Saturday, December 31, 2005

Whiny TV programs

Some of the shows I'm recording off the Tivo are from the series "Battlefield Britain". The series is, by and large, not bad -- lots of good history, presented in such a way as to inform and hold the viewer's interest. But I'm on the fourth show, and am getting tired of the actors portraying people contemporary to the events being discussed. Their dialogue is universally of the "The battle was SO awful! The conditions were SO much worse than we expected!" sort -- IOW, whinging. The show needed a better writer for those bits. Of COURSE the battles were awful. War is hell, as Sherman said. I think many of the people involved probably sucked it up and dealt with it.

Lazy day, and review of "Mason-Dixon Knitting"

Today I'm doing nothing. Sort of.

I'm sitting on the couch, working on K.'s socks and ripping the CDs we brought upstairs from the basement during yesterday's organizing, and also, since we got ourselves a DVD recorder for Xmas, recording old Tivo'ed programs that we've been meaning to record and delete. So far (fingers crossed), it looks like the *&#@!! machine is working properly. (I tried it the other day and had trouble, hence the cursing.) Also put a beef a roast in the oven, using America's Test Kitchen's slow roast method -- easy as pie, and great results.

I have a bunch of lousy CDs -- some of which I've actually paid for, but some of which come from the "reject" shelf at work where CDs that the folks at work decide aren't worth either reviewing or keeping for the library. I also wind up with a bunch of books that way -- some are gems, many are dreck. I need to go through the CD collection and decide which ones to get rid of. Ditto the books. They'll probably get recycled through the review shelf at work again -- plenty of bookworms and audioheads there, so they'll ultimately disappear into someone else's book or CD stash. So I guess you can say I'm doing a form of housecleaning today, which is fitting for the end of the year.

A relatively decent book that came through for review, and wound up in my hands courtesy of a friend at work who knows I knit, is a preview copy of Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne, who have the blog by that name, so-called because one lives in Manhattan, the other in Texas.

I wasn't familiar with their blog before reading the book, but went to check it out. Both the blog and the book are filled with witty, sassy posts, so it's small wonder they got a book contract. The two authors play off each other pretty well. They also include some contributions that readers have posted to their blog.

The projects include washcloths (I agree with their point -- it gets one over the "precious knits" syndrome), a knitted lace curtain (not a bad intro to knitted lace, though I wonder how many people will want to knit curtains), felted storage boxes (I don't think I'd use them, but YMMV), a nice intro to mitered squares, and a whole bunch of fun-looking afghan projects using variations on the Log Cabin theme. I like this book because in addition to providing the basic info on each technique learned, it also encourages the reader to think and innovate on their own.

This book wouldn't be a bad buy for a beginning knitter who was looking for something to buy after Stitch & Bitch Nation, or an intermediate knitter who wanted a chatty, interesting book with some fun projects. The projects range from the fairly simple to somewhat more challenging (but not intimidating), and between that and the entertaining writing style, it would make a decent addition to a knitting library. I think I'll give it to my friend Lisa, since the projects look like they're her style, and see if I can get her to post a review, too.

Aran sweater and other projects

So I signed up for Janet Szabo's "Son of Aran" knitalong, because I haven't knitted this kind of sweater before (saddle shoulder, top-down), and it should be an interesting challenge (if only to my patience, since I tend to like projects I can finish quickly) and good learning experience.

Most of the participants seem to be using Cascade 220. I saw some of that yarn when I was at Webs earlier this week, but I'm using plain ol' Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool, because a) I'm knitting it for my hubby and he wants it in plain white and doesn't care how much I spend, or don't spend, on yarn; and b) it's really more about the learning experience for me.

I got the gauge of 22 st/in. on moss stitch using size 4 needles (I'm a fairly loose knitter, and knit continental style). The KAL starts Jan. 1, so I'm all set to start.

Not that I need any more projects, mind you. I just bought several patterns from White Lies Designs, and I still need to finish K's socks and start G's stranded Bicycle Socks, another self-challenge project.

Furthermore, my sis is coming over today or tomorrow so we can work on her wedding dress. We need to find a pattern that's the right basic shape, then figure out how we want to embellish it. While we're at it, I also need to find a pattern for my own dress for her wedding (though I may just wind up buying something). Not sure how much we'll get done, since I drank too much tea last night and got only about five hours of sleep.

Was lying awake at 5 AM and thinking about visiting a friend who moved to Austin this past August. I have plenty of leave to burn (have been taking time off so as not to lose any by the end of the year), and now have a reliable backup at work, so it ought to be possible, yay! But she has a cat. I love cats. But I'm horribly allergic to them -- three hours is about my limit, even with Claritin and an inhaler, so an overnight stay -- or a week's stay -- is problematic. Emailed her to see if she has any suggestions. Damn allergies...

Speaking of projects, Mom and Dad came over yesterday and helped me clear out one end of the basement so we can start putting in studs and drywall. They asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said "help", so this was their present. Moving everything took less time than I thought it would -- we got the job of packing and moving stuff done in just a couple of hours. K. and I are going to be finishing out one side of the basement, then shifting everything around and finishing out the other side.

I got a bit testy with K. because he came down to the basement with us and told us what he wanted us to do then was going to leave. Told him he needed to be there for at least the first 20 minutes so we'd arrange things so he could get at stuff he needed, so he did stick around a bit. Other than that, and having to keep Mom on track (she gets distracted easily), the morning went pretty well. I'd like to start ripping up the carpet in K.'s study and put down the flooring, but he's not ready for me to do that -- the study is a pigsty at the moment, and he shows no signs of wanting to clean it up yet, damnit. I don't know if the study will get done before the basement project at this point.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tea Caddy

I think I have a late 18th c. / early 19th c. tea caddy.

I bought a small wooden box on Ebay to house my WWI sewing tools. At Historic Deerfield on Tuesday, I saw a very similar box, which started me wondering. Doing a little googling, I turned up this.

The caddy I have looks an awful lot like this one from 1790, with a brass escutcheon and a smaller handle at the top. The interior of mine has been stripped of any tea-related fittings, and a velvet pincushion was glued to the top by a previous owner. It also has had felt glued to the bottom. The box is made of a pale wood with a mahogany veneer and a lighter colored trim, possibly boxwood, as accents. The interior dividers are in the right places for a tea caddy. I'll post pics tomorrow, when I have some good daylight to take photos by.

Given its rough shape (much of the lighter accent wood is missing), I don't think it has a great deal of value. Still, I may think twice about taking it to reenacting events, and will see if I can find something else to use for my sewing tools.

Are twin sets outdated?

Before I get into this, I'll say my answer is "no", but here's the story:

While visiting my middle sis in MA, she gave me a bag of twin set sweaters that I'd sent up to her via Mom. J. apparently didn't know that they'd come from me, and so gave me this spiel about how twin sets were all kind of dowdy and out of date, and while Mom had a good eye for quality, she had no eye for fashion. I had, in fact, sent them to her because I wasn't really sure they were really good colors for me (red, brown, and green), not because they were out of style (and I've recently been regretting getting rid of them -- couldn't remember whether I'd sent them to J., or taken them to Goodwill). I didn't tell her they'd been mine; what I did say was that, around my office, twin sets were quite popular because some of our staff is engaged in the sort of fundraising where you're meeting with the moneyed set, and it is a good idea to look like the people with whom you are meeting. To be fair, J. is an electrical engineer, and I can see where twin sets might not be very popular in the engineering community. She also said that her church is one of those where everyone wears blue jeans and t-shirts to Sunday services, so she has no reason to dress up on a regular basis. But to be snarky, she really has very little native fashion sense; she showed me a lavender dress she was planning on wearing to a wedding, and the turquoise chiffon wrap she was thinking of wearing with it. If I didn't know better I'd wonder if she'd gone color-blind.

Earlier in the weekend we'd had a conversation about the difference in workplace clothing standards between where I work and where she works, and between DC and MA in general. I notice that men wear more sweaters in MA. It gets cold enough to justify it there, whereas in DC, my hubby and the guys I know don't wear them that much -- for instance, it's in the 50s here today, and while I'd wear a sweater in this weather, I think guys tend to run warmer and don't need them, generally speaking. I also noticed a difference between DC and NYC -- they wear lots more fur there, and are certainly more fashion-forward, whereas clothing in the DC area seems to be more on the "classic" or "conservative" side (which some might call stodgy, I suppose). Living in DC, I tend to look at pics in Vogue etc. and go "why on earth would anyone wear that?" But when visiting NYC, I could see where those fashions would look at home there, but be out of place here.

I noticed some twin sets for sale in NYC -- and, worn with a bias-cut tweed skirt, bangly jewelry and some funky shoes, they'd be quite fashionable. You could wear a twin set with blue jeans and boots; or you could wear it with a good pair of pants and pearls. Heck, you could even wear a twin set with a plaid skirt and Doc Martens and deliberately subvert the whole look. The twin set is sort of like blue jeans, the corduroy blazer, or other wardrobe classics. It's a canvas for your personality; it can go up or down depending on how you accessorize it.

So, no, I really don't think the twin set is out of date. But it still tickles me to be lectured on fashion by J., another nerd (counting myself as somewhat nerdy, fwiw).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


A holiday trip to MA would not be complete without a little sightseeing. So on Tuesday we went to Historic Deerfield, which I'd seen before but which K had not. When I went with my middle sis before, I concentrated on textiles; this time we went to look at furniture, which are K's thing. He took lots of pics, and practically drooled himself silly. I have GOT to get that boy up to Winterthur...

On the way home, we went to Webs, which was on the list of things to do if we had time (I initially thought it was too far from sis's house for a convenient trip). We decided to drop by en route home, though.

I got the yarn for the hap shawl from Webs, and have no business buying more yarn until I finish a few more projects -- but it wouldn't have been a trip to this fiber mecca if I hadn't bought something, right? So I bought the new edition of Knitting in the Old Way, which was on sale; a few more needles (always need more needles), the Estonian Garden scarf pattern, and about 1250 yards (1/4 lb) of Jaggerspun Zephyr in grey. (Yes, more grey. I like grey. Always have.) Oh, yes -- also 4 skeins of Artful Yarns Supermerino. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, but it's lovely and was calling my name. Maybe something in lacy cables...

The new edition of Knitting in the Old Way is definitely worth the purchase. I intend to post a review sometime in the next day or so.

Xmas with the Nephews

We spent the holiday with my middle sis (who will be called J1) and her family in MA, driving up Christmas Eve and returning home today.

One of the highlights of the visit was making cookies -- J2 made sugar cookies, which he rolled out of red and green dough that he made into a log and then cut; and I brought some gingerbread cookie mix (I wanted to go from scratch but decided that would just take too much time) and cookie cutters. Despite some problems with getting the icing to flow, making cookies with the kids was a blast. Their ideas about decoration were kind of sketchy, but it really doesn't matter, right? It's the having fun that counts. The next day we all went to the neighbors' houses and gave them plates of cookies.

The boys are six and three, and were very excited about Santa's visit -- J1 and J2 pulled the NORAD Santa website up, and there was a moment of panic when the boys thought they wouldn't be able to clean the living room up and that Santa would therefore skip their house. They know that other people get them presents, though, since the tree had gifts from various relatives. I guess I have mixed feelings about lying to kids about Santa... It's traditional, but doesn't it ultimately undermine a kid's trust in their parents? Does it really matter, ultimately?

Btw, S., they're very much enjoying the birthday presents you sent. They had a video clip of the kids saying "thank you" that they were going to send, but for some reason the sound disappeared.

Ice storm

This is the picture out my back window after an ice storm earlier this month. I know they're destructive and dangerous, but there's something also just magical about looking out the window and seeing the trees looking as though they'd been transformed into lace.

The Neverending Stockings

Here are the 18th c. stockings I started for my friend G. last spring. I got bored with them and put them down several times to work on other projects (I was going to say, to work on more interesting projects, but that wouldn't be strictly true, since some of the other projects such as the grey hap shawl are far from interesting at the moment). But they were finally done at the end of October, and here's the first time he had a chance to wear them with his 18th c. "good suit", which I made for him out of olive linen a few years ago. (G. is a clothes horse, and the only person I sew for routinely other than myself and my hubby, because he's fun to work with -- knows what he wants, and moreover knows what's correct -- I had a few bad experiences sewing for people who knew what they wanted and wouldn't be guided to more accurate design.)

I put pretty simple clocks on the ankles -- purl stitches flanking a seed stitch column. The "seam" in back is a purl stitch flanking two seed stitch columns. I had to rip back and redo a few times, esp. since the ankles were a bit too tight at first, but they turned out pretty well, I think.

Alexandria's Scottish Christmas Walk

Here's my hubby (left) and Peter, our group's piper/fiddler (right), with Gerry in the background (center), from Alexandria's Scottish Walk.

Ok, now that that's over with... WWI event and other stuff

We now return you to your regularly (or not so regularly) scheduled knitting and other related content.

I've been having problems putting pics on the PC since mid-Fall, because I installed some software that was supposed to allow my cell phone to sync with a PC interface. Didn't work, and messed up the USB drivers for most of my other devices.

That problem has now been fixed. I also have a new camera (more on that shortly), and hope to be playing catchup.

I still haven't finished my big, grey hap shawl. The center took forever to knit (it's 40" on a side), and the edging is taking even longer, so I've gotten bored with it and have been working on socks and other instant-gratification knitting.

So, socks: I started off this run of socks because I was at a World War I reenacting event, doing a donut stand (my impression - and this is the first time I'd done it - was that of a Belgian refugee who had fled to live with a relative in France and was trying to make some more money to get further away from the front by selling donuts). I needed something to do when I wasn't making donuts, and so I started some period-appropriate socks.

Re: pic -- notice how doughnuts and coffee bring everyone together! The guy on the left is a British soldier, and the one on the right is German. I found a WWI Salvation Army Doughnut recipe which didn't require yeast to rise (a problem at a cold November event). Made myself some rice flour donuts before making the regular ones, so I had something to snack on while making the wheat doughnuts for the guys. I used lard for frying, and also made coffee then strained/decanted it into the white pitcher (above) to keep warm.

Back to the socks -- I had some Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport in my stash from earlier projects, so that's what I used. I was surprised at how interested the tourists were in the socks -- I had several requests to take my picture while I was knitting.

Here are the socks. This yarn isn't ideal for socks -- the stuff pills like mad, and isn't superwash -- but the recipient (a reenactor) has given me several compliments on how comfortable they are and how nicely they keep his feet warm. He also handwashes stuff like this, so I'm pretty sure they'll be taken care of properly. I was going to give them to my hubby, but he's shrunk enough of my sweaters that I told him I'd pass these on to someone who handwashes and make him some socks with handwash woolen yarn, which suited him just fine.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on the Phony "War on Christmas"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

12 Days of Kitschmas


And, of course, God highly approves of such commercialism, so BUY, BUY, BUY!

So, this morning I've been listening to the broadcast of this year's Advent Carols Service on BBC (online), which, although I'm an agnostic, has becomed a hard-wired seasonal tradition for me.

I'm in a pretty foul mood, and among other things was trying to cheer myself up. I think the reasons for my foul mood have to do with the so-called "War on Christmas" that Dobson et al are talking about, plus our society's war on the poor and middle class, the crass commercialism of it all, etc., all rolled into a huge ball.

Among the readings for the service was one from Malachi (there's nothing like an Old Testament prophet to catch one's attention):

"And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness (...) against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in [his] wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger [from his right], and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts."

There were a few more relevant verses (see above) about the coming of Christ (the first one, that is) having to do with bringing justice to the poor and oppressed.

So our society is cutting health benefits and pensions; it's cutting social benefits; it's basically cutting away the safety net that keeps many from sinking into poverty, and eliminating the ladders that allow people to rise out of poverty. And in the meantime, our society's emphasis is on sybaritic excess that puts the Romans to shame.

This, folks, is the real War on Christmas. This is the war on Christ's message. And the Church, by and large, is standing by and letting it happen.

(sigh) Maybe I need to find a place to volunteer in my community, and put my money -- no, make that my time -- where my mouth is. I've made a few charitable contributions this season, but they're pretty insignificant in the scheme of things...

Edit: I just found that the Bull Moose has said the same thing I'm saying, only better... (Rock on, Moose!)

A few more links:
Peace On Earth by E. J. Dionne, written in 2004, when Dobson et al tried the same schtick;

A very good post from The New Donkey on the subject

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Problem with Conservatives

Very interesting essay from Rick Perlstein on who is, and isn't, a conservative, and what that word actually means.

As someone who was raised by Goldwater conservatives, and left the party in disgust when I was in my early 20s because I couldn't stand them anymore, this encapsulates a lot of what I can't stand about the party -- the self-righteous justification of any means necessary to achieve their ends, among other things. Downright immoral. The priggish self-righteousness of the left bugs me a lot, too, but at least they're TRYING to be morally consistent much of the time.

Which is why I call myself a moderate. A plague on both their houses.

Socks, Rude Religion, and Christmas

Yes, this is nominally a knitting blog, and yes, I have been knitting lately, but most of what I've been knitting is socks -- socks for a friend; socks for my nephews; stockings for reenacting. I'll get around to posting pics eventually. They're fun to knit, just not that exciting as blog subjects.

Rant alert: I am SICK of the bible-thumpers' made-up "War on Christmas". When I was being raised as a good little bible-thumper, we didn't even HAVE a Christmas tree because it was "pagan"; we had a creche (aka Nativity Scene). (Dad eventually broke down on the Christmas tree front when I was a teen and working at the local garden center, and we got to take home the leftover trees for free on Christmas Eve.) We tried to be as noncommercial about Christmas as possible -- our gifts were fairly heavy on clothes and books, and very light on toys, and we were lucky if we got more than a few gifts apiece, as opposed to some of our friends who had drifts and piles of toys under the tree. Yeah, I felt deprived at the time, but money was tight, and in retrospect, it was probably a Good Thing, because we had more of a sense of the true meaning of the holiday and less of a sense of "gimme".

So now James Dobson et al are condemning Target and WalMart for not hyping the holiday ENOUGH? (Or hyping it with the wrong wording, anyway)... That's just wrong. If anything, they ought to be telling their congregations to eschew commercialism and give money to the poor, as Christ commanded. Maybe they need to sing "Good King Wenceslas" a few more times, and really PAY ATTENTION to the words for once. Especially coming after Katrina, and the tsunami last year. Oh, yeah, I forgot, those were God's judgments on sinners, so we don't have to be nice to the victims.

Slactivist has some good links on the subject, including an essay from last year (which is a parody of an editorial written by Charles Krauthammer, not actually written by CK).

Rude Religion:
I went to a christening yesterday at a Catholic church, and was about two minutes away from either a) walking out, or b) telling the priest what he could go do with himself. (My hubby, who is a lapsed Catholic, said he'd have paid to see that, when I told him. How much, I asked? Several hundred dollars, at least, he replied. I said I'd hold him to that, next time.)

The officious (yes, he was officiating, but that's no excuse) prig was offended that the mother was breast-feeding in the sanctuary before the service (so I guess those breast-feeding Madonna statues from the Renaissance ought to be destroyed?), and then started in on the War on Christmas theme (targeting the malls in general, not a particular store). The two toddler girls in attendance decided, mid-sermon, to start running around the sanctuary, so we corralled them into the crying room (which was NOT soundproof -- how dumb is it to have a non-soundproof crying room?); so I didn't have the opportunity to sit through the rest of the sermon shooting the priest daggers.

The two toddlers' mothers, though, were pretty put out that it was a longish sermon, and that the guy went on at length about "being a good witness" in the world (a theme that he seems to have borrowed from Evangelical circles). Long sermons at christenings aren't appropriate; indeed, an older friend to whom I related this story said that sermons at christenings are a new thing, since his son didn't have a sermon at his christening. This falls into the same genre as "Come to Jesus" sermons at weddings, which are inflicted on guests on the theory that one never gets those heathen relatives into church on any other occasions so the preacher ought to make the best of it. I found that to be bad manners (rude to one's guests, and more likely to offend them than convert them) when I was still a Christian; now that I'm an agnostic, I find it doubly so.

Maybe I should've brought Screaming Toddler #1 back into church to give the priest some verbal competition...

Anyway. Maybe I should just stay out of churches from now on. Fist fights might ensue. Or at least yelling matches.

The priest's behavior falls into the same category of Rude Religion as Dobson et al's supposed War on Christmas -- it's religious people of one type wanting to force their particular brand of religion down everyone else's throats, instead of having a civil respect for other people's faith.

Supposing we did have an established (Christian) religion in the U.S. -- whose brand would it be, the Catholics, the Baptists, or the Mormons? I suppose it would depend on the state, but what about the national celebrations? Who gets to decide that? If they would seriously stop and think about the repercussions of this thing, they might not like them.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Forbidden Books

Interesting how many of these I've read... Ought to read more of 'em.


When I was a kid, my Dad taught me how to make paper snowflakes. Now someone's come up with an online version. Cool... and more forgiving of mistakes. Don't think I'm going to quit making the paper ones, but this is neat.