Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In the middle

In between the TurkeyChickenDay feasting and the delicious risotto, there was some craftin' in the Land of Sparks*:

Slowly but surely I'm working on the seasonal teacups. I'm nearly finished summer (just backstitching, and I ran out of the bloody floss), and some of the greens in spring (again, floss issues). I can only work on this one for an hour or so at a time. It's worked in-hand, which is to say, without using a hoop or Q-snaps. At a scant 3 inches wide, it's sometimes difficult to both support the fabric and keep the stitching area taut. I've learned that when I cross-stitch, I tend to support the hooped or 'snapped piece with my forearm or in the crook of my elbow, freeing both hands so that I can stitch faster--that's right, I cross-stitch ambidexterously and I often favor my left hand over my right.

The finishing on this piece will be easy-peasy: it's to be mounted on two dowels (already supplied) and then a neat seam can be hand-stitched. Knowing that the finishing is going to take less than half an hour is a huge motivator. That, and the fact that this is a Christmas gift...

Next up is my idiot knitting:

This is a blanket that I'm knitting diagonally (think: Clapotis, without purposely dropped stitches) using yarn that I got in a trade with...Lauren...back when I was the blogger known as Sparkomatic. Anyway, it's GGH Relax and it's in a positively delightful mix of sage-y limes and aubergine. When it's finished, it's going to be the perfect traveling blankey, too, because it packs down to such a small ball of fluff that it's unbelievable. Someone should definitely alert the folks at hoity-toity shops on the Main Line. In all seriousness, this is going to be The Craft Room blanket. I already sense the cat and I coming to blows over this.

Christmas '06 is nearly here and I'm still working on Christmas '05:

This here is a simple feather and fan blanket that's for the in-laws. It started out as an experiment in crochet and promptly sat in the WIP basket for the majority of the year, until just recently when guilt dirtied my knitterly soul and I knew, just KNEW, that I couldn't call myself a knitter and have this remain unfinished. The poor blanket went through several renditions--I was so desperate at one point that I actually tried knitting a garter stitch blanket holding 4 strands together. Having done that I can now say it is remarkably stupid, unless you have a plan more definite than cast-on and knit until done.

In other cross-stitch news, I'm one project closer to hauling home new stash come Hershey '07:

Nothing much more to say about this little gem other than it has become my personal motto these last few months. And it makes me happy to have a finished object around the house.

Moving back to yarn-y endeavors, I've done some spinning. I am aiming for a thick and thin single ply, and so far, so good:

Granted, there's not much there in terms of yardage, but there is more good than bad in that little hank. My dear friend Anj had me over last week and after gorging ourselves on La Lupe, she let me take her old spinning wheel for a, er, spin. She also quickly diagnosed the problem with my drop spindle (which is what I used to spin the yarn in that picture up there): it wants a lighter yarn than my flecked and bulky fleece:

What's on the spindle there is some BFL in cobwebby single ply. What I can't show you is the BFL I practiced with while at Anj's place nor can I show you the fleece of my own that I spun on Anj's wheel. However, Miss Anj is gracing my house with her presence next week and she's promised to bring along the old wheel and my progress so far. On the list of things to get, I suppose, would be a drop spindle suited for heavier yarns.

Finally, a little stash reduction:

10 balls of some Jiffy yarn. I'm looking for a trade (hmm, perhaps a spindle?), though money's always nice. The yarn retails around $2.50 a ball, but I'll sell all ten for $20 (or, of course, comparable trade). Anyway, this is fluffy mohair-y yarn that is super soft and 100% acrylic. Discontinued color Boston (mixed grey, dark teal, forest green) that I bought oh-so-long ago. I always intended to make some sort of hoodie out of it, but then just never did. If you're interested, leave a comment or email me directly: htsparks at gmail dot com.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday's leftovers

After a fantastic dinner Friday night at a newer and somewhat amazingly posh restaurant in my hometown (I had a chicken and asparagus risotto that was to freakin' die for), I just knew I had to make a risotto myself. With a pound of already cubed and roasted butternut squash and some smoked chicken leftover from Thanksgiving, all I needed was some parmesan and some Arborio riso to complete the dish. A less-than-quick jaunt on the MC later, a half hour or so in the kitchen, and presto:

I made enough that I had some for dinner tonight and I'll probably have some more for lunch tomorrow. It's so good, though, that I could eat this for a week and not get bored.

Next up on the risotto menu: parmesan, tomato, and garlic risotto. If that turns out as nicely as the squash dish, I'll post about that one, too.

Four days of nothing

For the first Thanksgiving in years--if not ever--dinner did not end with my father cocking an ear towards the darkening outside and whispering, "What's that? Do you hear it? That... sound? IT'S THE TURKEY HEADS!!!! THEY'RE HERE FOR THEIR BODIES!!!!" Not to say that Mike and I didn't discuss this 30 year old tradition, but we were occupied with other things, like smoking our 8-pound bundle of chicken-lovin':

We went with hickory chips (the choices in stores were rather slim: hickory or mesquite, and we both agreed that mesquite would be good for pork or beef...), and that shot above is of Mike replenishing the soaked wood chips. It didn't take long for the immediate neighborhood to smell straight up delicious, though it was hard to say what smelled better: the smokin' or re-entering the house to the scent of roasting squash, stuffing, and spiced nuts.

Below is a shot of the smoking in progress (the little fruits are halved pomegranates which I used when making the gravy later on--mostly for the smoky juice):

This is a bad, bad, bad shot of Mike that I took after I showed him how my fancy digital SLR works (he may kill me for this, but he also should already know I POST SHIT LIKE THIS). For the knitter in all of us, that's a hat I made for Mike a couple of years ago. It's from SnB the first, I believe--Hot Head? Anyway, it was knit flat, and then (poorly) seamed, and the only way Mike knows which side is front is to look for the "crap in the back":

Our little Mr. Ecko tells us we're good and smoked:

...and, voila:

It is at this point that I can tell you just how god-fearing amazing that chicken tasted. I mean, it smelled good. It tasted... LIKE BACON.

No meal is complete without inviting a killer fern from outer space:

And in true American fashion, I prepared way too much food for even just the two of us:

From bottom center and clock-wise, that's some GF dinner rolls, a bottle of wine from Chaddsford, me and my plate of kibble, roasted butternut squash with carmelized onions and dried cranberries, KitchenAid mixenated red bliss potatoes with feta, whole berry cranberry relish, cornbread stuffing with andouille sausage, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, smoked chicken, and Mike's plate of bits. Not pictured are the spiced pecans and the cinnamon French vanilla ice cream I made.

I did well in terms of not overstuffing myself (though I will confess to eating while wearing track pants), and I didn't take any seconds. The same cannot be said for Mike, however:

That's my boy on thirds and fourths. Yes, his hand is moving that fast. I'm surprised his head's not also blurry since he was in a veritable feeding frenzy...

Even the cat got in on the thankfulness:

He's most thankful for a belly-full of chicken, though warm laps, treats, and sun-basking on the deck (built just for him, natch) are high on his list, too.

Next up: an overdue craft update, followed by how to make the most of your leftovers (or, my leftovers).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Point of Reference

When we brought Sideshow Bob into our house for the winter last year, this is what he looked like:

For Bob currently, click here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

New Fridge!!!

My mom is the most awesome--and I'm not saying that because she's sitting right to my right... She really is AWESOME.

For our tenth anniversary, my parents' treated us to a new fridge. Well, delivery was today and of course, the damn thing didn't fit where we wanted to put it... Cue mom (who was already planning a visit today anyway). She helped Mike and I get the fridge in its place and then she helped me get my kitchen back in shape. It's CLEAN, and it's ORGANIZED, and it's lovely.

And now... Now, mom and I are sitting in my dining room, dueling laptop style, and she's posting to her very own blog. Imagine! Mom's doing it all now!!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mismatched set, and something kitschy

The arm shot:

The criss-cross shot:

The details:
Pattern: Made up, with a snugger number of stitches around the wrist to prevent wristwarmer slouching.
Yarn: Nashua Wooly Stripes in Pastels
Not yet pictured: the scarf I'm making, too.

More info and pics soon!!!

Here's a shot from the pages of this book:

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sideshow Bob

When our good friends Jerry and Nat moved west to Chicago, they left behind a few houseplants simply because it would have been impossible to drive *that* far with semi-fragile houseplants and Monty-dog wagging his tail. Reluctantly, Nat left her beloved Sideshow Bob fern in our care. No sooner had the toot of her horn audibly faded than I whipped out the brand new pots and the bags of potting soil procured just for this occasion and went to work--while she left us only Bob specifically, I'd taken it upon myself to rescue two other plants that had been left on the the former E-B front porch.

When I first transplanted these cousins to Audrey II, I was positive that this would be the first and last time for such a task. I mean, in the case of the root-bound fern, how much larger could it grow? And for the little two other scraggly plants--moving on up from an 8-inch pot to a 16-inch pot... Well, that was plant life if ever there was such a thing!

The three plants flourished in their new abode and when we flew west to visit the good doctor and her cheese snob husband, we brought along a rather large portion of the beloved fern. Two years since being left in our care, and not only do I need to repot these plants, but I actually need to divide them! Behold, Sideshow Bob, the wonder fern, and his Simpsons-in-waiting, Lisa and Maggie:

What's my green thumb secret to doubling, tripling, and then doubling plant growth? Absolutely nothing. Seriously, we move Bob and the kids out back after the last threat of frost and bring Bob and the kids in before the first hard frost, and pretty much water the plants once a week or so in the winter, letting nature take care of business in the summer.

This spring, I will definitely be splitting the plants and repotting them. Bob could actually be (drawn and) quartered, while Lisa could be thirded, and the wee Maggie could get away with being halved. Until then, though, I'll have to do what I can to make sure the plants don't eat the cat.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

As promised: new sock stash

If you were to ask me how I identifed as a knitter, I'd have to say sock-knitter. Yes, I make sweaters and scarves and hats and shawls and all of that, but there's something about the knitting of a sock that really roots me in the craft. So it was no surprise that when I went to Rhinebeck, I sought out sock yarns in interesting colorways and small production--for the benefit of my beer-snob husband, fiber fests are the equivalent of microbrew beer fests. You like Stone IPA, dear; I like Socks That Rock:

STR in Downpour, a lovely mix of greys, pinks, and other muted shades. Our gang did the right thing by rolling into Rhinebeck early--even with time to spare before the official opening of the grounds, the booth at The Fold was a MESS. By the time we'd all had our fill of STR and moseyed around the rest of Building A (avoiding the gem and mineral half of things), the line at STR was obscene.

The Fold being our first booth, and I having never knit with STR, I carefully only purchased one hank of the yarn... and then I was distracted by the Brooks Farm booth:

That's 540 yards of FourPlay sale yarn in creams, tans, and pinks. It's not sock yarn, but I'm sure you all can handle this temporary distraction. I'm envisioning a frilly wrap, maybe the Ruffles and Ridges wrap from MagKnits.

Also in Building A was the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth and my good friend Anj was (wo)manning it. Still being too early in the game for me and operating on a strict budget, I made a mental note of what I might want, fondled stuff I'd never buy, made lunch plans with mi'lady, and then hit the next stop on our list.

At Great Adirondack, Jody and I picked up almost the exact same sock yarn--she got Antique and I got what I like to call Malt Likka:

It's actually named Old English and maybe not all of you will get that joke... I envision these socks as Jaywalkers--the pattern explains the name as an homage to the street-crossing in Boston, but I think it'll work as "socks that show how you might walk after you drink a 40 of the malt likka".

One of the smaller booths I patronized had lovely handpainted sock yarn and for CHEAP! This is Dorchester, and I imagine it one day becoming a manly pair of socks... Socks with balls, perhaps?

The colors are rich, reminding me of a leather-furnished study. I expect these socks to smoke cigars or drink port. Perhaps I'll call them Richard Gilmore.

At Ellen's 1/2 pint, I resisted the urge to go completely batshit and buy the whole lot (partially because there were a couple of ladies that were blocking the true and only way to sock yarn. Continuing with that complaint, these were the same ladies that pretty much blocked shoppers from getting closer to the sock yarn in another booth: they sat on the barn floor--ew--and proceeded to remove every hank of sock yarn in a desperate search for an exact colorway match. Had I not been promised a vodka tonic for good behavior, I might have Hulked out on them...), and instead got out of there with just one measly hank of sock yarn:

Call it what you want, but this is banana split in my book. The creamy yellows, cherries, and vanillas, with some grey-blue and brown interspersed, makes me think of summer nights at the custard stand on route 40. If my dad could pull off yellow socks, these would be for him. Instead, I'd like to think that they will be MINE, ALL MINE.

My last purchase at the fest was one that I found I couldn't deny at day's end:

This is Peach Trees from Maple Creek (located in Telford, PA) and over the course of two days, I picked it up, fondled, stroked, and otherwise molested this yarn no fewer than a dozen times. As I'd walk around the yarn display in the booth, my eyes would light upon another gorgeous hand-dyed skein and I'd chuckle as I turned over the tag and found out that I was yet again looking at the Peach Trees colorway. I resisted the urge on Saturday, knowing that we had our second chances on Sunday. Sunday I told myself: if Spirit Trail has nothing I want, then it'll be Maple Creek. I was actually relieved that ST had run out of any yarn in which I was interested because MAN, I'd've hated to not been able to get the Maple Creek.

Now, the question is: when will all this sock yarn (and the BFF) get knit up? All I can say is, "Who the fuck knows?" I may die with an intact sock yarn stash, but I will die happy!!!

Finally, for JT Evans and everyone else that knows my cat only as the vet-diagnosed "Meanest Cat in World", here's another picture of Chico not gnawing on anyone's leg or trapping people in our bathroom:

In his old age (10 1/2 years!), he's becoming quite the heat-seeking kitty. It doesn't help that we have the thermostat set to 55 overnight, 62 during the day... Knowing that this old bastard of a cat likes nothing more than to curl up into a ball in the sun, Mike and I moved our bed last night so that it is now under a window that gets strong morning sun. Tomorrow I've got plans to make like a cat and seek out that sunny spot myself.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I'm in the middle of a fairly large collection development project here at work and I spend most of my day in the stacks, shifting, pulling, and shelving material. Yesterday, as I worked on a shelf of fiction, pulling the books out and preparing to relocate them, I found an empty bag of Cheetos. Now, of course, I can't look at a bag of Cheetos without hearing the Cheetos Story in my head. And while I tell a decent second-hand version of the story, only Missy does it best. And no, I'm not telling the Cheetos story now because it's really something best told in the company of others.

However, I may one day share the story of the Rakist or I might tell the story of how my father came to love squirrels, but first he had to hate them.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crafticus Interruptus

We've been busy here in the land of Sparksalot, and most of the time we're focusing ourselves on things that, well, need to fall back out of focus. Still, I'm finding some time in-between the chaos to sit and stitch.

Last Saturday, my Mom came up from NJ and she and I hit the Northeast Extension, headed for Tannersville, PA. While at Hershey this year (and I think last year, too), we met Jan, the owner of Mimi's Attic. We learned on Jan's site that she had a number of Saturday Sit 'n' Stitches, and so we signed up just about as soon as we returned from Hershey. By last Saturday, Mom had a list of things she just absolutely needed to have and Jan's shop was just the thing for her shopping list. While Mom shopped, relentlessly, I finished the second Red Hat sock, unceremoniously tossing the pair at her once I kitchenered the last loops, saying, "Here--a present." I was so quick to give them to her that I didn't get a picture! Note to self--get picture from Mom of her socks.

With the sock out of the way (and another FO to add to the list, hooray!), I set about working on another present for Mom:

This is a pattern from The Drawn Thread that I picked up in Hershey '05. It's something that for all the years my Mom's attended the stitching festival, she's wanted to buy the pattern but always managed to talk herself out of it. You know how that goes--"Yeah, I really want it, but I don't have the time to make it, and I've got all this other stuff to do still... If it's here next year, then maybe..." Except next year is just a repeat of the previous year, with the added, "If I really wanted it so much, I would have bought it last year." Putting an end to this hooey, I snagged the pattern and the floss kit and told Mom she just needs to get over it already.

I started stitching this piece in late summer (I'm very bad with noting things, like dates and pattern modifications--the second being something bites my ass whenever I take a vacation between knitting each sock in a pair) and it's progressing faster than I'd expected. Aside from the delicate stems along the border, I have flowers yet to stitch. I'm hesitant to get to that point, though, since the flowers involve French knots, and well, I'm not a fan of French knots. In fact, I once wrote of French knots: va te faire foutre. I didn't win over any French knot enthusiasts, but then again, FKE's can be an odd lot. I'll get over my French knot issues, I'm sure. Or, I'll secretly replace every charted French knot with a tiny glass bead.

I've also started some Christmas stitching. This is a piece I'm working on for my grandmother:

I've got a couple of complaints with this particular kit. One, the instructions are not clearly written. There have been several times when I've read and reread the instructions and then called my Mom to ask, "What the hell does this mean?" Mom's been equally stumped and the two have us have come to the conclusion that Lorri Birmingham doesn't write the best instructions... No offense, Miss B--your designs are pretty awesome and I've enjoyed taking your classes over the last few years, but you leave a little bit too much to the stitcher's imagination. Two, there are obviously 4 teacups (see here), one for each season. The floss came pre-cut and separated into four hanks. Stupidly, I figured each hank represented a season, but as I sorted the floss I quickly discovered that there was no logical explanation for the four hanks other than it might have made the task of sorting pearl white and light gray pearl slightly easier since the two colors were in separate hanks. But still! Third, I have suspicions that even diligently and meticulously sorted, I've managed to mis-sort some of the floss. When I compare my work in progress with the image on the kit, something just looks off. Of course, and this is number four, I'm also pretty sure that the sample photographed for the kit IS NOT stitched using the same colors supplied with the kit. Fifthly, I've always heard x-stitchers marvel and maim about Teresa Wentzler's patterns. My Mom calls her a nasty person, but my Mom's friend Laura swears by the TW designs. The main criticism here is that TW uses a lot of blended fibers--you know, a strand of DMC 304 paired with a strand of DMC 378. I don't rightly know if those two even go together, but the point is, many people find this blending to be a pain in the ass (no matter if they like the designs or the actual stitching, it's just something that slows down stitching progress since it involves pulling two floss bobbins for one chart symbol. I know, woe is me.). And while Lorri Birmingham's Tea for All Seasons doesn't call for blended fibers, it does call for an awful lot of stop and go stitching. In the Summer tea cup (in my photo, it's the one that is 97% complete), there's a point on the rim of the tea cup that was charted as being various shades of blue (ok, it gives a nice effect), white, and then this random single BROWN cross-stitch. I suppose what I'm complaining about here is that for a relatively small project and for something that looked simple in the package, this little piece is proving to be time-consuming. Will I finish it? Of course--it's a gift. Will I rush out to replicate the pattern in another stitching project? DON'T BET ON IT. When this thing is done, I'm shoving the leaflet in the very back of my craft closet and then forgetting about it.

Next up, more posts about Rhinebeck: Sock Stash, and an update on home appliances.