Friday, March 28, 2008

Humours of the Car

So we were on our way to our contra dance last Monday. In the car, we were listening to the Stairwell Sisters, an old-time band from San Francisco. They're a lot like Uncle Earl, except perhaps that they sing more through their noses. This makes them slightly harder to understand.

So we get to their rendition of Greasy Coat. It's one of those old-time tunes that has words that you sing while you play the tune. The main line of the tune is, "I don't drink and I don't smoke and I don't wear no greasy coat." Meg is not as familiar with the lyrics as I am, and being that old-time tune lyrics often don't really make sense, she thought she heard, "I don't drink and I don't smoke and I don't want no greasy goat." When told her that I thought she was mistaken, she wouldn't believe me. She thought she had a case for her version "because greasy goats are far more disgusting than greasy coats."

What goes around comes around, though, for on the very next tune, "Feet All Over the Floor," I thought they were singing about how someone "peed all over the floor."

Happy Friday! We're on our way to Pigtown Fling, the midwest's largest and most boisterous contra dance weekend!

Pigtown Fling!

Oy, I've got a massive to-do list before the Fool and I can head for Pigtown Fling in Cincinnati.
It's one of our can't-miss contra dance weekends where we get to see all our Ohio and Kentucky friends, stay up too late playing music, and stop for groceries at Jungle Jim's.
It's also a great chance to get some knitting time in while we drive.
This week, though, hasn't been much knitting for me. I've been seized with an urge to finish unfinished projects - get stuff off my back. Hence, the cats and I have been hanging around downstairs together, watching TV and sewing. This is a quilt top I started last winter and picked up again this winter when the relentless snow and cold got to me and I really, really wanted spring. I have a friend who is just starting a long-arm quilting business, and she's going to quilt it for me. I can machine quilt, but when pieces start to get this big, they become unwieldy and no fun. Then I'm going to rent a few movies and sew the binding, and then the Fool and I will have something cheerful on our bed.
The quilt we have on there now is this very quiet blue quilt made of lots of Japanese indigo prints. I put this on the bed to check the size, and it woke up the entire room.



OK. Off to speed through the rest of my to-do list, make a quick lunch, load the car and collect the Fool.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I completely forgot this part

When I told the Fool I was going to this goofy Naughty Knitting Night, he said, "What are you going to knit?"
I had no idea, so I said, joking, "I'm going to make you an argyle willie warmer."
"You are?" he said. "Are you sure you can get that done in one night?"
I blinked.
"You've got a healthy opinion of yourself, don't you?" I asked.
"I mean," he said, flustered, "Argyle is intarsia and that takes a long time!"

I tried this story on a Muggle, and he just looked at me blankly and said, "What's the punchline?"

Happy Spring!

Hooray, hooray, spring is here!
Nevermind that we're supposed to get snow tomorrow, just in time for the Fool and I to head off on a two-night contra dance tour with the Roar Sharks. (Holland, Mich., and Kalamazoo, Mich.) We booked this back before we had a band name, so we're the "Something or Otters" for the first gig, and "Cosmic Gravity" for the second gig, which is an amalgamation of band names that I'm not getting into.
So we've been busy. The Fool put up something about KnitML. He failed to mention that I offered to start knitting up some of his sock yarn stash as he seemed to be too busy with the computer to knit. Although the stash lives happily in a communal basket, there's an understanding that some of it is his to knit, and some is mine to knit. Right now, he has two skeins of Socks That Rock taunting me with their unknittedness.
This is what he thinks of my offer.

Last Friday night, while he had a gig at Peggy's in Arlington Heights, I went to Naughty Knitting Night at Peggy's Strands of Heaven in Plainfield.
A bunch of the women I knit with on Wednesdays were there, and we spent the evening knitting, talking and generally doing what knitters do when they hang around a shop with snacks and yarn. Sarah and Lorna put together some kits for thematically appropriate knitting projects.
Here's Heather showing off her crocheted pasties. (I recognize that the photo makes it look a little like she's got a pair of jellyfish stuck to her shirt, but that's just a technical limitation.) I knit something too. The pattern was billed as a "chapstick holder," but a little stuffing and some judicious stitching, and now it's an anatomically correct cat toy that I'll have to hide from my MIL.


Finally, progress on the Autumn Kauni cardigan continues. Spoot was kind enough to curl up behind it when I set it down on the sofa. She looks a little cross, but I think that's because I woke her up from a nap to get the picture. The stranded knitting is still really fun, but I'm worried about my tension, of course. So I decided to practice more stranded knitting on a mitten. I'll take pictures later.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

KnitML update

Meg has suggested that, even though my active knitting project isn't actually a knitted object, I should blog about my progress.

KnitML 0.1 was released in February, and the project has since received 82 downloads! The basic sock pattern I wrote as a starting point now validates and renders successfully.

To give you an idea of what I've been doing, here's how you express knitting the cuff with 1x1 ribbing:
<instruction id="cuff-round">
<row type="round">
<repeat until="end">
<knit>1</knit>
<purl>1</purl>
</repeat>
</row>
</instruction>
<repeat-instruction idref="cuff-round">
<until-measures unit="in">1.5</until-measures>
</repeat-instruction>
The KnitML is essentially "test knit" by the computer before the pattern is printed. So, for instance, if there were an odd number of stitches on the needles when the computer got to this point, it would indicate that there is a problem with the pattern. An added bonus is that the computer puts in the row numbers as it goes along.

So the pattern ends up looking something like this:
Round 1: Purl
Round 2: *k1, p1, repeat from * to end
Repeat round 2 until piece measures 1.5 in.
Now if English isn't your first language, you can just as easily have the pattern render in Spanish. You set an option on the software and you get this instead:
Vuelta 1: Todo del reves
Vuelta 2: *1 p der, 1 p rev, repite desde * hasta el final
Repite vuelta 2 hasta que la pieza mida 1.5 in.
Many thanks to Cristina, by the way, for the Spanish translation files.

Now let's say that you want to create a KnitML pattern, but the thought of writing out all of those angled brackets makes you want to puke. I'm working on something called a domain-specific language (DSL) for knitting patterns. It looks much more like an actual knitting pattern. It's still important to have the XML representation underneath, but in order to get there, it's nice to have a shorthand like this to make your life easier:
round { repeatToEnd { p 1; k 2; p 1 } }
round { knitToEnd() }
The above expression actually produces KnitML that looks like this:
<row type="round">
<repeat until="end">
<purl>1</purl>
<knit>2</knit>
<purl>1</purl>
</repeat>
</row>
<row type="round">
<repeat until="end">
<knit />
</repeat>
</row>
This is currently implemented using a language called Groovy. It's quite a fun language to work with, and Meg could tell you that I've been rather obsessed with it of late.

So that's what I've been working on. I hope that it's at least a little bit interesting to non-geeks at this point.

Meg's Birthday!

So we had a grand birthday dinner celebration yesterday evening in honor of Meg's birthday at Ethiopian Diamond. As faithful readers may already be aware, this is currently one of our favorite restaurants in Chicago. We have been known to spontaneously get a craving and subsequently drive 50 minutes just for their red lentil dish.

If you haven't dined Ethiopian style before, one aspect of the experience is eating off of a communal plate with other members of the dinner party. Being that there were 19 of us arranged in a long, rectangular table, a gigantic plate was really not an option. So six of us ordered together, and Meg and I talked up the red lentils a great deal. The number of red lentil dishes to split among the six of us was a matter of great debate. Everyone except me seemed to think that 2 orders was enough, but I refused to stand down and insisted at no fewer than 3 orders would be sufficient. After making my case, everyone eventually gave in.

The food arrived not long after, and the six of us proceeded to virtually inhale the entire communal dish, lentils and injera bread included, in about five minutes. We looked over at other dishes down the table, and we somehow had managed to beat everyone else hands down. After being slightly appalled at how fast we had eaten, we looked at each other and decided to order a fourth plate of red lentils to round out the evening. Seriously, if you live in Chicago and have not tried these lentils, you absolutely must go try some.

Almost all present were contra dancers, some of who do not come to the dance on a regular basis anymore, so it was great to see all of our friends again. I sat next to our good friend Miriam1. She had been having trouble interpreting some vaguely-worded short-row heel directions, so she brought her knitting and I helped her figure out what the pattern designer actually intented2. Revital came as well, and she made an important prediction about us. We'll know if she was right or not next week.

We followed up our delicious dinner with dessert at Ben and Miriam's. We chatted into the early hours of the night and had a fantastic evening. I wish we could do it all the time.

1This is the same Miriam who inherited her mother-in-law's yarn stash. It was so large that the upstairs room of her place could pass for a yarn store.
2I also couldn't help but think that, were the pattern written in KnitML, it would be easily understood and we wouldn't have to try to figure out what the designer meant by 'first stitch.' Maybe someday my dreams will be reality.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

FO Thursday

Despite the absolutely incredible congested head I'm enjoying, I got some things done today.
I finished these Princess Mitts from "The Knitter's Book of Yarn," by Clara Parkes. I'm not much of a princessy person, and the color is not so princessy either, so these make me feel more like a Frog Princess than the fairytale type.


The yarn is some of the leftover Dream in Color, colorway Happy Forest (great color; goofy name) that I made Maura's Fetching mitts from.


There is still more of this yarn, but not much. Just enough, I think, for a baby hat for a friend.

This morning, I worked on a freelance copyediting project of mine, and Angus worked on his own to-do list. First, he watched squirrels and birds. Then he helped himself to a slice of pepperoni ... off my reheated pizza I was eating for lunch! He didn't like it so much; only ate a little bit of it before leaving the left on the rug. Next, he took a nap. After he woke up from his nap, he went in search of a snack. He dug around in the Tupperware box we keep our cat accessories in and found a packet of cat snacks, which he carried out to me, so I could open it and feed him some. We had six.
I'm off to run some errands this afternoon, and maybe get some ice cream to commemorate the beautiful spring day. No idea what Angus is going to do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ugh

Another cold, another night of honking dolefully into a handkerchief. I'm skipping knitting group in the interest of not contaminating people. There's a special event on Friday night at one of the LYSs, and they're all going to be there, so I'll just go see everyone then.
Meanwhile, I'm going to keep knitting mittens, which are somewhat idiot-proof. Which is good, because there is no room in my head for complicated knitting directions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Love this sweater

I've been knitting a lot on the Kauni Autumn Cardigan that the Fool gave me for Christmas.
Here's the big picture (it's not this blue in real life)


And here's a closeup that more accurately shows the colors.


In order to prevent the confluence of yellows that happened, I think I'll change the rainbow-colored ball of yarn when I get to the body of the sweater, which won't happen for another couple centimeters.
This is such a fun thing to knit. I love watching the colors change.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Night visitors

When the Fool's mom heard we were having problems with squirrels in the birdfeeder, she told us that in her experience, squirrels don't eat safflower seeds. I bought a bag and have been mixing them in with the regular birdseed to stretch it, but I couldn't tell if the birds were eating it or not.
The Fool said someone was.
Well, tonight I think we found out who's been eating the birdseed.



Three of them showed up to dine.
I'm sure the birds are eating the safflower seeds too, but I'm certain these guys are helping them.
Otherwise, I've been looking up fingerless mitten patterns for my leftover Dream in Color, and knitting away on the hem of the Kauni Autumn Cardigan, which is just so much fun. I'll put up a picture when I remember to take one in the daylight.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I think I'm done with winter

I took a look at what I'd cast on since finishing the gray mittens, and it seems I have a theme.
Hurry up, Spring.



Clockwise from top left:
Fetching mitts in Dream In Color Happy Forest for Maura in DC, where they will hopefully be of use during the season's change. I loved knitting these so much and I loved the color so much, it's sort of hard to send them off, even though her birthday is this weekend. (If anyone knows of a good job for a lawyer in DC, that would also make an excellent birthday present for her - she's starting a job hunt.) The only thing that is making the pangs of separation easier is knowing that I have enough of this yarn left to make myself something.
Moving on.
Lace Leaf socks, Fiber Trends pattern by Evelyn A. Clark in bamboo Trekking. I bought this yarn because I was curious about it. It's very fine, but I think it works pretty well for these socks. I did something funny while knitting it (OK, not funny at the time, but now, a little funny.) I added a pattern repeat when I cast on, going from 60 to 72 stitches. When I went to turn the heel, I referred to the pattern and turned the heel and made a gusset on 30 stitches, not 36. Ha ha. Shows what you get when you: a) don't put a post it note on your pattern mentioning these changes; and b) don't listen to your instincts when you think, geez, this is a funny way to make a heel.
Dulaan mittens, Brown Sheep something or the other. I've got a bunch of balls of orphan worsted yarns, some that I bought to swatch for sweaters, etc. I decided to start using these up, so I'm knitting mittens. Why not hats? Because I'm not so good at mittens, and I'd like to get better at them, and this is a good reason to practice. I think I've turned a corner on thumbs, the Bane of My Existence. I'm not planning to knit any gloves yet, but thumbs, I can knit thumbs.
Kauni Autumn cardigan. This was a Christmas present from the Fool, who is thrilled that his wife has finally taken up a stranded knitting project. I got him to share with me the secret of keeping the yarns from tangling - always carry the same yarn in the same hand - and it has revolutionized my two-color knitting. I adore it now that I'm not untwisting balls. I cast it on and I'm captivated. I keep sitting down to knit a row or two and then I look up and I've wasted half a day. Well, not wasted, because I have a sweater to account for my time, but I've definitely given this sweater time I had thought to allocate to other worthy causes, such as cleaning the bedroom in preparation for a weekend painting project. The problem is that Angus seems to like this sweater too. When I sit on the couch and knit it, he hops up on my lap and curls himself around one of the balls of yarn to cuddle and bite it. If I try to take the yarn away, he bites me. I'm thinking of knitting him a little cat blanket in scraps of wool with bobbles and whatnot, so he has his own woolly thing to sit on and fondle.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Night out in Hyde Park with Tapeworm Sam

The Fool and I played for a contra dance Saturday night, with our friend Ed, er, Sam, sitting in. It was terrific fun. I love having two fiddles on stage.
Even though the three of us had made a point of getting together twice to figure out set lists, when Walter, the caller, said he wanted to do a square dance, the two of them looked at the list of seven or eight tunes we had already picked for square dances, and decided instead that it would be much better to choose a new tune on stage, one that Sam didn't know so well, and spend time learning that while Walter taught the dance.
(It's the same Walter who plays with us in the Roar Sharks. What can I say? He's madly multitalented.)

But everyone had fun.

Afterwards, Sam took us down to the student pub in the basement of the building we were dancing in, where we met up with several of his friends. Somehow, even though we all agreed the topic was gross, he began sharing with us all the interesting things he had learned from a book on parasites he read last summer.
He retains quite a bit of what he reads, that Sam.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Nature in its Fully Glory

We've had so much snow this winter it's unbelievable. The ground has been snow covered for pretty much the entire season. Whenever it threatens to melt off, we get more. So we've been spending much of our time shoveling and deicing. It's fairly easy to grumble about, especially this late in the season. Then you wake up one morning and look out into your backyard...

...and you realize that everything is right with the world.

We've been feeding the squirrels a lot this winter. It originally started off with just feeding the birds, but the squirrels soon got wind of our plan. So we moved onto feeding both of them because it was just easier that way. Plus, they're so dang cute!


Angus thinks they're really cute as well.

It's quite entertaining to watch Angus when the squirrels are outside. The other day, one of them decided to climb up the side of the sliding glass door, and Angus tried to (unsuccessfully) climb up with him. We suspect that he is innately jealous of their climbing abilities and wants to be reincarnated as a squirrel in his next life.

Today was a quiet, relaxing day. The snow is melting, so we're enjoying the slightly warmer temperatures until it snows again later in the week. I pushed some bytes around for KnitML (or "the knitimal" as Meg likes to call it), Meg finished a copy editing test for a job application, we went grocery shopping, and we're off soon for a Cosmic Otters gig in with, um, Sam. You remember Sam from Breaking Up Thanksgiving, right? Same fellow. Only this time, we've actually rehearsed together a few times and have a game plan.

I'm doubly excited because not only are we playing for a contra dance tonight, we are playing for a contra dance in Hyde Park, home of the Medici bakery and some of the most exquisite cinnamon raisin bread imaginable. This bread has proven to be very elusive in the past. Previous attempts to procure a loaf have ended in disappointment, either because the bread hadn't finished baking when we arrived, or they were sold out by the time we got there. Over Folk Fest weekend, however, we were successful and scored a loaf1. And as we learned from last time, the management is willing to put aside a loaf for us if we call ahead!2

1We actually walked into the bakery, high-fived each other, and shouted, "Yesss!" Much to the amusement of the management.
2Flattery apparently gets you everywhere.

Girl clothes

None of my friends have been obliging me by having girl babies, until now. A friend from the newspaper is having a girl in March, and let me tell you, I had fun thinking up something to knit.
I finally settled on the Dragon Scale Cardigan in some discounted Debbie Bliss Cathay in a dusty rose color. The pattern is from the 2008 Interweave Knits Holiday issue.

I'm not going to be knitting this again. The directions tended to be complicated, which in and of itself is not a bad thing - but I wasn't too happy with how the magazine presented them. I understand the biggest part of that is space, which is a definite struggle for most people who are responsible for designing print publications.
My biggest issue came when I got to the directions for decreasing in pattern to create a sloping neckline. At the end of each row, you had to evaluate the pattern against one of six possible conditions to figure out what kind of decrease to do. This material was presented in paragraph form at the start of the pattern, and I think I would have used a table to organize it better, possibly with an example of a row in which each type of decrease occurred. Or, heck, chart it out and make the charts a downloadable feature on the Web site for those of us who felt like we needed a little extra instruction.
So I spent a great deal of time muttering at this pattern. Finally, the Fool said he thought he might knit this sweater for someone next, although he could see one of two things happening. Either he'd be as frustrated with it as I was, or he'd have no trouble with it at all, and I would have to bite him for that.
Nevertheless, I finished assembling it Tuesday morning, stopped at the fabric store to buy a 1/2-inch snap on my way to the restaurant for the baby shower/ lunch, and sewed the snap on in the restaurant lobby before the mom-to-be got there.
She loved it, so that's really what counts.
Now, my friend in Boston had a boy last week, so it's back to knitting for little guys.