24 December 2006

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.

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