Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dee's No-Twist Circular Cast-On

I knit in the round a lot—and I've twisted my cast-on a lot, too. That is, when I've cast on all the required stitches and go to join the two ends, I have accidentally let the stitches twist around the needle, even though I tried to check for that. It's really frustrating when I don't realize it until I knit a round or two. And of course, the more stitches in the cast-on, the more likely this is to happen.

A few months ago, a knitter named Dee posted her solution on the "Techniques" forum in Ravelry. I didn't see it until a few weeks ago, and I wish I had sooner! "Dee's No-Twist Circular Cast-On" is simply the best way I've heard of to prevent twisting your cast-on when you join to knit in the round. You can use it with any type of cast-on, as far as I know.

Here is a link to the original forum thread on Ravelry, where this technique is discussed at length. (If you're not a member of Ravelry, I think you'd have to join to see forums. But if you're interested in this topic, and you read blogs, and you're not a member of Ravelry... the mind boggles.)

Dee has also made a YouTube video:

Dee knitted up a strip of fabric to use, but somewhere in the thread someone suggested using a ribbon that has loops along the edge, and I latched onto that idea. There are limits to my DIY-ing. I only have so much knitting time. I'm lazy. Pick an excuse, any excuse.

I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and found a wide, stretchy ribbon with loops AND gaps along the edges. The loops will accommodate needle sizes of perhaps U.S. 8 on down, but the gaps are stretchy and could go much bigger. It's a bright lime green that will contrast with just about any yarn I might knit.

I "hang" the ribbon either before or after the first stitch, and then every ten stitches (using it also to help me count!).
As Dee says, the fabric or ribbon must remain BEHIND the cast-on. Here you can see my cast-on stitches in front of the ribbon, with a loop of green every ten stitches.

I have way too much ribbon for this project, but that's OK—it just hangs down, no big deal. I figured too much would be better than not enough. I cast on over 600 stitches for a project once, and you never know when I might do it again!

I found out the hard way that even doing this, it's still possible to twist the stitches when I join them in the round. However, it's obvious right away. I didn't have to knit a whole round before I realized it. The whole width of the ribbon twisted up and forced me to face reality.

Here's another view of the same cast-on, in case it's helpful. Another thing about my ribbon is that one side is satiny and the other side is matte, so I can tell at a glance which side I'm looking at (and therefore, whether it SHOULD be in front or in back).

I won't be surprised if this technique starts showing up in knitting reference books—it's that handy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hugelkultur: next steps

Sticks, sticks, and more sticks. I finally had time and weather to start the next step in my little Hugelkultur bed.
First I dug up some leaf mould. This has been sitting behind my shed for two years... last year I put most of the shredded leaves directly on my growing beds.

This was harder to dig out than I had expected—roots had grown horizontally through it.

It's very very matted. It kind of just sits on top of the sticks. It rained later that day, but that didn't affect the appearance of it that I could see.
I tried breaking this up with my garden fork, but it's VERY matted. The weather between now and spring should do most of that for me.

No matter. There's a whole winter of snow coming.

The idea behind hugelkultur is to mimic what happens on a forest floor, to create a similar spongy, soft garden bed. When I first heard about it, it made all kinds of sense to me because the closer you can get to how God set things up, the better. Worms will come up out of the ground to work this over, and it's already full of beneficial microorganisms.

I did put SOME of last year's leaves to the side of the shed. Maybe I should have started with those! They would have filtered down between the sticks. Ah well--I finished off with the rest of the old old mould after these pictures were taken. Besides, I have lots of other beds I can use last year's leaves on.
Next, a surprise... There was a dead tree in the lot next door. A large limb broke off and was just lying there. They had piled other branches that fell next to the garage.

I asked if I could have them. The neighbor and her son were like, sure. Not only that, but the son pitched them over the fence into my yard for me. Woo hoo!

Alas, her landlord sent someone to take down the rest of the tree and I didn't get any more lumber from it. However, I used the large limb and branches to start a much longer Hugelkultur bed. Any new sticks from my maple and the neighborhood are going onto this pile now.

I placed a couple of pizza boxes on the ground underneath to block the grass, but it's so long, I need about three more pizza boxes.

Below is a photo of our cat Buster on the largest tree limb, for scale. He, of course, thinks I put it there just for him to sharpen his claws on.
I've started grabbing bags of leaves off the curb when people put them out for pickup. Our county requires people to put yard waste in these large doubled paper bags for composting. Yes, the county composts them—but what do they do with the compost? They spread it over the top of the landfill. wha???

I asked over at the All Things Plants website in the Hugelkultur forum if I should put compost on top now, or wait until spring. Now, they said--to prevent any of my leaf mould from blowing away. I haven't done that yet, but I will soon.

I have a lot of work ahead of me yet with this, but I'm looking forward to having these dedicated vegetable beds!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Next year's experiment: Hugelkultur

I first heard of Hugelkultur on the podcast A Way to Garden. The link takes you to that episode's shownotes, which also list the basic steps to creating a Hugelkultur bed. (I'm capitalizing the word because it's obviously German. This idea has apparently been around for hundreds of years.)

The basic idea is to create a new bed with sheet composting—except that your base layer is WOOD. Twigs, branches, even logs. Just like in a forest.

Here's a website with some terrific diagrams.

The flaw in the forest bed logic, of course, is that you don't go trying to grow vegetables in a forest—it's a different type of plants that flourish in forest undergrowth. Nevertheless, they talked about how the sticks foster pockets of air in the bed. Plus, my main problem with starting any raised beds was trying to fill them. That could get expensive fast, if I had to purchase the soil. Wood in the bottom means perhaps not having to come up with as much soil. It's sort of the same principle as putting rocks in the bottom of a planter—and also would serve the same purpose of helping drainage.

I had no worries about where to get the wood. I live in a neighborhood full of mature trees, including the maple in my back yard. They're always shedding at least twigs, and often larger pieces. As soon as I heard this podcast, I stopped putting the fallen maple bits on the curb for pickup. I just kept adding more in the old cracked trash can I keep for the purpose.

When Gardener's Supply Company put their basic Grow Beds on sale after the spring planting season was done, I ordered one 3'x6' kit. It has 10" high walls. I figured that would make it easier for me, plus my neighbors would be less likely to object if my pile of sticks were contained.

My yard is configured with a triangular bed in the SW corner, which gets the most sun, and 2-foot-wide beds all around the rest of the perimeter. (These were already in place when I moved in, and mostly filled with perennial flowers.) This new bed is my first step toward filling the sunny third of the yard with vegetable beds that START organic. (I'm having to regenerate the existing beds, which were addicted to chemicals before I moved in.)

I set up the raised bed a mower's width away from the perimeter bed to the south and the corner bed to the west. Underneath it I mowed very short and then laid out the boxes that the raised bed came in, to block the growth of grass and weeds. Then I dumped in my collected twigs and branches.

Oops... not quite enough.

But that was July. I still had plenty of time to collect more wood. I started watching for downed branches around the neighborhood while walking the dog. I chose the largest ones, since I could only use one hand to get them home. I got a real prize one day after a storm—a piece of tree LIMB over 5 feet long and about 6" thick.

As of today, I've pretty much got all the wood I need in there. I still continue to add anything that falls off the maple, plus anything I see during walks that's irresistible. But as soon as I get over the bronchitis I'm fighting right now, I'm on to the next step.

What'll that be? Leaf mould. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Big Foot Knits--because socks aren't as simple as they sound

The more I read about the book Big Foot Knits by Andi Smith, the more I think I've GOT to get me a copy.

My feet are size 10 narrow. I didn't think at first that would qualify for this book, just going by the title.

But actually, this book is about customizing socks to your own unique feet. I've heard the author interviewed, and it sounds like she did a LOT of research regarding different shapes of feet and toes.

There are people out there who knit any old sock pattern that appeals to them and they fit just fine. But I've knit two pairs of socks (one for myself, and one for hubby), and crocheted one pair too, and they just DON'T fit.

OK, I'll grant you, the first two pairs I just blindly followed instructions. But the third pair, I tried really hard... and knit them toe-up so I could try them on along the way, and they SEEMED to fit when I was 3/4 of the way up the foot. But once I went to actually wear them, it turned out they were actually too big around. It was those darn narrow feet again.

I'm still thinking about it... We'll see if I have any crafting budget left after Stitches Midwest next weekend. ;-)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cardigans large and small—WIP Wednesday

Last night I cast on for the pattern Climbing Lace Cardigan, by Vanessa Ewing. (Side note: this pattern was recently translated into French. Do I have any Francophones reading my blog?) I'm knitting this cardigan for myself.
Here are the swatches I knit first: one in the lace pattern, and one in stockinette. I'm glad I swatched the lace pattern—it tripped me up a few times. Probably because rows 2 and 4 are identical, so I sometimes lost track.

I'll be using the techniques I learned from Amy Herzog in her Fit to Flatter class and her book Knit to Flatter to make sure it fits me properly. This includes adding waist shaping, since the original pattern doesn't have any—it goes straight from hip to shoulder. That's not how I'm shaped!

The yarn is Peace Fleece Sport DK, in the colorway Sheplova Mushroom. I bought this for a different sweater about three years ago, before I understood that it's nearly impossible to make DK weight yarn work in a pattern that calls for Aran weight.

It's wool and mohair, very crunchy and rustic. I love crunchy rustic yarns. The swatches are noticeably softer after washing, though I'm sure they'll never be as soft as merino. That's fine; I'll always be wearing a shirt under this cardigan.

Oh, and I'm knitting this as part of the Yarniacs Podcast Fall 2013 knitalong. I figure this is close enough to the color Pantone is calling Samba.

The small cardigan referenced in the title is for my nephew, who's currently 8 months old. The pattern is called L'illo and is available in the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. (Click over and have a look at the pattern model! Isn't he a cutie? Of course, my nephew is cuter....)
This photo shows the back and half of the right front. I'm knitting the 12-month size and shooting to have it done for his first birthday in November.

The yarn is Takhi Cotton Classic Lite, 100% mercerized cotton in sport weight. My nephew (and his mom and dad) live in a suburb of Dallas, so he doesn't need tons of cold-weather gear, and I already knit him an acrylic cardigan before he was born.... it was supposed to be a newborn size, but apparently my yarn was too thick, so I told my sister to save it for next winter. I'm hoping a cotton cardigan will get more use.

I wish I had started it on wooden needles instead of aluminum. The combination of slick needles and slick yarn means I have to take it slow. But I can't change in the middle. It might affect my gauge, and then the pieces wouldn't fit together.

The back looks short, but that's because this sweater has saddle shoulders. I've never knit that kind of shoulder before, so it'll be interesting.
Here are links to my project pages on Ravelry: Li'l Cardi and Climbing Lace Cardigan. (I guess I should come up with my own name for it?)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Can knitting be an idol?

The Second Commandment, out of only ten: Do not worship idols.

It was the subject of a recent sermon at my church. The preacher acknowledged that actual idols that people literally bow down to are vanishingly rare in modern Western culture. And yet, humans still have this need to worship something. And we still have this tendency to drop our eyes from God to something we can actually see.

I certainly do, anyway. I didn't write for ten years, because writing had become my idol. And when I write that, I don't mean that I nobly and selflessly put it away from me and now I'm all righteous. I mean that I had my idol smashed before my eyes, revealed as the false hope it was, and all my desire to write evaporated.

But that's a story for another time. Because now I'm worried about knitting.

When I arrived at church a couple weeks ago, I realized I'd forgotten to bring my tithe—again. Now, if it were just a bill to be paid, I'd be ok, because there was one more Sunday in the month, I could catch up then. But it's not just a bill... or at least, it shouldn't be. It bothers me that in some ways it IS just another bill to me. It's not the act of worship it should be.

By contrast, I went to a fiber event the day before. I planned way ahead for that. I carefully hoarded my spending money, made sure to get my cash together, thought about what I'd shop for.

Follow the money. What's my priority?

OK, it's not a perfect comparison. Fiber events are rare for me; church is every week, there IS always next week. However, one of the criteria our preacher mentioned for identifying an idol was, "What do you always seem to find money for?" Hmm.

The jury's still out; I don't see most of the other criteria applying to fiber crafts in my life.

However, I do see signs that there may be people out there in the "fiber community" who DO put their crafts in the place of a deity in their lives.

No, they don't bow down before their yarn stashes. But how about acquiring more stash than you can possibly ever knit—and then continuing to purchase more?

Some other criteria from the sermon:
  • It is the source of our security.
  • It is the source of our identity.
  • What do you treasure? Dream about, dwell on?
I see people writing about yarncrafting as if it's their comfort and their solace and their ultimate. Like it's the cure for all social ills. Like only at a fiber-oriented event can they find true fellowship. Is this worship?

Maybe; not necessarily. There's nothing wrong with using knitting to relax after work. Crafts can be a creative outlet, and yarncrafts have the potential for something really useful as the end result.

The trick is that just because something is lovely and comforting and whatever other good qualities it may have, doesn't mean it can provide ultimate fulfillment.

The key statement in the sermon for me came, oddly, in the middle. This is what I want to take away and evaluate myself against whenever I seem to be getting too much into something:

Idols are usually good things that we have made god things.

Another way of thinking about it is, what do I look to for life? (I don't remember where I picked that up; possibly John Piper.)  What do I look to for fulfillment?

I just want to remember that He is the ultimate; anything else good in my life is a gift from Him.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Background Radiation

This week I'm going to show some love to a project that I keep forgetting about in the context of WIPs. It's like the background radiation of the universe: always there, humming along.

The pattern for this shawl, "Mie," was originally written in Danish and then translated into English. I'm surprised it's only got 47 projects on Ravelry... especially since it's free! My project page is here.
I bought the yarn at Stitches Midwest 2012, and started knitting it last October. This photo shows it a little past halfway done. It's a simple end-to-end garter stitch pattern with a ruffle formed by short rows. It takes about four rows to memorize the pattern. Therefore it's become my social and stoplight knitting. I barely have to look at it. I've also knit on it while reading.

It's so perfect for those situations, in fact, that I seriously wonder what will take its place when it's finished!

The yarn is Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in the colorway Lowland, which doesn't appear to be available any more. It was actually a limited run of short skeins (which was stated up front and priced specially because of that). It was a case where I saw the color and said "Oh my," and made a wild guess how much I would need. I bought two skeins at first, then went back and bought a third skein, thinking that might be enough for a sweater.

Ha! nope. After I got home, I strained my Ravelry search skills to the limit trying to find ANYTHING within the yardage I'd purchased. I wanted to use as much of it as possible, but it seemed I'd bought exactly the wrong quantity.

And then I ran across Mie.

Although it's not written that way, it seemed to me I could weigh my yarn, knit increase rows until I'd used up half of it, and then knit decrease rows until I used it up. It might actually turn out incredibly long... but I have ahem a generous circumference, so that'll probably be fine.

So that is exactly what I'm doing.

The pattern IS written for striping two colors. Since Madelinetosh is notorious for color pooling, I decided to knit from all three balls in succession. I switched every time the pattern called for switching colors (which is every time you get back to the straight edge). I think this scatters the colors nicely.

My photo doesn't do justice to the colors... When it's finished, I hope to get some really nice photos. Closeups and all that.

I like a challenging knit as much as the next yarncrafter, but there's a lot to be said for the elegant simplicity of this pattern.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A scarf pic, finally! (WIP Wednesday)

I've talked about this scarf in every WIP Wednesday post... now I can finally show you a WIP photo. I had to get my husband to snap the picture while I stretched it out between my fingers.

Pretty yarn, eh? It's the "Happy Forest" colorway in Dream in Color Smooshy. Obviously it'll have to be blocked severely when the time comes. The pattern is "Not a Drop" by Arlene's World of Lace.

I'm in a finishing mode this week... I finished two items already, and I just got the hook & eye tape in the mail today for my cardigan--everything else is done. I'll have to create a Finished Objects post sometime when it isn't Wednesday.

That's it for today. I have a couple pictures to take--can't do it now, though, there's a storm wrecking the light.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

More on "holity"

I have further thoughts on "holity" that didn't quite fit in the page for it. I originally planned to include these in that page, until I realized it needed to define the word more than anything.

I mentioned not wanting to write just a Christan blog. That's not to diss those who do write Christian blogs. There are reasons why that's not such a great idea for me.


I have to guard against compartmentalizing my life into "spiritual" and "not spiritual." Maybe a lot of Christians do, but it's been such a strong tendency for much of my life that I still find it rearing its ugly head.

I looked for a definition of the word "compartmentalization" and found it's used in psychology, which I didn't know. Wikipedia says: "Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves."

I don't think I achieved pathological levels with it, but I think this could describe the nominal and/or weak Christian who does things during the week that they hope no one at church hears about. Yes, that has been me from time to time, of course. And that's a huge reason to guard against it—because compartmentalization can lead to hypocrisy.

On a milder level, though, it can mean merely thinking that there's church/spiritual life and then there's "real life," and that they don't have a lot to do with each other. That my job, my hobbies, my activities during the week, my Facebook wall, my friends outside church, are somehow separate from my spirituality. This is a lot  more insidious and hard to detect, and yet it can probably lead to the hypocrisy I mentioned in the last paragraph.

That's what I want to guard against. It would be too easy to chat about knitting without ever thinking about God. So what's wrong with knitting? Nothing, in and of itself. And yet, I observe some things in the knitting community that I'd like to write about sometime from a spiritual standpoint.

And sometimes I just want to write about knitting, or gardening, or whatever. Like I said on the definition page, it'll be the whole of the blog, ALL the posts, that combined will show who I am (especially after I've been at it a while).

Spiritual vs. Secular

The other swing of the pendulum from compartmentalization is the idea that if you're a Christian, the only thing you should talk about or think about or read or do is overtly Christian ideas, books, activities. Perhaps that's how some people guard against compartmentalization—but that's no reason to go too far in the other direction.

God created the whole world and everything in it. He created our creativity and our intellect and our appreciation for beauty. He created sheep and their wool, and created them so they're better off if they get sheared every spring. That wool is amazingly versatile. We can use it only to keep warm, but how much better if we also use our talents to make warm items that are also beautiful? Part of the "image of God" in us is that he made us creative, like He is.

That's just one example of "holity"... the sort of holistic approach I'm talking about and hoping to achieve.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

WIP Wednesday: starting to look like a cardi!

My Andie's Cardigan is all seamed up—it looks a lot like a cardi!

Now all I have to do is pick up & knit the collar and the i-cord trim down the front, and sew in the hook & eye tape... as soon as I find some hook & eye tape. Tried two stores the other day, no luck.

While I was at Jo-Ann's, I picked up buttons for my Comfort of a Friend shawl. Vintage look for a vintage design.
The scarf is proceeding slowly, and I just knit 2 more swatches for the baby cardigan. The first swatches didn't give me gauge so I am trying a larger needle size, and you have to swatch both plain stockinette and the stitch pattern. I haven't measured yet.
I am starting to think about picking up the socks that have been in time-out since last winter. I've got to rip back a couple inches, yuck. But is it really THAT bad? Well, the difficulty is I'm knitting two-at-a-time on two circulars and I'm worried I will muck them up.
Still, I should just get going on them so they aren't nagging me in the back of my mind.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

WIP [Wednesday] Thursday

Considering I completely FORGOT to write a WIP Wednesday post last week, I think a few hours late is an improvement.


Happy Drops, the scarf I have to really concentrate on, had a bit of a setback... I somehow messed up one of the drops, so once again I tried inserting my needle at the base of a row of drops as recommended by the designer. She then goes on to say you'll have to tink back a couple of rows (because odds are you didn't get the needle inserted into only one row... it's really hard to tell). I must have tinked back 15 rows before I finally felt like all the stitches on my needle were correct. But that beats starting all over. No new picture yet.

Comfort of a Friend, blocking & being cat-scanned.
My Comfort of a Friend shawl is done except for the buttons. I have to go shopping for buttons, and that's waiting for June because I am almost out of spending money for May. This is for the first KAL for the book What Else Would Madame Defarge Knit?, edited by Heather Ordover. Actually, this pattern isn't in the book—rather, this pattern is available in doll size and child size in the book. The adult size pattern was a bonus for those of us who pre-ordered the book; however, it's available for purchase on Ravelry.

The most exciting update is for my Andie's Cardigan. I've finished all the pieces!
Andie's Cardigan, the fronts and sleeves blocking.
Tomorrow, or maybe tonight, I'll start seaming the pieces together. Once that's done, I'll pick up and knit the collar, then pick up and knit the i-cord trim down the fronts. Meanwhile I'll purchase the hook-and-eye tape for the closure. I never heard of hook-and-eye tape before reading this pattern. Brilliant idea!

Naturally, by the time I finish this up, it'll be too hot to wear even though it's short-sleeved. The yarn is Berocco Ultra Silk (discontinued), which I picked up on clearance. It's aran weight, 40% nylon, 40% rayon, and 20% silk. Interesting construction—it's a knitted tube with filling. I imagine the tube is the silk and the filling is the nylon & rayon. It's very drapey, and I hope it doesn't grow outrageously in wear.


I've started swatching for a cardigan for my nephew—the pattern is L'illo by Susan Power. I'm making size 12 months, out of Takhi Cotton Classic Lite, a sport-weight 100% mercerized cotton, in a darkish green. Tried size 3 needles, next I'm going to try size 4.

A minor discovery

This morning I ripped out the first swatch of the Cotton Classic Lite, and balled it up, but it's kinky even though it hasn't been knit up all that long. So I had an idea... I used my Amish swift to re-skein the yarn from the ball.

 I made a slip knot and put that over one of the dowels. Then just held the ball with one hand and spun the swift with the other. After all the yarn was on the swift, I tied it halfway between each dowel and voila! ready to soak and hang up to get the kinks out.

Maybe that tip will help someone! I don't know if it would work with an umbrella-style swift... I have no experience with them.

Happy knitting, all!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Work-in-Progress Wednesday!

I've decided to join in the Work-in-Progress Wednesday meme. It looks like a fun way to incorporate some knitting posts into my blog. To learn more (and to join in, if you're so inclined), check out this post in the Tami's Amis blog.

Alas, my WIP's are kicking my tail this week.

The left strap of the "Comfort of a Friend" shawl.
I'm in a knitalong for the Comfort of a Friend Shawl. It looks really nice so far... except I've discovered I did some purling. It's a garter stitch pattern—there isn't supposed to be any purling! I guess I did that because I'm going back and forth between this and a stockinette project.

(Now that I think of it, the stockinette project is NOT kicking my tail. Maybe I should work on it some more!)

The hard part is the purling is right below the place where the middle is bound off, so I'm afraid to rip out. So I'm using my Fix-A-Stitch tool. Which works great but it's slow going.

The other WIP that's giving me difficulty is the Not a Drop scarf. I took this picture before I started having problems.
Yeah, I didn't get very far before I started having problems.

It's just that if you make one tiny little mistake, it's extremely difficult to fix it. The designer does have some tips in a thread in her Ravelry group, and yet I've had trouble following the tips. I mess up the tinking back, and next thing you know I'm ripping the whole thing out and starting over.

I've decided my strategy for this scarf will have to be not to do more than one or two rows in a sitting. If I go much longer than that, I start getting into a rhythm (because there IS a lot of repetition) and next thing you know I'll miss the next shift in the pattern.

I hope to have better news next week!

Monday, May 6, 2013

You are the branches

It's not the greatest photo I ever shot, but I hope you can tell what's going on. There's a detached limb hanging from the tree by its twigs. This tree stands in my neighbor's back yard.
John 15:5-6—I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [English Standard Version]
This limb has been hanging from this tree all winter... like it doesn't know it's dead.

We had a sermon recently where the pastor quoted the movie The Sixth Sense—"I see dead people." This disturbed some of my friends. Surely our church is better than most? Surely there's no need to be so negative? Jesus is about love, right?

Yes, Jesus is about love. God IS love. And, it would not be love to withhold a hard truth—especially if that truth holds someone's eternity in the balance.

Every church has at least a few people who are like this branch. They are not abiding in Jesus—they are not attached to the tree. There is no spiritual life flowing into them. And yet they think they ARE in the tree, because they're hanging up there with the branches and not touching the ground.

Last week, a storm came through. No worse than any other storm we had over the winter. But this storm, for whatever reason, hit that branch just wrong—and down it came. Now it's dead wood lying on the ground, and someone's gonig to come chop it up and put it in their fireplace.

This is merely the final result of what's been true all winter. It's been dead all along. Dead branch hanging.

I hope no one who is reading this is a dead man/woman walking. But if you have even the tiniest inkling you might be, don't ignore it. Pray... search the scriptures... talk to a pastor. Perhaps it's only a lie of the enemy. If so, you can receive assurance. Get it settled.

If not, the miracle that's available to you is that unlike this dead branch, you CAN be grafted in.

[p.s. I hate when I publish a post and THEN realize (in the shower) that I need to edit a couple of things! *sigh*]

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A tale of two strays

Turned out her name is Xena
The first stray was a dog, wandering down the road in front of my house in mid-March when we still had snow on the ground. She was dragging a leash, which made me think she'd gotten away when someone was trying to walk her—especially since the leash was entirely too wimpy for a large dog.

Since this was early evening, we kept her for the night. In the morning, I took her to our vet to scan for a chip.

Yes! She had a chip. The people at the vet clinic called the owner of record and put her in their kennel to await her people. Done! Easy peasy.

The second stray is a cat. A week ago, I was walking our dog, Butch, and our cat Princess Red. When she tags along, I'm always turning and calling her, in case she gets too far behind and can't tell which way we went. (I don't think cats can see a great distance, can they?)

So, I'm calling, "kitty, kitty, kitty," behind me--and out comes this gray cat, talking back to me. She let me come up to her and scritch her, and she sort of tried to follow me away despite the dog I had on the leash.

After finishing the dog's walk, I went back in my car. Sure enough, she came right out when I called. The house she was hanging out in front of had an empty divided pet dish on the front porch--AND the phone book that had been delivered over a week before. Looked like she was abandoned.

So I grabbed her, threw her in my car, and took her home. I set her up in our spare bedroom with her own food, water, and litter, and shut her in.

I listed her on the local Facebook lost & found pet pages. I put up little posters all around the corner where I'd found her. I had her scanned for a chip: no joy. Went to the pound to add her to the "Found Pets" list, but couldn't bring myself to leave her. She's affectionate and eats up any human attention. But all efforts to find her people were in vain. Not one phone call. 
We are calling her "Mia."
We thought about keeping her. But she's horrible to our other pets (a dog and three cats). She clearly needs to be the only pet in her home.

I tried to take her to the no-kill shelter in Rockford, Noah's Ark Pet Sanctuary, but they were full up on cats.

Meanwhile, her behavior seemed to indicate she was in heat. (Don't ask.) Another complication.

Finally I heard back from PAWS. They will subsidize the spaying and then put her on their adoption list. They don't have a shelter in Rockford--they just use foster homes.

I'm glad I didn't have to resort to taking her to the pound. I feel affection for her, even though we can't keep her. Even right now she is lying stretched out along my leg.

But wow! What a hassle!

After these experiences, I am totally sold on microchips. Once I find a job, I want to get them for all our pets. (Only one is chipped so far.) More information on pet microchipping.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Greening the Desert

As promised, here is a link to the TED talk that blew me away. Its run time is 22:20. Greening the World's Deserts
We've all been told that desertification is the result of overgrazing. For the past hundred years, governments in Africa, the United States, and elsewhere, have set aside land to keep it from being grazed at all except by tightly controlled herds of zebra or bison. And yet, desertification has only accelerated.

Zimbabwean scientist Allan Savory has been working to understand this for decades, and started testing his theories in Africa in the 1990s. He's now head of the Savory Institute, which is implementing these strategies all over the world.

What's the solution? If you haven't watched the video yet, the spoilers start now: Mimic nature in grazing practices.

Written like that, it sounds obvious... but it runs so counter to the conventional wisdom of the past hundred years that he has to take some time to prove it in the video.

My husband's grandfather owned a cattle ranch on the Texas-Oklahoma border. After watching this video, my husband said, "Grandpa was wrong--he always said, You can only run one head per acre here, it's too dry." Allan Savory would quadruple that at least. My husband did point out that this method would be labor-intensive, which must be why people didn't do it from the outset.

You have to let the cattle completely trample an area before you move them on. This solves the problem of grasses decomposing by oxidation instead of biologically, which is why they currently burn grasslands. Unfortunately:
Burning one hectare of grassland gives off more, and more damaging, pollutants than 6,000 cars. And we are burning in Africa, every single year, more than one billion hectares. --Allan Savory
In Savory's method, whatever grass the cattle didn't eat is chopped up and mixed with dung and urine by their hooves. It then proceeds to compost biologically, and fertilize the next generation of grass.

The farmers we get our grass-fed beef from does something like this. We got a mini-tour once, and she let us watch her move the herd from one plot to another. They grow alfalfa, put the cattle on a small area of alfalfa, and let them eat it up. When we drove up, they were mooing in a thoroughly grazed and trampled area, gazing longingly over an electric fenceline at tall, lush alfalfa. She turned off the electricity and let the line down, and the herd galloped joyfully into the fresh area. Happy cows!
It makes me think of what I've read of the vast herds of American bison moving across the prairie before they were nearly killed off. No wonder that land was so fertile.

And it's sad to see that some areas of the United States are turning to desert when they were once the feeding grounds of those herds.

It's ironic that Savory has to sell the TED crowd on the idea of more cattle rather than less... environmental conventional wisdom has been telling us for some years that cows are bad because they generate methane, which is a greenhouse gas. He points out that the land rejuvenated this way will take care of the methane.

And this is the compassionate solution too. So many of these areas are no good for farming in their present state--people can only survive if they have meat to eat (or if they get food aid, of course). This is the sustainable way to get people to where they can feed themselves.

Something Savory didn't mention is the conventional wisdom that it takes a lot more land to raise cattle for food than to raise plants for food. I wonder how that math works out if you're running four times as many animals?

© Orientaly | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I hope this idea takes hold. I think it will help many people... whether he's right about the global warming impact or not.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


I'm currently busy doing a book design & layout for a publishing company that farms out most of that kind of work. I think I'll withhold the name of the company until the book appears.

I like being productive rather than just kicking back and collecting unemployment. And even if the income gets deducted from my benefit check, it will look a lot better to potential employers that I've been doing SOMEthing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Something to read after you've ordered your seeds

Just a quick note to mention that I've reviewed a book on GoodreadsThe Backyard Parables: Lessons on Gardening and Life by Margaret Roach.

This book is organized as a journal of one year in her 2.5 acre garden in New York State—winter, spring, summer, fall. I enjoyed it. If you're a gardener, be sure to also check out her blog, A Way to Garden.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Unemployed, redux

This time I'm really unemployed. The grace period is over, the fat lady has sung.

Ryan International Airlines is no more. The link goes to the Wikipedia article, which is mostly accurate, except that the Chapter 7 filing was delayed while purchase offers were entertained. So 24 of us stayed on to keep the operating certificate on life support in case someone purchased it.

The company that won the "bidding" in the bankruptcy court insisted they had the purchase price on hand, but in the end they only transferred $200,000 of it. They were given an extra day and then the door was closed. My last day of work was February 27, 2013.

I'd been toying with the idea of looking for a new job since the Chapter 11 filing a year ago, enough that I'd updated my resume. Too bad I didn't get serious about looking.

I'm now in the process of applying for unemployment, getting some kind of interim medical insurance, etc. And trying to not let myself waste time just because I can.

I did finish the sweater I started knitting in December, just in time to wear it to the retirement party of our CFO last Saturday night... which morphed, of course, into a "wake" for all of us. (He joked that we stole his thunder.)

I've never filed unemployment before. And I'm still reeling from the shock of it all. I guess I am, anyway, because I have a hard time getting to sleep at night. There have been nights I was still awake at 3 am.

To be continued....

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Joining the global conversation with TED

I spent the day at TEDxRockford Live today. Exciting, inspirational, and I met a few people I never would have met otherwise.

NIU-Rockford played host with their beautiful auditorium. We watched yesterday's TED event recorded in Long Beach, California, streamed directly from the TED website. The talks we saw today won't be available to the general public until mid-March.

What is TED? A series of talks on "Ideas Worth Spreading," interspersed with music, dance, and other entertainment acts from cutting-edge performers. I have watched many videos of TED talks over the years, and almost always find them fascinating and inspirational.

Today their special focus meant we heard from several teenage scientists. Taylor Wilson, the teen who built a nuclear reactor in his family's garage, came on shortly after entrepreneur Elon Musk, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a nuclear fusion of minds backstage. Another teen has developed a test strip that costs a nickel and detects cancers of the pancreas, ovaries, and lungs EARLY—while there's an excellent chance of survival.

They saved the best for last, of course. The final talk was an absolute stunner, and turned certain conventional wisdom on its ear. You'd better believe I'll be blogging more about it when I can link to the video.

I also stayed for lunch—which the local chapter paid for!—and met several interesting locals, as well as sitting in on a committee meeting.

I'm so glad I spent a day on this!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Goats really can yell like humans

When I first saw the headline "2 minutes of nothing but goats yelling like humans," I didn't think they would sound so MUCH like humans! Tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not unemployed

I know I need to post. It's been way too long. I keep having ideas, but not sitting down to actually write them out. 

I think I'm having a bit of resistance to writing. In my Life Group, we had the icebreaker question, "What's the best thing that's happened to you this week?" My answer was that people had started to comment on my blog. Which was my not-so-subtle way of telling them I have a blog.
The trouble with telling people you have a blog is that they want to know the URL, and next thing you know they're reading it and telling you they like it. Ack! The horror!

But seriously, there's a little thing called "fear of success" that I think I suffer from. In my case, fear of success means that if I have a success, then people may expect even more from me--and what if I can't achieve more? But good grief. It's just a blog.

I'm still working. I'm very grateful to still be getting a paycheck. But what's happening is, all but 22 people were laid off because we stopped flying. Those of us who remain are just keeping the company on life support while other companies attempt to buy it.

There were several things that had to be taken care of right away, but since then it's mostly been cleaning up, tidying up, going through storage to see what's obsolete and can be discarded... ugh. But what's enervating about it is the feeling of being in limbo. The Twilight Zone, a ghost town, the Hotel California. We feel lucky and unsettled at the same time.

We should have a closing soon, though. Then things will settle down.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The cat who does not walk by herself

Our cat Red has become the talk of the neighborhood—she's the cat who goes for walks along with the family dog. People are always asking me, "Is that your cat?" and, "How did you get her to do that?" The answers are "Yes," and, "I didn't—it was her idea."

Princess Red is our newest cat, but not our youngest. She used to belong to our neighbors, who got her from a shelter. When they moved to an apartment that didn't take cats (or so they said), they asked if we would take her. After all, we already had three cats; obviously we were cat lovers.
Four cats seemed like verging on crazy-cat-lady territory... but we hated the thought of her going back to a shelter. And that was right when the economy had hit a point where there were news stories of shelters being overrun with pets from people who'd lost their homes to foreclosure. So we accepted her.
The neighbors had complained that she would "get in your face." Well, she does—but only when she wants some petting. If I'm sitting in the recliner, she'll climb up onto my chest—yes, her face in my face—and purr and purr and insist on being petted. However, if I give her what she wants, after a few minutes she's contented and jumps down. She just knows how to ask for what she needs.
I know she's had at least two owners before us... possibly as many as four. She was six years old when she came to us. She's had several names too. The neighbors called her "Lady," which was appropriate, but my husband didn't like it and came up with "Red." I'm the one who added the honorific "Princess."
Soon after we took her in, she started following me and the dog, Butch, when we left for our walks. At first she didn't follow very far. The neighbors had kept her inside, so she didn't know the neighborhood. But I thought it was cute, so I would encourage her and call her and slow down the dog as far as I could coax her along.
Gradually, she followed us farther and farther. Sometimes she fell behind early, if something scared her—a dog, children, lawn equipment—but one day she followed us on our entire walk. And soon after that it was so routine for her that she was waiting at the front door for me to get home from work. Walk time!
Like everyone else, I wonder why she does it. Sometimes it's a real workout for her—her legs are so much shorter than mine and even the dog's. Cars and kids and dogs frighten her along the way. But still she persists.
Naturally I've gone pop-psych and speculated that she has abandonment issues and doesn't want to be left behind. She cried so piteously the first time I took her to the vet, I was sure she thought I was returning her to the shelter. Especially when she didn't cry at all on the drive home.
But maybe that's anthropomorphizing. You would think she'd have gotten over it by now, more than two years after we took her in. And that wouldn't explain her clearly anticipating the walk when I get home from work.
Red is at least part Maine Coon, the first cat I've ever had that wasn't a domestic shorthair. I've read that they're more sociable than the average cat. Maybe that's part of ittoo muchshe wants to be included in the fun.
A vet once told me that there as many cat personalities as people personalities. All I know for sure is, Red just wants to go. She'll fall behind, but then she'll run to catch up, darting under the dog's leash and letting her tail brush it as if it's a finish line tape, and then she'll roll on the sidewalk for a tummy rub.
I guess she just got the cat personality that likes to go for walks. Maybe that's all the "why" I should ask for.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


A week ago Tuesday I was RAPT for the first time.

Someone I don't even know gave me a knitting pattern electronically via the Ravelry pattern store. She had read one of my posts about losing my job, and wanted to help make my week better. I love that!!

RAPT stands for "Random Act of Pattern Tuesday," a takeoff on the phrase "random act of kindness." A Ravelry user chooses another Ravelry user, scrolls through their pattern wish list, and purchases one for them.

The consensus is that this idea originated with late blogger and designer Karrie Steinmetz, aka KnitPurlGurl. [This link may fail... there's no telling how long her family will leave the blog up.] Since her unexpected death last November, her readers and fans have been perpetuating the practice in her honor.

So what was I given? The pattern for the beekeeper's quilt by tiny owl knits. Isn't it cute? It's very popular on Ravelry because the work is portable until assembly, and you can make all the "hexipuffs" out of bits and bobs of yarn—ideal for me, since I can get started with leftover yarns I have stored away. (Yarn is NOT in my budget while I'm unemployed!)

Here's my very first hexipuff. I made it with yarn left over from a hat I made for my sister. I actually dyed this yarn, and it was my first dyeing project as well. I have plenty left over from the hat.

I confess, when I first heard of Random Acts of Patterns, I thought it was cute, but on the other hand I was a little cynical. OK, I had a bitter thought: "No one's ever given ME a pattern." Yeah, I'm selfish like that.
Well, now they have, and now I sort of get it.
Maybe when I find a new job, one of the things I'll do to celebrate is send someone a pattern.

Monday, January 14, 2013


I lost my job Friday, January 11, when my employer abruptly went out of business.

Now it's Sunday evening*, and I think it's just started to hit me in the last few hours. I feel heavy, like the Earth's gravity suddenly doubled.

To add insult to injury, I still have to go in to the office tomorrow... a handful of us were tapped to box up files and whatnot. I'd rather cocoon for a day or two. Or on a practical level, get busy searching for a new job. (Not to say I haven't paged through job listings already...)

The usual self-recriminations. The writing's been on the wall; my husband's been bugging me to look for a different job for two years. I thought about it; I did update my resume.

Also, I started this blog, though not quite knowing what for. Because way down deep, I truly would love to build some kind of creative enterprise. Like, say, Heather Ordover of the CraftLit podcast.

I had actually almost forgotten that, I'd stuffed it down so far. But I heard about Seth Godin's new book The Icarus Deception and checked out the audiobook version from my library. I haven't even finished chapter 1 yet, but it reminded me.

And yet.

My husband is on disability. He's trying to start a business, but even once he gets it going he will only be able to work at it part time. We can't get by long without me having a solid income.

It was when I realized he couldn't support us that I started stuffing my desire for something other than the 8-5 grind. His medical issues have required good insurance, and I've developed a couple medical issues of my own over the years.

That said, I'm not sure Godin is saying you have to be self-employed to live the way he's advocating. I hope he will get into how to live creatively in the context of a J.O.B.

And then? how about another curve ball?

I remembered during church today something I heard on the Joni and Friends podcast recently. She interviewed Steve Saint, a missionary who has suffered a spinal cord injury. He said,
...We have to decide in life whether we’re going to write the story, or whether we’re going to let God write the story. And, I decided a long time ago that I’m going to let God write the story. It’s in the tough times that we really have to decide, okay, am I really going to trust God to write my story?
THAT is what I need to do. That's not really a curve ball—that's a relief. Of course I will apply for jobs and do all the other things needful in this situation. But I'll try to remember to do them prayerfully, remembering He's going to give me my daily bread... and He's going to write my story.

*I wrote this on Sunday evening, but didn't post until Monday.