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2013

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It's that time of the year when everyone is talking about resolutions.  I am not even going to go into my lousy track record with such things.  

But it is the beginning of the year, so I, like many others, have been thinking about new beginnings, starting afresh and taking on new challenges.  Rather than resolutions or goals, I've decided that I am going to have wishes.  Accomplishment of wishes still requires intent (I don't count winning the lottery as one of my true wishes for the 2013, though I wouldn't complain if it actually happened) so there is still some personal activation required.  However, since they are wishes, not resolutions, I think it's easier to let them go if they are hard to realize or if they are realized for a time and then wear out.  Making something a wish gives me easy permission to let it go if life changes and it doesn't fit.  Also, it's easy to accept when a wish doesn't come true.

So what am I wishing for to start this year?

I wish: 

  • To post more regularly on my blog.  Likely this means less crafting and more random stuff.  But it's always been the writing that mattered to me, more than the content.
  • To carve out a little more time for creative projects, and to find ways to include my daughter in them.
  • To find an exercise regimen I can stick with.  I really do love to exercise, but sometimes it gets lost in the time crunches all around me.  
  • To revel in my girly loves.  Through my daughter I have been rediscovering my inner love of girly things long since put away when I started my scientific training.  I don't work in a lab and more and noxious chemicals are not a part of my life.  And really, can you ever have too much nail polish?
I've found a couple of things that I'm hoping will help me with those last two items.  

I love getting new workout clothes... somehow, they always seem to help me get more motivated  to keep my body moving.  What could be more fun than a monthly subscription for new workout wear?  I just signed up for pv.body and built my profile and I'm looking forward to those shiny pink packages!

My other favorite thing right now:  my monthly Julep Maven box.  After regularly buying myself little treats at Sephora, I discovered that Julep has a much better (both in terms of fun and in terms of cost-effectiveness) monthly program.  Like pv.body, you go through a little profile quiz and it matches you up with one of 4 types.  Once a month, you get to see the neat goodies that they think you'll like.  If you like 'em, you can order.  If not, you can pick from the other types, send the box to someone else or just pass for the month.  Its super fun and very flexible.  And I really like Julep polishes and supplies because they avoid a lot of the nasty chemicals that are in many polishes, meaning that they are Ms. Z friendly.

Happy New Year, everyone!
if If you've been anywhere near Chicago this winter, you've seen Midwesterners looking up cautiously into the sky and being very suspicious of both the lack of snow and high amount of sunshine descending from it.   I was born in Buffalo (NY) and have spent the better part of 4 decades worth of winters in and around the Great Lakes.  February means cold, snowy and grey -- the hardest month before March starts to show the promise of spring coming soon.

Not so this year.  My birthday month has been mostly devoid of snow, surprisingly sunny and with reasonably moderate temperatures (for February in Chicago).  As a result, my overall optimism levels have been better and apparently that fuels my motivation levels as well.  And my motivation for 2012 seems to be "It's. Time. To. Change!"

The need to change this year is focused on several places, but our house has been the most major place for me.   We've been here for 10 years and both of us agree that there's very little tat would tell you that it was our home.  Not only that, it's time to simplify.  Reclaim rooms for the things that they were meant for.  I started with my bedroom.  The goal is to remove anything that is not strictly part of what a bedroom is used for by two married adults.  Out went the big TV.  Out went the old clothes.  Out went all my crafting tools.  Out went the miscellaneous kid things.  The only thing that now remains is a book case full of craft books that will have a new home as soon as activities in our office begin. 

It was surprising how satisfying this purging was, to both me and my husband.  We walk into the room and it feels more spacious.  It's easier to keep things tidy because the things that don't belong there aren't getting in the way.  And when a room is clean and open, I'm more motivated to keep it that way.  And the room is inspiring.  Now I can imagine the special chair that would make it perfect or the kind of curtains that belong around the balcony door.  And it makes me happy just to be there.  I can't wait to continue the process in our office.

The other change area has been personal. The red hair was just the start of it. I'd like to be more fit, eat better, have better rituals around taking care of our house.  For a variety of reasons we're exploring a more gluten-free diet.  Which is surprisingly fun because it gives us an opportunity to try new things.  I've made a commitment to making sure that my elliptical machine is not lonely and that I'm doing something about the abdominal muscles I keep complaining about to myself.  The side benefit (besides a more positive attitude when I look in the mirror) is that it gives me guaranteed reading time.   So I've been happily working my way through the Southern Vampire series and Sherlock Holmes.  My final commitment has been to doing a better job of taking care of things.  It is just as easy to hang up clothes as it is to pile them on something.  Regular kitchen maintenance is easier than more significant effort every couple of days.  And so on.   (I can happily recommend a little iPhone App called "Commit" if you, too are looking for help with keeping on track with this sort of thing).  Developing these better habits has made me happy about my personal commitment as well as my house.  What could be nicer than starting a morning with a clean kitchen when I come down to make coffee.

This monologue is pretty much my long winded way of saying: not so much crafting going on right now.  Or maybe that my inspiration is being directed towards decoration.   But I've also discovered that I've been missing my blog.  So I hope you'll forgive me if my posts drift away from strictly the crafty into the personal restructuring  for a bit.

I blink....

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and its 2012.

Wow. 

And the silence of the blog might make you think that I've been doing nothing but working.

Which is sort of true.

But would leave out:

  • The fun I've had making pin boards over at Pinterest.  I think it's my new favorite social networking site.  Looking at other people's pins gives me lots of ideas.
  • The fact that I have a new crush on novelty ribbon yarns like Katia Triana and Trendsetter Cha Cha and that I made 4 of these scarves before New Years and have started 1 of these.  The scarf is deceptively easy and is highly likely to make you the recipient's new best knitting friend. My only regret is that I gave three of them away as gifts and didn't get to photograph the whole group together.  
  • Making play dough for the kiddo using this recipe and McCormick's so-called neon color food dyes.  The small person had great fun with it.
  • Making 2 batches of these Double Chocolate Cookies and a batch of these very fun and extremely easy Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites -- I glitzed them up for the holidays by dipping them in sugars, nonpariels and jimmies.  I tested out a molasses cookie recipe as well, but that one didn't give me the results I was looking for. 
  • Downloading Rainmeter and customizing my computer desktop -- I can spend hours downloading skins and playing with things and not getting bored. 
  • All the time I've spent with my elliptical


Life is fun, but I don't get as much time as I would like to document it. 

I think my only goal for the new year is to get back in touch with the programmer girl... she's been AWOL for a while and I miss her.





In case you want to know more about what I do in my day job, you can check out my first non-crafting blog post ever at the HealthIT Buzz blog sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.  It's a piece of writing I'm particularly proud of and I think it's a pretty good story as well -- and if you're interested in what your doctor has to think about when they're considering using an electronic health record system, it might be a nice intro.
If you've followed me over the years, you've probably realized I'm pretty horrible and maintaining any resolutions.  I always have good intentions, but those intentions tend to get lost along the way when I realize that I'm not really all that personally motivated or I was counting on others to get me somewhere and they don't really have a stake in the project. 

This year, I'm approaching the process more from a "begin as you would like to go on" way of thinking.  What have I begun?

  • Shopping from my stash.  Every time I visit my stash, I'm impressed with the nice things I find.  I have enough yarn to create beautiful sweaters, scarves and socks... socks for an army of feet!  I'm not trying to deny myself new yarn, specifically, but I'm trying to make sure I consider all the possibilities in my stash before making new acquisitions.
  • Eliminating clutter.  It's hard to believe that in May John and I will have been in our "new" house for 10 years.  That's given two pack rats a long time to accumulate.  We both agree that it's time to refine what we keep.  We also would like to repaint the inside of the house in the spring.  And who wants to move a lot of stuff we don't really want all over the place?
  • Finishing or frogging in progress projects -- and not just knitting projects.  I include in this photo projects, sewing projects, video games, etc.  Anything that I'm working on or working through.
  • Hang pictures on the wall.  This is more emblematic of actually deciding not just to live in our house, but to make our house the place that we love to be.  So painting, picture framing, picture hanging, and furniture updating are all things I'd love to be doing this year. 
When John and I first bought our house, we were so excited.  We'd moved back into the city, had 4 bedrooms and 3000 square feet to call our own.  We had skylights and granite counter tops, a balcony and a home theatre and treated ourselves to a smattering of new furniture.  But we just never settled in.  We thought we might move out of Chicago or find a place we liked better.  We didn't like the way the top floor of the house could be freezing cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.  We dealt with basement leakage and not enough natural light.  For every good thing, we had a bad counterpoint.

But this year we had a realization:  we need to love where we live or just get over ourselves and move.  The market doesn't make that last one very easy.  But we have also come to the conclusion that even if we don't desperately love our house, we adore our neighborhood.  We can walk everywhere, or take public transit.  We have great local restaurants and wonderful neighborhood stores and boutiques.  We can walk to the grocery and at least 3 parks. And don't even get me started about the artisan gelato and local bakeries.

So it's time to take the plunge and do more things that make us happier with the place.  To accept that it has flaws that we aren't going to change and to try to embrace those flaws as an opportunity to think creatively. 

Here's to 2011!    

There Should Be Pictures....

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Given that I have:

  • Woven off my big purple warp
  • Finished all the pieces of my High Line sweater
  • Started spinning some beautiful Fiber Optic roving
  • Finished a pair of socks for Ms. Z
  • Received some nifty new fiber from my Sweet Georgia fiber club
you would think that I would have some pictures to show for it.

Soon.  Soon.  

After I get unpacked from our weekend in Ann Arbor and the sun comes back out for pictures.




Random Thursday

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Blink and a week goes by... a few random bits.  Some fibery.  Some not.

  • I have finished knitting all the pieces of my High Line sweater.  Now I just need some quiet time to get it seamed up.  There is still a very good chance that this sweater could head to Molokai when we go on vacation in a few weeks.
  • Speaking of Molokai... when we land on the island, it will be our 5th trip to Hawaii and the 4th Hawaiian island that we have visited.  We'll be staying on the south east side of the island, across from Maui.  To say that I can't wait to get back to the South Pacific is an understatement.  I don't think I could ever have enough Hawaii in my life.
  • Ms. Z started pre-school this week.  We were very lucky and got her into the pre-school in Streeterville that is affiliated with Northwestern and literally a block from where I work.  She's been so excited about going to school.  And I've been completely nervous about it.  Worried that she wouldn't like it or that she wouldn't get along with the teachers or or or -- Mama brain can come up with so many "or"s to be concerned about.  We made it an adventure.  Got out the special new back pack.  Took the bus downtown to school. And when  I dropped her off on Tuesday morning, and told her I was going to work.  "Ok, Mama.  Goodbye"  and then she was off.  Apparently I have a fine, independent little girl.  And, according to her teachers, she had a fine first day.  Today is going to be her first full day.  Here's hoping day 2 is as good as day 1!
  • I am midway through my second cold of the fall season... sheesh.  My immune system must be getting lazy.
  • Some spinning has been done... one bobbin of chocolately coffee singles.  One more to go.
  • And, best of all, I fit back into the jeans that I could wear before I got pregnant with Ms. Z.   Feel like getting a brand new wardrobe!  And since the Gap's Long and Lean jeans just aren't what they were three years ago, it's made me doubly happy to be able to slip into my old ones again.

From Our House to Yours..

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Happy 4th of July

Blink And a Week Goes By

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At least that's the way things seem for me right now.  I'm sitting on the high end of Friday scratching my head and thinking Wasn't it just Sunday? It hasn't really been almost two weeks since my last blog post, has it?

Uh, yeah, it has.

So what have I been up to?  My life at work seems to have a lot to do with making lists and crossing things off, so I'll share the list...

  • I put a warp on my rigid heddle loom.  I'm doing a log cabin motif (not really anything like what you think of when you think of log cabin associated with the quilt block) using a solid olive cotton yarn and a contrasting variegated yarn with a white background stock.  It's going to become hand towels for my powder room.
  • I bought an inexpensive punch embroidery kit from JoAnn's to make a little something for Ms. Z.  I'd tried this a long time ago, forgotten how fun and easy it is!
  • I've knit a bit on my Noro lace weight scarf.  Still like it.  Onward!
  • I'm warping the ginormous dobby loom in my weaving class with this incredible variegated purple warp that is destined to become not one, but two, two whole throws.  Pretty excited about this one.  It's going to be very similar to the gamp blanket I made for Z, but all one yarn/color and at 14 ends per inch instead of 12
  • I've been making Grapefruit Gimlets and working on figuring out what's going to hit my martini glasses next.  Am actually contemplating a classic cosmo.  

Probably the best thing I have done all week was a trip to JoAnn's that I took with my little girl.  We're gearing up for a third birthday in a few weeks, and it's hard for me to ignore the fact that my baby is now most definitely out of the baby stage.  In order to give John a little break, I decided to take her with me to pick out the cotton yarn for the rigid heddle project.  I figured this was likely to make me crazy (she refuses to stay in the cart any more and likes to run everywhere), but if I want to encourage her crafty side to show up sometime, I needed to start sharing with her a little more.  

So after walking in the store and finding an inexpensive US flag that she could wave as we wandered (always good to find a diversion) we had a nice trip.  She helped me pick out my yarn (I'm getting good at making color selections fast now), grabbed up some sock yarn that she thought was neat, helped me select the hoop for the punch embroidery project (bright! pink! plastic!) that will likely also become it's frame and then took a long time inspecting all the spools of thread -- even picking one up off the floor (that she hadn't dropped) and making sure it got back into the display (she has these strange moments of needing order).  I enjoyed watching her with the thread display.  She was so clearly fascinated with the rainbow of colors.  She touched without pulling anything out.  We may have to come back and explore that area again.

She followed that up with a sweet little moment last night.  

Where are you going, Mama?

I'm going weaving.

Like my blanket?

Yes.

I want to go with you!

Almost broke my heart to leave her there, but three year olds and a heddle threading project don't mix.  But maybe when I start weaving... 

Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

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From my house to yours, a very Happy Easter.  And if Easter isn't your bag this weekend, we wish you a glorious spring weekend instead!

I Got Nuthin'

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For a variety of reasons that probably wouldn't even be interesting to my mother (okay, maybe they would, but probably only to her), I'm pretty much empty today.    But I did find something cruising blog land that totally made me laugh out loud, so I thought I would share it with the rest of my compatriots who are out there searching for the perfect cup o' Joe.


How to Brew a Good Cup of Coffee from Ben Helfen on Vimeo.


Have a great weekend folks.  And if you happen to find a good cup of coffee, tilt back a cup for me, eh?

Quiet

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Absent on Wednesday.  No pictures today.  My fingers have been quiet. 

I was going to show you the lovely color gamp warp that I just started on, but it's much less impressive to imagine when one forgets one's camera.  Suffice it to say, it was a pleasure to measure off my warp and touch a whole rainbow of colors on a grey January day.  I'm quite excited about this project, because the gamp will result in a blanket (roughly 40" x 50" in size) and I'll be working on a dobby floor loom -- the loom I had so much fun working on for the last couple of weaving classes is now ready to weave!

Having finished off the two Dragon Age novels (The Stolen Throne and The Calling ) on my Kindle (which were better than I expected and entertaining if you are also interested in the back story to the game, but probably not worth your time otherwise) I'm now going back to one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Stephenson.  I downloaded The Diamond Age this morning and am moving from swords and sorcery fantasy to cyberpunk and nanotechnology -- a bit of literary whiplash there, but the trial chapter drew me in, and so I go.

Other than that, I am trying to figure out how to cope with the 2 year old's main weapon -- refusal and screeching.  How, oh how, do they manage to hit the perfect pitch for creating the maximum disturbance in their mothers, and combine that with resisting absolutely any request, even simple ones like putting on socks?  My child is lucky she has two parents right now.  While she has a remarkable knack for being incredibly cute, she also pushes my buttons faster than anyone I know (and given some people that I know, that's saying something).   Any experienced mothers with suggestions (I've already figured out the glass of wine option, but that doesn't seem like a good plan at 10 in the morning) are more than welcome to share their secrets!

With a little luck, this weekend there will be couch surfing and sleeve knitting.  Or else there will be pictures of yarn on Monday... you have been warned.


New Toys!

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I just realized that I was so excited about the room a month project that I completely forgot to talk about a few holiday gifts that are currently enriching my life.  My dear sweet husband and my little girl got me this:




I've been wanting a Kindle since Amazon first brought them out on the market, but John wanted me to wait until the second generation came out -- just to be sure.   Julie got one and had nothing but great things to say about it.  My mother has one that she won't be parted from.  And I worked with my sister-in-law to get my brother one for Christmas (and, yes, he loves his, too).  It's really hard to be involved in the procurement of a tech toy that I lust after for someone else, and watch a bunch of other ones be enjoyed by people I know without having one of my own in my hot little hands. 

Needless to say, I was more than a little psyched when John handed me a nice little box and I found myself in possession of my very own Kindle. 

Since Christmas, I've downloaded two books (I will somewhat embarrassedly mention that they are Dragon Age related books...high literature maven I am not) and can say I lurve lurve lurve this device.  The text size can be adjusted, images in books can be zoomed and rotated, and the interface is mostly intuitive.  Reading a book electronically with the Kindle takes away none of the pleasure of reading a book, and it's great to be able to take electronic notes and use the dictionary as I read along.  But what I like best is the knowledge that not only is it a fun toy, it's also helping me reduce clutter.  I love books, but not every book needs to become a permanent part of my household (and I am dismal when it comes to getting them to used bookstores when I am done with them) -- so many I enjoy but know I will never read again.  The Kindle makes that a problem of the past.

The Kindle even has some nice features for knitters -- you can download PDFs onto the device.  Think about the potential for taking multiple patterns with you on vacation without having to carry around a bunch of paper that can get lost.  Good deal, is what I think.

Reading books on the Kindle also has another good side effect, at least for me.  When I read books, I'm a flipper and a spoiler.  I wish I wasn't, but there it is.  I can't resist flipping ahead a bit to see where the story is going (especially if I'm getting invested in a character and need to know they're going to be okay -- or not -- in the next pages).  I'm not sure why I do this... perhaps it is just that I don't like uncertainty.  The Kindle makes that much harder for me -- and I think I'm enjoying the books I've read so far just a little bit more because I can't cheat and flip about as I read. 

All in all, this is a wonderful and useful toy on a number of levels.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who likes to read, especially if they spend a lot of time mobile and need to lighten their load up a little bit. 

Wrapping Up the Week

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One thing I've always wondered about fantasy heroes... you spend some undetermined amount of time saving the world, accomplish your goal, get a little fan fare, and then what?  Where do you go from that?  After you save the world, is everything else a let down or do you spend the rest of your life just feeling unnaturally good about yourself?

Well, if you're playing Dragon Age, you decide you want to see what's going on with the other endings and you start thinking about which save games you're going to re-load from.  Planning your next character.  This is probably the first RPG ever where I felt like I wanted to actually play the whole darn thing again.  The characters really are that good. 

Whenever I finish a good book wherein I got attached to the characters, I'm always a little bummed that the book is finished.  I feel that way about Dragon Age, too.  But since most books don't take me over 100 hours to read, there's also a bit of relief that whatever I do next, I'll be able to visit Ferelden in a much more relaxed manner, dropping by when I need to get a break from the real world, without the intense compulsion to want to know how the story ends.

Speaking of stories... if you're looking for another good fantasy series to pick up, might I recommend Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books?  I've just finished up Taltos and Yendi and just started Dragon (I'm reading them in chronological order for the character, as opposed to the order they were written in) and while they aren't deep, they are really just a lot of fun.  I really love books written in first person, and these don't disappoint, as the main character, Vlad, is a wisecracking assassin with a mini-dragon familiar and penchant for witchcraft and getting in and out of challenging situations.  These books just make me happy to read, and because they are pretty light weight, it's easy to pick them up and put them down as necessary. 

Not only did I finish up DA today, I also got the pleasure of getting to finish up assembly of that AVL loom I mentioned last week.  All it's major pieces are in place, so warping might happen soon.  I'm so excited about getting to weave on a floor loom, I could just dance.  I mean, wow, warping a loom that I can sit inside... actually having to throw that shuttle for a fair number of inches.  Foot treadles.  Too. Wonderful. For. Words.

And then there's the squares and the swatching.  I have 4 new squares for my Targhee blanket, and I'm one swatch away from starting John's sweater.  Not monumental knitting productivity, but enough to make me really itchy to get things started on Aspinwall!

AWOL

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This post, or lack thereof, is brought to you by Dragon Age: Origins.  If you've been following me for a while, you probably already know I have an incredible weakness for computer role playing games, especially those developed by BioWare.  Well, last week I discovered that Dragon Age: Origins had been released and I had my posterior in Best Buy and a copy of the game in my hot little hands faster than you can say "Magic Missile".



I wasn't really expecting it to suck me in and refuse to let go like it has.  I can't remember the last time a game kept me up until 3 in the morning.  The graphics may be a little dated (compared to current first person shooters) but the story is spectacular and the non-player characters, their dialog and interactions, in a word, are incredible.  My mage is not the only one who has a serious crush on Alistair... (I dare almost anyone to play this game and not wish that he wasn't just made up of cute electrons!)

The game is incredibly expansive and involving... I've played for 30 hours (according to the game clock) and I've only played through 9% of the game.   Some of that is because I was playing on my elderly laptop which can just barely play the game.   Bless my sweet husband who actually let me put it on his home theatre PC where the graphics card is much better and the performance much improved (I can play it at highest resolution with all the graphics goodies turned up) -- I should be able to move a bit more faster... though this game is, I think, going to be like one of those good books that I don't really want to end.

Sad as it may sound, knitting has been pretty low on my priority list since this game arrived.  I have darkspawn to slay, a world to unite and intrigue to uncover...

(Don't worry... I'm sure my character has her +5 addi turbos along to keep her company and won't let me forget that I have a few real life projects to work on).

Thank you to everyone who left me such nice comments about Z's new sweater and Z herself.  As I've said many times, I'm pretty fond of that baby girl.  Knitting special things for her is a pleasure!


Wanna Help a Shepherd?

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I'm still not done with the upgrade, but since the world does not wait to me, I wanted to make a quick post.

For those of you who love sheep, and appreciate the shepherds who work hard to give fiber bearing animals a good place to live, I encourage you to help out Susan at Martha's Vinyard Fiber Farm by voting for her small business at the AMEX Shine a Light competition.  I've been following Susan's blog for about 6 months now and hope to buy one of her spring yarn shares when they become available.  Her pictures of her sheep and goats are beautiful, and her animal husbandry practices are wonderful to read about.  She's clearly a person who has found her calling. 

But like all small business owners, she's struggling and could use a financial boost.  The AMEX program could help give her that. 

Please consider taking a look and giving her your vote -- it does require registration, and a little more time than just making one click, but if you take a read through her blog, I hope you'll agree that it's worth the effort.*




*  I don't know Susan personally, but I've enjoyed her blog and fiber animal pictures and stories so much that I would jump at the chance to get to meet her sometime.


Comment and Blogging Issues

Hi All --

It has become apparent to me that my blog system needs some overhauling.  I can't explain why so many people are having problems with comments (even I get them when I try test posts), although I suspect it has something to do with the interaction of my spam control plugins and Movable Type's native software.  Then there's the fact that I seem to be getting double posts when I preview a post before I post it.  Also, it's time, I think, to convert my current RSS feed into an atom feed to make it easier for people to look at in blog readers.  And I need to update my pattern pages to include sales through Ravelry.  And then there's the fact that Six Apart came out with a MT 4.3 all the way back in June that I haven't installed -- and this release promises better performance, security, etc.  I've decided that to best celebrate my 7 year blogiversary I need to get my poor blog into better shape!

So, rather than try to do a lot of things at once (like I usually do) and put myself into a blog update frenzy as I try to make all the code work correctly in time for my next blog post, I'm going to go on a little blogging hiatus until I get it all taken care of and hopefully come back mostly better -- at least from a back end perspective.  Unfortunately, web site updates and actual crafting also tend to be mutually exclusive, so if I want to do the former, the actual crafting is going to be lacking for a bit, too.  Which is the other reason for a little hiatus while I do this.

In the meantime, if you're trying to comment and having problems with that, please try again  and be patient with me.  I'm pretty frustrated with the darn thing not working correctly and am going to work hard to make it work better again. 

See you on the flip side!

T

Just Another Random Wednesday

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What is it about midweek that leaves me feeling slumpish?  Not sure. So I will be random.  And maybe share a few interesting links.

  1. For those of you considering weaving, I encourage you to take a look at Syne Mitchell's WeaveZine.  It's full of interesting articles on weaving, with plenty of interest for people who enjoy rigid heddle looms.  This article on using a rug weaving technique to make Spa Wash Cloths has me ready to warp up my loom with some of the Sugar N' Cream that I have laying around and make some great treats for friends for the holidays. 
  2. Speaking of weaving, have you checked out Weavolution? Weavolution is the weaving community's answer to Ravelry.  You don't need to create an account to see much of the content.  Even if you don't weave, it's a fun place to look at projects and color combinations.
  3. Need some entertainment on a boring day at work? Passive-Aggressive Notes now has a permanent place in my Google Reader.  Fail Blog is also a pretty good place to waste some time. And even though we're in between political seasons, Pundit Kitchen serves up some interesting photo re-interpretation. 
  4. Who are my favorite Etsy sellers?  Emily Parson has just added a merino/cashmere/nylon blend yarn to her stock lines (and if you read my blog, you know I like a little nylon when it comes to socks!).  It looks delicious and I've already ordered mine -- Charcoal to make a warm pair of winter socks for a certain husband and Mossy (a soft green) for me.   I'm also a big fan of the sweet little knitting bags (perfect for sock projects... I have three or four of them now) made by Stuck in Illinois.  She has so many fun fabrics and keeps a supply of bags with "seasonal interest".  And she takes special orders, too!   Need a clever pillow for your sofa?  Be sure to check out Alexandra Ferguson.  All her awesome pillows are made from post-consumer recycled felt.  Add a modern element to your living room and feel good about it, too!
  5. The Dragon Shawl continues, the Kushu Kushu scarf gets longer, my Lang Sock gets bigger and the second Zebra Striper Sleeve remains to be cast on (and for Annie who was concerned about the size -- not to worry, that sleeve is no problem for a two year old hand -- it looks smaller in the picture than it really is.
Any favorite Etsy sellers you want to share?  Funny blogs you like to read?  Feel free to leave 'em in the comments.

A good Wednesday to everyone!
Tuesday saw a trip back and forth from Madison, WI for work.  Luckily for me, I can combine work with a little fun and visit with my good friend Judy.  We had a lovely little lunch and she sent me home with something very lovely for Zosia, which I will share when I have good light for photography.

This Wednesday is going to a be a little random.  After a long trip back through too much Cubs traffic on I-90, I'm just not all that functional...

  • I have rediscovered my love of peanut butter.  My favorite way to eat it is just to bypass the bread and eat it directly from the spoon. 
  • My kid pays more attention to my iPhone usage than I do.  "Mommy's checking twitters!" is one of her recent comments.
  • There is nothing that makes me feel better after a stressful day that sitting on the couch watching something with my kid in my lap.  Yes, I wish she would watch something besides "Wubbzy's Big Movie" -- but some days you take what you can get.
  • It had never occurred to me to use dental floss as a life line, but now it seems incredibly brilliant.  Thanks to all the commenters on Monday who suggested it.  My next lifeline will come out of my medicine cabinet.
  • I am ever so tired of the itching that comes with my eczema.... who invented this skin problem anyway?  The steroid cream makes it better, but only if you remember to use it the three times a day that your dermatologist suggested.
  • I am determined to finish my Kushu Kushu scarf... but I don't think I ever want to knit with one single strand of silk/stainless steel again.
  • I can change songs on my iPhone with my butt.  Yesterday I popped it into my back pocket and skipped to the next song.   Does my butt have a problem with Fleetwood Mac?
I'm outta here -- before I fall asleep at my keyboard.

Lots in Progress..

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... but nothing much to show for it at the moment.

I worked my way through two more rows of the dragon lace shawl (and I am beginning to hate laceweight alpaca yarn to knit with, even though I love the hand) and, with the help of my teacher, threaded over half of the 840 heddles that I needed to thread for my project -- I am now on my third week of just warping for this project.  The Zebra Striper sleeve keeps going, but, it's not really worth another picture yet.  And, in spite of my best intentions, I didn't even remember to whip out my camera and take a shot of the nice little pepper crop that is ripening in our deck garden.

<sigh>

Fortunately, Monday is another day, and my projects will all keep on keepin' on. 

That said, if you have a little extra positive energy to spare tomorrow, it would be much appreciated.  Everything is good, but there are some things for which have a few extra good vibes is always a good thing.
For the past several years, Claudia and her husband have participated in the a fundraising bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  They get on their big orange tandem and put 100 miles under their wheels to help raise money to help find a cure for MS. As many of you know, my academic background is in immunology, and MS is a disease where the immune system attacks, inappropriately, the neurological system, resulting in a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, paralysis, blindness and the ability of the MS sufferer to live the life they really want to live.  I knew several people who were supported by grants from the MS Society and towards the end of my doctoral work, I was even involved in some research to better understand the disease and how it can be modulated. 

Last year, Claudia's ride raised over $40,000 for the MS Society.  That's a big number -- and it shows the power of what can happen when a bunch of us come together to help support a good cause.  What, you might ask, can $40,000 buy?  The MS Society is known for their wise shepherding of the funds that they raise, and they keep their overhead low. $40,000 is the NIH mandated base salary for a post-doctoral researcher for a year.  And that means that $40,000 can go a long way towards supporting a trained researcher in pursuit of trying to understand some aspect of this disease. 

I know this is a tough year for many people and that many of us don't have any or much extra discretionary income, but if you are in a position to participate, I hope you will consider giving Claudia and her team your support against this disease this year. 

Eye Candy Friday

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The first peonies of the year are always cause for eye candy, I think.  This is the first peony in bloom in my garden this year -- from a plant that I put in the ground about 2 years ago in celebration of he coming of our baby daughter.  This plant has definitely adopted the "bloom where you're planted" motto, because it has tripled or quadrupled in size since it was transplanted into our front yard. There must be 20 or 30 big white and pink flecked blooms ready to burst out right now.  With so many flowers to come, I may be able to harvest a few to come inside to enjoy -- something I've never been able to do before.

This lovely flower is not the only lovely flower that is blooming in my midst. 

20080604_ZAtThePark.jpgThe baby who was celebrated by the flower is well on her way to being a little girl.  At just past 22 months, it is getting harder and harder to see any of the baby.  But I can hardly complain.  The little girl who is emerging is an incredible treasure and surprises me every day.  Who new that she could climb up the ladders at the park that led to the tallest slides and that she was brave enough to go down the slide  on her own?   She remembers words like nobody's business and can now clearly express herself in complicated sentences.  She has only one "speed" -- flat out run.  She loves butterflies, owls, riding on her father's shoulders and all of her grandparents.  Just recently I got my first "I love you, Momma" -- and given her facility with language, I know she means it.  She loves to explore everything and wants to know how everything works.  She's an excellent car traveller, so much that we're considering a big trip to an island in the Pacific Ocean this summer.  When I think about the fact that this time last year she wasn't even really walking yet, she just amazes me even more. The older she gets, the more she makes my heart sing.  Momma loves you, baby girl -- even if you aren't quite a baby any more.

Home and Away Again

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Yes, indeed, I was in Philadelphia. It was a nice trip to a city much lovelier than I remembered.  I was staying at a hotel near the convention center and found so much within easy walking distance.  Except for those few pictures I took from the hotel, I didn't crack out my camera.  But I loved walking through the neighborhood areas around Loop and Rosie's Yarn Cellar and near Jim's where we went to get the required Philly Cheesesteak sandwich -- that last area reminded me of Wicker Park here in Chicago.  I think if I suddenly had to live in Philly, I could.  The only thing that seemed to be missing was the independent coffee shops.  I hope I get to go back sometime and explore some more.

The knitting was non-existent, even though I brought a couple of sock projects with me.  I just couldn't get myself to sit still for that long.  No matter, those projects will come with me on my 4 day weekend to Ann Arbor -- along with Lotus' second sleeve and the Dragon shawl (I just finished up the 26th row -- for anyone keeping score). 

Since I'm midway between unpacking and packing again for the weekend, I'm a little short on pictures.... but I hope these few random bits will entertain:

1) I have come to the conclusion that the bra is one of the most important garments in any ensemble.  A bad bra makes everything else I am wearing look bad (especially after the changes induced by having a baby).  A recent refitting found that my band size was too big and my cup size was too small (this surprised me more than anything... a real shame the expansion came with no extra structure).  I am now properly equipped with new undergarments and it's made a world of difference.  So I am going to encourage everyone to make sure they are properly fit!

2) I am an itchy mess these days... not sure whether it is some skin sensitivity (I'm latex sensitive and sensitive to many things in laundry detergents) or something else.  But I am fighting myself to keep myself from tearing more holes in my skin by scratching.  Just when I thought I might be done with doctors for a while, it looks like i need to find a dermatologist...sigh.
 
3) I'm having fun helping out a scientific cause at The Galaxy Zoo.  Long ago, before I wanted to be some kind of biologist, I wanted to be an astronomer.  You don't have to know anything about astronomy to help out, you just have to want to look at pictures of galaxies.  Kind of fun, and something you could easily do with a child!

4) I read about FoldIt in Wired magazine and now I want to play myself -- it's a game meant to help simulate protein folding.  Once again, you don't have to be a biochemist, you just have to like puzzles!

5) My peony plant is now approaching 4+ foot high and has huge clusters of buds.  Those buds are getting bigger and I am holding that it will hold off blooming until after Memorial Day so that I can see it open up.  I am inordinately proud of this plant, even though I have  had little to do with its success beyond buying it and planting it (and in our yard, that is often not a guarantee of anything more than being abused by squirrels and not getting enough sunlight).

6) Ms. Z is now 22 months old! And her latest victory includes figuring out how to open gate latches and other such barriers to exploration. Watch out world!

To all of you in the U.S., I wish you a most relaxing Memorial Day weekend (and hope you, like me, are getting a little extra time off), and to everyone else, a good weekend, as well!


Where Am I?

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A few views from my hotel:

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20090517_WhereAmI2.jpg

20090517_WhereAmI1.jpgI'm traveling on business to a scientific meeting/trade show.  I doubt there will be much time for the visiting of fibery locations, but I might be able to take in a couple of historic landmarks. Any idea where I am?

MT Upgrade

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I'm now running my blog on MT 4.25 -- it updated without any obvious hitches on the back end.  Hopefully everything stays good on the front end as well.   This is a test post, but if you are reading or commenting on anything on the blog and notice any problems, please let me know!

Updated to Add: <sigh> it appears the comments are down for the moment</sigh>

Updated Again: Comments work.  Just a small permissions problem with script executability.

Reckoning

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Today we've been house cleaning.  It's a good thing to do as John prepares to start his new job on Monday and as we get ready for our big holiday party.  No matter when we clean, the process always makes me assess my crafty projects as well as the amount of stuff I have.  I've been in bit of an acquisition phase as far as sock yarn is concerned... and at the same time, it's cold and I want to knit sweaters and baby accessories for my tiny person who never seems to have enough warm things to wear.  And, of course, I'm really jonesing for a new sweater of my own.  All of this leads to a lot of startitis.  So it's time to make a list so that I can figure out how I can finish up what I've got going and get to some new things that are exciting to me to!

Quilting Projects

  1. My fiery Blooming 9 Patch
  2. My paper piece purple/yellow color study quilt
  3. My "fire and ice" Modern Thinking quilt
  4. My doll sized version of the Children's Delight quilt -- which I am going to machine quilt and apply the binding to.
Crochet Projects

  1. An amigurumi "surprise" project that is going to make it's way to Houston for my new and completely sweet baby nephew. DONE! 
  2. An amigurumi octopus for Z.
Knitting Projects

  1. Regia baby socks for Z (just need to sew down the edges!) DONE!
  2. Francie socks for me (time to cast on the second sock!)
  3. STR Silkie socks for me (playing with an interesting pattern stitch)
  4. Rogue (poor Rogue!  still in need of applied i-cord edging, having her sleeves sewn in and a zipper -- how can I so want this sweater and be so anemic in my efforts to get it done?)
  5. Stained Glass Scarf for John (I am now  past the half way point for both colors... still a long ways to go.  I wish I had another long car trip coming up... long nursing sessions and car trips seem to be the only way I can get this scarf worked on!)
  6. Habu Kushu Kushu scarf (I like the result of this project, but don't really like knitting with the fine silk/stainless yarn all on it's own.  Probably another project that would benefit from a car trip and limited knitting options).
  7. Zebra Striper baby sweater (no, I have not shown any snaps of this one yet, but I have gotten it started!  it's going to be my first steeking adventure.)
  8. Mountain Colors Three Ply Targhee blanket (I need to put this one by the couch and work on it when I watch TV.  It's the idea TV project since it's worked up in squares and it's absolutely yummy warm yarn to work with!).
  9. Celestine -- another little toy for a special baby.  DONE!  And to be shipped soon!
Projects I Really Want to Start

  1. Crochet granny square afghan for Z.  Should I make this out of the Vanna's Choice acrylic that I have for making ami toys or should I go a little crazy and order a couple of skeins of Dream in Color Classy?  This is one where my practical side and my heart are not in agreement.
  2. Design 3 from "Noro Book 3" by Jenny Watson -- it's a V-neck cardigan in Silk Garden that would be oh so lovely for work.
  3. Cool and Cherish from Rowan Classic Style -- they are discontinuing Cashcotton DK so it's on sale in many places and a perfect sub for the Merino Silk DK in the book.
  4. Cabled gauntlets.  I have the yarn all balled up and ready to go.  I just need to find the perfect cable.
  5. Another pair of STR heavyweight socks for John.  The man needs warm socks for winter commuting! DONE!  Two pairs of socks for John this winter!
I am sure I could come up with more if I put my mind to it... but this will be a good to do lis and general reminder board for now.

* I'm going to use this as a personal reference list for a while... so it will get updated when I cross things off and publish again.  Apologies if it keeps showing up in your RSS feeds as new. 

Back on Wednesday

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This post officially post-poned due to a family wedding on a Sunday night that required interstate travel and a small person who would not go to bed until 2 AM after we got home.  She just doesn't understand the whole "you need to go to bed because Mommy and Daddy need to go to work in the morning."  But going to the aforesaid wedding meant that we got to grab my dad and bring him home with us (along with another treat that will no doubt show up on the blog in the future), so baby girl has a fun fun week ahead of her, and I always enjoy having my Dad around!

I'll be back on my regularly scheduled time on Wednesday. 

If This is Thursday --

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Oh! wait!  It's not supposed to be Thursday, it's supposed to be Wednesday.  I am definitely time line challenged this week.  Combine a holiday weekend with an extra day off on Monday and my whole temporal sense gets out of whack.  So, since my week is kind of random at this point, maybe it's a good time for a random Wednes - er - Thursday.

  1. I have a thing for the cashmere sweaters at J. Crew.  This is literally the only animal based fiber (besides silk) that I can wear against my skin without going into an itching frenzy.  A couple of years ago, I didn't really understand "all the fuss" about cashmere sweaters.  Then I got one of these (a chocolate colored cable V neck) and now almost all my cotton T-necks have been replaced.  Warm, light and indulgent -- but a perfect indulgence for someone who has to spend almost half of the year dealing with cold enough weather to merit a sweater.  Yesterday I got a 30% off promo from J.Crew for their online store.  You can bet what that baby went into....
  2. I got to hold a beautiful, sweet 6 month old baby today, and suddenly Ms. Z looks completely different to me.  How can so little time (10 months!) result in so much change?
  3. Speaking of Z, when we were in Ann Arbor, she saw an old granny square afghan on the back of my Dad's armchair and went up to it: "Flowers!  Pretty!"  I know it doesn't sound all that remarkable, but she did two very neat things.  First, she was able to apply an abstract idea "flower = granny square" to something she had never seen before.  Second, she made it clear how she felt about them.  Clearly there is so much more going on in baby brains than I ever thought possible.  And I'm sure that you can all see what this is likely to inspire...
  4. We are remodeling our downstairs guest room after some water leakage as a result of a foundation crack.  I am actually considering painting the walls a shade of red or cinnamony-red to complement the dark wood of the furniture that I have.  Given my white wall history (painting Z's nursery a pale purple was a wild move for John and I) this feels like a radical and dangerous move.  I am excited by the idea of taking the chance on something different.  John is skeptical.
  5. The makers of Cascade yarn now make lovely solid colored sock yarn, Heritage.  For those of you looking for sock weight, man-friendly, super-wash merino/nylon blend solids, you may want to check it out.  It's also priced incredibly well -- $14 for the same amount as in a ball of Opal.  Did I mention that John thought color 5606 was the perfect shade of burgundy for a pair of hand knit dress socks?  Time to find some pattern inspiration!

My Regularly Scheduled Blog Post

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... will be moved to tomorrow.  I'm in Ann Arbor right now and spent my blog posting time explaining toe up sock construction to my mom so that I can finally make sure that she is bitten by the sock knitting bug.   And now that she has a second grand baby to knit for, she has extra motivation.

I did not really mean to, but I added both yarn and pattern books to my collection this weekend.  I have an apparent inability to walk away from nice man-friendly yarn and pattern books featuring garments with good classic lines.  And there's nothing like a couple of new pattern books to initiate yet more yarn shopping... 



A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all who were celebrating today.  It was a restful day spent at my parents house with an incredibly excited baby who couldn't believe her good fortune when she saw some of the new toys that her grandparents had found for her.  She was especially thankful for the little table and chairs and simple shape puzzle. 

What am I thankful for this year?  Many things.

  • I am thankful for a healthy family.  Last year we were dealing with my father's heart surgery situation which blossomed into far more than it should have.  This year, he is healthy, happy and also enjoying better mobility from a very successful hip replacement. 
  • I am thankful for a beautiful, vivacious, active and loquacious baby girl.  She has made my heart grow bigger and watching her grow and mature is just the most amazing thing I've been a part of.  Every day she brings something new into my world.  Today it was adding adjectives to nouns "Flowers!  Pretty!" 
  • I am thankful for my wonderful, caring husband.  He constantly helps me see so many different sides to things and always helps me be a better person than I am sometimes inclined to be.  He also never complains about my hobbies or the time they take or makes me feel bad when I need some space.  He is a rare and wonderful person.
  • I am thankful for my brand new baby nephew -- my brother's first child.  I will probably be this child's only aunt, and I plan to spoil him silly even though he is far away in Houston.  He is a beautiful healthy little guy and I am sure the world will be a better place for his presence in it.
  • I am thankful for the good friends I have.  Making friends has never been easy for me, so I cherish the ones that I have.
  • I am thankful that John was able to find a new job, and one that he is very happy to be taking on.  I hope it opens up new doors for him and brings fun challenges his way.
  • I am thankful for vacation time and grand parents who find joy in spending time with Z
I feel like I could go on and on this year, but what it really comes down to is that I am thankful for my family and the good things that have happened this year.  I think Thanksgiving, in some ways, is better than New Years for looking back and thinking about what the year has dealt you.  It encourages you to look at your blessings instead of counting your hardships and failures.  It's always a time that makes me realize how truly lucky I really am.

Rainy Thursday Afternoon

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This afternoon's latte for a rainy day brought to you by a lovely mug from Jennie the Potter. I've seen her at several craft shows and wool festivals but at this year's Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago (September, 2008) I finally bought one of her lovely sheepy mugs*.  It makes a perfect latte mug and is dishwasher safe (absolutely essential in my house!).  She was lovely to talk to at Renegade (helping me hunt for just the perfect color) and she and her husband provided excellent customer service when we ran into a little snafu with my credit card.  I'm also in love with her Yarn Ball Bowl.  So much cute sheepy goodness!

*I'm showing off Jennie's lovely goods strictly on my own.   I simply think her work is sweet and lovely and wanted to share in case you need a special mug for your own collection. And because I love to show off my latte making skills on my blog :-)

Yes We Can

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obama_4color_omark.jpg Or maybe I should say, yes we did!

Wow.

I can't wait to see what happens next.

Election Day, 2008

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There is so much that I could say... but I think I said most of it 4 years ago.  Reading back over my pre-election sentiments for the 2004 US presidential elections, I find myself confronted with a blog post that comes deep from my heart, that I still love and that still is as heartfelt and topical today as it was in 2004.  Perhaps you would like to re-read it -- or read it for the first time if you started visiting my blog after 2004.  Don't worry, I'll still be here when you come back.

I am the Lorax


I think it is more true for this year and my candidate choice for this year than it was for John Kerry.  The real difference in that election is that while I thought John Kerry was ok, I was really voting against George Bush.  This year I find myself truly excited to be voting for Barack Obama. So excited that I am going to take Ms. Z with me when I go to vote tomorrow morning.  It has become incredibly important to me that I be able to tell her that she was there when the great people of the US elected a truly great man to lead them for the next 4 years.  That she was there to be part of history, even if only in a small way. 

Not only that, but I believe that as the citizen of a country with a rich democratic heritage, it is my responsibility to help my children to understand and be a part of the democratic process.  It is not convenient, really, to take a baby to a voting booth.  I know she will not remember.  But maybe as she gets older and she goes with me again and again, this first primordial voting experience will help deepen in her the understanding of how important it is to participate in selecting our country's leadership at both the local and national level. 

There have been many eloquent voices speaking about why and how and who they vote for.  This year, I'd like to point out Carolyn's rationale for why and how she votes.  I think it's well written and beautifully stated and contains some very useful information, to boot.

I don't vote my tax bracket

Vote, my friends.  Vote carefully and with thought for what you want the next four years to look like.

*Updated: I corrected the link to my old post. Thank you Holly! 

Independence Day


In Chicago, the official Independence Day fireworks always happen the night of July 3rd, and the general populace (and surrounding suburbs) are left to put on their own shows on July 4th.  Even though the sun is still out and it's 4 PM, this incredibly beautiful afternoon is being punctuated by the noise of firecrackers and M80s.  By the time it gets dark, I know that it will sound like a war zone outside my house. The air will be filled with smoke from pyrotechnics.  The cats will flee to the basement and John and I will perch on our upstairs balcony watching the displays of our neighbors, some of which try to rival some of the larger suburban shows.

This is something I had no idea about until I moved to Chicago.  In fact, even when I lived in Hyde  Park, the neighborhood was relatively quiet.  But where I live now, in roughly the center of the residential part of the city, the 4th of July makes you wonder about all those laws banning the sale of fireworks in Illinois.

At one point I would have been irritated by it.  Annoyed with people who seem to think that their desire to celebrate outweighs the public need for safety and quiet.  But after my 7th year in our house, I've come to see it as part of the fabric of the year.  People blowing off steam and trying to create some explosive beauty in their back yards.

I've been spending the day, or rather Z's afternoon nap, doing some things that are good for my soul.  I finished a small spinning project and spun up and plied some lovely silk -- just 30 grams, but since I got about 160 yards, I think it will make a nice small summer scarf.  And I got my blog archives working correctly again.  It had been causing me a lot of mental distress that these weren't functioning correctly.  So now I have achieved some measure of independence from the frustration of having a partially functional blog.  There's still a lot more to do on the blog, but at least now I am making progress in the right direction.

My other little project has been to identify the ongoing craft projects I have going on right now.

They are:

  • My Diagonal Squares quilt, in which all the blocks are complete, but have not been assembled into a quilt top.
  • My Blooming 9 Patch quilt, which I have gotten about halfway through sewing the strips together.
  • A doll-sized version of the Children's Delight quilt that I created for my god-daughter.  I have the top pieced together, but I want to try quilting and binding it myself.
  • And a quilt project I haven't talked about yet, Modern Thinking.  This is a project I started this month as part of a color theory in quilting course that I took at Quiltology with Amy Walsh of Blue Underground Studios.  The color theme is "Fire and Ice".  I don't even have all my fabric cut out for this one yet.
  • The Zebra Striper baby dress for Ms. Z.  I am in the long endless yellow knitting trip that is the skirt of the dress.  The advent of warm weather killed my enthusiasm for this project.
  • A pair of toe-up socks that I haven't blogged about yet that takes nice advantage of striping sock yarn.  I'm about 1/3 of the way up the leg of the second sock, so these socks will make an appearance here soon, I hope.
  • My Kushu Kushu scarf that uses that Habu Textiles stainless steel yarn.  I like this project but the fine yarn and big needles with dullish points don't make for fast knitting so it's been sidelined for a little while.
  • John's Stained Glass Scarf which is not quite to the halfway mark now.  I made a lot of progress on this thing when I was home full time with Zosia (it was my nursing project).  The double knitting is neat but takes so darn long. 
  • And my Three-Ply Targhee Log Cabin Blanket.  I've decided to use some log cabin squares in this project and just some squares of garter stitch on the diagonal.  This project sits in my living room waiting for some love.  Something it's unlikely to get any time soon since it's a thick wool blanket and it's getting warm here in Chicago.
  • My Rogue cardigan.  Now that I am post baby and on my way to getting my post-baby body back into shape, this project may get some air time as it gets closer to the fall.
  • My Moorit CVM spinning project.  There's still a whack of a lot of that big ol' ball of moorit CVM to spin up.  I'm going to try to load up my iPhone with podcasts and get cracking on this.  I did a little test spinning to see if I would have any problems matching my previous singles and it still looks pretty good.  I still have this dream of spinning the wool and designing a sweater to use it with!
The scary thing is that there is probably more lurking around that I am not remembering.  Clearly I have a little quilt startitis right now. I need to get my sewing machine into action.

Happy 4th of July to everyone here in the US and elsewhere that's celebrating the day.  To everyone else, I wish you a great weekend!


Kill the Cookies

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I discovered a little issue with being able to post comments to my blog.  If, for some reason, you try to comment on my blog and have difficulty doing so, please clear out the cookies for my site from your browser.  Apparently the cookies hold on to information that refers to my old Movable Type information. 

I'm learning lots about MT that I didn't know before, but don't feel like I'm getting much closer to an installation that makes me happy.

Thanks for your patience.


Thoughts About Babies and Gender

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Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.  I found both the comments with sweater suggestions and the comments talking about gender and babies to be interesting and thought provoking.  While I am still ruminating about the sweater, I wanted to talk a little more about the gender issues, because, I have to admit, I didn't think I was going to run smack up against them like I did.

In fact, after I found out we were having a girl, but before Ms. Z was born, I insisted that I didn't want to do that whole "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" thing.  When people asked me what colors I liked, I suggested yellow, green, purple and my personal favorite color, blue.  And, lucky for me, most of the clothing that we were gifted with came in a rainbow of colors.  Sure, there was some pink in there, but there was enough variety that I didn't mind the pink too much -- and having diversity in her wardrobe was much more important to me than anything else. 

Initially I went quite "neutral" for her nursery as well.  Her furniture is in light wood and white, the walls are a soft purple, her carpet is grey.   Nothing that screamed out girl to me.  We did go the pink route for some of her bedding, and registered for a really lovely dark pink and white motif crib set from Nurseryworks.  But with a variety of different colored toys and mobiles the pink wasn't overwhelming, and I thought it was a nice balance.

I think what started to get me when it came to wanting people to recognize that Z was a girl was when people would ask me "Is it a boy or a girl?"  On one hand, the pronoun "it" is just the neutral pronoun.   On the other hand, people are never referred to as "it" except in a perjorative way.  So not only did it feel like my baby was losing an important part of her identity, but she was being made into a thing or some kind of pet.  And gender really is an important part of identity.  If only because without gender we become "it"s.

I could completely understand this reaction from people without children.  Heck, I'm sure that I've been guilty of it more than once in my life and I don't chase after people and harass them about their word choices.  But once I had Z, it really sunk in for me that babies were little people with their own personalities and identities.  And as I struggled with figuring out why it bugged me when people asked me what "it" was, I tried to find ways to make sure I wasn't doing the same thing.   So when we met another baby, I started asking questions like "How old is your baby?"  or "Does your baby enjoy the swings?" because the parent or caretaker would usually say something like "He's 6 months old" or "She's getting to like them now that she can sit up."  So when I didn't know whether the baby was a boy or a girl, I was able to get my gender information in a way that preserved my own need to recognize that the baby was a person and not a thing.

So that was when the pink started to creep in.  First it was her foot wear: pink Robeez shoes for when we went out for walks, then subtle things in her wardrobe: tops with pink flowers, bottoms with pink designs or more feminine motifs.  She has a few solid pink things, but mostly what I've tried to do is buy clothing that gives off cues.  I love bright colors (I think that is why I enjoy quilting so much) and want Z to enjoy color, too, but I also want people to recognize that Z is a girl.  Sometimes being a girl comes with a lot of baggage, but my overall experience so far is that it's a pretty cool thing, too.

Does that mean that I subscribe to all the gender-role stereotyping stuff?  No, not at all.  I grew up thinking that most of the time the boys got the coolest toys: building blocks, erector sets,  Legos and miniature firetrucks with real hoses that could squirt water and computers.  I have a plan to make sure that Z gets exposed to all sorts of different kinds of toys and games and I'm going to work hard to make sure that she understands that no matter who she is or what she wants to be, her parents will support her.  That means if she wants to be an engineer (a strong possibility given her genetic stock) we'll try to encourage that.  If she wants to be a girly girl, I'll try hard to not make her think that there's anything wrong with that either. 

Not too long ago, I was listening to a podcast or reading something online (I honestly can't remember) about "taking back the pink" -- it spent a lot of time discussing how one simple color came to be symbolic of such a strong set of stereotypes and how both women -- and some men -- had gotten tired of this and were embracing pink in their lives just because they liked it and it made them happy.    And I was remembering that article when I bought the yarn for Z.  I just thought it was a lovely color and would make this sweet sophisticaed strawberry ice cream confection of a sweater, and it would give me the chance to indulge in a sweet and girly little project.  (In fact, if the yarn hadn't been so darned expensive ($14/skein) I would have bought it for myself.).  So I guess that yarn is a little bit stereotype and a little bit my attempt to get beyond my own color biases and just enjoy working with a happy color.  Kind of nice when you get a "twofer" like that.

Not Entirely Random Wednesday

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  1. Chicago has gone from a very cold spring (the coldest May on record for over 100 years) to a blast of August and is now finally settling into some reasonable weather.  Probably my favorite temperature range is 70 to 75 degrees farenheit with mild breezes.  The fact that it is relatively rare in Chicago except in late spring and early fall makes it all that much more enjoyable when it arrives.
  2. My incredibly resilient father has taken on his third major surgical procedure in less than a year and just had his hip replaced.  He called me after surgery yesterday.  He is very excited to have it done and to be back on the road to much better mobility.  I'm feeling inspired by his willingness to take on the scariness that is major orthopedic surgery so soon after some other major medical events because he wants to be proactive about ensuring his own quality of life.  Sometimes it is easy to let our fears prevent us from opening a door and going someplace better. One of the things he can do as "therapy" is use his spinning wheel.  You've got to love rehabilitation that involves spinning.  Dad was asking me about whether he should make a two ply yarn or a three ply.  Is there anything more fun than sharing a fiber hobby with your dad?   I love you, Dad.  Heal up soon and heal up better than before!
  3. Ms. Z is now going to bed between 8 and 9 PM almost every night.  I am still adjusting to this change.  You would think I would have thrown myself full force into knitting and spinning, and I have started a new pair of socks for myself.  But mostly I am just using my free time to do not very much at all except read and watch some mindlessly entertaining TV (Deadliest Catch on Discovery... I am trying to convince myself that it is helping me to understand some of what is really involved in bringing seafood from the ocean to the grocery store, but I really just think that the cinematography of the boats in the Bering Sea is very cool in HD).
  4. You know, I'm just not feeling a 4th entry here... probably because I have a big #5...

If you are looking for a good cause to get behind for the spring, please consider contributing to Claudia's fundraiser to support the National MS SocietyClaudia is going to be riding as part of a tandem in a big MS ride in the Boston area to help raise money that will hopefully one day help to defeat Multiple Sclerosis. 

MS is an autoimmune disease where in the immune system attacks the nervous system.  This inappropriate immune behavior leads to many symptoms but often includes pain and fatigue and a degradation of neurological function including paralysis and loss of vision.  Different people have different progressions, but the end result is that most victims of this disease must work through both pain and the knowledge that at times they are going to be fighting for control of their own bodies.

Medical research is expensive, and I know many of you must be thinking, "How can my $10 make a difference?".  In and of itself, one ten dollar bill can only do so much, but together, they can do some amazing things.  Last year Claudia raised almost $40,000 for her ride.  That kind of money can help to support a graduate student's stipend for two years, or can cover most of the cost of a post-doctoral researcher's salary for one year.  It can buy almost half of a lower throughput sequencing machine.  It could cover the cost of developing a genetically modified mouse that could be used to study MS or could maintain a small "clean" mouse colony for a year or more to help study the progression of disease and possible interventions.  It could make it possible for 20 researchers to travel to a conference where they can share the results of their research and maybe help to catalyze the next big advance in the science and understanding of the disease.  I saw the value of this money first hand when I was in the laboratory and people received grants and fellowships from the MS Society and organizations like it.  There are so many ways that this money gets put to good use!

I think so many people think that only big government research grants can make a difference when it comes to tackling big disease issues, but the truth is that smaller communities of people really can make a difference with contributions to efficiently run organizations like the MS Society. 

This year, I definitely was the beneficiary of some good karma when I went to Boston.  I plan to make a contribution  to Claudia's fundraising efforts for the MS Society in honor of her dedication to doing a good thing to help others and with thoughts of the people who did a good thing to help me in mind.  If you have the resources to consider contributing to this cause, I hope you'll get on board and help work towards fighting a disease that affects so many of our fellow travelers.

Blogvolution

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Yes, the blog is in transition... again.  Last night I lost control of my senses and decided that I needed to figure out why MT4 wasn't working correctly.  And I actually couldn't get to sleep until I was sure it actually would do all the basic things that it needed to do.  Clearly, I am now certifiable. 

MT4 is not bad, it's just a significant shift structurally and I did some dumb, blind things without thinking when I installed it.  I have been kicking myself for deciding to upgrade when what I had was working fine.  The lure of shiny new features is just too much to resist sometimes.  Some days I am just my own worst enemy when it comes to wanting to play with new toys. In the end, I ended up "starting fresh" by creating a brand new blog and importing all of the stuff from the old blog into the new one. And there are still a ton of issues that I still have to resolve.  Sigh. But at least you can read it and I can post to it, which is an improvement.  The look and feel of my blog is now just one of Movable Types standard on board styles... I miss my old template already.  But hopefully I'll be able to resurrect things as time goes on.  In the meantime, it's nice just to have a blog that actually functions. 

Right now I'm trying to look on the bright side and see this as an opportunity to learn something new and to clean up a bunch of old cruft that had accumulated in my template.  I'm hoping that once I get to start playing with some of the new widgets and toys in MT4 that I will be happier about the whole situation.  I do have to say that I like the image preview functions much better...

However, the moral of this story is most definitely the old engineer's adage: if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Yes, I know I am having problems with the comments... they want you to be authorized to log comment... even I am not authorized at this point, so don't take it personally...  more MT4 issues.

Comments now appear to work!  Woo hoo!  One issue down, a few hundred more to go....

Brief Hiatus

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Dear Blog Friends,

I always think that I am going to be able to do everything I want to do, no matter what new things I take on. So I had the same attitude about having a baby. Certainly after I "got used to" having a baby around, I would regain my equilibrium for balancing home and work and crafting and then I'd have everything back in order again. But at this point, I still haven't reached that equilibrium point. And, as a result, I spend a lot of time bouncing between things, and not really being happy with what is going on with any of them. So even though I don't like what I am seeing, it has become clear to me that something has to give. John and Z are non-negotiables, work, unfortunately, falls into that category as well.

Crafting and regular blogging, in part because they go hand in hand, are the easiest things to set aside for the time being while I work on getting the two most important things in balance. Blogging is creating additional issues for me at the moment because I made the mistake of trying to upgrade to Movable Type 4 and I have run into some server-side problems that probably aren't a big deal but which I just don't have time to troubleshoot easily right now. But the process of upgrading also resulted in changes to my database that make it difficult to use my old MT3 installation as well. And time I spend messing around with blogging software is time I don't spend with Z or on other things that I need to get done.

I will continue to pop in here periodically with a baby picture I especially like or a project that I manage to complete, but posting will be irregular until at least December and perhaps until after the holiday season. Hopefully by then I will have things in better order and can start adding a few more fun things to the collection of stuff I am trying to balance.

Peace to you all.

Theresa

Random Eye Candy Thursday?

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The last two days have seen a little knitting, but a lot of general lack of motivation. I'm not sure whether to chalk this up to being 34 weeks pregnant or just to the weather, but clearly it doesn't lead to that much that is bloggable. So instead of rambling too much, I thought I'd just share a picture I took a little while ago that makes me happy and is one of the elements of my baby's nursery -- though not quite in the right color scheme.

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Garden Visitor

One of the only things I regret about being in the city and having a lot of shade in the lot our house sits on is that I can't really grow a butterfly garden. Perhaps Z and I will just have to do that at my parents house. I like the idea of my baby's life being filled with butterflies.

Ravelry

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I'm considering myself to be a lucky knitter these days. About a week ago I received my invitation to participate in Ravelry. I found out about Ravelry a while ago when Cara first talked about it on her blog. I am always ever so curious about knitting community projects -- especially ones that people have nice things to say about -- that look to involve organizational tools for knitting. So I trundled on over there and put my name on the waiting list to get to try it out and be part of their widening beta test.

Last week I got my invitation to come and join the party (before I go any farther, you should all know that they are letting people in in the order that they put their name on the list, and they are letting people in as fast as they think the system can tolerate new people -- there's no favoritism going on here). I clicked the link, got signed up and have had a real blast playing around in the Ravelry sandbox. As a knitter and a sometimes coder/webmonkey, this is one of those things that I wish I had thought of myself. It's well thought out, easy to use, and fun. Fun to the point of kind of being addictive -- I just can't seem to stop myself from plugging in my projects, stash, needles and books from my knitting library. And when I take a break from that, it's fun to go trolling through looking for friends, seeking out interesting new patterns, and seeing what other yarns people have been making some of my old favorite patterns in. Heck. I even opened up a Flickr account so that I can use the photo importing feature.

Want to see what else is being put together for Ravelry? Just click here -- Jessica and her husband Casey, have put together a screen shot tour that describes it all (what it is and what it isn't) better than I can.

Ravelry is a very cool tool and a blast to play with. I really hope that Jessica and Casey are successful getting this thing going and ramping it up. If you do go on over and put your name in to be invited, please remember that it's still in beta (i.e. still not entirely ready for prime time as far as the developers are concerned) and please BE PATIENT and charitable in your thoughts if you have to wait. This is a two person show, folks -- and I think both of those people have full time jobs that don't involve developing a cool website for the knitting community -- and it's being put together as a free resource. It's clear that Jessica and Casey want to make this something that every knitter can participate in and enjoy, but that they also want to release something that can handle a lot of people and that provides a good use experience. That process takes time.

And cool, well built things like Ravelry are very much worth waiting for!

Office Transformation

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While some folks were off enjoying Maryland Sheep and Wool, I was at home helping to direct some of the house organizational changes that need to happen before the baby arrives. Given that my fiber room is becoming the nursery, that room has to get emptied out before nursery building can begin. That means moving most of my craft stuff to other locations and creating a better crafting space in my office area -- which I chose because it's well lit and close to my main computer area. We decided to start with creating the new workspace first, since it would allow me to move a number of things from my old space in an orderly fashion.

My parents were coming to visit this weekend, and my dad, handy guy that he is, helped John with the process of making it happen quickly and smoothly. I did almost nothing -- but I do have some photographic evidence of the transformation.

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Before The Transformation: The Original Configuration

This was my corner of the office before the process started. The bookcases are mostly empty because the first part of the process involved moving a bunch of my books downstairs into some new bookcases we bought for our guest room. Yes, I know, I have a lot of clutter. Part of this re-organization process is also for me to start reducing some of that. John and I are both world champion pack rats when we want to be.

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Tabula Rosa: An Empty Space to Get Started In

With the help of my Mom, Dad and John, all the remaining stuff got moved out of the bookcases. The big bookcase got moved into my bedroom (where I am creating a small reading nook (probably there will be pictures of this later) and the bookcase on the right moved to the other side of the room (John's half of the office) where it will be used to help organize some computer stuff.

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Hanging the First Shelf Rail

The new workspace needed to include shelving up to the ceiling. John and my Dad decided on using a system that involves hanging the vertical brace pieces down from a horizontal support. The cool thing about this is that you don't need to drill holes in the wall for anything but the horizontal support.

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John Hangs the Shelves

Once that horizontal support is in place, it's a simple matter to hang the vertical supports, put in the shelf braces and place the shelves. All this stuff came from the Home Depot. The shelves are nice because all Dad and John had to do was trim them down to the size they liked. They are melamine shelves with an oaky looking color to match my desk and the trim on the workspace top.

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The Base Plate Is Installed

My Dad, who built the workspace top, decided that the best way to create a flexible workspace for me was to create a top that "floated" and didn't have any supports that would get in the way of me putting a chair under the top at any location. These oak pieces were attached to the wall to provide some additional strength for the cantilevers he was using to help support the top. The opening is just to provide access to the electrical socket and cable and phone connections.

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Getting Close to Finished: The Workspace Top and Lights Installed

My Dad built the worktop at home with some melamine he had and trimmed out the front edge with an oak edge to give it a nice decorative touch. It's 30" deep so that I have a workspace that can be a nice place to sew, but can also support doing a little cutting, paper art, pattern design, or whatever other thing I can think of to do there. John installed the lights over the desk to help give me a fully lit workspace. The lights are standard fluorescent assemblies with OTT lights in them so I'll have natural daylight colors. It's hard to see, but my dad drilled two holes into the back of the top so that electrical cords for the lights and my sewing machine could run down underneath (Treese doesn't like a lot of exposed cables, my husband tells my dad -- clearly he knows me well). Those holes have those nice plastic inserts that you find in office desks for cabling to help keep things neat and to prevent jagged edges from snagging anything.

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A Finished Workspace

Here's the finished space, complete with my sewing machine installed in its new home. To further polish the area, John bought cord covering conduit to cover the cords from the light fixtures and mounted a powerstrip underneath the top to support the lights and the sewing machine and whatever else I want to plug in there. Et Voila! I now have 80" of new workspace, a collection of lovely shelves to move books and craft components onto (those boxes on the shelves are something that I found at Joann for scrapbooking, but which work awfully nicely for storing fabric and quilt blocks). It's a perfect dedicated living space for my sewing machine with a reasonable workspace to support my sewing projects. And having a dedicated crafting area should help me keep my computer/office oriented workspace tidier and just generally give me a nicer work area.

Only a couple of things remain to be done... we are installing some "tchotzke shelves" to the left of the main shelves so that some of the small trinkets from my book case can be displayed there, and I will have some cool magnet it boards under the bottom shelf so that I can keep track of the notes I like to make for myself. Next weekend I will be treating myself to a trip to the Container Store to look for storage boxes for the top shelf to hold less used supplies, and I will likely add some additional storage (on wheels) under the desk top to hold supplies I need to have close at hand.

To say I am psyched by the potential of this new space is an understatement. It's beautiful emptiness is already inspiring me to discard things that aren't necessary and to think about how to create an organized, functional space. John and my Dad brought this whole thing together exactly as I had planned it in my head -- while my mom and I attended a bridal shower and treated ourselves to a nice trip to Quiltology. I feel lucky to have such great guys around to help make my life better.

And now the mass book and craft moving process can begin...

1000

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Today's post kind of snuck up on me. I think it's a pretty big milestone for me. It's my 1000th blog post. Ten to the power of three. A cool grand. My own millenium.

I've never really celebrated any of my "blogoversaries", in truth, this is because I don't really know when to mark the beginning. My very first post was on August 24, 2002, inspired by Julie who had told me about these interesting new knitting blogs. I've always liked the idea of having a journal, but I wasn't sure what to do with a journal that got published in a public place. Like most people's first post there's not much useful in it. I had just set up my Blogger account, and that first post was mostly one of those Testing.... testing... 1...2...3... things. I didn't make another post until the beginning of October, when I finally decided that I was going to talk about both bioinformatics and knitting. Needless to say, the bioinformatics didn't stick around very long, though, of course, my blog name "The Keyboard Biologist" which is completely derivative of my corporate life, stayed in place. I guess it was my way of saying "look out! crafty scientist in the house!"

But reaching 1000 posts, no matter when I started the process, is something easily defined. 1000 posts in 4.5 years -- it surprises even me to think that I've come up with over two hundred posts a year since I started blogging. I "went daily" sometime in 2003 after being inspired by bloggers like Wendy and Bonne Marie. I loved how every morning with my coffee I could open up their webpages and find something new to start the day with. Posting daily was a real jolt to my own creativity and inspired me to do and try new things. This blog started as mostly knitting with the occasional paper craft. Since then I've tried spinning, dyeing, sewing, braiding, tatting, crochet, quilting and even a little bit of rubber stamping, not to mention playing around with HTML and digital photography and some pattern publication. I've knit more socks than I ever imagined were possible, I have a veritable wardrobe of handknit sweaters and tops, and I can't almost even believe that I am about to embark on an unspun fiber to sweater kind of project. In 2002 I would have identified myself as a "geek girl", now I think of myself as a "crafty girl" -- even though I'm probably getting too perilously close to 40 to really be in the girl category much at all.

What's a little funny about the whole thing is that when I started, I was almost always convinced that I would get bored and give it up or just simply run out of things to say. Even though I love to write and love to journal, I figured that there could only possibly be a finite amount I could say about knitting or other crafting projects, and that people would just get bored with hearing my voice. Instead, 1000 posts later, I find myself wondering how I could ever stop doing it. I love going out on my balcony to take pictures of my latest project. I love talking about some "new to me" discovery that fascinated me for an afternoon. I love connecting with people from all over the world who talk to me through comments and email. I love learning from other people who inhabit the community. I love blogging -- it just makes me happy to see my words on electronic paper, to read the comments I get. To know that I might be someone that other people share their morning coffee with. I don't know if I'll always be daily or I'll always be talking about crafts, but I suspect that I will always be blogging.

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Virtual Lattes For Everyone

From my desk to yours, a round a virtual lattes from the Keyboard Biologist to all of you who stop by my little corner of the internet every now and again. Thank you to everyone who has made this a worthwhile and lasting experience. I'm looking forward to seeing where the next 1000 posts take me.

Little Rewards

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A Clean Desk

Look what I've been able to do two nights in a row. Yep. I actually have attained a state of clean deskness. I do love my Longaberger organizing baskets. They do such a nice job of helping me find a place for everything. Now if only I could have a state of clean bookcaseness and clean closetness to go along with it. One goal at a time though. I don't want to get too ambitious.

Actually, now that I have cleaned my desk, I find that it's easier to remind myself to put something away after I am done using it. It actually makes the process of going to bed with a clean desk much easier if you don't completely cover it in clutter all the time. Perhaps this goal won't be quite as challenging as I thought it was going to be.

To give myself a little reward for positive first efforts, I decided that I could start a nother little project for myself. Recently, I created some holes in my favorite pair of mittens. I've never actually made mittens before, so I thought it would be fun to make a pair for myself. When I found Laurie's pattern for "Fiber Fish", I knew I'd found the perfect thing. Fun and cute and an opportunity to play with some interesting techniques that I hadn't used much before -- mitred squares and entrelac.

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Fiber Fish Pattern and Auditioning Trekking Yarns 110 and 108

I really liked the Trekking yarn for these mittens (in addition to the way it shades the entrelac so well, I also like the fact that it is superwash and contains nylon, so the mittens should be durable) but had a lot of difficulty selecting colors. It's hard to judge what you're going to get by looking at pictures of unknit skeins. Flickr to the rescue! Did you know that you could search Flickr for Trekking XXL and see almost any colorway knit up? Very cool. You know, Flickr is one of those things that I always know is out there, but I completely forget when I am doing yarn colorway research. I was really glad I remembered it this time.

Even so, I still ended up ordering two different colorways from Carodan Farm -- I just couldn't decide between colorways 110 and 108. Once I had them both sitting on my desk, however, I really liked the strong contrasting colors in 108 and I thought that the contrast between the yellow and blue would make for more interesting mittens. I spent a little time this evening getting started on the cuff for my first mitten. The mitres don't take very long to get the hang of and are easy to execute. I'm thinking this might be good knitting for while viewing a certain football game over the weekend.

Resolutions, Or Lack Thereof

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Heh. It's the last day of January and I'm going to talk about resolutions. Actually, I'm going to talk about how I'm not going to make them. Clearly if you're not going to make resolutions, it really doesn't matter what day you decide not to make them on.

Most of this month I've been trying to decide about the whole issue of resolutions and whether to have them or not. The sad fact of the matter is that I start out with the best of intentions, but I rarely stick to what I've resolved to do at the beginning of the year. It doesn't matter whether I'm resolving to eat better, work out more or pick up a new knitting technique, if I don't feel motivated to do something, or more to the point, I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, I just won't really even get started on trying to accomplish it. And then there's the issue of predicting what will be important to me for a whole year. I live firmly in the camp of "life's too short to spend it doing things that make you miserable or don't interest you". So, in general, resolutions made in January are almost forgotten by the time Valentine's Day rolls around. I'm not even going to go back and look at the resolutions that I made last January. I can almost guarantee to you that I accomplished few to none of the things on my list.

But that said, I hate the idea of not trying to set some goals for myself when it comes to knitting and crafting. With that in mind, I decided that I would try a new approach to the whole resolution thing. I would pick one, yes just one, long range goal for the year. At the same time, I would pick one short range goal that fit with what was important to me in the here and now. And once I finished that goal, I would set another goal. That way, I'd always be picking a new goal that was actualy relevant.

The first short term goal for the year was cleaning up my blog front page. I moved all my completed projects out of my WIP list in the side bar into my Gallery (yes, 2006 was a very sock filled year) and I retired the Family Sock Challenge. I have to admit to a lot of guilt about not really wrapping that up in a graceful way. Once again, the best of intentions... But I would like to say thank you for everyone who participated, even if you only participated for a little while. I enjoyed the journey myself and was happy to see that I met that particular goal for the year (I think, perhaps, this is the only 2006 New Years Resolution that I accomplished). Goal Accomplished!

For my next short term goal, I've decided to inventory my stash. I suspect that there's a lot of yarn in my stash that I have completely forgotten about. I'd like to do more shopping from my stash in the future. I'd also like identify yarn that I will likely never do anything with and help it move along it's way into a place where it will get used. Seems like that would be easier if I had an inventory to help me keep track of my yarn. I'm about 2/3rds of the way through this project. So I think success is a possibilty.

On the long term goal side, I've decided to set two, one related to my personal life, and one related specifically to knitting. The personal one is a simple, but important one. I want to end every day with a clean desk. I don't know what it is, but a cluttered desk really clutters my brain. In order for me to accomplish anything, I need to clean my desk. Since I work from home and I also like to design at my desk, I decided that it is time to get my act together and just make it a goal to clean up every night before I go to bed. At some point, there will be photographic proof of this behavior. But it does require that I take the task on tonight...

The knitting goal is also a simple one (and one that I've had before). I'm going to work on clearing out some lingering projects. Either I'm going to finish them or rip them. The project I'm going to start with is a project that I started this time last year: the Stained Glass Scarf from Handknit Holidays. This scarf is for John and it's gotten pretty darn cold here in Chicago and my sweetie needs a little more insulation. This scarf stalled mostly because spring started to approach and the double knitting seemed to be taking an interminably long time. It's not hard, it's just tedious. So I've decided that I'm going to put this one in my hand bag and just work on it whenever I get a few spare minutes. I'm not going to get stressed about finishing it any time soon, but I am going to try to make some slow and steady progress. The fabric is wonderful and the yarn is nice to knit with, so it's definitely worth completing this one.

My progress so far?

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Not Much to Show for a Year's Worth of Knitting

Now I'm off to start cleaning up my desk!

Peace and Joy to All for the Season

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The Beazle Waits for Santa

No matter what holidays you celebrate, may you be surrounded in warmth, happiness, peace and good health for the holidays and the year to come.

The Keyboard Biologist will be on hiatus until after the New Year. I'm going to have a house full of family next week and I suspect my fiber-bonding time will be limited. Thank you so much to everyone who has spent some of their day with me this year. I've enjoyed meeting so many new people!I look forward to showing you more knitting, spinning and the occasional glimpse of Chicago in the coming year!

Sheesh! Computers! I've been having blogging and computer use problems for a couple of days. Fortunately, the computer whisperer that is my husband was able to get Chaos (the name of my intrepid laptop) back into fighting form so that Chaos and I could bring you another blog post.

On Monday, I shared some "weird" things about me. I'm pleased to be in such good company with my phone-o-phobia. As I began to think about that, I came to the conclusion that it started sometime while I was in grad school. It was before caller ID, and somehow my phone number got on the Joliet State Prison dialing list and I had a number of inmates asking to make collect calls from me, in particular, a very serious individual named Tyrone. I got enough of these calls that I started screening everything by answering machine.

But enough about me! Apparently a number of my friends in blogland have some weird things of their own that you wanted to talk about. It was so fun to see some of you delurk to let me know you were taking me up on my meme invitation. So without further ado, here's some weird things about some people who come visit my blog (they are in no particular order -- other than the order in which they left a comment).

Kay, over at Kay In Stitches delurked and provides some interesting information about being a bilingual knitter.

Carole, over at Carole Knits hasn't posted anything yet (I understand completely, tis a tough season to get anything bloggy accomplished) but I do see that she has some most excellent pictures of holiday cookies. Mmmmm! Polish Tea Cakes!

Maryse, over at Bag n' Trash -- Home of Monster Yarn always saves the best for last and loves to be surprised. I wish I had that kind of resolve!

Dephal, over at Domain Dephal talks about a familial chromosomal inversion. Such cool genetic information to have! The computer biologist in me would love to know about things like that going on in my own DNA.

Sydney at As the Yarn Turns has an adorable ferret (another animal I wouldn't mind spending some time with) and shares my phone-o-phobia.

Bonne Marie, one of my knitting buds at Chic Knits, shares an awesome photo, a nick name, and a couple of tips for dealing with traffic in a Jeep Wrangler. Weird knit bug fact: When I first started blogging, I started reading Bonne Marie's blog, I had no idea she was practically my next door neighbor until she mentioned setting up a knitting group in our area. We got to know each other working together to pick a good location.

Judith, at Tofu Knits, is a relatively new blogger, knitter and spinner. She talks a lot about cooking (I might have to try that banana bread oatmeal recipe!) and shares some interesting facts about herself in her very first meme!

Gina at Knit Two Together posted her weird things list -- I have to admit, I have a similar lack of understanding of scrap booking. Though generally speaking, I figure any craft that involves collecting interesting paper can't be all bad. (Yes, another weird fact about me... I love paper!)

Michelle, another fun Chicago knitblogger at Blog-o-Rama (who is also a real life practicing composer -- how cool is that?) talks about how she met her husband as part of her weird list. She's got my meeting John via the internet beat!

Knitnana at her eponymous Knitnana blog thinks she might not ever be an advanced knitter because she doesn't like to knit sweaters, even though she has made some pretty exceptional shawls! I'd say that sweater knitting does not an advanced knitter make!

Donna, over at Sheep to Shawl (fellow Lithuanian and author of Arctic Lace and Knitted Rugs) shares my feelings about phone calls, reading material and book stores and I love the idea of a backyard full of natural dye plants. Scroll down the page a bit to find her entry!

Gaile at Gaile Online misses her 1972 VW Bug, which reminded me of two long departed but much loved cars: a 1978 Ford Fiesta and a 1982 Ford Escort. Ah, the freedom of one's first automobile!

AllisonH at SpinDyeKnit. Allison has something in common with Chicagoans -- she grew up near a lovely Frank Lloyd Wright building. Shows you how bad my FLW history is -- I had no idea he created a house in Maryland!

Dana at KnitSmith, Word Purl (I just love that blog name) has a special place in her heart for her dishwasher. I'm completely sympathetic to this, because when my husband bought his townhome right before we were married, it was his first encounter with a dishwasher. And it was love at first sight!

Flan, at Emphatic Knitting shares my love of thunderstorms. I will do the same thing, when I can. It's just incredible to watch nature in action!

I'd like to say a big thanks to the 15 folks who decided to play along with me on this meme. I really enjoyed reading your blog entries and getting to know you a little better. I hope my readers will take the time to explore and maybe make some new blog friends. There are so many creative people out there. And as I read through all of those "weird things" it makes me realize that we have so much more in common than we do in different. And that our weird things really aren't that weird at all. Just things that make us special and unique and vibrant in the universe.

VOTE

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If you are a registered voter in the US, please vote. Be you Democrat or Republican, conservative or progressive, it's important that we all participate in the political process on which our country is founded. If you're not registered, find out how to do it today, and get it taken care of so that you can participate in the next election.

And if you have a child, take them with you to the polls and let them know that voting is one of the most important responsibilities a citizen has. Talk to them about voting and the political process. Create a family tradition.

If you're in Illinois, the Independent Voters of Illinois, Illinois Precinct Organization has a list of endorsements that also includes questionaires returned by the candidates on their stands on local and state issues.

Sheepy Entertainment

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Thank you very much to everyone who left such kind comments about my Dad and his knitting project and about my new sock. I did want to let everyone know that Dad has been reading all the comments (I was trying to get him to leave a comment, too, but I guess he was feeling a little shy) and I think he was just as touched as I was by all the nice things people had to say. And to know that he had inspired a few people to participate in the Red Scarf Project.

It's also my hope that in the future I will be able to convince Dad to post on his own. It probably won't always be about knitting. It could be about spinning or woodworking or something else entirely. He comes at things from a very different perspective than I often do (i.e. he loves the mechanics of things) and I think it would be a lot of fun to see that come out in the blog. I bet we'd be the first father-daughter knitting-themed blog around!

As to the sock, y'all make me blush. Thank you for being so kind. It's definitely a motivating factor for me in terms of getting the second sock done and getting everything ready to publish. Although I showed you most everything there is to see, there are still a few more little surprises in these socks, that I won't reveal until I have a complete pair.

One question that did come up in the comments, was about how stretchy these socks are if they have that stranded stitch. The answer is that they are not as stretchy as total stockinette, but that they do have a lot of give because of the lacework "paw print". It's part of why I wanted to pair them together. I knitted the stranded Crusoe sock pattern that was in Knitty and I got a little frustrated because they didn't have much give and I had to rip and reknit a bit to get something that would fit over my ankle. I wanted these socks not to give too much of a fight that way, so the stranded stitch with the lace is a nice compromise.

Finally, since most of my day has been spent getting ready for a business trip to Montana (don't feel too bad for me, I am going to the Bitterroot Valley (home of Mountain Colors yarn) and it's usually pretty lovely this time of year, even if it is cold and a bit isolated) I'm afraid I don't have much new to talk about, but I thought I'd leave to you this link to a little sheepy entertainment. Sheep on pogo sticks, my friends. And funny sheep noises. All in a Flash game. So pick up your shepherd's crook and Poke a Sheep

Some Days There Are No Pictures

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I wish that wasn't true today, but I am afraid that I made no significant progress on the Habu scarf, either pair of socks, my dad's vest or on the spinning of my moorit CVM. This seems to be the way of getting ready to go on vacation. My time gets channeled into focusing on the tasks that need to get done at work so that I don't have to feel too guilty about not answering most of my email for two weeks, and into trying to get things ready at home to prepare for the vacation as well. This weekend will be all about house cleaning.

About all I have gotten to do today with regards to being crafty was to think about what would be coming with me to Kauai. I've decided that I really want to keep this simple. And with one possible exception, I think I'm on target to do that. What's in my crafty "don't forget to pack" list?

  • Two skeins of Sock Hop sock yarn in "Say a Little Prayer" and a set of 2.25 mm double points.
  • One skein of Socks that Rock medium weight in "Amber" and a set of 2.75 mm double pointed needles.
  • One ball of grey striped Trekking XXL and a set of 2.25 mm double points (yes, I have more than a few sets of these now).
  • One 8 ounce bundle of 100% Sock Hop superwash merino in "My Boyfriend's Back", 3 WooLee Winder bobbins, and my Lendrum DT spinning wheel with WooLee Winder flyer, and some miscellaneous equipment for a homemade lazy kate

See, I told you everything but one item would seem pretty reasonable. Normally I wouldn't even think about taking enough yarn for three pairs of socks, but the first two are patterned and so probably won't be good for car travel. The grey socks for John are going to be straight stockinette.

And then there's the spinning wheel. Initially, I was planning leaving the wheel at home. I was. I really was. And then I mentioned this to John, who immediately started to tell me how it would be easy to prepare a safe suitcase for it to travel in and that it really wouldn't be that big a deal to bring it along. Still, I though it seemed like a lot of effort. But John had planted the seeds of doubt in my mind and the more I thought about it, the more I could imagine myself sitting on the lanai of one of the houses we were renting, happily spinning while taking in the island air. And then I thought, "Hey, how often does a girl get to go to Hawaii? Who knows when we'll be back next. Eat dessert first, for once, girlfriend!" So we're going to work out wheel packing logistics this weekend. It doesn't hurt that the Lendrum is, after all, a travelling wheel.

There's also the very distinct possibility that some red yarn for a red scarf will come with me as well, but that is dependent on selecting the yarn and the pattern, neither of which have been done yet.

This will probably be my last post for a little while. Monday is going to be crazy because we leave for Hawaii on Tuesday morning and don't get into Kauai until Tuesday evening. I'm going to have my camera, and both houses we're staying at have internet service, so I'm hoping to share a little taste of our trip with y'all.

Aloha!

Like Father, Like Daughter

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My dad has always been the family photographer. For as long as I can remember he has always had a camera. When I was small, it was this wonderful old twin lens reflex Yashica (to be fair, it probably wasn't that old at the time) that I was absolutely fascinated with. As time moved on, dad bought himself a treat -- a Canon SLR. He even invested in one of those big telephoto lenses. And he started taking some color pictures, even though it meant that he couldn't develop them on his own. Nowadays dad has a digital camera -- his current fave is a Canon EOS Rebel SLR. It gives him the limitless possibilites for photography that you can only get from digital media.

No matter what camera he has in his hands at any given time, however, my dad has always loved to take pictures of flowers. If you were to look back through the old contact sheets, prints wrapped in yellow Kodak photo processing envelopes or to dig through the image archives on his computer, you would find all manner of flora. Everything from the humble dandelion to the most complex orchid has made it's way in front of my dad's lens. And the thing of it is, most of them are quite good. He's got an eye for the small things, my dad does.

So perhaps it is no surprise that when I am not taking pictures of my fiber endeavors, I am often taking flower pictures of my own. The macro mode on my new little Canon is just incredible, and while I don't have quite the artistic vision that my dad does, I'm beginning to look for those things that make a photo interesting. On Sunday, a beautiful day here in Chicago, John and I took another trip up to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The light was beautiful and the many of the roses are still in bloom. Can you guess what I did instead of get started on a new pair of socks?

So there is no knitting in this post, but I do want to introduce you to a fun new toy I have installed to work with Movable Type -- the Photo Gallery plugin by Byrne Reese (I would put links here, but the ones I have are not behaving themselves right at the moment -- if you're interested, Google, they are bound to come back up). Just click the picture below to take you to the entire set.

And, as always, I'm thinking of doing more with this gallery than just posting flower pictures, so let me know what you think, and feel free to leave comments on the pictures if the spirit moves you.

Miscellaneous Wednesday

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Today, since I have to admit I have very little in the way of inspiring knitting or spinning to show off, I'm going to answer some questions that I think deserve airing in a broader forum than the comments and I'm also going to announce the results of my contest to identify the fake man photo from Michigan Fiber Fest.

First, from Beth S., in reference to last week's post about the new superwash merino rovings I bought from Crown Mountain Farms:

Is one hank of pencil roving enough for a pair of socks? I've been wondering about that.

Teyani sells both her Corriedale pencil rovings and her superwash merino rovings in 8 ounce batches. Most sock yarns that I've purchased are sold in 2 ounce/50 g put ups (usually you need two of these for an adult pair of socks) or 4 ounce/100g put ups (usually you need one of these for a pair of adult-sized socks). So, depending on how much you decided to spin up as part of the sampling process, and how big the sock are that you want to make, 8 ounces is enough for at least 2 pair of adult sized socks. Given that Teyani's rovings cost about $15 (before shipping), and the average ball of Opal costs $12-$13 these days, that's a pretty good deal. Granted, you do have to spin it yourself, but, if you're a spinner, that's all part of what makes the socks truly special. It also means that you can create exactly the yarn that you want to have for your socks.

Tamara asked this question, in response to my post about the picot sock top (and there were several others in a similar vein):

I'm looking for instruction on how to do a picot bind off on toe up socks. I started a pair in koigu yarn and they need something special at the top - I really like how yours look. I just wonder if there is no ribbing, will they fall down all the time though?

The picot bind off on the toe up sock is just done in the reverse of the way you would do it for a top down. Once you get to the point where you are ready to create the cuff, knit as many rows as you want the cuff to be tall. You might want to mark the row that is the first row just so you remember. Then you'll do the K2Tog, YO row and then you'll do an equal number of rows to the number of rows you knit from the marker. Then you can bind off loosely and fold the cuff over at the K2Tog, YO row and just tack the bound off row down to the starting rown. Alternatively, I am sure there is some clever way to bindoff while connecting the bindoff row stitches to the starting row. As far as falling down is concerned, the secret is to make sure that the sock top is not loose, so you might want to have a little less ease than you normally have in the top of a sock so that the top grips the leg well. I helped to accomplish this by knitting the first rows before the picot row on needles 2 sizes smaller than the needles I used for the body of the sock, as well as by doing a real gauge swatch to make sure I knew the right amount of stitches to cast on for a sock for me.

And Kim (the Spinning Guy) asked an interesting question about STR in response to the same post:

Now I'm starting to research future sock yarns. What is it you like about the Socks that Rock yarn? The colorways are tremendous. What about the tactile aspects of the yarn? If you were knitting plain black socks, would you use this yarn? If not, what would you use?

What do I like about Socks that Rock. Hoo boy! Let me see if I can think of all the things. First off, all three weights of STR are 3 ply, and tightly spun. This means that they have extra durability (from the extra plies) -- which is important in a sock yarn that is 100% merino and has no extra added nylon to help improve the durability. The three ply also means that the yarn has a delightful squishiness. It is really cushy and comfortable from a wearing perspective and it shows off textured stitches better than a 2 ply will.

The yarn is just wonderful to knit from from the tactile perspective as well. It's very soft and easy on the hands -- at least the light weight and medium weight are. (Julie is working with some of the heavy weight and I found that yarn to have a very different feel to it -- I haven't knit a project with that yarn yet, so I can't really provide a good review of it). The light and medium weight yarns have a nice elasticity as well.

From a socks-in-use perspective, it washes well (you almost can't even tell the pairs I have washed have been through the wash) and it gets even softer after washing. Some yarns loosen up a lot after washing, but the STR does a pretty good job of maintaining gauge and shape. Finally, one of my favorite things about this yarn is that buying it supports a small business person and craft dyer who really works hard to bring a high quality product to market and who has exceptional color sense. We gotta support the artists amongst us, friends, if we want to keep having beautiful and unique yarns out there to play with!

If I were knitting plain black socks, would I use this yarn? You betcha! I made John's dragon scale socks in one of the STR "almost-solid" colorways (Beryl) and I'm knitting my aunt's socks in another almost solid (Amber). Blue Moon's "Almost Solid" series is really beautiful and the subtle variations give the yarn enough depth to be interesting but are solid enough to show off texture. That said, I would determine if I thought the yarn matched the recipient. I know some folks who wouldn't want any yarn but a true solid, and Blue Moon doesn't dye any true solids. So in that case, I would choose a different yarn.

And Now for the Winner of the MFF Picture Challenge

First off, I'll say that this was meant to be tricky, but fun. I loved reading all the guesses and the rationale's that went with the guesses. Secondly, I probably should have reminded you that I was raised by engineers. This means that I am as likely to ooh and ahh over a special car or a cool piece of equipment as I am over a cute fuzzy creature. Finally, my husband and father are pretty eclectic picture takers and I think they found it to be an interesting game to entertain me with the images that caught their attention.

So which picture was mine.... drum roll please...

My picture was the picture of the tractors on the third day of pictures (the one entitled "Four Wheels Good" -- you get extra bonus points if you know what obscure album from the 80's that is a strange refrence to). Initially I was worried that no one would guess this picture at all and that I would have to drop a few hints (or change how I picked the winner). But as it turns out, Gabrielle did guess the correct picture! Check your inbox for an email from me, Gabrielle and we'll talk about how you would like your contest winnings!

Little Treasures

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Gift Tag from Little Oranges of California

I love this sweet little gift tag made by Little Oranges of California. You can actually read the size of the needle on the needle head: 13 US 9.0. At $6 for 8 tags they aren't cheap, but then neither is a handknitted gift. I found it at Paper Doll one of my favorite stores on Division St. Filled with interesting paper goods and special little tchotchkes of all kinds, not to mention a wonderful little pug, I have a hard time walking by without going in.

Thanks to everyone who said such nice things about my handspun. I think this yarn is looking more and more like a table runner. Or maybe some kind of sampler pillow. I do think I have to check out Alterknits and see if the idea Morgan metioned would work.

A couple of comments from yesterday's post included questions, so I thought I'd answer a few of those here today.

Morgan asked:

Where did you get all your info on the ratio's ??? since i am still learning to spin I am trying to find resources and I have no clue what you were talking about!!

You can get that info from a couple of places: your spinning wheel manufacturers site or from retailers that are selling the wheel you are interested in, or at the WooLee Winder site. I'd love it if the info was stamped into the flyer somehow because I always have to look it up. In general, the ratio tells you how fast you can put twist into a yarn. A 10:1 ratio means that for every 1 rotation of the big wheel, you have 10 rotations of the flyer. The smaller the whorl on the flyer, the higher the ratio, the more twist you can can create in any unit of time.

Liz (no URL) asked:

How long have you been spinning, if you don't mind me asking?

I don't mind the question at all. I got my first drop spindle (actually first 2 drop spindles) from MS&W, May, 2005 and my first spinning lesson from Claudia at the same time. I bought my wheel in late January, 2006. So I've just been spinning a little over a year now. I love spinning and find I can do it for hours and hours given the right fiber and something good to listen to.

Heatherly, on a different topic, asked:

I finally started my here b dragon sox. i am making them for a child so i am doing the scaled up, but in 3 repeats. what do you think?

If you mean three repeats for the leg, I say no problem. If you mean three repeats around instead of 4, then you may have problems with the heel and toe details if you want to include them, since those assume that certain parts of the pattern will be centered over the heel and toe when you get there. Depending on the size of the child, it might be better to experiment with a finer gauge yarn and smaller needles and stick with the 4 repeats. But if you don't mind spending time playing with the pattern, I'd say try the three repeats and see how it goes. You never know, you might get something you really like.

Where Wine and Wool Meet

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What do you do when you don't have actual fibery content for a blog post? You look back through the photos on your SD chip and see what you can find that might even be remotely related. It's kind of an alcoholic week chez Keyboard Biologist since what I found on my chip was some interesting wine that I found when John and I were in Ann Arbor earlier in the spring.

One thing I love about wine right now, is that there is a lot of wine that doesn't take itself too seriously. This leads to some very fun labels. If you go into almost any wine store, you're bound to find some of these or other clever names. Some of these wines even go beyond having clever names into being good wine. And one of these, I promise, will even have a fibery connection.

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The Chocolate Block and Goats Do Roam

The Chocolate Block isn't really a play on words, but what knitter doesn't like to have a little chocolate to accompany her knitting. There's no actual chocolate in this South African Syrah/Grenache/Cabernet blend but it's supposed to be sweet and rich and the relatively high alcohol content guarantees to help mellow you out during even the most stressful tinking or ripping experience. The bottle I didn't get a good shot of on the right side is "Goats Do Roam" which I love because of it's play on "Cote du Rhone" a wine region in France.

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Earth, Zin and Fire and The Seven Deadly Zins

Zinfandels may not have the luxurious quality of a good cab or merlot, but they are a personal and sentimental favorite. When I was in college I had a plant physiology class by one of my favorite professors. One of the "laboratories" for those of us who were 21 and over was a "grape physiology" lab -- i.e. a wine tasting. At the very end, a few of us got to stick around to try a couple of wines from the professor's special collection, which included some wonderful Ridge Zinfandel. I've been hooked ever since. I love the hearty and spicy qualities of a good Zin. And these labels made me smile. After all, I think my parents had a few "Earth, Wind and Fire" albums in their record collection and I am almost sure that almost every one of those 7 Deadly Sins can be applied to knitting! Lord knows, I've already got gluttony taken care of!

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Dyed in the Wool

I must admit to not being the biggest fan of pinot noir (but perhaps we have not yet been properly introduced) but how could I not be intrigued by a wine called "Dyed in the Wool"? And it's from New Zealand, a land of many sheep! How incredibly appropriate. This bottle came home from the store with me but still remains in my parents house (hopefully in a cool dark place!) waiting for a good occasion to be opened -- at which point you will all get a review. It was this bottle that got me to pop out my camera in the wine department of a produce mart in Ann Arbor and got me to see all the other clever labels around me.

Maybe you know of another wine with a clever label? If you feel so inclined, share it with me in the comments!

Odd Little Knit Bits

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You know, there are some interesting things out there in the knitting and fiber world right now. And with the help of my constantly web-surfing husband, here's a sampling of things to make your day a little more interesting.

Want to see the world's longest handknit scarf? Check out Knitting Their Way Into the Record Books | NEWS | Deutsche Welle | 05.06.2006 about a group of World Cup knitters that have been keeping their hands busy.

Want to shop for your very own sheep? The Sheep Market is a strange little web-based project that will give you at least a coffee break's worth of entertainment.

And finally, from the unusual pets file, a story about The Sheep Who Thinks She's a Dog. Friends, this sheep likes soccer and jumping through hoops and herding ducks. Apparently northwest Wales is a good place to be taken seriously if you're a sheep. I'd just love to know what breed she is.

Happy Easter

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Easter Breakfast Basket

We'll be starting our Easter morning with a basket of simple foods that we took to John's parent's church to be blessed for a traditional (at least for my husband's family) Polish Easter morning breakfast . It includes bread (both egg bread and more traditional rolls), butter (in the shape of a butter lamb), salt, pepper, and horseradish (representing the the flavors of life), hard boiled eggs (we chose brown eggs, but the traditional eggs are white eggs boiled with onion skins which turns them a lovely brown/purple color and gives the eggs a light oniony flavor) and two kinds of fabulous kielbasa. The thick sausage is called wiejska (vee-ay-ska) and the thin sausage is called kabanosy (kah-bin-oh-sey), both of which are flavored strongly with garlic, though the kabanosy is a leaner sausage than the wiejska and is often served by itself with no more preparation than slicing, while the wiekska is often cooked a bit more. Some families will also take sugar lambs and lamb-shaped cakes to be blessed, but we stick with simple, non-sweet foods to have for breakfast.

Easter breakfast is meant as a simple meal, to be shared with family to celebrate Christianity's "Return of the King" and is generally a true "breaking of the fast" as good Catholics will have at least abstained from meat from Good Friday until Easter morning. I don't really fall into that good Catholic category, but I do enjoy this tradition. Easter is definitely a day of eating -- a big Easter dinner is also served later in the afternoon/early evening that is also usually a big family event. John and I are lucky this year. We'll be sharing the day with his family and my parents, which doesn't happen very often.

Happy Easter to those of you that celebrate the holiday. A beautiful spring weekend to everyone else.

Images of Spring

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There's not too much knitting, crocheting or any other fiber craft for me to show today. I would say that I have too much work, but it's not really that. It's more like too much emotional baggage from work that leaves me unmotivated to be productive and feeling a little blue. So today I decided to take my camera outside and take some pictures of things tht did make me happy. Things that remind me of spring and of the renewal process that comes as a part of the changing of the seasons.

John and I are not what you would describe as good or attentive gardiners. But we do enjoy having green growing things around us in our yard. So when we decide to get new plants, we choose perennials that come up every year and require relatively little care. It's always a pleasant surprise for me when our little collection of hardy friends pops back up to say hello, especially the ones we started last year that we were a bit worried might not make it through the winter.

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French Lilac Bush Gets Ready for a Show

Our little French Lilac bush is making a very nice showing in her second year in our front yard. We didn't get any flowers last year, but we're hoping that this year we might have some fragrant blooms. Lilac is one of my very most favorite floral scents. And they take me back to some of my earliest memories when my family was in New York and we had these enormous and wonderful lilac bushes in our back yard and a pair of cardinals that lived in them.

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Peony Shoots Reach for the Sun

Some plants in our yard are all about wishful thinking. Our front yard is shaded most of the time because of the tall buildings on either side of us. But it gets a little light. My mother has had peony bushes growing around our house for as long as I can remember. I've always loved their big feathery flowers and as a kid I liked to knock the ants that always seemed to congregate off the buds. While shopping for some new perennials last year, I discovered some peonies that claimed they could grow in "partial sun" and decided that I needed to give one a chance and see. So this one is planted at the base of the steps that lead up to the door. It's a treat to see the plant coming back. We didn't get any flowers last year. Was it the limited sun or just the plant getting used to its new digs? Hopefully this year we'll get a little show.

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Return of the Lillies

One of the banes of urban existance is the trash that blows every where and under our fences and into our yard. We thought it might be nice to fight this problem with a pretty green solution, and went out and bought some hardy lillies that would spread out and cover the base of the fence with a shower of green leaves and colorful flowers. What a pleasant surprise to see that all the plants that we put in the ground last year made it through the winter and are coming on strong now that the weather has gotten warmer. I love the simplicity and pluckiness of lillies. They grow everywhere from the most lavish gardens to freeway medians to little cracks in the pavement between buildings and they come in delightful happy reds, yellows, oranges and pinks. We planted a patchwork quilt of miniature varieties here by the fence to help us keep out the trash and add a flash of color to our yard.

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Clematis Vines Revitalize

The very first plants I bought for the house after we moved here five years ago were three clematis vines from Home Depot. Nelly Moser, Polish Spirit, and one who's name I can't remember. Clematis are another childhood favorite for me. My mother has always had them around her home. I love how they grow bigger and bigger every year and the vines begin to take over whatever area you give them to grow on. After 5 years, these plants are finally getting truly comfortable in their environment. Once agian, it's rather shady in our backyard, so they have to work hard to get high enough to reach the morning sunlight. But they persevere and every year they've worked to each give us a few flowers. Well, except for the Polish Spirit plant, which gives us a crazy huge man-eating vine full of flowers. We figure it likes being near my Polish husband.

So spring is indeed in full force around my house. And a nice breeze is blowing through my window. A reminder to me that no matter what is going on in my life, no matter what is happening at work, the world still rotates on its axis and nature still creates beauty out of the simplest things. And that I am truly lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy the show.

P.S. to my wonderful daddy -- Happy Happy Happy Birthday to someone who always reminds me that the most important things in life have nothing to do with being employed. Love you, Dad!

Of Elphes and Oblivion

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No knitting or spinning to talk about today. Today it's all about new toys. You see, I've been jonesing for a new camera for a long time. I know, I know, John got me that Sony T1 not very long ago, but it just wasn't the camera for me. Too many blurry shots in point-and-shoot mode and it really didn't reproduce colors well unless they were in the orange/yellow/brown color range. It was a real disappointment because I liked everything else about the camera. I tried to give it a fair shake, but I just couldn't make it work. So it went back in it's box and I went back to my Nikon CoolPix. My Nikon may be a bit elderly, but it still does pretty well when it comes to capturing color and texture.

Not so well when it comes to weight, taking pictures quickly and being carried in a small purse, however.

So with spring on it's way, a fibery woman's heart turns to thoughts of Maryland. And Maryland means interesting photo opportunities. Which brought me back to thinking about cameras.

So one weekend not too long ago, John and I set out on a mission to search out the best small camera. We were armed with a compact flash card, an SD card, a Sony memory stick, two skeins of brightly colored Socks That Rock (to test color) and two dragon socks (to test color and texture reproduction). We went to Fry's, Circuit City, CompUSA and Best Buy. We tested everything that was in the right size and megapixel range (greater than 5 megapixels) that had functional batteries and that we could put a memory card in: Nikons, Canons, Sonys, Kodaks, Casios and a Minolta (no Olympus cameras because they take a kind of SD card that we didn't happen to have, and I wasn't going to buy a camera if I couldn't closely examine the pictures I took with it). I tested with a flash and without a flash, regular mode and macro mode. Everything was done using the camera's "auto-everything" setting because, let's face it, I am not a professional photographer, I know very little about photography, and sheep won't hold a good pose while I try to figure out how to get the settings on my camera just right.

You might be surprised to know that no one seemed to find it too strange that a woman was taking pictures of brightly colored yarn in a Best Buy. You might also be surprised to know that Best Buy is the worst place to try out a camera. Their security systems block most of the digital media slots (Nikon was one of the few brands we could test there because their digital media slots were on the side of the camera instead of the bottom), meaning you can't put a card in them to take a picture. Probably the best place was Circuit City -- not only were their security systems test card friendly, in most cases the cameras could be turned on and used (Fry's cameras were also media accessible but many were not charged) and the guys behind the counter actually seemed to know what they were talking about.

What did I end up selecting?

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Canon PowerShot SD-600 Digital Elph

Why did I pick the Canon SD-600 Digital Elph? First of all, it did a great job with color. It did well with blues, reds and yellows and subtle shading variations. Since color is important in a lot of what I photograph, it was important in my camera selection. Secondly, it took good, consistant pictures even in macro mode without the flash, which means I don't have to worry about missing an important shot or taking 6 closeup pictures hoping to get one good one. Third, it has a great user interface. The controls are easy to use and their positioning makes sense. Fourth, size does matter. This camera is about the size of a standard deck of cards and it packs a real optical zoom lens in addition to a digital zoom. And finally, it has a quick recovery time -- no more long waits between shots. And as an extra added bonus, it can also make little movies. Maybe someday I'll have some live action spinning here on the blog. Oh, and did I mention John got a great deal on it, too?

In addition to small cameras, we also got a new computer game not too long ago. If you like RPGs and you haven't tried an Elder Scroll's game, I can highly recommend Oblivion. If for no other reason than it is a very knitter friendly game. I used the Elph to help me show you why:

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A Fat Happy Ram Roams in Oblivion

Pretty cool, eh? And he's animated well. These guys walk like sheep and move their little tails like sheep and generally have an air of real sheepiness. And in addition to the fighters guild, mages guild and thieves guild, there must be a spinner's guild somewhere. My evidence?

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Oblivion Has Yarn!

Now, when my dark elf female figher-mage take a break from saving the world from the demons of Oblivion, she can grab some yarn out of her pack and knit up the perfect sweater for her excursion up north or a nice shawl for a visit to the Emperor. Even if she has to use paintbrushes as knitting needles.

Mail Call

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Yesterday did not turn out to be a day that involved much knitting. It did turn out to be a day that involved a bit of computer babysitting and some excellent Belgian ale. So excellent that it required another attempt with the phone camera, even though people do tend to look at you funny when you are taking pictures of beer.

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Belgian Kwak

But now that I have set the dangerous precedent of phone food photography, you can bet that there will likely be more. Because really, I have to say, I enjoy eating out in Chicago almost more than I like pursuing the fiber arts. Chicago is a most excellent food town.

But, as I mentioned, there was not much knitting to show for the day. Oh, I did try to knit after that nice Belgian beer, but it resulted in dropped stitches and ripping back a Dragon sock and playing with size 0000 needles to get everything back in order. Clearly, I was not meant to make any knitting progress yesterday. Sometimes a girl has to listen when the powers that be are telling her to abandon certain activities.

I've gotten a few neat things in the mail lately, though, and this seems a good time to share them.

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Debbie Bliss' "the club" Membership Project

I am probably the last person to go out and join Debbie Bliss' club , I resisted last year, but when I discovered the free knitting kit involved her Casmerino Astrakan, I decided that this was a good time to subscribe. I've seen a few folks blogging about it, and it just seemed like really nifty stuff. This kit is the perfect entry into playing with a new yarn, I think -- how can I go wrong with two skeins of yarn. And I know it's enough yarn for at least one project. This yarn is not entirely my color (being a bit of a yellowy green) but I might be willing to ignore that fact to make the scarf. The Astrakan is very soft and has a really lovely texture in the skein. Not sure when I will actually knit it -- probably when I'm travelling and need a small project -- but I'm sure I'll enjoy it when the time comes

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AquaMelon Vesper Sock Yarn

I consider myself just a little bit lucky to have happened upon the Knitterly Things Etsy Shop just in time to be able to pick up a skein of Julia's lovely hand-dyed self-striping sock yarn. I first learned about it when Monica over at passionknit blogged about her new sock yarn obsession (be sure to go to the bottom of the post and click on the links to see some lovely socks made in this yarn). Since I, too, feel sated with my level of Socks that Rock (and I feel safe in the knowledge that if I really need any, it's not too hard for me to get out to Marengo to get some), it seemed like a good time to join Monica in her Vesper obsession. Now that I have the yarn in my hot little hands, I am not disappointed. The colors are lovely you can click here for a closeup (even if my camera wants to oversaturate the reds) and are such a flashback to my preppy '80's high school years, how could I resist?

LIke I've said so many times before, a girl can never have too much sock yarn.

I have to admit that I don't get to read as many blogs as I would like to. But in the past weeks or so, I've noticed here and there people talking about the etiquette of posting pictures of gifts received, goodies from trades or yarns and tools purchased for one's self. It seems that some folks think "flashing your stash" is a breach of good behavior and/or a sign of uninspired blogging. Others feel left out when reading the blogs of people who receive gifts from friends or other bloggers. I try to stay off my soap box most of the time, but this is one case that touched a nerve and where I would like to share my thoughts (in other words, this post is going to get really long, so you may want to stop now, should this subject not interest you).

First off, let me just say that yes, you're seeing pictures of yarn today because I do lack a bit of inspiration, and I certainly lack any exciting knitting or spinning to show. I won't dispute that. It happens some times. As much as I would love to be able to show off the creative works of my hands everyday, it doesn't always work out. So then I try to look around my life and my fiber pursuits and see if there is something else interesting to talk about. A new yarn, a new tool, a book perhaps. I absolutely love finding out about new things -- if others didn't do a little "showing off" then I might never find out about some things that are really useful or lovely. I'm all about using Google to find things that interest me, but there's nothing quite like finding out about something new and then getting some helpful opinions about both the product and the vendor. And I like to think that periodically, when I'm showing off something new to my little treasure trove of fibery goodies, I might provide some useful information to someone else. Generally, I tend to only post about the things I like (life is too short to spend too much time focusing on the negative), but I will try to be balanced in what I say.

I look at gifts and trades in more or less the same way, but with an added twist. As with things that I might buy for myself, I like to share if I think there is something interesting about what I received. But I also like to post about them for other reasons. First off, gratitude. No matter how many times I trade with people, no matter how many times I receive a thoughtful gift, I am always really touched that someone took the time to do something nice for me. And I almost always want to try to share that feeling. I've never found a group of people as thoughtful as fiber folks when it comes to this kind of thing. Secondly, I like to let whomever I got the trade or gift from that their gift arrived. I know I could just send email, but I like the blog medium. I like making that journal entry and taking the pictures and sharing a public thank-you -- it might soudn strange, but that part is a lot of fun for me, and makes the items received doubly enjoyable.

But, that said, it's still easy for me to see how this sort of thing might make others feel left out. Growing up, I almost always felt like I was the unpopular kid that no one wanted to do anything with. It took me a long time to realize that if you want to be part of a group, you've got to put yourself out there a little bit, too. And believe me, I know (man, do I know), that can be really hard. But in the knit blog world, I think there's definitely plenty of ways to get involved and there are so many remarkable and friendly people to meet. Like someone's work or want to encourage someone? Leave 'em a comment on their blog. I've had some great email dialogs and friendships develop this way. Fall in love with a yarn that's hard to get where you are? Perhaps you could ask the blogger that posted about it if they would be willing to try a little trade -- but try not to feel hurt if its not the right thing for that person at the time. Got stash of your own that you think would be happier somewhere else? Offer to trade with others. Maybe you're stash poor but time rich? Host a knit along or share a knitting design or start a knitting group in your local area. Be genuine, be willing to exert some effort, and you'll be surprised what develops over time. After almost 4 years of blogging, I know I still am!

Another Reason to Stay Up Late

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It's probably not completely kosher, but I decided that I needed to buy myself a birthday present this year. Even though I picked out the wheel, I like to think of it as John's present to me this year. Interestingly, then, I am the only one who did not get me a fiber related present. Instead, I opted for something both physical and technological in nature.

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Dance Dance Revolution Mat

Perhaps you've seen those dancing games in the video arcades? Well, this large, padded multi-colored tic-tac-toe board works with our Xbox so that I can play Dance Dance Revolution in the privacy of my own home. Which is a good thing. I am not the most co-ordinated creature to walk the planet and watching me play this game could be disconcerting to anyone who has good balance and rhythm.

Believe it or not, I bought it as an exercise tool. I've been trying to find something that I could do at home (Chicago not being very hospitible to outdoor activities during the winter) that would make me want to exercise. I read about how they were actually installing these in schools to help kids exercise and it was working to keep the kids exercising longer. I have about the same attention span as most teenagers, so I figured if it worked for them, maybe it would work for me. Hey, the game even has an exercise setting and keeps track of the calories you burn. And, last night, I started playing at 11:30 PM and completely lost track of time until about 1:30 in morning! Clearly even the attention span challenged can be engaged by this game.

Once I get a little better, y'all are invited over for a little Dance Dance Revolution party. Anyone who can dance and knit on a sock wins an extra prize!

And because the Beeze snuck into the picture yesterday, and I want to be an equal opportunity cat owner, I thought I would provide a picture of Syndey and Mercutio doing what they do best.

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Mercutio and Sydney Take a Cat Nap

Something that I should be doing right about now, myself!

Sock Challenge

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Before I went to the ER over the holidays I put on a pair of my handknit socks. It was actually the pair that I made out of the Opal Rodeo that I had received from Emma as part of one of our yarn trades. It wasn't really one of those moments when I should have been concerned about what socks I was wearing, but still, something compelled me to fish them out of my suitcase and put them on. Clearly, they were just socks, and they couldn't fix the problem I was experiencing, but they made me feel a little bit better. Even with a whole lot of other unfamiliar things around me I still had something of my own with me. And my feet stayed warm. Which was a good thing given that it was December and hospitals aren't overheated places.

Surprisingly, the socks also got noticed by one of the doctors who did help make my condition better. She stopped and asked me about them, loved the bright colors. Thought it was wonderful that I had made them. And then, to make sure that they didn't get messed up while she did her job, she helped me get them off and put them in a safe place (she gave me a pair of warm, but not as attractive, hospital socks). I would have liked to keep them on, but by that time, they had served their most important purpose -- they had helped to create a bond between me and the doctor who was helping me. So not only had they kept me warm, but the had helped me become more comfortable in an equally important way as well.

I was in the ER for quite some time that night... from about 8 at night until about 4 in the morning. And my family, (John, my parents and my brother and his wife) was there the whole time as well. When you have that much time in the hostpital and you're not sedated and not in extreme discomfort, you have a lot of time to think about things. You can focus on the event at hand, or you can try to divert yourself onto things that make you happier. Fortunately for me, my brain decided to focus on socks. More specifically, how my socks had made my medical adventure a little bit better and how wouldn't people in need of medical assistance be much happier if they all had a pair of handknit socks to keep them company.

Now, I know myself well enough to know that I cannot knit enough socks to make everyone with a medical emergency feel better. But it did seem reasonable that I could make socks for everyone who had come with me to try to help me feel better during my medical emergency. I don't wish a trip to the ER on anyone in my family, but should they have to go, I'd like them to know that someone loved them enough to knit them a pair of socks (if you haven't read the short essay on knitting socks in the Yarn Harlot: the Secret Life of a Knitter, then you most certainly should, it really gets at the heart of what making socks for people really means). Maybe they'll even remember to put the socks on, and their socks will help them through the experience just like mine did.

Up until this point, I've mostly stayed on the sidelines through all the sock-a-longs that have been booming through the knitting internet. But I am going to start my own personal little sock knitting challenge. You can feel free to participate, or not, as you wish. This year, I am going to knit a pair of socks for everyone in my immediate family: John, my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law and my aunt. Six pairs of new socks are going to enter the world and do their best to fulfill the most important thing a handknit sock can possibly do: make someone feel warm and happy and loved.

But it wouldn't be a challenge if there weren't a few rules, would it? So here are the rules that I've decided that it's reasonable to live with.

1) I have to finish all 6 pairs between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2006
2) I am not allowed to start any new socks for myself until the family socks are complete. However, I am allowed to finish any unfinished pairs that are in my current project list (this would be the Mermaid Socks and the Broadripple socks).
3) John's recently finished Trekking socks count as his pair, but I can start another pair for him any time I feel like it. Because if one pair of socks is good, then two more more pairs of socks must be just that much better. And he's definitely family.
4) I am allowed to buy more sock yarn for family member socks, but I have to knit with it, I can't just keep stashing it...unless I plan to make more socks for that family member.
5) MS&W is an exception to the buying more sock yarn rule.

Should you wish to participate in my challenge, you don't have to abide by all of my rules. These are rules that I'm setting up to help me meet my goals. Your goals may be different, thus you may need different rules or none at all.

Now that I've finished John's socks, the next pair in my family sock challenge is going to be for my wonderful sister-in-law, Libby (who, if you saw her, you might think was my actual sister). She's going off to LA in April (and will be there until June) to do some pretty intense teacher training so that she can become a certified Bikram Yoga instructor. I want to put together a "good luck package" for her that includes the socks.

Because she's in Houston and will be doing her training in LA (i.e. warm places) I've picked up some Blue Moon Fiber Arts "Sock Candy" yarn in the Cherries Jubilee colorway. This yarn is 96% cotton, 4% elite and has some reasonable stretch to it -- it reminds me a little bit of a sock weight Calmer -- I'm hoping that the sock will thus be warm weather compatible and will keep it's shape. While I'm waiting for my bro to come up with her shoe size, I'm looking around to try to find a good pattern. I know, in my knitting heart, that I really should rib these socks all the way down, but I also know that I really hate ribbing socks, and that too much ribbing could stall this project before it gets off the ground. Depending on her shoe size, I'm actually considering taking on another pair of Jaywalkers. As I think the colors would be lovely, and those Jaywalkers seem to resist slouchy-ness.

In order to help me keep track of what's done, I'm adding a new "Family Sock Challenge" to my side bar so that my results will be visible. If you decide you want to play along, let me know. If enough folks do, I'll set up a little something to help keep track of whose participating.

Questions Answered

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Today is all about words since I gave you so many pictures yesterday! There were a number of good questions in my comments over the past couple of days, and I figured that some of the answers might be of interest to more than just the asker... so in no particular order...

Alix had an interesting observation and question:

I attended a spinning demonstration at my LYS back in October, and the 'instructor' made an interesting observation: in her experience, it seemed like people tended to spin the yarn weights they most liked to work with. She likes laceweight and working with lace, and she found that most of her spun yarn was also laceweight.Could that be your case as well?

That's a really interesting observation by your instructor. The longer I knit, the more I do find that I like lighter weight yarns and I find myself gravitating towards projects that have a smaller gauge and finer details. And even though I haven't worked on much lately due to a lack of much real brain power, I do love knitted lace (it's probably why I liked working on the Backyard Leaves scarf -- a little bit of open work, a lot of shaping). But I also like things that don't take years and years to knit (at my heart, I think I am more of a product than process knitter, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise), so I'd like my handspun to end up closer to DK weight than to the fingering weights I seem to be getting now. Of course, another way to solve this problem would be to learn how to create three ply yarns...

Sarah asked:

How long did you spin with the spindle before you embarked on the wheel? I've been spindling for a little while, and eventually want to work up to a wheel. My singles are getting more consistent with the spindle, is it easier to get the same consistency on the wheel? Do you still pre-draft with your wheel?

Actually, I probably didn't spend that much time with a spindle at all (although that didn't stop me from accumulating quite a few of them in a short period of time). I started learning how to use one in early May of 2005 when I went to MS&W and got some great lessons from Claudia. I didn't start on doing much with the wheel until October when I took a lesson from Toni Neil at the Fold (who also helped me get my wheel in shape for spinning).

To be honest, I did next to no real spinning on my wheel until deciding to get serious with the wool silk blend. Part of that was just being busy. Part of that was getting frustrated by the fact that while this wheel is in better shape than it was, there are still a few things that make it not completely fun to work with. And a part of it was just not realizing that a lot of parts of the wheel are adjustable and one of the problems I was having was due to not having the wheel adjusted properly.

One thing I did feel was true, however. Learning to spin on a drop spindle makes learning to spin on a wheel a lot easier because your fingers have already learned some basic principles about handling the wool. So learning to spin on a wheel then becomes more about figuring out how to get your feet involved in the equation and getting comfortable with figuring out how to get twist when you want twist and how to wind on when you want to wind onto the bobbin.

As far as consistancy goes... well, I would thing that would depend on the fiber. But I think it's more likely that you'll get more consistant yarn from working on the wheel -- in large part because you can do a lot more spinning at once and that means that it's harder to "forget" what you were aiming for between sessions. I also think it's easier to control the amount of twist that you put into the yarn with the wheel since you control the treadling speed and it only slows down if you do, whereas with a spindle, the rotation does slow down over time and how the spindle spins can be affected by the weight of yarn on the spindle.

Do I still pre-draft? You betcha. I think it helps a lot with getting a better yarn. At least for me. Compared with a drop spindle, that fiber is moving a lot more rapidly through your fingers, so the more smoothly it moves, the easier it is to spin and the easier it is to draft out consistant amounts at a time. I've been pre-drafting the wool silk a lot, otherwise it would tend to stick to itself and I think it would be way more rustic than I would enjoy working with.

Dani asked, in regards to my wool silk yarn:

Are you going to dye it? Any idea what you will use it for?

I am really tempted to dye some of it... just to see how it takes the dye. But to be honest, I'm also sort of drawn to the natural color of the yarn. It makes me think of some lovely old cabled sweaters I have seen and owned. I think it might be the sort of yarn that would like to be cabled. However, even plied, it's kind of on the fine side. I'd estimate that it's closer to fingering or sport weight than DK weight (I don't have my WPI tool handy or I'd measure and provide an "official" answer). I'm probably going to have to follow the suggestion of several people commented that I should swatch it up to see how it knits. Which I'll probably do soon, once the smaller skein I plied (from the singles that were left over after I got the first bobbin-full of plied yarn) is dry. (Giving this yarn a good soak to help set the twist seems to be a good thing since there also seems to be a bit of dust that gets released when it hits water and Eucalan -- the yarn definitely gets "brighter" after it's bath). I suspect that it will "talk" to me a bit as I swatch with it and get a feel for what it does and doesn't like to do!

Finally, I can't for the life of me remember who asked this question, but I did get asked where I got my UMich Lorna's Laces. I suspect that you can find it in a variety of places, but I purchased mine from ThreadBear Fiber Arts in Lansing when I visited there a while back. They had a number of different colorways that were compatible with local colleges and universities. It's been a while since I've made a trip there, so I'm not sure if they still carry it or not.

Hello Moto

| 18 Comments

I've got to finish up the first week of the New Year by talking about two of the best tech toys that I got in 2005. To go along with this you need to hear the story of how I got this:

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Hello Moto! My New Motorola RAZR v3 Phone

Nifty, eh? My wonderful husband managed to be incredibly sneaky and got me the phone I have been lusting after since the release of the GSM version last year. The big problem was, at the time, my husband was working for a CDMA wireless carrier (from whom we also got our wireless service) and there were no such phones for CDMA carriers. Until this year, that is. After the sneaky husband had taken a job at a new company (which we are not unhappy about, as the sneaky huband is much happier there -- at least from my perspective). So, of course, I started to point this out to the sneaky husband. Who, proceeded to tell me that even though other wireless carriers would have this phone, our wireless carrier was still in the QC process with it and it wouldn't be ready for Christmas (he's not there any more, but he still has connections). So I sulked a little bit. Made comments about the backasswardness of certain wireless carriers. And prepared to remind a certain sneaky husband about the phone around my birthday. Which is definitely after Christmas.

So what did the sneaky husband do? Well, first off, the sneaky husband knew that our wireless carrier was rushing to get this phone available to customers for Christmas just like all the other CDMA carriers. Sneaky husband staked out a store near his office and stalked them mercilessly to make sure that one of the small stock that was going to come in before Christmas was going to be his. I suspect that the sneaky husband might have been helping them unload the truck when they came in, but he just claims that he made sure that he got there they day they arrived.

Which left me very surprised to find my own personal Moto RAZR v3 under the tree.

Now, those of you who have been reading for a while, may know that I am a devout Palm user as well, and that my current phone has a Palm device integrated into it. How could I possibly be willing to give up that Palm functionality just for a thin, sexy flip phone case?

Well, the answer is that I am not really giving up anything at all. Do you remember this?

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Tapwave Zodiac

John won one of these at a conference he attended and I stole adopted it. However, because I had the Palm phone, I mostly just used the Tapwave to play games. But this device and my RAZR phone have one very important bit of functionality in common: they both can use the Bluetooth short-range wireless communication protocol to talk to each other. What does that mean? Well, now I have the best of both worlds. A sexy slim phone and an awesome Palm device that can talk to the phone and do neat things like browse the web and check email without me ever having to take the phone out of my handbag or coatpocket. Since the sneaky husband also bought be a Bluetooth card for my laptop, my laptop can even talk to my phone and use it as a modem when it is not otherwise connected to the internet and I desperately need a blog fix.

I just love being a geek girl sometimes! There are defintiely sometimes when a new tech toy can be better than a little bling...

Just 7 Years Too Late for Me

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This has probably been making the rounds already, but just in case -- the link takes you to An Entirely Knitted Wedding.

There's some pretty impressive stuff to see as you look through the galleries. I'm impressed (especially with all the knitted food!), but given that I had an August wedding in Chicago, I think I'm glad that I just get to watch and didn't have to wear!

Ouch!

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When I found out that my web hosting server was down this morning I had no idea that it was not only down, but suffered from some apparently catastrophic drive failure... and sent me back in time to October 25th! Good thing that Google caches everything! Of course, it would have been better if I had a more recent backup than August 26th....

Hopefully all will be restored, soon. Fortunately there's only a couple weeks of posts and pictures to get back into place. Not looking like there will be too much knitting tonight.

Not So Much to Say Tonight...

... but if you want to find out more about Anna Zilboorg's 45 Fine and Fanciful Hats to Knit... I've updated Two Friends Collect Books with a review.

While you're there, you can also check out the two reviews that Julie posted recently -- a children's book and Pam Allen's Scarf Style!

Common Experiences

It's always fun for me to post about something not related to knitting -- inevitably I discover that some of my not-so-crafty hobbies are equally well enjoyed by others. The Civillization games look to be no exception. What is it about them that makes you glue your eyes to your monitor and your hands to the keyboard whispering "just one more turn" to the person trying to convince you that it is time to go to bed?

Clearly Firaxis has something figured out.

I actually only played one game today. Believe it or not, I spent most of the day actually reading the manual while working on my new sock project. I'm not sure if this will surprise anyone, but I am one of those people who loves to pour through game manuals. To me, reading the manual somehow heightens the anticipation of playing the game, helps me "get into character" so to speak. For a game like Civ, there's something magical about digging through all the information and trying to figure out what basic strategies are going to interest me.

I was hoping to take a picture to provide some proof that I actually did work on that sock, but the last of my camera batteries just gave out and I don't have another set charged. So you'll just have to trust me -- 7 inches of stripey sock top as I go into the weekend.

And my first impressions of Civ IV? Well, my first foray was just on the extremely wimpy level so that I could see how the game play mechanics have changed. From a "just one more turn" perspecitve, the additiction factor is clearly still there. It runs mostly okay on my machine (a Gateway M505 with an ATI Radeon 95-something). Graphics are fine but periodically it just crashes to desktop -- not often or predictably, but there's some little buggy critter in there somewhere, which is not so surprising for a brand new game as complicated as this one. Music is wonderful, and the 3D-perspective adds a new dimension to the game (no pun intended). It's going to take me a while to get the hang of dealing with the new religious element of the game, and I love what they've done with diplomacy -- much better than it used to be in Civ III.

Heh. And now I need to squeeze in a few more turns before I got to bed...

The Greatest Time Sink in the Known Universe

Can't blog now... just picked up my pre-order copy of Civilization IV...

... abandon knitting, all ye who enter here!

... abandon knitting, all ye who enter here!

Sunday Afternoon Amusement

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From a quiz link forwarded to my by my husband... I don't normally post these things, but John doesn't normally send them to me either, so how could I say no?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

He laughed and nodded when he heard my result, Capt. James T. Kirk (the link provides a description of the character type) -- so it must be fitting. He took the quiz and apparently he is Yoda. Which from my perspective, tends to fit my incredible computer guru and guy who thinks carefully about all things.

You can take the quiz yourself by clicking the link directly under the picture.

Organizational Apparatus

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When it comes to inexpensive but functional furniture and organizational goodies with a little flair, a girl has to love Ikea.

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Magazines Get a New Home with a Hugging Heart

The past couple of months I've been feeling like I have books stuffed in every nook and cranny I can find. I figured it was high time that all the books and magazines related to the fiber arts actually went into the fiber room -- it fits with my desire to have order in my written universe. When I was 10, I compulsively ordered the books in my book case by author: last name, first name, title When I got a new book, I would take great pleasure in finding exactly the right spot and then moving other books up and down to fit it in my book case. When I got into music, my compulsion extended to my CD collection. I've gotten to be something of a slacker, since I tend to order my books by size and topic now rather than author name (I guess this is what comes of bookshelves with irregular heights).

This weekend, we finally made the arduous trek out to Shaumburg to search Ikea for the perfect book cases to help me achieve my goal. These two are from the "Effektiv" collection with a birch finish (the tall one is from the Billy collection and it's been living with me for some time now). Of course, I couldn't pass by the lovely pink magazine boxes and storage containers (they have yet to be assembled, but they will be used to hold my rapidly expanding collection of double pointed needles, circular needles, spindles and other odds and ends that usually end up scattered around my room). And how could I resist the hugging hands heart? Ikea was donating the entire purchase price to charities helping out after Hurricane Katrina. Every fiber room needs a little hug -- just as much as it needs a little organization to be a happy place to work in. I'm hoping my spinning wheel will find a home in here, too, but that depends on how comfortable it is to spin when sitting on that futon couch.

The book cases come just in the nick of time to help me celebrate another very cool thing. My partner in crime and fibery adventure, Julie, is going to share my book blog with me. It's getting a name change to mark the occasion: Two Friend Collect Books. Between the two of us, we have quite a collection of knitting and other crafting books -- and we don't always have the same opinions, so hopefully we can provide anyone who drops by with a well-rounded perspective on what's in our libraries. We're also hoping to branch beyond crafting books -- Julie is one of my favorite sources for good fiction recommendations. If you want to know when we've updated the book blog, just click on over there and hit the bloglines link and you'll be all set up!

Favorite Machines

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In spite of being a geek gadget girl, I have to admit that my favorite machine in the whole wide world is decidedly low tech. It has no flashing lights, does not play MP3s, does not require a graphical user interface to interact with. It has no buttons, it isn't networked, and only two levers. It lives in a room that anyone who knows me well, also knows I don't frequent very often. If I had to guess, I'd say that it's at least 25 years old and its totally irreplaceable to me.

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Kitchen Aid Mixer, Birthdate: circa 1980

My husband and father like to joke that the only things with a motor that you can give a woman on a major occasion are a car or a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. And it really is true. I am totally not a creature of the kitchen, but when I am in a store with kitchen appliances, I just have to check them out. They have a special aura about them that I can't resist. But I have never purchased one on my own. When I didn't have one, I just couldn't justify it, given my limited interest in cooking and baking. It's a little elitist, but I believe that the good tools should really go to the people who can appreciate them, people who love what they can do with them.

Mine actually came to live with me through a very happy circumstance: my dad bought my mother a new Kitchen Aid stand mixer. One with more features and a nicer bowl. And that left mom with one mixer too many and not enough space to store both of them. The old one still ran fine and it came with all the wonderful memories of baking with my mother while I was growing up. Years of making sugar cookie dough for Christmas, cupcakes for birthdays at school, fresh bread, fresh whipped cream fo strawberry shortcake. And not a few batches of chocolate chip cookies. This, my friends, is a mixer with good vibes. It probably should have gone to my brother (who is actually an awesome cook), but I called it first. And I'm the oldest. And I snuck it out to my car almost before mom had finished unwrapping her new machine. You gotta be fast in my family.

She's not pretty, but she's wonderful. And she's solid like a rock, even after how many years. You want to see the proof?

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The Mixer Takes on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

This mixer can take on a double bach of chocolate chip cookie dough without blinking an eye. It sneers in the face of the addition of walnuts and a few extra chips. I don't actually like to do much in the kitchen, but I do like to make cookies. And if this mixer has anything, it has definite good cookie making karma.

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The Results of a Mixer's Love

And it helped me make some pretty awesome cookies tonight.

Every now and again, I do feel a little guilty about having this mixer. Not for denying my brother the real cook the chance to have this machine (you don't need to feel sorry for him, he got my mothers fabulous old Le Cruset pots when she upgraded), but because my mother's new machine didn't turn out to be made of the same great stuff as this one is. Apparently the newer ones have a lot more plastic parts. She'd only had it for a year or so when one of them broke while she was asking the mixer to work hard. It just seemed so wrong for that to happen.

But, hey, I called no give backs...

For anyone worried, my wonderful father got that part replaced quickly. And my mom gets visitation rights. But it does make you realize that they don't build things like they used to...

Unusual Postures

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I must admit. Today I am engaging in a bit of blatant theft. I have nothing to show for my day (not entirely true, there is a little bit of the right front of Liberty that didn't exist before) so I am resorting to a cat picture. The person I am stealing this idea from usually selects cute or devious cat photos. I am just opting for strange.

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Strange Sleeping Postures

After a long hard day of fiber terrorism, Syd has decided that it is time for nap. Not sure how he gets his leg contorted around that way, but somehow he does. I'm constantly amazed by the strange positions my cats can end up sleeping in.

To all of you heading for Rhinebeck this weekend, I'm completely jealous, but wish you all a good time. Take lots of pictures so those of us who don't get to go this year can enjoy the sheepies by proxy!

A Long Weekend in Ann Arbor

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Didn't quite mean to disappear so abruptly, but there wasn't much of significance to talk about last week. Unless you want to hear about our exciting attempts to book hotels in Maui or make plans for a weekend visit to Cedar Point. If you know of something excellent that we can't leave Maui without doing, please let me know. We're going to be there for 10 days, so we have a lot of time to explore the island.

After a long weekend of family and roller coasters, you'd think that there would be pictures. But, actually, this blogger left her camera at home and just went along with the ride. Literally and figuratively. I watched my husband ride every crazy ride in the park, got to see some very cute little boys who are the sons of one of my brother's good friends, and realized that I don't do very well with heights. I broke through a new roller coaster barrier -- I went on one that rotated me upside-down (the Raptor) but didn't quite convince myself to be brave enough to try either the Magnum XL-200 or the Millenium Force.

And I finished my goals for last weekend, finally. I have a completed scarf and a fully spun single. But the scarf isn't blocked and the single isn't plied, so no pictures have been taken. Monday should be a better day for progress on those fronts.

If you need a little thrill, click on the link for the Raptor and check out the video. You can get a first-car's eye view of the ride without having to head to Sandusky!

The Plot Thickens

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Mystery Box with Friend

My mystery box got a new friend today, courtesy of the very nice people at Copper Moose The plot thickens...

P.S. The kindness of the community has helped Emma and Oliver with the first of the items he needs to stay in motion. Read all about the progress here. I am always impressed by the generosity of this crafty community.

Good Deeds

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I know, I know -- two posts in a day, how unusual for the Keyboard Biologist. But this one's important. If you only read one today, make sure this is the one.

When I first got into blogging (my three year blog-iversary is almost here, if you consider my first very lame post an entry) and got myself situated in the ring, I was incredibly fortunate to land right next to Emma. She emailed me to introduce herself as my blog neighbor and as I did more and more knitting, she was always leaving a note of encouragement to spur me on to try new things and feel good about what I had accomplished. If you travelled around the ring enough, you realized that she was doing that for many more people than me. There is almost nothing more precious to receive than the gift of someone's time. And Emma has always been generous to me and to many others with her time and her inspirational good wishes.

She also has been known, for numerous random acts of kindness, long before there was a blog ring to support the activity. I will never forget the thrill of opening up a package from Emma that contained two skeins of wonderful Opal sock yarn to encourage me to not be afraid of socks. What kind of person sends gifts to someone she has never met just to be kind and encouraging? Even my husband was touched. And he got a great pair of socks out of it!

Emma and her beautiful son Oliver are facing the challenge of finding him the right equipment as he grows and strives to become more independent and mobile. I consider Emma to be an important part of my community and life and I'd like to encourage you, if you have the means, to consider helping this lovely and generous knitter and friend. Just click the button below or in my side bar.

Can You Guess?

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Mystery Box

What this box of goodies is all about?

Fingering Weight Cormo

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I had fun yesterday reading both the sympathetic comments with regards to the klutz aspect of my life and the possible suggestions for how to make something for John out of the blue/green Cormo and silk.

Socks are an interesting thought, but I have a feeling that my wonderful hubster would just wear right through them. He's not very gentle on his socks -- which is to say, if he loves a pair, he will love them to death. He will wear them all over the house and wear them constantly. I have a feeling that the cormo/silk combination would not hold up to his love and devotion. Not to mention the fact that I might accidentally felt them in the wash. But that does bring up an interesting point... are there fiber sources out there that contain superwash wool and a bit of nylon for strength. Or is this something that the intrepid handspinner has to blend herself?

The fingerless mitt idea could be an interesting one. Unfortunately, I've only got about 4 oz of the blue/green roving (and some of it went to an earlier spinning attempt) so I'm not sure there's enough for a scarf. I thought about trying to finally give him the head band he's been asking for, but then the washability problem rears it's ugly head again.

Moral of this story... when buying wonderful fibers, be sure to figure out how many ounces are likely to be required for a reasonable size project.

And to answer Marti, who wondered if I did all this on a drop spindle, the answer is "yes". I'm still not wheel enabled. I actually like the rhythm of working with the drop spindle, and now that I've had some time to get the basics down, I'm thinking that I need to go back and see if I can't figure out how to convince my fingers to spin something that's bigger than lace weight.

Not Such a Good Morning

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Just wanted to say that my thoughts and hopes go out to all of you in the London area and all of the UK today. What terrible news to wake up to on this side of the pond.

I know that there are a number of people who "dropped by" my blog and let me know they were from the London area. Stay safe, friends.

Compare and Contrast

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Yesterday Claudia asked for a review of the new camera. Because no scientist can resist an experiment I set about doing the first test of the two devices: color in natural light and under flash conditions, with the cameras set to "auto" so that the electronics could select what it thought was the best option for the pictures. The outdoor test was on my back porch in late afternoon light, lots of cloud cover, but no flash required by either camera. The indoor test under one of my standard picture taking scenarios -- under the Ott lamp on my desk at night in a reasonably well lit room. Both cameras used the flash indoors at night. I tried to select a scene with a wide variety of colors to get a sense for whether or not either camera had a "push".

Outdoors
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Outdoors with the Nikon CoolPix
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Outdoors with the Sony Cybershot

The first thing you will notice (at least I did), is that the Sony is noticeably brighter. To me, the darker colors (such as the blue skein in the bowl) look a little washed out and the deeper purples in the yarn and in the dyed roving dont come out very well. The light yellow roving in the bowl is "blooming" in the Sony shot as well, even though the lighting is dull and there is no flash.

On the other hand, the Nikon is a little over the top with the reds and tends to make them a bit oversaturated looking compared to their real life colors. The Nikon shot is also a little darker than true life.

Indoors
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Nikon CoolPix Indoors
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Sony Cybershot Indoors

The dark and light issues that I noted in the outdoor shots persist here. In fact, if I didn't know better I'd wonder if the Nikon was really even using it's flash. The Sony handles the yellows better in this setting, and the reds are truer to life, but rich blues and greens just don't come across that way (for instance, the blue in the roving is really more deep teal).

Macro Mode, Indoors
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Nikon CoolPix Macro Mode, Indoors
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Sony CyberShot Macro Mode, Indoors

For a final test, I used the macro modes on each camera indoors (macro mode is the way you get your camera to focus correctly for very close up shots). This set amplifies the faults of both cameras. The reds are a little too red and some of the blues are too purple in the Nikon picture and the saturated blues are a little too washed out in the Sony. In truth, the actual color of this little bit of handspun is somewhere between these two pictures. If I had to pick one of these as representative, I would probably pick the Sony shot.

And speaking of handspun... that spindleful is important for two reasons... 1) it's from the batch of Blue Faced Leicester that Julie and I dyed up a while back and 2) it marks the first stuff I've spun using a drop spindle as a drop spindle (there would be pictures, but the husband is off busily researching how to tweak the Sony to deal with it's color and lightness issues better). I might actually be getting the hand of this spinning stuff, folks. A testimony to the what you can do with a little bit of persistence and a couple of good and patient teachers. This yarn is a little uneven, but is definitely a lot more under control than my earlier efforts. And I now know why so many folks rave about the Blue Faced Leicester. Definitely nice stuff to play with!

Mr. Zodiac meet Mr. CyberShot

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It appears that I am awash in lovely new toys. My husband, the ultimate bargain shopper and all around greatest guy ever, found an electronic device in desperate need of a new home. Since we worry a great deal about the fate of small and homeless electronic devices, John decided that it was time to embark on another adoption. Since it comes so closely on the heels of the arrival of the Tapwave Zodiac2, and we didn't want to upset its settling in process, I had to make sure that a proper introduction was made.

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New Technology Introduction>

So far, the Sony CyberShot DSC-T1 seems to be getting along famously -- with both the Zodiac and my husband. I have a feeling that the real rivalry is going to be between the new kid on the block and my sturdy old Nikon CoolPix880.

As to me, I'm in love with the idea of having a purse-friendly camera, but will definitely have to see how it stacks up against my Nikon when I have some bright sunlight to test things out in.

I had a very nice weekend with my parents in Ann Arbor. There's something wonderful about going there, with nothing planned, doing very little besides knitting, spinning and visiting some local nurserys to take a look at perennials for my mother's garden. We told my dad, when we got there, that in honor of Father's Day, we had brought no "dress up" clothes with us and weren't going to plan any major outings. This was, apparently, just the kind of weekend Dad was hoping to have.

I did get one small project finished, along with a little spinning, but that will have to wait until the light is better.

In the meantime, I've also been quite negligent about acknowledging all the very nice people who have stopped by to tell me where they are from. So I think now is a very good time to re-habilitate my...

Blog of the Day

With a trip to visit Dani at Knit, Stitch, Click. Dani is a Canadian scientist with a very lovely rendition of Frieda from one of the recent Debbie Bliss books. Very happy big cables with a gorgeous sleeve detail -- and some pointers about how to deal with the finishing work.

Can't Blog Now...

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I'm playing with a new toy...

A Little Piece of Geek Girl Heaven

Thank goodness for husbands who enter to win goodies at conferences. Bluetooth and WiFi enabled, friends and neighbors. And the most beautiful screen I've ever seen on a Palm-based device.

Could it be time to do some more Palm programming.... hmmmmm....

Kim Hargreaves Winter Blooms

I like this set a good deal better than the first set of offerings. Particularly Dew and Hawthorn.

Such a shame they only come in kit form.

A Little Yellow to Go With the Pink

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No knitting to show off today, instead I have to show off the treasures I picked up at City Soles, my favorite shoe store in Chicago. John and I have been trying to walk more now that it's warming up, and I decided that I needed a fun pair of hip urban athletically-styled shoes. You should all know that while I know what I like when it comes to shoes, I have absolutely no deep shoe brand knowledge beyond the ones that I hear about watching Sex and the City reruns. Since I have yet to see Carrie Bradshaw discuss urban walking shoes I was on my own. But I think I did pretty well.

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Tsubos

Originally, smitten with all the orange I've run across on a certain blog, I wanted the pair with the orange laces, stripes and camoflauge accents. But the only size they had left was a 6.5, which is a bit small for me -- apparently orange is in this year.

"No surprise," says the hip funky salesguy, "they're Tsubos, after all".

So I opted for the yellow instead, surprised that I'd actually come to agreement with others on what is hip and trendy, and because not only are they fun and cute, but they are also delightfully comfortable and wonderful for walking -- form meets function.

I can only hope that the Manolo, were the Manolo to be into these sort of shoes, would find them to be super fantastic. I'm hoping they go nicely with a pink spongy sweater.

If I Lead With A Cat Picture...

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...then I must not have too much knitting to talk about. It's always hard for me to get much knitting in on "date night". John and I met on a Wednesday and since then, with only a few exceptions for business trips, we always have a date on Wednesday. Tonight we made our second trip to a great new restaurant north of us on Damen, Hot Chocolate. As the name implies, they emphasize dessert and chocolate beverages. But they also have quite a lovely selection of dinner options and cheeses as well -- I had a pork chop, polenta and mushroom frickasee that was just to die for.

But only managed to get in a few more rows on the Ruffly Fusilli scarf. So I'll open and close with a the funniest thing I saw this evening.

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Beezle in a Basket

It doesn't seem that funny until you realize just how small this basket is. The Beeze has tucked himself into a basket less than 12" long and 6" wide -- a pretty impressive feat for a twelve pound fur ball. This is the same basket that I showed off that lovely Shetland wool in last week. Definitely not a large space! Sometimes it's truly amazing what he will squeeze himself into.

Creative Container

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I would like to be able to say that I was so busy doing creative things that I didn't have time to post. The truth, of course, is that I have been so busy doing un-creative work-related things that I didn't have time to post.

Fortunately, my entirely creative father has provided me with something wonderful to share while I try to find some spare time to click my needles together again.

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What Could This Be?

Very pretty, don't you think? And very functional and handy.

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Glorious Hand-Turned Yarn Tool Holder

This lovely bit of functional woody art resulted from a discussion I had with my Dad when he and my Mom last came for a visit a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping he could make me another hand-turned knitting needle container. Little did I know what coolness would result from the request. It holds a myriad of knitting needles and crochet hooks in an easily accessible way. The biggest holes can actually take on US size 15s! In this picture, it's holding almost my entire straight needle collection (minus some of the jinormous needles I have) and there is still room for a bit more.

And what did I do when I saw this wonderful thing? I immediately asked if he could help me find an easily accessible way to deal with my double pointed needle sets. I have high hopes for another creating and stunningly beautiful solution.

Thanks, Dad!

Geek Tweak

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No new knitting to talk about because four the last 24 hours I've been spending most of my free time trying to figure out how to get BookQueueToo installed properly with MT.

I've always been a little jealous of those TypePad folks who can easily post their current reading list. SixApart obviously does a lot of nice things for the bloggers they host. I like to read Six Apart's Professional Network blog to help me keep up with new widgets, ideas and interesting plugins for MT. And there was BookQueueToo -- my opportunity to add a book list to my blog site.

Of course, nothing comes without a little pain. I've had to ask my webhost (AddAction.com) to add a Perl module (which they did within 15 minutes of my request -- how's that for good service?). I've had to install some Perl modules in my local MT libraries (I have not quite been able to finish this to my satisfaction yet, but it's coming) and I had to find a problem in my MT config that I didn't know was a problem until today. I also had to register for some things at Amazon.com in order to be able to use their book search services.

Then I had to figure out how to add books to the list (very easy, very cool, all based on Amazon searching) and add the right tags to my template so that the books I am now reading can be seen (you can see it in the far right column, above my list of current projects, complete with pictures of the books).

I feel like I've had a tech-y victory. And you know, I didn't want to go to bed early anyway.

P.S. I'm off to see my brother in Texas (yes, a Red State, I know, but he's employed and happily married, and makes a mean creme brulee, so one has to make a few sacrifices) for the week of Thanksgiving. Not sure how regular my posting will be next week...

Chicago Election -- Retaining Judges

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One of the most complicated things (I think) about voting in Chicago (and probably in Illinois) is dealing with the retention of judges. It's part of our voting process here. One of the things I will be taking with me this morning to the polls is The Chicago Council of Lawyers Judge Evaluations (you can find the full report here and the short version to take to the polls here).

While the presidential election is definitely important, this judicial retention vote should be taken seriously, too. Judges need to receive 60% of the vote to be retained. And there are some people who definitely don't deserve to be retained (Like Dorothy Jones, who impeded the adoption process for two same-sex couples because she doesn't believe in adoption for same-sex couples, and it is perfectly legal in Illinois for same sex couples to adopt.)

The Chicago Bar Association also has a recommendation list. You can find it here

New Magazines and Little Knitting

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You know your day is not starting like you planned it when your husband reaches over in the morning, taps you on the shoulder and say "Hey, Treese, did you know it's after 10?". Not that you're surprised, mind you, you do remember hitting the snooze alarm on your clock radio about 47 times. But you don't really remember telling yourself that you were allowed to sleep for an extra 2 and a half hours. (Lest you think my husband was doing any better, I must disclose that he was as neck deep in the covers as I was when he helped me to realize what time it was).

Fortunately, the rest of the day got better -- at least from a being on time and getting things done perspective. But because I was busy trying to make up for lost time, the knitting perspective didn't get much attention before John and I set out on our weekly date. While our trip to Tommy Nevin's in Evanston was pretty disappointing (sad for us, since Nevin's was one of the places John and I went on the night that we met in person for the first time) my little trip into the local Borders proved more fruitful.

I picked up three knitting/crochet to look through at my leisure at home: the IK special Crochet Issue(it's been out for a while, but it's been a while since I've been in a bookstore -- what sold me was a pillow design by Valentina Devine), InKnitters (which has a nice article on short rows and modular knitting and, unusually enough, even a couple of patterns for garments that I might actually wear) and Vogue Knitting. I almost didn't pick up the VK because the cover looked so un-knitterly that I thought it was some other fiber fashion magazine and actually ignored the title (which is also in a different font than my last copy of VK) until my brain reminded me that it would be strange for a non-knitting mag to be placed right next to a stack of Interweave Knits.

I haven't looked through any of them in detail yet, but I have high hopes for all three of them at this point -- and I've heard rumors that there are good things in the winter IK.

But what am I most excited about right now? For the first time in a month I'm going to be able to go KIP at Letizia's tonight. I feel like it's been almost forever since I last went.

P.S. UPS just left us a nice note to say that my new laptop hard drive is here... soon soon soon I will have access to the things on my desktop computer and be able to get all the emails from people who sent me entries for the Where in the World Contest. It makes me crazy when I have computer problems... but this one should be resolved very soon.

Presents from Poland

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My father-in-law recently returned from southern Poland (you can also find more interesting info about Poland here) where he was visiting family and friends. My husband and his family are from a small village in the Carpathian Mountains near Zakopane. John and his family are Goral or "Highlanders". John isn't terribly traditional, but being married to him has been an immersion into a whole host of interesting traditions and experiences.

What fascinates me the most, however, is the clothing and textiles that this primarily shepherding culture created for themselves.

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Doll in Traditional Dress and Shearling Slippers

The doll in the picture is wearing something similar to the traditional dress of Highlander girls and women. To get a look at the clothing the men and boys wear, you can see a few examples here and in this fabulous photo album of traditional clothing.

The wonderfully detailed capes and pants that the men wear and vests that are part of the women's outfits are all made of wool. A great deal of work by skilled craftspeople goes into the creation of these garments. According to my husband, a pair of the traditional pants can cost $400 -- even in Poland -- and they are a very special gift for an American Goral.

When I look at the women's vests, with their elaborate floral designs, I can't help but think that it would be interesting to come up with a felted version where the designs were created with intarsia. I've looked all over the place for charts of the designs or books that describe the designs and their symbolism, but I haven't come up with very much. John has asked around a bit for me, but no one has been able to point him to anything.

So I was wondering if anyone out there might know of any place that I could find patterns for these vests or designs -- or other traditional Polish garment designs -- charted or not. Polish charts and instructions are just fine, because John can translate for me if knowledge of Polish is required. Polish craft sites are great, too! I'm open to anything that might help me track down something useful.

P.S. Thanks for all the compliments on Salt Peanuts -- y'all are too kind! If anyone out there is doing/going to do this sweater and I can help you in any way, let me know. I'm happy to share any details that might help you along!

New Inspiration (Or Following Trends)

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Salt Peanuts and I are having a bit of a snit right at the moment. And the tiff really isn't to be blamed on the sweater at all, but, instead, on my ability to deal with complex and somewhat unclear instructions. I can work with either complex or unclear instructions independently, but the two combined are too much of a match for me. At least tonight.

If anyone else is working on Salt Peanuts, there was/is a knit-a-long group who worked on this sweater a while back (I can't tell if the knit-a-long is active or not). One of their members posted a very helpful page that offers suggestions and instruction interpretation. You can find it here.

Of course, the finishing of the Filigree Lace Jacket (my fussy sweater is gently blocking under a cold spritz right now) and reaching the greater than half way mark with Salt Peanuts (a sleeve, the back and almost one of the fronts) has gotten me thinking about what will come next.

Lately, I've seen a number of bloggers (Steph and Julie in particular) talking about Butterfly, a Jane Ellison creation from her new Noro Knits book. I love the shape of this sweater, and seeing the waves and stripes in the back of Julie's Butterfly just put me over the top with the need to add this sweater to my wardrobe.

But I really didn't want to spend a bazillion dollars on Kureyon. Not that I am above spending a lot of money on yarn for a sweater, but I am really trying to be good right now. Enter Wool Needle Works in Canada. Check this out.... $5.79/skein for Kureyon. How can you beat that when it's more than $9/skein in most places in Chicago? So now I have 14 skeins of Kureyon in color 90 winging (or rather surfacing, becauase I was too cheap to spring for the "air mail" postage from Canada) its way to me. Supposedly it's already shipped, so now all I have to do is be patient....

...and finish Salt Peanuts....

...and think about my poor neglected Audrey....

...and wonder when I am going to finish all those unmated socks...

Happy Labor Day Weekend to Everyone!

Think Pink

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Pink Swatches Abound

What a wonderful weekend I had! We just got back from Ann Arbor about 15 minutes ago. I have so much to "show and tell," but since it's late and I'm a little tired, I'll kick off the week by introducing some swatches that came to life this weekend. Believe it or not, they are the better part of the knitting that I have to show for the weekend. I just wasn't inspired enough to work on either of the top projects I've got started.

The swatch on the top is Phil'Eponge in Camelia. It is the setup for this project. As with all other Phildar swatches that I've set out to make, this one took not one, not two, but three -- yes, three - swatching attempts. The pattern calls for 3.0 mm, which I started with. I ended up with mostly acceptable row gauge on 3.5 mm, but not until after testing out 3.25 mm needles as well. In truth, even with the 3.5 mm needles I am probably a hair short of perfect row gauge, but I think the jump to a 4.0 mm needle would overshoot in the other direction.

What have I learned from this and my other two Phildar experiences? I should just automatically swatch for all my Phildar projects on two needle sizes higher than recommended in the pattern rather than hoping against hope that I am suddenly going to knit loosely enough on the recommended needles. On the positive side, at least Phildar and I are consistent in our tensioning differences.

Phil'Eponge is an interesting yarn to work with. It's an elastic-y yarn with a little stretch to go with the cotton boucle texture. It's not the gentlist yarn on the fingers, but it's not dreadful either. The fabric will certainlly be nice against the skin, and the cotton acrylic blend of the yarn ensures that it can be warn that way since it is machine washable.

That other pink swatch (in very exotic Lion Brand Woolease) is my first attempt at a "domino" a la Vivian Hoxbro. Why the sudden interest in Domino Knitting? I'm not going to share that secret yet, but more will be revealed as the week progresses.

Rebooting the System

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While I was flying around on airplanes last week, one of the legs of my journey was on a commuter jet. After boarding the airplane and getting settled in, the steward announced that they were having a problem with the computer and they were going to have to reboot the aircraft. So they got some technician on board, powered down the plane (I'd never seen the emergency floor lights on before) and re-started everything. And then we were ready to go.

Late last week I was feeling kind of down and unmotivated and unconnected. It was like something just wasn't working correctly. Or to use a more computer-related term: my software seemed to have gotten into a bad state.

But how do you reboot a person?

Apparently with an overload of sleep. I went do bed around midnight Friday night and got up at almost 1 pm on Saturday. When I woke up I felt like the whole world had changed. Suddenly I was motivated to knit and I felt connected again.

Armed with too much energy I decided that it was time to do a little blog renovation. I was pleased to find out that SixApart had changed their licensing costs and terms for the newest version of Movable Type. So I bought myself a real, live license, backed up all my goodies on website and installed the new stuff.

It's still got a few rough edges, but I haven't run into any major bugs, in spite of the fact that it is version 3.01D (for developer's release). I was pleased and excited that it installed easily and had no problems with my templates and styles. But then I started playing with the commenting system. And for some reason, no matter how I changed the configurations, I couldn't get it to accept comments without going through the moderation process.

This was a major bummer. So I flipped off an email to tech support and received almost instantaneous help (as an aside, this happened on Saturday night. The helpful tech support person finished her email dialog with me at 2 am on Sunday morning. How cool is that?) Apparently the MT Blacklist version that I was running was not compatable with MT 3.01D. Disabling Blacklist completely solved the problem. But left me without the ability to control comment spam. Which is bad, because lately I've been getting quite a bit of comment spam almost every day.

Ugh. Ugh. And Ugh again.

So I had two choices: revert back to the older version of MT (which I could do, since I had backed everything up, including my databases) or persevere with the new version, but turn on comment moderation and wait for the new version of MT-Blacklist that is going to be available for MT 3.01D. (For those of you running MT 2.6 and having problems with spam, I cannot say enough about Blacklist. Go get it. Install it. Donate money to help keep the developer able to improve and grow this excellent plugin!)

For right now, I've decided that I am going to live on the edge and play with the new software. I'm a geek girl, after all, and I like trying out new toys, even if they are not quite perfect. This means that when you leave a comment, you won't see it show up on the blog immediately. I will get an email and then I will have to approve the comment. I hope this won't deter anyone from leaving comments. Please understand that the only comments I will block are SPAM comments. As soon as the new version of Blacklist is ready and installed, I will turn off all comment moderation again.

After getting all my new software toys installed, I turned my attention to the front side of my Phil Ruban top. I would post another picture, but it looks almost exactly like the one in this post. I haven't gotten to the neck shaping yet, so it doesn't make for very entralling blogging.

John and I also got to take in Venetian Night, an annual Chicago tradition sponsored by the Columbia Yacht club. There weren't as many boats as we expected, but the fireworks were awesome. I had hoped to have pictures. I even brought the camera. But digital cameras work a lot better when you remember to bring a compact flash card to store your pictures on.

A Brief Note

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Just want to wish everyone a good weekend. My business trip went well, and I even got some time to knit on the airplane, but I just didn't have enough time to put a post together. I'm going to be offline again Monday and Tuesday of next week but will be back on my regular schedule after that as I have no travel plans at all for August -- except perhaps a trip to visit my parents in Ann Arbor and take a quick trip up to Lansing to visit the new ThreadBear location.

Cleaning Up My Act

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While I work away on my Chai top (I decided to opt for a crochet edging due to issues of both yarn sufficiency and some concern that gravity might not play nicely with this yarn and the extra weight at the hemline), I thought I would show off the other accomplishment of my weekend: cleaning up my yarn room.

How could I possibly consider such a relatively simple thing to be an accomplishment.... well, just feast your eyes on the before pictures:

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Southwest Corner


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Northwest Corner

Holey moley there was yarn, clutter and general disorganization everywhere. Even a happy slob like me couldn't quite cope with the chaos anymore. An hour or so later, I could actually work in the room again! Clicking on the pictures will give you the shots of the room after I was done (this little demonstration really calls for rollovers, but it's late and I'm not feeling like searching the internet for the code to do it).

Now I can actually use my blocking board again, and admire all that fun French yarn. Good inspriation for the next project while I'm finishing up the Chai top.

P.S. My new Interweave Knits arrived today. I'm not overwhelmed with excitement (at least not yet), but I did like the vertically striped scarf done with Schaefer Yarns Anne (a hand dyed sock weight yarn). I have this lovely skein of Anne that is sitting in my closet waiting for its destiny (it just seems too nice for socks) and I think it would be fun to learn how to make those vertical stripes happen

Light Reading and Sheepy Humor

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Can you believe that I am going on two straight picture free days? I have been making a little progress on my Chai top -- hopefully after I post here, I'll be able to bind off the ruffle on the front piece, then I'll be on to a little blocking and assembly adventure before I deal with the sleeve caps.

One thing I treated myself to over the weekend was a copy of the latest SpinOff. I really should just subscribe to this magazine, because for the past year or so I've found it to be a lot more informative and interesting than the knitting focused magazines that I buy. I think I have avoided the subscription committment so far because of the title. I don't think of myself as a spinner (a wanna learn to spinner, perhaps) and thus in some odd way I don't have the creds to subscribe.

I'm not sure why I like this magazine better than some of the others I've picked up. I think because it doesn't have to feature as many projects, it can feature ones with better quality overall. And I enjoy the focus on different kinds of fibers, how they are processed and what their natural behaviors are. And generally speaking, they have good technical articles (at least good enough to teach me something).

What did I like this month?

Well, the reason that I bought the mag was the article from the woman who taught my knitted doll making class last year. She didn't say much that she didn't say in class, but I think her dolls are wonderful. I do wish they'd put some of the pictures in of her knitted fish. I was so impressed with them when I saw them in person. They were clever and fun and artistic all at the same time.

Also of significant interest to me was the short article on lucetting. I have my lovely lucet, but haven't had such a good time getting started with it. The article on lucetting, combined with the article on Bosnian crochet, went a long way towards helping me understand why I might be fighting my own thread or yarn. And now I need to go out and find out exactly what Z and S twists are....

And if you're into felting/fulling, there's a lovely little pattern for knitted containers. They had an earlier issue that featured fulled bowls created by knitting with roving.

And speaking of roving.... click this link to see the pre-cursor to roving roving in a very unusual way. (Link found by my hubster who just loves poke some humor into my fibery ways). Happy Tuedsay!

My Father's Daughter

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I have to admit a small felony today -- I stole the title for today's post from Emma, who, in a recent post, was remembering her father's passing. I hope she won't mind, as I do mean it in a very serious and respectful way, in spite of the main subject of this post.

I am the daugher of an engineer. In fact, I am surrounded by them -- my father, husband, brother and brother-in-law are all in different flavors of the profession (automotive, computational, chemical and mechanical). For those of you not blessed with an engineer in your family, let me just say that engineers are born, not made. It's in the DNA to want to do what they do. They grow up knowing that eventually their compulsive need to push every button, twist every knob and flip every switch will lead them to a dorm room with a large number of math and physics books in a program where there is a 5:1 ratio of guys to girls and where there is a very good chance that they will be in school for five years and still not get to take any electives. And it doesn't bother them at all. So what happens when you cross an engineer with an English/drama major? Well, you get a biologist with a penchant for computers. And mechanical toys.

My dad has his tractor (and I must admit that it is very fun to drive it around a bit) and since I have taken up knitting again, I have developed a significant curiosity about knitting machines (I also have an unnatural affection for Palm devices and expensive laptops, but that's a subject for another time). Now, I didn't want anything complicated or expensive to start out with. Just because I like hand-knitting, I figured, didn't guarantee that I would like knitting with a machine. Or that I would want to maintain a machine. So I figured I needed to acquire a machine in a manner that wouldn't cost me very much if I decided that I hated it.

Enter the 40% off coupon at JoAnn's and the Bond Universal Sweater Machine.

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How Could You Not Want Something that was "Seen on TV"?

Hmmm... What could be inside this mysterious box?

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Parts and Yummy Acrylic Test Yarn

Interesting metal pieces and another mysterious box of goodies.

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Lots of Little Things for My Cats to Run Off With

Now, this leads me to a way for you to be able to tell that I am not a real engineer, in spite of my genetics. You'll notice that this machine comes with a handy dandy video tape with instructions you can watch. So far so good. But someone's house is just a little too high tech to actually have a VCR that is plugged in and usable. Now, I could have gone downstairs, tried to figure out where our VCR is and tried to get it plugged in and working. A real engineer, in fact, would not have been able to go to sleep at night knowing that they had been thwarted by outdated technology. Instead, I pulled out the tape, and waited for John to get home. "Do you know how I could watch this?"

My dad would tell you that this behaviour demonstrates clearly what I really am -- the antithesis of all that is engineering orientied -- management. (This is a long running joke in my family...so don't take it as an offense. Besides, in real life I actually am in management...)

Hopefully over the weekend I will convince my engineer to reinstate an ancient piece of equipment. In the meantime, I will probably go pull all the pieces out and sit behind my husband in our office and make interesting noises. Because if there is one thing an engineer can't resist it's a new machine.

(If anyone has any experience with this machine and would like to share it, I would love to hear any tips and tricks!)

Handheld Knitting Tools

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No knitting update today. I am getting perilously close to the armholes of my Onde top. Perhaps over the weekend I will achieve another victory.

What have I been doing instead of knitting lately? Well, I've been programming. What kind of programming have I been doing? I've been writing programs that work on these:

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Palm OS Handheld Devices

I actually carry the one on the right around with me all day (it's a Kyocera 7135) and I feel a little bit lost and unhappy when I don't have my trusted Palm around me remembering important things for me.

Now, why am I bringing this up on a knitting blog? Well, I have to do a programming project for my class that involves developing a brand-new application for one fo these little devices.

There are already a number of applications out there for knitting...

CountAble (which I already own) is a wonderful and flexible row counting/pattern interval counting tool -- perfect for when you're doing that complicated Starmore Aran.

The same company also makes KnitAble which contains both ways to database your knitting information as well as helpful conversion tools. I don't have this software because it didn't connect things exactly the way I wanted them, but it's still a nice piece of software.

So my question is this.... can you think of a nice, small piece of software for knitting that would be handy to have on a handheld? Ideally, programs for handhelds should be small and focused on one thing they are trying to do.

Any ideas? If you come up with a good one and I decide to implement it, there will definitely be a little something in it for you...

Friday Frustration

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Well. I took my Phil'Onde to the KIP tonight in hopes of swatching for "Le Pull" from the Phildar Famille book.

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Phildar: Le Pull

It was the sweater that Phildar made available for free for a while. (They have a new free pattern that also uses Phil'Onde but is in the Tendences magazine. You have to go to the French Version of Phildar's website to find it.)

I didn't look very carefully at the pattern translation. I saw "US 5 needles" and so pulled those out and began my swatch. This pattern calls for 24 stitches and 26 rows over 4". I got way too many rows/inch.

Then I looked back at the pattern translation and realized that they were calling for a 4 mm needle. A US 5 is only 3.75 mm. So I breathed a short-lived sigh of relief, ripped out my swatch and cast back on using a US 6 (which can be a 4.0 mm or 4.25 mm needle).

Still too many rows per inch. Rip. Rip. Rip. Rip. Back into the box with the 6's.

Now I'm working on a swatch with US 7.0 mm (4.5 mm). It's looking like it has more promise, but I won't know until I get a few more rows in. The pattern specifies that I am supposed to knit loosely. I guess they weren't kidding.

Maybe I'll go back to lace and socks...

Happy Easter to those who celebrate. To all others, a happy weekend to you!

Audrey Knit-Along

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It's been a busy week so far Chez KeyboardBiologist. And believe it or not, almost none of the busy-ness has had anything to do with knitting. Instead, with the help of Becky, Morgan and Elisabeth, I've been involved in getting ready to launch something that I am really, really, really excited about. And even more fun, the wait is over. It's time to spill the beans on the Audrey Knit-Along!

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No April Fool's joke here! In addition to Knitting Along with us, we're also hoping that the participants will want to blog along with us. No blog experience is required and there will be plenty of fun stuff going on as we work our way towards a beautiful sweater. We hope the end result will be a very comprehensive resource for others who want to tackle this project. If you've never tried blogging before, here's your chance to try it out in a friendly environment.

Expect plenty of knitting tech talk, 50's glam talk, fashion discussion and other good stuff. There's even going to be a few special surprises for the participants along the way.

There's always time to join up! Just click the button above or in my side bar and it will take you directly to the blog page with info about how to get started with us. Even if you don't want to blog, we'd love to have you along!

P.S. No knitting to show today... but I'll be back in action tomorrow!

P.P.S. Apparently blogging and knitting along is all the rage -- if you're interested in a different sort of project, you can also check out the Everyday Cardigan Knit-a-Long

Odds and Ends

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Let me make one thing clear about my knitting: I'm pretty selfish. I really like to knit for me. Some of this is because I rarely say to myself "Gee, thanks, it's... uh, so interesting..." when I try on a finished piece. But some of it is just that I love giving myself presents. There, I've admitted it. I'm most definitely a material girl.

So when the holidays come, I always have the best of intentions. Sweaters and scarves and bags and socks for other people fill my head. But completing these projects becomes difficult unless I have a little bribery for myself. Usually I "let" myself work on my bribery project after I've done something on the projects I am supposed to (and really do want to) do. Currently, that bribery project is Bonne Marie's Bucket-o-Chic. After making a little more progress on the Ibis scarf for John's mom (pretty scarf, not so exciting knitting) and seaming the shoulders of the Holographic Cardigan (I meant to go farther but got too frustrated by matching the garter stitch stripes), I decided that I could work a little on the bucket. I'm about 1/2-way through the band now. I'd post a picture, but a 18 stitch by 45 row strip of stockinette in greenish yarn looks exactly as you'd expect it to.

I so appreciate all the nice comments and helpful suggestions for Chicago. Steph pointed out that Dritz makes some magnetic closures. I think I am going to look into those. When I desgined the bag, I really wanted the contrasting flap to be set off against the background of the bag and I didn't want any other ornament other than the triangle bisecting what was originally supposed to be a hemi-circle. I'll be gettings started on a 3/4 sized version, too. It may be narrower and taller or it may be the same, just scaled down. I'm not very good at knitting anything more than once, so I may alter it just to keep myself entertained.

Chicago has actually been banging around with me for a while. I originally put together this small test bag in hopes of creating a design for the winter issue of Knitty.

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Don't Stick Your Tongue Out

The flap was hopelessly awful, but I liked the shaping. The strap was just garter stitch. I wouldn't have the double i-cord strap idea until taking a shower a few months later. It didn't go to Knitty because I am not very good at working to deadlines with my knitting (I have a job and a masters thesis if I want to do things on a schedule... knitting is about relaxing not about stressing about due dates) and because part of the joy of any project (for me at least) is being able to journal about it.

I am not quite sure yet how I will make this pattern available. On one hand, I feel bad about selling it, on the other hand, I would like to sell it in hopes of "funding" future design projects, since I have a few other ideas crashing around in my brain that might want to get out someday. I think the pattern would include instructions for a small, medium and large version with some suggestions for additional modifications. As soon as I know what I am going to do, you'll hear about it here!

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