Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mmmm....sock yarn

This was Pamper Your Pal week for the River Knits Secret Pal exchange, and my Pal did a fabulous job.

Look at this. It's Alpaca Sox from Classic Elite Yarns, in the Peacock colorway. I wish there was a way to put a sample up on the blog, because it's amazingly, deliciously soft. I can't believe that anything this soft could be good for socks, but I'm going to enjoy trying it out. I'd noticed this on a recent trip to River Knits, but of course I'm staying true to my Yarn Abstinence Vow and didn't buy any (considering a later purchase doesn't count).

So now I get the yarn without breaking any yarn-related vows, making my upcoming Socks That Rock indulgence that much more likely. It's hard to get more decadent than that.

And look, the dogs are sitting together being quiet....even good. There was no growling at any time during the taking of this picture. Maybe the dogs are even trying to pamper me a bit.

Friday, October 19, 2007

No Longer Clueless

I'm trying to atone for giving up on the Mystery Stole 3 by giving the yarn another chance to be a stole, and it's already made more progress than the last time around. I've joined Secret of the Stole, using the same yarn and beads, and I've finally finished Clue 1.

Clue 3 just came out, so I can't really claim that I've made serious progress, but I never got this far with the Mystery Stole.

I'm trying to guess what the theme might be. Something to do with royalty, somehow, but I don't know how it all ties together. Maybe it will be more clear once I've finished more of the stole. As long as there aren't any ballet cats, I'll be content. OK, a "show choir" stole would go back to the frog pond, too. But I'm not too worried about that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Getting Ready

I sort of promised myself that I wouldn't cast on any more sweaters until I finished one. This didn't seem like a lot to ask, since I'd really like to finish the Sunrise Circle Jacket. But then River Knits announced the Scandinavian Knitting Club. So I really had no choice but to gear up to knit the Kauni Cardigan, did I?

I'm a little bit intimidated by steeks. Maybe even a lot intimidated. After all, I had to order this yarn from Germany and have Aaron use precious luggage space to haul it home, so I wouldn't want to screw up. So I'm going to need all the help I can get - which means I need to be knitting while the help is available.

That's what this is for. A swatch. A real swatch, washed and blocked, and knitted in the round just like the sweater will be. I even found a great video on Magic Loop knitting, so I could use the same needles for the swatch. Of course, I'm not getting gauge, but with a six-stitch pattern repeat adjustments should be easy.

So now I just have to decide, once and for all, how to set up the colors. I'll cast on in the next day or two, and hope I finish the project before Sheryl runs out of steeking patience.

Speaking of patience, I used up a bit of my own finishing my first Moccasin Sock - a leftover from July/August Sock Club. It fits better this time, but I'm still not sure I like the pattern. It may be fast to knit, but the holes around the heel still have to be fixed, and the gathered stitches around the toe seem very likely to cause blisters. But the yarn is pretty. Maybe they'll be my wear-around-the-house socks, since they'll be less likely to cause blisters without shoes - and it's OK if the soles wear out!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pizza Night

Friday Night is Pizza Night - we're doing our part to save the earth!

Our first pizza of the evening had Eden Organic Pizza Sauce (from Nature's Pharm), Peppers from the Cooley Family Farm, our own basil, and some of the leftover fresh mozzarella. We made another lovely pizza, with purple peppers, purple basil, and chicken sausage from Trader Joe's, but somehow it disappeared before I could get a picture.

So here's picture of Thursday night's dinner - Swiss Pumpkin from Ruth Reichl's recipe. It's bread and cheese and cream and eggs baked inside a pumpkin, then mixed with the baked pumpkin when it's dished out. It's insanely easy - the hardest part was finding a small enough pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Quitting is Easy and Fun!

Today's title is courtesy of Aaron, who seems to be a bit sarcastic toward my new frogging streak. One would think he would be happy to see some of the piles of unfinished projects go away. But somehow he's figured out that frogging isn't reducing the actual quantity of yarn in the house. This, I would argue, is a mere detail. Frogging is fun. Liberating, even. And yarn may take up less space than projects, if I ever find a place to keep all of it.

Today I said goodbye to my "Mutant Sweater," an ill-fated project from the very beginning. I fell in love with the yarn first - the "Mountain Creek" colorway from Lorna's Laces. It seemed like a great candidate for the Cathode sweater, but I didn't have quite enough of the Mountain Colors. (I don't remember if I was being cheap, or if there were only two skeins available.) So at the time, crossing Cathode with the Poiret Sweater from Sculptured Knits seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

First it turned out that the lovely Dale Falk yarn I'd bought was too thick to go with the Shepherd Sport, so I had to step down to Baby Ull. And it didn't come in the lovely purple I'd selected, so I had to stettle for navy. Then I couldn't get gauge, or didn't. I was even less into swatching then than I am now. I kept shrinking the sweater, only to find once I'd completed some actual knitting that it was smaller than it originally seemed. But at that point I decided that I'd rather alter myself to fit the sweater than mess around with pattern repeats anymore.

This back piece was slow to knit, because of the two patterns that had to be counted separately. And then I lost the piece of yarn I'd crocheted for casting on the front, so I couldn't continue right away. Somehow that was discouraging enough that the poor sweater has sat, untouched, for well over a year. And I had time to get used to the design, and decide I'm not happy with it. The Baby Ull will go into the general stash, and I'll find something special to do with the Lorna's Laces. Maybe, if I ever see more Mountain Creek, I'll just knit Cathode without screwing around.

I may also be quitting the Red Scarf, at least for this year. Even though I'm over halfway finished, thanks to the Talladega trip, I'm not sure there's any way I can be completely done by October 15. So I may have to save it for next year, but I'll see how the next couple of days go before I make a final decision.

I have a new good reason for wanting to get the no-fun projects off the needles; my copy of Andean Folk Knits arrived over the weekend. I don't have many knitting books, and try to be very selective, but I judged this one by its cover and added it to my wish list because I liked the pouch. I'm so glad that I finally gave in and bought it. Unlike so many "folk knitting" books, this author actually spent time on the ground with the knitters, rather than just working from a random collection. While some of her designs are "tribute" pieces (and are clearly labeled as such), most appear to be careful reproductions of traditional designs and techniques, rather than merely being vaugely "insipired by" something from somewhere exotic. And I just like the look of the pieces (it helps that dog motifs - as guardians for your stuff - figure prominently into several designs). So I'll be good while I have so many things to finish, but I can't wait to start casting on!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Off My Back

No monkey business here! The socks are finished, thanks to yesterday's long drive home.

So just before leaving for Talladega, I took a Yarn Abstinence Vow. After buying the yarn to complete my red scarf, I promised I would not buy any more yarn, at all - not for gifts, not on sale - for one full month. That's until November 4. If I keep this vow, I can buy up to two skeins of Socks that Rock (and the Rock 'n' Weave pattern) in time to make stuff for Christmas. But temptation comes so quickly.

I had a Plan for these socks. A practical, stash-busting Plan. They would be made with Leftovers...leftovers from my Entrelac Socks, stretched out with leftovers from my Braided Rice Socks. It seemed like a good Plan.

The first challenge to the Plan came when it turned out that the lovely cables of the Braided Rice Socks don't leave many leftovers. But that wasn't a real setback, since I can always use more Gems. And buying one small skein of yarn to make a new pair of socks didn't seem unreasonable. I'd weighed my leftover Cherry Tree Hill, and had more than enough, it seemed, to complete a pair of socks even without the extra yarn.

But as I knit those last repeats, I watched my ball of yarn getting smaller and smaller. Knitting faster doesn't help you finish before the yarn runs out.

And here I'd taken a Yarn Vow. And the colorway - Life's a Beach - turned out to be a no-longer -available special edition. I could have called Aaron and sent him off to beg at River Knits, but that seemed to be asking alot, especially in light of the Yarn Vow.

So I frogged. Pulled out the toe of the first finished sock, and very gently cannibalized it for the second. This is the main reason the Nile socks became my track socks - I hadn't brought any extra needles, and didn't think the loose stitches could stand up to being carried around in my knitting bag. It's a good thing I bought that whole ball of Gems.

So I don't have a good excuse to buy more yarn, but I think I need a new yarn kitchen scale.

And here are the finished socks. The long-dreaded cold snap will come any day now, and they'll go out for their debut. Aren't they great?

Like so many people, I've fallen in love with this pattern. It's easy to memorize, and it seems to knit up really quickly. A second set of Monkeys may be in the works once I knock off some UFOs.

I had to step down to Size 1, and then to Size 0 needles, but other than that the pattern worked perfectly. After the frogging I deliberately made the toes a little short, so the pattern will stretch nicely. Nothing will make me look forward to cold weather, but these should ease the pain!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Race Day

It's a day of wonders, of weirdness, and a lot of driving for just about everyone.

After seeing the truck race, it's a bit disappointing to miss the real thing. I kind of hope this becomes an annual event.

Here is one of the strangest things to happen at the race - that's Cyndy standing next to a Jeff Gordon banner. It was Aaron's and my birthday present to Dad, and she personally hung it up for him (after a few cracks about toilet paper). Notice that she can't resist doing the three-fingered salute. (Apparently Dale got a salute because it was possible to show three fingers and still hold a beer. Poor Junior, with #8, is left out.) I realize that most people reading about my knitting don't give a rat's hind end about Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt, but this is such a remarkable and unbelivable event that I want to make it public. Besides, if you're in Indiana, you might as well give in to the siren call of Auto Racing. I think "Hoosier" may come from "Who's yer driver?"

The guys with the Confederate flags took "serious" one step further, with this airplane circling the track. A little post-race research revealed that this is a project of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in response to NASCAR's attempt to discourage fans from displaying the flags, in hopes of making a more diverse group of fans feel welcome. I suspect that for most Dixie-loving NASCAR fans, "General Lee" most likely refers to an orange car and some wild driving. Yee-haw!

I have to share this picture of Tweeter, the cuddly pit bull who shared our camp. I've never seen a more mellow dog before, although 85 pounds of "thinks he's a lap dog" can be especially challenging when only camp chairs are available.

And wonder of wonders, here it is, my mother and father with all six of Dad's kids - from 60-something Linda to 20-something Nancy. I'm trying to come up with a "24" gesture for Jeff, just to provide some balance to Cyndy.

With the group picture finally taken, the older bunch headed out for the race, and we left for home. This turned out to be a little more challenging than originally planned, since all the roads only go one way - straight into the track - all morning. So we had to wait until the race actually started to leave. But that gave the nearly-finished Monkey sock a chance to say good-bye, and to get a nice view of the Goodyear Blimp flying over the track.

I spent the trip home finishing the Monkey socks, and making a lot of progress on the Red Scarf. I had to give up knitting around 8:00 - I tried switching to the Nile Socks, but it turns out that while knitting in the dark is easy enough, fixing mistakes isn't. So we're all home, tired and filthy, but glad to have pulled off a birthday surprise. Maybe this will become an annual family reunion. Next year, I'll scout out yarn shops in Birmingham.

We learned about one more adventure after returning home - Cyndy tripped and impaled her hand on a tent stake. Most people wouldn't consider that a highlight, but she got to be hauled off to the infield hospital in a police car, and was stitched up by the same doctor who works on the drivers. I'm sure she's hoping for a scar.

And wasn't it nice of Jeff to win, and make Dad's happy weekend complete?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Look Out Ladies, Dick is 80!

Sunrise at Talladega. One nice thing is that a lot of the rules - especially the ones about pets and fireworks - don't seem to be taken real seriously. One downside is that the quiet hours aren't either, so the sound of RV generators makes sleeping a challenge. But it's hard to feel too tired on a beautiful Southern morning. Just a few rows over from our campsite is this lovely view of the track - it looks huge. We knew we'd have to leave before the Nextel Cup race, but Dad insists it's worth the $40 for General Admission to the truck race just to see the track.

People-watching is definitely a good campground activity, especially since it can be done while knitting. This guy was going around distributing free Confederate flags (with a checkered-flag edge) in celebration of NASCAR's Southern heritage. Just in case anyone worries that they left their white robes back in an RV, I'll mention that the flag on the RV behind them is overprinted with "Heritage not Hate." And he was perfectly willing to hold the sock.

There were so many things for socks to see and do that I had to bring out an extra sock - my Nile Sock. Since it was on two circulars (and I knew I had plenty of yarn for it), it got to accompany me to the track:

Wow. Just holy friggin' wow. At 2.66 miles, this track is bigger around than Indianapolis, and its turns are so steeply banked that they're 3.5 stories tall. Wow.

This was a truck race, so I had no idea of who to cheer for (other than I knew I'd boo Jacques Villeneuve, since I've never forgiven him for slinking off to Formula One after winning the Indianapolis 500). First I picked out #13 (Willie Allen), since I thought it took a lot of nerve to run a bright green car and slap the number 13 on it (and it didn't hurt that there was only one guy dumb/daring enough to drive a green car). But then I noticed there was an Aaron's car, and it had a dog painted on it. So #00 was my driver for awhile, but he crashed. For the last few laps I cheered #14, since that's A.J. Foyt's number, and he came in second.

I knitted through most of the race - although I did most of it in my seat. You can see most of the track from most of the seats, so there isn't much downtime, and a 250-mile race goes pretty fast. The cheap seats are the most exciting in some ways - each time the pack went buy, we could feel the wind from the trucks' draft. But getting sandblasted may have lost its novelty, so we were happy to move up to sit near my family. That was where I got most of the strange looks - apparently people don't usually knit at races.

I was really pleased to learn that my new Haiku Bag fit in the tracks 6"x6"x12" cooler template, so it could come into the track. It could be a great racetrack bag - two pockets for water, two for yarn, and it's stain-resistant, too!

After the race, it was time to party! I ran over to get a picture of the Bead Wagon before dark....

...and pretty soon the bead guys came over to party, and hold the sock.

And I had to have Dad hold the sock, since it was his party. He looks a little confused - it's possible that he doesn't understand my knitting obsession, or it's possible that my plan to serve Cuba Libres by the pitcher may have been going a bit overboard (anyone know what to do with a leftover liter of cheap rum?) It's so nice to have a friend who I can leave a frantic phone message for saying, "my car is full; can you bring 8 2-liters of Pepsi and a couple of pitchers, I'll explain later?" and she'll just assume it's for a good reason. It's a good thing Karen came along.

Somebody special showed up to help celebrate.

(Ok, that's not George W., it's my brother John. But isn't he convincing?)

And he held the sock. (The confused look is part of the act. Or maybe it's the cheap beer. )

Do you notice, by the way, that the sock is getting longer? I'm so grateful to Darlene for providing me with such an easy-to-knit pattern. Had this been a real hurricane, I'm sure that would have been very important.

Even Dale Earnhardt came by to party and to hold the sock.

(Ok, that's Cyndy again. She does this act at a lot of races. And a lot of people want to either kiss her or give her drinks. Who knew that a fake mustache could be so useful?)

The George Bush costume was for a skit that Dad had written - they all got together and performed it at one of the karaoke tents. Then the whole crowd sang "Happy Birthday," and Mom and Dad stayed for awhile to enjoy the singing. I crawled off to bed...I'm much too old to party like this.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I have to explain a bit about my family. My father was married four times between WWII and the Johnson Administration, and had three children in both the first and last marriages. (I'm #4 - my mother's oldest). So I have a 60-something sister and a 40-something nephew, and was a great-aunt at 18. A handful of marriages, divorces, and comings-out makes charting family relationships rather complicated. So it's unusual that we all get together.

But on Tuesday, my father will be 80 years old. And a few years ago Dad hit his midlife crisis and became a NASCAR fan. This Depression baby picked up a used RV as an impulse buy, bought a Jeff-Gordon themed sports car, and started hitting the race circuit - usually in the company of my half-sister, Cyndy. (Cyndy, by the way, could provide enough material for a blog all by herself. Even without knitting. I'll try to stick with the highlights.) So Cyndy decided to organize a surprise birthday celebration, and get the whole family together at the NASCAR race at Talladega. She suggested. She cajoled. She cheered. And somehow, she convinced all six kids, my mother, and a handful of more-or-less related people to pack up and spend the weekend camping in an amenity-free field in the middle of Alabama.

My younger sister flew in to Indianapolis from Montana, and I snuck down there on Thursday night - once Mom & Dad had left - to meet up with her and my brother so we could drive down to the racetrack on Friday. I turned out to be the experienced camper in the bunch, so it's good that Aaron, the saint that he is, helped with all the arrangements, even though he stayed home to grade papers and watch VeryBadDogs. His help gave me more time to decide which knitting I should bring.

"A lot" turned out to be the answer, since my brother drove the whole way. I'm always happy to get in more knitting time! Alabama is a very different place, and they want you to know it. This is what you see outside the rest stop. They take their history seriously here.

They're pretty wild about the future, too. This is what you see as you approach the Welcome Center on I-65. For the record, that's a Saturn 1B rocket, and a Monkey sock.

And NASCAR fans are wild about their drivers. We could tell who was 'dega-bound, either by the decorated cars or by the coolers of beer. NASCAR fans are sort of like Deadheads, but with more beer and less grilled cheese. The whole driver thing is something of a problem in our family, since my father is a big Jeff Gordon fan, but Cyndy has what can only be termed a massive crush on Dale Earnhardt, and now roots for Junior. (OK, I can't resist a diversion here. When I say a "massive crush," I mean massive. Cyndy's answering machine says "Earnhardt Residence." She does the number-3 gesture for every picture. She only drives black cars. And I should mention that she's gay. She's clearly blessed with a very understanding partner. When Dale died, I sent Cyndy a sympathy card. She drove out to try to get into the funeral. And almost succeeded.)

Have you ever landed in a foreign country, gone to a grocery store in search of food, and been overwhelmed by a shiver of displacement, seizing on bananas or a loaf of bread for a desperate link to something familiar? That's how I felt at the Pell City Wal-Mart, even though all the products were the same. But the parking lot Christmas-full, and there were racing souvenir or sponsor trailers everywhere. The parking lot was festooned with Budweiser flags.

And there was a race car in the produce department. A car. Bananas... lettuce... stock cars. So much for the familiar. Did I mention that NASCAR fans seem to be pretty serious about this whole thing?

Well, "serious" is a word I'd have to use pretty loosely. Kerry tells me that Talladega is a "Redneck Mardi Gras." So we prepared - loaded up the car with birthday cake and beer, and headed to the campground just as the ARCA race ended and dark set in. And Dad was surprised. He'd already had the shock of "running into" some Canadian friends, Lisa and Marty, at the Nashville Wal-Mart. ("Where are you going?" he asked. "Talladega." "Oh, wow, where are you camping?" "With you. Happy Birthday!") Then my older brother, John, turned up with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law (Greg The Bug Man) around noon, after having spent months deflecting my father's suggestions that he come down to Talladega sometime. So once we turned up, he was pretty overwhelmed. And Cyndy was beside herself with joy.

And Kerry was right - it really is the Redneck Mardi Gras. This is the "Bead Wagon," a Talladega tradition carried out by a family from Louisiana. They're nine brothers, but one of them is a girl, and every year the brothers do a bigger and better float (last year's theme was "FEMA Jailbirds"). This year, my father was the first non-family member ever to ride the Bead Wagon, and he was thrilled. There's nothing like spending your birthday weekend with hundreds of friends, and hundreds of thousands of cans of cheap beer.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sorry, Boys!

So, today* I visited River Knits for my first Charity Knits ever, and worked on my Red Scarf. I'm making good progress, but having suddenly realized that the scarf is due October 15, I kind of wish I'd used a worsted weight yarn. But it's going to be a very pretty scarf.

And I picked up my second gift from my River Knits Secret Pal. And laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed. I was a little bit concerned that it would be rude to open up my gift in front of non-participants, but now they've had a chance to see how entertaining a Secret Pal swap can be.

This round's theme was a "practical or useful" gift, and this is definitely something I'll find useful. It's a "Very Bad Dog Proof Sock Jar." (Note, please, that "Very Bad" modifies "Dog" - it is, in fact an excellent sock jar.) On the sides she's written "Sorry, Oscar!" and "Sorry, Max!" so they shouldn't feel to bad about not being able to get into it. It was almost a Laura-Proof Sock Jar as well; it seals so tightly that I had trouble figuring out how to open it.

Inside, there was a further treat - a beautiful set of Lantern Moon rosewood needles. I may have mentioned before that I've always admired beautiful wood needles, but I've never indulged myself because I feared doggie destruction. I didn't photograph the needles because the dogs were hanging around, but rest assured that they're lovely. And now I have a way to keep the needles safe, so I feel free to enjoy them...and perhaps even add to the collection!

I had to test it out, of course. I dropped in my Nile Sock, and set it down to see what would happen. There was a fair amount of interest (especially when I was trying to take pictures without dogs in them), but no intrusion. It works! Thanks, Secret Pal!

*It's been a very busy weekend, so I'm doing a lot of catch-up blogging. For the sake of style and sanity I'm posting things with the appropriate date, but know that "today" could easily mean "some time last week". But hey, what are a few days between friends?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Seeing Red

Who would have thought that a simple red scarf would be such a difficult thing to knit?

I have a friend, M, who grew up in a pretty tough environment - shuffled around between homes, without much care from his parents. He went to college on a combination of aid and loans, but there wasn't money for anything else. And I mean not for anything else. Once, when several of us were talking about missing the college days of little work and less responsibility, he said he was glad to be working. As a student, he had $100 to get him through the school year - to cover laundry, supplies, out-of-dorm meals, and all those other expenses that come up for college kids. He spent one summer living in the woods, out of a backpack, because there was nowhere for him to go when school wasn't in session. So I can see why he didn't miss his college days.

The Orphan Foundation of America helps people like M. An 18-year-old can't be a foster "child" anymore, but they're not ready to go out and get a good job, either. So the OFA provides scholarships, sends care packages, helps with job and internship placement, and generally does all the things parents do for people who don't have parents to do them.

Knitters come in with the Red Scarf Project, an OFA program to provide handmade scarves to the OFA's college students. All you have to do to provide a bit of cheer to someone like my friend is make a red scarf and mail it to the OFA, maybe with a note of encouragement or a gift card. The scarves will be included in Valentine's Day care packages, so that somebody who hasn't received a lot of presents will get something new and handmade.

Sounds easy, right?

This red scarf is the fourth one I've cast on - and I cast on for the first one at least four times. I wound up cutting off the yarn from the beginning of the ball, because it was getting too beat up from being frogged. This scarf, which I'm pretty happy with, is the Asherton Reversible Scarf from SmarieK. I'm making it from Dale Baby Ull instead of a worsted, so I've added an extra pattern repeat and cast on 52 stitches instead of the 40 called for in the instructions.

The Red Scarf Project just asks for nice, drapey, 6-foot-long red scarves in a unisex design. I also wanted something that would be kind of fun to knit, which to me meant texture but no lace. I started by trying the recommended Ribbed Red Scarf, but finally frogged it for good on the fourth go. I overestimated how much I needed to add to account for my thinner yarn, couldn't reconcile the printed and charted directions on the first try (the slipped stitches kind of sneak in), and then gave up totally when I discovered that I was REALLY supposed to be knitting Row 2 according to the special supplemental chart instead of the way it was in the main chart. Then I tried my own design - a combination of moss stitch and ribbing - but found that the two made for a not-so-nice rippled edge. The Yarn Harlot's One-Row Scarf seemed like the answer, but it just wasn't that pretty for my skinny and boring yarn. So now it's the Asherton scarf, and while this picture represents only one pattern repeat, I think I'm committed.

By the way, M is now married, and a parent. He works with delinquent kids, helping them get back on the right track, so now doubt he's working with a lot of people from a background similar to his. So it will be easy for me to write a note of encouragement. And a happy ending is possible without a red scarf, but I'm sure one helps.