Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bristow, Lucy, the Lorikeet and I

When we moved into our little house, we didn't know that the family across the street kept livestock. Chickens, specifically. We didn't learn about it until we woke up on that first morning in our new bedroom. "Err-err-Err-errrr-ERRRRRRR!" Their neighbors on the other side of the street said, "Oh, that's Claudio's rooster. He's got hens, too. They use the eggs, and they've got kind of a big family, so we don't hassle them about it." We wanted to be good neighbors, so we decided we wouldn't hassle them either, even though it's not legal to keep fowl within city limits. We watched with interest as the chicks grew, and when they broke free to wander the neighborhood, we tried to herd them away from the yard with the German Shepherds.

We got used to the sound of the rooster, and at some point he stopped crowing. I don't know. Maybe they ate him. Autumn was quiet. The next April, we heard more crowing. This time it was two distinct roosters, one with the traditional crow, one with a stuttering call that seemed to strangle off at the end. "Err-err-err-EEERRRR-err-err-err-ERRRRGRGRGggggg." His call always followed the younger, stronger rooster's, like he was trying to compete with the upstart bird. I laughed about it every time I noticed it. Summer passed, then both roosters fell silent, for whatever reason, before Halloween. This pattern, roosters in April, quiet by November, happened for many years.

This year, no rooster. You know what we do hear? The ungodly calls of some creature that I cannot positively identify. I pull into my driveway every evening and step out of my car, and I'm immediately confronted with the sound of a troop of rhesus monkeys being attacked by a murder of crows intent on plucking out their shiny monkey eyes. At least that's what I imagine is happening when I hear the cacophony coming from across the street. You can hear the horrible screeching throughout the neighborhood. "What the f*&k is that thing, anyway?" I say every time I hear it.

A few months ago, a beautiful, multicolored bird landed on the telephone wire that runs past my bedroom window and stayed there for several minutes. I think it was a lorikeet, and further, I think it's now kept in an outdoor aviary over at Claudio's. It looked like a lorikeet, and I don't care if it's actually a conure or a parakeet, because I like typing and saying and reading 'lorikeet', and I have to find something to like about the damned thing, since it's apparently not going the proverbial 'way of the roosters' any time soon, and it's showing no trend toward shutting the hell up.

At least I hope it's a lorikeet. I hope to God he doesn't actually have a cage full of terrified, enraged monkeys in his back yard.

The look on my face in the picture above? "No, seriously...what the F&*K is that thing???"

I finished Bristow, by the way. I'd almost forgotten why I went outside to take that picture, what with all of the excitement over the Cries of the Lorikeet and, I kid you not, neighborhood children playing 'Three Blind Mice' on their recorders while marching around their yard. Loudly. Badly. Repeatedly. As children do. It was a fun afternoon in the garden.

So, more than six months after starting it, I'm done with Bristow. It took me that long because I was absolutely intolerant of any mistakes. Working with the first yarn I ever purchased, in a smooth, light color that would show every imperfection, I just couldn't let little things go. If I got an increase wrong five rows before noticing it, I'd unknit the five rows and fix it. No frogging back for me, no way. Unknit every stitch so that I'd be sure I didn't drop or twist any of them.

I knit the small, and it's almost the perfect size. It's a tiny bit big, but my gauge runs just slightly larger than it should, so I'd expect it to be a little wide. I knew the arms were going to be roomy and a little bit long, but I knit to the pattern anyway. I've got this weird idea that if I dampen just the arms and throw the whole thing in the drier, I might be able to shrink them up a little bit. Then it'll be absolutely perfect.

Here's a detailed shot of the front and the edge of one of the sleeves. I loved knitting this sweater, and I feel like I've learned a lot about finishing, and reading my stitches as a result of making it. My finishing was always sort of haphazard at best. I'd thread ends through stitches all willy-nilly, totally obvious and lumpy. With this one, I learned to weave in ends as duplicate stitches, and more importantly, I started to understand why that works, how the yarn moves through the fabric, if that makes any sense. It took three tries, but I finally got the sleeves set in so that they look GOOD, not just lashed onto the body. I haven't been the best at that in the past, but now I feel like I know how to do it well. Bristow was important enough to me that I wanted it to be right.

I even took the yarn with me to Stitches this year and bought just the right buttons for it. These are from Moving Mud. I can't get a great picture of them, but they're beautiful when the light hits them.

This is a great pattern, everything very well thought out. Once I got the hang of the cable pattern, I found it easy and fun to work. I actually think I got it wrong, on the arms, but if so, then I was consistent over both of them. The diamonds are one purl too wide, which means my cables on the arms are a little different there than on the body.

Would I knit this again? Definitely. I had a blast knitting it, and I love the finished product. I'd knit it in a yarn that didn't have so much sentimental value so that it wouldn't take another six months to complete.

Would I recommend that other people knit it? Absolutely. It's a great introduction to aran knitting, because it's not so complicated that you'd feel hopelessly lost if you forgot your place in the chart. I know a lot of people on the Knittyboard are debating this one, after overlooking it when it was first published. Knit it. It's a beautiful sweater, and I imagine it would be flattering on almost everyone.

But Suzanne? You said I could be in the picture because I'm sitting like a good dog and waiting for you to blow the ants off of my bone, and you said I was a pretty girl. Don't I get to be in the picture? -- Lucy the Dog

What of me, the Woman? Let me outside. I also want to be in the picture. You can call it "Buddy Hunts the Rogue Lorikeet". Two words, the Woman. "National". "Geographic". The dog can be my pack ox. -- Buddy the Cat

Good girl, Lucy. No dice, Buddy. Friggin' ants. Hey, Claudio?!? What the f*&k is that thing???


It occurs to me that I need to do some catching up.

First order of business -- What I've learned about this blog and myself as a blogger. I've been merrily blogging away for months now, typing and musing, not as often as I'd want or intend, but I'm working on it. Sometimes I go for weeks without an entry, sometimes there are several within a week. Sometimes people comment, sometimes not. I figure if it's read by anyone other than its author, who is infatuated with her own writing and will read every entry over and over, it's doing alright.

I'm amused by the very earliest entries, because they seem so stilted. I think I was so worried about making what I wrote worth reading, the theory being that the writing had better be worth the effort if someone took the time to click through a link, that I sort of lost my narrative voice. Until recently, I didn't tell any of my friends or Accountant Boy about the blog, because I didn't feel all that good about it. The Knitty blogstalk post about dinner prep turned that around for me. I had such a good time doing it, and still have such a good time looking at the series of pictures, that I wanted to share. The narrative voice is coming back to me now. What I write is becoming more me, less generic, inoffensive lady from the Knitty boards.

The blog's changing as well. I guess this happens to all of us eventually, the 'knitting' blog turning into the 'me' blog. Let's face it, folks. I love knitting, but I'm not all that zippy about it. If I wait until I have a finished object, or what the hell, have made enough appreciable progress on a project that it warrants photographing, it's going to be a helluva long gap between entries. I'd have to go back and check, but how long ago did I start Bristow? And how long ago did I decide that I was going to work on it exclusively until it was done, meaning that I wasn't producing anything else? That doesn't give us a lot of knitting content, does it? No, it doesn't. But if this isn't just a knitting blog, if there's more to it than that, then the door is opened for this sort of thing.

But that's a story for another day.

My final thought on the blog for today is about comments. Kimberly121 from the Knittyboards asked the question on her blog recently, "How do you respond to comments?" Now that I'm getting more of them, I had the same question. I don't have an answer. Comment in the comments? E-mail the sender? Respond in a future entry? I'm going with option 3 for the moment, because there were a few really nice comments recently that I wanted to acknowledge.

For everyone who loves/envies my kitchen, thank you! I love it, too. I should post a couple of pre-remodel pictures, so you can appreciate the horror that it was. We're especially proud of it because, while the designer did the structural design work and talked us into/out of some of our less-informed ideas, we came up with the look and style all on our own. We wanted sort of a "St. Helena wine bar" feel, and I think we got it without the look skewing too rustic.

I'd also like to point out that the kitchen/front room is the only remodeled room in our tiny, postwar-era house. You should see our bedroom. We painted last December, didn't get the second coat of paint done, propped the loose trim up behind the door, and haven't done anything since. We only put the doorknob on a couple of months ago, because we needed to be able to close Buddy in up there for his safety during a party. We hastily rehung the IKEA curtains so that we could have some privacy, not realizing that we'd hung them backwards, and still haven't rehung them. The tag's been staring me in the face when I wake up for nine months. Yeah, there's a reason we never leave that front room.

Batty, I asked my gnarled feet if they wanted a pedicure this week, and they said, swear to God, that they'd rather I spend the money on heavy work boots so that they can safely pound a spade into the clay out in the yard. (You can't do that kind of work in sneakers. We're just saying... -- Suzannes gnarled feet)

That picture at the top is Lucy's reveal of the mystery macro shot. She actually has two of these ropes at the moment -- this one, and another that is in considerably worse shape. She's pulling it apart, one thread at a time. Look at that face. Look at those ears. She looks like those demon dogs in 'Ghostbusters'. To me, she's adorable.

Her other favorite toy is this bone. She likes to play fetch with it. It weighs about three pounds, and I'm always worried that it's going to bonk her on the head when it lands, but she won't accept any other toy in its place. If we throw a tennis ball to her, she'll run past it to find the bone and bring it back to us, abandoning the tennis ball under the rose bushes. So we gave up and now we just throw the bone to her and hope it keeps taking lucky bounces. Whatever it takes. The girl needs exercise.

The vet said I look like a chunky, burnt baked potato, and that's O.K. because I like potatoes, and I think that means I'm a pretty girl. -- Lucy the Dog

Moo moo, Flossy. Moo moo. -- Buddy the Cat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Utility Feet

We Bananas have gnarled feet. None of us have any business wearing toe jewelry on them, or exposing them in summery, strappy shoes. DaddyBanana's big toes both cross over his second toes, and his feet are so flat that there isn't a crescent in his footprint. I had bunion surgery when I was eighteen to correct the same deformity in my own feet. My big toes are straight now, but my feet are still gnarled. Take a look at these dogs.When I had the surgery on the big toes, I guess there would have been an option to do the smallest ones as well, but we didn't spring for that extravagance. I kind of like them this way, snuggled up next to fourth toes, far in from the edge of my foot. My second toe on my left foot is a full toenail-length longer than my big toe when uncurled, and it has what my cousin calls "The Gordon Nail", which I inherited from MommyBanana's family. It's so thick that it almost can't be cut with toenail clippers, because they don't open wide enough. No, it's not that way due to fungus, no matter what the commercials say. It's like that from years of ramming into the ends of shoes and slamming into floors. It has developed superior defenses.

Like I said, gnarled.

I run on them, a hobby I made them take up when they were in their mid-30s. I balance on them when I lift weights or when I'm up on a ladder changing a lightbulb, pretending to be an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil. I don't pick them up far enough when I walk, so I trip over them at least once a week. I stub them frequently. They never complain. "Poor little flat feet," I used to say to them. "I should treat you better. Maybe next week we'll get a pedicure." I never do. They're happiest when they're being useful. They're all about function, not frou-frou. "Poor little flat feet."

But as I get older, something strange is happening to them. Against what I'd think would be all reason and common sense, I'm actually developing arches. See that print? There's a normal-looking arch there. I haven't scrutinized my footprints in a long time, but I'm pretty sure I'm not remembering this wrong. They used to look like outlines of swim fins with grapes glued to the end of them. I love them, my utilitarian, gnarled feet. Love them. Maybe next week I'll take them out for a nice pedicure.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Really, It's Not What You Think

Aren't the colors gorgeous? Wouldn't this make a great summer shawl? But really, it's not what you think it is. Take a guess!

When I started at UCSB as an art student, one of the first classes I signed up for was beginning photography. On the first day, the teacher handed out a list of subjects that he considered trite and overdone. Babies, children in costumes, the elderly, gravestones, pets, landscapes, street scenes with people, street scenes without people, the homeless, junkies, food, kissing, clouds, broken crockery, architectural details, self portraits, people laughing, people crying, people looking directly into the camera, people looking off into the middle distance...I wish I still had the list. I spent about a week in the class before realizing that I didn't want to be a practicing artist. I didn't stick around for my first critique. Photographing the cliche is as close as I get to art anymore. But you know what? I like taking pictures of clouds, and flowers, and my pets, and my knitting. That's what makes me happy.

How you like me now, Professor? It's a closeup of my cat looking off into the middle distance, musing about homeless junkies kissing over a plate of chili fries in front of a Corinthian colonnade, the ground around them littered with the shards of ceramic cow creamers and several pages of an Ann Geddes calendar, while an ancient woman holding a small child wearing a clown suit looks up at the gathering clouds and cries. My cat's prone to these types of artistic reveries. He has layers, you know. If you look very closely, you can see my hands and the Sony reflected in his eye, a kind of self portrait. It sort of reminds me of the mirror at the back of Jan Van Eyck's 'Arnolfini Wedding'.

More knitting content soon. I'm so close to finishing Bristow that I can hardly stand it. I'm half a sleeve and the seaming away from being done. I'd be further along if I spent more time knitting and less time photographing my cat.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Authentic Basque-Scottish Cuisine

So you're at home and it's around dinner time. Your beloved, hard-working husband is at yet another business function, so you're on your own for this meal. On your kitchen counter, you find only a bruised banana, some sour gumdrops and an Owen Hart collectible card from 1998*. Your prospects are bleak.
Pondering further, you realize that you haven't cooked a meal in weeks. It's been Los Panchos burritos, roasted chicken from the supermarket, or cold cereal for dinner, and it's been that way for a fortnight. No leftovers in the fridge.You throw the doors wide anyway, hoping something will leap out at you. You contemplate the possibilities of Pellegrino and a can of cake frosting, calorically rich to be sure, but not appetizing in the slightest. Luckily it doesn't come to that. Fortune smiles upon you, and you find a packet of frozen organic macaroni and cheese, and three slices of precooked bacon in a plastic bag. Yes! There's a meal in the making! Here's what you do.First, assemble your tools. You'll need a cutting board, a hammer, a pry bar, and a microwave. You'll also want protective earwear, glasses and chemical rated gloves. Gear up for safety!**Next, perforate the plastic film covering the tray of macaroni and cheese. Hold the plastic taught with your less dominant hand, swing back and bring the pry bar down forcefully on the small, frozen block of food, near the center of the tray but close enough to your hand that you can use your fingers to shield the countertop from damage if your aim is off.Microwave the tray of macaroni and cheese for five minutes. This will burn the outside edges of the cheese sauce, while leaving the center pleasantly cold. Pull the tray from the microwave and stir in the delicious, roasted cheese bits. Return food to the microwave and cook on high power for another minute.Your macaroni dish should look something like the one picture above. It's lost most of its creamy texture, and there are hard bits of baked cheddar mixed in with the overcooked noodles.

Next, prepare the bacon bits. The best way to crush bacon is with a 22 oz. framing hammer, but a 16 oz. all-purpose hammer will also work in a pinch. As with the plastic on the macaroni tray, swing back fully and bring the tool down hard on the target. You are bracing yourself for a fully extended strike, so you won't be able to protect the counter with the fleshy part of your hand. Don't worry if your hair gets in the way of your vision. Trust that your aim is true, and bring the hammer down.The crushed bacon should look something like the picture above. If your bacon is in larger pieces, return it to the plastic and hit it a few more times with the hammer.Gently fold the crushed bacon into the macaroni and cheese, one handful at a time. For consistency's sake, the overhand throw is being demonstrated in the above photo.

The final step is to find a beer with a label that coordinates with your dish. The blue background of the Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock complements the colors of both the cheese and the bacon.


* - Owen James Hart, May 7, 1965 - May 23, 1998. Rest in peace, King of Harts.

** - While safety equipment is important, our model was not shown wearing it in the demonstration photos. This was done for the clarity of instructional materials.