Sunday, June 29, 2008

This Time For Sure

The basket weave socks having made a token stab at asserting their independence (a phrase I like better than admitting my brain was out to lunch on the second one), they gave me no further trouble.

Finished! One pair red wool socks. And my first official Christmas present complete and in the bag.
basket-weave socks

Now you'd think I'd be tired of solid red wool, and I am a bit. But these knit up quickly, and the heavy yarn makes them easy to work in all kinds of light. So instead of taking a break, I cast on for the second pair (I bought enough yarn for two pair).

These don't have a particular pattern name, but I've been thinking of them as 'Manly Red Socks' for the understated pattern up the sides. (I basically just made this up as I knit, said, 'huh, that looks okay' and kept going.)

All the same, I think two pairs is going to be enough. If I have the time to knit more red wool socks before the holidays (for my brother-in-law, they're his absolute favorite) I'm thinking of the new Huntington sock yarn from Valley Yarns. They've got a nice solid red at a reasonable price. And it's a sock yarn, not a worsted. Now, the Cascade yarn will probably keep your feet toasty even after the rest of you has frozen solid in the blizzard, but that is just a wee bit of overkill for say, June.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finding a Round Tuit

This week Alison was talking about putting off starting something because there was a part of it she didn't like doing. And she said 'we all do that'. I'm not sure we all do- I sometimes think my mom's motto is 'never put off until tomorrow what you could have done yesterday'. But it's for sure that *I* resemble that remark.

I put things off all the time, and very often the trigger is uncertainty or distaste for some part of the project. I waited until the rest of the sweater was nearly done to frog and reknit the sleeve that irritated me, for example, in the non-Christmas cardigan. And I waited until it nearly expired before renewing my passport (despite the fact that it wasn't actually useful for some months before- a lot of countries won't let you in unless you have at least 6 months left before your passport expires- it's been on my to-do list since about February).

In a more immediate example, the chain broke on the toilet in our second bathroom. This is only a mild inconvenience- most of the time, one bathroom is sufficient for two adults, and the second bathroom doesn't get used a lot anyway because the main bathroom is more centrally located. And in a pinch, you can reach into the tank and raise the flapper valve manually. (Which is not nice, but you were going to wash your hands anyway, weren't you?)

This project is a double whammy in the project starting department. I don't know how long it will take, or if it will require parts. And mucking around in the toilet tank is not on anyone's list of ten favorite leisure activities. (I'm pretty sure.) Now you're probably wondering what the heck kind of engineer I am, and don't I own a paperclip? Well, on this particular toilet, the 'chain' is a plastic strap, which was apparently molded into top of the flapper.
flapper valve

If it was just a matter of wiring two broken pieces together it would be no problem. But no- first I needed to figure out how to attach a new chain to the valve. So, I put it off.

But yesterday, inspired by Alison and a lifetime of exposure to my mother's sterling example, I decided to tackle it.

My plans in order of least to most trouble:
a) Can I just shove a large needle through the tab where the old strap was attached, threaded with cording?
b) Dismount the flapper, drill a small hole through the tab and then rewire it with a substitute material (fishing line, most likely).
c) Replace the flapper entirely.

I wasn't too sanguine about a) but it was the only option that didn't involve taking things apart. (There wasn't room to wedge the drill in the toilet tank to put a hole in the flapper tab, even if I thought it was a good idea to get electricity that close to water.) And c) required a trip to the hardware store (irritating), spending money (see previous post on torturing small change), as well as the chance of getting a wrong part, which would require even more annoyance to sort out.

But once I'd turned off the water and drained the tank, it turned out to be fairly easy to take out the flapper, whisk it down to the basement workshop (which in a fit of energy I'd finally partially shoveled out a couple of weeks ago- only two years after the House Renovation Project of Doom that filled it with crap!), and drilled a hole in the tab. A few more minutes of messing around with fishing line (which I don't use for fishing but rather for minor repairs where water-proof-ness or transparency is advantageous). Et voila! (That's French for 'I finally got around to it.' )

One more task off the eternal House Project List. And the moral of the story? Not *every* project is doomed to enormous complications and added expense. Every once in a while the fates will pitch you an easy one to keep you off-balance.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cheap Funnel Tricks

So, I was reading money-saving tips on my lunch hour the other day. I do this sort of thing. Despite a natural inclination to torturing pennies until they scream for mercy, I persist in looking for undiscovered sources of waste in my budget in the hope of squeezing ever more out of it.

This particular article listed a number of money-saving ideas that I already practice. I don't have a latte at Starbucks every day (or any day, really), and I don't buy bottled water. What I have are a collection of empty plastic bottles that I fill with water from my tap. But sometimes I just don't feel like drinking water. And when I found myself occasionally buying a package of single serving juice bottles to take to work, I knew it was time to make a change. So I replaced my kitchen funnel (the old one disappeared into the cellar for reasons having to do with paint thinner and is now officially No Longer Suitable For Kitchen Use), and started putting juice, milk, whatever, in smaller bottles as opposed to buying serving size.

Good for the environment, good for the budget. And with the advent of the summer iced coffee season? Cold coffee, a little sugar, some skim milk down the funnel, and I have a ten-cent replacement for a $1.25 purchase.
iced coffee cheap vs not so cheap

Eat your heart out, Starbucks.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Unpalatable Truths

It turned out to be a slow knitting week. I discovered that when the temperature is 96°F with 100% humidity, even the most enticing project does not inspire me with the desire to rise from my puddle of sweat and knit. I quickly gave up on pretty much everything, in fact, except for cleaning the pool and submerging in it to the fullest extent possible. (I did consider standing in the pool and knitting, but chlorine wouldn't be good for the yarn. At all.) When the weather broke, I eagerly pulled out the red socks for their FO photo shoot.

Now, when people talk about project monogamy, they talk about the joy of finishing, the gratification of a project moving quickly, or possibly the difficulty of not being distracted by the next shiny mohair that shimmies in the stash. They should have also mentioned the utter chagrin of finishing a sock, only to find that the four-day-weekend you went on with another skein of yarn? Can result in you forgetting what you did on the first sock.

Yes, the Basket-Weave socks have gotten their revenge for being abandoned. And I need to remember to try on the finished socks before I weave in the ends. These apparently finished socks? Need to have one leg ripped back to the heel and be reknitted with the same extra stitches that I put in the first sock to loosen up the fit around the ankle.
Basketweave socks

Also, I should maybe consider keeping a project notebook, so I can write down these little improvisations for future reference.

Fortunately, not all the knitting is taunting me this week. After some initial dubiosity, I've decided I like the first attempt at re-knitting the formerly Garter-Rib socks, henceforth to be known as the Feather and Fan socks. The pattern does what I wanted- it breaks up the horizontal line of the striping, and takes advantage of it to add emphasis to the texture of the knitting.
Feather and Fan socks

I couldn't get the normal 18 inch stitch repeat of the Feather and Fan pattern into anything close to the number of stitches I wanted for the socks. (Not without radical changes of needles size that would have had undesirable effects on the density of the fabric.) So instead I messed with the pattern. This is a 14 stitch repeat version- 5 YOs, 5 K2tog. To account for the odd number of decreases, I'm doing the tops of the socks with a K2tog 3 times on one side and 2 times on the other, so the pattern will be offset by two stitches. It's not really obvious to look at it- but just out of general persnicketiness, I'll be reversing the order on the second sock, so they mirror.

And speaking of rude awakenings, this month, my passport expires. I went looking for the information on how to renew it. I don't recall it being terribly complex the last time- just filled out the form from the post orifice, got some pictures and sent it off. Nowadays, the form comes with four pages of instructions (some of which tell you to go look at the website, which has even more stuff on it). But I painstakingly read through it all several times, filled out the forms, addressed the envelope. The real moment of truth occurred when I held up the old passport next to the new pictures.

Now, you don't actually expect passport pictures to be any good. But I kind of liked the one on my old passport. It made me look like the cool kind of person who would go to Paris for the weekend, or be found strolling into Covent Garden in search of a Cornish pasty. The new photo? Makes me look like the kind of person who taunts TSA agents and is thrown out of airports. Positively surly. (That's not me, really it's not.) However, it's done, it's clear, it meets the government requirements, and I don't want to mess with it.

But the *mumble-mumble* pounds I've put on in the last ten years? Those have got to go.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Getaway & The Return

Whew. Last week was a very short week for me- holiday social commitments, work, last minute pool maintenance, and the multitude of other things necessary to cruelly abandon the cat go away for a few days. (Woats has forgiven us, mainly because we had a housesitter waiting on her hand and foot while we were gone.)

The trip? Was to Delaware. And now (unless you're a Delawarian), you're asking 'why Delaware?'. Well, a bunch of reasons- for one, it's gorgeous.
Brandywine Creek State Park

We went and looked at Wyeths, at the Brandywine River Museum. Easy to see why the landscape inspired them.
More Brandywine Creek State Park

We also visited Longwood Gardens, legacy of Pierre Dupont. We were by turns amazed, impressed and appalled by the magnitude of conspicuous consumption.
greenhouse at Longwood gardens

The only sign of fiber I spotted was in a Weathervane collection at the Hagley Mills Museum- apparently woolen mills once had sheep weathervanes!
sheep in the wind

And we rode the train- the Wilmington and Western steam railway, where they have finally replaced all the bridges that washed out by floods a few years ago. Talk about marketing genius- they rent the cabooses for birthday parties. We saw several groups of kids enjoying the ride.

The first day we went to Philadelphia and walked around the city. We visited the Federal Reserve Bank (there's an interesting exhibit on money), got free samples (no, really*), visited the Franklin Institute, and saw a green fountain.
green fountain in Philly

Apparently this was to promote awareness of 'green' thinking. The fluorescent shade was definitely eye-catching.

And I started socks on my especially-procured-for-plane- travel-but-very-bendy-and-slow bamboo needles.

These are made in Austermann Step. I'd wanted something relatively simple, preferably a pattern I could do from memory, so I chose the garter rib pattern, which I'd used for a pair of socks last fall. I like the colors, but I hadn't anticipated the sharp color transitions in the stripes. I found myself liking it less and less as I continued to knit- I finally quit and read on the plane home, because I was not loving this pattern in this yarn. I think it really wants a pattern that will take advantage of the strong striping. I've got a couple of ideas.

Once home, I was reunited with my unexpectedly charming basket-weave socks. (Unexpected, because the pattern was so simple, and in a solid color.) It was actually a wrench to leave them- they were zipping along so quickly and easily. I quite resented starting something new, not a usual thing for me. (But then usually I wouldn't have started something new if I was loving the project I was on!)
Basket Weave socks

Of course, I'm running out of sock, so I'd better stop dithering over the pattern for the socks formerly known as garter rib socks.

I can highly recommend the Brandywine River Valley as a destination for a short vacation. But it feels good to be home for the first real weekend of summer. The torrential rain of the last two days has stopped, the sun has come out and the air is soft and sticky. There's a constant chatter of birds in the trees, a lawnmower going somewhere a couple blocks away, and I've already cleaned the pool, done a little knitting and am on my second cup of Bavarian chocolate coffee. Yeah, gotta love the weekend.

*The free money samples were shredded. Sigh.