31 December 2006

Today's Our Anniversary

We've been married for 36 years today. Through the good and the bad, we've been together. Although I must say that there's been remarkably little bad and a whole bunch of good. It's only recently, when our parents started dying, that it's been bad. Otherwise we've had a very good life together.

I can hardly remember not being married I don't know what I'd do without my husband, because he's my best friend and companion. He's not perfect, of course, but neither am I.

We aren't going to do much in the way of celebrating, as so many of our friends have retired and moved away, so the usual suspects won't be partying together. Plus, we're all getting older, which is taking its toll, and a lot of us can't drink (hypertension) or dance (bad knees). Plus, we've all told all our jokes and stories to each other too many times.

Six years ago, on New Year's Eve 2000, we went to Palm Springs for a week to celebrate our 30th. I got beautiful new wedding and engagement rings, with my diamond reset, and my original rings were modernized with a tanzanite. The new and the original rings are very much the same design. It's just that styles change and in thirty years they change a lot.

We had a wonderful time in Palm Springs. We stayed in an older hotel that was, at the time, a Holiday Inn (now it's an up-scale resort). It's just a block off the main drag and we went walking and window-shopping every day. We didn't buy much, but we had a great time watching the other people and enjoying the shirt-sleeve weather. Every afternoon we'd go back to the hotel and sit out by the pool until the sun was gone. That was at about 1530 because Palm Springs is tucked up against the San Jacinto scarp, which is really tall. As soon as the sun "set", it would start cooling down and everyone would vanish to their rooms.

We had such a good time that week that we decided to buy a house in the Coachella Valley, to spend winter somewhere warmer than the Antelope Valley. We didn't want to leave SoCal and we knew we didn't want to live on the coast (too cloudy and foggy for us), and this looked pretty good. In the subsequent years we built a three-bedroom, three-bath house in Sun City Palm Desert, retired, and set ourselves up to live in two deserts, not just one. We discovered that the charming house we'd built just wasn't big enough for the two of us, plus the two collies. It's a very compact house, quite rectangular, and we just felt as if we were on top of each other.

In 2003, on my birthday (9 April), my dear husband offered me my choice of birthday present. I could have either a great big bouquet of flowers or a big new house in the floor plan we both really liked. Well, that took me about twenty nanoseconds to decide. We went down to the sales center the next day and set the process in motion. We ended up with the new house less than a thousand feet from the original. It took just under a year (we took possession on 1 April), as the builder was closing out the development, but the actual construction only took about three months. This time we watched the construction closely. We'd go over every day or two and I'd walk around and take photos and video. That part was so much fun, I'd almost build another house just to do it again. The newer house is about 1.5 times the size of the original and it's laid out much less compactly, so it works out a lot better. I have some photos here.

Somewhere in there we sold the Oceanside house, which was a small two-bedroom, two-bath half of a duplex in a seniors-only area that we'd bought for my husband's parents to escape Iowa winters, but for a while we owned a nine-bedroom, seven-bath house, except that it was in three separate pieces in three different counties. Then, until escrow closed on the original Palm Desert house we had a ten-bedroom, eight-and-a-half-bath house, still in three separate pieces but in only two counties. Now we're down to a mere seven-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath house in two pieces.

Well, I've drifted kind of far afield from my original topic, haven't I? I do that in real life, too.

Happy New Year, everyone.

30 December 2006

On To The New Year

We had a quiet, rather sad Christmas this year, with my mom being so ill. I got a little digital camera and my husband got a GPS driving system. He got the latter because a friend on AFCA (alt.fan.cecil-adams, for those of you familiar with Usenet) had gotten himself one for Xmas and just loved it. I got the former because I'd been borrowing his little digital camara so much.

My husband's birthday is 26 December, which is how I justified spending a little more on him. We have our 36th anniversary on Sunday, 31 December, but we probably won't do anything special except have a nice dinner. I've got a couple of New York steaks (which you may know as strip steaks or rump steaks, depending on whether you're a non-Western USAn or from the UK or its other former colonies; it's the non-filet half of a T-bone or porterhouse steak) in the freezer and some russet potatoes for baking.

I have been snapping all sorts of photos with my new camera, but not of any knitting. I haven't gotten much done beyond two scarves. I finished up a mohair Moebius for my father -in-law and I'm nearly done with a wool scarf for my friend Don. I'd post photos except that even the smallest-sized photo is larger than is practical. Normally I'd use The GIMP to scale the image down to a manageable size, but it's not working. Every time I try to do the scaling, the program crashes. It was working a week or two ago and I don't think I changed anything, so I'm going to try uninstalling and reinstalling it to see if that will help. I sure hope it will.

The yarn for the mohair Moebius is Lion Brand Moonlight Mohair in Rainbow Falls. I knitted it on a 60-inch, size-13 needle, casting on 72 stitches and working in alternating stockinette and reverse stockinette for 3, 3, 2, and 2 rows (by turning and knitting in the other direction, because I don't like purling).

I turned it one last time and used the cast-off in Cat Bordhi's book A Treasury of Magical Knitting, where you knit two stitches, return them to the left needle, and knit them together I think it looks better if you knit them together in the back loops, which looks exactly like slip one stitch purlwise, knit one, pass the slipped stitch over (or s1p, k1, psso) but is easier and quicker. Plus, you don't have to move the two stitches back to the left needle, as you can just push the left needle through the front loops, which puts you right where you'd be if you'd moved them over and started to knit them together. It's a very minor version of knitting left to right, which is very handy to know if you do short rows, like on socks.

I've got to tell you a little bit more about my yarn stash. I'd been knitting scarves in novelty yarns, like eyelash, because it was easy knitting (all garter stitch), with short rows, on big needles. I can turn out an eyelash scarf in a little over an hour. Truly mindless knitting. My dear friend Pat, who makes and sells Americana at craft shows, offered to add some of my scarves to her booth and I accepted. Unfortunately, the craft show was held in 90-degF weather and we only sold three scarves, out of about a dozen. Pat was staying with her friend Pat in Simi Valley and the day after the craft show they went cruising the various craft shops of the San Fernando Valley. They went to one that was going out of business and found novelty yarn on sale, so they called me. Every skein was $1 and the yarn was all decent craft-store yarn like Lion Brand and Moda Dea and Bernat. I told Pat that this was a bargain and I'd appreciate it if she'd buy me some and to use their judgment on the colors and to try to get at least two, preferably three, skeins of each color.

Well, they did just what I asked. However, they found out that it was either $1 a skein or $5 a bag. They bought me three bags, stuffed so full they couldn't be closed, and for $16 (tax) I got 92 skeins of yarn. That's less than 20 cents a skein. Of course, I had to go out and buy a couple of plastic bins to put it into, but at most that only doubled the price per skein.

Then I discovered yarn lot sales on eBay and picked up some really nice yarn for sale. A lot of it was orphan skeins, but that's enough for a scarf in many cases, so it was perfect for me. I splurged on a few lots at the same time I was buying some really nice yarn there, and now I've got a huge stash of yarn in small quantities. I discovered, as I sorted through the lot yarn, that it wasn't all inexpensive novelty yarn. I've found Noro and Cascade and Blue Heron and other premium yarns, mostly in single skeins, in with the eyelash and acrylic. I've sorted it all into nice yarn for special projects and essentially free yarn for casual knitting.

Anyway, to get back to the mohair Moebius, this was a single skein from a lot purchase. I think I paid a little less than a dollar for it, including the shipping. It was exactly enough yarn to knit a small scarf, but it wasn't enough for anything bigger. Yarns like this vary quite a bit between dyelots and I'm not sure it would have been possible to find more from the same lot, so this was truly an orphan skein. I was very pleased that I could put this yarn to good use, rather than condemning it to sit at the back of someone's stack.

I have also nearly finished the scarf I'm making for Don (Pat's husband). I'm down to about a quarter of a ball and wondering if I should fringe it, rather than just knitting more rows. It's Adriafil Felis Trends in color 15. It's 100% wool, in a single heavy ply, and is highly recommended for felting. The colors are greens and blues, from dark spruce green and navy to a light leaf green. Overall, I'd call it dark teal. It's knit on 10-mm (US 15) needles in mock rib stitch, on 15 stitches. It's rolling itself up into a tube but laid flat (not blocked) it's 5.75 in. wide and, right now, just a little over 60 in. long. If I add a fringe made from 12-in. strands and knit what's left, it should be a bit over 72 in. If I don't make the fringe but just knit up all the yarn, it'll probably be about the same size, but plainer.

Decisions, decisions....

I wish everyone a Happy New Year, filled with joy and good health and love.

26 December 2006

Knitting Photos (I hope)

Well, I hope this posting will have some photos of the knitting I've been doing. We shall see whether I can master the system well enough to make this work.

The first scarf I finished is the Moebius scarf for my goddaughter, knitted in Diamond Rio. This yarn is rayon, which gives it a nice drapy hand, as recommended for Moebius scarves.

Lo and behold, here it is, in living color. This is the entire scarf, just as it came off the needles, not yet blocked. It was knit from the center outward and, as you can see, has only one side and only one edge.

This is a closeup of a section of the scarf. To keep it from curling, it's knit in three rows of stockinette, then three rows of reverse stockinette, and so on. You're looking at the reverse stockinette (because stockinette rolls toward the smooth side). Rather than casting off the usual way, I used an attached I-cord cast-off. You can see this at the left side of the photo.

Here's a rather blurry photo of another Moebius scarf, this one in wool. I think I must have moved the camera, since I don't think the scarf was moving around. At least, I hope it wasn't.

The scarf is really somewhat pinker than this photo indicates. It's more fuchsia than plum.

Here's a close-up, showing the regular casting off, on the left. You can see the stockinette better here because the wool doesn't roll as easily as the rayon.

The light-colored cord in the lower right corner is part of the camera strap, not part of the scarf.

OK, now that I can bully blogger into uploading photos, I'll have to go take the rest of them. I'll also post some photos of scarves that I knitted just to be knitting. They're looking for good homes, so keep an eye out for them.

24 December 2006

Christmas Knitting Update

I've finished my S-I-L's scarf and it came out very well, I think. You can hardly see where I dumped the forkful of fettuccine Alfredo on it. I also finished a Moebius scarf for my cousin in New Jersey; this had been sitting around for about a week and a half, waiting for me to finish off the ends for the knit-on I-cord edging. The scarf for my goddaughter has been finished for a few days.

Now I've got to launder and block these three scarves, which I'm kind of putting off. I'm not sure I have a towel long enough for the two long scarves. I suppose I can just pin them down on the bare carpet, without the towel, or use two towels but both alternatives seem really wrong somehow. I've always used a single towel over the carpet for blocking. Oh, well, I'll adapt.

Anyway, all I have left to finish is the Serene Moebius scarf I mentioned before, on which I've knitted nine of, probably, twelve rows and an I-cord bind-off. Then there's a blue or black scarf for my godson, a lavender and blue scarf for our niece, and a teal and green scarf for our friend Don. This last must be a manly scarf, so I need to find just the right pattern.

Fortunately, none of these people is expecting their scarf on Christmas Day. That's mostly because we already gave most of them gift certificates in good time.

Cold Days, Fireplaces, and Knitting

Here in SoCal, particularly in the Antelope Valley where I live, we’ve been having very cold weather (for us) for the last couple of weeks. The Antelope Valley has been setting records for overnight lows for the day, with lows in the mid-teens. It hasn’t been getting as warm during the day as it usually does, either. This is the High Desert, the Mojave, and it has cold winters. I’ve lived here since 1961 and am pretty much used to the cold weather. Notice that I don’t say I’m fond of it.

I retired from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB, at the end of 2002, as did my husband. We were both tired of winter here, so we had prepared for our retirement by building a house in Palm Desert. That’s in the Low Desert, the Sonoran, and it has cool winters. Now we migrate between deserts, going to the warmer Low Desert for the winter and returning to the cooler High Desert for the summer.

Not this year. In August my mother, who lives here in Lancaster, was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous-cell lung cancer. This is an aggressive, fast-growing cancer and they’re not treating it because it’s so far along. She has no pain or cough or any other symptom of the primary tumors in her lungs and only very brief spells of inattention as a symptom of the secondary tumors in her brain. She’s been in the hospital three times, for at least a week each time. She’s in a skilled nursing facility now and the chance of her being able to go home, even with hospice, is pretty poor.

I try to visit her every day, but I get so discouraged now and then. Add in the cold weather and the nasty 20-30 knot wind and some days it’s just more than I can do. Yesterday was such a day. At about noon I admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to go see her, so I brought in some oak and started a fire. One of the fireplaces is in the family room, where we really live, and a fire in it is really cheery. The fire doesn’t heat the house, because the hot air just goes up the chimney, but I don’t have fires for heat, I have them for comfort. It’s the same kind of comfort that a good down comforter give me when I snuggle down underneath it.

Having a fire has a downside, though. My husband uses a wheelchair, being unable to walk, so I won’t leave while the fire is burning. Oh, maybe a quick errand, but nothing extended. By lighting the fire, I had guaranteed that I couldn’t change my mind and go see my mom, unless I let the fire burn out completely. Since I was burning oak, that wouldn’t happen before the end of visiting hours. Having thus limited my options, I settled down to knit.

There’s something very gratifying about sitting in a comfy chair in a comfy room with nothing much to do but knit, particularly when the weather is unpleasant. To be grandiose about it, it represents the triumph of humans over the elements. To be more prosaic, it represents a continuation of primitive humans huddling over the fire in a cave, while fearfully peering over their shoulders into the darkness outside where the predators lurk. But primitive man didn’t have Diet Coke….

So I knitted more of my S-I-L’s scarf; I did just a bit more than five 22-row repeats and it’s 32 in. long on the needles. I’ve got a few more rows left from this skein of yarn and I wound off the second skein this morning. I’m very pleased with this scarf and I hope she likes it. I’ll make her more scarves, of course, and I’ve got some very interesting yarn for them.

I also started a Moebius scarf to test the Knit Picks Options circular needles I’d bought. I didn’t buy the entire set; I got the size 13 tips and the 60-in. cables. They’re not included in the set, so I won’t have duplicates if I do buy it. I started knitting Moebius scarves with needles and spliced cables from the Boye Needlemaster. That worked, but the joints between the cables were a little odd and the cables themselves aren’t very flexible. So I bit the bullet and bought the Denise needle set, with the added long cables. Cat Bordhi swears by them and endorses them enthusiastically for Moebius scarves. I like them a lot, because the cables are very flexible and having the long cable means I don’t need to splice. The tips are plastic, though. Good, sharp, pointy tips, but still plastic.

I’ve read a lot of rave reviews of the Knit Picks Options needles, so I decided I needed to try them. I was ordering some red Wool Of The Andes yarn for the Red Scarf Project anyway, so I added the tips and cables. They were quite economical. The cable is very thin and flexible. It relaxes very nicely, so there’s no need to fight it. The tips are very pointy, too.

I started a Moebius scarf with the Options needle, using a big fluffy pull skein of Paton’s Divine. It’s a bulky-weight yarn made of 79.5% acrylic, 18% mohair, and 2.5% polyester and I really don’t like it at all. It’s got a nasty dry feel to it, sort of like that non-absorbent cotton that companies stuff into bottles of vitamins. It doesn’t have any give to it at all and it’s very sticky. It doesn’t want to slide on the needle at all. I knitted a row and a bit with a different mohair yarn to see if the problem was with mohair or the needle or what, but that knitted just beautifully. The Divine isn’t the worst yarn in the world, but I probably won’t buy any more. The scarf itself looks pretty nice, with five rows done.

23 December 2006

Space Shuttle Orbiter Landing

Well, on Friday we almost had the Space Shuttle Orbiter drop in on us out of a clear blue sky. Literally. The sky here was clear and blue, while the sky at Kennedy Space Center, at Cape Canaveral in Florida, was gray and rainy. The Orbiter usually lands at KSC but it can’t be flown through rain (that erodes the thermal protection tiles on its underbelly) so NASA was looking seriously at bringing it in to Dryden, at Edwards AFB here. They don’t like to do this because it’s inconvenient and expensive and sets back the schedule. However, replacing all the TPS tiles would be vastly more inconvenient and expensive and would set the schedule back a lot more.

Besides, it’s Christmas. I’m sure this wasn’t a primary factor in their decision-making process, but it had to weigh in a bit. If the Orbiter had landed here in California on Friday, the entire recovery team would have had to fly out here immediately, since Dryden only has a skeleton crew to get the Orbiter safed and parked. Can you imagine having to find airline seats for a couple hundred people two days before Christmas, when the entire air transport system is nearly at a standstill because of the Denver blizzard? I don’t see how they could have done it; they probably would have had to ask the US Air Force for help. Now that would have been fun, a cross-country flight in a C-141 or C-17, for the recovery crew. A great way to start off a ten-day to two-week deployment away from home and family during the most family-oriented holiday season we have.

It’s not just the recovery crew that would have plans scrambled, but a lot of support people at Dryden and at Edwards. Normally, both organizations come pretty close to shutting down. There’s no flying, no meetings, just a small fraction of the workforce working, usually because the workers don’t have any annual leave or vacation time. It’s actually not a bad time to write a paper, because there are no interruptions, no meetings, no flights to support, or any other distractions. The most inconvenient thing about it is that the cafeteria is closed, so lunch comes in a brown bag, out of a vending machine, or at whatever is open over in the Base housing area. If the Orbiter had landed here, it wouldn’t have been like that at all. All the local people needed to support the recovery operation would have their holiday plans disrupted, as would their families, at the last minute. Some key people might even have been recalled from their holiday trips, via the snarled-up air travel system.

I’m certain that everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Space Shuttle management decided that the weather at KSC would give them a safe landing window. Sure, everyone would have stepped up and done their jobs out in California and families would have understood and accommodated the changes, but everyone has to be a lot happier that everything went as planned.

Still, I kind of missed hearing the distinctive BOOM-BOOM and seeing the big white Orbiter swooping down to land. Orbiter landings used to be kind of routine, as routine as I’ve seen a lot of Orbiter landings at Dryden, starting with the five Approach and Landing Test flights that used Enterprise. I think I’ve only missed four or five of the landings, usually because I wasn’t even in California at the time.

21 December 2006

Christmas Knitting Progress

Well, I finished the alpaca scarf for my goddaughter. I just have to wash and block it. It’s navy, because she’s a freshman at Penn State. I love that Plymouth Baby Grande! I also made her a Moebius scarf in Diamond Rio, which I think she’ll like because she’s majoring in physics and chemistry. She can’t wear wool at all, so I have to keep an eye on what I use for her.

Fortunately, her brother, my godson, isn’t allergic to anything. However, he’s one of those people who’s never cold and he doesn’t wear scarves. I’m probably going to knit him one anyway, because I don’t like to just send a check without something else.

My sister-in-law’s scarf is coming along beautifully now. I’d started out knitting two repeats of Crest Of The Wave, in plum Cascade 128 on 10-1/2s. That wasn’t working, so I went to 11s, which was a lot better. After I got about four repeats (well over a foot long), I decided it just wasn’t working and I frogged the whole thing. I started looking through my books and found a nice pattern in Scarf Style. It’s “Vintage Velvet”, a reversible cable. The original is knitted in Muench Touch Me and felted. Pretty, but I got the Cascade 128 because it’s warm and my S-I-L lives in northeast Iowa. So it was time for some creativity.

I read over the pattern and decided to omit eight stitches by leaving out two four-stitch repeats ([p2,k2] or [k2,p2]) on each row. This put me at 26 stitches, which, with all the ribbing and the cable, is about six in. wide. I lost some ribs, of course, but the scarf was going to be just too wide otherwise. I’ve got almost two repeats done, over a foot, and it looks pretty good.

My second choice of patterns was the ribbed scarf in Wendy Knits. I think I’m going to use that pattern for my godson’s scarf, only in big chenille, rather than the Cascade Magnum that the pattern calls for. I tried that before and didn’t like the hand at all. I just love those big thick yarns, like Magnum and Jumbo Merino, but not knitted up into such firm fabric.

My sweet husband gave me a nice little Sony digital camera for Christmas. Now I don’t have to borrow his, so I’ll be posting photos of these projects.