Monday, November 30, 2009

Now we're cookin'!

There's a lot to be said about the drive from Cleveland back to Lansing. I have my favorite of the three service plazas that're on the way. My favorite route off of the Turnpike (never going through Maumee). If Chuck drives, I usually get to sit, knit, and look up in surprise as we pass over the border into Michigan. If I drive, I usually fidget with the radio while Chuck sleeps or complains about my driving.

During yesterday's drive home, I wasn't feeling too well with something not sitting quite right that I had eaten the night before. I doubt that it was the massive pork shank from two nights ago, but given that I've avoided meat for a while, I could've been on a little bit of a meat overload. Given my condition, Chuck drove home and I got to knit, and boy did I ever. I was able to start and finish a pair of clogs for my niece Calista. It was knit out of Cascade 220 and Cascade 220 Quatro. Now that I've completed two pairs of clogs using a Quatro yarn as my main body color, I have reservations on how it'll look. Sitting side-by-side with the pair from last week (which was knit using Lamb's Pride and I apologize for not saying so at the time), I'm leaning more towards the verigated rather than plied look for color variation. Sure, that's without actually felting either pair yet, so maybe my mind will change by that time. I have one more set of clog yarn left before a trip to a shop is needed and this one will also be knit using a plied wool from Galway. Once this pair is done, then work on the two pairs of Prairie Boots and two Christmas stockings that are still needed can begin.

Needless to say, I took the day off today to stay home with Sylvain, who spent the day in bed sick as a dog, and amazingly did not do any knitting. The smell of homemade chicken noodle soup is wafting throughout the house, but other than cooking that, I'm not sure really what I accomplished today. Does it help that the chicken stock was made from scratch too? Well, I'm off to bake some bread, then have dinner with my guys and sit-in for Sylvain at his Scout meeting. The boys are starting their planning for a trip to Philmont this summer and there's a lot to be done before the holidays get into full swing.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A quick change in plan

This week has been a very productive holiday week: started and finished 3 projects, watched a couple of movies, ate at a new restaurant, and did a little shopping.

Just as I was putting the finishing on my sister Jaime's pair of felted clogs, I received a call from her wanting to know what Sylvain would like for Christmas. (Unfortunately for us all, he's moved into the moody teen years where he's either very specific on a few big-ticket items and fairly ambivalent on any other gift ideas.) Jaime knew my plans for making the felted clogs, since I needed someone to feed me the correct foot sizes for her family. During our gifting conversation, she mentioned that her and her daughter Payton saw a pair of knit boots in the store that they'd rather have than clogs. I didn't have the heart to tell Jaime that I already had their clogs done. Thank God for Ravelry because I found a pattern for boots that seems within the realm of possibility of completing before Christmas. On the bright side, I have a long list of people that I had planned on making clogs for, so can easily mark someone else off the list who I have yet to knit for.

Not wanting to knit these clogs while spending the holiday with Chuck's family, I brought two charity hat grab-bags that were passed out during the guild's September meeting. These are the other two projects that were (for the most part) completed this weekend. Both hats are disgusting acrylic yarn, so I needed to do something to spiffy up the results. The Dale-style hat still needs a pompom, which Chuck will make for me during the drive home today; and I'll crochet a flower to go onto the fuzzy one using the left-over yellow yarn from the Dale.

Now that those are out of the way, I have yarn on hand for a set of clogs for my niece Calista.

On the movie front: Chuck and I made it to New Moon Tuesday night before leaving town. I know this'll sound weird to a number of folks, but I actually like Celebration Cinema over the Regal theater in Crocker Park (where we usually see movies while in Cleveland). Sure, Celebration is starting to show its age, but I'm far more comfortable there. Okay, so about the movie -- what can I say? Either you're a fan of Twilight or you're not and I think, above anything else, that will dictate whether you enjoy the film or not. This was a significant improvement over the first film and the night we went was probably one of the best nights last week to see it because school was out on Wednesday, so the theater was packed with a ton of teens, with plenty of squealing to go around during all of the appropriate squeal-worthy scenes. Not quite having my fill of Robert Pattinson, I picked up another movie of his to watch in Cleveland: The Haunted Airman. In no way, shape, or form do I recommend this movie. On the bright side, it is only 70 minutes long. On the downside, bringing this stinker to Chuck's parents house to watch validated for them his claim that I will literally watch anything and can't pick out a decent movie to save my life. I also brought Dead Snow with us, but no one else seemed interested in watching a movie about Nazi zombies. I'll have to save that gem for tonight.....Oh, and before I forget, if anyone out there can possibly explain to me what the hell happens in The Life Before Her Eyes, please send me a message because I felt thoroughly confused by the end of that movie.

I finished reading my book club's December book "My Year of Meats" by Ruth Ozeki, which is a minor miracle because I usually finish the books the morning of book club, if at all. (Maybe travelling so much really has its benefits!) Inspired by this book, I've started to back off the amount of meat I eat, and even managed to make it through Thanksgiving without eating turkey (okay, I know that's heresy in some cirlces). Not helping my cause, Chuck and I went to dinner on Friday night to Bar Symon (a restaurant owned by Michael Symon, who is a local celebrity chef); and, as you can guess from the restaurant's logo, it is a mecca for pork.

So, thinking that "pork is possible", I decided to break my meat fast. The place was pretty busy when we arrived and we were told that it would be a 30 to 45 minute wait, so we took seats at the bar in time to order drinks before happy hour was over. The first thing we noticed was that the beer selection was huge, with about 25 or so on tap and another 25 in bottles. The second thing was that the happy hour were very reasonable ($5 martinis, $5 burgers, and $1 fries). Our wait ended up being far shorter than 30 minutes and we were seated at a two-person table that was seated side-by-side with along a wall with other small tables, enabling us to talk with those seated next to us. One couple had the grilled hangar steak and macaroni and cheese, which they both thought were wonderful. Not wanting steak or pasta (which had chicken in it BTW, which is a huge no-no to me; yes, I know that that could be omitted, but still). Another couple had a grilled sausage board (literally a wooden cutting board with pieces of cut sausage, cut pickle, and dollops of three types of mustard) and a pastrami sandwich.

Chuck and I started dinner off with the house chips with "blue cheese fondue", which was the only thing I didn't really care for. The blue cheese dip did not taste much like blue cheese to me and reminded me of poutine. Maybe it's been a long while since I've had that, but I couldn't get it out of my head as we were eating this appetizer. Chuck ordered the pastrami sandwich and I went with the pork shank and opted for polenta as a side. We both enjoyed our dinners and would definitely recommend those to anyone who goes to this restaurant. We were too stuffed for a dessert, but the couple next to us ordered a beer and pretzel sundae, which they seemed to enjoy.

Countering our weekend of over-eating, we took the afternoon off from shopping yesterday to hang out at one of the local metroparks for a nice long walk. The fresh air and stretching my legs was just the break I needed. I'm feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready for December to begin.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why am I such an impulsive knitter?

On Monday, I committed to yet another Christmas knitting project. Well, actually, I committed to two. Last year, a coworker of mine brought me a Christmas stocking and asked if I can make a replicate of it for his new daughter-in-law. He emphasized that the Christmas tree motif that was on the original stocking be included in the replicate. The pattern was easy enough and he insisted that I try to make it with yarn in my stash and not go through heroics in matching colors. With that said, I used some wool that I already had and did not worry too much that the colors were more muted than the bright acrylic stocking that was being used as a template. Needless to say, I was able to complete it with no problem and finished with time to spare before Christmas. My coworker seemed very happy with the finished stocking and paid me $40 for it (which I didn't expect). Thinking that was that, I went into this Christmas season with a long list of knitting projects.

This past Monday, the same coworker came into my office with a tote bag in hand. Quietly, he explained that his son and daughter-in-law are due with a baby this December; anticipating that they'll need yet another stocking, he wondered whether I'd be able to make a stocking like I had last year. As he said this, he reached into the bag and brought out 6 other stockings. I was somewhat shocked to see that 5 were matching, with the 6th I had knit last year looking slightly off in color when set side by side with the rest. I never realized that the stocking I made was actually part of a full set. He showed me how each were set into pairs with different motifs -- snowmen, Santas, and the Christmas tree I had worked on last year. Originally, I had thought the color issue wouldn't be a big deal and figured that when they hung their stockings, it wouldn't be likely that the two would be set side by side on the mantle. Now that I saw that the one I made would stand out no matter where it was hung, I started to feel a little bad. I didn't share these thoughts with him, but listened as he asked if I could do two more with yet another generic holiday related motif (of my choosing!?!) but keep with the overall pattern and colorway set by the complete set. One stocking would be for the new baby; the second would be a preemptive stocking that we can duplicate-stitch the name on when the time comes. So, how could I say "no"? Not only am I planning on knitting the stocking for the new baby, but I also feel a need to fix the stocking from last year so that it matches the rest. (The second new stocking can come after the holidays, so am not prioritizing that one at the moment.)

Yes, I'm a little nuts, so am hoping that I can pull it all off. Yesterday, I thumbed through my Dale pattern books and bookmarked graphs for snowflakes and reindeer, but am afraid those might be a little boring. Does anyone have any suggestions for a motif?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wrap me up, baby

First off, I made it back home A-OK. For the most part, my plan to sit in the lower-level seating on the Amtrak worked very well. Yes, I did feel a little guilty for purchasing lower-level seating that is available for the elderly and handicapped, but let me say here and now publicly that I would have gladly given up my seat if it were needed. But my reason for heading in that direction is that it is so peaceful and quiet. Also, I had very interesting knitting discussions with a few of the other ladies seated in that section; conversations I would never have had if seated above with the rowdy crowd.

So, now on about the knitting -- yep, you read the blog title right; I've decided to knit the "Wrap me up" shawl. And to add to the lunacy, I'll say that it's not for me and will be given away as a special gift (dour girl in black with fabulous hair not included). More on this project later, but if you've worked on this and have any suggestions to add, please send 'em. I downloaded the errata today and have been flipping through the Ravelry comments, though I wish there was some way to sort through the yarn yardage. Many of the projects posted used main colors supplemented by contrast yarns, so when you view the "yarn ideas" tab for this project, you'll see a summary of all of the yarns used and how many times they were used; but will still need to go to individual projects to get an idea of what the total yardage was. The pattern suggests 1200 yards (and this was verified by the only other person I know who has made this shawl); but I'm seeing folks with finished patterns post that they're using 1500 or so yards. This leads me to wonder how many Ravelers put down the number of skeins they bought for the project and don't necessarily update the project amount to reflect what they actually used when the project is finished. Hmmm...

Anyways, while I was away, here's what I worked on:

Finished the Bergere de France Trapeze Line Jacket (if following this link, scroll to the bottom). This was knit using the recommended Bergere de France yarn called Magic. I hated this yarn and will never knit with it again. It split terribly easy, which was a total pain. In person, this sweater doesn't look quite like the red blob that the photo makes it out to be.

I started and finished a pair of to-be-felted Christmas clogs for my niece Payton. These were made out of Cascade 220. And, unlike last month's felting debacle, I will make a concerted effort to take before and after measurements so that I have a good idea of what the shrinkage will be for the other pair of Cascade 220 clogs I have waiting in the wings.

I also worked on my pair of "Rick" socks by Cookie A. I've decided to forgo the heel instructions on this pair and do an after-thought heel. It worked so well on my last pair of socks that I've decided to keep using that method for heels until something better comes along. The photo here isn't all too accurate because I'm now down to the toe shaping, and the luster in the yarn (by Yarn Hollow) doesn't come through.

Lastly, all of these projects would have been done sooner, but I had spent the first week of November knitting the "Baby Cable Wrap Sweater" by Lindsay of Yarn Garden. I used Berrocco Vintage Wool and absolutely loved this yarn. It was incredibly soft and warm. This sweater was given away to a visiting scientist from Pakistan who has a 6-month old. I wanted to make this pattern and was warned by Chuck that his relatives that I originally was planning on knitting this for wouldn't be too interested in it because it was out of wool and I haven't been in an acrylic state of mind lately.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Almost sick of traveling

Hi folks. Not sure if many folks check out the tweets in the sidebar as proof that, yep, I'm still kicking. It's not that I haven't had much to say; I just haven't had much time to sit down and type it. I'm in Denver (again) and will be heading home on the train tomorrow night. I really can't wait because I'm a little sick of being away from home; and, now that the holidays are here, I'm just going to have to deal with it.

Flickr doesn't seem to be working on my phone, so am at a loss at the moment for uploading photos, but am working on an alternate way to get photos on-line. My next entry will be about knitting -- I promise -- I've been doing a ton of that lately and have several completed projects. It's been a very long time since I've done an update on movies, so here's what I've watch lately and what I thought (sorry if the theater update is a little out of date):

In theaters:

Inglorious Basterds: I love Quentin Tarantino films and enjoyed this one enough to see it in the theater twice. Christoph Waltz plays a German "Jew hunter" and totally steals this film. Don't get me wrong, it was Brad Pitt that got me into the theater, but do not be surprised if you hear more about Waltz, especially since he's starring as the villain in the Green Hornet movie. Also, was it me? Or did the actress who played the female hero (French actress Melanie Laurent) remind anyone else of Uma Thurman?

Zombieland: This was a fun, fantastic zombie movie that kept me laughing and had one great surprise in it. Sylvain enjoyed this movie so much that every time we talk about going to the movies, his vote goes towards seeing this one again. I haven't taken him though because there are other films I'd like to see and I've been on the road a lot. This movie renewed my appreciation for Woody Harrelson; it also starred Jesse Eisenberg, who was in another movie I recently watched on DVD called Adventureland (this was a so-so coming of age film that also starred Kristen Stewart).

In case you haven't already, I'd definitely recommend seeing the above two films, either in the theater or put them in your movie queue. One film that I cannot recommend at all is The Fourth Kind. Let me say up-front, that I am a firm believer in alien abduction theory and that there is no way that we're alone here in the universe (and that we're the most intelligent beings here, for that matter, so of course any aliens visiting us would have far superior technology). This movie claimed to mix "real footage" with re-enactments based on notes of an Alaskan psychologist who uncovered nightly alien experimentation experienced by her patients while placing them under hypnosis therapy while trying to treat them for sleeping disorders. I'm sorry, and maybe I don't know a whole lot about psychiatry, but this woman (played by Milla Jovovich, whose English has come a very long way since her Fifth Element days) did not seem to be a competent therapist. Maybe those are few and far between in Nome. I also did not find the "real footage" that believable.


I already mentioned Adventureland and can only recommend it if you are on a Kristen Stewart kick. During my train trip to Denver last month, I had an Angelina Jolie movie mini-marathon and watched Playing by Heart and Girl, Interrupted. I like her and would recommend both movies, if you haven't seen either already since they've both been out for quite a while. "Heart" had a lot of other fabulous actors (like Sean Connery, Gillian Anderson, Jon Stewart) that I didn't realize at the time I put the movie in my queue, so was very pleasantly surprised. It was an entertaining ensemble movie where everyone's different plot lines come together at the end. I've seen parts of "Interrupted" here and there on TV, but never watched it start to finish and thought that no one plays a mental patient quite as convincing as Angelina (giving her a well-deserved Oscar). This movie was based on an autobiography about a fellow patient's brief stay in an institution in the mid-1960s and also starred Whoppi Goldberg and an almost-unrecognizable Brittany Murphy (or maybe I've gotten used to her as a little waif).

On that same train trip, I also watched Away we go with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expectant couple in their early-30s who go on a road trip in search of a good place to dig in roots and raise their new baby. I thought this was an adorable little film and made Chuck watch it again with me when I returned home. He protested because he doesn't particularly care for Maya, and fell asleep about half-way through the movie, but that's his loss. I also loved the soundtrack enough to download a few songs from ITunes; one of which was the Velvet Underground's "Oh, Sweet Nuthin'", which Melanie Lynskey's character (aka Rose from CBS' Two and a Half Men) dances to during a touching scene. I also enjoyed the original songs by Alexi Murdoch and hope to hear more from this singer/song-writer in the future. Other actors making brief appearances in this film include Jeff Daniels, Jim Gaffigan, and Maggie Gyllenhall (who was wonderful as a very liberal-minded college professor).

Sylvain picked up Observe and Report, which I didn't watch, though based on the full-frontal mall-flasher scene I walked in on, I can tell you this movie wouldn't be for me, so I can't give it a good review even if I were to sit through the whole thing.

On the train ride out, I watched The Brothers Bloom and A Scanner Darkly. I tend to like Rachel Weisz, Adrian Brody, and Mark Ruffalo, but this movie left me feeling "ehhh." It was entertaining to watch during the train ride, but I was left wondering if I would have finished watching it had I been at home with other things to do. This movie was about two con-artist brothers who are out to play their last swindle on an air-headed heiress played by Weisz. Robbie Coltrane was also in it as another bit-player in the Brother's cons and it was good to see him in a part where he can play is true size, rather than as a character that is computer enhanced to be overly huge -- his role as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films.

I may have already posted about Darkly before, so I apologize if I'm repeating myself, but I loved this movie the first time around and rented it again to enjoy it during the long, boring ride. This movie is shot in an animation style that isn't for everyone; and I highly recommend reading the book by Philip K. Dick before watching; you'll appreciate the movie that much more. This is a near-future sci-fi story about a deep-undercover cop trying to track back through a local supply chain for a highly-addictive drug called "Substance D". While reading the book and watching the movie, I couldn't help but think about how this closely parallels meth and have lingering questions about whether Donna (played by Winona Ryder) was also an agent or just an informant and whether the "New Path" treatment and recovery centers are also the drug suppliers. This movie stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane, and all do an excellent job in their parts.

For the train ride home, I have The Life Before Her Eyes, a thriller with Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood that I haven't seen before. And, if that doesn't fulfill my movie needs, I'll probably watch Darkly again. Oh, and in case you're a Facebook friend or have been following my tweets -- I'm planning on seeing New Moon this weekend and (hopefully) forgo large crowds.