Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Our Latest Gig

We played for a beach party this past Saturday. During the coldest part of the year, those crazy Indianapolis contra dancers try to psych the cold away by pretending they are at the beach! It was a fabulous idea, and the multitude of warm bodies increasing the heat and humidity as they danced only added to the effect.

The beach, filled with tons of beachgoers.

This is Steve, our caller. We love working with Steve. He tells us important things about the dances that some callers don't think bands want to know. Trust me, we do.

Three of the Roar Sharks, the newest contra dance sensation to hit the Midwest!

At the break, just by being the hired band, we were appointed to be judges of three costume contests: Most Colorful, Best Accessorized, and Most Likely To Get Thrown in the Pool (my favorite).

It was a great time, and I don't think we scared anyone off with our rather boisterous, unconventional approach to the music. No one stormed out, for instance, when Meg broke out the tupan.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Finished socks!

I've been in a mood to finish unfinished things lately. These socks were lingering from before Christmas, but now they're done, and the Fool likes them quite a bit.

I knit them from Sockina Cotton, by Schoeller and Stahl, which is a cotton and acrylic blend that comes in a bunch of self-striping colors. I like this yarn very much. It feels good to knit with and it's much softer than other cotton yarns I've knit with, such as Sockotta.
But ... but but but ... it's not very consistently made, it seems. When you go to buy this yarn, you have to feel all the balls and buy the softest ones. If you buy one that feels scratchy or stretched out, you have a yarn with no elasticity at all. I made this mistake with these socks.
Here's the same number of stitches knit in 2x2 ribbing on the same needles by the same knitter - and I swear the top needles don't have the ribbing stretched out.

It's really too bad, because like I said, I really like this yarn. I'd love to see it in some different colors, semisolids, etc. But not if I have to keep fondling all the yarn to find some that can be used for socks. (Not that fondling yarn is a bad thing; I just like consistency, y'know?)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

question answered; the Fool says something silly

The Fool and I were over at Ed's tonight rehearsing tunes for a contra dance the three of us have agreed to play in March.
He and Ed were brainstorming jigs and Ed played one, and then the Fool tried to think of one, but failed, and said, "I was thinking of the one that sounds like the one you played, but not the one that isn't."

And now, a reader question concerning contra dancing.
"Hubby and I were looking at things to do here, and found a Barn Dance thing in Kansas City that has contra dancing and folk music and (I think they said) old time fiddle music. Now, I love me some fiddling, but I'm an introvert almost to the point of being violent about it. And this dance thing mentioned lessons and audience participation and scary things like that. So, in your experience, how pushy are people at these things about getting everyone involved? What I'm hoping is to be able to go and find a corner somewhere and tap my feet and be able to knit. What do you think? I don't want to be a party pooper, but to hear live music, wow."

In my experience, contra dancers are a very friendly bunch ... but they do generally know how to take a hint. So if you pick a corner and are sitting there listening, don't be surprised if people come up and ask you to dance - probably more than once. All you have to say is, "No thank you, I'm sitting out tonight," and eventually word will get around that you are not dancing and prefer to listen to the music.
However, you may have to sit and chat with folks for a few minutes who just want to make sure you're having a good time and you're not feeling left out or lonely.
I've been to several dances where people, for one reason or another, are not doing all that much dancing, and are instead listening or visiting with folks. No one's going to harangue you.
Go have a good time.

The Fool and I are off to Pittsburgh and playing a gig in Indianapolis Saturday night with our other band, the Roarsharks, with caller Steve Bennett (he's a lot of fun and someone we don't see hardly enough of.)

It Has Arrived

I know that I have a blog about KnitML and that I don't usually post about that here, but I just have to share with everyone that we just released KnitML 0.1! If you want to see it in action, download a copy and try it out. Read the latest KnitML blog post about it, too.

Now I can stop staying up until all hours of the morning with my weird code obsession. Meg will be pleased.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Much better

The brief rain the other day gave me some small hope that spring could be on the way. It melted about half the snow ... and although much of it froze into ice, and it went back down into the teens today, at least we had one day of 40-degree weather.
Angus continues his careful study of the local squirrels each morning. One came scampering up to the other side of the sliding glass door and peeked in at him - I thought he was going to fall over from all the excitement.
I frogged a Lorna's Laces sock I had started. The pattern just wasn't doing it for me.

I started reknitting it in feather and fan. Much better.

Because I've had a totally wretched cold for nearly a week now, Valentine's Day was a bust. We were going to cook steaks for dinner, but we had misremembered what was in the freezer, so we had hamburgers instead, which was just as well, because I couldn't taste anything anyway. Then we spent a romantic evening watching TV with me honking away on the couch.
But look at the beautiful tulips the Fool brought home! Spring has to be on the way.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is it spring yet?

Something the Yarn Harlot wrote the other day really resonated with me. Seems she was having trouble dealing with a gray knitting project in the middle of a cold, snowy winter and decided instead to cast on something cheerful and bright - right away.
These cabled mittens were getting to me too, so I finished them. And wow, am I glad I did. Now, my catsitter will get her mittens before the winter ends, and I am done knitting gray things right now.

They're the Aran Mittens from "Folk Mittens" by Marcia Lewandowski. They took one skein of Cascade 220 Heathers (I think it's 8011) and about six feet of a very closely matching Lamb's Pride in gray to finish off less than an inch of the second thumb. Grr.

See, yesterday, I had to take my guitar to get fixed, even though I knew I was coming down with a cold, because the Fool and I have a gig in Indianapolis next weekend, and I need a guitar pickup that works. The guy I take my guitar to is about a half hour west of my house. I figured I'd need some more yarn - I had a hunch - so I was going to go to the yarn store I got the original skein at, about 15 minutes east of my house and in the same general direction as the Fool's train station. So I put all the knitting materials I thought I would need in my backpack, dropped the Fool off, found a coffeehouse, bought a giant cup of tea, and settled down to finish the mitten thumbs and wait for the yarn store to open. I finished the mitten thumbs, and moved on to my next project, which was grafting a sock toe. But I forgot a yarn needle at home. And I was starting to feel pretty lousy and the yarn store was nowhere near open, so I decided to go drop off my guitar, and continue in that general direction to another well-stocked yarn store that I knew sold Cascade 220. Which I did. And they did, just not the right color. By then, I was so determined to finish the dang mitten that I bought the Lamb's Pride (suspecting I had a similar skein at home but not wishing to chance it) and a skein of sock yarn, because I was definitely feeling sick by then, and my defenses were down. So anyway. Six feet of yarn is all I needed to finish the dumb mitten.
Here's a closeup of the fancy cabling on the back of the hand. I made a couple changes to the design. I continued the twisty cable from the cuff up the back of the mitten, rather than switching to honeycomb cable because I don't find honeycomb cables all that much fun to knit, and because I thought it looked better. And I did the palms of the mittens in plain stockinette, rather than reverse stockinette with some traveling stitches that looked like leaf veining, which I just couldn't get to work out right.

And here is the yarn I'm choosing my next project from depending on which pairs of circular needles are available.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My New Discovery About Me

So I figured something out about myself the other day. I have a tendency to let personal projects (both of the knitting and coding varieties) languish when I get to a small but uninspiring hurdle. Take these two-color socks I had been working on. (Right, had been working on.)

I plowed through the cuff and leg of this one pretty fast, only to be derailed by some directions which took me awhile to comprehend. After spending a decent amount of brain power over what to do where, I have since got distracted by another personal project. Now I have been off the sock project for a couple of weeks and have somehow convinced myself that restarting it is going to be this monumental task. Really, it will only take me ten minutes to figure it out and get through the tricky part, but somehow this seems like an onerous task. Projects that offer more instant gratification get in the way.

I apparently do this a lot. I now realize that I have stalled out on the Kai Sweater in much the same way. I ran out of two colors on that one, which slowed my progress, and then when I finally found the two colors, I had to pick up the knitting and recalculate where I was. The momentum had been lost, though, and I moved on to other things.

This also happened with KnitML. I reached a point where I needed to redesign a segment of the markup at the same time that coding for work became far more inspiring. Before I even realized it, a month had passed without me even attempting a redesign of the current markup.

Clearly I need to recognize these hurdles earlier on, because the longer I put off jumping over them, the bigger they seem to grow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Folk Fest redux

The University of Chicago Folk Fest was this weekend, and that's pretty much where the Fool and I spent our time. We were responsible for coordinating artist transportation - getting drivers to pick people up and take them to the airport, and doing a bit of that ourselves.
We did a few other things, too. I baked cookies for the artist green room - a couple batches a night. Geraldine Gay, a great gospel pianist, complimented me on the oatmeal ones.
(Shameless plug: "The All-American Cookie Book" by Nancy Baggett, is brilliant. Any success I achieve in cookie baking is due entirely to this book. I haven't had a recipe flop yet. All the Folk Fest cookies came out of this book.)

The Fool played in an Irish session on Saturday.

I tried Cajun dancing to the Lafayette Rhythm Devils. I'm not good enough at it yet to know how to dance efficiently, so I get worn out after about one song and I'm too busy thinking about the steps and the rhythm to be much of an interesting dance partner. But it sure is fun as long as I can stand it. I was watching one of the other contra dancers, an older guy, who does a lot of Cajun dancing too, and it amazed me how easily he was just motoring around the floor with no visible sign of effort.
Must lean on the Fool to take up Cajun dancing. He feels the same way I do - it's hard to sustain - but that is clearly just a matter of practice.

I also tried rib tips again, from a Hyde Park practitioner of the barbecuing arts. I'd had these once before and found them gristly and bizarre. Whatever. I was so wrong. If you like gnawing on things like chicken wings, which I do, rib tips are fabulous.

Saturday night, the festival had its big party after the concert. The Fool and I, along with Ed, fell into an Irish session and didn't stand up again until 2:30 a.m., when we discovered the square dancing in the living room. We were so tired, though, and had a long drive home, so I danced a quick polka with my friend Spider and we left. The session was great. We'd given Declan, an accordion player, a heads-up about the party, so he came by with a singer and bodhran player, and the Irish musicians from the show, Patrick Ourceau and Pat Egan, played, too. We were all crowded into a long narrow space between the dining table with pots of gumbo and the window, with people lined up on the window bench and the rest of us in chairs, sitting knee to knee, trying not to poke eyes out with instruments. The next day, the Fool and I heard that Ed's chair collapsed underneath him and he fell onto the floor in a pile of wood, still clutching his fiddle. Luckily, by then, he was very relaxed and was unhurt.

The Fool and I also tried some Scandinavian folk dancing. For one dance, the instructor made him wear a felt Viking hat. "Hmmf," the Fool said. "I think this is not traditional."

On Sunday, I went to a shape note singing workshop, which was really cool. I'd heard about it, but never had the chance to try it. Some contra dance weekends have shape note singing, but it's usually at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and that doesn't work so well if you've stayed up until 4 a.m. playing tunes. It's four-part unaccompanied singing done from a book of hymns - loud and powerful stuff. If you saw "Cold Mountain," there's some shape note singing in that. I sang alto, or did the best I could. When I sat outside the group with some friends, it was easier to hear the whole ensemble, and, wow.

The concerts were terrific. We watched most of them from backstage with the rest of the Folklore Society folks and the artists. Lots of dancing going on behind the curtains, and in some cases, onstage, especially when the Cajun band played. I know some audience members have found it distracting when students come waltzing out from the wings with no provocation, but I like it. I think it helps illustrate that folk music is supposed to be a participatory tradition, and also shows how so much of the music and dance is related. When the New Bad Habits played, Dot, their clogger, (who called the dance for New Year's Eve in Lansing), came backstage and tried to shoo other cloggers out onto stage, but we talked her into calling a square instead, which was a lot of fun - although, no pressure - dancing a square you've never walked through on stage in front of an audience.
I also learned something Sunday night as the Fool and Matt, Spider's boyfriend, tried to tap the leftover keg from the party so the artists could have a beer or two.
Apparently, there's a mishap that occurs when beer shoots out the top of the keg, called a "beer fountain." There were three. Matt was, lamentably, on top of two of them. Then an enterprising old-time guitarist found some plastic in the garbage and put that over the top of the keg before the fourth - successful - attempt. (Matt found it hilarious that all these college undergrads came looking for him to get help in tapping a keg. "It's OK," he said. "I went to a state school.")
In this photo, Matt is explaining keg fittings to the Fool, who is no expert on kegs.

All in all, an excellent festival. Lots of good music and dance and everyone I talked to had a good time. You should all come next year.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Folk festival! Folk festival!

Busy weekend ahead. It's the University of Chicago Folk Fest with concerts and free workshops during the day. Good times. So I'm going to make some toast with peanut butter, load the car with my guitar and various potluck contributions and head for campus to help set up today. If you're in Chicago, you should come out. If you're not in Chicago ... bet you wish you were!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Gray mittens, take 2

I'm much happier with these. The palm is in plain stockinette and the cursed honeycomb cable is gone, replaced by a continuation of the twisted cable.

I've just started the main part of the second mitten. I really hope I can finish these soon. I like cabling a lot, but the relentless foggy gray of the knitting is getting to me. Too much like the winter sky.
The Fool suggested I pick up something more colorful, but I'm not sure what. Maybe it's time to bring the Cat Bordhi socks I started in August (!!) out of retirement and finish those up.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Days of auld lang syne

or... a full accounting of the Sixth Annual Robert Burns Supper.
Every year, the Fool and I throw a dinner party in honor of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. It's not an original idea - there are many, many of these parties around the world, including two in Chicago. We started doing it to be funny (early incarnations featured "Pin the Tail on the Haggis" and "Robert, George or Monty," a game of quotations), but since we've learned about how much Burns did in contribution to Scottish folk song and literature, we've really begun to enjoy these.
We've made a few amendments to the traditional format to accommodate local pecularities. We don't serve homemade meat haggis (unless we can find some in a can), because the crowd includes a lot of vegetarians and a lot of people who, although they eat meat, think haggis is just a Bit Much. This year, Jeffrey cobbled together a vegetarian haggis, based on two Internet recipes and his own recipe for vegetarian pate. It wasn't bad. We were joking about how he needed to put his own recipe up on the Web and give back to the large vegetarian haggis-making community on the Internet.
We had the traditional dinner of baked potatoes with a variety of toppings, various potlucked side dishes and cookies and fruit for dessert. People drank whiskey (whisky? I can never remember which spelling means the stuff from Scotland and which spelling means the stuff from not-Scotland) and we had the traditional after-dinner entertainment.
Benjamin presented a speech on the life and times of Robert Burns, Lynn sang a Robert Burns song, the Fool and I played some Scottish fiddle music with guitar accompaniment, Susan read a Robert Burns poem in a German accent, which completely slayed Revital, lots of people read poems, we had a Robert Burns singalong, and at the end of the evening, when all the musicians had retired to the kitchen for tunes, Hopping Peter put down two wooden spoons and demonstrated a Scottish sword dance before serious clogging set in.
The cats, even Angus, did not show their furry little noses once.
Now, the kitchen is nearly back to normal and we're using up all the Burns Supper leftovers. I made a sour cream chocolate cake for the contra dance Monday and tonight, it's loaded baked potato soup and salad.

Benjamin makes his speech. NB Miriam knitting on the couch; she's making socks for her husband, but her gauge is so loose she has to knit Lorna's Laces on something like 00s or 000s. He said he's almost afraid to wear these socks for fear if he wears them out he'll never get another pair.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fish and frog

In a valiant burst of late-night painting, the Fool finished the bathroom with a second coat, just in time for guests to see it at tomorrow night's Sixth Annual Robert Burns Supper. I had promised to help him, but I made the mistake of lying down for a brief rest after dinner, and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up at 12:30 a.m. when I heard him pounding the lid on the paint can (Sherwin-Williams, "lupine.")
So to do my part, or at least part of my part, I made a cafe curtain for the bathroom window this afternoon. The window is right next to the toilet and faces the sidewalk, so some kind of window covering was imperative. We had cheap Venetian blinds there, but neither of us liked those.
It's fabric that I - embarassingly - don't remember buying, but as I bought five yards of it, I either had big plans long since forgotten, or the fabric was really cheap.

Adding up the curtains, a woven rug with fish and a ceramic fish we bought in Asheville, N.C. last year, we seem to have ourselves a themed bathroom. We didn't plan that.
That's fish.
This is frog.
I've been working on these mittens, the Aran Mittens from "Folk Mittens," for a couple weeks now, and the more I knit them, the more I find there are some basic design flaws that just aren't going away.

I don't like those little honeycomb cables. Those are my least favorite kind of cables to knit, and I really don't like them here. I think I would rather continue the twisted cable up the sides of the mitten. I like the middle cabling fine, for all that there are bobbles.
Despite what the pattern said, I think increasing six stitches around the entire mitten makes the base of the palm bizarrely poofy. You can't see it here, but trust me, it's poofy.
Speaking of the palm, in the pattern, it's supposed to be worked in reverse stockinette with a traveling knit stitch motif that looks like leaf veining. I couldn't get that to work so I decided to leave it out ... yet still work the palm in reverse stockinette, which just doesn't look as nice to me as actual stockinette would.
Sigh. The signs are pointing to "frog."