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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