Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turkey report

I sometimes forget that I have a sharper sense of humor than most people, even though I don't mean anything by it. In any event, I assure you that I am being completely sincere when I say that we had a lovely Thanksgiving. The kids were on their best behavior (no "ew"ing at the dinner table!); Elvis and Miss Thing did a piano concert and N. invented his own board game (look out, Milton Bradley). It was sweet to see Tom's grandmother playing Candyland with her great-grandkids.

And the food was delicious.

(I can say this without being accused of bragging because we went for the heat-and-serve option from Whole Foods.) I discovered I have a fondness for peach pie. The conversation was pleasant and the wine flowed freely.

And for all this, I am thankful.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from Charcoal and us

to those of you celebrating it....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We interrupt this pointy-headed book report

to direct your knitterly (and crochetyerly) attention to Knit1 magazine, which apparently has had something of a facelift. Go here and see if you don't agree that this is looking far, far more interesting than the Lemonhead...

(That Trisha Malcolm. She is just too effing much.)

Rest of the summer book report

Okay, here's another semi-annual book report. It seems I haven't done one of these since, let's see, early August? Hmmm. Brace yourselves: that's a lot of reading in these parts.

Walking Through Walls: A Memoir by Philip Smith. This one is hard to describe: the memoir of a guy whose father was an interior decorator to the Miami rich during the 1950s (yep, his dad has a lot of interesting stories to tell). What makes the memoir even weirder, and yet more compelling, is that Smith's father also was regarded as an extremely talented "psychic," for lack of a better word. Through a mystical regime of fasting, yoga and all sorts of New Age exercises, his father transformed himself into a psychic healer. It's really difficult for me to accept at face value all the anecdotes that Smith tells of his father -- an ability to heal people through mental energy? stopping ants from invading your Florida house by "talking" to them psychically? -- but the author seems sincere in his belief that these things actually occurred. Whether or not you accept it as literal truth, it certainly is an entertaining and offbeat read.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Mixes the current-day fictional story of a young man who grew up in a polygamous sect with the based-on-history story of Ann Eliza Webb, who was one of Brigham Young's wife (possibly the 19th wife). Fascinating stuff.

Exit Music by Ian Rankin, is the latest in the gritty John Rebus detective series set in Edinborough, Scotland. When this book opens, Rebus is about to retire from the force -- and he, and his partner Siobhan have all sorts of mixed feelings about his imminent departure. You can always rely on Rankin for a solid, entertaining mystery with lots of local color.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. This book, published in the US posthumously, got a lot of press; I found it to be quite a bit overhyped. The beginning is especially slow to get moving, although the pace picked up about a third of the way through. The book begins with a magazine publisher being found guilty of libeling a prominent industrialist, although the reader is told that he was set up. The publisher then gets a strange invitation from another wealthy industrialist to move to his remote village and write a family history -- including solving the long-ago murder of a cousin. Not a bad read, but I had to persevere through the first few chapters. This one needed a good edit.

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolf. Wolf is the pseudonym of "a well-known and well-regarded North American writer." If you Google the pseudonym, you find a lot of articles speculating as to the real identity of the author, but, well, who cares? This is a decent mystery about a Canadian detective who is not the typical protagonist of a mystery novel: in her sixties, with serious back problems, living with her mother. She's tracking a scary serial killer with a religious fetish.

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read. I got a kick out of this one; another mystery, but the main character is a former debutante, daughter of a WASP family with old money. Her ambivalent attitude toward her family and its social prominence, and the insider's look at what it's like to grow up in a family whose prominence and wealth has faded in recent times, was interesting, and it was a keep-you-guessing-til-the-end kind of mystery.

Between Here and April by Deborah Kopaken Cagen. The protagonist in the book is a mom of two, juggling a freelance career with her struggling marriage and the chaos of young children. When she begins having fainting episodes, she consults a psychiatrist, and discovers disturbing memories of a childhood friend who went missing. Some of Lizzie's turmoil has to do with problems in her marriage, her own mother's failings, and her repression of a brutal incident while on a photojournalist's shoot. But some of what Lizzie investigates is the unpleasant side of being a mom -- i.e. how exhausting giving one's all to a child can be; how childrearing can sap the energy & vitality out of even a good marriage; how even the most loving and doting mother sometimes wants to beat the crap out of her kids because no one else knows how to push her buttons as well as they do. Yep, it's heavy stuff, and a bit melodramatic at times, but thought-provoking.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (not to be confused with Anne of Cleves). How could I refuse to read a mystery set on the Shetland Isles? I enjoyed the story of a lonely detective oddly named Jimmy Perez, who grew up on the Isles and now investigates crimes there. When a teenager is killed, Perez has to investigate her death, and figure out if recluse Magnus Tait did it -- or if he's been blamed for someone else's crime.

Christine Falls is another brooding mystery set in 1950s Ireland, written by a Booker Prize winner under a pseudonym. The main character is a pathologist who discovers his stepbrother altering a file at the city morgue.

Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina, is part of a series of mysteries set in 1980s Glasgow. Another fast-paced read with newspaper reporter Paddy Meehan investigating the death of her former lover, who was also a journalist.

Goodnight, Irene by Jan Burke. Breathlessly billed on the cover as a favorite of Bill Clinton, this is another fast-paced mystery with a newspaper reporter as the main character. Irene Kelly is a reporter at a small newspaper in southern California investigating the abrupt death of her friend and mentor.

The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman tells the story of a college professor who returns to Italy to serve as advisor for a film about Shakespeare. The professor also is trying to figure out why one of her star students fell (or was pushed) off the balcony of a high building just before he was scheduled to spend the summer in Italy working on the same film.

And yes, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, the teen novel about a high school girl who falls in love with a modern-day vampire.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Too many distractions

First, the other moms at Little Miss's ballet class insisted that I read Twilight. I was highly skeptical -- and then couldn't put it down.

In the meantime, I was cajoled to join Facebook and have been spending way too much time playing with it.

And then we woke up to see snow:

Meanwhile, the "to-do" list grows ever longer...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This just in. . .

Did you know that "[k]nitting blogs are the estrogen-fueled, crafty-fingered appendix of the blogosphere: surprisingly large once you take a look at them, yet hardly noticeable to anyone but the busy bacteria that hang out there"? Hmm, I'm not sure I like that uncannily accurate description (especially coming from "The A.V. Club" -- which I guess is written by people who watch a lot of teevee but aren't quite funny enough for The Onion?), but at least the authors pay homage to the Yarn Harlot. (Thanks, Mr. G-K-I-Y-H!)

Today's Ravelry moment

Go to the "Patterns" forum and help the desperate, canine-loving knitter who is searching for a pattern for a "dog poop bag":

some time ago I saw a pattern that was for a larger bag. I believe it had a square stiffened base with a scented dryer sheet in it to mask “offensive odours”!! It’s not just for holding plastic bags but for carrying home the - er - doings of one’s dog. I thought this would make a good quick easy gift for a couple of friends with dogs.
Here might be a good time to use that yarn with the antibacterial properties they were advertising a few years ago... (thanks, Selma!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

On sock flats

At Stitches the other weekend, I spent a lot of time examining sock flats. If you aren't familiar with them, they are long rectangles of yarn, sometimes knit with two strands, other times knit with one with a line of demarcation to show the halfway point. They are dyed as knitted cloth, rather than as unknitted yarn. You can either unravel the cloth and wind it into a ball, or knit them directly from the cloth, just casting on with the loose end and unraveling as you go along. (The ones knit with two strands together are for those who knit two socks at the same time -- one strand for each pair, ensuring matching socks.)

What fascinated me were the ways in which the dyers had applied the yarn to the flats. (Please believe that I am in no way denigrating any particular dyers or vendors at the show; this is merely one of those pointy-headed musings to which I am prone.) Some of the flats had colors applied more or less randomly. But others had created patterns on the flat. Some had zigzags of color; others stripes or criss-crosses; some even had stamped or stenciled shapes onto the flat to create an image of, say, an insect or a flower in one color on a different colored background.

Which led me to wonder why.

If you were going to keep the flat intact and, I don't know, frame it or something, then the stencils and intricate designs would make sense. But it seemed odd that the dyer had gone to all the trouble of creating these designs, knowing that the person who bought them was going to (presumably) unwind them and knit them into socks. And given the variables in gauge and sock size and stitch pattern, there was no way the dyer could ensure that any particular pattern would be created or recreated in the finished socks.

One of the issues that Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn addresses in the technical section is why handpainted yarns look the way they do when knit into socks. I spend some time talking about the phenomenon known as pooling (or splotching, or stacking, or landscaping, or whatever you happen to call those effects where particular colors seem to line up in the knitted stitches and create patterns or unattractive blotches or almost-stripes).

And it seemed to me that a lot of these sock flats were going to end up pooling like a mofo.

One of the vendors had helpfully included a flat along with one of the socks knit from it. Curiously, the finished sock had a very symmetrical striping look to it. Upon closer examination, I concluded that the sock must have been knit using two separate balls of yarn, alternating rows. (I even saw what I think was the un-woven-in end where the second ball was added in, shortly after the cuff.)

Now there's nothing wrong with using two balls of yarn in alternating stripes to break up the pooling of a handpainted yarn. Indeed, it's a time-honored method -- but it's a method usually used when the knitter doesn't like the way the colors look as the sock is being knit up. In other words, it's something you do when your handpainted sock yarn is pooling and you hate it.

So if the sock flat looks attractive in its unknit form, but not that attractive in the knit-up sock, what's the point? Is it for the dyer to have fun playing with the flat? Or is it for the knitter who ends up knitting and wearing the socks?

I have resisted creating sock flats that use these kinds of decorative methods for the very reason that I thought they'd make socks that pooled and splotched. Now you're always going to have a skein of handpainted yarn here or there that pools and splotches -- it comes with the turf. But I guess I'm wondering what the point of the sock flat is if it doesn't do something different than you can do with a regular hank. (When I've dyed sock flats, I've used them to create striping effects that one can't easily achieve with a normal-sized hank of yarn.)

Your thoughts are welcome, especially if you've knit with sock flats before. (Just please don't mention any vendors or dyers by name in the comments. I don't want anyone to think I'm picking on them.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Ravelry moment...

In today's Ravelry moment, offer your thoughts on the desirability of knitting a headstone cozy (Patterns thread), or help recommend yarn (without elastic) for a knitted bra...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gloomy day, pretty patterns

Another week slipped by me, although in my defense, I did get a lot done. Unfortunately, blogging was not one of those things.

However, at least I can report that there are lots of pretty new patterns to ogle:
  • Twist Collective's Winter Issue is out here (hey, lookit that nice scarf & cap set by Ve-Ve!);
  • there's a preview of the winter Interweave Knits here (hey, lookit that wonderful green sweater by my co-author Laura!); and
  • sometime this weekend, the new Knotions will be out (hey, lookit that helpful a book review by yours truly).
Have fun!

Monday, November 10, 2008

With apologies to Cameron McIntosh

I just returned from my overnight venture to Baltimore, host (for the last time) of Stitches East. I was joined by intrepid traveling companion Mindy -- who for the first time in a long time, was NOT working the show.

This was my third (I think) Baltimore Stitches, and I was just beginning to get to know the city a little. Alas, the X-men are moving next year's Stitches way further north: to Hartford, Connecticut. They even had a guy from the Hartford Chamber of Commerce sitting at a table to give out literature about new locale. Bye-bye, Baltimore -- it's been fun.

While many of the regulars were there -- WEBS, thank God, and the Mannings, and Yarn Barn of Kansas -- some of the smaller yarn shops and many of the farms and smaller vendors weren't. Blue Moon Fiber Arts was one conspicuous absentee; Morehouse Merino and Green Mountain Spinnery and Kid Hollow were three more; I'm sure there were others. The crowds also seemed smaller. There were only a few times where I was aware of there being a long line at a vendor or more than one or two people looking in a booth. I guess the struggling economy had to affect the knitting world, too.

And while I enjoyed myself, I couldn't help but feel a bit bereft. Oh sure, we had a delightful lunch with the charming Mama E. I got to say hello to some of my faves, like Kathy from WEBS (her husband Steve is quite a hottie, too -- way to go, Kathy!), and Linda P., whom I dearly love, and Kristen Nicholas (maybe someday when her slutty licentious kitteh gives birth for the forty-seventh time, I can convince Tom to let me take one of the kittens: an itteh-bitteh kitteh from the knitterateh?); and, okay, Li'l Ricky was wearing something awful (in this case, pants the color of stale ketchup); and I bought some fab yarn and books, including the yarn and pattern for a Norah Gaughan sweater (she is the best thing that happened to Berroco. Ever.).

But something was definitely missing.

At dinner, an empty chair at our table mocked me.

The maid left three pieces of chocolate in our room, when there were only two of us.

As I stared into a box of pastries that Mindy brought, I thought wistfully: Vé-vé would have loved these...


It wasn't that something was missing; it was someone.

I missed Vé-vé.

Yes, it was all coming clear now.

Here was the lonely, empty chair where she would have used my laptop to check her email and send saucy billets-doux to her sexy husband.

This would have been her wineglass, to share the impertinent yet inexpensive (with a hint of poir) bottle of red that we (finally) tracked down.

(I never thought I'd find a state with even more bizarre liquor laws than Pennsylvania, but Maryland is pretty weird. I mean, what kind of state sells wine at a Rite-Aid?)

Mindy would have (sniffle) showed her the Salt Peanuts she made from Vé-vé's pattern:

and I would have shown her this advance copy I just received of my new book:

When I saw Mindy's clothesbasket full of coffeemaking equipment -- Mindy brings her coffee press, spring water from her well, a heating source and saucepan, mugs and coffee with her on every trip -- I got morose, imagining how Vé-vé and I would have teased Mindy about her fancy "portmanteau" and about how seriously she takes her café americain.

And this architectural detail, on the outside of the Wharf Rat? We would have admired its decorative lines together as we supped on a light déjeuner.

Yep, Stitches East was fun and all. But it just wasn't the same without Vé-vé.

On my own
Pretending she's beside me
All alone, I walk with her till morning

In the rain the pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight
And all I see is she and me for ever and forever, knitting...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Come say hi at Stitches East!

If you will be at Stitches East, please stop by the Rosie's Yarn Cellar booth on Saturday around 3:30 p.m. Lisa, Laura and I will be signing Knit So Fine: Designs with Skinny Yarn so please bring your book -- or just stop by and say hello! I'll be at Stitches East Saturday and for a little while Sunday morning so look for me.

Now that this big election is over, things will be getting back to a more normal state -- which means more book reviews (and I'm working on one for Knotions, too) and more dyeing and other good stuff, too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

10 Reasons Why You Should Vote For Barack Obama

1. His judgment is superlative. While Congress dithered and let themselves be led into an unnecessary and staggeringly expensive war, Obama called bullshit on them:
...I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.

The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.

My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.

I don’t oppose all wars.

After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this Administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

2. He is not a muslin; no, he is an actual human being rather than a piece of fabric traditionally used for quilting. (Also, he is not a Muslim, but rather a Christian; however, personally I don't give a rat's ass what his religion is.)

3. While the conventional wisdom said Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in, Obama quietly and carefully set up an exceptional campaign machine, making brilliant use of new technology and old-fashioned statistics, and won his party's nomination. Without raising his voice, he took on some of the toughest and most experienced politicians in Washington to get where he is today -- and if he can beat hardscrabble politicians like the Clintons, Karl Rove and John McCain, just think what he can do in the White House.

4. He passes the "one house/one spouse" rule.

5. He's run an honorable campaign, and despite the conventional wisdom and all the handwringers, he's never stooped to sling mud the way his opponent has.

6. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their family. Obama cut out of his campaign with less than two weeks to go to visit his ailing grandmother, so he wouldn't risk missing her should she pass away before Election Day. (By the way, he showed good judgment on that, too; his grandmother passed away Sunday night at the age of 86.) He took another break on Friday night to take his two daughters trick-or-treating. That says something about the measure of the man.

7. People like him and are inspired by him. It's foolish and short-sighted to hold his transcendent ability as a speaker against him. And the fact that he inspires people in America and around the world is a good thing. If you can inspire people, they will work with you to get things done.

8. If John McCain dies in office -- and no presidential candidate has been as old or had such an ominous medical history (as far as we can tell from the limited release of McCain's medical records) -- Sarah Palin would be president. 'Nuff said.

9. Don't be manipulated by fear. Don't let the powers-that-be who have profited handsomely and grabbed obscene amounts of power unto themselves scare you into thinking we'll be less safe with a democrat, or a person of color, or a man who wants to work with our allies, or a [fill in doomsday scenario here] in office.

10. We've had dumb for nearly eight years and look where it's gotten us: now it's time to try smart.

Please vote.

And please vote for Barack Obama.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Halloween recap

It's been a wild couple of days, but here's the (belated) Halloween recap.