Thursday, August 31, 2006

fulfillment center

Don't you just love getting packages in the mail? I wonder, if one were to conduct a little study, what people would say is their reason for joining something like Secret Pal or a swap. I think I would have listed Reason #1 as getting packages in the mail. It almost doesn't matter what's in them.

Today I got not one, but TWO packages in the mail! Whoopeee! None were from Secret Pals though, since I'm not currently participating. At first I kind of hoped against hope that one of them might be my long-awaited Made Stuff Swap from Use What You Have Month #1, which was way back in May. Nope, still no swap. But I wasn't disappointed. How could you be disappointed by a package that comes from a place called a "Fulfillment Center"?

One package was yarn.


And the other was new shoes.


You know I was happy with that pairing. Best of all, after opening packages I got to eat a tasty dinner prepared by someone that was not me! And I didn't even have to use my credit card! HWWLLB has become an overnight sensation in the kitchen. He recently decided that he needed to be fixing dinner three nights a week, so now every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I come home to a tasty, extravagant dinner. We've had tomato & cheese tart, cajun shrimp, kale & corn salad, roasted red pepper soup, all kinds of amazing stuff. Tonight we had spanakopita, roasted pepper salad and greek green beans. Also an apple streusel. It was soooooo yummy.

I have to admit that when HWWLLB first came up with this scheme, maybe I was a little bit not as supportive as I could have been. He spent about two weeks (mostly during our vacation) buying, borrowing, and checking out cookbooks from the library. He pored over recipes and copied them into a special journal. He planned meals for every week til Christmas, and made special shopping lists for each week on colored index cards.

The thing is, this level of detailed planning is very much not in HWWLLB's nature. On the Myers-Briggs scale, he's an INTP. The "P" stands for "Plan something for me in advance and I will DIE ON THE SPOT." So you can imagine why I might have been a wee bit skeptical about this project, and maybe I even gave voice to that skepticism when I should have bitten my tongue.

But also, I really love to cook, and I think I actually felt a little threatened by this. I mean, if you want to take some chores off my plate, take cleaning! I F*ing hate to clean!

Folks, if there is a lesson that this experience has driven home, it's don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Also, shut up and enjoy your dinner. Because boy oh boy, have I been enjoying these dinners! Sometimes they aren't ready til after I'd normally go to bed, but all in all I rate them four stars. And you know, while HWWLLB is busy cooking up something scrumptious, tidying up a little doesn't seem so bad.

So that's the low-down from here at the Fulfillment Center. I hope you get an exciting package in the mail soon too!

art is everywhere!

Some things just tickle me to no end. I am always particularly excited about art projects, or arts/crafts projects, or just art in the everyday. Where does this one fall? You be the judge. I present you with Suzanne's pedicure. Yes, she did it herself, with a little 'white wedding' theme, since she was attending two weddings over the weekend. I love how the toe ring sets off the rhinestones on the big toenail.

A close-up:


I just find this delightful! I'm not much for toe- and fingernail painting myself, since I'm just not much for personal hygiene and this is a level of hygiene to which I cannot even hope to aspire, but maybe that's why I admire it so much. She also does a patriotic theme every Fourth of July where the big toe gets fireworks on blue, and the little toes have red & white stripes. Yes. For reals. I stand in awe.

These are my totally unartful toes, just for the fun of taking foot pictures while we're supposed to be working:

no art here

Well, back to work I guess... I do have some FO to share with you and there's a yarn giveaway coming up, but not before I finish my first TEST for this biostatistics class! EEEEEEEEEK! Prepare the dark chocolate.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

summer mornings

Looking out the kitchen window at the sink, I see our backyard, full of color. Pink zinnias.

pink zinnia

Red zinnias.

red zinnia

These yellow flowers that come up every year. Does anyone know what they're called?

yellow volunteers

...and blueberries from the farmer's market on my cereal.

blueberry breakfast

Whatever comes next, my eyes are awake.

Monday, August 21, 2006

hold the numbers

I have a little F - E - A - R of numbers. It's irrational, I know, like my friend's son's fear of M - O - N - K - E - Y - S (she has to spell it). Numbers can't hurt you. They're just digits! But still, they really bother me.

I am about to become a student again (again). This time it's very part-time, but it's a little scary because I'm not exactly taking classes that I expect to particularly excel in. I am trying to get the worst over with first, which means... numbers. Statistics, actually. Biostatistics. A word like that may not bother you too much, and if you are a math person you are probably snorting in derision at the applied nature of the statistics class I'm about to take, but it strikes cold, cold fear into my heart.


They're going to be everywhere! Like balancing my checkbook ten times over, every week! AAAHHHHH! But there's nowhere to hide, I have already sent in the rather painful tuition check for this semester.

I was thinking about this yesterday, because I started knitting this little sweater for my friend's new baby (how many times have I typed those very words lately? what is in the freaking water here??) and I was using a pattern I bought with the yarn. It's a little bolero jacket with raglan sleeves, and as with many patterns it's knit in a zillion little pieces and then sewn together. As you may know, I'm not so big on the sewing together. In fact, I bitched and moaned about it rather a lot, especially as I knitted further along and realized that this bolero would be a cinch to transform into a no-sew, top-down knitting pattern.

But of course, I couldn't do it just by looking at the pattern, because the pattern is just a bunch of dang numbers. I could have read it 50 times and would never have been able to re-write it for top-down. But as soon as I got the main body sections knitted and I could actually see the emerging garment, I wrote up the transformation in a flash. Too bad I've already knitted 2/3 of the darn thing - no point ripping it all out now just to avoid a little sewing.

But that's what I mean about the numbers. For whatever reason, they are an impediment to understanding for me, rather than a convenient way to convey information. I think I'd do better if there were a picture of five pink dots instead of a numeral 5 on the page - you know, like on dominoes. I know it would take up more space, but my brain would appreciate it.

Now watch out for those M - O - N - K - E - Y - S.

Friday, August 18, 2006

free pattern friday: raging fingerless gloves

These fingerless gloves are lightweight, knit in a lace rib that’s very easy to memorize, and can knit up in a flash. You can buy your yarn on Saturday afternoon and wear them out on Saturday night! I also find them to be a great accessory for working in an over-air-conditioned office (like mine). They only use about 1/2 skein of Cotton Fleece (around 100 yards), so they’re a great project for using up leftovers.

These are knit flat and then sewn up the side seam, but you could work the whole glove in the round on DPN’s if you prefer - just leave out the extra stitch for the side seam.

Size: Adult S (L)

  • About 1/2 skein of Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece (80% cotton, 20% merino). Shown in color #CW730, Raging Purple.
  • Size US 6 needles, straight or circular, and one set of size 6 DPN’s.
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch marker
Gauge: 5 st and 7 rows / inch

Before casting on, cut a 12” length of scrap yarn (you will use it to hold your thumb gusset stitches later).

Lace rib pattern:
R1 (RS): *K2, P3. Repeat from *.
R2 (WS): *K1, YO, K2 tog, P2. Repeat from *.

Knitting the glove (make two):
Cast on 26 (31) st. Work glove in lace rib as follows:
R1 (RS): Work in lace rib to end of row, K1.
R2 (WS): P1, work in lace rib to end of row.
(The extra stitch on the end of the row makes it easier to sew up the side seam. If you are knitting in the round, you may omit this extra stitch – ie, cast on 25 (30) instead of 26 (31) st).

Continue in lace rib until piece measures about 2-3/4 (3) inches.

Next RS row: Patt 12 (17), PM, YO, YO, YO, PM, patt to end. You have just created a thumb gusset between the two stitch markers. In future you will only add stitches to the thumb gusset on RS rows. On WS rows, simply purl all thumb gusset st.

Continue in lace rib patt, increasing 2 st between the markers on EVERY OTHER RS row as follows:
Patt to marker, slip marker, YO, knit all thumb gusset st, YO, slip marker, patt to end of row. 2 st increased.

Continue increasing 2 st at the thumb gusset every other RS row until there are 11 (13) st between the markers.

Next RS row: Patt to first marker, remove marker, place all thumb gusset st on the piece of scrap yarn to hold for later, remove second marker and join the first section of lace rib to the second section of lace rib by continuing across active st in lace rib pattern. At this point you will have 26 (31) st on your needle, and 11 (13) thumb gusset st on scrap yarn (making a little thumb cone that sticks out from the middle of your work on the RS).

Cont knitting in lace rib pattern until the glove measures about 6-1/2 (7) inches from the CO edge. BO loosely in K2 P3 ribbing on the final RS row.

Next, place your thumb gusset st on the DPNs, spreading the st evenly across 3 needles. Pick up one extra st from the body of the glove to make an even number of st across the DPNs.

Knit the thumb in the round on your DPNs using a K1 P1 rib. Knit 4 rows in the ribbing, then BO loosely in K1 P1 rib.

Don’t worry if it looks like there’s a little ‘hole’ where the thumb attaches to the body – it will blend in nicely with the lace pattern.

Sew up the side seam and weave in loose ends.

important notice: This is a free pattern and you are welcome to use it for all the non-commercial purposes you like. However, you may not reproduce this pattern to sell, and you may not sell what you make with it. You may donate what you make with it to charity, and you may use it for charity fundraisers only if 100% of the proceeds are donated to the charity (and by charity I don't mean your kid's college fund). Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

dispatch from week three: vacation 2006

It's over. The fat lady has sung, and all I have left to remind me of the sweet, sweet time off are an incredible air of relaxation, several FO's, and 1,457 itchy red chigger bites.

Last year was the first time we had ever taken two whole weeks off at once - we went to Maine and visited Acadia National Park. Afterwards we realized, two weeks off is fabulous! Three weeks off would be even better! Considering that HWWLLB and I both have vacation and comp time coming out our ears, it seemed like a great idea.

The truth is, it was a great idea! People, if you can take a big long chunk of time off (four weeks! five weeks!), and for some lame reason you haven't done it, I urge you to block out the time now and just do it! We didn't take any fabulous far-flung trips, but we sure did come back to work relaxed, wanting to be here, and ready to take on some serious challenges.

During week three we spent a lot of time at home, gardening, cooking, visiting the library and the new downtown farmer's market (woo-hooo!) and generally basking in beautiful, breezy, 70-degree temperatures. We took one side trip to Virginia, to visit and hike around the Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park. That's where I got all the chiggers, and about a dozen ticks for good measure. [Informative side note: Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into your skin. It's actually the larvae of the chigger that bites, inserting its feeding tube into your skin and injecting an enzyme that dissolves a bit of your flesh so that the chigger larvae can slurp it up like a milkshake. Yum! The blisters they cause are an allergic reaction to the enzyme, not a little chigger hillock in your skin. If (like me) you are struggling to keep from killing yourself thanks to having become a chigger milkshake, I encourage you to read all about it at Wikipedia or the National Library of Medicine.]


Secure in the knowledge that my legs have not become a halfway-house for homeless chiggers, I am free to enjoy these two beautiful teacups that I bought from a potter in Appomattox who was working behind the counter at a little bookstore/cafe in town (I wish I could remember the name). The potter is Katherine Antis, and she just finished a residency program in pottery at the Cub Creek Foundation. If you live in central Virginia, head over to Appomattox this Saturday (it's just a short drive from Richmond or Lynchburg) and come to Katherine's Kiln Fest! She's hoping to raise enough money to build her own wood-fired kiln. While you're there you can pick up some chiggers on the hiking trails and become liquified like me.

So I mentioned FO's... there are a bunch, thanks to all the relaxing spare knitting time over the last few weeks, but especially this last weekend.

The raging purple fingerless gloves for Marge (pattern coming soon):


The Baby Om sweater (finished except for the button on the back collar):


The top-down top, whose name has officially been changed to Oliveta:


...and the Colorbox Sweater. Remember this thing from months and months ago? All I had left to do was sew the buttons on. The yellow yarn was so insanely bright that I used a color wheel to pick the colors to go with it, but I am afraid the green buttons were a fugly disaster. I've decided to rip them off and get some pink buttons, but here it is for good measure anyway, just to prove that I don't hide the fugs from y'all:

eeeeeeek! run! hide!

That's it for the FO Show & Tell, though it seems I'm not the only one who got a lot of projects finished up this weekend. Look for a new Free Pattern this Friday!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

freezerdom isn't freeze

That's the sad situation in my refridgerator, where things on the bottom half stay nicely chilled, but the ice cream is soup and the ice cubes melt as soon as they hit the sweet tea. Nothing like a heat wave to make you appreciate the little things your household appliances (ought to) do for you.

So things in the freezer are kind of lackluster, but out in the internets, whoo boy! All kinds of things are happening. First, I'm just overjoyed that someone, namely Macoco, knitted up one of my Free Pattern Friday patterns, and she even posted a picture and said nice things! Hello, baby wrapper! Nice work Macoco - it came out beautifully! I am honored to have been knitted by the Craft Pirate. All this warm fuzzy makes me so glad to be doing this (occasional) free patterns thing. In fact, it makes me itchy to post the next pattern! I appreciate the inspiration.

I'm struggling a little bit though with posting garments. So far I've posted lots of little things, but no clothes. I knit my own tops & sweater designs all the time, but I can't imagine doing all the sizing. Is there a secret formula that in-the-know designers use to magically create a whole mess of sizes out of a medium? And how do you know they will work without actually knitting all the different sizes, which there is no way in hades I'm going to do? If I do manage get this figured out, maybe I'll be able to post the patterns for a couple of the tops I've been working on lately.

I'm also learning some things about the internets tonight from my sister, who showed me how you can use MySpace to spy on people. Well, I can't, because I don't have an account, but she logged in and gave me a tour of all the people who graduated high school with us. The big news is: they all had babies and got fat. Or got fat and had babies, I don't know which came first - for the guys, the beer bellies were already setting in by senior year. There is far less kiddie porn, and far more baby pictures, than I had ever imagined there would be on this weapon of mass child exploitation that I keep hearing about on the news.

I will say this, there is a lot of cleavage on MySpace. A lot of cleavage. More than I needed to see in this lifetime. It's nice how people use their best features to attract someone's attention on the internets, thereby securing a lifetime of bliss with a mate who truly appreciates their real self. Headline: "It's all about me." Name: "Princess." Photo of cleavage, vapid expression. This is apparently the formula for eternal happiness, and we saw it OVER and OVER and OVER as we trawled the profiles for people we knew.

My sister's narrative as we scanned the profiles:

"Ho bag... Baby... Ho bag... Ho bag... Ho bag... Baby... Who is that ho bag - wasn't she in your class? Baby... Baby... Ho bag."

Perhaps we are not the kindest of critics. At any rate, it was all rather disturbing and I had to spend twenty minutes afterwards reading craft blogs to purge the torrid images from my eyes. I almost feel clean again. If only I could soothe myself with some ice cream. Alas, we have only cool chocolate mush.

...did that sound kind of naughty to you?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

dispatch from week two: vacation 2006

To the tune of "O What a Beautiful Morning":
O what a beautiful switchback
O what a beautiful trail
O what a beautiful hike, but
I feel like I'm carrying a whale!
This is a song that HWWLLB made up as a young camper and remembered as we were toiling up an 800-foot climb wearing 30-pound packs, streaming sweat.

Despite the heat, I'd call Week Two and the trip to Joyce Kilmer a resounding success. We did a few other things and took some side-trips, but for today I'm confining my comments to the woods (and I'll try to leave out the wide variety of minor physical ailments which I am now nursing at home with beer).

I can't do this forest justice with my blathery prose, so let me just say that it was beautiful, and a little bit magical. We kept joking about seeing elves. The section where we hiked (on the Tennessee/North Carolina border) is a wilderness area that sits at the juncture of several national forests: the Nantahala, the Cherokee, and the Smokies. Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock might be the wildest place east of the Mississippi - by "wild" I mean big, full of critters, far from town, and relatively untrammelled. I like camping in designated Wilderness Areas because there are not many people around (since there are no amenities and lots of restrictions). On Friday, we saw nobody. On Saturday, we saw a father & son. On Sunday, we saw a couple (who had left us a bouquet of wildflowers on the hood of our car - before we had met). On Monday, we hiked a more popular and accessible area and saw a handful of people. Sometimes it's kind of scary for me, but in general I really love being someplace where the bugs and animals are in charge of things, and the people are just out-of-place visitors.


On Friday afternoon we got started later than we meant to, and it was rapidly getting dark as we finally arrived at a place with a little level ground where we could camp. Unfortunately, HWWLLB ran into a wild boar who was busy hunting where we wanted to make camp. He was big and hungry, and we didn't stick around to find out whether he'd like us to move in on his territory. By the time we found a decent level place away from Boar Country USA, you could just barely see your hand in front of your face. We were also slightly freaked out (well, HWWLLB and I were - his brother, our traveling companion, is never freaked out) and kept whispering things to each other like "What the heck is that?". All three of us crammed ourvelves into one tent, which might not have been so bad if it hadn't been so dang hot. But nobody wanted to go sleep by themselves with the boar. In the middle of the night I either dreamt the boar was poking the tent, or a little mouse came by and nudged me from outside, and in my sleep I screeched and lurched across the tent, but other than that nothing actually scary happened.


In the morning, things looked much better. We got over our city jitters and had a lovely breakfast with the morning birdsong. Waking up in the woods when you know you're going to be there a while feels so good. There's nothing in the world to do but relax and take it all in. We hiked through amazing throngs of wildflowers: woodland sunflower, summer phlox, black-eyed susans, and riotous red bee balm. Anyplace where sun could come through, the wildflowers were insanely thick. Anyplace it was dark, there were mushrooms. I don't know how many different kinds of mushrooms we saw, but for four days it seemed like anyplace you looked was another one. The hiking was challenging - it was the first time I had carried a pack since hurting my hip two years ago, and we had not chosen an easy place to break back into it - but there were rewards everywhere.


Tramping around that wild forest was such a joy, even if my pack felt like a whale and my knees and hips and back and shoulders were begging me to ditch my gear and drag myself to the nearest highway to hitch into town (wait, I said I wasn't going to mention my ailments...). Besides the birds and salamanders and dozens of kinds flowers and butterflies and thousands of mushrooms and beetles and rocks we saw, there were even things to eat! The wild blueberries, huckleberries and blackberries were all ripe, and made the trails so much more pleasant. Trudge, trudge, yum! Trudge, trudge, yum! Sadly it also seems to be yellowjacket season, and HWWLLB didn't escape without a few reminders that he was an unwanted guest in the kingdom of the Vespera (that's the danger of being last in line - whatever gives chase will get you). But it was also butterfly season (apparently). This little blue guy (what is it, Bugheart?) really liked my sweaty hands and spent part of an afternoon probing my right ring finger.


I'm really lucky that HWWLLB and his brother are very experienced hikers. It saves me from having to worry too much about where we are on the map, what's the best route to take, how to pick a good campsite, etc. So I get to be in charge of the food. As always, we brought too much, but that's far better than going hungry. Anyhow the food worked out fine and wasn't bad at all, but I think my favorite thing was a fancy kind of gorp that I got out of a book called Backcountry Cooking. Here's the recipe so you can take some on your next walk in the woods:
Bedouin gorp (I know, it's a dumb name):
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pistachios
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

Makes four 1/2 cup servings.

there may have been a little privation on this trip, but i did not go without tea.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

dispatch from week one: vacation 2006

Hello from Vacationland! We're trying a new thing this year. We took off three whole weeks from work with no real plans other than: see friends, camp, and get some rest.

I'd like to report that Week One was a success. We started the week with lots of restful nothing, followed by my 31st birthday (wooooooo, the big three-one!), followed by some more relaxing, and then a weekender to see some friends in Virginia.

In Virginia we camped with friends on the Eastern Shore, alternately roasting in the sun, swimming in the Chesapeake Bay (maybe not the healthiest bay to swim in, but it felt goooood), and chowing down seafood at the greatest gas station/restaurant combo I have ever had the good fortune to patronize. Please please, when you next visit Virginia's Eastern Shore, eat at Stingray's and bring me back some coconut custard pie. At Stingray's they can't even spell unpretentious, and man was it good. I think I'd better crack open a beer right now so I can toast them.

Right, so the friends we were visiting in Virginia: it was Nick & Jess & Violet! Hoorah! Somehow we forgot to take any pictures until after leaving their company on Monday, but that's just because we were having too much fun, even with 100 degree weather and a constipated toddler in tow. Nick & Jess live on the edge of a funny colonial village in Virginia. I have been friends with Nick & Jess for about ten years now, but haven't seen them as much in the last few years. In fact, the last time we saw them, Jess was just a couple of weeks from giving birth to Violet, who is now three years old and my new best friend. I have always loved and admired Nick & Jess as people, as writers, and as incredibly strong and loyal friends, but now I get to admire them as parents, too.

It was such a pleasure to spend a few days with a family that is not only loving and committed, but wide-open and honest with each other. Violet is also the most agreeable and well-behaved three year-old I've ever met. She says "okay" to pretty much anything she's asked to do, eats what she's given and really doesn't seem to be too interested in watching TV. The kid is a wonder, even when she's not quite at her best (like when she reallly needs to take a poo but it won't happen). Hopefully Poo Cat (formerly known as Socks) will help this little episode come to a successful close very soon.

After a weekend of camping with my old friends and their daughter, my new best friend, we took off Monday to see the archaeological excavations at Jamestown, then took the ferry across the James River to Scotland, VA and slooooowly wound our way home along backroads through southside Virginia, into NC.

We came home stinky but refreshed. Today we've been cleaning and reorganizing the house like crazy. Later this week we'll head out for a backpacking trip in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest... but I'll save that for the Dispatch from Week Two.