Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In Which I Handle a Critical Lack of Time Without Getting Worked Up

Well.  As the last few hours of 2014 wind into the past, I'm enjoying a long weekend.  It was a rather hectic holiday season in some ways, and easy in others.  My parents generously hosted, which let me slough off on the cleaning-and-decorating part of the holidays, so I could focus on the fun bits.

So, the last weekend before Christmas, instead of  scrubbing, decorating, baking and wrapping, my husband and I took off for a weekend in New York City.  It was a trip we'd been discussing for months, but first one, then the other of us was sick and there was work and weather.   So on the Thursday evening we checked the weather report, found a hotel room and left right from work the next day to go down to Connecticut and catch the commuter rail into Grand Central Terminal.   It was a terrific trip.  We went to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the Natural History Museum.  We went to see the Imitation Game, which was in the first days of its release. (It's an excellent movie.  While it does take some considerable liberties with history, the changes were clearly made in order to make it a better story.  And it does a good job of presenting the spirit of the issues.  Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Alan Turing is extraordinary.)  We went to the Strand, our favorite NYC bookstore and we walked the last stretch of the High Line, which opened this year.   Great fun,  (Yes, there was a little shopping in and amongst as well.)

Of course I took advantage of the train travel to work on the Glasgow socks, which I finished Tuesday, blocked and were dry and popped into a gift bag on Christmas morning:

Christmas Eve, I broke out the baking pans, and had a marathon cookie baking session.  Biscuit wanted very badly to help.
After removing him from my work surface several times, I finally persuaded him to sit on the pass-through between the living room and kitchen where he could see what I was doing without getting paws-on the cooking.  Any Biscuit fluff that got in the frosting was minimal and should be regarded as adding a healthy dose of fiber to the cookies.

In between cooking and waiting for cookies to be cool enough to frost, I wrapped presents.  Biscuit helped with that too, but I didn't have a hand free for the camera.

And then we had a delightful quiet family celebration on Christmas morning.

The rest of the week was spent on practicalities; work, catching up on the laundry.
(While Biscuit is white and fluffy, he was not laundered.)

I turned out my knitting bag and found another pair of mittens lurking in the depths.

And I knit yet another pair of mittens and cast on for the next socks.  The weekend following Christmas, we went out to western Mass. and I got to stop in at Webs, but that's a tale for another post, since I haven't taken photos of anything yet.

I hope your holidays were lovely, and that 2015 will be filled with many fine yarns- of the fiber and blogging variety both.  Happy crafting!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Wake Your Human

by Biscuit (I bet you didn't know there were online cat-to-English translaters.)

My human is busy muttering about Christmas and messing around with string and pointy things (and won't let me play with them), so I thought I'd share with the feline readership some tips I have found to be very effective in getting humans out of bed so they can feed and entertain us.

Step 1.  Wander into the room with them and meow.   Do not be discouraged if they do not move.  This is just the first step.

Step 2.  Jump onto the bed and examine them closely.  Like this.  Purring as loudly as possible is encouraged.

Step 3.  At this point, the human may say something like "mpnhfh" and try to bury their head in blankets.  Carefully dig the blankets away from their face, and inspect the face even more closely.

Step 4.  Pat the human with your paw.  Bare skin is best, such as the cheek or nose.   However I have had excellent results in summer with patting the human in the armpit.   Be ready to jump off the bed in case they awaken thrashing with surprise.  (Why they should continue to be surprised after the first time is just one of those unexplainable things about humans.)

Step 5.  Continue patting until your human either gets up and goes toward the cat food, or else pushes you off the bed.   If pushed off the bed, return to step one and start the process again.  An acceptable variation is to jump on the dresser and start pushing things off onto the floor.  Hard things that fall noisily are best.  Varying your technique helps keep it fresh and effective.

Step 6.  Once the human is up and moving, strike a cute pose to distract them from being upset about being awakened.

PS:  It's best to use these steps only once per night.   If overused, your human may shut you somewhere out of earshot (say, on a sun porch) for the rest of the night.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Did Anybody Get the Number of the Month that Hit Me?

There I was, posting my knitting pictures, thinking about projects, and having all these good intentions about getting back to my more or less weekly blog post, and then...


Yeah, that was November.   At first I couldn't figure out what happened, but then I looked at my calendars, work and home.   Work...well, work has had a certain element of crazy busy that has become the new normal.   But this month we had a bunch of visitors...a guaranteed recipe for generating a whole brand-new list of action items while sucking a bunch of time away from your normal tasks.  And then I went on one of my occasional business trips, which was supposed to be a low-key out and back, one day affair.  But as it turns out I was visiting Erie, Pennsylvania, right on the Great Lakes, and got to experience the first couple of days of the big Buffalo-burying snowpocalypse.  Kind of the sneak preview, really, it was supposed to be a couple of inches, which turned into a foot of snow, canceled flights, closed airports and ultimately over four hours in a snowy ditch waiting for a tow truck.  (I wasn't driving, though I doubt it would have made any difference- it was bad luck and lousy conditions more than anything else.)

You'd think that this would have been some prime knitting time, and while I did knit a little on the long-suffering Glasgow sock whilst in the ditch, it got too dark to see the stitches around 4:30, so I spent the rest of the time reading (on a tablet), interspersed with watching other people get towed out of the ditch (it was an exceedingly popular ditch, being adjacent to an extremely slick patch of ice on a busy highway, we had a lot of company there) and listening to my coworker receiving increasingly bizarre calls from the rental company's automated service centers.  (He received a call at midnight, two hours after we'd finally got back to our hotel, advising us that a tow truck would be reaching us in 90 minutes.  The last call was at half past one when an annoyingly perky computerized voice advised him that his service had been completed.)

I finally got home a day late, and basically wiped out, to find our long-planned weekend house party was in full swing.  Thankfully, my adorable spouse had a stew in the crockpot, the house in order, and was completely on top of things, so I just dropped my bags, poured a large glass of wine, and sat for a couple of hours until I was feeling a bit less flattened.

The house party was a three day, wall-to-wall, board gaming extravaganza- we had a terrific time.  And after everyone went home, my husband came down with a cold, and I spent most of the next week asleep when I wasn't working, trying to avoid joining him in his misery.  (I was mostly successful at this, somewhat to my surprise.)   But not a lot else got done.  What did happen, you ask?

Well, I received the shawl pin I found and the shawl and pin went to their recipient early.  (She was at the party and shivering...seemed silly to wait.)

I got a better picture of the Nutkin socks.   They look awfully purple in this photo, and they're actually more dark reddish plum, but at least you can see the pattern a bit.

I knit a hat for a friend.   I'd measured his head so I knew what size to make, but despite having just made a similar hat it started coming out too big.  Biscuit helped me measure.

Sadly, we both agreed that it would have to be frogged.  (Doesn't he look sad about it?)

Take two went better and I was able to finish it before the party.

The party was of course of great interest and some trepidation to the feline members of the household.  Biscuit continues to find guests less alarming than he used to- and in fact went so far as to stretch up and pat our friend Sean on the hip.  Twice.  Sean was only slightly more surprised than we were- that's ordinarily a treatment reserved for household members.   Cookie was his usual sociable self , and Jake found the whole thing rather busy.  However it wasn't until near the end of the weekend, that he was completely weirded out, when he got inadvertantly folded into a sofa bed.  Jake being a very laid back kind of cat, apparently thought it was a quiet and comfy place to sack out for a nap, so it was several hours before he finally started trying to get out.  He's not a talker though, so instead of complaining loudly to management, he tried to get out on his own, and managed to work his way under the upholstery on the back of the couch.  Fortunately I was sitting on the couch at the time and heard him scrabbling.  I looked over the back of the couch expecting to see a cat trapped behind it and instead saw a bulge in the upholstery.

It was at this point when several guests pitched in to lift up the couch, and when no cat was forthcoming, put it back down again and we unfolded the sofa bed.  And Jake dashed out, wild-eyed, and disappeared into the basement to hide until after all the guests had left.  (I'm guessing he blamed the unusual number of people for the whole sofa thing.)  He did emerge once everyone was gone.

As we neared the end of the month, Thanksgiving popped up on the calendar, as it is wont to do. This year it arrived with eight inches of heavy wet snow.  I was somewhat dismayed to realize that after Pennsylvania, I had really had enough of snow already- and winter hasn't even started yet.  Once I got past the shoveling, though, I had to admit it was pretty.
A road in western MA, Thanksgiving Day
I did eventually finish the first Glasgow sock, and start the second. But mostly it's been so busy that when I have had a moment, I just cast on a pair of mittens.  They're small, fast, and I've made so many that I can largely do them from memory, so it's the perfect project for what little brain I've had remaining the last few weeks.

And now it's December.  It was 17 degrees F this morning (-8 C for my Canadian friends), and I'm wearing my hat and mittens and cowl.  There are Christmas lights up all around the neighborhood, and I'd be worried about how fast the time was passing except for one thing.  In two more weeks, the days start getting longer.  I can't wait.   But that's okay.  The way the last few weeks have gone, I'll probably come up for air and find out it's 2015.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Knitting Backlog

Anybody out there remember taking pictures on film?  And getting them back from the developer weeks later?  And then throwing them into a box promising you'd put them in albums Real Soon Now?  And opening said box to do it and realizing you haven't been putting this off for 2 or 3 years, or even 4 or 5 years, but more like 18?    Yeah.  Me too.

So, even though it took me the better part of 4 months to get all my vacation pics posted, really, I've improved.  And I love having done it- going back and reading over my old trips and seeing the pictures again brings back all the fun we had.   But the actual doing of it is still subject to some procrastination.  And what do I do when I'm procrastinating?

Read, yep.  Play games, check.  Clean the, well, sometimes.  But mostly I knit.   So there's a whole pile of finished knitting to show off (and really the desire to show it off helps push me to get the other blog stuff done, so it's all good.

I finished (and finally blocked) the Nutkin socks I left behind when I went to Scotland (the ones I started in Scotland haven't moved much- I'm a little socked-out, plus, the yarn is too dark to easily work with in many of my frequent knitting locations.
(Note to self, get a better picture of those.  The new camera and I are still getting to know each other.)

There's the Noro silk garden shawl.  I did some shopping last weekend looking for a shawl pin for it and finally went to Etsy, but it hasn't arrived yet.  This is destined to be a Christmas present (for someone who doesn't read my blog, obviously).

I even got to use my new blocking pads and wires.  Though I'm definitely going to need a second set of the interlocking blocks- one set barely handles a medium shawl.  And the big slab of styrofoam suffered a cat-astrophic failure and had to be thrown out.

There's the long pastel vest, which I've actually knit the full length of, but it's been waiting for me to make a decision on the edging.  (It looks the same as the last time you saw it, only longer.)  I've made and discarded a zillion plans but I've got to try something.  So, I have picked a pattern.  And will start working on it again Real Soon Now.

There are hats- I wanted to use up the bulky yarn left from the last sweater I made my husband, as it would go quickly and free up some space.   So, the plain hat.

The slouchy hat.

The Thorpe hat.

The Unoriginalish Hat (since the yarn was bulky and not super-bulky I added a pattern repeat and added another half-repetition of the chart by starting halfway through and knitting the half-plus two more chart repeats to get the right length before doing the decreases).

And I'm finally out of that yarn.

Next, I had this giant skein of angora-like novelty yarn.  I tried a couple of things, but nothing seemed to suit it until one of my knitting group suggested big, big needles.  No, even bigger needles.  So- this may be the first plain garter stitch scarf I've ever made.  I actually wound up kind of liking it, though it's not really my style, so it's going into the gift bin.

Then my husband and I settled in to watch the new Ken Burns miniseries on the Roosevelts- fabulous! Great stuff.  I needed simple knitting for that, so I made some mittens.

And some more mittens.

And even more mittens.

And finally a colorwork hat, because I've got a ton of sport weight yarn that needs using, and hey, colorwork.  Totally addictive.  I get withdrawal symptoms if don't do it for too long.

And that brings you pretty much up to date on my life.  Busy, eh?   Biscuit is just exhausted with all the supervising he's had to do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

PS: The Slideshow

Looking for just the pretty pictures, without all my babbling?  Look no more.  Here's a massive slideshow of the whole trip in pictures:
rfholly's EnglandScotland2014 album on Photobucket

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 16: The Royal Society

Our last Saturday in London, we went to see the Royal Society's summer science show.  Founded in 1660, the Royal Society has been a center for the exchange of scientific knowledge and promotion of science for centuries.   And every summer, they invite researchers to present their work to the public. We scheduled our trip, in part so we could attend.  And it was fascinating.  We spent a good chunk of the day wandering around, looking at the displays and chatting with the researchers.

What sort of exhibits were they?  Well:

  • The University of East Anglia is doing research into leaf-cutter ants.  The leaf-cutter ant does not cut leaves to eat, it cuts leaves and uses them to farm fungi, which it then eats.  The ants produce a number of compounds in their bodies that help them to encourage useful fungi and discourage unuseful ones.  Some of those compounds are known antibiotics.  But the ones that aren't- those have the potential to generate entirely new classes of useful drugs.  So the researchers are isolating, analyzing and testing these compounds to see what they can do.  
  • Another group is working on interactions of bacteria in our guts with the immune system.  This has enormous potential for the treatment of conditions like colitis and IBS.  
  • The police academy in presented research on accident investigation and analysis. 
  • A presentation on research into use of ionic liquids for treating polution (ionic liquids tend to be short-lived compounds but can be extremely effective solvents. 
  • A bio-medical imaging study that turns tissue transparent so it can better be analyzed (right now, it's limited to dead tissue, but they're working on doing it with living tissue). 
  • The Rosetta mission to land a probe on a comet.  They expect to catch up with the target comet in November- I'm quite keen to see what happens.
  • Use of proton beams to treat cancer (they have lower energy than the typical radiation therapy and can be used with less damage to healthy tissue). 
  • 3D laser imaging being used to map and analyze the possible movements of dinosaurs. 
  • Software to make 3D images using 2D cameras. 
  • Smart wing design
  • Using ultrasonic waves to levitate small items, locate flaws in solid objects, and provide tactile feedback for use in virtual control devices.  

I can't begin to do the coolness if it all justice.  Do check out the show site.  The early 21st century is  just an amazing time and place to be alive.

Views from the Royal Society terrace

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 12-17 The Rest of the Story

July 2-6, 2014

The next day was our last in Carlisle.  We spent the morning at the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, which is basically the museum of the city of Carlisle.  It had everything from Roman artifacts (Carlisle was the western endpoint of Hadrian's wall) to art to a lovely Jacobean garden filled with plants used for cooking and medicine as well as for decoration at the time the house was built.

From there we took the scenic train back to London via Leeds.
JT liked the 'Cafe Choux Choux' sign.
Leeds was preparing to be the starting point of the Tour de France this year and the city was filled with all things bicycle.  Including gold biking jerseys all over the city.

We made it back to London in time to check in to our hotel and enjoy some walking.  The hotel this time was the NH Harrington Hotel, which we liked a good deal- very comfortable, quiet, and notable for toiletries that smelled like citrus flavored candy.  I kind of liked them, but JT professed to find smelling like a Starburst fruit chew a bit disturbing.

The rest of the trip was filled with activities, though not the sort of thing to benefit from a linear recitation.  We walked, of course, admiring the lovely crescents.

We spotted favorite signs:
Outside a pub:  "Well behaved children welcome,
the rest will be made into pies."
We admired noticed public art.
This is either art, or a fugitive prop from
Dr. Who.  You decide which. 
We went to see Westminster Cathedral, which we had briefly walked through on our first trip to London over 10 years ago- this time we took the verger's tour, which was excellent.

The city's attitude toward pedestrians was occasionally worrying:

We got to see new construction.   This new building is sometime called the 'Walkie-Talkie', and is infamous for generating car-melting reflections.   I thought the juxtaposition with the building to its left makes it look more like a giant stapler, jammed hinge-first into the ground.

We went to an exhibition on Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace:

And, having learned about William Kent's role in the interior design of the palace, we also went to see a special exhibition at the V&A on William Kent, Designing Georgian Britain. Very cool- not all of his work survives, but there were films of buildings and gardens that do, and images, prints and paintings of ones that don't.  Also some of the fabulous furniture he used in his decor.

We took in a couple of plays- the musical of Charlie and the Chocolate factory in the theater district. I had wondered how they were going to manage the fantastical effects of the story- as it turns out- brilliantly.  It was excellent, particularly the actor playing Willy Wonka.

Outside the theatre we found a monument to a favorite writer.   It was put up in the theatre district to commemorate the umpty-enth performance of the Mousetrap (which we saw on our last trip).

We had another lunch at the Kerb street food market.  Yum!  Not quite as warm, so there were fewer toddlers rolling around in the fountains.

We went to the summer science show at the British Royal Society- I'll write a separate post about that, as it was fascinating and deserves more time than a brief blurb.

We were able to get tickets for a Shakespeare performance at the New Globe Theatre.  The play was Titus Andronicus (which is obscure for a reason) but the experience was fabulous- seeing the staging, the excellent acting, the use of the audience for crowd scenes,  and the broad humor.

We found another entry for our sign collection- just the fix for droopy cannons:

Speaking of public art, we were non-plussed by the giant blue rooster in Trafalgar square.  You think I'm kidding you?
We had no idea.

We had dinner at Chimes, a favorite restaurant, and went to a classical music concert at St. Martins-in-the-Fields- something else  we've done before and always enjoy.  And we spent an evening at Cecil Sharpe House, home of the English Folk Song and Dance Society in Camden, watching a concert put on by all the various groups that meet there.  The theme was 'Spinning Yarns', which was bound to appeal to me:
Fiddlers at Cecil Sharpe House
We walked back from Camden, enjoying the late daylight and the rosy sunset on the Georgian architecture.

There was more walking, sausages at the Borough market, our traditional last-day stops for English cheeses at Neal's Yard Dairy and Hatchards' book store, a trek to the airport, the ritual last purchase of English chocolate and the long flight home.   And a long sigh for the end of another fabulous vacation.