Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Adventures

Christmas is a time of joy and cheer, of visiting one's family, and of spending warm evenings eating lots of good food, right?

Or not. This is how we spent a good chunk of Christmas Eve. Aaron's truck up and died on the interstate, in the middle of nowhere. There aren't many exits between Indianapolis and Cincinnati that have nothing around them, but we found one, in Cleves, Ohio. So the AAA Plus membership from Mom goes to the top of my favorite Christmas presents list.

We had the truck towed to a garage, were picked up to join the Christmas Eve festivities, and borrowed a car to get home. Aaron's grandmother makes personalized Santa cookies for everyone each year, and ours were waiting. So the whole thing went much better than it could have - especially when Aunt Kate put in a new batch of hanky panks just for us.

Christmas knitting went a little smoother. I finished all three facecloths by the afternoon of the 24th, so now they're all with their intended recipients. The edging allows them to gather up nicely to hold soap and such, so it's easy to put together a gift package.

But the knitting only goes a little smoother. This is the progress I've made on my Christmas Socks, as of today. So I wasn't wearing new socks for the family gatherings. I wore last year's intended Christmas Party Socks on Christmas Eve, so Christmas Plans were fulfilled, if somewhat late.

And my entrelac socks filled in as substitute Christmas socks on the big day. Everything seemed to go smoothly, and Aaron was a positive saint in the kitchen, preparing mashed potatoes by the stockpotful.

You'll see we had a special little visitor for Christmas. This is Oscar, my nephew's new dog. He's an 8-week-old rat terrier mix, and he's pretty darn adorable. Our own Oscar has never been "Big Oscar" before, so Christmas was a novel experience for him.

Both dogs were reasonably well behaved with the guests, and Max only stole a chunk of turkey, a handful of crackers, and a slice of cake. For a dog, that's worthy of the "nice" list.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last-minute gifts

How is it that the last-minute knitting list, in a year when I hadn't planned to knit anything for anyone, grows faster than it's finished? I think, in spite of that, that I'm almost done.

One facecloth (the Annie Washcloth) has turned into two, for two sisters:

And two is about to turn into three (one for Aaron's grandmother):

(The ornament in the first picture is one of the fibery projects I'd planned for this Christmas - I'm working on a whole collection of them.)

For the sake of keeping up Christmas spirits, I'll also share these pictures of the fabulous job my parents' neighbors do with their holiday decorating:

Notice the Grinch. When we saw these foil trees in the stores, we wondered who'd buy them. Ok, we wondered who the #&$#! would buy them. Now we know, and I have to admit they're somewhat majestic when combined with all this other holiday glory.

And it's all lit up at night. With music, and motion. I wish I could get a better video without looking like I'm casing the place for a robbery.

So Merry Christmas, from my anonymous neighbors' house to yours!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays!

We're getting ready to begin all of our Christmas preparations, so my usually sporadic blog posting is likely to be even more sporadic. We're visiting parents, planning to cook a Christmas dinner for 40+ of my relatives, and getting ready for Christmas Eve with Aaron's family, a festive gathering that was responsible for Laura's First Hangover a couple of years ago.

I've decided to knit a couple of last-minute gifts, which may not have been the best idea, but it's either that or go shopping on Christmas Eve, which doesn't really rank high on my "Holiday Fun" list.

So in case I don't get back to the blog before then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Socks

After years of knitting, and several years of knitting socks, I still don't have any Christmas socks. This year, I'm trying to fix that. So I've been trying to find the perfect sock pattern to use with the Panda Wool I bought to celebrate the fulfillment of my Yarn Abstinence Vow.

I started with the Crystalline Lattice Socks by Janice Kang. They looked great on Ravelry, and they were specifically designed for Panda Wool. But it turns out that they don't look so great with this particular colorway of Panda Wool - the result is just too busy, and the dark color doesn't show off the pattern. Since the pattern is somewhat finicky, I want that hard work to show!

So I put the project on hold for awhile, to give myself time to think. Here's a side-by-side comparison, with the Crystalline Lattice on the right and the new work in progress on the left.

Much as I hate doing it, I'm going to frog the Crystalline Lattice socks. If I didn't like the pattern so much, I'd stick it out and have a pair of OK socks. But I know this pattern is going to look magnificent with the right yarn - I have my eye on several Panda Cotton colors - so I'm going to save it for later. It's a pattern that needs some attention, although the cabling without a cable needle technique helps move the pattern along faster, and the designer has a lovely tutorial on how to do this.

The new plan is to use the Shimmer Socks pattern, designed by Meg Croft. This pattern was specifically designed for problem varigated yarn, so that sounds promising. It's an insanely easy pattern to follow - especially since I just decided to use the stitch pattern on a normal sock, instead of messing with the toe-up, short-row toe and heel design the pattern uses. I'm still not sure that it's the perfect pattern for this yarn, but perhaps nothing is the perfect pattern for this yarn. It looks great in the ball, but it has such short color repeats that maybe it just won't knit up very well in anything. But I'll have something Christmasy - I hope in time for Christmas.

Oscar's being very photogenic lately. He keeps striking this pose - especially when he tries to curl himself against a heater vent. (He's definitely my dog - he spent Saturday curled up so close to a space heater that I was afraid he'd burn his nose.) I think he looks like an Egyptian-inspired Art Deco statue. Maybe he's just trying to look like a good dog.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas at Purdue

Every year, the Purdue Memorial Union brings in a giant Christmas tree for the Union's Great Hall. It's always impressive - both to watch them bring it in, and to see it once it's decorated. The building smells like pine, and they play (or have live performances) of Christmas music all through Finals week.

My Christmas Sock makes a perfect tree ornament, doesn't it?

A few years ago they added another attraction - a playhouse-sized gingerbread house, decorated by the chef from the HTM program. So now the whole building smells like pine and gingerbread.

And this year, there's a doghouse! I really wanted to bring my boys in to have their picture taken here, but the combination of VeryBadDogs and gingerbread didn't seem like a good one. "Pete," however, is much more cooperative about posing with knitting than my less-nicely-scented dogs are. All this Christmas magic only lasts for two weeks - it disappears with the end of the semester - but it's nice to have something to distract from finals week.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I don't like ol' Sneaky Snake

I'm convinced that Elizabeth Zimmerman's Moccasin Socks are named more for the poisonous reptile than for the shoe. Never has so promising a pattern been so disappointing for me.

Knitting the cuff was a pure pleasure, if a quick one. I loved the Lorna's Laces yarn, and began to see the benefits of worsted weight socks - I'd made serious progress on my first sock in no time at all. But then I had to knit most of it twice - because it's hard to measure how long the instep portion of the foot should be. You can't just put it on and check the fit, and the "as long as you want it" measurements aren't much help. So after finishing one sock, I had to rip the whole sole out and re-do the foot to lengthen it. It needs to be longer than you think, since the toe wraps around the bottom of your foot - for my 9.25" long foot, I have nearly 8" of instep before beginning the toe shaping (this includes about an inch of plain stockinette knitting).

The length was the easy problem - once figured out, it's easily avoided. Not so with the HOLES. Holes are the bane of this sock's existence. Holes transform it from a fun and easy pattern to a never-again nightmare. Look at all the holes:

There are holes along the foot from picking up the stitches along the instep. I tried every trick for avoiding holes, and none worked. If I had it to do over I wouldn't slip the first stitch of each row, and the I'd pick up the stitches 2 at a time and knit them together. That's the only other thing I can think of to try - and it means ignoring all the "slip the first stitch" advice in the instructions.

The there are more holes around the heel, no doubt a consequence of the heel shaping. They're worse on one side than on the other. I can't think of any sort of workaround for these.

Holes, holes, holes. I hate holes in my socks. The whole purpose of this design is so that you can easily fix the socks if they get holey - but what's the point if it starts out full of holes?

So I sat down with a darning needle and some extra yarn, and went all around both soles, fixing all the holes. That sort of removes the socks' main benefit, since now it will be much more difficult to remove and replace the soles if they become worn. But it's better than having holey socks.

They look kind of funny on their own....

but are much more normal when worn. I still don't know if I like them. They feel kind of funny, since the drawn-up heel makes the sock feel like it's slipping off my foot. So far they seem to have stayed in place, and they're reasonably warm. I don't know how well they work with shoes, but I'm a bit worried that the weird sole construction could lead to blisters.

What I do know is that the leftover yarn isn't going to become another pair. So if I ever want to knit Christmas presents for everyone I know, I'm going to have to come up with another project.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Summer Knitting Goals

I don't think I can put this off any longer - it's time to see how I did with my Summer Knitting Goals. Enough snow to shovel is a pretty definitive sign that summer's over.

I'm not sure I did that well...but I'll start with the sock successes. I finished my Broadripple sock (for the Hurricane Sock Party) on May 24, Elizabeth's Sockday socks on June 16, the Braided Rice socks on June 29, the Fascine Braid socks on September 23, the Tofutsies socks on July 12, Heather's Sockday socks on September 15, Monkey socks on October 7, the Nile sock (from the Hurricane Sock Party) on December 3, and the Moccasin socks yesterday, December 4. (More about them later.)

So I'm 9 for 16 on the socks. .563 is a pretty good average, I think. Some of the remaining socks are long-time UFOs (Pomatomus, Bavarian Strolling socks, Bulgarian Rose socks, and the Cotton socks); a couple were started over the summer (the Sidewinders and my Traveling Socks), and I don't even have all the yarn for one (the Lucy Neatby socks) yet.

The record isn't so good on the non-sock knitting. I finished my Secret Pal gifts in May and the exchanges in June. I taught a needle felting class. But I'm afraid that's it.

No finished sweater....but I started another one. No finished shawl, but I started three, frogged one (soon to be two), and the dogs ate one. (This doesn't add up to zero - the Snowdrop Shawl is still in progress.) I started a charity knitting project, but haven't finished. The dog sweaters are still in progress (but it looks like they're moving up the priority list), I never wrote up the pattern for the matching socks, and I never dyed yarn, cast on the Fish of Prosperity bag, or learned to love Cascade Fixation. (I don't know how hard I'm going to work on that last one.) So that's 30% on the non-sock projects.

The track record on the non-knitting goals is somewhat harder to judge. I finished my Sunflower essay, submitted it, and should eventually get paid for it! I never read Foucault - but I replaced that project with a German History survey that was both more fun and probably better for me (so I don't know if that counts). My car runs, but I'd say it's a long way from "fixed." Aaron's back, but he's leaving again, and the apartment hasn't ever really been clean. So I don't think I'm going to try for a total there...some are eternally-active projects (organizing cabinets), while others should definitely be postponed for awhile (biking to work).

So maybe it's time for a less-ambitious list of Things to Do by Spring:

  1. Christmas Socks
  2. Finish the Dog Sweaters
  3. Bavarian Strolling Socks
  4. Sidewinders Socks
  5. Bulgarian Rose Socks
  6. Cotton Socks
  7. Travelling Socks
  8. Coriolis Socks
  9. Charity knitting - a new project
  10. Finish one sweater before it gets to warm to wear one
  11. Amanda's sockday socks
  12. Write up the "Walkies" pattern but, instead of trying to get it published, donate it to Ravelry
  13. Start one other project that really excites me - probably either the Fish of Prosperity bag, or something from my new Andean Folk Knits book.

And for the non-fibery projects

  1. Clean the apartment before the River Knits Secret Pal party
  2. Put together a photo album from Oldenburg (so we can share at Christmas)
  3. Finish moving everything from my dead computer to the new one
  4. Find some way to do real volunteer work for the Barack Obama campaign
  5. Make my car a little more winter-friendly...perhaps clean it out, glue the windshields into place, and seal the leaks around the sunroof. "Fix" is far too ambitious.

That's probably enough for now, especially since the list seems to grow.

Monday, December 03, 2007

November December it's all over

I really shouldn't have tried to knit today. After Michelle's sockday party I began to feel pain in both wrists - pain that spread up both arms until it felt like I'd been laying bricks for two days.

Of course I hadn't - but apparently knitting for two days straight is as bad an idea as letting me build a brick wall would be. I spent last night too sore to knit - too sore to write - too sore to even wrestle with the child-proof bottle of ibuprofen (doesn't that seem like a cruel joke?), but I worked through the pain for that one.

This does not mean that I developed any sense about pacing my knitting, especially when lured by the prospect of a second finished object in as many days. So I finished my second Hurricane Sock, which had been languishing for days with a nearly-finished toe. Just a few rows later, I have a new pair of socks!

They're a little overdue. I misremembered the Hurricane poem, so I thought the sock-knitting season wouldn't be "all over" until November. Even then, I missed my erroneously-set deadline by a few days, so neither Hurricane Noel nor the "I thought we were talking about Barbados" excuse could have my socks finished on time. And my slowness is even more pathetic than it sounds, because I only had to make one sock - the other one was completed long before the Hurricane Season Kickoff by my fabulous Hurricane Sock Party pal, Darlene.

But now there are two socks - socks which had their only on-the-road adventure in Talladega, but which kept me good, solid company in many 10-minute increments before classes. They'll make their debut on Wednesday, so the classmates who've watched them progress all semester can see the finished product before we all go home for Christmas.

And speaking of sock adventures, the socks and I have a new hero: Tracy, who, at the risk of being hauled off by the Secret Service, got Barack Obama to hold her sock. And she got the Yarn Harlot to write about it. The bar has been set, folks - now I'm hoping for a chance to get President Obama to hold my socks!


Sunday, December 02, 2007

D is for Drommar

Michelle's socks are finished! It was a long, long process - I don't think I'll ever knit these things with Baby Ull again (80 stitches around as opposed to 64 or so with Falk really adds up!). But they're done, and I'm quite pleased with the way they look.

Ok, they're sort of done. In spite of frantic knitting over Thanksgiving weekend, and all the way to and through the Christmas Tourney in Elizabethtown - and even trying to knit while riding with the dogs on my lap - I wasn't quite able to finish. None of the ends of Sock #2 are woven in - which wouldn't be a problem with normal wools, but is more of an issue with superwash. I offered to take the second sock back to finish it, but Michelle didn't want to give it up. I wonder if I can get away with this for Amanda's socks, too?

I'll have plenty of time for Amanda's socks, because the next Sockday up is MINE!!!!!! I'll try to wait another month or so before getting too excited, but let's just say that if I started an Advent calendar, I wouldn't be counting the days until Christmas.

Michelle ensured that no one would leave her Sockday celebration empty-handed by suggesting we combine it with a cookie exchange. Unlike the socks, I prepared the cookies ahead of time, since I knew we'd be coming home on Sunday just in time for me to head to the party. So last Thursday I made 108 Drommar, plus some extras for holiday gifts - including a dozen for the nice co-worker who covered for me so I could stop by Michelle's.

I was late getting there because we came home through the rain and the Colts traffic - and I came home to a dead battery (did you know that jumper cables won't work if they're grounded to a painted part of the car?), but I pressed on. And I'm glad I did, because of all the Christmasy Cookie deliciousness that awaited me (and because we really didn't want to eat 108 Drommar all by ourselves). So the take-home booty includes a dozen each of
  • Peanut Butter Cups by Michelle
  • Mexican Wedding Cakes by Amanda
  • Snickerdoodles by Heather
  • Praline/Sea Salt wafers by Samantha
  • Molasses Drops by Elizabeth
  • Chocolate Crinkles by Debbie
  • and an assortment of cookies from Sheryl
So my trip to work included a quick stop for milk, because I wanted to start sampling right away!

Here's a sample of my contribution - Drommar, aka Swedish Reindeer Cookies. The recipe linked above isn't really the one I use - mine don't have almond extract or coconut, for starters - but I couldn't find a more similar one. The key ingredient is the same in both - Hartshorn salt, or ammonium bicarbonate.

My recipe comes from a friend, who tells me that the ammonium bicarbonate used to be extracted from ground-up antler. Since it's a Scandinavian recipe, and it's Christmastime, that has to mean Reindeer horn, right?

The big downside to these cookies is that you can't eat the dough, and that the kitchen stinks when they're baking. But all those concerns fade in the face of cookies so delicious that I've seen highly trained physicists ignore the laws of thermodynamics to try - more than once - to pluck the fresh cookies off hot cookie sheets. They keep really well, so it's not necessary to do that.