Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Post-Holiday Hangover

I think Charlie speaks for all of us in the above photo. Christmas was fun, but it takes a couple of days for us to rest up and regain our energy. Only 362 days until we have to do it all over again!

Not that the past few days have been completely devoid of activity, mind you. A couple of friends of Greg's are coming to visit at the end of the week and are staying overnight, so we're trying to create even a minimum standard of cleanliness and organization here. I even braved the post-holiday returns crowd to run over to Kohl's and pick out bathroom stuff to coordinate with our new Seurat "Afternoon on La Grande Jatte" shower curtain. (They're artists. They'll get into it.)

Having the week off has done wonders for my knitting productivity as well. I finished a Wicked Cool scarf for my sister-in-law (red Galway with gold Berroco Tassel FX and a coordinating shade of Eros), and have started a second pair of socks. This pair uses a lovely rust-colored shade of Kroy Socks with yellow, blue, and green streaks that spiral nicely around the cuff. (BTW, I wore my green pair for Christmas.)

The felted bags have finally dried out, so I spent yesterday adding the finishing touches. Here's Jody's fabulous Andes bag with a Fimo button I found at the Yarn Basket in Portsmouth:

Kathy's bag is in Charcoal Heather Lamb's Pride with another one of those Fimo buttons. I needlefelted the sheep onto it. I'm getting better at needlefelting designs; I still do them free-hand, but I'm getting the knack of building the design as I go along.

(Note the glimpse of the quilt in the background. Isn't it gorgeous? My friend Ann made it for me for Christmas. We used to cross-stitch together when she lived in California, but she has taken to quilting in a big way now that she lives on Vancouver Island and is surrounded by quilt shops.)

Finally, the piece de resistance. My friend Libby had requested a bag with a needlefelted Beardie on it. I wasn't at all sure I could carry that off, since I'm rather drawing-challenged, but I kept adding wool to the design until it looked somewhat like an actual Beardie. (Seamus snoozed next to the table as I worked, so he served as a partial inspiration for the design.) Here's how that one turned out:

I'd do this again sometime. Every time I make another sheep, it turns out better than its predecessor. Maybe after a few needlefelted Beardies, I'll get one I'll be satisfied with. (Note to self: Get over to Halcyon Yarn and pick up some gray roving.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fait accompli!

Sound the trumpets! Bang a gong! I have finally completed my very first pair of socks!

Aren't they bee-you-ti-ful? I feel as though I've crossed my own personal Rubicon of knitting. No longer am I fated to read sock patterns and sadly wonder what "turn the heel" means.

Thanks to all of you who have been cheering me on through this process. Without your encouragement, I would have learned to knit socks anyway, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, nor would I have had a chance to show them off.

(The photo doesn't show it, but those socks are exactly the same size. I just flattened one out more.)

Oh, I suppose someday I'll look at this picture and be thoroughly appalled that these socks appear to be related, but not absolutely identical. I kind of like the idea of "fraternal twin" socks, actually -- and since I bought two balls of that green Opal sock yarn, I actually can make another pair just like these. Things have a way of working out in the end.

FOs seem to have been flying off my needles and out the door lately. Seamus, our cele-Beardie spokesmodel, would like to show you a lovely shawl in Cherry Tree Hill's Big Loop Mohair, in the Fall Foliage colorway.

Too bad the photos don't do these colors justice. In real life, the colors are so beautiful they'd make your mouth water. Here's a closeup, though it's not much better at showing the colors.

The felted bags are all still damp, but they're coming along. I picked up some absolutely fabulous Fimo buttons for closures. I can't wait to see these things finished and on their way to their new homes! (Film at 11.)

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

No, I'm not ready for the Christmas onslaught, but that's what taking time off is all about. I'm taking Friday off to finish up the things that really need doing, such as the Christmas cards, baking dog cookies for the neighbors, and hanging the wreaths on the house and barn. Oh, and there's an increasing pile of presents that need to be wrapped. They were all purchased over the Internet weeks ago, and every day more arrive and demand to be attended to.

My company shuts down for the last week of December each year as a cost-saving measure, so I'm free of the place for a week! Woo hoo -- all the more time available to knit and to clean this horrendous messy house in preparation for our New Year's houseguests. (I'm having an anxiety attack about that last bit. We've been trying to work our way around the fact that we have more stuff than we have house to put it in, and now we either have to face it, or make our guests sleep in the hayloft. It's not the way I would have chosen to spend my week away from work, but we'll be better off for it.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Guilty Pleasures of Christmastime

We all have them. Some people would nominate egg nog (not the low-fat kind) or homemade sugar cookies with the colored sprinkles. Some others would go for the umpteenth rerun of "Miracle on 34th Street." Nearly everybody has at least one, though.

I must explain that I'm not really a sentimental person, and that Christmas has never been my favorite holiday. (Sorry -- it just doesn't hold a candle to Mardi Gras.) This doesn't mean I'm cruel, curmudgeonly, or numb, just that I don't buy into the hype. As long as everybody around me is having a good time, then I'm satisfied.

I think my new favorite Christmas song is Denis Leary's "Merry F#@$in' Christmas." The accompanying video is a hoot, too, especially if you've seen "Rudolph" just one too many times.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite guilty pleasures of the season:

  • Christmas light and decoration displays. I'm not just talking about tasteful arrangements of strings of tiny white lights, or even the Clark W. Griswold school of Christmas decoration. I'm talking the whole ball of wax, the kitchen sink, and the whole enchilada all rolled up into one and scattered liberally across the front lawn. Giant light-up inflatables of Santa and the Grinch waving at each other over the manger. Mickey Mouse and the Smurfs forming a chorus line with the California Raisins. Projections of Santa and the reindeer on the garage door, just below the Santa and the reindeer installed on the roof. Arrangements so numerous and eclectic that they only make sense to the electric company. The tackier and crazier they are, the better.
  • Really, what can warm the cockles of your heart more than seeing the SUV that practically ran you off the road a moment ago stuck in a snowbank or in the median strip about a mile later, and the driver's cell phone batteries are kaput? This is the kind of gift that keeps on giving right up until the last snowstorm of the year -- and in this latitude, we've had some of those in May.
  • Watching two people engaged in a tug-of-war to the death over the last Barf 'n' Boogers Barbie in the store. After they both rip the box to shreds trying to wrest it from each other's grasp, they both leave the mangled carcass on the floor of the store and rush off to do battle with some other crazed shopper eyeing the last Big Mouth Billy Bass (Christmas Edition). There'll be no roast beast for those Whos when they get back to Whoville.

I Never Would've Believed It...

...if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

In Felted Knits, Bev Galeskas explains that felting is an unpredictable process, and sometimes two different colors of the same brand of yarn will felt differently. Even different lots of the same yarn hold no guarantees that they'll felt the same way every time. The first three felted totes I made were all of Lamb's Pride in the color called Blue Magic, and the fourth was of Old Sage Lamb's Pride. The degree of felting seemed to be fairly consistent among the blues, and between the blues and the green, so I decided that the degree of difference probably wasn't that extreme. Knitted fabric shrinks in both directions during the felting process, but much more so in the vertical direction. My resulting totes had started out as rectangles when knitted, but finished up nearly square after felting.

I usually wait until I have multiple bags knitted so that I can toss them into the washer to shrink together. The bags aid one another in agitation and help speed the fulling process, plus I feel less wasteful by using the same amount of hot water for more than one article at a time. This load consisted of Jody's tote bag in the green-and-gold Andes wool, and two more Lamb's Pride totes: Kathy's in Charcoal Heather and Libby's in Pine Shadows.

When I pulled the bags out of the washer after the requisite amount of agitation and opened the pillowcases so I could rinse them, I was amazed. The Charcoal Heather bag felted into a rectangular shape, much more like a purse than like a tote bag. The Pine Shadows bag came out much closer to square and will be larger.

I was very impressed with the way the Andes bag felted. I've always been taken with the "tiger stripes" that appeared during the knitting, but they've felted into quite the beautiful, solid fabric -- and still with tiger stripes, albeit a tad narrower than they were before felting. I have to get hold of more of that yarn and do some more things with it.

Photos will follow in a few days as soon as everything is dry, I promise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

One Down, One to Go

Crank up the recording of "Pomp and Circumstance!" I am now a full-fledged Sock Knitter. Dale will be so proud of me. She'd showed me a sock-in-progress with the heel turned, but I really couldn't follow her example until Jeannie showed me how to get there.

With Jeannie's helpful guidance, my knitting classmates and I completed our very first sock toes -- and thus our first socks -- this past Sunday. As soon as we finished weaving in our ends and clipping the yarn tails, we all pulled off our boots, tried on our socks, and wiggled our toes in the air. Woo hoo!

Our final class takes place next Sunday, so we're all knitting away madly on the cuffs of our second socks, hoping to get to the heel turn. We all want to complete that particular exercise while Jeannie's there to help us. By the time we've turned our second heels, we should have this process down solidly -- at least we hope to. Jeannie's a snowbird, and will head to Florida next week for a few months. We tried to get her to set up the 1-800-SOX-HELP hotline, but we don't know if she'll go for it.

Snow Business

Mother Nature is still being rather over-generous in the precipitation department. Last Friday, we ended up with about 18" of snow, so we now have the whole "White Christmas" thing going on. Whoopee. Enough already.

The boys never get tired of romping in the snow, making snow Beardie angels, eating snow cones without the cone, and plowing the backyard with their faces. I tried to get even one photo of the two of them romping together, but they couldn't sit still. They were having way too much fun. Charlie was having so much fun that he could only stand still for one photo this time. (I sometimes feel guilty that I don't have as many photos of Charlie on my blog these days, but Seamus is a bigger ham.)

Two Graduations

Seamus and I "graduated" from our rally obedience class last Sunday. Judy, our instructor, set up a competition-level course for us and separated us into Novice A and Novice B divisions. (To my relief, I can compete in Novice A, since the dog I co-owned has been gone for several years now. Apparently the "B" rule only applies to living dogs with obedience titles.) We ended up getting a 95; she dinged us a point here and there for a little lagging on the heeling. With more practice and some refinement, we could definitely enter and at least have a shot at finishing in the ribbons.

After the New Year, all of us in Novice Rally will return for Novice Competition Rally. We'll have one Advanced dog in the class with us who will be working off-lead, even though the rest of us will still be working on-lead. It should be helpful to watch her, though. Seamus seems to like working off-lead well enough, though I still wouldn't trust him not to take off if we were to work in an outdoor ring.

We missed our other graduation from last week, the one from our regular Novice obedience class. I ended up getting tied up overlong at work, to the point where I could never have made the class in time. Dale and Tuck went, and they received their diploma and bag of goodies -- but no mortarboard this time. Our Novice class and the Open class that meets after ours will stage run-throughs for Novice and Open for the next few weeks, and Seamus and I hope to show up for those. It will be a while before we go into the regular obedience ring -- we have the concepts, but need more precision if we ever hope to compete -- plus we really like Rally much better.

Friday, December 09, 2005

It's a Girl!

Aren't they adorable (albeit a little out of focus because they wiggled)? One of these beauteous Beardie babes will become the next puppy-in-residence here at Fuzzbutt Farm. This will be the first girl puppy (I've only had boys before now) and my eighth Beardie. It remains to be seen what the boys will think about the idea of having a new little sister.

This litter was born on November 3 during a real howler of a storm, so the breeders are planning to pick storm-related names for each of the puppies in the litter. I don't yet know who gets which name, and I haven't yet decided what our puppy's call name is going to be. Maybe I won't even know until I get to Wales and meet them all! I favor the one on the right in the back, but I don't yet know which puppy we're getting.

It's been a long time since we've had a puppy in the house -- 8 years, as a matter of fact. The last puppy to have come into this household was Charlie, and he's now gently referred to as a "senior dog" -- when he stops bouncing around long enough to listen.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Rave Review (More Sox and Violins)

Greg and I made the long trek to Boston on Tuesday to hear Hardanger performed. I'm not even faintly biased, of course, but it really was the best piece on the program. Maia Travers, the violinist, obviously enjoyed the piece and gave a marvelous performance. Greg had encouraged her to add dramatic Paganini gestures where she felt like adding them, and to have fun playing the piece. It was evident that she'd taken his advice and was having a blast up there. She was enthused enough to want to play more of Greg's violin works in the future, so he told her about Clayton Runaround, his other solo violin work.

Every time I hear a piece of Greg's music performed live it amazes me. By the time a piece hits the stage, I've heard every note, chord, modulation, and phrase over and over again until I practically have them memorized myself. I'm always listening to MIDI realizations of the instruments, though, unless the composition in question is a piano piece (in which case Greg can play it himself). When the piece finally lands in the hands of a competent instrumentalist with a real, acoustic, honest-to-goodness instrument, the music is transformed. As nifty as MIDI is, at best it only presents a rough sketch of what's truly there -- but the same piece performed on an actual instrument suddenly displays instrumental colors, overtones, and the player's interpretations that the computer can't even approach. No matter how many times I hear a piece, that final translation to "real performance" never fails to make me gasp.

I Can't Think of Anything But Sox

We almost didn't have a sock-knitting class last Sunday. Just as I set foot in the house after the morning rally-o class, my instructor called to let me know that the road between here and the shop had been closed due to a car crash, so class would be postponed for an indefinite period of time that afternoon. Since the shop is a few miles from here, I decided to set out anyway, in the hopes that the road might be open again by the time I made it to that point.

When I arrived there, I saw that the road was indeed still closed, and that firemen were turning traffic back from their roadblock. I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, picked up a few things, and then decided to try my luck.

The fireman came to my window to tell me to turn around, and I asked him for alternate routes to the shop. He said that all the roads had been blocked off, and then hesitated.

"Are you going to the quilt shop?"

I nodded.

"Well, why didn't you say so? We've had a whole bunch of women coming through here saying they had to get to the quilt shop." He gestured to a space between two cones. "Drive through there and tell the guy on the other end that you're going to the quilt shop. He'll let you through."

The firemen probably thought we were all insane, but something very important was happening in class: We were all about to turn the heels on our class socks! There's no way we would have missed that for anything -- we would have parked our cars and walked, if need be.

Once we were all gathered inside, we set about the business of transferring from circulars to dpns, knitting the heel flaps, and doing the turns. I had to redo mine after a little confusion with the instructions, but eventually (with Jeannie's patient help) I made a rather creditable-looking heel. I transferred back to the circular and am now trying to get the foot knitted before our next (and final) class. At that point, we'll be able to execute our first toes, and then we'll have graduated to Full-Fledged Sock Knitter status.

I'm gratified to see that I'm not the only person in the class who has already become addicted to knitting socks before actually having completed one. My fellow students all took breaks from turning their heels and knitting their feet to browse the new arrivals in the sock-yarn bins. Almost all of us fell in love with the green Trekking yarn with the red and yellow plies. I have a feeling there will be a lot of green Trekking socks taking shape after these first pairs have been completed.

One benefit of knitting's recent popularity is that I'm not always the only person playing with needles in public places. Although I've only been knitting for a couple of years, I've done some form of needlework from the time I was in grammar school (first needlepoint, then crewel, then counted cross stitch, then more advanced embroidery techniques). Now that knitting has become so popular, though, I can often spot a fellow yarn addict in just about any gathering of people.

Since I am unable to be parted from my class sock for very long, I brought mine with me to Boston on Tuesday for Greg's concert. We drove to Newburyport and boarded the commuter train. As soon as we were settled and the train started moving, I pulled out my sock and started working on the foot. (Geez, it takes a lot of tube knitting to make 6 1/2 inches when you're working with fingering yarn!)

As I worked, I noticed that a woman sitting kitty-corner across the aisle had taken out a project in a luscious shade of purple and was knitting away. She happened to glance up in my direction, smiled, and held up her work. "Poncho for my niece." I held up my sock. At that moment, we knew we were paisanos.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Today's Dose of Spam-Ku

Oh, the spam catcher has snared some goodies for me today! Try this one on:

Is believe no manicurist skulduggery
as play your occidental
It think in acrostic anyhow

(How do they come up with this stuff?)

Do take do manual mistrial
yes moraine while chill keep
And stand he purplish

(wasn't that a verse from some psychedelic song from the '60s?)

Of believe by modulate accord
do worry be domed myth
was know in premiere

Sox and Violins!

Sorry -- I couldn't wait to use that headline. First... the Sox!

Yes, you saw that right: I've started knitting my very first sock cuff from a ginormous ball of Opal sock yarn. Another couple of inches and I should be ready for the heel!

I signed up at the last minute for a sock knitting class at Bumble Bee Quiltworks, one of the local yarn shops. The class takes place not too long after our rally class on Sunday mornings, so I have to play Race Against Time (and Sunday drivers) to make it from the rally class in York to home, let the dogs into the house, then burn rubber backing out of the driveway to get up to Waterboro in time. It will be sooooo worth it, though. Knitting socks has been a goal of mine for a while now (regular readers of this blog are no doubt heartily tired of hearing me say, "I really should start to knit socks one of these days...").

The class is small but congenial, and all 6 of us are dog people as well as knitters. I've even had the good luck to meet a Border Collie trainer who is considering giving classes again soon. There's no telling what I wouldn't give to be able to do herding training with my dogs without having to drive several hours! You can be sure that I want this woman to be my new best friend, and that I'll continue to keep in touch with her after the class is done.

Thanks to our fabulous instructor, Jeannie the Soxy Lady (hey, don't blame me. It's on her vanity plate.), I have discovered the existence of 12-inch size 2 circular needles! Although I've overcome any lingering fears of using multiple double-pointed needles, the fact that I can use a circular of the correct size ensures that I'm about to become a veritable sock-knitting machine.

Next week: we turn the heel. Oooooooooh...

And then there are the violins. One violin, actually -- Greg is having his solo violin piece Hardanger premiered in Boston next week. Of course we're going down for the concert. Hardanger could be one of my favorite pieces of Greg's; it's sweet and haunting and very Scandinavian. It was written for "regular" violin, but in a manner meant to recall Hardanger violins with their sympathetic strings. If you've seen the movie "Fargo," you've heard a Hardanger violin being played -- that's the haunting violin sound you hear in all the snow scenes at the beginning of the movie. The violinist who is premiering the piece absolutely loves it, since it gives her plenty of chances to do Paganini-style theatrics.

One more knitting-related thing, though it also has to do with dog rescue:

I have discovered what might be the world's coolest knitting bag.

This is actually a canvas bucket made from recycled boat sails. It's deep enough to hold multiple sock-knitting projects and related notions, and it has pockets all around its circumference. These buckets are made by Safe Haven, a rescue group for Newfoundland dogs up in midcoast Maine. People use them for grooming tools, gardening, and gazillions of other things, but I swear to you, this bucket's true calling is to hold knit stuff. Really -- you need one, and it's all for a very good cause. Email Alexander right now from the site and tell him how many you need for all the knitters you know! After all, Christmas is coming...

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Sunday, November 27, 2005


If your email program has a spam-catcher, you've probably dug through it to retrieve any legitimate emails that might have become trapped with all of the waste. Perhaps you've noticed the subject lines of some of the bogus emails -- not just the ones proclaiming the best prices on all-natural Viagra substitutes and Rolex watches, but also the ones with the long strings of poetic, but nonsensical, words. Those subject lines were designed to circumvent any email filters you might have set up to trash emails entitled "Viagra" and "Rolex."

Anyway, there's a curiously poetic nature to some of those nonsense email subjects. If you combine some of them together, you can produce... spam-ku!

Here's a gem from this morning's captured spams:

burglary cretaceous
of fall no distant flashgun
professional fullback

It doesn't make any sense, but it sure sounds pretty. I even received one that rhymed today:

Loose your shirt, To say them hurt

Yeah, I'll say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

FO Alerts and Stealth Holidays

So riddle me this: How is it that the stores can start trumpeting Christmas all over the place starting just after Labor Day, and still the holidays can sneak up on you and smack you over the head before you realize what's happened? It happens every year, and it's happened again. By the time this weekend rolls around, people should be whipped into a major-league, frothing-at-the-mouth frenzy to Get Out There and Buy Stuff.

Not that I play that game much at all. Since the advent of online shopping, I haven't had to play chicken in a shopping-mall parking lot with a pack of kamikaze SUVs. My Christmas shopping takes place over a nice, steamy cup of coffee, in the peace and privacy of my home office. No squalling children, no Muzak, no one to try spraying me with perfume that always smells like Black Flag. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

My brother and sister-in-law always put on the full Martha Stewart treatment at their house, since it's easier for them to invite everyone in than it would be to pack the twins, the 180-pound puppy, and all the requisite gear into the car to go someplace. Greg and I have to day-trip to Massachusetts, since it wouldn't be fair to truck the dogs all the way down there and make them sit in the car the whole time. It will be fun enough -- we'll eat well, Greg will play the piano, and my niece and nephew are a riot. I'm happiest about having Friday to recover from it all, though.

More FO Sightings

Those skeins of Andes just refuse to run out! I knitted Jody a felted bag from the stuff, made a hat from the leftovers, finished that, and am now working on a scarf to match the hat. I'm adding a hat of Nashua Handknits' Painted Forest to Jody's knitwear CARE package.

Amazing, the stuff you can find in your stash without really trying. I unearthed a gorgeous pair of mega-skeins of Cherry Tree Hill's loop mohair yarn while looking for something else, and promptly forgot about the something else. The colors are so lovely they make your mouth water -- shades of fall foliage, plus purples. Even though I have some training as a painter, I still consider myself somewhat color-impaired, so it still impresses the heck out of me when a dyer puts colors together and creates something amazing. The mohair is in the process of becoming a simple-but-stunning triangular shawl with really long fringes. These days I don't go too many places where one could wear a long fringed shawl, but I'll make some up.

The felted bag factory goes on and on. I've completed that one in the gold-and-green Andes for Jody and another one in Pine Shadows Lamb's Pride for Libby. Kathy's bag is now on the needles; it's in Charcoal Heather Lamb's Pride. If I can get away without making anyone else any promises, the only two I have left to make are the tote in Cascade 220 and Kureyon for Susannah and one for myself in Tahiti Teal or Amethyst Lamb's Pride.

I promise to post photos after the bags go through the wash cycle and the needlefelting stage. It seems like a lot of time and effort just to make myself some "artist's canvas" to put needlefelted designs on, but that's part of the fun. The needlefelting goes so quickly, though, that it's done by the time you really start getting into it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Beardie Bounce!

This past weekend, the boys and I took Greg to his very first Beardie Bounce, compliments of the Minuteman Bearded Collie Club.

Guess who got to play Santa Claus:

Greg's never had the chance to see about 20 Beardies all running around together, coats flowing, exhibiting the world-famous Beardie Bounce. After an afternoon with Beardies of all ages and colors, I daresay he came home even more smitten with the breed than he was when he went.

Seamus continues to do magnificently in Rally-O class. Judy, our wonderful instructor, says that if I can break some of my bad handling habits (tight leashes being the worst), we could enter Novice right out of class and do well. Because rally events fill up so quickly, she encouraged all of us in class to start looking for events in late winter and to sign up for them as soon as they open.

It turns out that I have to enter in Novice B, which doesn't make me happy. I co-owned a dog with a CD once (dear sweet Cadence, the original Mister Handsome), so even though I didn't put the CD on him, I still have to enter in B as though I had. GREAT. I'm a pass-fail kind of student in a class full of kids who want to get good grades.

Still, we'll be ready when that moment arrives. Seamus's AKC registration came back this week, so he now is a legal citizen of AKC events.

Friday, November 04, 2005

CGC? CBNB (Close But No Biscuit)

Ahhhh, we came so close to getting the CGC yesterday that it's almost painful. Seamus did magnificently on the first nine tests, and Dale will be as surprised as Greg was to hear that Seamus did not do his usual "rummy, rummy" brand of sliming on the tester. He was happy and wiggly, but he kept his tongue to himself. He was polite but not wacky with the demo dog, a sweet yellow Lab named Becky. He didn't lose his cool in the "crowd," even though one of the people was blowing a whistle. He focused so well on me during the "leave it" exercise that he hardly noticed the nice squeaky toy the tester tried to offer him. He even aced the sit-stay and the down-stay, his weakest points in obedience.

The last test in the series is the "supervised separation." In that test, the handler leaves the dog with the tester and goes out of sight of the dog for three minutes. During that period, the dog is not supposed to whine, bark, lunge, howl, or show obvious signs of distress.

Poor Seamus did his best. When I returned to the testing area after my three minutes were up, the tester handed his leash back to me and said sadly, "He was reallllly stressed." He'd managed to make it without me for about a minute before he started squeaking. The tester then signed the form and checked off the "Did Not Pass" box on the front, though she obviously regretted having to do so. She handed it to me and we departed for home empty-handed.

Well, not really empty-handed. Around my herding buddies, I keep repeating a phrase that has helped me keep perspective when I blow it in the herding arena: "You never come away with nothing. You either get a leg, or you get a lesson." Guess this time we got a lesson.

I can't lie and say I'm not a little bit disappointed that we didn't get the CGC yesterday, especially since Seamus did so well in nine out of ten tests. Considering he and I haven't been together as a team all that long, he really did great. That tenth one is something that time and a little training can help.

Duncan was nine when he got his CGC, though he did get it on the first try. Charlie didn't get his; he was a 9-month-old puppy at the time, and he couldn't resist jumping up and kissing the tester. He wouldn't pass now, but for a different reason: he's a little too sound-sensitive after having had Lyme to be calm during the "crowd scene."

We'll try again when Seamus is a little older and more settled. In the meantime, we can focus on the activities that require us to work as a team. There are no long separations in rally-o or novice obedience. Of course, we still need to work on those sit-stays and down-stays.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Here's the birthday boy, all groomed up for his big day. Posted by Picasa

Seamus's Big Three Birthday

Seamus has only been in our household for six months, but it feels as though he has always been here. Already I'm having a hard time remembering back to the days when we didn't have a living black-and-white fur rug in the bathroom, or when I didn't get awakened every morning by a pair of Beardie eyes drilling psychic holes into the back of my neck, or when I could sit and knit without a 50-pound lap dog trying to help. Happy birthday, little guy!

Our evening celebration will take place away from home tonight. We have obedience class, so we'll meet up with Dale and Tucker and carpool to class. It remains to be seen whether he'll whoop it up or concentrate on his work. Last week he almost paid a visit to the pretty white German Shepherd instead of coming to me during the recall, but then he remembered that the German Shepherd didn't have liver treats.

Tomorrow we're off to Manchester to All Dogs Gym to take the CGC test -- wish us luck! If he doesn't jump up on the tester or decide she's "rummy, rummy," he should do pretty well. He can easily perform all of the other exercises when he chooses to. Gail Fisher, who owns the Gym, used to have a Beardie named Mayday, and the two of them did pretty well in agility competition. She now has a new Beardie, and maybe we'll get to meet him-or-her tomorrow.

Little Bitty FO Report

I've whipped up a couple of roll-brim hats for Jody, and will be sending them off for her to try. Hopefully one or both of them will be the perfect hat(s) she's been seeking.

Thanks for my friend TiVo, I've been recording and watching a couple of the knitting shows on the DIY Network. DIY is pretty much public-access cable with commercials, and the knitting shows are a bit on the silly side, but I've managed to glean a few teeny bits of wisdom from them. I finally got to see what an ssk looks like when it's being done, and I got to watch someone turn the heel on a sock! (You have to remember that although I took a class to learn the basic knits and purls, most of what I know about knitting comes from books or the Internet. Sometimes you just have to be shown how to do something in order to see what it's supposed to look like.)

Maybe the best part of watching these shows is the realization that they're not for me; the projects they make are almost always beginner-level projects like scarves and shrugs, which means that -- could it be true? -- I'm no longer a beginner knitter! Somewhere along the line, I passed the initiation without even knowing it. Imagine that!

I did make an attempt to start a sock last night, but the size 2 needles felt like toothpicks to me after a year-plus on the big needles, and my stitches weren't at all neat. I pulled the cuff out and will start again with slightly bigger needles for my first attempt. The socks on the knitting show were made on size 7 dpns. Sure, the finished articles won't wear as well as socks knit with finer yarn on finer needles, but I just want to get the basic concepts down first. After that, I'll migrate to the small needles and get used to them. It might be a while before I'm up to knitting those little sock earrings, though.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Seamus fetching his new favorite ball. It's the only game he wanted to play while he waited for Charlie to come home. Posted by Picasa

The cable scarf in Kureyon, in all its stripey glory. Posted by Picasa

Rally-Oh, Part Deux, and the Return of Frankenbeardie

Poor Charlie. He came home from the vet all ready for Hallowe'en, and this year he has to go as Frankenbeardie. The vet removed five benign tumors from his hide while he was under anesthesia getting his teeth cleaned, so now his poor coat has a bunch of shaved places and rows of sutures. All he needs now are a couple of plastic bolts for his neck, and he can be the scariest monster on the block! In a couple of weeks the sutures get taken out, but the bald spots are going to last a while. I was considering doing a Donald Trump-style comb-over with the rest of the fur on his back to cover him up properly, or maybe send him to Fur Club for Dogs.

Seamus was completely lost without Charlie here to tell him what to do. He forgot how to eat without another dog eating in the same room. I put down his breakfast and he walked back into the kitchen as if to ask, "And what do you expect me to do with this?" Likewise, he refused to go outside to do his business without an escort. If I hadn't gone outside with him and stood in the dog yard waiting for him, he might have exploded from the pressure of "holding it" until Charlie came home.

I'm happy to report that Seamus looooooves our new novice rally class at It's a Dog's World! He's one of only six students (three Goldens, a Lhasa, a Berner, and him), and the group is really congenial and relaxed. Judy Kay, our instructor (whom I knew from the Old Colony club), is absolutely delightful. She emphasizes positive training for the handlers as well as the dogs, and we all leave class feeling as though we're ready to jump into the very next rally trial and burn up the course. She promises that after six weeks with her, we'll know all 31 rally signs cold and be ready to compete for real. Seamus isn't the half of the team who needs to worry about messing up. I'm the one who needs the additional training! I'm very proud of the other half of the team. He was happy and relaxed and watched me the entire time.

It was nice to go back to It's a Dog's World after a few years' absence. Charlie and I took agility and show-handling classes there for a long time, and Duncan and I took obedience. Charlie also went to day care there a number of times when he was a puppy. Everyone remembered Charlie and was happy to see him, and we ran into people (and dogs) we knew. I always enjoy Old Home Week. The meetings did take a few turns for the bittersweet when people asked after Duncan, and when I found out that a few of my friends' older dogs had also gone over the Bridge.

Seamus and I also take novice-level obedience classes on Wednesdays with POC. Taking regular obedience will keep those skills sharp while we do rally, and I'd like to compete in regular obedience with him as well, once we can work together with that kind of precision.

The FO Report

Don't look now, but there's been a steady procession of finished objects leaving my needles and going out into the wide world to their intended recipients! I'm a hairsbreadth from finishing another felted tote bag for my friend Libby -- this one in the Pine Shadows (green heather) shade of Lamb's Pride Bulky. Libby wanted a needlefelted Beardie on hers, so wish me luck with my first attempt.

My friend Jody has been searching for just the right knitted hat for a couple of years now. When I was a brand-shiny-new knitter, I made her one from some gorgeous yarns she picked up while we were in New Orleans that year. The result, while pretty, really didn't make for a durable, well-fitting hat. Yesterday, while waiting in the hair salon, I whipped up a circular-knitted roll-brim special out of a hank of gold-green-and-brown Reynolds Handpaint Wool, and I think the result might just be the hat she's looking for. It's cute, it's warm as anything, and it's realllly soft. I'm trying to score a second success with some Nashua Handknits Painted Forest in autumn foliage colors, but I ran out of wool just before I needed to start my decreases. The nice ladies at the yarn store will laugh at me when I call them again to put aside one of those skeins; I just did that last week with the green Lamb's Pride.

It must be Hallowe'en, because all kinds of monsters are trying to emerge from the Frog Pond. Remember the infamous World Series afghan, the one I messed up to a fare-thee-well during the 2004 World Series because I got too absorbed in the game and completely forgot what I was doing? Well, now that the 2005 World Series is over and I want my #15 circular back, I'm starting to pull that piece apart and get ready for another go.

Next projects in the queue: My first pair of socks (or bust) and a Charcoal Heather felted tote for my friend Kathy (who owns Seamus's niece Layla). Kathy and Layla roomed with me at the Beardie National this year, and Kathy had many opportunities to examine the blue felted totes I brought to the auction.


Last week, another semi-Perfect Storm came to town. Hurricane Wilma, after absorbing the remnants of Hurricane Alpha, met up with a nor'easter from Canada out in the ocean east of here. The wind gusts were impressive, and each one drove the torrential rains so hard it sounded as though someone had turned a fire hose onto our roof.

I was working at my desk in the office during the storm when I heard a huge CRACK! from the front of the house. Brave, brave Sir Seamus ducked under the desk and cowered. (He hasn't enjoyed hunting season, either.) I waited for everything to go black and silent, and for me to lose my Internet connection (this happens fairly frequently during thunderstorms in this area). Nothing happened.

Charlie and I went outside to investigate, and found that one of the tall pines on the near side of our pond had fallen, breaking off from its neighbor at the base, and taking down a few limbs from the stand of smaller pines with it. Miraculously, it missed the house and all of our wires; otherwise, we could have been off the grid for a long while.

My neighbor, who mows the pasture and takes care of the yard, has been after me to cut the old pines down all year. I didn't want to do it -- I hate cutting down trees just for the sake of cutting them down, and it's an expensive job if you're unable to do it yourself. I'm afraid I have to give in to him on this point, though -- the fallen tree had begun to rot in the center, and the other two old pines probably aren't that far behind. I'll miss them when they're gone, though.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Seamus models my now-finished cable scarf. He's such a good sport... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dale snapped this picture of Seamus at the Rally-O seminar. He looks like he's having a good time! (Note my hands on the leash, keeping him from sliming the camera.) Posted by Picasa


Dale did a great job of describing last week's rally obedience seminar on her blog (and there's a picture of Seamus and me, so go visit). I'm really proud of how well Seamus did on the rally courses -- not only the Novice, but also the Advanced/Excellent course (even though we did the latter on-lead). This little guy really is a fabulous performance dog, and the more I work with him, the more I look forward to working with him.

We need a little bit more practice on our footwork -- er, my footwork -- but otherwise, we'd probably ready to compete now. I've signed us up for a Novice Rally class at It's a Dog's World in York, so we have 6 weeks to refine our techniques and the winter to practice them. I've asked to be put on some premium lists for spring events, and it isn't too early to get started with them -- rally events fill up quickly, and I want to make sure we can get our names in.

We have a busy couple of weeks coming up, as far as dog stuff is concerned. This coming Wednesday, we start a Novice Obedience class with the Piscataqua Obedience Club. Dale and Tuck will be in class too, so it will be just like a reunion! Next Sunday, we start the Rally class, and then on November 3, we go for the CGC test at All Dogs Gym.

Less Blogging, But More Knitting

Please bear with me. I have about half a dozen draft posts in my Blogger folder, and they all will get finished sometime. I've made some progress in knitting, so I have something to brag about. (Well, at least I'm finishing my knitted pieces, if not the blogs describing them.)

I've finished the cable scarf in Kureyon, and will post a photo of it Real Soon Now. Just because it's done in Kureyon, it's gorgeous -- I used color 134, and the colors range from lime green to pink to fuchsia to orange to sky blue. I'd make another one of these in a New York minute... which might be a handy idea, now that the holiday season is getting ready to trample us like dandelions underneath a herd of buffalo.

I'm also whipping up another felted tote bag for a Beardie buddy who fell in love with the ones I did for the auction. This one is in an enchanting shade of green heathered Lamb's Pride called Pine Shadows. The last of my "by request" totes will be done in Charcoal Heather, and then I can felt all three totes together (including the one in Andes that I've finished). Who knows? Maybe I can even make a tote for myself one of these days.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It's definitely fall in New England... Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Awright, enough is enough!

Like many other people, I've been trying to shed a few pounds -- well, more than a few -- that mysteriously attached themselves to my frame while I was busy being chained to my desk over the past year. I tried Curves. (They close too early in the evenings). I tried the yarn diet. (That lasted until I started finishing projects.) I tried eating more salads. (I got sick of them.)

Well, the one thing I haven't tried is to carefully monitor every morsel that goes into my mouth before it has a chance to stick. I've downloaded a program called Diet Diary for my Palm that allows me to keep a daily log of what I've ingested, the amount of water I've drunk, and the amount of exercise I get. It even contains a database of foods and their calories per serving. We'll see how well this works out, but so far it helps me pay attention -- and that's at least a start.

Two Weddings, No Funerals (Yet)

Greg has been very busy lately while wearing his church-musician hat. He's playing organ (and piano too, I think) at a wedding this weekend and another one next weekend. Between the rehearsals and the weddings themselves, plus the usual choir rehearsals (adults and kids) and two services every Sunday, he's had plenty to do when he's not composing or doing homework for grad school.

He says he has completed the fourth movement (the scherzo) of his Sax Quartet today. There's still plenty to do, including adding dynamics and general cleanup, but this is exciting stuff! He wants to get at least one movement played in December, and he might have two ready by then. He already has a violinist working on Hardanger, and I think the performance happens on December 6.

Finally Hit the Lottery

I almost never buy lottery tickets. Even though math isn't really my strongest suit, I do know enough about probability to know that I'm more likely to get hit by lightning than I am to win a multi-million-dollar prize... but in spite of myself, I wanted so badly to be that one-in-a-million-gajillion-bazillion prizewinner that I bought a Powerball ticket anyway.

Well, I'm happy to report that I'm finally a lottery winner. I managed to get three of the requisite five numbers, though I didn't get the Powerball. My payoff: $7. I think I'll buy myself a bottle of water to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The new iPod sock in sock yarn. The little ornament is an earring.  Posted by Picasa

Here's a closeup of the felted bag in Old Sage Lamb's Pride. The green is even prettier in real life. Posted by Picasa

Seamus wanted to help me photograph the FOs. Here he is, modeling the Old Sage tote bag. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Birthday Blog

It's been a long time since I've posted anything about what Greg's been up to. Since today is the birthday of the World's Most Fabulous Man, here's a catch-up post. (I've just heard that Greg's cousin Sara reads this blog. Hi, Sara!)

The Guest of Honor is downstairs in the family room, working on something and keeping Persephone the cat company. This is a voluntary banishment; I needed a chance to sneak his gifts out of the office closet and wrap them without him here to see. I've already given him the Cool Gift -- his new iPod -- but he should get a charge out of the wicked neat J.S. Bach action figure and the other Silly Gifts waiting at his place at the kitchen table.

Greg loves that he was born in the fall, so he has a particular fondness for All Things Pumpkin. Instead of a traditional birthday cake, he prefers to blow out the candles on a pumpkin pie. (One is cooling on a rack on the counter at the moment.) I made him a pumpkin cake one year, and it was fabulous -- but the recipe made so much cake that we got sick of looking at the thing and ended throwing half of it out after it had hardened to cinder-block consistency. We're back to pies because we can consume them within a finite period of time. We also have pumpkin ice cream from one of the local ice cream shops, so it'll be an all-pumpkin-all-the-time kind of birthday.

(In a way, I envy Greg. I was born at the end of January, but I don't love winter. I don't even like winter. My favorite thing about being born in January involves shopping for low airfares to warm climates.)

To catch up with Greg's news...

Lukas Foss has retired from BU, but he was kind enough to write Greg a nice letter of reference, and to sign a copy of Fantasy Rondo for him. Greg can also list Lukas on his resume, which can never hurt. I honestly don't know how Lukas did it; I think he's 84 now, but every week he got on a plane in NYC and commuted up to Boston to teach composition. That trip is probably one hassle Lukas isn't going to miss, especially once the bad weather hits.

This semester, Greg has opted not to take any composition classes. He needs to get some of his other electives out of the way, so he's taking a conducting class with Theodore Antoniou and another techniques class, the exact title of which escapes me, but it's with a professor there whom Greg likes very much.

Skipping out on composition this semester allows Greg to spend his creative time on the Sax Quartet and other pieces in progress (such as Niagara), without having to siphon off portions of that time to complete other compositions for homework assignments. By focusing his energy on current works, Greg hopes to get the Sax Quartet ready for performance by the end of the semester. It's turning out to be a long work -- 35 minutes and counting -- but he can get one or two movements performed without being accused of hogging the whole concert.

The Sax Quartet is such an amazing piece of musical architecture that I'm almost sorry I gave up playing baritone sax after graduating from high school. It shows every bit of the same intelligence as the Wind Quartet, but it builds on the relative simplicity of that piece and branches out into more complex rhythms and meters, all the while maintaining the same strict discipline and Greg's signature tall-chord harmonies.

Greg has also lined up a violinist to perform his solo violin piece Hardanger in one of the December concerts. In addition, his choir at the church will probably perform one of his Christmas songs (O Holy Lamb of God, I think) at a service closer to Christmastime.

He didn't get selected for the Barlow Prize this year, but we in this household are Red Sox fans. Our battle cry: "Wait till next year!". (I don't want to talk about the Red Sox. They got so close...)

Other Music News, Such As It Is

I'm not sure whether I'm bragging on myself here or whether I should run and hide, but... My blog post about Greg's compositional work and general rant about modern composition, "Write Safely and Carry a Big Schtick," was just reprinted in the fall 2005 newsletter of the Maine Composers' Forum. Okay, so this is a little bit incestuous -- I maintain the Web site for the MCF -- but it probably marks the first time that their newsletter has included an article from a non-composer. It should be interesting to see what sort of trouble that article stirs up among the membership.

Because I'd planned to be away for the first few weeks of the new season, I decided not to rejoin my chorus until after the Hurricane Katrina benefit concert next Sunday. Unfortunately, the longer I'm away from the group, the less enthused I am about rejoining at all. This is no reflection upon the new director -- whom I like very much, and whom I think is a fantastic teacher -- but I just can't bring myself to sing "Jingle Bells" one more time, and I nearly break out in hives at the thought of having to work up another tired old show tune medley. Maybe it's time for me to take a bit longer break from the group, at least until I can muster up a little bit of excitement at the prospect of singing with the gang again.

This is a lesson I never quite seem to learn at the right time: When you're not having fun doing something you joined for fun, then maybe it's time to move on. Back when all I had to do was show up to rehearsal, I really liked singing with the chorale. As time went on, though, I ended up getting more involved -- first as part of a carpool, then as a Board member and committee chair, not to mention ad salesperson (and I HATE selling things, unless it's on eBay) and 24x7 technical support for the crotchety little old lady who does the Web site.

Things started to go sour for me when people started regarding me as a taxi service without ever once offering to reciprocate, and when the Web site maintainer started hanging up on me when she didn't understand the instructions I gave her, even though she'd call and demand immediate support at any time of the day or night. The then-president stalled me for several months when I wanted to give up the committee chair, and then acted all surprised when I announced my resignation to the Board because she would never discuss things with me. I'm also beginning to resent the fact that Board members get hit up three times as often for money, and that chorale members are expected to do all the crap jobs for the organization, while the kids and their hyper parents and the actors never have to do anything.

Ah, you can see by my grousing that maybe it's time to find a new hobby. I sure will miss singing, but the negatives definitely prove greater in number than the positives. I will probably resign from the Board, too -- it's not fair to my fellow Board members, and it will allow them to select someone more enthusiastic (and with deeper pockets).

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

One of my very favorite fall pictures. That's Charlie at about 5 months of age. Posted by Picasa

The Knitting News

Sorry to have been away from the blog for so long, but I've been on a very Beardie vacation lately. More on that in the Beardie post (one of many I need to write, so bear with me).

The past couple of weeks have been pretty good ones for knitting; I've managed to add a few FOs to my list and make some headway on a few other projects. Here's what I've been up to:

  • I knitted and felted three small totes in my eternal favorite, Lamb's Pride. I've improved upon the sheep design on the original Fiber Trends pattern, too. Instead of making the sheep out of a series of ovals, I created a sheep that looked more like the ones you'd see in primitive-style art. The design came out looking pretty sharp, if I do say so myself. The two totes in Blue Magic accompanied me to the Beardie Specialty and fetched some fair bids in the fundraising auction. (I like to think they both went to good homes.) The Old Sage tote is still awaiting needlefelting. It's destined to travel to British Columbia and begin life as my friend Ann's birthday present. (Yes, there will be photos of the green one. Wish I'd thought to photograph the blue ones before they went to the auction.)
  • A friend of mine gave me a ball of Twisted Sisters Petite Voodoo in a stunning shade of blue. I didn't have enough of the yarn to make a pair of socks, but I did whip up a pouch for my iPod nano, including a pocket for the earphones and a neck strap.
  • The cable scarf in Kureyon is nearly finished. I left it here at home because I had metal needles stuck in it. I used plastic and bamboo needles on the plane, and even then a few curious souls asked me whether I'd had trouble getting those through security. (I think I made one knitter's day when I mentioned Denise needles.)

Everybody who saw the felted totes went crazy for them, so I'll have a few of those in my queue for a while yet. My friend Jody (Charlie's breeder) picked out four skeins of Andes wool in color 10 (gold and green colorway)for me to knit for her tote, and the end result should be fabulous. The yarn knits up in "tiger stripes", and I hope they look as nifty after the bag has been felted.

By the way, if you're ever in Omaha and need something to knit, the city has some really good yarn shops. Jody's and my "shop crawl" took in only two of them, but the Yellow Pages revealed four or five that should be worth the visit. The Daily Knitter's directory shows three good shops in Omaha.

We loved Touche on Maple Street in the Benson district of Omaha. The shop was minuscule, but its owner (who is also a fiber artist, designer, and spinner as well as a Collie person -- sorry to have forgotten her name) has managed to cram plenty of beautiful yarns and eye-catching shop models into that small space. Jody picked up the Andes there. I would have bought some space-dyed super-bulky wool, but I was worried about how much of it would fit in my overweight suitcase for the trip home, and I wanted all of it.

String of Purls on Shamrock Road is a positive feast for the eyes! All the yarns there are arranged by color family, with the multicolored Lorna's Laces and Noro yarns right in the front. The shop is so beautiful I suffered from overload; I honestly couldn't figure out what things to pick out from the gorgeous displays to bring home! I did end up selecting several bags of colored roving for needlefelting, and Robin (the owner), seeing my response to the sheer onslaught of color, brought me the third Sally Melville book to feast upon. I went there looking for a few skeins of Brown Sheep, but I wanted to buy the entire store. It was just too beautiful for me!

Oh, and I have already put the new iPod to good use by listening to KnitCast. It's nice to hear the voices of the folks whose blogs and Web sites I've been following all this time, and to hear the stories behind their stories. I particularly got a chuckle over Amy Singer's discussion of how the "Sex and the Knitty" issue of Knitty came together. (No, I've never quite managed to knit one of those red licorice thongs using chopsticks. I keep munching on the yarn!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


You have to hand it to Apple. The company that invented the computer cool enough to be a buddy now makes a portable music player cute enough to be a pet. Even I am not immune to the charms of the iPod; I've been Googling patterns for iPod cozies made of everything from felt to Swarovski crystals to Lion Brand Fun Fur (with knitted "earmuff" headphone covers to match). How cute does a piece of hardware have to be for us adults to want to play dress-up with it? If you're not up to knitting, you can even buy your iPod a sock wardrobe -- but really, where's the fun in that?

And then there's iDog. How cute is this?! You can hook it up to your iPod and feed it music, and its face lights up. The product description goes on to say that if you don't feed it music every day or pat it a lot, it gets sad and droopy-looking. I couldn't buy one of these. My real dogs make me feel enough like a bad mommy when I go out the door without them or refuse to share my slice of pepperoni-with-extra-cheese. I don't need to buy additional guilt!

I spent some of my bonus money on a new white iPod nano, and I've been waiting at the door for the FedEx truck with my nose pressed against the screen ever since. The nano's only about the size of a small stack of business cards -- I could probably knit the thing a whole wardrobe of cozies from scrap yarn in my stash.

Heck, maybe I should get an iDog and knit it a sweater too.

When FO Means "Felted Object"

It really pays to save up a bunch of felting projects and then shrink them in the washer all at the same time. Multiple pieces felt much more quickly than only one or two, even with other things thrown in to help hurry the process along.

Much as I love working with Lamb's Pride yarn, it coughs up more hairballs than my cat does! I've knitted three more of the Fiber Trends felted totes in Lamb's Pride Bulky: two in Blue Magic, and one in Old Sage. I zip each one snugly into its own zippered pillowcase before tossing into the washer. My washer will probably live longer this way; you wouldn't believe the fuzz that emerges with each tote bag after the felting process is complete!

All three totes are drying comfortably in the bathtub right now. When they're completely dry, I'll needle-felt them -- think I'll try to do a Beardie on at least one of them this time. The blue totes are destined for the fund-raising auction at the Bearded Collie National Specialty, and the green one will soon travel to Vancouver Island to live with my friend Ann.

Next up on the felted-bag list: a rectangular tote of Kureyon/Cascade 220 for another friend in LA, and a tote for me to carry my music in.

I've Been Unhooked

Yesterday marked the end of an era for me. I've started the process of becoming a full-time work-at-home employee, which means that I've had to give up the office I've occupied for the past 6 or so years. (It was my third office on this coast with my company; I've had two others in the Boston area and one in California).

This is a good thing; I've been working from home about 80-90% of the time anyway during this past year, but now I'll have corporate support for working at home -- including a new computer and printer and an allowance for ergonomic furniture. I won't have to commute long distances through Boston traffic (though I'll still drive in occasionally for meetings and functions, and can work in one of many drop-in offices).

Still, I couldn't help feeling a shade nostalgic as I packed 8 years' worth of office living into half a dozen cardboard boxes. I took down all the old photos of the Beardies, including Charlie's puppy photo with Santa Claus and Duncan's and Cadence's "baseball card" photos from the year we went to Camp Gone-to-the-Dogs. The Welsh linen band sampler I stitched in 1997 (mostly on planes traveling between Boston and San Francisco) came off the wall. I adopted out my cactus garden to my former boss downstairs, since there's no safe place here at home for it. He adores plants, and will give the cacti a good home. Into the boxes went all the silly gag gifts from friends and co-workers past and present: the Elvis trading cards, the Princess Leia and Chewbacca Pez dispensers, the wind-up toy robot and lizard, the Rosie the Riveter air freshener, and the glow-in-the-dark rubber banana slug. I'd lived with them all in one place for so long I'd stopped noticing them, but as I placed each one into the box, they all became funny all over again.

I guess what I'll miss most is having a space all my own. That space may have been smaller than most people's bathrooms, but it was all mine, to organize and decorate as I wished. We share an office here at home, and cramming so much equipment (and a full-sized keyboard) into one small room means we don't have a lot of extra space for desk toys. I made sure the sampler found a new home on the wall, though. Some things don't need to change completely.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

This Scarf Climbed Mt. Washington

It's been a long-standing joke hereabouts that most of the cars bearing the bumper sticker "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington" look like they couldn't make it through the parking lot at the Shop 'n' Save.

Greg and I took the Mt. Washington Cog Railway to the summit this weekend, and had ourselves a fine time in the 20 minutes we were allotted before the return train departed. I sustained one brief moment of embarrassment when a ball of Kureyon slipped out of my knitting bag on the ascent and rolled through the feet of the people seated behind me, but they were all most gracious about helping me retrieve and rewind it. The kids on the train thought that my knitting was part of the entertainment.

Some sights on the trip were more appealing than others. I thought our brakeman/tour guide/stand-up comic was putting us on when he announced that hikers on the Appalachian Trail frequently moon the train as it passes. (You could hear a small ripple of little voices as kids asked their parents, "Mom/Dad, what's 'mooning' mean?") The brakeman wasn't kidding, though. On the trip downhill from the summit, we passed one guy who not only showed us his better side, but put on a fairly creditable Chippendales-with backpacks dance routine as well.

You take your three-hour time slots where you can get 'em. I took advantage of the time to make progress on the Kureyon cable scarf from Noro World of Nature #15. Can't get enough of that Kureyon!

Incidentally, if you're ever tootling up Route 16 in North Conway, NH, stop in at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company. Greg and I had an amazing dinner there for relatively little money, and the food's so good it will almost make you cry. Think handmade grilled pheasant sausage on a baguette with Brie and a chipotle-fig spread with a side of yam fries. Of course, you must order a pint or two of their fabulous beer to cry into.

Here's something that will make you go "Hmmmm": When we left on Thursday night, the average price of gas on the trip was about $2.80 per gallon. When we returned via the very same road the next day, the average price was $3.20, and one place had already started charging over $3.50. I should have remembered the name and location of the place to report it to the DOE's price-gouging Web site. Actually, I think I should have reported all of the gas stations on the route. Next time I pass a Lincoln Navigator with a Bush bumper sticker, it will take all my resistance not to flip off the driver.

FO Alerts

The Kureyon scarf is only about half finished, but I've been finishing stuff as well. I've made three Lamb's Pride tote bags for felting (two in Blue Magic, one in Old Sage). The friend running the rescue parade at the National Specialty received totes already from a mutual friend with an embroidery business, so I'll needle-felt these and donate them to the auction. Proceeds go to Beardie Rescue, so these totes will help rescue in any case.

I also managed to dig up instructions for socks that don't automatically assume that everyone in the world knows what "turn the heel" means. Armed with the instructions and some sock yarn from Knit Picks, I intend to make my first attempt at socks shortly. Wish me luck!

The Word from New Orleans

People who know me know that New Orleans is one of my favorite cities on earth. The main reason I haven't said anything about Hurricane Katrina is that the enormity of the disaster has simply robbed me of words to describe it.

I am happy to report that people I know have been reporting in, and all are safe, even though they are scattered to the proverbial winds and don't know when they'll be able to return home. My high-school classmate and her family are still in Lafayette, LA, and are frantically trying to enroll their youngest son (age 13) in school there. (The two older kids had already left for college in Providence and Denver, I think.) They evacuated early, and took Chester the Dachshund with them. They've had word that their house is still standing, but that's all they know. They're among the lucky ones.

Sometimes being a corporate wage slave has its perks. My company has a matching-gifts program for charitable donations, and has set up a site where it automatically matches employee donations to Katrina disaster relief. Greg and I made our donations through the site so we could effectively donate double, and we were able to choose to donate to the Red Cross or America's Second Harvest.

If you work for a large company (or maybe even a medium-sized one), it pays to check with the HR department about corporate matching gifts. Even if the company doesn't have a dedicated Web site for disaster relief (as mine does), filling out the matching gift form takes 5 minutes. If you're planning to donate, take the extra 5 minutes to double your money, if you can.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

One of the coal-fired steam trains on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. You can see another engine starting up on the far right. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 21, 2005

He's gonna be famous... Posted by Picasa

Another small knitting breakthrough

Woo hoo -- I can do cables! It turns out that they're even easy. I need some practice reading graphs before I can decode them easily, but I can follow verbal directions perfectly fine.

Last night I took a brief break from knitting felted tote bags for the Beardie Rescue Parade and thought I'd try working on a cabled scarf in Kureyon color #134. That yarn has been calling my name from deep within the stash pile for a long time now, and finally I succumbed to its siren song and picked the thing up. The pattern comes from Noro, The World of Nature #15 and is fairly simple: two sections of 4x4 ribbing with two 6-stitch cables in the middle.

With some practice, I'd like to tackle a couple of the cabled sweaters in that book. There are some gorgeous designs in it, and the Noro yarns make them all the more spectacular.

Progress on the Musical Front

Greg has spent most of his time this week finishing up the orchestration for his Water suite. He hopes to get it off to the conductor within the next few days. Last night, he decided to add a tuba to the mix, and the resulting change in orchestral coloring is breathtaking. It's amazing how that one line just adds so much depth and dimension to the piece. He already had scored bass trombone and contrabassoon, but this latest addition created the perfect mix in the bass line, like just the right amount of pepper in a sauce.

On Thursday night, we attended the opening concert of this year's Portland Chamber Music Festival. We primarily went up to see Elliott Schwartz (a friend of Greg's from way back) and to hear his work "Tapestry," but they also performed a pleasant little throwaway piece of Rossini's and Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence." The program notes and newspaper critics tend to dump mercilessly on "Souvenir," but it isn't the horrible work everyone says it is. The instrumentation is unusual (two violins, two violas, two cellos), and the individual parts don't all tend to stand out at every moment during the piece, but it was very well played and a ball to listen to. Granted, Tchaikovsky himself never really cared for the piece, but the poor man was critical of much of his own music, and he hated The Nutcracker.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Seamus and I are repeating the Advanced Basic Obedience class, and I'm glad I decided to go back. There are only 4 or 5 dog/handler teams in the class, so we get plenty of time to repeat individual exercises. Seamus's down-stays, always the weakest part of his obedience repertoire, are getting much better. I don't know whether we'll manage the 30-minute down-stays we've been given for "homework," but we can make 10 minutes without too many problems.

When he's not busy making me proud in obedience, Seamus has been discovering buried treasure in the toy box. Before he lost his hearing, Doogie used to love toys that made noise. He has toys that squeaked, toys that played tunes, toys that sounded like animals or objects... you name it. Doogie would take one of those toys and squeak it over and over and over and over until Charlie got tired of the sound and killed the squeaker. My favorite of those toys was the yellow submarine (which, sadly, didn't play the Beatles song), but Doogie also had croaking frogs, mooing cows, an ambulance with siren, a school bus with honking horn and screaming kids, and a green alien that sounded a little like the Theremin part in "Good Vibrations."

Lately, a couple of the toys Seamus has unearthed have come back to life (mostly). The musical duck plays a tremendously silly little melody while a duck quacks along, and the tune just gets inside your head and refuses to leave. (No wonder Charlie silenced it the first time.) When Seamus found the duck and pulled it out of the toy box, it started to play the tune (though at a much reduced volume, thanks to Charlie's adjustments). The expression on Seamus's face was too funny for words: "What is this thing DOING?!". Since then, he has found the squeaky tugboat with its "boat whistle," and has been squeaking that around the house as well. Charlie probably wants to kill the squeakers all over again.

Seamus's CKC papers finally came through, after his breeder called the CKC offices to ask what the holdup was. There's only one hitch: they printed Greg's last name as Hill. We have to return the certificate to CKC with a note from us, a letter from the breeder certifying that she was the one who goofed on the spelling, and a surprisingly large amount of money ($29 Canadian) just to fix a stinkin' typo. If we're lucky, we might get the new certificate back by Christmastime. We only waited four months for the misspelled one.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

We woke up yesterday morning to see this floating over the neighbors' yard... Posted by Picasa

Seamus adds his celebrity image to the sweater... Posted by Picasa

Here's the back of the sweater. I'm still pleased with the symmetry of the colors on the hood, even though they're supposed to look that way. Posted by Picasa

The front of the Fletcher sweater, showing the nice antler buttons from The Button Shoppe. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tails of Adventure and Other Shaggy Dog Stories

Tucker's mom Dale and I spent our Saturday on the roads of Vermont for a good cause yesterday. We delivered a needy dog named Max (who would soon have been the product of a broken home, as his owners are splitting up) and delivered him to a wonderful rescue. Fueled by Green Mountain coffee and Val's fabulous homemade chocolate chip cookies, we had plenty of chance to knit, laugh, gossip, and admire the scenery on the way.

Poor Max just hasn't had the good life he deserves. He's had two homes in his short time on this earth (he's about 3-4 years old), and he was rescued from a life of being tied to a chicken coop so he could spend his life tied to a basement bulkhead instead. He was never allowed inside the house or trained to much of an extent, so we weren't sure what to expect. Would he be a wild thing? Would he ask us to pull over if he needed a biology break, or would the upholstery suffer?

Max turned out to be a fabulous, sweet, mellow, loving dog who couldn't get enough of being touched and petted and cooed at. He spent much of the trip to Williston on his back in the back seat of Dale's car, luxuriating in belly rubs and sweet talk for perhaps the first time in his life. He was an astonishingly calm dog who rested his big blocky head on my shoulder as I drove.

We first delivered Max to a vet's office in Williston, where we would meet the director of the rescue who took him in. The vet examined him, gave him the necessary shots and took blood samples for heartworm and Lyme, and pronounced him basically healthy, if a bit dirty and stinky from a recent encounter with a skunk. Max hadn't seen the vet too often in his life, but he behaved himself wonderfully, gently kissing the vet tech as she held him and patiently enduring all the probing and pinpricks and nail clipping.

Next, we brought Max over to the rescue director's business (a pet supply store and grooming shop). The groomer at the shop gave him what might have been the first real bath he's ever had. As the brown water ran off his back, I saw him half-close his eyes and smile. If he could have, he'd have said, "Aaaahhhhh." The groomer planned to keep Max overnight at her place before delivering him to the kennel where he would wait for his foster home, and we suspect that she and Max spent the evening watching movies on the couch and sharing a bowl of popcorn with extra butter.

After Dale filled out Max's paperwork for the rescue and I gathered the dog bed, toys, and treats that Val had bought for him, we said our goodbyes and headed southward. We stopped for lunch on the way, and toasted Max and his new life. Things are finally looking up for that poor dog, and he deserves it.

Dogs are basically optimists by nature; no matter what's happening to them at the moment, they always hope for something better. Max had every reason to give up on humanity, and it never once entered his mind. Throughout our trip, Max just kept looking forward to the next adventure, and the next. We think that he'll make someone a fabulous best buddy, and we hope that he and his new family will have wonderful adventures together for the rest of his days.

We're Baaa-aaack!

Because Novice classes won't start until September sometime, Seamus and I have decided to repeat Advanced Basic obedience class in the same place at the same time. Tucker's in the class, and the other four students are also "repeaters" from previous classes. It will be nice for us to get in some extra structured practice while we wait for September.

Just When You Thought It Was Time to Give Up...

After my friend Gill had emailed me to let me know that there would be no litter of puppies this June, I filed the idea of a puppy into the "Maybe Next Year" folder in my mind, and stopped thinking about puppies for this year. In a way, it was a good thing that the idea hadn't come to pass: I could focus more time on working with Seamus, and on enjoying a household with two healthy, young, already-trained adult dogs for a while.

This past week, Gill emailed me to tell me that her brown girl Willow might possibly be in whelp, and that the puppies would make their entrance into this world around the 27th of the month. This completely bowled me over with surprise and delight, since Willow is possibly my favorite of all of Gill's beautiful, sweet-natured Beardies. This is a repeat breeding; Willow and her handsome blue dream date Badger had a litter a year and a half ago, and all of the puppies were stunning. If this comes to pass, I might end up spending Hallowe'en in Wales this year.

All This and Knitting Too

I've managed to get quite a bit of knitting done of late (for me), between listening to the audio version of the latest Harry Potter book and road-tripping through Vermont. With that much knitting time, I've managed to complete one tote bag in Lamb's Pride Bulky (color Blue Magic) for felting, and the second one is about three rows shy of the final castoff. My ultimate plan is to get a small bunch of them done for the Rescue Parade at the National Specialty, but I'll have to change my plans if there are gazillions of last-minute entries.

The lovely antler toggles for the Fletcher sweater arrived a while ago, and with any luck, I'll get those attached today. Photos to follow!

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Monday, August 08, 2005

The graduate, receiving his mortarboard and ceremonial bag of goodies. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pup and Circumstance

Last week Seamus graduated from obedience class. Tucker's mom Dale captured the class festivities in the picture gallery on her blog, where she also notes that Seamus was the best and most famous Beardie in the class. Indeed he was! Being the only Beardie is but a minor detail.

Every time you introduce something into a training situation, there's always the possibility that the dog will forget what he's already learned, and you need to do a little reviewing before you can go on to work with the new thing or situation. Seamus has never been great with the long stays; we're working through the fact that he's expected to sit there without even a magazine to read while he waits. Down-stays are better than sit-stays, but both went pretty far out the window when Greg came to class to shoot pictures for graduation. Seamus would wait a few seconds after the down, and then go rush over to Greg. I had to intercept him in the middle of his rush and put him back several times. This gives us something to work on, though.

We do hope to start in a Novice class in the fall, if the club is offering one or if we can find one nearby. We can do Novice Rally with some practice, and Dale and Tuck want to practice with us sometime. (Well, Dale does. We didn't really ask Tuck, but he enjoys a day out.) Our instructor is hoping to put together a group to take the AKC CGC test, and I put our names in.

"My name is Karen and I'm a stress junkie." "Hi, Karen."

Actually, that's not even faintly true. I don't thrive on stress, but it's such a continuous presence in my job that once I reach my deadline, it's actually difficult to adjust to a lower stress level. In a way, it's not all that different from detox, only my drug is adrenaline. I don't know how journalists do it; they have much more immediate deadlines and shorter delivery cycles, even if the works they deliver are about 699 pages shorter than mine.

Because our schedules have gone in two wildly different directions this year, Greg and I won't get an extended vacation together this year. He used up most of his vacation time attending the Bach Festival, and he has quite a lot of work to do before the next semester of grad school starts. He wants to get the Water suite orchestrated and into the conductor's hands as soon as possible, and he'd like to get the Sax Quartet performed at BU at the end of the semester, if he can get at least two movements ready by then.

I've been making plans to go to the Bearded Collie National Specialty show in Omaha this year. This will probably be the only real break I get this year, and I've really missed my Beardie buddies.