Monday, December 28

My Macbook Pro - First Impressions

I have so NOT explored all there is to do with my Macbook, so consider this an off-the-cuff kind of review, and a review from a former non-Mac user, at that.

First, why a Mac and why the Macbook Pro, specifically? I've been toying with getting a laptop for a while. My pc is, I think, 4-5 years old and very, v e r y s - l - o - w. I knew replacing it was my best option given its age. What remained was deciding what to replace it with. Well, one of the biggie issues I've had with Windows is the near constant virus scans that are a security necessity. Pair that with what seems to be an awfully frequent need for updates, and I'm not-so-virtually tearing my hair out every other week.

I had heard good things about the Mac. From what I could learn, it was much less vulnerable to viruses and hacking in general. I don't pretend to understand all the geek-ese, but I gather it has something to do with the way it is designed. Which doesn't mean it's impervious, just much less likely to get hit. That means the software does not need to be constantly on the defensive, which sounds like a good thing to me.

And I've usedother Apple products (iTunes, iPod and iPhone) and I've been very well pleased with them. There's a sleek, consumer-friendliness to their design, and they've been dependable with regular updates that don't take forever to install, and the one time I did have to contact a customer service rep, it was someone who was obviously not reading from a script, something which drives me absolutely bonkers when I encounter it.

So I was favorable to the Mac, but still wary of the price, which is a lot higher than a Windows OS laptop. The price difference seemed to make the choice a no-brainer at first, but as I played with building a virtual Windows laptop I realized that my first impression wasn't entirely accurate. By the time I had built my preferences to include memory, battery-life, and software comparable to the Mac, that price difference narrowed considerably. A Mac was still a lot pricier, but not so scary now. And I reasoned that if I was happier with it, that difference would be worth it. My only remaining quibble is the cost per screen size. 15" seemed to be pretty standard for Windows, but to keep the Macbook to anything like a comparable price I had to settle for a 13". And I'm okay with that because it's for home use, mostly Internet surfing and so forth. But I still don't see why Apple needs to charge so much more for a measly 2". And I would be very much surprised if they don't phase out the 13" in the very near future and drop the 15" inch price to something more in the 13" neighborhood. I think it would go a long way towards luring in the fence-sitters for whom screen size might be important.

I went with the Macbook Pro mainly because I wanted to be sure of having all the same device options - memory stick and so on - that I was used to using. In reading through the specifications, the Macbook Pro appeared to be the only one that had no limitations that I could tell.

Placing the order was fairly painless in the end. I opted for the free shipping rather than express,but I still had it within a week, and true to all the talk, it really was ready to go pretty much out of the box. The only setting up required was introducing it to my wifi, which was relatively painless.

What's different? Well the whole look of the thing, for starters. Getting used to not having "windows" as I've understood them was something to wrap my brain around. You can certainly have multiple programs operating at the same time, but whereas each Windows program has its own menu, the Mac OS (which is called "Leopard") has essentially one menu bar that shifts focus according to whatever program is on top, or "active" at the moment. Thus, if I am working in iTunes, the menu is all iTunes related. If I have Safari (the Internet browser) open and active, then the menu is Safari related. Other programs can be operating, but Leopard focuses on whichever is active or upper most. But they are all visible as icons on what is called the "dock" at the bottom of the screen. and it is very simple to switch from one to another simply by clicking on the icon.

And although there is a "control" key, all comparable functions are accomplished with the "command" key. Also, there is no right click. That's taking some getting used to. The track pad is all one piece, no right or left options. I think there's an option to get something similar to a right click, but I want to learn my way around before I go changing things much.

The sound quality is amazing. Listening to Pandora or iTunes is a great experience. For music, no additional speakers are necessary. I've heard that the volume suffers if you are watching video, but I haven't tried that yet. I have no idea where they are hiding the speakers, though.

It's only run one system update in the two weeks I've had it (no virus scans - yay!), and I was instructed that it is preferable to have it hooked up to a power source rather than running the update on battery. But it was a smooth and speedy process, and I was able to still work in another program at the same time with no noticeable hitch.

I love that there's no 'booting up' period. I turn it on, the screen goes blue, there's a tone, and it's ready to go. I'm talking about seconds as opposed to the minutes I am used to waiting for Windows to get up and running.

I think there will be things I miss down the road, programs or software that are Windows only that I just can't get for the Mac. But so far I'm very pleased, and so far the pros are out-weighing the cons. I'll come back in a few weeks when I've explored further and feel more comfortable.

Sunday, December 20

I Think Its Going To Be A White Christmas

I know there's still a few days to go, yet, but the forecasters don't think we'll get above freezing for the next two days, and I do believe it will take more than one warm day to get rid of it all. This pic to the right was taken late afternoon yesterday. I actually had shoveled everything out once, but there was no way to keep up with it. I paid a kid $5 to take a final pass behind my car and left the sidewalk for today. It's a light, powdery snow, so it shouldn't be to hard to move, but the stuff behind my car was pushed there by multiple passes of the plow and was in danger of becoming packed.

The street light on the crest of the new fallen snow gave a luster of mid-day to objects below. The haziness you see just outside the light's halo is actually more snow falling. This one was taken about 9 p.m. last night. Yes, night time. Without flash. All that snow glows and reflects the smallest amoung of light. As you can see, these neighbors didn't even attempt a rudimentary dig out yesterday.

And finally, my back deck this morning. I's a bright sunny day, very pretty and all the snow is sparkling like jewels; but it's only 26° so I'm guessing we won't be using the deck for a few days.

Tuesday, December 8

One Thing At A Time

If you've been paying attention, you know that I have clutter issues. Not dirt, or actual messes, but just plain clutter. As in "too much stuff." Over the last few years I've tried various methods to get a handle on the problem including the "put it down once" school of thought. But what do you do when you encounter something else that needs picking up? What about when you have something in hand and suddenly something on the stove is burning? I mean, come on, life happens. It happens frequently to me, and I have to figure it happens occasionally to other people.

A few years ago I heard about this person who calls herself "Flylady" (I don't know why; it's not a very flattering moniker) and runs a website and email service designed to get people organized. I checked out the website and she did have some good ideas. For example, breaking down tasks into small, manageable portions. Maybe you don't have time to clean a room, but you can clear off one surface - that kind of thing. She also suggested limiting yourself to 15 minutes per chore and then moving on before it turned into an all day deal. You're even supposed to set a timer. This makes sense to me. I think the sense of being overwhelmed is the main reason people don't get a lot of things done. And I'm sure there's a corollary to Murphy's law about things that get put off growing exponentially. If not, there should be because we all know it happens.

Anyway, "Flylady" had some good stuff, but some of it was a bit silly. For instance, if you subscribe to the service you would get pinged with emails throughout the day, telling you what room you were going to work on this week, and what other chores to accomplish through the day. But it seemed to me that I'd be getting pinged to, I don't know, scrub the tea kettle or some such thing, when I'd be at work and couldn't do anything about it. And, focusing on one room per week, it could be a month or more before I got around to the room that needed the most work. Remember the corollary? Also, she has an unhealthy obsession with having a clean kitchen sink. I thought it was bad enough that she instructed people to shine their sink every day .... EVERY DAY?!?! But she lost my respect completely when she suggested hiding unwashed pots and pans under the sink just to keep the sink looking good. Am I the only one who sees this as a problem waiting to happen?

I figure some of these tips will work for some of the people some of the time, but I don't see any of them being practicable for all of the people all of the time. Certainly not for me. However, there was some good stuff in there and I didn't see any reason why I couldn't make use of the parts that would work for me, like breaking chores down into small parts.

Take those black holes otherwise known as closets. Things accumulate in there. Possibly they even breed. Tackling the closet is a daunting task and, for that reason, a perfect place to try out the "small parts" system. In this case, I placed 2 trash bags, one white and one black, just inside the closet, and every time I looked in there I had to put something in one of the bags. When the white bag was full, it went to a charity. When the black bag was full, it went out with the rest of the trash. This worked fairly well for the bedroom closet because I access it at least twice daily. But other places don't get visited that often, and/or were too easy for me to ignore. Which is what gets me into trouble in the first place.

At the beginning of November I decided to try a twist on the traditional New Year's resolutions by making an old year resolution. That way, I reasoned, I'm getting rid of the old with the old, and there's the potential for starting the new year with a clean slate, which I like. I kept the rules very simple; in fact there's only one. Each day I must either put away or throw away at least one thing. One thing. I can do one thing.

We're now approaching the middle of December and I think it's going well. Keeping it simple is the essence of any successful plan, to my mind. Make anything too big or too complicate, set the bar too high, and you are setting yourself up for a fall; and once that happens, the negativity sets in and you stop bothering. Me, I only have to do one thing.

So far my "one thing" rule has encompassed getting rid of forgotten and decades old spices from the back of a cupboard, ditching stuff from under the bathroom sink, and relegating old, unused bathroom towels to rag status, either under the kitchen sink (I can do that because I don't store dirty pans there) or in a bag in the laundry room. I only have to do one thing, once a day. I often end up ditching two or three at the same time, but I'm not going to raise the bar because then it will become a time issue and get put off and not get done. But one thing, one day at a time, I can do that forever. And I'm seeing results. Slowly, but it's happening.

Wednesday, December 2

'Tis the Season

I've been busy whipping up Christmas gifts. And wouldn't you know that just when I had decided to make some of this year's gifts, and committed myself to it by purchasing the yarn, my favorite magazine, Interweave Crochet, has at least three projects I'm drooling over for myself. Well, if nothing else it was incentive to get the other things done. A reward, of sorts. Because I'm worth it. Here are three of the things I've made so far.

First up is the sweater for my niece. I need to finish blocking and make some small adjustments for fit, but it's basically done. When worn, the buttons are supposed to be at the bust, with the skirt section falling from that in a cut-away style. It's made with Cascade Yarns 220 Wool.

This next piece is a special request from my older nephew. He had this old earflap-style hat, bought years ago, and wanted something to replace it.

No, that isn't my nephew. He's much taller. And blonde.

And one more hat for my other nephew, also a special request, both the length and the colors. Yes, he does march to his own drummer. I like that about him. When his brother requested the earflap hat, he said he wanted a stocking cap, one of those long ones, "in orange. With a little purple."

That's not my nephew, either.

Both of the hats are done in Cascade wool, too. I deliberately went with the wool because it's naturally water resistant, handy for damp winter days.

And what am I planning to make for myself? My first project is going to be this tunic, from the above mentioned magazine. I've got some really nice Merino/silk blend yarn, Cascade brand again, that I think will feel really cozy. And if I get cracking on this, there's a slim chance I might finish it before warm weather hits.

Tuesday, December 1

Lest I get company again

But also because I feel a rant coming on. I'm going to try not to actually, like rant, but I make no promises.

What's with all this stuff lately about "traditional American values"? Have you noticed that nobody using that phrase ever actually lists those values? Those same people who throw the phrase around are usually implying that somebody else doesn't have "traditional American values," but they never actually say what those values are. It's like that odious cliche where the husband asks the wife what's wrong and she replies, "Well if you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you!" which makes women sound like silly twits. It's offensive. And so is throwing that *&^%* phrase around.

I tell you what "traditional American values" are: freedom of speech. I am not only allowed to disagree with you, it is an inalienable right guaranteed to me under the U.S. Constitution.

And here's another "traditional American value" guaranteed under the Constitution: Freedom of religion. Not just freedom of your beliefs, but the freedom for anyone to practice any belief system they choose.

The U.S. Constitution is much more than the basis of our laws. The Constitution defines what being an American is. Those are our values. The founding fathers put it in writing. It's been the defining document of our government for over 200 years. That's pretty damned traditional.

So it seems to me that anyone who wants to put limitations on those rights, anyone who wants to re-write the Constitution because they don't happen to like those bits, those are the people who are going against "traditional American values."

And if they don't understand that, then maybe they're the ones who aren't "real Americans."

Wednesday, September 23

It's Like a Blanket?

I had friends over a few weekends ago. They all knew, vaguely, that I crocheted and while they were there I mentioned I was working on an afghan for my cousin's wedding. Only one of them knows anything about crochet so I dragged out what I had done so far so they could see what I was talking about when I mentioned strips and braiding. We were chattering blithely on when I caught the eye of my Chinese friend who asked "what's an afghan?" She's very Americanized in many ways (a right proper little Capitalist) but there are still things she's unfamiliar with that most of us take for granted. Which goes to show that you should never take for granted that everyone knows what you are talking about. Lesson learned.

Here it is, done at last. It's huge being nearly 6 feet long and approximately 5 feet wide. The afghan is made up of strips which are themselves composed of 3 separate strips braided together and held in place by 2 rounds of stitches. The main strips are stitched together with what's called a reverse single crochet, which makes a pretty, braided edging.
And a closer up view.

Tonight I'll double check for loose ends that need to be woven in, and make sure I got all the markers out. Then it will get washed and blocked. It's an acrylic yarn so it should wash up nicely.

Monday, September 21

Ties Abinding

My baby cousin is getting married this coming Saturday. J is nine years and eleven months younger than I, and the nearest thing I have to a brother. He is not my only cousin, but he is the one I have the closest ties with. Although my extended family is large, I grew up with only two aunts nearby, and only one had a child. He and my younger sister were especially close as kids, being less than two years apart.

A lot of family are gathering this coming weekend for the wedding. Some of them have never ventured more than 50-100 miles from home, so that tells you that this is a big deal. Partly it's because J is an only child. Most of the rest of them come from families of 5 or 6 kids, and I often think that the younger ones get the short end of the stick because by the time their big moment - be it wedding, graduation, or new babies - comes along their older siblings have already been there and done that and I think the extended family doesn't always make as big a deal out of it.

Probably I should explain what is meant by "extended family." Here's the deal: my mother comes from a family of 8 kids. Her oldest sister had 5 kids; the next oldest sister had 5 kids; the oldest brother had 5 kids; my mom, only two; the four younger siblings are 0, 3, 1, and 0. So that's 19 cousins just on my mom's side.

My dad was the baby of 4, but his sibs did their part to populate the world. His oldest sister had 4, his older brother 4, and his next older sister had 6 kids. That makes 14 cousins on my dad's side, or a whopping total of 33 in my generation alone. And I'm not even going to get into their kids and their kids' kids.

J appears to be the last of my generation to be getting married. Okay, there's me, and one or two other cousins about my age who are holding out; but we're a bit set in our ways at this point and nobody seems to be expecting announcements from us. J is also well liked in the family, and his wedding may be the last really good excuse for a clan gathering on my mom's side; so I think more people than usual are making the effort, even though it means going out into the big, bad suburbs.

I'm anticipating some family stories, and I'm also thinking that this might be a good time to get some of them written down. We'll see. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 2

Stopping By the Junkyard* on a Sunny Evening

I took this photo from the window of the subway, part of which is above ground, while we were stopped outside a station for a few minutes. It amused me, not for the first time, to look out on the length of track and see wood trestles holding the rails. I know nothing about railroad lore, but I presume the trestles used for our underground, highly electrified, modern commuter system are much the same as those used to build the First Transcontinental Railroad over 100 years ago.

*Not really a junkyard. Not what you would call a junkyard, proper. Just a lot of well-used looking vehicles. Probably the backlot of an auto repair shop, but that doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Tuesday, August 11

That's What I'm Talking About

Stairs. Aren't they pretty?

They've been in place a week or so. The railing is the last little bit. Yes, I know there's some missing. Family Member's job sent him off to Italy to install some dude's wine cellar. I know, I know: Italy, home of wine connoisseurs and old world craftsmanship, and they buy American. Seriously. Makes no sense to me, either; but Family Member got a trip to Italy out of the deal. It was wasted on him, though, as all he had to say was that everything was very old, everything was crowded together, and he missed American food. Of course he didn't have much time to assimilate, either. They flew into Milan, or thereabouts, checked into the hotel and the next day had to board a train to Alba. And if you read the Wiki link, you'll know more about it than he learned while he was there. Not the adventurous sort.
Last weekend I had to remind myself several times that I could go down to the yard right from the deck; it wasn't necessary to go out from the basement. This will take some getting used to. But it's A Very Good Thing.

Tuesday, July 28

Pay Attention and You Might Learn Something (More Deck Stuff)

Steps - the beginning.

If I had realized how much work goes into putting in stairs I might not have agreed to having Family Member do it. He and the various family member assistants are doing a great job, but it's a big task and I'd be feeling pretty guilty if he hadn't volunteered to do this of his own free will.

Why is it such a big job? Well, stairs down from the deck have to go somewhere and my yard is small; having them come straight out meant they'd end up somewhere outside the back fence unless they were built really, really steep. Clearly some creative thinking was required here. Thus it was decided that I should have a landing so that the stairs could, so to speak, turn back upon themselves. I lose a little yard, but it was just space that needed mowing anyway, so I'm good with that.

Then there have to be support posts to hold the stairs and landing in place. Since you can't just stick a post up there (there are apparently rules about this kind of thing), holes had to be dug into which the posts went, along with cement to hold them in place. This, I learned, is what they call a "footer." And let me tell you, when it comes to equality between the sexes, men win, hands down, in the "ability to dig deep holes" category.

Those jagged boards you see are called "stringers." They are the forms upon which the actual treads are layed. How do you know how many treads are involved? Math *shudder* The length you need is called the "rise." The average height for "risers" - that is, individual steps - is 7". You can go to a 7 1/4" or higher; but if you need more than a few steps, it's gonna get hard on the legs making the climb. So you divide the length by 7 and you get the number of stairs.

I ended up with 11 steps down to the landing, and another 6 to the ground. So how high up is my deck? You do the math.

Tuesday, July 21

Did You Know? A Deck Update

RAILINGS! I've got railings!

You may not know this but there are building codes and industry standards that dictate what you can and can't do with railings. For instance, depending on your locale, specifications for railing height range from 32" to 48". This was of particular interest to me because, being short, I found my old deck railing much too high for my satisfaction. So when I started looking into getting the new deck, my personal requirement was that the railing be no higher than absolute minimum required. In my area that minimum is 36".

Behold the 36" railing:

Another thing I discovered is that the railing must not be "climbable." This one strikes me as being good example of regulatory silliness. I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as a fence that really can't be climbed if someone puts their mind to it and tries hard enough, especially since there's no corresponding regulation against having tables, chairs, stools, ladders - or anything else with a climbable surface - in the vicinity of the railing. Further research says what this really means is not giving idiots really obvious footholds, should they get it into their heads to do something stupid. Basically, we're protecting people from themselves.

Another rule says that the maximum space between balusters (those are pickets, btw) is 3.5" maximum. And apparently they test this by trying to roll a 3 1/2" ball between them. Because if the space is too big, the same idiot who tried to climb the railing will stick his head through there and get stuck. And just think of the damage he could do to the balusters in the meantime.

Yes, there's a gap where the stairs will be. So Family Member says "Don't forget you don't have stairs yet." And I say "How can I forget what I never had?" Yes, some idiot could jump off and hurt themselves. Then again, the idiot could decide to jump off the stairs, once I have some, and hurt themselves. There's only so much you can do if people are really determined.

In the meantime, I'll avoid inviting idiots over to my house. And if you come to visit, please don't climb the railing or stick your head through or jump off the stairs. Which I'm hoping I'll have by then.

Thursday, July 16

Deck Update

Old deck goes "bye-bye." Everybody wave.

For some reason I find it very amusing that these chairs were left hanging there while they ripped up the floor. That splotch on the first one is the vacant dove's nest. That amused me, too, which is why it's still there.

But now I've got new deck flooring! Isn't it pretty??!!! FYI, that's my neighbor's Rose of Sharon shrub in the background.

Monday, July 13

What I've Been Up To

Okay, I've been lax about posting and I apologize. The thing is, there isn't much point in posting highlights when you don't have any. Life has been mostly humming along in a predictably boring fashion, and I'm OKAY WITH THAT. I like boring. But now I finally have a highlight to share with you ...

I'M GETTING A NEW DECK! Why yes, I am a little excited about it. It's not actually a luxury item, though, since my deck is so old and worn that safety will become an issue in another year or so. The cost is making me a little queasy, but it's a necessity. So I did what you're supposed to do and set out to get estimates. I liked the first guy that came out and a lot of what he said sounded reasonable and made sense. Also, his estimate was within the range that I'd figured on. Then the second person came out and that was a trip. These people take decks very seriously. I really loved this one:

And then I realized that I have no water view unless the neighbor's yard floods so, really, what would be the point?

This one is good, too. I'm not sure, though, that my homeowners association would agree. Especially when the neighbors on both sides and behind complained that my deck was taking up rather a lot of their yard. Sometimes people have no vision.

Really, all the designs were amazing and they left me with this nifty folder filled with brochures and testimonials. And then they wanted to come back so that we can discuss the estimate. The thing is, my home is not a McMansion. It's a itty bitty townhouse with a postage stamp back yard. My current deck is 12 x 16, and if it was much bigger it would cover my entire yard. Plus, there's that homeowners association again. So ... what is there to discuss?

I want a deck pretty much like what I have except without the warped and splintered boards. And with stairs. Did I mention that my second story deck has no stairs? The original owners had small children at the time it was built, and I understand that safety was an issue, but it rather severely limits access to the backyard. Or maybe they thought throwing stuff over the deck railing and optimistically hoping it wouldn't break on impact was a fine thing. So stairs down to the yard are like the bright and shiny light at the end of my tunnel.

Fate seems to be smiling on my stair-struck ambition because it turns out that a family member with lots and lots of construction experience and whose work I have actually seen first hand just happens to have nothing better to do with his time this coming week and has offered to build my deck! In fact, I strongly suspect that he would have voluteered to do it for the cost of materials alone. Not that I would have agreed. Pride aside, it's going to be a lot of work and I don't care if he likes to do this stuff, that just wouldn't be right. Would it? *sigh* No, no it wouldn't. We found some middle ground that saves me a lot of money and earns him a good chunk of extra cash. And as it's considerably less than the other estimates, everybody wins.

Why yes, there probably will be photos. Stair-gazing ahead. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 22

String Theories

Oh, relax, this has nothing to do with math.

I've been crocheting for many years, although I got obsessive about it only a few years ago. Still, there continue to be new things to learn. This pattern, in a book of afghan's called Vanna's Afghans All Through The House, was my first experience with the afghan stitch, also known as Tunisian crochet. Yes, Vanna. Yes, her. FYI, she's an avid crocheter, has put out a few pattern books, and even has her own line of yarn. I haven't checked the etymology, but I'm presuming (rightly or wrongly) some kind of association with Tunisia (the stitch, not Vanna), probably in the same way that the word afghan has anything to do with Afghanistan, which is to say only vaguely if at all. But I digress. Go read this earlier post if you are curious.

And now I'm learning something again. This photo shows the first few rows of a new sweater I'm working on which uses a stitch called broomstick or peacock lace. You should be able to click on the photo to get a better idea. In case you are curious. Just saying. The effect does look a lot like bristles on an upside down broom, or the "eye" on the end of a peacock feather. This is the first time I've worked with this stitch, and like the Tunisian crochet, it combines elements of both crochet and knitting. Working backwards along the chain, you use a crochet hook to pull up loops of yarn which are cast onto a fat knitting needle as you go. (In case you are wondering, it's a #19, 15mm wooden needle.)
The broomstick effect is created after you slide the needle out from the loops (this required a great leap of faith for me) and then gather clusters of loops with a series of double crochets. I have no idea what might have inspired anyone to do this, who did it first, or when or where. It's like wondering who first considered putting cinnamon and apples together. Or chocolate and peanut butter. How do people come up with this stuff?

sneaking this one in here so as not to scare BCB. I finished it about two weeks ago. I love it. Doesn't fit as snuggly as I thought it might. Next time, if there is one, I think I'll try using a smaller hook. It might be a little tricky, but smaller hook will = smaller stitches, which in turn = smaller size.

Friday, May 1


Well, the economy is in the tank, and everyone is watching their pennies, cutting back where they can, making choices about just what is really necessary in their lives.

Apparently, I've decided that anything which feeds my yarn addiction is a necessity. Thus did I, in recent months, purchase two back issues of Interweave Crochet, a set of bamboo crochet hooks (because I can't afford the rosewood hooks, that's why), and yet more yarn.

The scarf in the photo over there on your right is the result of two of those purchases. The pattern is called La Mer and was designed by Cheryl Means. I spotted a picture of it while browsing patterns and decided that I had to make it. The pattern was printed in the Summer 2008 issue of Interweave Crochet so, of course, I had to buy the back issue to get the pattern. Then I had to find just the right yarn to show off the pattern and came home from a trip to my local yarn store with a few skeins of Jojoland™ Melody Superwash. And since the pattern indicated a beaded fringe, I made a stop the next day at Michaels for some gorgeous glass beads to go with the yarn. But ultimately it was worth it, I think, because I love the final product. It's going to be a belated birthday gift for my niece.

I had also done another scarf, pictured on the left, with some left over Simply Shetland Silk & Lambswool. No extra cost there, but two scarves in a row left me feeling a little itchy for a new challenge.

I've had this pattern for a sweater using the broomstick stitch which I got about a year ago - uh, the pattern, not the stitch. But I had not done this stitch before and the pattern emphasized that a really well draping yarn was required to get the look of the garment just right so I've been holding off on it. I think it's time. I found the right yarn, but it didn't come cheap. However, as the owner of my local yarn store says "yarn doesn't go bad"; and if the sweater is a bust, I figure I can always make another, really, REALLY nice scarf ... or three or four.

Okay, clearly I have a yarn addiction. But it's keeping me out of pool halls and away from the evils of drink. Sort of.

Monday, April 27

In the Garden

I've been busy outside the last few weekends. There's still a lot I want to do, and I'll likely be putting in annuals and maybe a few new perennials for several weeks to come. It's an ongoing process every years. But here's a peak at what I've been up to so far this spring (spring? It's like 90 degress F out there today!)

For starters, I took out the old timbers that used to surround my small veggie patch. While some were still not too bad, others were badly rotted. Well, they were there when I moved into the house 15 years ago (15? where did the time go?) In their place I installed a composite "timber" system. Note that both timber and system are not to be taken seriously. However, the composite stuff is light weight enough for me to handle myself and won't rot on me possibly ever.

And the system involves parts! Spikes and corner joints and end cap thingies, oh my!

This is the set up I was thinking of initially, but I soon realized that the awkward angles were going to present maintenance issues. I've got spare "timbers" and eventually I'll run it longer alongside the fence. But for now I've settled on this.

But probably you'd like to see something prettier now. After all, I did use the word garden:

The blooming stuff are pansies and snapdragons, annuals which I put it for their instand impact. Oh, and some kind of spiky blue thing which I forget the name of. I put in some perennials last year, but those are just green leafy things for now.

And this is the bleeding heart I put in last year which more than just green and leafy. It's quite healthy and blooming like crazy.

And these are violas, as are those tiny green dots sprinkled across the rest of the bed. I started with one lone plant about 10-12 years ago, but it seeded like crazy, with each generation begatting some more. I don't really mind as the effect is so pretty. They won't be flowering for much longer though. Most of the seedlings will get rooted up to make way for more plants, and some of the bigger plants I'll attempt to transplant to that back corner. We'll see how that goes.

I liked the look of this annual vine. We'll see how it holds up, but it does add a nice splash of color. And finally, we have the lilac bush. I've been very excited at how well this has done. I just planted last year so I wasn't expecting a whole lot just yet. And now it's loaded with flowers and has quite a bit more height as well. I need to read up on trimming and training so I can get it to fill in a bit more, but I'm going to go very slowly on that so as not to ruin what appears to be a good thing.

And that completes the tour of my back yard. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Saturday, April 11

For the Birds

If you have wandered over here because you can't figure out where the CherryBombs have got to, things are in disarray because we seem to have sprung a leak over there, or maybe stopped up the plumbing or something. We don't really know what it is we did. We were rather hard on the old place, what with the pole swinging, guacamole stains and lurkers in the attic. And while our landlord, Bryan, has been quite patient with us, we are considering *gulp* venturing out on our very own, with like a mortgage and everything. Hey, the bail fund is flush at the moment. Anyway, please wander over to our Potential New Home and see what you think.

If you find, when you're there, that your comments aren't popping up immediately, it's because we've left BCB in charge and she gets distracted easily. But be patient and eventually she'll be back to let you in. Unless she doesn't recognize you or thinks you might be a member of the Chipper Spam Monkey band. It's not that she's discriminating, she just likes having that kind of power.

In the meantime, I appear to be the way station for wandering CBs and lurkers so I'll give you something else to look at for now.

Here's an updated picture of my lilac bush which you can see is greening and budding up nicely. Actually, it's even leafier now than when I took this picture, but right now it's raining outside so you'll have to make do with this.

And here we have a picture of Mrs. Mourning Dove in her new place. At least I think that's Mrs. I think she's got eggs now. Stay tuned for updates.

And in other news, here's a picture of me standing in front of this big White House in DC. And I didn't even have to climb the fence or anything, even though they are quite strict about tresspassing there considering the tentants are pretty new to the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 8

Any Port in a Storm

GP says she sent and email to Bryan and I did as well. As far as I can figure out, it is something that would have to be fixed by the host. As Bryan may well have other (not actually better, but possibly other) things going on, we may need temporary digs for a bit, and here's as good a place to hang out as any. Or we could play musical blogs and take turns or whatever.

Thursday, March 26

Got Buds

My lilac bush is budding! And my daffodils are standing tall, if not yet blooming. Also, I spotted Mr. and Mrs. Mourning Dove while I was out in the yard last weekend, and I do believe they are planning to start a family.

I love these first signs of spring. Although winter is relatively mild in my area, the dreary sameness of the landscape starts to grate on my nerves after a while and I find myself wondering if green grass and leaves on trees is a thing of the past, a story old-timers will sit around boring kids with. "When I was your age, we had real seasons. And there were four of them. Every single year. It was interesting. Not like it is today with all this sameness day after day. You young'ns don't even know what real seasons are like!" So at the first sign that life is, indeed, returning to my corner of the planet, I'm out there buying mulch and prepping the flower beds.

Saturday, while the ground was still soft from recent rains and the sun could get through the bare tree branches, I raked the front yard and put down some grass seed. My yard is patchy yet, but the grass I seeded last year made it through the winter and even stayed reasonably green. I figure if I do this twice a year for a while, I'm going to have a gorgeous yard in a decade or so. Even patchy, it looks better than the neighbors', ha!

Sunday was all about the back yard, and that's when I spotted the lilac buds. And the daffodil stalks; mine bloom a little later than the neighbor's, for some reason. And the doves. The whole time I was clearing out the flower bed, Mrs. Dove was eye-balling me from her perch on the edge of a lawn chair. The chair is stored under the raised deck, hanging from some hooks, and is the same place she made her nest last year so seeing her there again was pretty ... well, ominous, actually. There's no friction on the surface of that chair and last year the nest went tumbling in the first big storm. I'm going to keep an eye on it, and if she is really going to build there again (I did warn her) I'm going to have to jury rig something to make sure it stays in place.

My kingdom is very small, but it's all mine and I try to rule wisely.

Tuesday, March 3

Audible Affection

You know, I almost titled this post "I *heart* Audible" and then I remembered that saccarine makes me queasy. I am, however, really fond of

I love books and I love crochet. With audio books, I can have the best of both worlds. Audio books also provide distraction from mind numbing but necessary chores. When the whole iPod rage first started, I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. I mean, I like music but I don't feel the compulsion to be plugged in 24/7. Then I discovered that audible content wasn't just about music. It was possible to download books, too! Now, I've been a fan of audio books for a long time and I've cheered on the revolution that took what was basically an assist for the deaf and turned into an assett for the average person. What used to be a small shelf in the bookstore has become a staple of publication. All the latest and greatest bestsellers come out in audio format. Taking it another step and allowing people to purchase downloadable content is, well, comparable to the invention of the wheel. Sure, you could technically move things from one place to the other before ... but now it's really portable.

So, I like MP3 and other format players, and I like audiobooks, and it follows that I like vendors who bring them together. My favorite? The array of content available on their site boggles the mind. But their customer service is the real reason I stick with them.

I got this email the other day which was a promotional deal. Anyone can purchase audio content from, but members get special offers and certain perks. I dont' want to bore you with the details; suffice it to say that I contacted because I thought something about the email was confusing. I wasn't complaining, my intent was to point out an issue that they might want to fix in the future. For my efforts I was rewarded with the equivalent of a $25 coupon to my account.

Now that's a company that wants to keep their customers happy. Is there any question why I'm so loyal to them?

Friday, February 27

Two Things

Okay, here are some pictures. The sweater on the left isn't nearly as bulky as the picture makes it look. In fact, it has a really nice drape to it. It's a pattern from Doris Chan's book Everyday Crochet called Haru. I have no idea what that means. I made the sleeves a little longer than those pictured in the book, and didn't include the side slits at the hip. Well, I would have included them, but by the time I had worked the appropriate number of rows the sweater was already long on me. I could have taken out some rows and reworked them to include the slits, but why? I liked it just fine as it was. The yarn, Simply Shetland's Silk and Lambswool, is just as wonderful as I thought it would be. It's a light weight yarn, but still warm and cozy to wear. I'm very happy with it.

So happy, in fact, that I used some left over in this "waffle weave" scarf where the laciness of the yarn shows up much better. Probably this will go to my sister for her birthday in a few months. Probably.

I like doing scarfs. You can't beat them for perfectly portable projects, and gauge isn't important. Gauge is all about sizing, how many stitches you work per inch. This is important when you are working on clothing because you are usually trying for a particular size, and your sweater, or whatever, isn't going to be the same at, say, 5 stitches psi as it would if you are getting 10 psi or even 2 psi. Too many stitches per inch and your piece is going to run small. Too few per inch and it's going to work up a lot bigger than what you want.

So how do you know? Look at the pattern. A pattern is a set of instructions that tells you more than just what stitches to make. It will also have yarn weight and hook size recommendations, and information on gauge. The hook size is just a suggestion. Here's the thing about handmade as opposed to machine made: stitch size is harder to regulate. Two people can use the exact same yarn and hook, and yet not make their stitches exactly the same size. Back to the original question, how do you know? You make a swatch. A swatch is exactly what you think - a sample. Your pattern will say, for example, '5.5 per inch in pattern.' So you work a few rows using the pattern stitch (double crochets or shells, for instance) to maybe 4" square and then you measure how many stitches and rows you have per inch. If you come out with too many stitches per inch, try again with a larger hook. Too few per inch, try going down one or two sizes in the next swatch. When you get it right, you have your gauge; and when you have your gauge, it's easier to work a garment to the size you want.

When I started the sweater, I think I did three 4" swatches before I got it right. Is it a pain having to possibly work a few swatches before you can really get started? Yes. Which is why something like a scarf or afghan is nice sometimes; no gauge worries. If it's a few inches short or a few inches too wide, who cares? And if I don't tell my sister that the scarf is the wrong size, she'll never know. Nya!

Tuesday, February 24

I'm Working On It

About a year ago I picked up some paint chips to get ideas for the hallway. No, I still haven't painted, or even definitely decided on the color. It will be some shade of green, probably in the khaki or sage family. I will get to it. Eventually.

I'm still in the process of decluttering drawers and closets. I have started and each small accomplishment gives me a sense of peace that keeps me going. But, you know, there are other things that have to get done, too. Like laundry and cleaning the kitchen floor. And while I could find more time to devote to the decluttering project, it would take away from more fun stuff and there's not enough fun stuff as it is. But I'm getting to it little by little.

There are still some tree branches I didn't get to last fall because I couldn't quite reach them and decided that tree trimming is fine while my feet are planted on the ground, but doing so while up on a ladder without a spotter is stupid. It's on my list of things to do this coming year.

I need to put up a new light fixture in the powder room. There is a fixture in there now, it just doesn't have a proper shade. As long as we aren't, uh, powdering in the dark, I don't see any big hurry for this.

I'm mostly finished with the wrap I intend as a gift for my mother's sister. It's supposed to have pockets, and I've crocheted them, too; but now I need to actually sew them on the wrap itself. That part is boring so I've been putting it off. Maybe by Christmas.

And speaking of crochet projects, I finished the Haru sweater a few weeks ago. There will be a photo up here eventually, because I like having this catalog of finished projects. I just have to remember to have the sweater and my camera in the same room at the same time.

I don't do anything very fast, as you can see. I've tried being one of those "see it through from start to finish" type people and mostly I just stressed myself out so I don't do that anymore. I've learned to pace myself, to prioritize. All the really important stuff is done; I've even finished my taxes and sent them in. I'll get around to everything else a little at a time. But I'm going to do it on my schedule. All of this stuff will happen. There is a plan.

I'm working on it.

I'm considering having those words put on my tombstone someday.

Wednesday, February 18

Time Passages

Well I'm not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don't last
Well it's just now and then my line gets cast into these

Time passages
There's something back here that you left behind
Oh time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight

excerpted from "Time Passages" by Al Stewart

My niece, the first baby in our family, will be 24 next week. I'm having a lot of difficulty adjusting to that. At 24 she is really and truly an adult, eligible to do anything except run for president or apply for Medicaid. But in my head she is still that kid who had to practice winking and who held my hand as we walked through a parking lot.

Her one brother will turn 16 in a few months, old enough to drive more than a Big Wheel, and just possibly mature enough, too. He's well and truly a teenager now, and will likely never again sit next to me on the couch under an afgan just to cuddle.

Yesterday, after much arguing with my niece via text messaging, I have had to accept the fact that my youngest nephew, the real baby in the family, is now 11. I knew, logically, using certain events as points of reference, he was at least 10 and possibly 12. Now I have to deal with the fact that he probably doesn't even remember honoring me with admission into his "secret" fort in the back of his bedroom closet.

When I was younger I couldn't understand why my parents had such trouble keeping track of my age, or dealing with the fact that I was getting older. I understand a lot better now. I like these kids a lot. I enjoy being in their company. I just want them to stop growing up so fast.

They'd better become some really outstanding adults, because I'm not going to get these days back again and I think I deserve some compensation. Maybe a trip to Disney World. They owe me.

Tuesday, February 10

Stuff ... and Nonsense?

In my quest to organize my real space in an effort to organize my head space, I've been clearing out drawers and closets. Slowly, to be sure. Baby steps. But little by little I'm making headway.

If asked, I would have said that I'm not a collector. Of anything. No stamps, or pincushions, or thimbles, spoons, china ... nope, not me. I have lots of books, but I'm not collecting them. Collectors worry about first editions and condition and so forth. I'm only concerned that all the pages are present and accounted for, and not stuck together. I also find myself buying lots of yarn, but that's because I intend to use it, not display it.

But for all that I don't deliberately collect anything, I do find that there are things I have an awful lot of. Containers, for instance. Cardboard, tin, ceramic, whatever, I can't seem to get rid of them. And not particularly special ones either. I mean, I'm not oohing and ahing because I have a limited edition pillbox or anything. It's just that once a box with lid comes into my environment, I can't let go of it. I'm sure I'll find the perfect use for it and if I do get rid of it, probably come to regret doing so at some point in the future. They're useful, which gives me a perfectly good excuse for saving them. If, in fact, they actually got used. Mostly they get forgotten about until I need to clean out a closet or drawer and then ...

It could be a kind of metaphor, now that I think about it. I have a need to be organized that conflicts with my inability to avoid clutter. Maybe, subconsciously, I view boxes as a compromise, being things in which I can organize and store the clutter. Except the boxes themselves have become clutter which then needs to be organized. Probably I need a box for my boxes. Oh wait, I have one. It's called a house.

Which brings me back to square one. I'm working on it.

Friday, February 6

The Archbishop in Andalusia

So, I read The Archbishop in Andalusia by Andrew Greeley, the latest in Greeley's mystery series featuring Archbishop Blackie Ryan. I would say that if you have enjoyed the Blackie series before, you will probably enjoy this one, too. If you haven't ...

Here's the thing: they aren't really typical mysteries, so they might not appeal to everyone. I enjoy them because I like Blackie's character and some of the secondary characters that inhabit his world. But the stories are very much about the characters and their relationships, and a little less about the plot, so the appeal may not be universal.

Things I liked about this book:

Blackie's character. He's just likeable, an engaging philosopher who has no problem poking a little fun at himself.

More background on Cardinal Cronin* and how he and Blackie first met. Things about Cronin that were hinted at in past books were a lot more fleshed out here, so that was fun.

Some interesting stuff on the history of Spain. I guess it could be considered infodump, but that doesn't bother me because I enjoy learning something new; and if infodump is done correctly, it can do a lot to lend atmosphere to a story. The book takes place largely in Spain, and the background on the country provides perspective on the culture of the people, so the history stuff was useful.

Things I didn't care for:

One of the central characters, and the one who's situation Blackie has been charged with fixing, is less than sympathetic. She's supposed to be this strong, admirable woman, beloved by all of Seville, but I thought she was rather wishy-washy. Confident in business situations, she's a complete hand-wringer when it comes to her personal life. Possibly the ensuing angst is a cultural thing, but I found myself thinking "do it or don't do it, but make up your mind and get it over with." That said, it's entirely a personal opinion and may well be the kind of drama other people enjoy.

Some of the secondary characters were a bit flat. While Greeley can be very good with some characters, I found Blackie's nephew and his fiance to be lacking in personality altogether. They were in the last book, too, and in fact met during the course of that book. But in this one, they were just there being such garshed darn nice young Americans that they made white bread look exciting. Also, their presence didn't seem to serve any purpose and wasn't, to my mind, adequately explained. Blackie could have been conversing with a brick wall in some of the scenes, and at least the wall would have lent texture.

Overall, the book was a pleasant read. I wouldn't rush out and recommend it everyone I meet, but I didn't throw it against the wall either.

*In case you decide to read it and start worrying, let me just say now that it does have a happy ending.

Wednesday, January 21

Yes We Can DID

... let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009.

There were many great moments during the inauguration of President Barack Obama yesterday. But more than anything else he said, what struck me was the way he reminded us that while our cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds are varied, we as Americans have one common responsibility. The future.

It was an historic day for a lot of reasons, and it's not my intention to diminish any of them. But the truth is that every inauguration is historic, because every time someone takes that oath of office, someone else relinquishes that power. We've done this 43 times now. Barack Obama is the 44th President to take that oath of office, which means that 43 men before him have stepped aside. Over 200 years ago when our founding fathers started this experiment in government, it may not have seemed like much. But yesterday the eyes and ears of the world were upon us as responsibility for leading the most powerful nation on the planet was transferred from one man to another.


That in itself is a gift we give to the future. Let us never take it for granted.

Wednesday, January 14

Book Review

So I picked up a few new books the other weekend. The new JAK, Running Hot, and the new Kay Hooper, Blood Sins. I also picked up the new Andrew Greely, The Archbishop in Andalusia. What with one thing and another, I haven't gotten around to reading the last one yet. I'm hoping to get to that one over the upcoming long weekend.

As for the first two, I liked them. A lot. They are two of my favorite authors and fairly dependable. That said, I didn't love them. Why? Well ...

The new JAK is part of her Arcane Society series about a secret group of people with extrasensory abilities. JAK gave us the usual banter between the hero and heroine and in general lived up to her earlier books. My main problem with this book, and the Arcane Society series in general, is the idea of this secret society. See, it's not very secret, as far as I can tell. You've got the hero and the heroine, the guy who sends the H&H into the Dangerous Situation, the folks the hero normally works for, the heroine's previous employer, the new head of the Arcane Society and, so far, at least 3 Bad Guys each getting their own henchman, and a few peripheral characters. That's, uh, about a dozen characters who are either members of this Secret Society or member of the equally Secret Evil Rival Society. And this is just one book of a series. And this Arcane Society has been around for a few hundred years. I'm thinking, ya know, it's not such a secret anymore.

But that's just me. The banter is fun, the bad guys are appropriately twisted, and once I let go of my hang up about the secretiveness of this society I did still enjoy the book.

The new Kay Hooper is also part of a series, an offshoot of the FBI run by a guy named Bishop who has, and also employs people with, paranormal powers (notice a trend here?) in the pursuit of justice against Big Bad Guys with paranormal powers. Once again, there are an awful lot of people running around with this extra ability. And because, like JAK, Hooper writes romance, you get a new H&H with every book. So it's not just the folks within this secret (there's that word again) arm of the FBI; its all these other people who get recruited into saving the world, or their love interests who usually turn out to have their own something extra. Okay, I could deal with all of that. And in fact I really enjoyed the Bishop series initially. What's getting to me is a tendency for the characters to spontaneously sprout a new psychic ability in the nick of time. I just don't see that as playing fair with the reader; it's a violation of some kind of rule of fiction. Okay, there needs to be a big climatic scene where it appears that the hero and/or heroine just might not make it. That goes with. It's part of the suspense even when you know that good will ultimately triumph. But the new powers thing? That's like giving Batman x-ray vision just because he's in a tough spot. I don't think the author should change the rules just to accommodate the good guys. As I said recently to someone else who had read the book, Hooper should just dispense with the romance angle and write paranormal suspense using Bishop and Co. as her ongoing cast of characters. Like a Justice League kind of thing.

I'm not throwing either of these books against the wall in disgust; in fact, I think both writers are very good. Just not writing up to their potential. But that's just me. You should form your own opinion.

Wednesday, January 7

I'm In Love

Okay, I did finish the wrap thing except I have to find some matching thread to sew on the pockets with. Probably I could have tried harder this past weekend, but I was pretty much looking for an excuse to dive into my new yarn.

This is it. And I'm already fighting the temptation to buy more, to horde the stuff against some blah, bleary day when I need a yarn fix. This stuff is WONDERFUL. Really, all caps and italics, too. I feel like crying out "where have you been all my life?!" It's like the dark chocolate of yarn, the good 75% organic cocoa content stuff, the beans harvested by Juan Valdez's distant cousin and hand carried to a delightfully wizened, old-school confection genius in the Swiss Alps who created the world's first truffle. Get it?

It's not just that it's soft. I've handled softer. It's not just that it's pretty, although it is. It's the entire experience of the yarn. The folks at Simply Shetland have created a fiber blend that is the best of both the silk and wool worlds. I know it doesn't look like much to the naked eye; but trust me, this stuff is good. I'm spoiled for all other yarns. I'm giddy. Maybe it's the honeymoon phase, but I'm into the second skein now so I'm feeling pretty confident.

I'm savouring here.