off the road into a ditch. Of course, they probably felt they could drive down a two-lane road at 65 mph, since they had SUVs and were therefore immortal. Idiots.

Knitting Stuff

Ever have one of those moments where you finally figure out how something is done, and the frustration you've experienced melts away and you decide you're going to love doing that particular thing from that moment on? I had such a moment yesterday. I finally discovered the joys of circular knitting for myself. It's so fast! It's so seamless! Where has it been all my life?

Oh, I've used circular needles before, but only for back-and-forth work. Greg kept his mother's set of vintage Denise needles after she died, and he gave them to me about a year ago. I've come to see since then what treasures they are, and how wonderful and helpful the employees of the Denise company are when you need to replace some parts.

(If anyone ever reads this blog and comments, could you please let me know if there's a trick to joining very small pieces of knitting on a circular needle? What if you just don't have enough stitches to comfortably reach around the shortest circular you have?)

I've been reading EZ's books lately (just bought the set with an e-gift certificate that some good friends gave me, and am looking forward to The Opinionated Knitter). Now I understand why so many people regard this woman as a Goddess of Knitting. Her chatty writing style is surprisingly engaging, and her approach to knitting is that anything is simple enough to do if only someone takes the time to explain it to you properly. She has no fear. Her designs are on the dowdy side, and I doubt I'll ever knit any of them, but when you're struggling with a concept, she seems to sit down beside you to explain. "It's so simple. All you have to do is..."

Well, anyway, I Got It. I've been wanting to try some of the small felted bags in Felted Knits for some time, and the train rides and long waits yesterday provided me with enough time and lack of distraction to give it a try. Seamless knitting rocks! I've almost completed the circular section of the bag, and will bind off and start knitting the flap as soon as I have time again.

This first one is in Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted in a delectable shade of fuchsia. I have a few more I want to do in Nature Spun, and then I'm moving on to Kureyon, the yarn that makes me whimper in my sleep.


I'm happy and relieved to report that Doogie made it through the day yesterday with relatively few problems. Because he's so old and incontinent, the kitchen floor is now covered with pee pads and newspapers, and when we both leave the house for any period of time, we expect to have to mop up disaster when we come home. Last time, he apparently slipped in a puddle of his own making and ended up doing the breaststroke in his own pee for who knows how long. Poor old bugger. I hauled him into the tub and gave him a good belly-shampooing.


Now that I'm writing a blog, it naturally follows that I should read more of them. The knitting blogs never fail to inspire and amuse me. I've also started just looking at random blogs to see what other people are doing, and thinking, and writing about. Some are fascinating and fun. Some are just windows into people's everyday ramblings. Some definitely look as though they were posted by way of text messsages from cell phones -- and probably were, too. I can't imagine looking at a whole page of "r u ok bby? im gd 2" and deriving anything from it but a migraine. (I have a cell phone, and my SMS messages still use actual words and punctuation.) Oh, and then there are the blogs that contain enough imagination, but the writing thereof is a complete insult to the English language. The people who gave a rave review to "How To Blog" ought to be slapped. Such blatant pop-pandering sucks all the "literate" out of "literature."

e.e. cummings was an original, and he's gone now. We could use fewer imitators, thanks.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

What I really meant to say was...

Okay, I should explain. I didn't mean to diss our director, who actually programs some wonderful concerts (like last year's Christmas concerts). It's just that this year's songs were chosen because we had limited time to work on them after the Brahms "Requiem" concert in November. That I can understand, but it's just so hard to work up much enthusiasm about the songs we are doing. I'd almost rather do something that's at least slightly challenging, even if we have to push a little harder to get it in shape by the performances.

Not that they're all dull seasonal cliches. The Pinkham "Christmas Cantata" is fairly neat, even if every choral group in the state is singing it this year. We also have an arrangement of "O Come All Ye Faithful" with brass that's rock-the-house cool. I should like "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing-day" more than I do -- turns out John Gardner wrote it.

We rehearsed with the brass tonight, which helped us all get into the idea of putting on a concert. The French horn, the tuba, and the second trumpet players performed with us last year. I didn't recognize the trombone or first trumpet. (The second trumpet talked with Greg last year about performing one of his pieces after hearing the song we sang, but Greg didn't have anything for brass.)

Doogie and "Dad" Posted by Hello

A lick and a promise

Sunday mornings are slow here, and tend to last well into the afternoons. I spent some time updating my Web site to announce this blog and to add a link to Pamela's House of Blues. Tried to update Greg's site as well, but his server's having some problems. I'll try that again later after he works it out with Tech Support.

Tonight the chorale has a rehearsal with the brass quintet who will be performing with us at the concerts next weekend. I've decided to be a good doo-bee and show up. (Big of me, I know.) There's nothing like brass to inject some life into the tired old schlock we have to sing. I missed a public "Messiah" sing on Friday night, though -- bummer. All things are relative, I guess. Plenty of people are tired of "Messiah," but it still beats the crap out of having to sing "Deck the Halls" once again, and trying to make it sound like anything else but an old chestnut roasting on an open fire.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

You just have to see this!

I was searching Technorati to find out how many other Bearded Collie blogs there are out there, and I found this. Is Digger cute, or what? He looks like Doogie!

Charlie would rather be in the snow than anyplace else -- except maybe the car. Posted by Hello

The barn in the snow -- How very New England. Posted by Hello

Meet the new blogdog, same as the old blogdog

Well, I'm back. In June I deleted my old blog because I just didn't have the time to keep up with it. Since then, RSS and Atom syndication have become more commonplace, and everybody and his dog has a blog now. I started missing my old blog, so I just had to jump back in and start again.

There are some wildly talented people out there churning out goodies (such as templates) for blogs nowadays. I've downloaded a fabulous template from Blogfrocks, and can't wait to figure out the thing and get it installed. Another great template from a terrific designer is Migraine Designs. I need to spend some time figuring out how to work with these templates, as well as how to make my own. I know HTML and a little about CSS; I just have to translate from Web page to blog.

Had an interesting journey around the Web as I thought about reviving my blog. After reading about Microsoft's new MSN Spaces blog tools, I thought I'd check them out. Some of the features they automatically include are pretty neat, but (as with anything else designed by Microsoft) their templates are the McDonald's of blog design. If you're not looking for anything fancy, they might be a good choice. They sure looked like tricked-out PowerPoint templates to me, though.

We had our first big snow of the season yesterday -- about 5" in all. I emailed these photos to my co-workers in California, and the responses I received ran roughly 50-50 between longing to see the beautiful snow and "Neener neener, we're going to the beach."

Charlie's happy in the snow. His coat is so thick that he's uncomfortably warm in the house, and he keeps asking to go outside.

Doogie has grown so old and feeble in the past year that he only stays outside for as long as it takes to pee, and then he's right back inside. He's not as steady on his feet as he used to be, and walking in the snow is difficult for him.

Greg's been practicing his new piano suite. He's playing it at a concert on Tuesday, and he's already worried about the performance. He has also been taken with a wild idea that's turning into quite the big band extravaganza.

As for me, I've been a total reprobate. I haven't been to a rehearsal in over two weeks, and we have concerts next weekend. I just can't summon the enthusiasm for this year's program, I guess. Last year's was so well put together (plus we did a piece of Greg's) that this year's just doesn't compare. With the exception of Pinkham's "Christmas Cantata," which is pretty neat, everything else we're doing is just old and tired, or so schmaltzy that it's hard not to gag while singing.

I'm a beginning knitter, so you won't be finding complicated folk patterns proudly displayed on my needles for the world to see... at least, not for a mighty long while. I just keep reading Yarn Harlot's blog and sighing with envy. Someday I'll get the the point where I too can just whip off a mitten in a few spare minutes.

Just finished:

  • pink Fun Fur scarf for a co-worker who wanted one
  • yellow scarf in Sirdar Snowflake, a yarn I hope never to knit again (it was given to me by a dear friend)

On the needles:

  • pretty red scarf in Berroco Glitz for the friend who bought me that Snowflake yarn
  • First foray into felting: a cell phone holder in Brown Sheep Nature Spun in pink

In the frog pond (Thanks for that, Pam!):

  • Alpaca lace scarf