Friday, January 21, 2011

A Whole Lot of Frogging Going On

I've been doing lots of knitting and unknitting this winter. This post will cover the unknitting. I was going to write about the knitting, too, but writing about the unknitting bummed me out and I need to go do something positive to cheer myself up.

I have written about unknitting before. Last March, I ripped out a silk sweater that I had knit 6 or so years ago. It was the first time I had frogged an entire knitted garment like that, and I was surprised at how well it went. A good soaking got rid of the whole ramen-yarn effect. I did end up with a lot of small skeins, but they should be perfectly usable. As I explained last year, this sweater had been an epic fail in so many ways: the design was silly, it was not flattering for my body type, and the fit was horrible because I completely ignored gauge. This gorgeous yarn clearly wanted to be a shawlette or something like that.
Jaeger Silk reclaimed
It has been several months since this yarn's return to the stash, and I still don't have a plan for how to use it. But that didn't stop me from ruthlessly ripping out some more of my epic fails of the past. In fact, you could probably say that I got carried away.
I don't even want to think about how many months worth of knitting were undone in making the pile in the above picture.

Let's start with the worst and work our way up, shall we?
Southwest Purplexed
This was once a tunic style vest from Vogue Knitting. I have no picture of it. You'll have to take my word for it: it was very ugly. The design was questionable to begin with, but my execution was pretty crappy as well. Everything from yarn choice to my failure to finish the front properly resulted in an FO so bad that it had not seen the light of day since, oh, 2006? I had forced myself to wear it a few times, but when I realized that the weight of the yarn streched the armholes so much that I had to wear a shirt underneath to keep from giving everyone a clear view of my bra, that was pretty much the end for this garment.

This is a variegated ribbon/tape yarn made from 100% soy. It ripped out very easily. But I don't know what the heck to do with it! It's not like I was dying to have this yarn back in the stash. I got it from the sale bin at a store that went out of business years ago. I have since learned a couple things about sale bins at yarn stores. Yarn ends up in those bins generally for one of two reasons: (1) the store no longer has enough for you to be able to make what you really want with it, or (2) no one has any idea what to make with it, so it did not sell and now the store just wants to get rid of it. This yarn was in the bin for reason #2.

Catgirl wants me to "make something" for her with it. But what?

Does anyone remember this little number from 2008?
Woodland Shawl, in progress
This is the only picture I have of it. I was so annoyed with it, I never did a "finished" picture of it. The lace is pretty, but the project ended up being incredibly small, even after blocking. Blocking only added a couple inches to it, but it never held the block anyway, shrinking bit by bit every day. I tried wearing it as a neck shawl with the ends tucked into the front of my coat, but it was not even a good enough size for that. Then I decided it would be a nice decoration for a table, and it has spent the last 2 years stretched over Nana's coffee table... and it was not long enough to reach the ends.

Now it looks like this.
Rio de la Plata yarn reclaimed
The soaking and hanging softened the ramen factor, but it did not come out as well as the other things I have ripped. I managed to save about 80% of the yarn from the shawl, the end was too felted together and I had to cut a couple inches off. But what do I do with it now? It's not like I loved this yarn and was yearning to knit is again.

And now we come to piece de resistance:
This sweater was well made, with nice yarn--a great basic cardigan that I made at least 5 years ago. The yarn is Noro Silk Garden, an interesting silk/wool/mohair blend. Unfortunately, when I made this, I was not sure I would have enough yarn, so made it a little too short. Although I wore it a lot, I was never happy with the length. For the past couple years, I hadn't worn it because I was that unhappy with how short it was. It was very frustrating, because I loved the look of this yarn knit up in simple stockinette.

Under the influence of my crazy frogging frenzy, I got a crazy idea. What if I ripped it out and made a vest instead? The yarn reclaimed from the sleeves would help make the body of the garment long enough to make me happy. So I grabbed my scissors, and started pulling.
Noro Silk Garden reclaimed
Now it's a pile of skeins, and I am an idiot.

This was, quite honestly, a huge mistake. First of all, this yarn has MOHAIR in it. What was I thinking? Ripping back mohair is a knitter's idea of torture. And secondly, I had forgotten how difficult this sweater had been to knit. There were several knots in the skeins, and sometimes the knots interrupted the long color runs so I had to cut and try a different skein to match it up. It's hard to rip when you have ends wound in among the stitches, so that caused lots of problems. And, because of all the breaks in the yarn, I now have a dozen little skeins of this yarn, but matching them up in the long color runs is going to be extremely difficult.

So what to do with all this "bounty"? I think I can see making it into some hats, maybe a cowl, maybe some mittens. I think it's only going to be any good for small projects like those. So much for my dreams of a long vest....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Old Man Winter is Having Way Too Much Fun

So this is what it looked like in our backyard yesterday. This was only 5 or 6 inches of snow. Easy-peasy, right? I mean, we must be getting used to this by now.

But that's easy for me to say, from the comfort of the couch in my cozy family room, with the fire burning and the new heating system cranking away. I wonder if I would feel the same way if I were a chicken and my home looked like this:
This is what it looked like out at the chicken coop, after I shoveled out the worst of the snow and spread some straw around for the ladies to play in.

Keep in mind that this henhouse, although it sports a nice solid roof and cute red paint, is little more than a wooden box on stilts. It's not heated. We placed it in a corner of the yard where we thought it would be protected from the worst of the weather, with the shed on one side and the woods and the berm of the creek on two other sides. I've hung a tarp to give them more protection from rain and snow, and I recently propped some boards against the bottom of the coop to give them an area protected from the harsh wind blowing across the backyard. But it's still darn cold out there. Even before we got this latest storm, the temperatures were very low, making for cold hard ground and a cold henhouse.
In Nesting Boxes
We've had some amusing moments this week, watching the girls trying to deal with the snow. They really don't like walking on it, we know that. I am very glad that I bought that bale of straw a few months ago. It was a monumental failure in the henhouse--the chickens hated it, and would not go in the nesting boxes when the straw was there--but it has been great for spreading on top of the snow. It's more pleasant for them to walk on than the snow, and digging in the straw gives them something to do.
This helps, because I think they are getting bored out of their tiny little minds out there in the coop. Every time one of us opens the door, they all come running and look out to see if we've gotten rid of all that troublesome and cold white stuff yet.

Occasionally, they will get desperate enough to venture a few steps onto the snow, and we have noticed that some of them are more daring in this regard than others. Daisy, for example, is much more willing to brave cold feet if it means a chance to walk around outside. Melanie is usually just a few steps behind her. The other three are less enthusiastic. In particular, Jackie is a complete and total coward, and she would much rather stay under the henhouse and call for everyone to come back and stay with her. It's ironic that the biggest of the hens is the most wimpy.

So far, they haven't cut back much on production. We still get 3 or 4 eggs a day, so they are doing their jobs.

With the cold, we've had trouble keeping their water from freezing. We have two bottles, so we change them out every few hours so that there is always one bottle with unfrozen water available for them. It's becoming a bit of a pain, though, so the other day I broke down and ordered an electrically heated water bowl. And a couple of days ago, I started bringing them a treat:
Multigrain hot cereal. This bowl has a generous sprinkling of flax seed, because my friend Elyse suggested it might help make their eggs more nutritious. Hey, I'll try anything. But would they?
Yep. They loved it.

If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be cooking for chickens, I am not sure I would have believed you.

Friday, January 07, 2011

2011 brings Snow, Eggs, and a Shopping Epiphany

The snow started here a little while ago, but they are saying we should only get an inch or two today. No big deal. I am better prepared than I was for the storm that came after Christmas. This time, I already put the chickens' tractor under the swing-set, so they would have a protected and relatively snow-free place to go outside the coop. I also fixed the tarp again in the chickens' area yesterday, so they should not be bothered too much by snow there. The Christmas snow last time was way too much for my jury-rigged tarp arrangement to handle, and the whole thing had collapsed under the weight of the white stuff. But today's snow should not be a problem for my pathetic little system of hooks and zip ties.

I know it sounds like I spoil them, but we all feel a lot of responsibility for them. Like any pets, they are completely dependent upon us to take care of them. But, unlike pets, they pay their way by providing us with FOOD--we are getting 3 or 4eggs everyday. For some reason, this really makes me feel my obligation to them even more strongly. It's like a contract: they're living up to their end, and we need to do our part, too.

The cat sneaked out this morning when Mathboy ran out for his bus. The bugger has perfected the art of hiding near the foot of the stairs in the front hall. He waits for one of the kids to run out to the bus, and dashes out behind: a white and gray streak leaping through, in the nick of time, before the door slams. You might think the sound of the door crashing closed behind him would remind him of the way he lost half his tail a few years ago. Apparently not. At any rate, even he did not want to stay out too long this morning with the snow coming down. He's back already, licking the white stuff off his fur and watching the snow fall through the window.
Cat wants out

I ended up having to spend a while at the mall yesterday, in my hunt for the elusive Pants-That-Fit for my son. He's turning into quite the long, tall drink-of-water, and the pants I bought only a few months ago are already way too short. He wears them anyway, because he could care less, but Rich and I are have frightening flaskbacks of Erkel every time he puts them on. So I was determined yesterday to get pants that he wouldn't grow out of in a few months and secretly remove all the old pants from his closet so he couldn't wear them by accident. Mission Impossible? I was afraid so.

First stop: trusty old Macy's kids' department. I have given up on buying any shirts for Mathboy there--the kid clothes are just too ugly these days. But they usually have a good selection of Levis. But I discovered yesterday the limitations of kids' sizes: Mathboy has outgrown the 14s, which measure 27x27. I could have bought him 16s, which would have been 28x28. But that seemed pointless. Judging by the expanse of sock showing above his shoes and below his hems, he's probably too tall for those already. The size 18s measured 29x29. Those might be the right length, but they also would fall down around his ankles.

Crap. I was going to need 28x30 pants, and I think you can only get those in ... the men's department.

And right there, in the kids' floor of Macy's, surrounded by ugly dorky shirts and wrong-sized jeans on the boys' side, and ugly too-glittery shirts and babydoll dress on the girls' side, I finally realized it.

My days of shopping in the kids' department are over. My kids are now adult-size, or least teen-size. How did this happen??!!

Once I got my breath back, I bid farewell to the kids' department of Macy's, left my coupons behind, and walked out into the uncharted territory of The Mall, to hunt down the Perfect Guy Jeans.

My first stop was the Gap, because it was not too far outside my shopping comfort zone. Then I saw the price of men's jeans in the Gap. $60, anyone? Hunh? I wonder if the clerks noticed me laughing hysterically as I ran back out of the store.

I ended up at (gulp) American Eagle and (gasp) Hollister. My friend Mildred buys her kids clothes at American Eagle, and the display windows looked teenager-centered. And they were having a sale. Bingo! I ventured in. I found jeans and khakis in Mathboy's size, and felt pretty pleased with myself. This was easy, and relatively painless. The price was not as good at Macy's, but not as bad as the Gap. My confidence soared. I decided to challenge myself, and try to track down a "Cool Guy Shirt" as well. You know the kind I mean, right? The kind of shirt worn by boys who do not take pre-Calculus two (or 3?) years early, and who do not read 10-pound history books for fun?

I looked at the shirts, and, although I could tell that they definitely were for "Cool Guys," I also knew that Mathboy would hate them. Mathboy generally dislikes clothes with words and logos all over them, and American Eagle's stuff was all like a walking advertisement.

On a whim, I went down the hall to Hollister. It must have been the big "40% off Everything" sign in front that convinced me to go in, because I normally avoid Hollister like the proverbial plague. Hollister is one of those stores where the lighting is so dim that you can't find anything on your own, and the the music is playing so THUMPA-THUMPA-loud that you can't ask the clerks for help. And I did not think they would have anything Mathboy would like. It seems that there is no point in wearing Hollister clothes, unless you can make darn sure everyone knows you are wearing Hollister clothes. Fortunately, that's not hard with the way they plaster their brand name and logo acrrss the chest, arm and butt of everything they sell. As I've said, that's not Mathboy's style, so I did not expect to find anything for him there.

But I was pleasantly surprised. In the guys' section (excuse me, I mean "dudes" section), I found a big table full of heavyweight, long-sleeved henleys and t-shirts. They were all extremely soft, in nice subtle colors, and with very subdued logo-placement. I threw caution to the wind and bought 3 of them, for only about $50. And guess what? Mathboy loves them. Mission accomplished!

As a funny coda to this story, let me tell you what happened when I left the store, pleased with my find but a bit embarrassed by picture of the seriously-ripped male model on the store bag I was carrying. As I paused to let my eyes readjust to the bright light of the mall, I realized that a horrendously loud fire or theft alarm was sounding throughout the mall.

The Hollister music had been so loud, we had not heard it inside the store.

Good thing it was a false alarm. I hope the mall has some alternative plan for emptying out the Hollister store in case of emergency, since the alarm clearly doesn't work in there. :o/

We had a great visit with Leslie and Frank, who stayed with us from December 27th through New Year's. We did not do that much, mostly just enjoying the time with each other. My big gift was a Christmas Nativity Pyramid, that they had gotten in Germany when they were there in September. It's beautiful, and we all love it so much. It's fascinating watching it go around and around.

One day, we drove over to New Hope, PA, which has changed quite a bit since I grew up around there. We walked around a little there, had a nice lunch, fed some birds in the river, and rode the New Hope Ivyland Railroad.
NH Ivyland RR
Then we drove to Peddler's Village, which seems SO much different! Of course, that's what happens when you go back to a place after being away for 20 years! The Christmas lights were gorgeous.
Peddler's Village Lights

Catgirl and I waited in line (in the coooooold!) to see the entries in the Gingerbread House contest.
Gingerbread Houses 1
These house were amazing. The winners were spectacular, but some of my favorites didn't win anything.
Gingerbread Houses 2
Gingerbread Houses 3

In this picture, the White House got 3rd prize in its category, but the Rockefeller Center on the left got nothing.
Gingerbread Houses 4

Check out this wreath, made entirely of gingerbread "pinecones." Wow!
Gingerbread Houses 5
The wreath only got an Honorable Mention in its category. The winner was this covered bridge scene, which was very nice, too:
Gingerbread Houses 6

Happy New Year!