Sunday, January 25, 2009

one resolution is going well

The book reading bit is going well.  Three actual printed books read this month, plus one audiobook as well as an audio lecture series!

In fact, I was up all night reading The Missing (info and Powells.com link in the sidebar). I started it when I got into bed, and bloody hell if I didn't stay up until I'd completed it around 6am this morning. I can't even remember the last time I read a novel straight through. (Probably the final Harry Potter novel.) 

Sadly, I didn't like the book all that much. The book was well-written in that the prose was fluid, but the story actually suffered from being a bit too long. I read a review of it in the NYTimes in an article discussing a genre the author called "the dark fantastic". I (generally) like fantasy, so I put a couple of these titles on hold at the library and finally read one. The term "genre" is an odd beast, really. While the article described the story as "dark fantastic" (i.e. fantasy with darker themes, possibly a hybrid of fantasy and horror), the genre listed on the book's spine was "suspense", and this reader classified it as "horror". (Note: my familiarity of the "horror" genre is almost nil, based almost entirely on a flirtation with Stephen King novels during early adolescence. Writers imaginations' never stand still, so the "horror" genre has most likely evolved considerably over the past [cough] 25 years. I hope so anyway.) 

As a plot driven novel, it wasn't entirely interesting because it was almost identical to the film "I am Legend" (so there were very few surprises), except the story took place in a small town in Maine instead of NYC. (And I did have to wonder if the author was being somewhat tongue in cheek and giving an homage to Mr King, who has made small-town-Maine ground zero for Really Weird Sh*t to Happen.) So the story had elements of science fiction in which there was a rational, scientific reason for the weird sh*t (environmental catastrophe). The story had elements of fantasy in which the cause of the weird sh*t was a primordial, supernatural force, older than humanity. You could also argue that it was a vampire story in that the affliction spread through humans biting other humans. But I call it a "horror" story because the story centered on this horrible plague that is overwhelming the town and the story focuses on who escapes the plague and who doesn't. And that's the reason I didn't like the book. There were far too many characters and most were not developed well enough and so there was very little emotional resonance for me as a reader to even care. 

It started very promisingly, but finished weakly. Yet I still stayed up all night to finish it. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This is what 40 looks like



Ok, in all honesty, this photo dates to last week when I was still 39 but my hair looks like crap today. But the blue eyes and rosy cheeks are accurate. :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

A decision made

Ok, I am most definitely NOT renewing my subscription to Vogue Knitting. I only subscribed because I thought the mag featured a lot of good technical articles; I never expected to actually like too many of the patterns featured (not being very fashion forward myself).

I had some misgivings with the last issue because I did see an item I liked but then saw a note that the pattern chart wasn't included in the magazine but on the website. Ok, at least you don't have to register to get the chart, or even worse, PAY for it! (Interweave Knits pulled this stunt last year--showing an item in their mag and telling readers it was on the website. It was free for awhile and then they started charging for the pattern. Subscribers were furious.)

That was annoying. But I got the recent issue yesterday, and I saw that the same thing happened again. Including a partial pattern in the magazine and then saying that the rest was available on the website. But guess what. It's not there (yet).

But the worst thing is that there aren't any technical articles at all. I figured that last issue didn't have any because it was the holiday issue, and these from any knitting mag tend to focus exclusively on gift-appropriate patterns or swag for knitters. But no technical articles this time either unless you count the article on making Elizabeth Zimmermann's snail hat, which is of moderate use since the damn information is already covered in EZ's own books.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stupid house

Well, the flood god passed us over but the moisture afrit had taken up residence long ago. Apparently, the NE & NW corners of the house have moisture problems. A few months after we moved in, we found black mold growing on the walls. Both these rooms are unheated, and I guess there is no insulation in the walls either. 

Last year, we had all the windows replaced with energy efficient ones which was rather expensive but it has made a difference in our utility bills (as well as being a heck of lot more aesthetic) and which also managed to keep the moisture under control. There weren't any mold problems last year. 

But last night, I discovered a huge patch of mold growing on the bedroom wall behind the curtains. These are floor to ceiling heavy curtains (came with the house), and the drawstring broke awhile ago so they can't be opened. I had a big plastic bin in the corner (not snug up against the wall, I learned that bit all ready) which was used to store some yarn. I decided I needed that bin for the cleaned beer bottles so moved it away. I used to have another plastic bin stacked on top of that one, which has been since used for another purpose but its lid had fallen against the wall and was hidden by the curtain. 

Apparently, a forgotten lid to a 2'x3' Rubbermaid container leaning against an uninsulated wall in a very damp winter makes an excellent environment for growing a variety of different molds. I discovered this huge patch at about 11:30 last night and didn't bother to clean it because I knew it would take awhile, plus I figured one more night wouldn't make much difference. However, I did have several anxiety dreams of mold, and mold removal, and being unable to stop the mold, and shortages of bleach.

So today, I washed the inside and outside walls with the recommended bleach solution (1/2 cup bleach in one gallon tepid water). I washed the inside walls twice. I don't know if it was necessary or not but it made me feel better. Then I painted all the walls below the window with Kilz. I'm not going to bother painting the rest of the room because really, that sheetrock there should be replaced. My neighbor across the street is a sheetrock contractor so I'll ask him for some tips. Like, should I do it now or wait until it's warmer? (Don't laugh at me. I have no idea. I grew up in a desert and the apartment in Seattle didn't have these moisture problems.)

Oh, and speaking of moisture? I recently found out that those damn toilet cozies actually have a function. I always figured that they were just some other sort of ploy for marketers to create a new product for squeamish people who didn't actually want to see a toilet; you know, the same people who'd cover the spare roll of toilet paper. Well, given that our water is so cold right now, there's a lot of condensation on the toilet tank and bowl. It actually drips off and pools on the floor. This is annoying, but it's a lot better than a leaky toilet, which was my original suspicion. Wiping off the tank and bowl with a towel after every use has helped but I am *this* close to buying a toilet tank cozy, especially since I can't reach around to wipe off the back of the tank.

The NW corner of the house isn't so bad, mostly because there aren't any windows there plus there isn't much in that corner. I just noticed this bit after I started typing this entry, and it still needs to be cleaned with bleach and painted as well. 

sigh.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year's Resolutions and all that stuff

I'm not really all that interested in making New Year's Resolutions because I have this really weird habit of being all goal oriented and making a list and then completely ignore anything that's on the list because I can't stand anyone telling me what to do, even if that person is myself. (Sometimes I wonder why I've always gotten stellar reviews at work. I've never had a bad review, and sometimes it really baffles me but apparently the Powers the Be seem to think that I do enough things well consistently enough that I am considered a Valuable Part of the Teamoplllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll,.)

(That last bit was Maggie's contribution to this blog post.)

So, interesting things that are going on....well, I made a batch of beer for the first time the other day. Oscar had bought me a kit a while back and has spent all this time wondering if I was ever going to use it. I finally did. I don't know why I ever thought it would be so hard. Most of beer making seems to consist of waiting for a very long time. hehe

Anyway, when we got the kit, I also got a kit for making porter. The first step in beer making is brewing the wort, which is the basic flavoring for the beer. The kit I had was two large cans of "beer syrup" if you will. All I had to do was pour it in the primary fermenter (a large plastic bucket), add some boiling water to thoroughly dissolve the condensed wort (it looked like black paint and smelled like molasses), and then add cold water to bring it up to 5UK gallons. When it had cooled down, I added the yeast that came with the kit, sealed up the container and added the airlock, and the whole thing has been sitting on top of the washing machine since Tuesday. I wait until it's stopped bubbling, and then I can bottle it. The beer will condition in the bottle for two weeks and then it's ready to be drunk. (Actually, I think it can be drunk as soon as it's stopped fermenting but it won't be carbonated.) These are the instructions for the stuff I got in the kit. Some beers need a secondary fermentation, but this one apparently doesn't.

I hope everything is coming along all right. At first I wasn't sure if I'd killed the yeast because it wasn't bubbling right away, but then I found out it starts to bubble after 24 hours. Even then, it's a slow bubbling--once every few seconds. 

For the past few months, I've been saving up the non-screw cap bottles from the beer I've drunk and storing them on the back deck (so my back deck looks like it belongs to a proper alcoholic). I let Mother Nature help me with the first wash of the bottles. Since they've been outside, they are dirty so Oscar filled a big tub with bottles and I added rainwater from the rain barrel and them soak most of the grime off. Then I washed them properly, and had flashbacks to my four years working in the Chemistry Labs at university and washing lots and lots and lots of glassware. For the first time in my entire life, I actually wished for an automatic dishwasher. I've only cleaned about 20 of them and I need at least 64. I need to go to the beer supply store and get some corn sugar for the conditioning and I'll check out the cost for a keg. I can see my enthusiasm for beer making wane if I am faced with washing 5+ dozen 12 oz. beer bottles each time. Actually, that's not so bad. I can wash them as I use them, but storing them clean is a bigger problem. I'll figure something out. 

According to the kit instructions, fermentation should be done after 7-8 days, so I can bottle everything up starting soon. Then, in two weeks, beer! 

Anyway, New Year's resolutions. Like I said, I don't really like these but there are still a few long term changes I'd like to make to my life. So, here they are:

1. Walk 10,000 steps a day at least 4 days a week including once on weekends. (This is about four miles at my stride. I actually have an easier time doing this on weekdays than on weekends.) 
2. Read at least one book a month. My book reading habits have seriously slipped. I have a hard time sitting down and reading. Part of that is because it takes me a while to be able to concentrate and part of the problem is that I think I need reading glasses. It's kind of embarrassing to get so many books from the library and having to return most them not merely unread, but not even looked at. I do listen to audiobooks and I will count those but there are far more books that I'm interested in than are available on audiobook.

So that's it. Walk a lot more and read a lot more. Unfortunately, both are in competition for my time. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

First snow, then rain, and now floods

City of Tacoma declares civil emergency:
City declares civil emergency due to potential flooding of Puyallup River

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has predicted the Puyallup River may overflow its banks early Thursday morning. As a result of this prediction, Tacoma’s Mayor Bill Baarsma and City Manager Eric Anderson issued a proclamation that the City of Tacoma is in a state of civil emergency.

The declaration was made based on flooding risks to the City’s Central Wastewater Treatment Plant, which could pose a risk to public health. The City’s Emergency Operations Center will open at 6 p.m. tonight and will remain open for the duration of the emergency. The City’s surface water crews have switched to a 24-hour work schedule to attempt to keep the more than 22,000 public storm drains clean in Tacoma. Drains near street corners and in low areas of streets and parking lots are the main concern. Drivers navigating Tacoma’s rain-logged streets or in areas that are prone to slides, such as Schuster Parkway and Marine View Drive, are encouraged to drive with caution. Remember that it is not safe to walk or drive through flooded areas.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

in which the New Year has started out soggy

Despite all my griping about the snow, I think I liked it better. At least it was a lot less muddy. (I honestly don't mind snow all that much; the problem is that no one is prepared for it here and that was the challenge.)

Plus, snow is pretty. At first. Rain never is. Rain is just, well, wet. Plus it's been pouring, so even my MIL, who really loves her daily walks, is not too eager to venture forth. Poor woman. She traveled several thousand miles to visit us (for which I am very happy) and the weather has been so freaking crappy that we've been housebound for most of the month.

Even though it is raining, and is thus warmer than when it was snowing, it's not all that much warmer. In short, very cold rain. Barely too warm for snow and instead miserable cold rain, so it actually seems colder than it did when it snowed. The dogs certainly felt that way. They were outside for about five minutes in rain to do their business and then they all huddled in front of the furnace to get warm:

Three brown dogs and one white one. All I need now is a black dog to provide me with enough dog hair colors to show up on everything. 

In a random change of topic, I tried needle felting the other day. My Local Yarn Shop also carries needle felting supplies so I bought a kit there. I brushed Sasha, my long haired cat, and got a nice supply of fiber and tried making a little cat out of cat hair. Oh c'mon, it's a great idea. Why buy little cat toys when I make them out of the cats themselves? There's a few things I learned about needle felting. 

1. Those frakking needles are sharp. I jabbed myself a few times and drew blood every time.
2. The shaping process is really just a matter of practice, it seems. I got a few books from the library on needle felting, and while there are some basic directions on how to make a ball, a cylinder, or a tube, the directions for making animal shapes are essentially "make a cat/squirrel/dog body shape". My little cat is most definitely an abstract beast. 
3. Sculptural needle felting is actually rather fun. It's rather cathartic to repeatedly stab something (except thumbs and fingers). The process actually gives you quite a bit of control over the sculpture, so it's not as fast (using a single needle) but allows the possibility of very unique pieces.

I also tried my hand at spinning the other day. My friend Rachel from Knit Night invited a group of us over to spin. We all brought our wheels and had a very pleasant time spinning and socializing. The spinning bug hasn't hit me the way the knitting bug did. When I learned to knit, I was very enthralled and Ready to Learn and so was able to work through the learning curve. To be honest, spinning hasn't quite ensnared me. It's more like a theoretical interest than an actual one. I guess I should have figured that out when I got a spinning wheel last summer, stained it and assembled it and then let it sit in the corner until, well, last week. 

Spinning on a wheel is a heck of a lot less difficult than spinning with a drop spindle. In my opinion, drop spindle spinning makes patting your head while rubbing your tummy seem like a walk in the park. That said, wheel spinning is still a lot like learning to drive a stick shift: feet and hands are all doing separate things and it's not so hard to just do one or two things at a time but controlling all extremities is a challenge. (And yes, with drop spindle spinning, both hands are doing all the work that in wheel spinning is distributed between upper and lower limbs.) And I did spin. What I created was complete and utter crap which I didn't even bother to keep but instead cut off the bobbin and threw out. My friend Ickyfishy had given me a handful  of fiber to practice with, and it's really amazing how much fiber it takes to make a little bit of yarn. Fiber is very fluffy and what I thought was a pretty sizable amount of fiber spun up into a very small amount of yarn.  Rachel had received a spinning wheel for Christmas (a complete and utter surprise to her) and apparently had just learned to spin, oh, the day before? But she has been bitten by the Bug and was producing quite lovely yarn. AbsoluteJeanius had some pre-dyed fiber that she was spinning and it was just gorgeous stuff. (She gave me a skein of her handspun for a Christmas gift and I treasure it. It's lovely color, and beautifully textured, and I just have to figure out the Perfect Thing to Make with it.)

It seems that for those of us who dream of making our own yarn that the way to a beautifully colored yarn comes from dyeing the fiber and then spinning it up. Perhaps I've just not seen too many master dyers of yarn (Tina of Blue Moon Fiber Arts being an exception) but for really interesting colors, ones that have depth to them, you have to spin up dyed fiber instead of just dyeing yarn. You can create colors by either blending several fibers that have been dyed various colors and then spinning that or you can dye a large amount of fiber in various colors which blend to certain extent as they are spun. 

So maybe the spinning bug will eventually seize me. I keep trying, slogging through the learning curve until eventually everything will click and I won't have yarn that looks like ass. (Rachel said very encouragingly that master spinners have a very tough time recreating the thick and thin overspun slubby yarn that we beginners produce effortlessly. My thought, as I looked at that fuzzy curly thatch wrapped around my spinning wheel bobbin and which reminded me somewhat uncomfortably of pubic hair was "why would they want to?")

Thursday, January 01, 2009

ignorance is bliss

I have mused before on the site meter. I don't get much traffic to this blog but it is still interesting to see who is reading it and where people are coming from.

Most of the traffic here is from people I either know personally or from sites where I am active (mostly raverly). Interestingly, there is a lot of traffic here from people doing a google search for "low cut sweater model" or "fat lady model" which led to the post in which I modeled my handknit sweater. This was at first somewhat creepy and then somewhat amusing but now I am really annoyed. 

Why? 

Because some jerk copied those photos of me in my sweater and pasted them in a fetish blog, and then someone else lamented that he couldn't find any other pictures of me on my site, so someone else copied the pictures in which I'm modeling the hat I made.

I guess what really bugs me is not that these photos turned up at a fetish site; I guess it's to be expected that images are copied and pasted around. I did put photos on teh intarwebz after all, and I understand that the internet is public and posting anything carries a bit of a risk.  But it bugs me that no one asked my permission. Also, these photos of me innocently showing off my sweater are right below a film loop of one guy sticking a mayonnaise jar up his ass, the image of which is now sadly burned into my brain.