Fireplace socks

I’ve been spoiled by a couple days of unseasonably warm weather. An unexpected heat wave brought the temperatures up into the mid 60s on Friday, tricking my senses into thinking that Spring is coming. Alas, I should have known that walking outside without a coat was to be short-lived. Old Man Winter has teased me all season long, bringing ridiculous amounts of snow and ice; why should he quit mid-February?

Two days of delightful warmth is deceiving. While we were able to open up a couple windows to air out the house, which had become almost unbearably stuffy, the sudden return to the reality of winter was a shock to the system. 40 degrees feels much colder than it did a month ago, and now I find myself huddled on the couch in my warmest sweater under the thickest blanket I could find. Thank goodness for Fireplace Socks.

Just before Thanksgiving, the furnace at Casa de Insomniac decided that we weren’t worth its efforts and stopped working. Air came out of the vents, but it was as cool as the impending winter. It took almost a month to get the blasted thing fixed; the first guy who came to look at it had no clue what he was doing, said he would order a part, and then we never heard from him again. Fortunately, Hubby’s cousin’s boyfriend is an HVAC specialist. He offered to check out the furnace, and within ten minutes we had heat again. Huzzah!

We were lucky: although it was cold, the season hadn’t truly kicked in yet, so we were fairly comfortable using blankets, cats and space heaters to keep ourselves warm. Space heaters and the fireplace, which does an amazing job heating the living room. Whilst huddling for warmth in front of the flames, I took the opportunity between knitting Christmas presents for my family to whip up a pair of socks for myself. I call them Fireplace Socks, since I knit them by the fireplace, our only source of heat. Get it?

I’d had a couple skeins of Lion Brand Homespun lying in my stash for a few years, and with the funky texture, I never quite knew what to do with it. A simple sock pattern, like the basic chunky sock by Patons, turned out to be perfect for this yarn. I figured that since the main purpose of these socks would be to keep my tootsies warm in my chilly house, it wouldn’t really matter if they turned out badly. Happily for my poor frozen toes, I needn’t have worried.

The yarn itself was a little difficult to knit with at times. Lion Brand calls it a “uniquely textured” yarn; I call it annoying. There is one thin strand of black running through a slowly varying lighter colored, thicker yarn, which curls and backs up on itself. The best way I can describe it is to knitting with cobwebs: it’s not a smooth, silky yarn like I’m used to using, and so the needles would get caught up in it, making it difficult to differentiate the individual stitches.

The good news is that these babies knit up super quickly. Although I didn’t finish the pair for almost two weeks, the actual knitting time was closer to two days per sock. (I took a break in between to start on my brother’s present.) And the finished product, despite the temperamental nature of the yarn, is incredibly soft. They turned out a little big for my feet, but since I’m just using them as lounge socks, that doesn’t really matter. And the color is gorgeous: deep aquamarine melting into taupe, rose and cream, creating subtle unmatched stripes.

Perhaps if I wear them with abandon, Old Man Winter might decide to spite me again and send the temperatures soaring again. We can only hope.

In which I change the ceiling lamp in the hall and feel mighty

Our humble abode is not in disrepair. The roof is not caving in, the basement is not leaking, and the floors do not threaten to fall away with the lightest of steps.  With the exception of new windows (and eventually, when I win the lottery, extending the ceiling and adding a skylight in the living room), almost everything I would like to do to improve the house is cosmetic. Case in point: light fixtures.

My major issue with this house is that it feels quite dated, and the light fixtures are a serious contribution to that problem. It’s not just style and design I’m talking about, although that is a major failing of whomever decorated previously. (Frosted, floral, gold-trimmed bits of daintiness may do it for my grandmother, but not for me.) It’s also function. Of all the ceiling lamps that were in the house before we moved in, not a single one was appropriate.

For example, in the largest rooms (the master bedroom and the dining room), ceiling lights are in the form of teeny, delicate, frosted covers that hugged the plaster so tightly that I’m surprised any light got through at all. Larger rooms, in my opinion, require larger light fixtures to a) create more light, and b) balance the proportions of the room. Conversely, the smaller rooms in the house contain large, bulky, hideous monstrosities that dangle a foot below the ceiling, making the room seem even smaller than it actually is. One of these smaller rooms is a room in which Hubby and I both teach, so we are in there quite a bit.  The light fixture in there is problematic for a couple reasons: a) it’s just plain ugly, and b) it’s treacherous to our noggins. I’m not particularly tall, but my poor head is in danger of getting wanged whenever I wear heels. Since it’s a problem for me, it’s definitely a problem for the Hubborama, who towers over me no matter what my footwear, and who has on several occasions gotten clocked during lessons.

The moral of this unnecessarily lengthy introduction is that I’ve decided to be a little more proactive about home improvement. Specifically, that means not waiting on my keester for the Hubster to help me with something I could easily do myself. More

Kaiso

Hi, my name is Megan, and I’m addicted to knitting socks.

Once I completed my first sock (a simple, solitary little thing fit for a Cabbage Patch doll, but complete with a solid gusset and properly turned heel), I was hooked.  Sock knitting fever has gripped me with a fervor I could not have anticipated in my wildest dreams.  I seek out sock yarn, own every size of small double-pointed needles, and can’t pull myself away from the abundance of pattern books in Barnes and Noble.  I think I have a problem.

I completed my first actual complete pair of socks sometime in the beginning of February, after about two months of concentrated knitting that wasn’t nearly as tedious as I expected.

The pattern for these socks comes from a fabulous book that appealed to me on so many levels – Knitted Socks East and West: 30 Designs Inspired by Japanese Stitch Patterns, by Judy Sumner. How do I love this book?  Let me count the ways:

  • The title grabbed me.  I love all things Japanese, and the combination of Japanese patterns with something I knew how to make was impossible to pass up.
  • The photos within are gorgeous!  Light and clean, they would appeal to knitters and non-knitters alike.
  • The patterns are elegantly simple, different and intricate without complication.
  • The patterns use more than just knits and purls, incorporating stitches such as cables, the wrap, the twist/slip stitch, the three-stitch lift, and the pkok.  For someone like me, who was getting bored with knits and purls, but not ready to take on multi-colored or larger projects, these new stitches offered a welcome challenge.
  • That said, while the patterns require a little more brain power to work than just mindlessly knitting in the round, they are short patterns with plenty of repetition, so they are easy to memorize.
  • Most importantly of all, the directions are incredibly clear.  Had I never attempted a sock before, I probably could have used this book to get me started.  The illustrations are simple, and nothing about even the most intricate of patterns is confusing.

I feel that Ms. Sumner does a much better job summing up the design of this sock, Kaiso, than I ever could, so I will use her words to describe the sock:

The lace design and fluid bands of this lace pattern look to me as if they could be moving under water, like seaweed.  The Japanese word for seaweed is kaiso, and varieties of it have been used for centuries in Japanese cooking.

This sock design is a very simple one, using only knits, purls, yarnovers, and decreases to create a lace pattern that is reminiscent of the feather and fan design familiar to many Western knitters.  Here, it has been simplified and modified with garter bands that add a rhythmic feel as they flow up and down.

The most difficult thing for me when knitting socks is getting over the adrenaline of finishing the toe and completing the first in the pair and moving on to the second.  Just when you think you’re finished, the realization that you’re only halfway done sets in, and honestly, it gets kind of depressing.  It’s the same feeling I get when I shave my legs.  If the end result wasn’t something I could actually wear and show off, I probably wouldn’t be as excited about it.  With the success of this sock, I think I may have to work my way through each and every pattern in this book.  Perhaps I’ll make it a goal to knit them all by the end of next summer, a la Julie and Julia.  I could actually do it, if I really try.  Here’s to following through.

New toy #1: birthday present

I’ve had a great point-and-shoot, pocket-sized camera for a little over a year now: a burgundy Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS.  It was a tremendous upgrade from my previous Olympus Camedia D-425: easier to use, bigger screen, clearer photos.  It fits snugly in my purse so I can be ready to take a shot whenever the mood strikes me.  That said, while I love that little camera, I’ve always felt like there was something lacking.

So, imagine my delight when my birthday rolled around this year and Hubby presented me with a truly awesome gift: a Sony DSLR-A230.  This bad boy is big, hefty, and the closest thing to my dad’s old manual camera without using actual film.

One of the things that bothered me about the PowerShot was the inability to focus on the precise object I wanted.  Don’t get me wrong – the autofocus is quick and accurate.  But oftentimes the camera and I disagreed about the subject of the photo and thus on what to focus.  It made for some frustrating photo-taking.

The Sony, on the other hand, while it can easily be set to automatic, encourages everything manual, from focus to aperture to shutter speed to probably a lot of other stuff since I know squat about the workings of manual cameras.  But that is the great thing about it being digital: I can learn all about all those intricate functions of light and science by experimenting, and I can do it all without wasting precious film.

So far, I have only found one problem with the camera, and it has nothing to do with the actual photography.  The aforementioned manual camera that once belonged to my father had been sitting in a cabinet for about ten years.  Upon realizing that he had completely forgotten about it, and asking my mother for permission, that piece of nostalgia is now sitting on my desk, waiting for a new battery and ready to go again.  Along with the camera came a great soft case, some extra lenses (super zoom!) and – the best part of all – the shoulder strap that kept that camera and my father inseparable during my youth.  And herein lies the problem: the metal clasps that attach that strap to a camera are far too big and bulky for the likes of my new toy.

My hope is to get a new lens (macro zoom, fisheye, wide angle, etc.) every year. (Those things are expensive, you know, and I’m not made of money.)  I also hope to eventually know enough about the particulars of fine photography that I won’t have to spend two whole minutes setting up a shot to get it just right.

In the meanwhile, check out some of the shots I’ve taken so far:

Sonic toothbrush

I’m a big fan of the battery-operated toothbrush.  I think that it does a much better job of cleaning my teeth than a manual, non-battery-operated toothbrush.

Every year for Christmas Santa leaves in my stocking a new toothbrush, toothpaste and (usually) some Crest White Strips. Santa is big on dental hygiene in my house.  For the past few years he has left a Crest Spinbrush, a nifty little item that, at around $7, is right in my price range for above average tooth care.

As you may know, the Crest Spinbrush is no more.  As of sometime last year it was purchased by Arm & Hammer.  So, now it is the Arm & Hammer Spinbrush.  As an informed consumer I can say with some certainty that besides the logo atop the packaging, I notice very little difference between the old and the new.  Kudos to Arm & Hammer.

For whatever reason, I didn’t open my new toothbrush until today, almost a full month after Christmas.  After ripping open the ultra-thick, somewhat dangerous plastic packaging I noticed that my new toothbrush looked a little different. Why? Because, gentle readers, my new toothbrush isn’t just any ordinary battery-operated toothbrush.  It is a sonic toothbrush.

I had to laugh.  The first thing I thought of was Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver, and the argument that the Doctor got into with a guy about it: “Of all the things that you can make sonic, why a screwdriver?”  Hilarious. But you probably had to be there.

What makes a toothbrush sonic?  I’m honestly not sure.  But I can tell you one thing: this new toothbrush buzzed so hard in my mouth that I’m still seeing double.  It vibrated at a speed unattained by my previous toothbrushes.  I have no idea if it’s because of the recent Arm & Hammer acquisition or because of the sonic qualities of this apparently super toothbrush.  All I know is that my teeth feel dentist clean.

So, gentle readers, spill: what kind of toothbrush do you use, and does it live up to your standards of proper dental hygiene?

Windowpane Scarf

I have a really bad habit of starting a knitting project and leaving it half finished.  Scarves usually feel the brunt of my lack of follow-through.  At least with a hat or a sock I know I can finish quickly, so I am more motivated to complete it. But scarves go on forever, especially if the pattern is small and intricate.  However, I do actually manage to finish something on the rare occasion.  This time around, after months of alternate excitement and near-death boredom, I finished the Windowpane Scarf.

This monolith of a scarf (as modeled by yours truly to the right) is about 12 inches wide and 80 inches long, including the fringe.  I used about a skein and a half of Red Heart Super Saver worsted weight yarn (7 oz./198 g.) in Carrot, and a set of size 8 knitting needles.

The pattern, with a couple small tweaks (because I messed up early on and decided I liked it), is easily memorized, so it was the perfect project to work on while vegging in front of the television.

Of course, credit should be given where credit is due.  This pattern was not my own.  Heavens, no.  It came from here.

Roxio Easy VHS to DVD

I don’t remember having a lot of home movies made when I was a kid.  Some parents toted the video camera everywhere with them, recording each inconsequential moment of their precious little snowflakes’ lives.  The result was usually stacks of VHS tapes in a box or a closet, gathering dust for years because everyone was too embarrassed to watch them.

Because my parents were much more selective about what they captured with the camcorder (that, and the fact that I don’t remember even having a camcorder until I was almost in high school), our selection of home movies is rather limited. Most of them, in fact, are still on the teeny little tapes that came with the new technology of our camcorder – no more lugging around full-sized VHS tapes! – which also means that we probably can’t even watch them anymore, since I don’t think my parents even know where the camcorder is.

Speaking of watching home movies, and other VHS tapes, does anyone even own a VCR anymore?  My parents do, but I doubt that it’s hooked up.  My grandparents do, but they still don’t really know how to work it.  I was talking to a student of mine about VHS tapes and VCRs a while back, and she looked at me like I was making the concept up.

In any case, about the same time that I was rooting through a box of VHS tapes of my own, a friend of mine decided to hook up his VCR.  I found a few “home” tapes that had only my name on the label to indicate that something I did had been recorded.  We decided to see what was on the tapes.

Lo an behold, two of the tapes held my senior and graduate piano recitals!  I would have completely forgotten about them, had it not been for a sudden urge to hook up the VCR.  Of course, it’s not like I can show them to anyone, due to the previously stated disappearing VCR phenomenon.

Enter Roxio Easy VHS to DVD.  This is the best $80 I have spent all year. The hookup is really quite foolproof: you just connect the video and audio output cords from your VCR into the plugs provided in the box, which connect to a USB plug that hooks into your computer. The image and sound then plays through your computer via the newly installed program, and you can record as much or as little as you like. You can then edit the movie like you would any other in a program like iMovie and either burn the memories to DVD or publish embarrassing childhood moments to YouTube.

This nifty little gadget is available for both PC and Mac, though for some reason, the Mac version costs $20 more.

The only problem I have found is that the new digital files often take up quite a bit of room on one’s computer, especially if they are long clips.  However, if you have an external hard drive with an insane amount of space, this really shouldn’t be an issue.

Tune in tomorrow, when I post the real reason why I purchased this product.

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