Monday, December 17, 2012


Saturday morning, Miki and I planned to do some holiday shopping and errands. The day was bright and sunny, and with the top up and the windows 85% rolled up on the Ghia, it promised to be a not-too-chilly jaunt.

Our first stop was to pop over to the business partner's place and pick up/drop off some things. Everything was going great - light traffic, glorious curves of St. Asaph's leading into Conshohocken State Road, the radio turned up loud enough to cover the noise of too-cheap brakes (hey, it passed inspection AND no longer loses brake fluid). As I prepared to smoothly turn off of 23, I downshifted, and when I tried to press the accelerator, I got nothing.

Miki sensed a problem instantly and asked what was wrong. "I lost my gas pedal!" I said. He asked, "What do you mean you lost your gas pedal?"* And, since I had little other option, I guided the vehicle to the side of the road, and coasted as far as the lingering forward motion would allow.

Not-so-quietly started to freak out a little, I demonstrated to Miki how the gas pedal was gone - not working - over and done with - fish out of water - and he said, "Turn off the car. Turn it off." Because let's face it, when faced with any dilemma in my personal life, I freeze. And my husband? He generally remains calm - until after the worst has passed. He's the one that immediately jumps into action whenever there's an accident on our corner (far too frequently), while I duck and cover, and get a severe case of anal chill (you know what I'm talking about).

There we are, roadside in one of the moderately swank suburbs of Philadelphia, rear deck lid ajar, and the sinking realization that what we've just experienced is a snapped throttle cable. Now, the car is 38 years old, and it's most likely the original throttle cable and, in case you didn't know this, shit breaks in the cold (that's the wisdom of the mountains). After some electronic head-scratching, we determine the closest hardware store is a 30 minute walk away, and Miki headed off on an unexpected trek. I stayed with the car because, hey, what if I was doing something illegal by parking my semi-primer'ed jalopy at the curb? Also, what if some sort of automotive miracle happened, and the right part appeared out of nowhere? Fat chance, right?

Not long after Miki left on foot, the first of several well-intentioned rubber-neckers slowed their roll as they drove (ahem) past. Some gave an approving toot-too, others just a thumb's up. Then, a gentleman that lives on the street stopped and after hearing my wee tale of 'wagen woe offered us use of his tools. His neighbor came by 10 minutes later, offering use of his phone to call a tow truck. A dude with an MG stopped just to commiserate that he'd totally been where I was and then chuckled as he said, "Yeah, that doesn't really help much, does it?"

I pulled up various VW forum posts on my phone, looking for any words of wisdom from other airheads. I read the entirety of's Membership page (but didn't join - I don't know why). I browsed Facebook, composed a couple of to-do lists, and drank my coffee in record time (I can nurse my 20oz travel mug all day). I silently chastised myself for not bringing any knitting along (even though had things gone as planned I'd have not had any chance to knit a stitch), and I talked to passing squirrels.

I was peering off in the direction Miki walked when a guy in a Mazda passed by slowly, braked, and then parked. I'd been waiting for 40 minutes by now, and while not pleased that the car was immobile, generally I was in a good mood. Yeah, this was a bit of an inconvenience, but there are so many worse things that could've happened.

So, this young guy gets out of his car, and asks if he can be of any help. "Not unless you've got a spare throttle cable for a '74 Ghia laying around..." I say, good-naturedly. And this guy replies, "Actually, I might." I look at him in utter disbelief. Turns out he also has an old VW (or two) and had this same situation happen to him once. He runs home, grabs the cable, and returns. He pokes around in the engine, and then under the gas pedal, and then offers advice on how to get home in 1st gear (if all else fails). I thank him profusely, and he leaves just as Miki appears 3 or so blocks in the distance.

"You're not going to believe this," I say to Miki as he walks up, and then tell him what just happened. He expresses, as only Miki can, his genuine amazement at the situation, and questions me on the details until I've essentially told the tale in reverse. Since we know the throttle cable replacement is an involved task (the instructions include removing one wheel and reaching around the transaxle, we opt to try the on the fly MacGuyvering: needle nose pliers and mirror-hanging wire (turns out the True Value is now a five and dime). It works and we happily go home, our plans completely disturbed and but our day not ruined.

*A while back, during one of our brewing adventures, there was a small, and I mean, tiny, incident with the car, and it led to Mike clearly stating, "It's on fire," and my not-so-calmly asking, "What do you mean, 'It's on fire'?" Yes, the car was on fire, but after standing by with a hopefully-charged fire extinguisher, things ended well, and we should probably get a new wiring harness for the ignition. No big deal....

Friday, December 14, 2012

Of surfs*, peasants, and millers

Way back in the days of dial-up, my dad created an AIM screen name that just blew my mind.

Banana Split PJ Pants

For years, I was convinced he had made it as a reference to a historical occupation. Perhaps he read about this as a kid, or heard about it on Oprah.
Nothing to see here...

I made up entire stories about the life of this medieval worker. I felt a different connection to my dad, like, wow, we both had a thing for the Dark Ages, or something. I thought, oh, this is a reference to some sort of primitive sod farmer! That's so cool! 

Collector of rabbit ears

But then one day, I realized I was wrong. And the AIM screen name wasn't as impressive as I wanted it to be. In fact, it was a much more modern, albeit misspelled, reference. 
Mr. Bucket

So, Happy Birthday, ClodMiller, and may all your Millers be Clod.
Dad and the axe

*I know it's serf - this is a reference to Jersey Surf....

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Tonight I finish the binding on the Not Quite A Surprise Quilt (but it contains a surprise) for a dear friend and colleague. More to be revealed soon!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Monday, October 08, 2012

I make things

This is a handspun, handknit sweater. The yarn is a 2-ply. One ply is Spunky Eclectic Birds 'n' Berries on targhee and the other is Southern Cross Fibre and Hello Yarn collaboration Wide Awake on polwarth. I made up a pattern drawing from a few different patterns in my Ravelry queue, including Tappan Zee and Golden Wheat. More details can be found here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The first home improvement project

After ripping all of the carpet out of our house on August 15, 2001, our next ambitious home improvement project was to finish our basement. Over the last few months of 2001, we studded out the basement, completely stoked that we were new homeowners and we were Doing It Ourselves.

And then, life happened. Tons of other things happened. We redid our bathroom. Twice. We ran new wire throughout the house. We landscaped the yard, built a deck, and started restoring a classic VW.

Finally, though, we've returned to working on the basement. And, keeping with true Sparks form, we had a delivery from the local lumber yard during our recent vacation. Because nothing says rest and relaxation like power drills, Sheetrock, and dust masks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Martin Guitar

Took a little trip north to tour the guitar factory. Someone was a little in love.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Walking in the park one day

Me: let's cut through Pretzel Park.
Him: ok.
Me: do you know why it's called Pretzel Park?
Him: because that's where the rapists get you and tie you up like a pretzel twist?
Me: uh, no. It's because there's a pretzel in the park.
Him: on the ground? Like a fossilized dinosaur pretzel?
Me: no. None of that is true.

Monday, March 19, 2012

They see me rolagin', they hatin'...

Inspired by the fabulous NJStacie, I put together a little post about how I do my hand-carded progressions. For this little demonstration on how I figure out my progressions, I’m going to use the same fiber that Stacie used in her mini-batt-a-thon. Hopefully, this’ll provide an apples-to-apples sort of comparison and then you can decide which method you like more (or are more likely to want to do).Since the nature of hand-dyed is that each bump is unique, I am picturing my fiber.

1. Select a fiber that has clearly delineated swaths of color. It’s ok if there’s some overlap/bleed. This is Hello Yarn’s “Pate de Fruit” on Rambouillet.


2. To make the task a little easier, I usually try to see if there’re any repeats to the dye job. I usually try to card a lightest to darkest progression, but that’s by far not the only option. We will talk more about some options later, though. For now, just admire and observe and squish your fiber.


3. And now we separate, trying to keep all like colors together. Ideally, you have a large table upon which to work.
Be prepared to sub-separate. You don’t want to overload your hand cards and while it may seem daunting, the more rolags you make, the subtler your progression may be. Also, some sections that you rip off will be smaller than others based on the dye job. It's ok to have a small rolag - size doesn't matter here. Here I have two rows of somewhat-progressing fiber bits (two rows simply because they fit on my table that way):

4. If you’re lucky, you’re only halfway through a nice, quiet afternoon and you can start carding! After the first few rolags, you’ll get a feel for it and you should be able to card up everything in just a few short hours. My first attempt at a progression (Spunky Eclectic’s Storms of Jupiter), I kinda didn’t have a plan, but I still managed to card everything in one evening - an evening filled with saucy stories, cheese, and not a little wine. Ah, Fiber Nite in South Philly....

Pick up your first rolag-to-be and charge one of your hand cards. I like to start in the middle, then alternate filling the card right and left.

Once your card is loaded, proceed to card the fiber. There are tons of videos on how to do that. I like the preview for How to Card Wool: Four Spinners, Four Techniques for a quick reminder of how to possibly do things. I also recommend Ruth MacGregor’s video - it’s heavy on fleece prep in the beginning, which isn’t a bad thing. Around the 2 minute mark, it really gets into the actual making of rolags. Then, lest you think it’s a 2 minute per rolag process, around the 4:40 mark, she shows the process at her normal speed.

every progression begins with a single rolag

I typically do 2 passes, though you may want to do more. I did 3 passes for some of these rolags. You can card too much, causing fibers to break and creating nepps. Start with less fiber on the cards - you’re really aiming for fluffy cloud-like rolags. Keep making all the little wool sausages until you’ve run out of fiber.

5. Now, the moment of truth! Arranging the rolags! This is the hardest part for me and I can literally spend days obsessing over the order before committing to spinning them. I suppose I could spin 30+ mini-skeins, but I’m a one-big-honkin’-hank kinda girl. I like big hanks and I cannot lie.

With my Flicker progression, I had a sort of ROYGBIV thing going on. I had a yarn in stash that complemented the fiber and I wanted the progression to end in that matchy-match.  So, for that project, I went V-ROYGB-gray.  You can also use different colorwheel tools: this one is pretty interactive. My favorite thing I've found via Pinterest is Design Seeds - I actually spend more time on that site than I care to admit. It’s a great starting point for color ideas and the palettes can serve as a suggested order. BigHugeLabs also has a color palette generator where you can upload your own photo and get color ideas. I would definitely recommend using Design Seeds and other color chips as a springboard for colorwave ideas if you are feeling uninspired.

For this progression, I’m going to use tonal range. I’ll arrange the rolags, take a black and white photo, then rearrange them according to tonal range*.

I'll compare the black and white image to the values on the tonal range and make adjustments to the progression as necessary. For this particular progression, I had two spots I was not happy with and after try to make them fit in other spots, I decided to blend them with their neighboring rolags. Click here to see the notes about this in Flickr.

6. Here's the final progression, in both color and black and white:
IMG_3191pn  IMG_3192pn

7. Unless you live in a cat-free (child-free, gremlin-free, pukwudgie-free, what-have-you-free) home, you'll want some way to secure the rolags. Zippie bags and baskets work, but you don't want to have to reorganize your progression whenever you sit down to spin. With my More, Please progression, I had the idea to tag each rolag. This worked great, so long as nobody touched my rolags!  It was tedious and didn't really keep the rolags organized. With this project, I had a flash of genius and decided to run a threaded needle through the middle of each rolag. This made it super easy to keep them in order!

8. The final step - SPIN! Spin for singles or spin for Navajo-ply or split each rolag in half and spin for a 2-ply! 

I hope this was useful for anyone interested in hand-carding progressions. Working with hand-cards is a great way to spend extra time with your fiber. The steps are very similar to drum-carding, but I find that hand-carding makes it easier to focus on the subtle color shifts that make a progression great. Whatever method you choose, have fun!

*I'm not doing a true tonal range, though! If you look at the photos, you'll see I start with a darker gray rolag, then move to the light grays, before finishing the tonal range. I really liked this particular gray rolag, so I didn't try to blend it further. Also, I have some yarn in stash that I think will pair nicely with that gray (and thus the rest of the colors), so I'm imagining some sort of striped shawl.

Friday, March 02, 2012


At acupuncture this week, I had the visualization of two Photoshop-filtered* Koi  swimming in a clockwise circle. I didn't think too much of it. I've had other visualizations before, but I never know whether to trust what I'm seeing with my eyes closed, do you know what I mean? Like, on a bright day, if you close your eyes, you of course can see bright spots and after-images. Am I just seeing after-images during treatment? Or is it something that the treatment is bringing about?

After the treatment, as I was situating myself and getting ready to leave, my practitioner started to explain what she had done for this session. She'd worked on some of my water points in an effort to elevate that energy within me (apparently I'm fire-heavy). She wanted to move the energy from one point through to another in a circular and unending motion. I looked at her and let out a small laugh, and then told her what I had visualized. She was not surprised but still impressed.

Prior to this week's session, if you had asked me how I felt about acupuncture, I would've responded that it's interesting, different, and requires a certain willingness. This session, however, seems to have opened an inner-eye for me. All week, I've felt more balanced and appropriately energized (and I am using that in a different sense than qi) - that is, I'm ready to wake up in the morning, I'm appropriately tired in the evening, and my days, busy as they may be, aren't draining me. I keep thinking about the visualization, and I also keep imagining things  as circular rather than linear. For instance, rather than view my daily schedule as a point A to point B (wake up then shower then eat then work then home then dinner then sleep), I'm thinking about my day in terms of returning to a certain starting point - I begin rested, I flow into the next part, I perform whatever tasks I need, I ebb out of that, I return rested. It's a subtle yet interesting shift in thinking for me.


In other news, the no-meat-at-home challenge is working out kinda well. I knew when I made the decision last week that I was facing a weekend away, meaning the chances of encountering bacon were high. And, I'm not going to lie, I ate bacon somewhere in CT and then again in ME. But, for the most part, I found myself opting for non-meat things even when not home. I don't know if it's because I'm not forbidding myself these morsels or what. Keeping veggie at home hasn't been too bad, either. We've had tofu stir-fry and veggie pot pie (with GF Bisquick biscuits on top). Last night, I made two kinds of pasta and served it with nice salad. Our neighbors that we eat with about once every week or so are also keeping more vegetarian than not and they had us over for a phenomenal butternut squash curry and we brought over mixed greens dressed with a curried salad dressing. That was a good meal.

*The one that looks like paint's been applied with a palette knife. So, the palette knife filter? My PS skills are not nearly what they once were.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Everyday I'm snuffling*

It's that time of year again - Lent! And there were so many things I thought about giving up. Like, I could give up spinning for 40 days and 40 nights. Yeah, right. Or, I could give up using colorful language. Feckin'. How about no alcoholic beverages? No ice cream? No dessert-type foods?

And while any of those would have been a challenge (except for the spinning one - I would not give that up unless I physically could not spin, and even then, I'd find a way), many of them I've done before with some success. The only one that I couldn't see through to the end was the year I gave up swearing. That lasted less than a week.

This year, I've decided to give up house meat. What the hell is house meat, you ask? House meat is any meat I bring home and/or coerce others to bring home so that I can eat it. 40 days and nights of no sausages, burgers, chicken breasts, pork chops, and steaks. No firing up of the grill or the rotisserie - unless it's to grill-wok greens and veggies and tofu.

This will be tough, and that's why I built in some guilt-free wiggle room. If I eat out with friends, I'm allowing myself the option to select a meat dish. If I'm going out to breakfast, I'm not turning up my nose at bacon.  I'm not putting a restriction on number of times I can eat out (legitimately, as opposed to cheatingly), I will know if I'm truly making the best effort in this challenge. If I don't feel like fixing something for dinner, too bad - I can either suck it up and run to the market, or eat a salad: delivery of meat will count as house meat, as far as I'm concerned. That would be cheating!

So, why give up meat for Lent? Most of you that read my wee blog know I'm hardly religious. What you might not know is that I have a difficult relationship with food - I will eat all the things! I'm a card-carrying member of the Clean-Plate Club! There's a lot more to that story, but that's for another time. Suffice to say, for several reasons, I feel the need to break the meat habit. Mike and I had already been remarking on the lack of vegetarian fare in our meals (or, more specifically, the preponderance of chicken in our lives), so this challenge coincides nicely with Lent.

Am I going to become a vegetarian? I don't think so. I mean, my diet is already restricted enough with having to be wheat-free/gluten-free (though to be honest, I really only come across that challenge when I don't eat at home - I've found it so easy to prepare naturally WF/GF meals at home!). I actually don't even know what I expect the result of this experiment to be: to feel healthier? To feel some sort of success when I make it to Easter? To lose weight? Maybe all of those are what I expect, maybe I just want to do it so that I can tuck it away as proof to myself that I can change. The only thing that came to mind when I made this choice was the notion of giving myself a reset of sorts.

Do you make any sacrifices or Lenten challenges? Feel free to share them in the comments.

*One of the many awesome hazards of being a Children's Librarian (again) is that I sometimes find myself stickered. This week, I have Mr. Snuffleupagus affixed to my ID badge holder.

Sunday, January 01, 2012