Sunday, July 24, 2005

The End of the Knit-Along Road (for now)

Woo hoo -- Donna and I have both finished our Fletchers! She finished hers last week, and emailed the happy news after finding the perfect set of toggles for it at a bargain price. It might still get cool enough in Vancouver at night so she can wear it over a T-shirt, but she'll definitely be ready for the cold weather in any case. If memory serves me correctly, Donna knitted hers in the amazing flame-colored yarn shown in the pattern photos. I wish I'd chosen the same color, but the jewel tones in the colorway I chose (#16) give the sweater a different, no less gorgeous look.

I finished mine late Friday night and sewed the pieces together yesterday. It's a lovely sweater, though it's too warm here for me to admire myself in it for more than a few seconds at a time. I'm considering using either bamboo toggles or whitish "antler" colored ones.

(Yes, there will be pictures -- after blocking and buttons.)

In a way, I feel vindicated: Donna too ran out of yarn before finishing the sweater. Between working the last rows on the hood and stitching up the entire thing, I've probably used about half of the additional skein I bought. (Note to self: Buy even more extra next time. Objects are larger than they appear.)

Thus ends my very first knit-along, as well as my very first sweater. I've enjoyed "working" with Donna, who is a much more experienced knitter than I am. She's passed along lots of helpful advice, including plenty about knitting socks. (those are my next knitting Holy Grail, I think.)

For her next sweater project, she's picked a Jo Sharp pattern (Arabella?). I had mistakenly thought that my next cardigan project was an Oat Couture pattern (wishful thinking, probably -- I lust for their Celtic Cardigan), but I'm really going to do this neck-down cardigan from Knitting Pure and Simple in the new Mulberry shade of Lamb's Pride.

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Spray-Can Commando

I'm not what you'd call the bravest person in the world, but only three things really, truly scare me:

1. The Bush Administration
2. Heights
3. Yellowjackets (and other non-bee stinging insects)

That last item has persisted since childhood. I remember being stung on a number of occasions, which in a kid's memory probably translates to two or three times. I'm not sure whether this is true, but it's said that people can further develop allergies to stings after each successive sting. To the best of my knowledge, I'm not allergic, but why take chances? The last time one of those ill-tempered bugs stung me, I was 22 and decorating a friend's car at his wedding reception. Sort of put a damper on the rest of my afternoon, that did.

Mind you, I'm not really afraid of bees. Bees have a reason for being -- two, if you're keeping count. They make honey, and they help pollinate the flowers on all sorts of plants. They're also rather mild-mannered critters until they feel threatened enough to retaliate. Deep down, I think bees know that they die when they sting you. They'd rather go about their little bee lives without confrontation, thank you very much. Bumblebees are cute (for bugs), and even mellower by nature than honeybees.

On the other hand, yellowjackets (and wasps, and hornets) have absolutely no reason for living, except to ruin picnics and sting you for the fun of it. Unlike bees, they don't die when they sting, so they're more likely to resort to the old stingeroo in any given situation. If they serve even a single useful purpose on this earth, I sure don't know about it. Even mosquitoes are food for dragonflies and bats.

Anyway, I can't help freaking when a yellowjacket has invaded my personal space. Snakes? I like 'em. Mice? No big deal. Spiders? They're not as charming as dragonflies, but they're okay. Just let a yellowjacket fly within half a mile of me and I'm ready to hit the deck, screaming. If one gets into the house by accident, I'll track it down and hammer it to death for half an hour with my shoe while the dogs look on in amazement. "Maybe this isn't the best time to ask Mom for a biscuit." "Yathink?"

Last week, I was outside performing the old routine canine sanitation tasks in the fenced dog yard when I noticed something unusual hanging between the dog fence and the back of the garage. It turned out to be a softball-sized paper yellowjacket nest, and the bugs around it appeared to be very busy. I fought down the urge to run screaming for the nearest blowtorch and thought: How should I get rid of this thing?

Wait for the first hard frost? Nah. It's only July, and I wouldn't go outside again until October at the earliest.

Get Greg to remove it? Only if I feel like making a little side trip to the ER afterward.

Blowtorch? Satisfying, but it would probably be kind of bad for the fence and the garage.

Liquid nitrogen? Hard to come by.

I finally settled on the use of guerrilla tactics: Wait until nighttime, when all the yellowjackets are asleep in their nest (no doubt dreaming little yellowjacket dreams of stinging whole cities of people), and then sneak down there with a flashlight and soak the nest with an entire can of Raid. They wouldn't know what hit 'em, and I'd stop obsessing about the nest.

Last night about midnight, I decided it was time to make my pre-emptive strike. Armed with the flashlight in my left hand and the Raid in my right, I tiptoed down the stairs (wouldn't want to wake them). After worrying for a minute that they might awaken when they saw the beam from the flashlight, I opened fire with the spray can.

Did you know that the insecticide in spray cans is just liquid enough that when it comes in contact with insect-nest paper, the paper melts? Well, it does. As the nest melted half away and the opening at the bottom grew larger and larger, I was sure I'd see a cloud of avenging yellowjackets emerge from it, ready to repay me for the attack. None came. All the same, I beat it out of there, back up the stairs, and into the house before they forgot that yellowjackets don't fly at night. It took a few minutes for my heart to stop pounding, and to stop expecting the sound of an angry swarm knocking on the back door.

Greg asked, "Did you get them?"

"Yeah." I refrained from blowing across the top of the spray can, Hollywood-cowboy style, before replacing the cap.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

One of Greg's shots of Crater Lake, with Wizard Island in the center. Hard to believe he shot this with a disposable camera. Posted by Picasa

Always Playing Catch-up

Many of my blogging buddies have mentioned putting their blogs on hiatus, or maybe giving up altogether. I feel just the opposite -- I'd blog more if I had the chance -- but I'm still struggling through the endgame of work deadlines. Because I'm a writer, the last thing I've wanted to do with my allotted 30 seconds of free time is to write some more.

I'll miss you all if you decide to take vacations from blogging, but I'll be here. Come on back and visit from time to time, won't you?

Rave Review

From the Better-Late-Than-Never files: Greg received a very nice surprise this week. The latest issue of The New Music Connoisseur contains a review of the 2004 ACA American Music Festival. In the article, the author said some very nice things about Greg's piano suite Le tombeau de Honegger, and even referred to its rhythms as "delicious" and "irresistible."

Understandably, that review has made his week. It's the only one we've seen for last year's concert, and we searched everywhere online. Now we can't wait for the review of the 2005 concert and his Water song cycle.

Greg's planning to play at least a couple of movements from the Tombeau at the next MCF concert, if that ever gets off the proverbial ground.

Found and Lost

I managed to find the Yahoo News article entitled Your Witty Little Blog Could Get You Fired, but the story itself has expired from their pages. You can probably search for it if you would like to read it.

Anyway, that article further reinforces my need to stay mum on the specific details of my job. Not that I don't have plenty of colorful and not-always-PG-rated things to say about it, but I'd do so anonymously and through another blog provider (assuming I ever had the time). Although I work for a company that actively encourages its employees to keep blogs, the tone of employee blogs is universally chirpy. One gets the sense that it would be impolitic to address any real issues, even on the internal-only blogs that customers and external media never see.

As If By Magic

You'll have to forgive me for beng so amazed at my very own self. I've been filling my 30 free seconds per day with more knitting, and I'm about four inches shy of finishing the hood on my Fletcher sweater. I'm not sure what else I was expecting to see, but: the thing actually looks like it might grow up to be a real garment someday!

In spite of all my careful plans and my anal-retentive checking of the gauge every two stitches, though, I still managed to run out of yarn this close to the end. How the heck did that happen?! I've ordered an additional skein in the same colorway and lot as the rest of the sweater, and should have it in a couple of days. Hate when that happens.

I said, "Lie Down!"

Seamus had a restless week at obedience class this week. We practiced long downs, and he grew bored with the waiting and kept getting up. I'd put him back in his place each time, but he just wasn't in the mood to wait around that day. He did beautifully on the rest of the exercises, even the weaving through the other dogs and their handlers. Guess he was just in the mood for a little action.

Cathy, his breeder, says that CKC (the Canadian Kennel Club, not that other CKC!) is typically a bit slow with registration changes. She suggested that if I want to enter him in any AKC events, that I apply for an extension for his foreign registration and then enter the show anyway. I might do that, but with the amount of time I've spent working this summer, we haven't done any training outside of obedience training. We haven't even tried herding together yet. I'm continuing to scan the Net for local CGC tests, though. We have to start someplace.

The local obedience club is holding a rally obedience seminar in October. It seems like a long time from now, but even if we manage to succeed in Novice before then, we can always try the Advanced and Excellent courses. That assumes that we've managed to overcome Seamus's off-lead issues by then.

He's still not really into coming when called unless he knows there's something in it for him that's a better deal than whatever else is drawing his attention. I've taken to carrying a pocketful of dog treats everywhere I go and calling him at random intervals. When he comes, he gets a goodie. This works well enough in the house, and even in the garage (where the car always holds great potential for the dogs because we go for Rides!). I'm not confident yet that the same scheme would work in a situation where the "stakes" are higher (such as if he gets loose), but that's what practice is for.

He has been very good at doing random sits and lie-downs while we're walking. This is a great improvement over where he was a few weeks ago, when he would lunge and bark at every motorized vehicle that passed us on the street (even tractors). I'm pleased at this little advance; if I can parlay that into a reliable stop in the presence of sheep, Seamus could be a kick-ass little herding dog. We shall see.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Another Newfoundland photo. There are still plenty of these suckers passing through in July. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Attack of the Leisure Zombies

Who sneaked in and stole my vacation while I wasn't looking? It's Thursday already, and I don't have much to show for my week of leisure -- not that it's even been all that leisurely. It seems as though we've spent the entire week in the car, getting from Point A to Point B to Point Infinity.

My twin niece and nephew turned 5 on the 4th and 5th of July (one on each side of midnight), and my brother and sister-in-law threw their annual barbecue/birthday extravaganza. We ended up trucking all the way down to my home town for that one and then trucking all the way back that same night. In between the long drives, we feasted on barbecue from The Memphis Roadhouse, watched the kids burrow wildly into their mounds of presents, bummed rides on my brother's Harley, and drank beer in the sunshine. Sweeeeeet.

Max, my nephew, is deeply into "Star Wars." Greg and I picked out a talking Darth Vader helmet/mask that comes with a few preset pushbutton phrases ("Welcome to Verizon 411. What city and state?"), plus a little synthesizer that changes your voice when you wear the mask and speak into the microphone. That turned out to be such a huge hit with the adults that it'll be a miracle if Max ever gets to play with it himself. He allowed us to co-opt his toy and jabber and sing through it until we all ended up doubled over and wheezing with laughter, but he refused to let go of his light saber just in case.

Biscuit Breath Business

Little Seamus continues to improve in the obedience department, though he's a mighty long way from ever being able to go anywhere off-lead. He has managed to connect "wait" in obedience class with "wait" while I fetch the mail, so he doesn't rush the front door as much as he used to. (He still gives it his best shot when we try to leave through the garage door, though. He knows when he's missing out on a car ride.)

Yarn Stuff

Donna emailed me that she's made it to the hood of her Fletcher sweater. She has the shoulder seams stitched, and she's picked up the stitches along the back of the neck to attach the hood.

For my part, I've made it about two-thirds of the way up the second sleeve. If I can dedicate enough of my remaining vacation hours to knitting, I might be able to get to the hood myself this week.

I haven't yet decided what my next big project will be once this Fletcher has been sewn, blocked, and given pride of place in my closet till the colder weather comes back. Projects have a way of just appearing and insisting that they be done, so I'm not overly concerned about not having plans just yet. The yarn really does need to come from my stash, though. The stuff in there keeps multiplying when I'm not looking. (There's that ball of sock yarn just waiting...)

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To think that a year ago we were in Newfoundland, boating with the whales and icebergs... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Adventures of Stuporwoman

Ahhhh, sweet vacation. For a while there, I wasn't sure I was going to make it this far. It's been deadline time at work, so for the past week-and-some I've been doing very little else except working. Up at 7, feed the animals, make the coffee, work, go to bed at midnight, start all over again the next day. It hasn't been much of an existence.

One thing I'll say for Hell Week is that the stress diet works every single time. You can live on coffee, Triscuits, and garlic-stuffed olives out of the jar and still lose weight. You can have anything you want, as long as your add a nice big old heaping helping of stress on top. This is one diet plan that the supermarket tabloids seem to keep missing, but it's a sure winner (if you survive). "I lost 287 pounds and my mind on the stress diet! You can too!"

Life Resumes

Let's see... what did I miss while I was buried in work? Happy belated Canada Day to all my Canadian friends (and little Seamus, who is panting his way through his first summer south of the border). Happy Summer Solstice to everyone! Now that I'm on vacation, I plan to do as much Nothing as I can possibly cram into one small week.

Greg's on his way home from Oregon; he called from the Eugene airport just before his plane to SFO started boarding. From what he's related to me, the partings from the festival sounded much like the ones on the last day of summer camp. He's made some friends and a number of interesting acquaintances out there, and is already talking about submitting for next year so he can see them all again. He took Thursday off from the symposium (read: He cut class. What a reprobate!) and drove the 2.5 hours down to Crater Lake to hike, meditate, and take pictures. He returned with the seeds of another new piece. He'll have plenty of time on planes to work on it before he returns to Maine in the wee, wee, wee hours (I pick him up in Portland at 1:40-odd AM).

Yesterday he spent a long while with one of the choral conductors at the festival, the one who conducted the children's chorus in the Bach Christmas Oratorio that was performed there. The conductor was very interested in Greg's choral pieces and songs, and he was able to put together a collection of scores for her to read over and possibly perform and record. That could be exciting!

In addition, he and some of his composer friends spent a good long time talking with David Herrington of the Kronos Quartet. The Quartet has been looking to branch out into music that doesn't sound like "just another Kronos Quartet piece," and Greg and some of his fellow composers just might be able to get some works played. I like to think that the Quartet would love to play some of Greg's wild harmonies; they definitely wouldn't sound like "just another Kronos Quartet piece."

(I have to hand it to the Kronos Quartet. I don't absolutely love everything they do, but they're such an adventurous, forward-looking group, always interested in trying something new. No matter what Greg says about it, I still like their CD with Elvis Costello, The Juliet Letters. It isn't always pretty, but it is interesting to listen to -- in the good sense.)

It's been good for Greg to get out of Maine and away from his cozy little routine for a while. He needs to spend time talking with other composers and musicians, away from the "hothouse" atmosphere of grad school. The experience has had its ups and downs for him, but he'll return energized and with new ideas and opportunities for his composition.

Summer in the Sticks

The dragonflies have arrived! They whir around the backyard like a miniature recreation of the air traffic over O'Hare. A lot of people in this area buy dragonfly nymphs as defense against the Maine State Bird: the mosquito. I'm not sure whether the current group of visiting dragonflies grew up in our pond, or whether they've come over from other people's yards because our pond breeds the best-tasting mosquitoes. Anyway, I love watching them hunt. Between the dragonflies and the Mosquito Magnet, the backyard is significantly less buggy than it was.

The frogs have mostly quieted down, except for the lone bass frog still out in the pond. He sings day and night, no matter who else accompanies him. Every once in a while, the evening conditions are just right for another froggy hoedown, but they're much less rowdy now than they were in the spring.

Beardie Business

Seamus made his social debut at the Minuteman Bearded Collie Club's summer Beardie Bounce last weekend (yes, I stole a few measly hours away from the job). Charlie had a magnificent time for himself, romping around with the other Beardies, investigating the whole yard, and belly-flopping in the two kiddie pools. It was brutal, stick-to-your-car-seat hot, but we humans all lolled in the shade and ate strawberry cake, and just enjoyed hanging out. The dogs did much the same as we did.

My personal prize for All-Time Best First Impression has been awarded to Roo, an adorable brown girl belonging to a nice woman from Albany, NY. While I sat underneath the big shade tree and caught up on the news with my doggy friends, Roo came over to me, lay down in my lap, and rolled over and looked up at me with a floppy-tongued Beardie grin. Of course, I was instantly smitten. It turns out that Roo is the daughter of my friend Cindy's brown girl Rorie. She comes by her charm naturally.

One of the folks who attended is a major competitor in obedience and agility, and is the obedience chair for this year's national specialty. Joanne graciously laid out a rally obedience course for the rest of us to try, and patiently guided each one of us through it, one by one. Seamus and I gave it a try when it came our turn. Seamus was a bit distracted by whatever Charlie was doing at the time we were on the course, but if he were concentrating, he could easily do the Novice exercises. His Canadian registration is still in the process of being changed, but as soon as I can register him with AKC, we're giving this sport a try.

Seamus maintains eye contact like no other dog I've ever had, not even Duncan (the Border Collie in a Beardie suit). When he's focused on an obedience exercise, his eyes never leave mine, and he smiles the entire time we're working as if to say "We're really doing great here, aren't we?". This little fellow could turn out to be a fabulous performance dog.

Knitting: the End is Near!

In spite of having been chained to my desk working for my every waking hour this week, I've managed to make significant progress on the Fletcher sweater. When I have a long compile/export process running, I can sneak in half an hour's worth of knitting before the computer demands my attention again. I've finished one sleeve, and am about one-third of the way up the other. The last major piece of this sweater is the smallest -- the hood -- and then I can assemble the whole piece! Wow... my first sweater. Maybe I should frame it or something.

Maybe it's because I've been diddling around with scarves for so long, but it still impresses me a little that I Can Make Sweaters. (Well, let me get through this one first.) I prefer gloves to mittens and baseball caps to knitted hats, so I haven't spent any time working on the other small items that a knitter could otherwise learn on -- why make stuff I won't wear? I can't wait to tackle socks next.

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