Monday, August 31, 2009

What Will It Take

Conservative blowhards are still continuing to find fault in everything the U.S. President is doing, despite the fact he seems to have been doing a MUCH better job than his predecessor.

The Berating Just Keeps Coming
Do you think conservatives will ever take a step back, do a pragmatic comparison of this president's accomplishments and admit perhaps he's not been a terrible blight on this county up until now? My favorite laughable complaint I've heard from Republican senators is how programs like the "cash for clunkers" program will grow the economy on the backs of our children and grandchildren by leaving them an outrageous national debt. I hate to tell them, but their beloved Iraq war already had us in debt up to our the car industry, getting higher-polluting cars off the road and stimulating the economy might be something we'd really prefer to spend our money on...rather than trying to impose democracy in a place where we have no business being.

Will conservatives continue to focus all their efforts on looking for any possible reason for criticizing him?

At first, the new president had no "executive" experience (unlike the vast executive experience of the former Governor of Alaska) and would turn the country into a shambles while he learned on the job. That didn't happen

Then, the country was doomed because Obama and Pelosi would unleash their radical liberal agenda. That didn't happen.

Then, the terrorists were going to take advantage of a weak, inexperienced president. That didn't happen.

Then the entire economy was going to go in the toilet. That didn't happen. In fact, quite the opposite, the economy seems to have rebounded quite a bit.

I understand that the publicity whores like Hannity, Limbaugh and Coulter earn their bread and butter by coming up with these dire threats to our very democratic existence, but where are the level-headed conservatives who REALLY would like to see our country thrive? Are they all so desperately attached to the moniker of conservatism, that they'd prefer to see this president fail, just so they could get another of their guys in the White House?

Please, don't cut off our collective nose, just to spite our face, and maybe...just maybe, cut this president a little slack?

Current Knitting
I was able to finish the handspun pullover vest this past weekend.

I added a relatively simple collar (although it took two attempts) and I did an even simpler edging on the armholes.

Overall, I'm very pleased with how this came out. I was hoping that the yarn would have bloomed a bit more when I washed the garment, but it's a minor complaint compared to how nice the vest feels to wear.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Janet in Dublin writes, "Hi Joe - am curious about the Knitting Retreat in Seattle. Whereabouts is it going to be? I'll be moving to Ballard in October - too late for the retreat - and besides I'm a grandmother. Would like to meet some fellow knitters. Maybe you could have a unisex retreat."

The retreat is this coming Thursday through Sunday (I'll be flying out Thursday morning). I can't imagine I would ever attempt to compete with all the other unisex knitting retreats that already exist. Meg Swanson's Knitting Camp, or even the most recent huge Sock Summit that took place in Portland, Oregon do knitting retreats far better than I ever could. I'll let them do the unisex events and stick to my little niche in the knitting world.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Men's Knitting Retreats

It's been very satisfying to have helped start something that brought together communities of amazing guys.

Multiple Events
Ted came up with the initial idea of men knitting in the woods and ignited a mini-torrent of unleashed desire for community among male knitters.

We have already had two successful East Coast men's knitting retreats, and I just scheduled the third one for May of 2010 (from Thursday, May 20th to Sunday May 23rd), although registration isn't opened yet (we'll open it up in December).

WonderMike and Brian have organized two retreats now on the West Coast...the first one took place last year and the second one will be next weekend in Seattle. I'm flying out Thursday morning to finally get to meet and personally thank Mike and Brian for all their good work.

There was even a small men's knitting retreat in Australia a couple of months back.

Now Todd and Bill have created a Midwest event the weekend of November 13-15 near Chicago.

As my personal excitement grows about attending next week's event, it struck me how this idea was clearly "an idea whose time had come." While any of the event coordinators will tell you that it's a lot of work pulling one of these events together, they will also tell you that it's the guys who attend that make the events such a great time, and coming together to form this community is done effortlessly once the space for it has been created.

By simply identifying a community and offering them the opportunity to get together, the concept of Men's Knitting Retreats has really flourished. I couldn't be happier to have been a part of it.

Current Knitting
I finished knitting up the body of the handspun vest, and sewed up the side seams and the shoulders (actually, I did a three-needle bind-off on the shoulders).

The picture is a BlackBerry picture, so it doesn't show the details all that well, but it does PROVE that I finished the body of the garment. I ended up having to use some of the third hank of handspun yarn, and the color difference doesn't stick out in any offensive way given the tweediness and color gradations of the yarn/fabric. I'm very glad.

Now I just need to put a collar and sleeve-hole edgings onto it, wash and block it.

I'm thrilled I'll be able to show it off at the West Coast men's knitting retreat next week!

Readers' Comments/Questions
John asks, "What size needles are you using on the vest?"

I used US3 (3.25 mm) needles for the ribbing and I doubled the yarn in the ribbing, US4 (3.5 mm) needles for the body of the sweater. I'm thinking about using US2 needles and single strands of the dark handspun for the collar and sleeve-hole edgings.

Lillian asks, "Have you read the The Myth of the Paperless Office
book by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper? Interesting discussion about the need of paper for some jobs, especially information-based job. It also puts out the idea that some tasks are better handled physically with paper rather than online."

No, but it looks quite interesting...I think it's funny that the book is available both digitally and on Amazon's Kindle Amazon trying to disprove the myth? I have to say that there are some things where I find paper to be just a lot easier to work with...not sure if it's just my dislike of change or whether it is just easier.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Happened to a "Paperless Work Environment"?

Remember decades ago, when you were told that systems would be put in place which would completely eliminated the need to ever touch another piece of paper?

Imaging My Ass
And I don't mean on the copier machine at the annual holiday party.

Years ago, when "imaging" or scanning documents and storing them electronically was first widely publicized, companies all over the globe dreamed of the day where all documents would be viewed on a computer screen and forwarded at lightning speed to any destination an e-mail address would forward it.

Fat file folders of data would be sent off to a humidity-proof caverns deep under a mountain in Utah, never to be needed again unless magically called back for some legal case requiring a copy of the original.

I guess this vision has taken place in some ways. I like the fact that my monthly bank statements include imaged copies of processed checks instead of the actual canceled check. I like that my companies system for processing expense accounts allows me to fax them my receipts, and they get attached to an electronic expense account as an image. I like the fact that I can submit some of my tax returns electronically and "sign" them without the use of pen and paper.

But compared to the vision of a completely paperless environment, these little advances in imaging are woefully small.

It makes me think that most companies completely underestimated the complexity and/or cost of converting over to a "paperless" environment, and decided it wasn't worth it after all.

Current Knitting (and spinning)
I had run out of the bonus balls of black/lavender mohair blend from Mindy, but still had singles left of Carol's corriedale/cormo blend, so I broke into the black/green mohair blend roving from Mindy, so I could make enough yarn to finish the vest.

There was a lot less black in this fiber, so I'm hoping the lace-thin singles won't have that much impact on the resulting yarn...or at least not enough to be noticeable in the knitted garment.

Here is the plied yarn.

This is the third hank of yarn for the vest...I'm hoping I won't need to use too much of this third hank, since it does seem a bit brighter than the first two.

I started on the front of the vest (deciding to make a pullover instead of a button-up) and made quite a bit of progress.

I'm loving how fast this vest is knitting up...hopefully it won't be too warm to wear at Rhinebeck!

Monday, August 24, 2009


In a world where social networking is playing an ever-increasing role, is there any mystery anymore about us?

My Mother Just Joined Facebook
Years ago, a seminar leader was discussing how we use masks in our lives, varying the picture of how specific groups of people see you. Most folks have a different social mask for their spouse/partner, their friends, their boss, their pastor/priest/rabbi/mullah, their family, etc. The seminar leader suggested trying to imagine all those groups of people in one room and how you would present yourself.

Having had an on-line presence for a while now, I'm no stranger to figuring out exactly which aspects of my life are public, and which are private, but it's very interesting to see how the younger folks are navigating these waters now that many of their daily relationships with folks are melding into the worlds of FaceBook and twitter.

Not sure how long it's been around, but someone even claimed the domain name "".

Yes, there is such a thing as too much openness.

Current Knitting
I finished the back of the handspun pullover, and I'm quite pleased with how it's looking so far.

Clicking/expanding this photo will definitely show off the colors in this sweater.

Thanks to Carol and Mindy, the colors of the vest are deep and rich, and I'm very glad to have found a way to keep long stretches of color in my singles in tact when the final yarn is plied.

I considered making this in the round with steeks, but I'm glad I didn't, since the striping wouldn't have been as nice. Even though the back and the front stripes won't match, I still think the vest will look better this way.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Mindy (of Puff The Magic Rabbit and magnificent mohair fame) writes, "Love how the vest is looking! What are the chances you might wear it to Rhinebeck- I might faint if I were able to see it in person..."

You definitely are not allowed to faint, but I will definitely have finished the garment by then, and I will most definitely plan on being there on Saturday. As to whether I wear it there or not, will be based on the weather.

You should also check out Mindy's moving blog entry about her older brother and make a contribution to her AIDS walk fund.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Better Than Google

You know that one of my pet peeves is when folks ask a large forum a question when it would be a LOT easier to just google it first.

Knitting Fonts
You know that I did a google search on knitting fonts before throwing that question out in my last blog entry.

I have to say, that the two suggestions that readers made were far better than what google and David Xenakis had to offer.

The font from Aire River Designs is a great option. It was easy to download and it has clear, sharp graphics for most every knitting symbol I could ever use.

I also got a font sent to me, designed by Susan (Fleegle on Ravelry) specifically for lace knitting symbols which is better organized (at least in my way of thinking) than the Aire River font but doesn't concern itself with some of the cabling symbols (which Aire River does extremely well).

With the two of them, I can assuredly get everything I need without the XRX one.

Thanks to all who suggested solutions.

Current Spinning and Knitting
I finished spinning up the bonus ball of Mindy's lovely mohair and plied it up with more of Carol's cormo/corriedale singles.

It came out just as beautifully as the first pairing of these two singles.

Since the Mini Mochi scarf came out so nicely, I decided I needed to immediately start a new project using this new yarn, and I was thinking that if I used a nice contrasting color yarn for the ribbing and the collar, I could probably get away with a man's vest. So I looked around and found the superwash merino handspun that I made from Franklin's delightful gift from Lorna's Laces

So I cast on, finished the ribbing and now I've gotten about 8 inches of the back of a pullover vest completed already.

Sorry about the's from the BlackBerry, but I'll get a better one when I get home.

Suffice it to say, I'm very happy with how this is looking so far.

Readers' Comments/Questions
VJ asks, "Is there or will there be in a near future a recipe for that whole pie, crust and filling and all?"

I can tell you how I've seen Thaddeus make his dough, but I've never seen him make the filling.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted margarine
1 stick unsalted butter
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine the flour and the salt. Blend in the stick of margarine. Then pulse in the stick of butter so it's mixed coarsely into the dough. Dump the mixture into bowl and add as little ice water as it takes to just get the dough to start coming together...ball it all up and cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or more.

As for the filling, you're on your own, although I think it was a 50/50 mix of fresh sliced peaches and fresh sliced nectarines and I think it had a little corn starch in it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Knitting Symbol Font

David Xenakis of XRX publications has published a downloadable font for knitters, but I personally think it sucks.

Isn't There a Better One Somewhere?
the Xenakis font isn't scaleable, is missing numerous symbols (for instance, it has an SSK symbol, but no symbol of K2Tog...well...there is one that LOOKS like it should be K2Tog, but it's not the standard symbol in my mind). He also puts squares around some (but not all) of his symbols, so that it works okay in a Word document, but not in an Excel spreadsheet.

I downloaded a font editor, and I'm going through the process of trying to make his font more workable for me, as I'm trying to type up the pattern for my scarf, and I'd prefer to put both written instructions and graphic instructions.

We'll see how that goes.

Current Knitting
I finished the Mini Mochi scarf, and I've heard recently that Mini Mochi is selling a viral pace...Crystal Palace's first order of the yarn sold out very quickly, I wonder how fast this one will become scarce.

Here's a bunch of different pictures of the scarf...I'd like to include one or two pictures of the scarf in the pattern...I'd be interested to read what you think would be the best pictures to include.

Latest Purchases
I got some lovely roving as part of the Fiber Club at Black Bunny Fibers. This installment is a densely soft Tunis yarn in deep dark blues.

Plus, you get a bonus picture of Nico making himself comfortable.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Regarding Thaddeus' pie crust ingredients, Carol (of the back-wood coal country) asks, "No lard???"

Actually, Thaddeus looked into making crusts with lard, but pastry requires a very finely rendered lard called "leaf lard" which is very difficult to find. He even looked around our local Amish/Mennonite markets to see if he could get it there and couldn't.

Also regarding the peach/nectarine pie, Lorelei asks, "What about the filling?"

Not really sure on this one...obviously, he uses peaches and nectarines...I know he favors white peaches for pie and he doesn't cook his peach filling before baking (he does pre-cook sour cherry filling) and I think he uses some corn starch, but I'm not sure and if he does, how much.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cutting Corners

For as long as I can remember, I have always been predisposed to taking the easy way.

Lazy? Probably.
When things get tough, I honestly almost always look for the way out that is easiest, even if I know there might be consequences down the road for that decision.

I'm fortunate in that most of the folks I surround myself with both personally and professionally, don't let me make those risky choices, but I still must admit, it is always my first impulse to take the easy road.

So if I'm knitting a complex piece and I make an error that can be fudged on the next row, with little chance of the error being seen, I know I really should go back and fix the error, but almost always, I'll do the quick fix if I can figure one out, even though that means the final piece will have numerous mistakes.

My one saving grace has been the ability to recover quickly from the outcome of a bad choice. So if something goes wrong with a system implementation at work, fer instance because of a short-cut that didn't end up shortening anything, I can usually quickly get things fixed up in a way where deadlines are met and the system works as expected.

Current Knitting
I've done quite a bit more on the scarf, but I'm hoping that the next "progress" picture I show will be the final scarf in all it's glory.

Current Spinning
I did also start spinning the second bonus ball of mohair (Sirius's wonderful fiber) and Border Leicester from Mindy (Puff The Magic Rabbit) that I will use to finish plying the Corriedale/Cormo blend of singles I did from Black Bunny Fiber roving.

It isn't much yet, but it is being spun a bit finer than the first bonus ball, so I'm hoping to stretch it as much as possible.

New Yarn Store in New York State
Van, one of the delightful guys that has attended both East Coast Men's Knitting Retreats, has opened Mountain Bear Crafts, a new center of hand-crafting and
creativity in Sullivan County, New York.

The store carries a variety of yarns, knitting needles, crochet hooks, accessories,
gifts, kids' craft supplies and seasonal items. He also does wonderful custom machine embroidery.

Here are the store particulars for those in the area:

Mountain Bear Crafts
8 Pearl Street
Livingston Manor, NY 12758
(845) 439-8050

web address:

Please say hi for me if you get the chance to check out the new store.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Concerning Thaddeus' pie-baking, Tim (teejtc) asks, "Is Thaddeus willing to share some of his secrets publicly? Recipe?"

Actually, I know his "recipe" and I've watched him make his crust and pie, but I honestly couldn't come close to making the same pie he really does take a practiced hand. I can tell you that for the fat in his crust, he uses half unsalted butter and half unsalted margarine. I think the margarine he cuts into the flour with a food processor very finely, but the butter he cuts in coarsely. He refrigerates his dough before rolling it out, and when he does, you can see the butter marbled through the rolled out dough.

Does that help, or just make you more hungry?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Fruit

No...not me!! I'm talking about peaches and nectarines and plums, etc..

Thaddeus Having His Way With Fruit
When Thaddeus puts his mind to it, he is unstoppable in attaining a goal.

Years ago, he decided to teach himself how to bake the most perfect pie, and he has truly accomplished it.

While he's known in these parts for the lightest, flakiest, most delectable cherry pie on the planet, lately, he has been making a pie that most who get the chance to taste it agree, is better than his cherry pie.

This is his peach/nectarine pie. I can't begin to tell you how amazing this pie is. The crust is thin, light, flaky...and it has the most perfect texture for biting into, and then melts on the tongue. The filling is nothing short of ambrosia.

As if his handsome looks weren't enough!

Current Knitting
I finally finished up the second ball of Mini-Mochi, and started on the third. I may decide to only use three balls, but I won't be able to decide this until I get to the end of the third ball, and try on the scarf.

My understanding is that this yarn flew off the shelves like wild fire at Sock Summit 2009. The colorways are gorgeous, but when folks actually get to touch and fondle this yarn in person, they almost always have to get some of it for themselves.

New Yarn
Susan (Fleegle) on Ravelry placed an order for "Gossamer Lace" yarn from a manufacturer in China, and offered to take orders for huge kilo cones of the stuff from anyone that wanted to get some as well. I ordered two kilos/cones and the stuff is amazing. It's a blend of merino, silk and cashmere and gossamer is a perfect description for it.

I'm thinking it will make a perfect yarn for some of the Estonian Lace patterns in the new book I mentioned in my last post.

Readers' Comments/Questions
Tom and Ted both wanted to know how much the Estonian book cost.

I answered the question in comments on the last post, but I'll put it here for ease of reference:

With shipping and handling, the book cost 505.00 Estonian Kroon and at an exchange rate of 0.089306930 US dollars to one Kroon, plus a conversion charge by my credit card for US$1.35, it cost me a total of US$46.45.

Jenbob writes, "The scarf is looking lovely! Do you have a preferred stitch dictionary for patterns like this or do you use a combination of books?"

Yes, I always start with the Barbara Walker "Treasuries"...I usually end up finding something there, but I have a few others (mostly lace books) that I can look to for other inspiration as well.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Humanity Can Be So Fragile

Two articles came across my path (one on the radio) about health related issues, and when I put them together, it makes me realize how quickly we could have a Worldwide pandemic.

Plague and AIDS
The first radio "article" I heard was about an outbreak of pneumonic plague...have you ever heard of this? It's basically the same disease as the bubonic plague, except instead of being transferred via blood through fleas, it's transmitted through airborne agents when an infected person coughs. A small, very isolated town in China was quarantined recently due to an outbreak.

The second article I read in the newspaper was about a woman that moved from Cameroon to Paris who had an as-yet-unidentified strain of HIV...there are currently three known strains, and hers seems to be another mutation of the virus. As yet, she's asymptomatic, so the World Health Organization has no idea how far-spreading this strain might be, or what long-term effects it may have on health.

Coming across these to news pieces on the same day, led me to think about how quickly viruses could potentially mutate, and eventually, a virus will change into something that is both lethal and will spread so quickly that it won't be able to be contained. I guess certain viruses like Ebola are already like that, but they seem to run so quickly through a population of people that they typically extinguish themselves.

I'm still going to jump every time I hear someone cough or sneeze in public for at least a little while.

Current Knitting
I've made some additional progress on the MiniMochi scarf, and I'm thinking that Thaddeus will be stealing this scarf the minute it gets cold enough to wear it.

Sorry for the less-than-clear picture of's from the BlackBerry, but it does show the texture of the stitch pattern quite well and the colors are quite accurate. This is about 28 inches of scarf in case you're keeping track.

New Book
Benne (Feathersong on Ravelry) let me know about a new Estonian lace book that was available only by ordering from overseas sources (overseas from the U.S. for you non-U.S. readers). I ordered my copy from Estonia high school Estonian paid off on this one...and while it took a little while to arrive, it was well worth the wait.

The book is mostly a stitch pattern book (at least the parts I can understand) and it is clear and the graphics/symbol translations are in both Estonian and English. I am very excited to start some new design using some of the stitch patterns, but I'm forcing myself to finish the MiniMochi scarf first.

From what Benne has told me, the book has sold out its first printing and there's a waiting list to order more. I ordered mine from here in case anyone wants to check it out (and reads Estonian...actually there's a little "ENG" link in the upper right-hand corner of this web page for those that struggle with the Estonian language).

Readers' Comments/Questions
Thanks everyone for all the feedback on the health care reform initiatives in congress.

Thanks for anyone that sent e-mail, letters or called their senators or representatives. Mine went in the mail on Monday and I'll follow up with an e-mail or three.

Thanks everyone for their personal stories on health care.

Thanks everyone for additional arguments in favor of a strong, not-watered-down measure from congress.

Thanks for those with other opinions. I was glad to show both the idiocy of some peoples' beliefs (Holly...her comments reminded me of that woman at a McCain rally who told McCain that Obama was a Muslim) and I was very glad to read Shelly's comments. Shelly's comments reminded me of the impact any initiative could potentially have on the medical profession and the folks that work in the for-profit insurance industry. It was very nice to read a sane argument about this from a health professional's standpoint.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Asking Again

I'm asking all U.S. readers to please send a letter to their Senators or Representatives...I don't do it often, but I feel this is very important to the welfare of our country.

Health Care
Despite what doctors, hospitals and insurance companies will tell you, our current methods of providing (or denying) healthcare to citizens is insufficient and unsustainable.

If you're lucky enough to have medical insurance, try doing something...find out how much you pay for a year of medical insurance. Add to that the cost of your family deductible or at least try to estimate how much you'll have to pay this year in addition to the premium to keep your family healthy. For me, that's about $3500 to $4000 a year to cover Thaddeus and I.

Now consider how much of that goes towards bonuses for the CEO's at CIGNA, Prudential, Aetna, Kaiser, etc.

Having profit-driven companies adjudicating medical claims for the people in this country is insane. It basically means that the more they deny in claims, the more successful they are as a company...and I'm sure you have experienced more and more of this in the past couple of years. I'm convinced that my medical insurance often denies every claim I submit the first time, and only pays them when I make complaints.

We need a better health-care system in this country.

Here are some typical arguments for keeping our current system in place:

1. We don't want government bureaucrats making decisions about our health care.

You currently have profit-driven companies making those same that better? They succeed by denying your claims or paying a fraction of the cost of your medical services.

2. Other countries with universal insurance deny or delay health services on a regular basis.

First of all, so do our insurance companies. How many times have you needed pre-approval for a procedure? Referrals from your primary care provider? Denials for payment of drugs that aren't specifically made for a particular condition. Insurance companies and primary care physicians are rewarded for NOT approving specific procedures in today's profit-driven system.

Second of all, most folks in countries that do have some sort of socialized medicine will tell you that denials and delays aren't very common, and usually only for issues that can reasonably be delayed.

3. In a universal health care system, the government decides what a doctor can charge and they all make the same amount. There is no longer a reason for a doctor to strive to be the best because there is no reward for doing so.

This just isn't true. Successful doctors in countries with universal care are incented differently perhaps, but their profession is still quite lucrative. If the doctor is incented with keeping a patient healthy instead of charging them for expensive unnecessary procedures, both the patient and the doctor win.

4. The cost will be prohibitive.

The cost is already prohibitive and getting untenable. I can't imagine anyway this government would ever have the spine to put through a full revision to healthcare, but the closer we come to it, the sooner we'll start to get to a system that will be cost-effective and not growing exponentially.

5. The government can't do anything efficiently.

Ask the folks you know on Medicare which is run better...standard medical insurance or Medicare and most folks will agree that Medicare, even though it provides insurance to only folks over 65...typically needing more medical care than younger run incredibly efficiently.

Please don't fall for the rhetoric and lies about this issue. If you research any of them, you'll find they're typically just scare tactics to try and go after a gut fear in folks in this country.

Please send a quick letter to your senators and/or representative (here's how, if you don't know)...if you can't do that, call them (phone numbers are on the same web site. Let them know that providing medical coverage for all citizens is critical to you and ask them not to water down any proposals.

I want to make sure before they go back from recess, that they get to hear how important this issue is to their constituents...anything you can do would help.

Current Knitting
I got through the first ball of MiniMochi on my scarf, and I'm satisfied that I have enough of this colorway to make an acceptably long scarf.

This is about 19 inches of scarf, so I've still got quite a bit to do on it.

I also finished a square for a charity blanket for the Men's Fall Knitting Retreat in Seattle in a month ('s only a month away!).

I used sock yarns from James at J.O.Y. (btw, his yarns are still inexpensive, even with shipping based on New Zealand dollar exchange rates!), Unique Sheep (their colorways are amazing and made this square interesting) and Universal Yarns (love how the self-patterning showed up).

I hope to make at least one more 7" square to donate.