Friday, June 29, 2012

Adventures in Lace (With an Accidental Demon Possession)

 For quite some time, I've wanted to make myself a black shawl. I have lots of shawls in many different colors: blue, purple, orange, tan, grey, and green. But none of those shawls can be worn with everything in my wardrobe. I wanted to make something more versatile - and lighter weight, so I could wear it in this ridiculous weather that we are calling "summer" instead of "hell on Earth," for some reason.

That meant making lace. I love it more every time I make it.

I made the pattern Summer Flies by Donna Griffin (click pictures for more detail). It's done on size 8 needles and works up really fast - I started this pattern at the beginning of the month, and I had plenty of time to work on some other projects in between, too.

This is the first curving shawl I've made, too - all the others are rectangles or triangles. By the end, there were 400 stitches per row, but that was the only somewhat boring part of this pattern. Throw on some Planet Earth while working on it, and the time passes quickly.

I made mine with yarn from The Sow's EarCascade Yarns Alpaca Lace (they might be my new favorite yarn brand). It was wonderful to work with, and perfect for this shawl.

The only thing I needed a tutorial on for this pattern was the bind-off. I've never done a picot edge before, or a cable cast-on, and Knitty was very helpful for that.

Then I realized why I've never done that before.

The blocking.

I rather dislike blocking. Unlike many knitters (or so I gather), I hate weaving in ends more than blocking, but when the blocking is this detailed, it kind of makes me want to go a-slaughtering. With so many pointy things at my disposal, I would be a formidable opponent indeed.

As I apparently was in this picture.

I had Spousal Unit take this so I could prove to you all that The Neverending Quilt is finally big enough for two people to use, and getting closer to completion by the day. Unfortunately, if you view the larger version of the photo, it's clear I've just come from a demon hunt and was accidentally possessed by a quilt demon.

Just a little freaky.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Disgruntled Letters Galore

Yesterday was a Day for me. No one particular thing went wrong, but little things compounded until I reached the boiling point and had a mini nuclear explosion. As a result, today my brain is a bit mutated from all of yesterday's radiation - my emotions have extra limbs, my thoughts are slightly warped, and my brain cells feel sterilized. (By that, I pretty much mean I can't think.)

As today promises to be much like yesterday was, I'm taking a few extra minutes for myself this morning. Enjoy these links to other people's disgruntledness.

- Rejection letters, including one from Disney about why they don't let "girls" draw.

- Complaint about terrible plane food, with some spectacular hyperbole

- Butts. Because they exist. (SFW)

- Letters to Santa. My favorite is the girl who wants to turn into a dragon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Draft Two: Complete

Ladies and gentlemen: I present to you... the last page of my novel.

Some part of me thought I'd never see it again. I can tell that part of me to shove it, because I've finished my second draft.

Now comes the hard stuff. All those little yellow post-its? Those are things I need to address in the next edit.

All these pages and pages of notes?

According to my editing instructions for this book, the next edit will be one of the most difficult: correcting all of the major faults. I addressed some of them in the most recent edit (such as changing my main character's age), but I've discovered many more problems.

Maybe I should have done the really hard stuff on my first edit, but I'm glad I didn't. One of the huge problems I unveiled was a certain character who could have solved two hundred pages of problems thirty years ago - now, I need a reason that he didn't. I also added important elements to the world I created - things that may result in an entirely different ending.

Did I mention this story doesn't have an ending yet? That's okay too, though, because what I have so far may be a stand-alone book. But at this point, I have to know the end in order to work on the beginning.

One thing I do know: never again will I write a book entirely based on a one-word idea (zombies). Never again will I write a whole book without plotting any of it. And never again will I restrain myself to only 30 days (or in this case, 27) in which to write it. All of that just leaves a lot of mess to be cleaned up.

This is not to say that I won't do National Novel Writing Month again. I love NaNoWriMo to death. It gave me faith in myself, and it got this idea out of my brain - an idea I never knew I had. I'm thrilled that I went through with it, and it's a great starting point. But to have a more... approachable first draft, I need have a plan, at least.

I had no idea where I was going when I started this book, but now I can see the path through the trees. I think it's a manageable hike.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Avatar Day Cupcakes

Yesterday, Spousal Unit and I celebrated the third annual Avatar Day. Usually, we celebrate it the day before Father's Day, but we were out of town this year. We also usually have an ice cream cake, while we completely and guiltlessly gorge ourselves on a children's cartoon for hours on end. This year, we decided to try something different.*

I found a great recipe for cinnamon chocolate cake in Pillsbury's Healthy Baking cookbook, and I made cupcakes.

I totally love those little silicone muffin pan liners - they keep the pan clean, and the innards always slide out easily.

Next, I found a depiction of the four nations's symbols: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

After mixing up some buttercream frosting, I practiced drawing the symbol into it. Here, I practiced on an old plastic lid, drawing with a toothpick and straight food coloring. But it worked better to mix 1 teaspoon of frosting with one drop of food coloring - the toothpick just didn't soak it up well on its own. You could etch the symbol in with a dry toothpick first, then go back over it with the food coloring to make it easier.

I frosted the cupcakes one at a time, as it worked much better to paint the symbol on them when the frosting was wet. You can tell by looking at the Earth one that it was a bit drier by the time I did the outer design.

 I think the Fire cupcake totally turned out best. It may have been my imagination, but it was a bit spicier than the rest, too. These were the perfect companion as we glided through Book 1 of the series. My favorite episode? Totally The Blue Spirit.

Though in The Waterbending Scroll, Zuko's suave line, "I'll save you from the pirates" makes it a close second.

*By "we decided," I of course mean that Spousal Unit presented the Ultimate Betrayal by telling me he doesn't like ice cream cake, by which he supposedly means it "only makes him want real cake." This forced me into an existential crisis and made me question whether he was the same guy who said he would be my sweaty. Really, who doesn't like ice cream cake? Pretty much only the lactose intolerant.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Books I Don't Want: Now With 100 Percent More Knock-Ups!

When I first ran across this cover, I thought it was a fake title. But no.

The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill

The Very Virile Viking is a real book. By a real romance author, who apparently doesn't care about pretending to be historically accurate anymore; she just wants to get to the good stuff. The first line of this book? "In the days of old when men were... whatever..."

I think this review sums it up much better than I could. I especially like the euphemism the reviewer points out: "It was not yet spring, but his sap was running high." Oh myyyyy.

Our next awful book title features...

Pregnesia by Carla Cassidy

...Okay. No. I give up on this one. It's too easy.

(Just let me say that either this is a condition where you forget how you got pregnant in the first place, or the lady's birthing a planet. Now I'm moving on.)

We all know Harlequins are absolute crap. Here are some more wonderful baby-related tales from the best-known romance publisher in the world.

I am now convinced that Harlequin just does a find-and-replace to publish new books. Let's play that game, shall we? Using the Random Word Generator and the format "adjective, possessive noun, pregnant, noun," I will now create Harlequin book titles.
  • The Shortish Chancellor's Pregnant Crew
  • The Rickety Czar's Pregnant Typist
  • The Frowning Boater's Pregnant Cowgirl
  • The Comatose Marmot's Pregnant Farmhouse
  • The Remorseless Ophthalmologist's Pregnant Empress
  • The Polytheistic Planter's Pregnant Puma

Wow. Vote for your favorites in the comments.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Musical Odyssey

Spousal Unit and I went on a library music binge recently, bringing home about a dozen CDs to listen to and enjoy. Many of them featured music from around the world - Asia, in particular.

I especially love Silaihuar by Urna Chahar-Tugchi, a Mongolian musician. It's harder to tell at the beginning of the song, but her vocals really mimic the instruments. I can especially hear it around 3:55 (plus, listen to those notes she hits). It makes me draw parallels with scat singing in jazz, even though these styles are half a world apart.

Another thing I love? That she's wearing a bulky jacket and sitting on the ground on her album cover. Any American artist with a voice like that would probably be wearing a fancy dress. In a big city. On a stage with red curtains.

I also love the song Zara Zara by Bombay S. Jayashri from Putumayo's "India". This is my second favorite of the Putumayo CDs - the album flows together very well, and almost all of the songs are masterpieces in themselves. (My first favorite Putumayo? "Celtic Tides", easily.)

And Popular Mechanics for Lovers by Beulah? That's just been stuck in my head for days now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Awesome Recap

Awesome things that have happened lately:

I finished my bamboo shawl. 

I love how the colors turned out – I was especially worried about the bind off, because I’d wanted to do it in all blue. Unfortunately, I ran out and had to resort to orange. But it ended up just fine that way.

I got a gorgeous, almost brand-new jacket for $3.62 while hanging out in Milwaukee. 

It’s exactly my style and exactly my size – the arms are even long enough, which is pretty unusual for me to find. It’s slightly padded, which means I’ll wear the hell out of it this fall. In the meantime, I’ve been prancing about in it at home, when the A/C is on, and being giddy over the cute little knots and the tiny guys in fishing boats.

We visited Spousal Unit's family in Chicagoland for Father's Day.

Everyone who's ever met Spousal Unit's dad says, "Oh. So that's where he gets it from." So true. (In a good way, of course.)

Last night, we went to the Brewer's game with some friends.

It was Stitch n Pitch night  a designated night for knitters and crocheters to enjoy each other's company, peruse craft booths, and heckle the opposing team. I love this idea. Also, I finished almost an entire quilt square during the mere six innings we saw in three hours  lots of walks, though we also saw Ramirez's bases-loaded home run.

And lastly, the wee roblets flew the nest this weekend. I wanted to get a picture of the empty nest, but the neighbors took it down before I could get to it. Totally don’t blame them – if my side of the porch was covered with that much poo, I’d clean it as quickly as I could, too.

P.S. I've been friended by some people I don't know on Facebook, which made me confused. Then Spousal Unit said, "They probably read your blog." He is smart. So I made a Deviant Dispatches Facebook page. Enjoy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Joy of Plarn

I've tried hard lately to decrease my plastic consumption, for many reasons. Plastic is eternal, it's a huge pollutant (as is and in the process of making it), and using less of it is just a good habit to get into.

To begin with, I stopped using Ziploc bags almost entirely. No more little sandwich bags, either - Tupperware instead. I still use super-large ones sometimes, mostly for freezing bread products, but when they're empty, I reuse them. I try to buy items in glass containers rather than plastic ones (though sometimes, the plastic price overrides the glass one).

I don't get plastic bags at the store anymore, either. I take reusable cloth bags with me. One day, I had to get a plastic bag at a department store (Spousal Unit and I were wandering to other stores), and I felt so guilty about it that I came home and made plarn.

Plarn is plastic yarn, made out of old plastic bags. It's easy to make, and though I haven't crafted with it yet, there are many projects you can make it into.

To create your own plarn, cut off one handle on the bag. Cut off the second handle at the base on one side (it will still be attached on the other side). Begin cutting all the way around the bag, creating a thin strip of plastic that is about an even width all the way around.

The base is more tricky to cut, but it is possible to make one long piece of plastic from the entire bag.

When the whole bag is cut up, you can reattach that first handle you cut off - just like if you were attaching the ends of any other yarn.

Roll it up and voila! You have a ball of plarn waiting to be made into any number of projects, and that bag will at least serve more of a purpose before visiting the landfill.

Here's one cool project I found: a crocheted recycled plastic bag purse!

According to the website where I found this one, pink plastic bags are hard to come by. White are, of course, most popular, but your yarn color is decided entirely by which bags you cut up! I like the idea of making your own yarn and being more environmentally friendly.

You can find lists of things to make out of plarn all over the internet. Bags of all shapes and sizes are just one idea - you can also make rugs, baskets, hats with wide brims, coasters, and many more awesome things. Maybe you could even make curtains!

For more about how to use less plastic in your life, check out Plastic Free by Beth Terry. She has a website, too!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Prostitution Scene

The recent trend in Jobs That Will Totally Humiliate You seems to be standing out on the street corner in a costume for some business or another. That costume may or may not relate to the business, but throughout the summer, one thing is certain: the person inside it will likely have their brains fried to a crisp.

One of the most high-profile street costumes is actually nothing more than a cardboard guitar, and it might be the least humiliating. Little Caesar's pizza sends their underpaid teenagers (and the older employees, too) out to the street corner to play something one step above an air guitar, decked out in a very fancy safety vest.

The guitar says something about $5 pizzas, or extra breadsticks, or where to get a good bag of crack. I'm not sure, because when people are playing that guitar like mad, it's kind of impossible to actually read. Didn't think that one through, did ya, Caesar?

A few blocks down from one of the pizza places is a tax place which, during tax season, sent out one poor lady or another dressed as the statue of liberty. (Their name has something to do with her, I think.) She had to stand out there, day after day, waving a stuffed plastic torch and a sign while wearing a sea foam crown and what may have been a green plastic bag. How much lower can liberty sink, really?

One of the best, though, is a place on East Washington. In one little strip mall, somebody is required to stand outside with a giant sign, in the sun, waving it around and dancing like a mad fool. About 100 yards away, another person stands in front of the Gold for Cash store (not to be confused with Cats for Gold). The owners of that store decided that the best marketing they could do to get their product across involved a guy in a chicken suit.

In less than one block, I am subjected to a flapping yellow chicken and a dehydrated guy with a giant posterboard. Absolutely ridiculous.

Why the hell is this becoming a trend? The people who have to do these jobs probably hate them. (Yes, it's better than no job at all, but there must be more productive things to do.) I understand that it's cheaper than a billboard or a Sunday paper ad, but all it does for people like me is make me wrinkle my nose and look away - no matter how sultry a chicken's come-hither wink might be.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Love Your Body

I love one part of my body above all others, and it’s not my armpits.

Really, does anyone love armpits? My guess would be no. I don’t just hate my own armpits; I hate everyone else’s, too. As I’ve mentioned, this is why basketball will never be my favorite sport, or even a sport of which I can stand to watch more than one minute. Unless you have some weird armpit fetish and nothing gets you going quite like a freshly shaved underarm, my guess is you also hate them, whether you’ve ever consciously thought about it or not.

And now I’m going to get all kinds of hits for people seeking armpit porn. Awesome. But armpits are not what I came to talk about today.

I came to talk about how much I love my hands.

I think every woman - and maybe even every man -  has at least one body part she absolutely hates and would do anything to change. Society puts so many unrealistic expectations out there for body image – thinner, firmer, taller, blonder – that it’s almost impossible to love ourselves completely anymore, which is terribly sad. A society that makes us hate ourselves? Let’s focus on what we love instead.

I love my hands. I love that I have long fingers. I love that little scar on the first knuckle of my left index finger – I don’t even remember how I’ve got it, it’s been part of my hands for so long. I love that I have strong fingernails that I usually ignore, that grow long and elegant until I at last have to clip them off so I can keep writing.

I love that my ring fingers don’t really bend at the last knuckle. I don’t know why they don’t, or when they got like that; I never noticed them till high school. They don’t even have flex wrinkles, they bend so little. It’s a weird thing, but it’s my weird thing, and I love it.

What do you love about your body? Focus on that, rather than on socially mandated hatred.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Wee Hats... With Wee Ears!

Remember those baby hats I made? Here are some more! These were made for a friend who doesn't know if they're having a girl child or a boy child, so I went for neutrals. Blue can totally be neutral - the orange here helps with that.

It drives me a little batty that colors are so attributed to gender - blue does not have to be just a boy color, and it is, in fact, my favorite. Pink does not have to be girly - it is, in fact, my least favorite color. I am all for boys wearing pink and girls wearing blue (or whatever colors they want).

I'm especially proud of this little bear hat.

I made the ears entirely from scratch! Spousal Unit said they look like mint Oreos (the inside of the ears is light green).

The bear hat is Gir's favorite, too.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Roblets Are Hatched!

Remember when I told you about the bird nest and roblet eggs on our porch? They've hatched, and man are they ugly little things! Really cool, but still ugly. (Click to enlarge!)

See his little fuzzy white mohawk?! And who knew robin skin looked like that? Totally reptilian.

No, they are not dead; they're sleeping. I'm guessing they hatched a week or two ago, because they already seem too big for the nest. There are four little birds in there!

Papa Bird gave me a funny look when I came out to pick basil for dinner, but he must have been more worried about protecting the roblets till Mama came back. He didn't move the whole time I was outside.

I used the zoom quite heavily in these pictures, so as to stay a good distance from the nest. I worry a little about the neighbors, though - the little girl came out one day with a step stool and a shoebox! Who knows what her plans were, but luckily, her mom got to her before I had to.

The roblets don't make much noise yet... but they do make a little. Tiny little peeps as they stretch out their necks, as they lay in a soft, disgusting heap of roblet flesh in the nest. Soon they will be way more annoying than we can stand.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Books I Want: Mindfulness

I'm embarking on an effort to really improve my life this summer - physically, mentally, emotionally. A physical therapist will help me with the physical - I've had leg pain pretty much every day for months now, and I am determined to run again. I've found a shrink who should be able to help with the mental and emotional part (yay shrink!), but in reality, I have to help myself with that. The shrink can only tell me so much - I have do the hard part myself.

So, where do I start with that? Books, of course.

I'm starting out with mindfulness and radical acceptance - terms I only recognized because the store has books with those titles. These are very Buddhist ideas. I'm a fan of Buddhism - there's a lot of peace involved with that religion, when practiced correctly. (Isn't that the key to every religion?)

Mindfulness (according to the first chapter of this book) is being aware of how things really are in the world around you. Rather than blowing events out of proportion, mindfulness allows you to take a step back from everything and recognize life without your own fool self getting in the way.

This seems pretty connected to the first of Buddha's four noble truths: life is suffering, a.k.a. shit happens. Mindfulness is being aware of that, without letting it tear you apart. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment.

The idea behind the book seems like it would work: it's a set of meditations, which allow you to experience emotions more briefly, so that you don't end up in a sneaky hate spiral. Recognize what you feel, and then step back from it. That emotion? It happened. The end.

This practice can be applied in many ways, apparently - even through knitting.

This book describes how to use knitting as a method of meditation. In a way, knitting is meditation for those who practice it. It's calming, and when you have to knit many rows over and over again, in the same way, your mind has two choices: get bored and set it aside, or let it relax you. Why not go for the day-at-the-beach version? There are several chapters describing how this works, followed by designs to help you practice.

Radical acceptance, from what I can tell, is about accepting life the way it is, and accepting ourselves the way we are. So the steps seem to be 1) mindfulness - full awareness of how life is, and 2) radical acceptance - recognizing that life is what it is, and going with the flow. It's described much better here (and by a professional at that!).

I think everyone could benefit from a little more mindfulness and radical acceptance. Here's to more peace and happiness.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer Fun

As much as I dislike hot, sticky weather, there are some things I'm excited for this summer. (Most of them food-related!)

Fresh veggies every other week from our CSA

Stargazing excursions with Spousal Unit

Listening to A Prairie Home Companion, while sitting on the porch

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The True Cost of Politics

Now that the Wisconsin recall election is over, I'd like to shed light on something many of us may not have considered in all this: money.

You may say money has been a huge part of this election. Walker raised over $30 million in his recall campaign, trying to buy a win. Everyone's been talking about it. But I'm not talking about it in that way. Consider the following: $30 million could...

  • Send 30,000 ShelterBoxes to families in need of disaster relief. Each box contains a tent, water purification and storage, a toolkit, and many more items that are essential when a home has been demolished.
  • Give 60,000 cows to families in need of milk, via Heifer International. One heifer provides four gallons of milk per day, enough for a whole family and then some - not to mention a yearly calf, too. Assuming a minimum of four people per family, that many cows could provide for 240,000 people - more than the entire population of Madison, Wisconsin.
  • 20 years of maintenance costs for the high-speed rail system we didn't accept. (See the Operating Costs segment here.)

I'm not suggesting Barrett didn't spend money on his campaign; he brought in $3.9 million for the election. That money could...

Yes, politics play an important part in our lives. But I think it's also important to remember all the lives that could be improved with money like this. Republican? Democrat? When Rome is burning, what does it matter? I wish I could say we can get back to the things that truly matter now. But money will be misspent like this over and over again. The many people we could help will go without.

P.S. I know some of you may wonder - I wrote this yesterday, well before any election results were in.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vote Today, Or Else

Wisconsin, today is the day.

If you signed the recall petition, that's not enough. If you support the governor with a sign in your lawn (not my cup of tea, but some do), that's not enough. The only way you can speak loudly enough is by voting. Go vote today.

The months of strife, arguing, split families, and bumper stickers come down to whether or not you vote today. If any of this election talk affected you in any way - if you have any kind of opinion about Wisconsin's future - it is worthless unless you vote.

Let's look at some numbers. Voter turnout for the 2008 presidential election - an election that was as much about race as politics itself - was about 58 percent. By comparison, France's recent presidential election earlier this year sported a voter turnout of 80 percent. Eighty. Can you imagine living in a place where so many people are willing to act to change their country - where so many use their democratic rights? Get out there and vote today.

Wisconsin, we can blow records out of the water. We already did with the recall petition, but it's the recall election that really matters. Find out where your polling place is, and then go there. Take a book, bring your iPod, haul a friend with you - don't leave just because the line is too long. That's never a good excuse, and personally, I'd be embarrassed if that was the only reason I didn't vote.

Think you can't vote because you're not registered? Wrong. You can register at the polls - here's what you need (click to enlarge):

If you've somehow managed to ignore all the politics till now, it's not too late to learn about the different sides to make an informed vote. You can try Walker's page and Barrett's page, but I usually find politically based sites are garbage. Try something like Politifact instead, which compares each side to the other fairly. You'll see on that site that pretty much every political statement is some kind of falsehood.

That ticks me off. It's also why I vote.

If you don't vote today, you lose all rights to complain about whoever is elected. You will be stuck with whoever's voted in, and won't have a chance to redo it (unless there's another recall election, which would be bizarre, and possibly illegal, now that I think about it).

Finally, the scariest, most threatening reason that Democrats should vote: in the primary election, all of the Democratic votes combined just barely beat out the total Republican votes - there was a difference of about 30,000 votes. I'm putting this down to the fact that it was a primary election and turnout was incredibly small, but it still kind of scares me, and it should scare other Democrats, too.

Vote. You have until 8 p.m. Don't let all this turmoil be for nothing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me

I've found some awesome stuff covered with my signature items lately: stars and the moon. (Or moons, I'm not picky.) For some reason, those were the things I chose when I was little, as representative of myself. Might have had something to do with the phrase my mom and I always said to each other: "I love you to the moon and stars and back home again."

There are some amazing teapots out there with a stars and moon theme. I'm not sure which of these is my favorite.

Look at the cool spout! And the moon handle! I love the idea of catching stars with a net.

From Vermont Pottery Works (some very cool stuff!)

I guess I'm not entirely sure where the tea comes out on this one, but supposedly it does! I'd worry about breaking the delicate handle, though.

I also found a moon dessert!

Wait a minute... That's no moon. That's a cake station! (Sorry - I couldn't resist!)

Cute knitted moon and stars!

They're throw pillows! I'd feel like I had to make at least three stars to go with each moon, though.

I've been considering getting some sort of shooting star tattoo for many years now. The idea is the same: a shooting star made of other stars, with swoops of movement here and there.

The thing that always changes is where I want to get it. Most recently, I wanted it on my left ring finger (ouch, I know). But now I'm considering another idea for this tattoo, in addition to the shooting star. One of my favorite quotes is from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. A character has been dreaming of falling and knows of only two possibilities when you fall in dreams. But Dream of the Endless knows a third.

Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes when you fall, you fly.

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