Thursday, January 31, 2008

Random snowy Thursday

Whole lot of snow today. I've found that part of being around the house more means that I'm privy to the secret life of the cats, which involves a lot of watching squirrels on the porch.
I've been referring to the big sliding glass doors as cat reality TV and lately? It's all about the Squirrel Channel. Squirrels in the birdfeeder, squirrels on the railing, squirrels running around on the porch ... Angus and Spoot and Mab can't get enough. I found some field corn in an already-harvested field around here, and brought a sack back for the squirrels and birds in the name of entertaining the cats.
(although I've been wondering, as I watch the hairy beasts hoover down expensive birdseed - does the kind of birdseed with red pepper on it do anything to keep squirrels away as the package promises? I saw some at the store today and if it works, it would solve some problems around here.)

The other thing I've been doing more of lately is quilting. Again, the cats are fans. I got an idea for a batik quilt in my head the other day and wasn't able to get it out, so I had to drop everything and go to the basement for a couple hours to start on it.
Angus joined me. Whenever I tried to pull a piece of fabric out from under him that I needed, he grabbed my hand with his paws and tried to bite me. Fun times.

Oh! One last thing. We got nominated for a "You Made My Day" award by Needledancer (sorry; can't get blog link to work - grr.) Which is really really sweet and, well, thanks!

Monday, January 28, 2008

You've got to go hear this band

If you haven't heard of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and you like old-time stringband music, you should go look them up.
If you don't know anything about old-time stringband music, you should definitely go look them up. They focus on the music of North and South Carolina and are a whole lot of fun to watch on stage. (Their schedule is online, and I really think if you look hard, you can find a show somewhere near you this year.)
The trio played at the Old Town School of Folk Music Saturday and Sunday nights, and for once, rather than working at the concert, I got to go sit in the audience, at least on Saturday.
Sunday, I was working, and sitting at the merchandise table in the lobby knitting a sock. Rhiannon, who plays banjo and sings and clogs in the band, was on her way out, and asked if I'd seen their manager, because she *needed another ball of yarn from the van.*
It turns out she knits, and although she calls herself a beginner, she was wearing a very nice ribbed scarf and is working on a basketweave afghan that she knits while they're driving from gig to gig in their van.
She got a chance to go to some Chicago yarn shops on Saturday morning, and we talked the general nerdy talk of two knitters meeting in the wild.
So even if you don't know anything about old-time music, you really do need to go check this band out.
Rhiannon needs money for wool.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Haven't you always wanted a monKEY?!

I'm reminded of something the Yarn Harlot said on her last book tour through the Chicago area, where she was talking about the knitting blogosphere being this generally independent-minded place ... "but then everyone swoops left together and knits Clapotis."
These socks definitely fell into that category - fast moving Internet knitting trend.
It's Cookie A's "Monkey" socks pattern and I made mine out of some Fleece Artist Sea Wool I got at Baadeck Yarns in Nova Scotia this summer. I'm in love with all their yarns, so far. Everything I've knitted with has been a delight.

This pattern, while fun, is stretchy along the foot, so it was difficult for me to accurately figure out where to start the toe.
So the darn things are too big, and I'm left debating whether to rip the toe and a half inch of the sock out and knit the toes again, or find someone with bigger feet, or what. Grrr.
But not today.
The Fool is busy making waffles under the supervision of Spoot and Angus, there have been promises of coffee and we are going to the Trad Fest concert at the Old Town School tonight, a three-band old-time music extravaganza (Carolina Chocolate Drops, Garry Harrison, Foghorn String Band), and everyone in town that we know is going to be there, so it's going to be a good time.
Happy Saturday, everyone.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Knitters in the wild!

Last night, the Fool and I drove into Chicago to try to hear Uncle Earl, one of our favorite bands. They're an all-girl old-time band and they're just huge fun. Between the cold and the fact that my company laid me off last week*, we decided we could use some huge fun.
Next time, I'm going to listen to the Fool and call ahead and reserve tickets for the huge fun, because the show was sold out.
So as not to waste the trip into the city (it had snowed and so traffic was bad, too!) we decided to go to Julius Meinl and have hot drinks** and dessert. That's where we saw a whole table of knitters in the wild! We were talking and knitting socks, but didn't go introduce ourselves. ***
But we spotted 'em.

* It's not as bad as it sounds; I didn't like my job much anyway, I was sort of half-assedly looking for something better, my severance package is excellent and I'm going to look for work in either technical writing or book publishing, whichever field will have me. Don't worry. We're fine. We don't have to sell the stash.
** I had this thing which was hot apple cider mixed with blackberry juice -- yum. Definitely worth trying to recreate at home.
*** Due to generally rough day as well as rough week, I was feeling very shy and not like meeting new people at all. Although the Fool was all ready to go bounding over like a big sock knitting golden retriever.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What's the pattern?

The sock pattern is the Aquaphobia socks by Knitfreak, available for free at:

I caved and started a new sock

I've been plugging along determinedly on my existing projects, but Friday I couldn't resist, so I wound up some Lorna's Laces (wild berries) and cast on a project I found on Ravelry, a sock with slipped stitches that the author said was good for breaking up weird flashing and pooling, a characteristic I've found Lorna's Laces to have in abundance. We'll see how these turn out once I get a few more inches in.

I'm enjoying this knit so far and it's making me think it's time to take up the Cat Bordhi socks I put down a few months ago, because the slipped stitch patterns are reminiscent of one another.
The weather warmed up enough to allow snow to fall - now my back yard is covered again. I'm glad we hung the finch feeder up yesterday. No finches yet.
The cats continue their efforts to find the Warmest Spot In The House For A Nap. Here's Angus, curled up on his favorite woolly item - an afghan the Fool's grandmother crocheted long ago. I think we'll keep him.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three-Day Weekend

It is very cold here in Chicago, even for us Chicagoans. I generally like winter weather, but anything less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit annoying, and anything less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit is really quite intolerable. So we spent much of the weekend holed up in our warm house.

On Saturday, I very successfully got a fire going in the wood stove. This was quite an accomplishment for me, because the last time I tried to start a fire, I cursed and swore at the damn thing for several hours, stopping every five minutes or so to go hunt for dry kindling in the yard. In the process, I smoked up the house and gave Meg a headache. I've always been bad at starting fires, even though I was a Boy Scout for many years.

The last time I was at the grocery store, I figured out that many people must lack fire-building skills, because they sell little blocks of fire starter. All you have to do is take a match to it, and it burns clean, hot and long. So I lit one of those and then added a few pieces of wood later, and we had a rip-roaring fire in no time. However, I just learned that some of these fire starters you aren't supposed to use in wood stoves as they have wax that will screw up the catalytic combustor. I don't know if this one had wax in it, but I'm going to make sure that the future ones are approved for wood stoves.

Toilet training with Angus is going well. According to Charles Mingus, the hardest part, moving the litter box from its original home into the bathroom next to the toilet, is over. I'm not really sure I agree with his approach, being that I cannot imagine that teaching a cat to poop in a toilet is easier than moving a litter box across the floor. It strikes me that Charles Mingus was a bit of an odd bird.

I successfully executed step two today, which was to start raising up the litter box by putting it on some books.

Speaking of bathrooms, here's the first coat of paint in the bathroom.

As you can see, it's really quite blue. As intense as the color is, we think we really like it. We're going to give it a few weeks just to make sure, but we're pretty sure that we'll settle into it soon. We had had a dark-green shower curtain up, which we determined was really making the room a bit too dark. This one seems much cheerier. Now all we need are a few lighter-colored towels.

Here is a shot from inside the bathroom, looking out into our green hallway and our antique red kitchen. We believe in bold color choices in this household.

Apparently Angus's newest trick is to bring things up from the basement and give them to us. This evening, Meg and I were sitting in the living room enjoying each other's company when we heard the sound of a cat up to something. We look over the couch to spot Angus carrying a 30-gallon garbage bag in his mouth up from the basement. Perhaps he was trying to tell us that we needed to clean up.

Or maybe he thought we'd enjoy playing with it.

Knitting Again

My commuting time is no longer swept up in working on KnitML. More recently, I've been knitting two-color socks. Meg picked out the colors and pattern.

I'm not sure why I haven't done more two-color knitting. It combines stranded knitting, one of my most favorite techniques, without the hassle of weaving in ends, one of my least favorite techniques. No wonder I can't put them down!

Friday, January 18, 2008


It's not all 6:30 a.m. contra dances and "stop that, Angus!" around here ... I've been knitting.
First up is a pair of mittens for my friend Nikki, who catsat in July while we were in Cape Breton. She really liked this pattern (the Aran mittens from 'Folk Mittens') and I started out trying to knit them in dark gray alpaca.

But as you can see, the cables don't stand out so well, and furthermore, I seem to be knitting them on dpns, which I hate.

Take 2. Old reliable Cascade 220.

Much better. I'm working a show tonight, so I think I'll get more done on these. Note the magic loop thing happening. Much happier.

Finally, I'm working on this baby sweater, the dragon scale one from the 2007 IK Holiday Knits issue. I've got one front nearly done. It's a cool pattern, but I think once will be enough on this one. The directions for decreasing along the front edge in pattern nearly gave me a migraine. On the other hand, I seem to have finally learned the difference between aM1R and a M1L without having to look it up every time, and that is worth the aggravation right there.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Those crazy kids

The Fool and I had an early-morning gig today.
How early?
6:30 a.m. Apparently, at the University of Chicago, there's some midwinter event wherein students get up at the crack of dawn and participate in physical activity. (So far as I can tell.)
Anyway, the folk group that organizes the contra dances got asked to organize, and so they did ... and we got invited to come provide live music with Ezra on banjo, and Ed, who you may remember from earlier entries. (He is lobbying to pick his own pseudonym - he chose Samnath Pileser. I think he's being difficult.)
We were sharing space in the gymnasium with the ballroom dance club (which had recorded music and therefore, we kicked their butts) and with a handful of runners using the track who looked surprised to find an entire old-time string band interfering with their morning exercise.
After the gig, I demanded we stop at the Medici Bakery, because I was hungry and short-tempered, and because the Fool is a smart and prudent man, he agreed. Fresh, warm peach turnover and a cafe au lait. Mmmm.
I dropped the Fool off at work and continued home where I went back to bed.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Busy weekend

Well, one weekend taken up with a medium-sized project.
We started to paint the bathroom.

First, we put blue primer up so the darker blue paint (lupine) will cover better. Even though we had the window open, it still smelled a bit, so we had to leave the bathroom door open and use a fan.
That was fine, except Angus kept stopping by to check up on us every so often.
We didn't mind that too much, because he generally kept out of the way, but then he leapt onto a ledge and got some paint on his paw and left incriminating blue footprints all over the bathroom floor and on the wall.

When I grabbed him and flipped him over in my arms to examine his paws, he bit me.
I had another adventure in which I decided to remove a broken towel rack and a toothbrush holder we never use from the walls. I did OK chiseling out the little wooden pegs and unscrewing the toothbrush holder, but someone decided to use one of those screws with an expanding wall anchor thinger on the towel rack. Couldn't figure out why the thing wouldn't unscrew properly. So I applied brute force, knowing full well that most of the time, when you do that, you end up making more work for yourself. Indeed so. I made a big hole in the drywall and got to demonstrate my mad spackling skillz as I fixed the hole. It looks OK now, though.
The knitting going on these days is mostly sock knitting, finishing up plain pairs in interesting yarns. The problem with this is that I'm never home during daylight hours to take pictures of what I'm knitting.
So instead, I'll leave you with a washed-out picture of the socks the Fool knit for me for Christmas.
Today was their inaugural appearance. I wore them to work.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Socks I've Received

I'm one lucky boy. For Christmas, Meg knit me two pairs of socks! There is a really nifty cable up the side of these:

And a twisty pattern on these:

Both pairs are very warm and have kept my feet extremely happy over the last couple of days (it's been bitterly cold here in Chicago). Thanks, Meg! You're my favorite wife!

And, since I've gotten my head out of my ass to thank those who have knitted me socks, I can't forget to thank the two assassins that took me down in Sock Wars a few months back. Up until today, I didn't really have any idea who they were. These socks just appeared in a padded envelope in my mailbox one evening:

I never got to properly thank those who knitted them for me, for the socks I was waiting to receive from my second victim ended up bypassing me. Then I frankly forgot all about it.

Well, I ended up running into one of my assassins on Ravelry in a discussion thread. Doing a bit of sleuthing allowed me to discover that the socks were primarily knit by Annaminster and were finished up by Tia. Thanks so much to the both of you for slugging through a large man's foot... twice!

I was cleaning out the dresser drawers the other night and realized that I possess a crapload of socks. Out of curiosity, I threw all of the socks that were in my drawer into a large pile to see how big the pile would be.

Keep in mind that these are only the clean, matched socks of my wardrobe. There are a number of dirty ones that aren't in this picture.

My sock drawer runneth over...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy 2008!

We ended 2007 in much the same way we started it - on stage, playing for a contra dance. This time, we were in Lansing, Mich., rather than St. Louis, Mo. The Lansing dancers put on a heck of a potluck and party. There was homemade eggnog, and a big dish of shrimp cocktail and some really good crockpot mostaccoli and some kind of crunchy broccoli salad and everyone said the flan was good, but I didn't have any. We met some Ravelers there, too, because it's a small, small world now.
Here's the dancers.

Here's the band. The Fool and I played as the Cosmic Otters - Irish, Scottish, French-Canadian - for the first half, and then invited our friend Sam up to sit in on some old-time tunes after the break. Fellow Chicagoan Dot Kent was calling, and her husband, Chirps Smith, was along for the ride, and as he is an outstanding fiddler, we persuaded him to sit in with us too, which was a great deal of fun.
I like playing old-time tunes on New Year's Eve - it's good party music. It makes me feel like I'm part of a much bigger tradition, standing on the bones, as it were and carrying a little bit forward. Which, I suppose, if you play any kind of traditional music, you're always doing, but I have this somewhat romantic notion that people have been playing these tunes for years and years at parties and at holidays, and when I do, I feel much more connected to the past than usual.
But enough armchair philosophy.

There's Dot on the far left, then Sam, then the Fool, and then Chirps. We played all the fun standards, although we got a little bit excited and couldn't seem to slow down.
"Well," Dot said, "If you can't play slower, I might as well call squares."

Even the otters got into the party spirit. Here's Duncan with his new friend.
It started snowing while we were dancing and when we drove back to our hosts' house, the trees were covered with snow clinging to each black branch. We had more tunes before we went to bed, and I got to hang around with Lynn.
Not only is she a knitter, but she and her partner make up the Fabulous Heftones, a duo that performs songs from the 1920s on ukelele and heftone - that's an instrument that looks like a cross between an upright bass and a banjo, and it's something to see. She gave us one of their CDs - fun, happy stuff.
The next morning, we stopped in at Threadbear, and continued on our way home. We ran into some snow, but the Fool did very well at driving. I slept.
Now, though, it's back to the old routine. I got home from work today to find gray yarn wrapped around the living room furniture and dining table chairs. I followed the trail through the house, down the hall, and into the bedroom.
There, I found this.

Happy 2008, everyone.