Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Artist's Way . . .

I have started The Artist's Way at least twice before now, and every time I got to the week of "reading deprivation," I quit. Not this time.

I started this course again with a small group of my Iona Sisters a few weeks ago. We conference call once a week for our "meeting," and it has been interesting to me to see where I am now as compared to where I was the last time I attempted it (many years ago). Both times before, when this week came up, I ran for the hills - it just wasn't something I even wanted to consider, but this time, I'm up for it.

No email, no blogs, no books, no newspapers, no magazines, no Ravelry, no knitting patterns (!)

Work is going to be challenging - part of my job is to be on the Web every day (yes, really - I have a great job :-) ), and most of what I do involves constant reading and writing. And I do have to earn a living, but I'm going to do as little reading as possible - it will be made a bit easier by a giant work event next weekend - I won't have quite so much work reading this week. Steering clear of personal web surfing will be challenging in the extreme :-D and during this week, personal emails at work will be ignored . . . sorry.

I'm starting a pair of "plain old socks" with some Opal self-striping yarn today. I love that stuff! :-D and I won't have to read to make plain socks. Everything else goes on hold for a week.
This should be interesting, don't you think?

In the meantime, I got the directions for the rectangular continuous strand loom that I picked up at the Missouri Fiber Retreat. Yay! I had been experimenting with it on my own, and I got the basic structure, but I made some mistakes, so I'm happy to have the actual instructions. Of course, I'll be waiting a week :-D

OK - time to head out to greet the day - the reading ban is upon me - starting tomorrow - so if you need to talk to me, you're going to have to ring me. :-)

I'll be back in a week!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Eve (I Made That Up :-D)

It's the day before Easter, and it snowed here this morning. Actually it snowed yesterday, too. We were lulled into a false sense of security by some spring-like weather . . . but this is Chicago. It's March. What did you expect?! It didn't stick, though, well, not much of it. Besides which, Easter is early this year.

In addition to the snow, I saw my first robins of spring this morning, and that made me very very happy somehow :-) I was supposed to visit Linda, the Chicken Lady today, but she was sick, and not wanting to catch whatever she's got, I stayed home and ran a few errands and got stuff done around here. A found day - how often does that happen for me? Not very.

So I made the most of it! All the hanging plants got haircuts and cleaned up today. That was quite an undertaking, but they all needed it very much. I'm glad it's done :-) I went to Home Depot and bought another bird feeder - I have one I like that the squirrels can't get into (believe me, they still try). I also bought some more bird seed and some light bulbs. Exciting stuff!!! :-D A quick stop at Dominick's and I started on the plants.

Then, I had this sari silk yarn sitting on the floor of my office. . . Michelle had thought it might work for her current project. She decided against it, and I thought, well, I didn't really know what to do with it. Then, the cartoon light bulb went off over my head and I remembered that I had, in fact, actually bought it for a reason: The Raj Shawl.
Well, since it was out on the floor (and out of the stash!!!!) I figured I could wind it up and get cracking. What a mess. It took me hours to wind the stuff (by hand, I might add), and the stuff that came from the UK was not the sturdiest, but some of it will definitely be used. The rest of it was from Frabjous Fibers, and was bit sturdier and also spun tighter. A lot of that will be used.

So, I started on it, and it's my hope that it will loosen up when I wash it, because it feels a little tight to me, but since I'm only on row 15 of what will become a gigundous number of stitches, I suppose it will be quite some time before I find out. So, thanks, Michelle, for deciding against it! You got me started on another project :-) (I and I hope you'll find the best match for your jacket).

I have also started another pair of Yukon Leaves socks. I like the pattern. The pair made from ShibuiKnits is nearly done (and will wait until April to be all the way done so they can count for the SAM 5 KAL), so I started another pair - this one out of Yarn Love, Scarlett O'Hara, in the Violets colorway - bet you can guess where those will be going.

And speaking of violets, here a peak at what's growing Chez A. Lots of plants, the crowns of which had to be restarted due to neglect on my part :-S Too much going on all the time for awhile there, I'm afraid. They are doing well now, however, and are about ready to be repotted and go back on the light cart. There are also some leaves in there that I put down to make some starts for a colleague at work - they are coming along nicely!

The violets are going to be moving down to the basement. My original plan for them was to have them down there, but due to water issues, that wasn't possible. Everything has been corrected down there, so it's time to move at least one light cart down there and see how they like it. Should be interesting.

Happy Easter :-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Day

Did you ever just need a day? You know, when you wake up and feel a little punk - just not 100%. Prolly not really enough to be "sick," just enough to need a day. I needed a day today, and it's most likely because I stayed up too late last night. How sad is it that I have to go to bed at 9 p.m. in order to be able to get up at 5 a.m.? Oh well . . .

So here I am, with my day. I'm in my workout clothes and about to head downstairs to the newly flattened out treadmill (yes, Theresa, it could happen to anyone, and I'm sorry it happened to you!). Before I sweat it, here is some evidence of this weekend's accomplishments :-)

The Celtic Tote is done. It came out great, but it's really fuzzy. Fuzzy enough that I would worry about carrying it with my woolen coat. I notice now, that in the photos from the magazine, it's shown with a model in a leather jacket. I didn't think that the Lincoln would fuzz up so much. The peach colored outline stitch was done in an alpaca blend. It fuzzed up a really alot, and I spent quite a bit of time trimming it away, and also manipulating the Celtic knot bits so that they would show. It's easy to lose the knots when you felt it. Here it is hanging on my pot rack in the kitchen to dry, stuffed with plastic bags. This was really quite the experiment - I mixed wools and fibers. You can't see the sides, but they are lighter in color - that's the Harris Tweed wool I got in Iona last year. I also made the straps quite a bit longer. Everything felted at the same rate, so that was lucky ;-) I am wondering about trimming a little more of the fuzz from the body of the bag . . . If I were to do this again, I would use a yarn that felted more easily.

Next, I finished the first socks in my DIY Sock Club! The Fawkes socks are complete. They are also my March socks for the SAM5 KAL. I did go back and lengthen the cuff on the first sock - that's it, in front. You can see the color break where I joined the yarn just after the heel. Again, very disappointed that the color saturation was not even throughout the skein, but the socks did come out nicely. They don't however, have a lot of stretch in them. I'm not sure if this is the yarn or the pattern - probably a bit of both, since I am making a pair of Yukon Leaves socks out of Shibui Knits (all wool) and the patterns are almost identical - the Leaves pair is also a little snug. However, both pairs of socks are gifts for people with smaller feet than mine, so I'm not worried about the stretch factor. However, if I were to make either again for myself, I would adjust accordingly.

I will be finishing the Yukon Leaves socks before I start another pair that will require concentration - I learned my lesson trying to do both of these at the same time. I think I could do a pair that required concentration along with a simple sock out of self-striping yarn, but I will be wary of two patterned socks at the same time again for awhile :-)

I did open the next DIY Sock Club bag last night! It's the Country Girl Socks with the Sheepaints Bamboolaine yarn, and once Yukon Leaves is finished, I will get started on these :-) I'm getting a lot of experience with wool blends here - first seacell and now bamboo! I'm a little nervous about these - I want to do them on two circulars, but the pattern is written for doublepoints. I should be able to adapt it . . . that's the only change I'm making, and only because I prefer to knit socks on circulars. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 14, 2008

How Clueless Am I?

OK - this is a little embarrassing, but it's pretty funny too, so I'm going to share it with you. First, a little backstory . . .

I have been working on upping my exercise since early this year. I have had a life-long struggle with the size of my ass. It's been winning for a number of years, but I've been giving it a run . . . uh . . . walk for its money since early this year.

I have my very own treadmill - it's a Nordic Track EXP3000, and it's about seven years old, but it works great and I like it very much. I bought it with my Cigarette Money (that's the money I save every month that I used to smoke - it's alot) when I was still living in Southern California. I have it all set up in the basement, and I have a telly there with the old TiVo hooked up to it so I can TiVo shows and watch them while I walk on the treadmill.

Last year, during one of the times when my ass was winning the struggle, I stopped walking - I didn't have the telly hooked up yet and at the time, one excuse was as good as another. I have a dear friend who lives out of state but works for a company that is headquartered here in Chicagoland, and this friend comes into town four or five times a year and stays with me. This friend is also a very fit, competitive tennis player who gets on the treadmill without thinking twice (unlike me), and even uses the incline feature (also unlike me).

Well, back to last fall - I decided I needed to get back into a regular walking routine, and I got up early and went downstairs and nearly killed myself on the damn thing. I could not keep up - in fact, I ran the daily risk of being flung off the back of the treadmill. This was actually pretty alarming to me, because I had been doing a daily three miles EASILY in the past (my ass was smaller then ;-)). I know you can't just jump back in where you left off, but I couldn't go very far at all, and I couldn't get up any speed either. It was so disheartening that I quit.

Which brings us to now. I started up again at the beginning of this year, and have struggled and struggled to get up to even a mile without feeling like I'm about to die, and I could never go faster than about 2.5 mph, which used to be my warmup lap speed . . . I finally figured that I was just getting . . . um . . . older.

I got a new pedometer about three weeks ago, and have been wearing it daily, and shooting for 10,000 steps a day. It's totally kewl - does pretty much everything except the dishes. On a weekday, if I walked on the treadmill, I could get 10,000 in because I walk to the train every day, and then walk across the Loop to my office. So, I've been shooting for that. Weekends were another story - without the walks to and from work, I never got more than about 6,000 in. Then, about three days ago, I read a little blurb in Weight Watchers Magazine about pedometers and that "research" shows that you have to walk 12,000 to 15,000 steps to help lose weight.

I thought I would just cry - here I am, fighting my ass tooth and nail, practically falling off the back of the damn treadmill (did you see that guy on the Biggest Loser fling off the back this season?!) and feeling like a Valkyrie when I can get close to 10,000. How on God's green earth was I EVER going to get up to 12,000 or 15,000 without a serious step up in my mileage, and at this point that didn't seem likely with the entire falling off the back of the treadmill thing going on.

Throughout the past two months, I've been looking at the bed of the treadmill and it really just did not look like it was flat to me, even though the incline meter said it was . . .

Shall I just make a long, embarrassing story short? My healthy and fit friend used the incline feature, and when finished, hit the button and thought it had gone back down to level. I just didn't bother to check it the next time I went down there to walk . . . and so I thought it was level because it said it was - I trusted the machine instead of my own eyes and body.

The GD thing was stuck at about 4% incline. No WONDER I couldn't keep up. No WONDER I felt like I was dying every morning. I would be hanging on for dear life, praying to make it one more lap, and hearing the voice of Jillian the Biggest Loser trainer from the show on telly in my head, screaming: "Let. Go. Of. The. Treadmill." while I was having visions of having to crawl across the cement floor to the basement phone (thank God there IS a basement phone) to call 911 if I flew off the back :-D

I actually fiddled around with it this morning and got it to go all the way back to level - pretty easily, I might add, making me feel even more stupid - and proceeded to knock out 2.25 miles at a fat-burning pace without any worry about flinging off the back. The extra good news is that by the end of the day today, I will have 13,000 steps clocked without hardly trying.

This is going to be a lot easier than I thought, and I have to give my ass some kudos, because it didn't quit on me, and believe me it wanted to. More times than I can count in the past months.

This will also teach me to CHECK the equipment if it looks wonky :-D

On the positive side, I probably helped myself by walking for a couple of months at a serious incline (4% is serious to me), but I cannot tell you how happy I am to feel like I have a chance of beating my ass into submission . . . and failing that, at least into a much smaller size. ;-)

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Show-Me State

So - who knew that Missouri is actually a hot-bed of fiber activity? Fiber of the wooly sheep kind, not the bran muffin kind ;-D

I just spent a pretty wonderful weekend in Jefferson City, Missouri, attending the 2008 Fiber Retreat, sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension. It was so great to see so many of the members of the Southwest Fiber Folks guild again - If you read this blog regularly, you'll remember that I attended a workshop with Anne Field, that they sponsored last November.

What did I learn? Take a look: I learned Continuous Strand Weaving from Carol Leigh, Entrelac Knitting from Tamara Lasely, and from Judith McKenzie McCuin, I learned to spin what she calls "wolf fiber," which she explained is how she kept the wolf from the door for many years.

And yes, I did sort of just toss in there that I got to take a class from Judith McKenzie McCuin! Everything I have heard about her is true - I think that if she was teaching "Reading the Phone Book 101" it would still have been an amazing class.

Thankfully, however, the class I got to take was called "Wild Texture." She was also the keynote speaker for the event, and who knew that Bison could be a riveting topic? (I'm not kidding - she's a fabulous speaker.) So, twice now, I have traveled to Missouri for the opportunity to study with world-class spinners (luckily I only have to drive an hour to study with PatsyZ :-) ). I don't know what they're doing in Missouri, but clearly, they're doing it very, very well.

Take a look at that woven triangle in the photo. It looks far more intricate than it was - Lamb's Pride has a new variegated style of yarn - variegated in the same color family - so the only real color change in that sample was black, which is visible in two stripes near the center.

I also took a Felting class - and check out these mittens that I felted!! I'm very excited about them and will decorate them once they are completely dry. I learned the difference between "fulling" and "felting." They are sitting on wooden spoons in this photo, and they are currently drying laying across the hanging vegetable baskets in the kitchen - you know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention :-D

And what did I buy? HolyMotherofGod . . . OK, you have you remember that I've been spinning and knitting from my respective stashes since November 2007 (well, pretty much anyway - I confess to having bought yarn a couple of times from The Loopy Ewe, which, quite frankly, I blame totally on Linda, the Chicken Lady because she's the one who told me about them in the first place ;-)). And, that this was one of two "scheduled" dispensations until August when Stitches Midwest will be in town.

So, OK, clearly I got a little carried away . . . but really, the vendors they had at the retreat had such great stuff!! In that photo are the two continuous strand looms I got (and their easel), some new Opal sock yarn and a skein of Austerman, too. There is some wonderful sock yarn and stunning roving (names like Thai Lantern and Scantness) from JWrayco. So pretty. Wonderful merino top in champagne, mushroom and multiple shades of green. Some hand died mohair locks (some more Wolf Yarn in my future I'm thinking!), and a beautiful boucle yarn that I picked up from Carol Leigh's booth. It's "Potpourri," by Oak Creek Studio. It's 40% silk, 40% mohair and 20% wool, and the color is Antique Roses - you can see a skein of it there on the left in the photo. You can't see the Misty Woods lotion bars that I got, but they are way nice. And finally, that cute little lamb bag was my final purchase of the day :-)

You're probably wondering where the photos are from the retreat . . . here is the best one

It's Helen Swartz, one of the organizers of the event, holding a brand new baby goat. I inadvertently called it a baby lamb (and was soundly and loudly corrected by virtually everyone in the room ;-D), proving once again what a city girl I really am. It was only on day two of its life, but already had a healthy pair of lungs.

Let me leave you with a close up :-)


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

And Each Time I Roam . . .

. . . Chicago is calling me home. A lyric of one of my favorite songs. I realized anew tonight how much I love my city and how happy I am with my life here. For me, there truly is "no place like home."

I was riding the Purple Line tonight (for those of you not from around these parts, that's the "Elevated" - like a subway, but . . .um . . . elevated ;-). It's called, in the vernacular, "the L," or by its color). I was on my way back from getting my taxes done (don't ask). I got off at the Merchandise Mart, and walked across the river back to my office, where my auto was waiting for me.

It was relatively warm tonight, and the sky was very clear. It was that perfect shade of deep, deep blue, just before it's completely black, and all the lights had come on for the evening. I've been a lot of places, and so far, there is nothing that compares to the beauty of this city at night. The view East from the Wells' Street Bridge was achingly beautiful - I literally had to catch my breath. Commercial buildings lit up - Marina City lit up - streetlights and stop lights, headlights and cab lights, all shimmering off the river. And as I walked along I thought how lucky I am to live here.

I feel my shoulders get bigger whenever I think of Carl Sandburg's poem. If I had a flag I'd stick it in the ground and claim this city as my own. My late uncle used to say, "It's a hoppin' town." He was right. The energy here in this city is like no other. It's a braw, open, shake-your-fist-at-the-world roar - as if the lions in front of the Art Institute were telling their story. And yet, for all its "bright lights big city" vibe, the energy here is not disruptive. It's welcoming and comforting. The City of the Big Shoulders throws its Midwestern arms around me every day, and I never tire of it.

Someone said to me this morning how much they missed living in Southern California. I almost choked. They longed for the constant temps around 75 degrees and sunny day after sunny day. One of the things I missed most desperately when I lived there was weather. That, and the change of seasons. I used to pray for a cloud in the sky, a little bit of rain, or that it might get cool enough to wear a sweater . . .

I think Chicagoans appreciate the spring, summer and fall much more than most. We've had a real winter this year - far colder and with more snow than for a number of years. But I'm here to tell you: When that first warm spring day arrives here, and you're walking along the lakefront with the lake glistening in the sun, you forget you were ever cold.

It's no wonder I always come home again.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

One of These Things is Not Like the Other . . .

Granted, it appears that one Fawkes sock is done and one is not. And if you look closely, you can see that the yarn is an appreciably different color on the one that appears done (but isn't), which actually irritates me, because it's all the same skein and when you use only one skein of yarn for a project (no dye lot to match) you like to think that the color saturation will remain reasonably similar from beginning to end - but in this case, not so much, I'm afraid.

Excuse me while I channel my inner John Belushi:
But Noooooooooooooooooo . . . those aren't the differences I'm talking about. Look again - because you might have thought it was the camera angle. It's not. The calf on the unfinished sock is one repeat longer than on the apparently finished sock. This was blithely pointed out to me on Thursday by a work colleague (whom I taught to knit . . . ). The conversation went something like this:

"Hey, you want to see the latest socks?"
"Yeah . . . um, A, why is one longer than the other?"
"Wha???? They're not."
"They're not?"
"They are?"
"Maybe one is just stretched out more . . . "
"Shit (insert the worse curse word of your choice here - I did . . . one that begins with The Letter "F"). No. You're right. One is shorter."

laughter - from my colleague.

So, of course, I had to tell Linda, the Chicken Lady, and SHE said, incredulously I might add, "Wait a minute - you mean to tell me that in all the years you've been knitting you've never done something like this?" And I said, "No, I never have, because you can't count the Amazon sleeves on the Point Five Raglan - that was an issue in the pattern, and besides I did them both the same."

Her response: "It's about damn time!"

She went on to tell me how serendipitous this actually was, and reminded me that I had wanted a longer calf to begin with, and now that I knew I had enough yarn, I could go back and rip out the sock that appears to be finished (again - your curse of choice here), and make it one repeat longer. Which is, in all likelihood, what I will do, because she's right - I did want the calf longer anyway.

So, how did I manage to do this, you ask? Well, I used the row counter on the first sock (48 rows), which translated to me as four repeats, thus I skipped the row counter on the second sock since it was in use by then on another project . . . and I had two pairs of socks going at the same time in roughly the same pattern . . . and I was suddenly seized by a burning desire to make the Celtic Tote from the Winter 2007 Interweave Magazine and have devoted all my at-home knitting time to it and it alone for more than a week now.

I must face the fact that I'm not so good at multi-knitting . . . let that be a lesson to . . . . um . . . . me.

Today's post brought to you by The Letter "F." Live and learn. ;-)