Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Did You Miss Me?

Whew! How long has it been since my last blog entry? Too long! Here's the entries I should have posted during the lovely month of March.

March 29

The Baby Blanket, Finished!  Posted by Hello

Sarah, you can go ahead and give birth because I've finished your baby blanket! We're expecting the newest PrairieTide fan to maker a grand entry into the world any day now.

This blanket seemed to take forever, and all along the way I fretted about the colors and whether the final product would look neat and tidy. Would it be gift-worthy? The small blocks seemed to contribute to my natural tendency towards procrastination. In the evening when I do my knitting, after I finished one block, I found myself putting down my knitting instead of hunkering down and picking up stitches to start another color block. One block a night makes for some pretty slow going.

Saturday night, I set a determined pace and completed the last five blocks in one sitting. Of course, with the knitting cast off, there are still all those yarn ends to sew in! On March 29, Randy and I attended a lecture at the community college where I worked on JRR Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. As the scholars pontificated about what exactly the "One Ring" represents ("It's a website!" said one of the speakers), I kept my darning needle moving. There was a lively debate about whether the Peter Jackson movies really captured the soul of the books, and one scholar mentioned that at one point the Beatles wanted to make a film version, with John as Gandolf and Ringo as Samwise. Fighting the long defeat, indeed!

By the time the book signing began at the end of the lecture, I had a finished blanket spread out on my lap. I must admit I was pleased at the sight.-

March 21
It's time for a book report! My college bookstore is eliminating it's collection of popular fiction and non-fiction (they'll still be selling textbooks, of course). The future prospect of a book-free bookstore strikes me as very sad, but on the upside, they had a 50%-Off Sale to move out the last of their inventory. A 50%-Off Sale! I was in book-lover heaven.

One book that I found at the sale was one I never would have bought if it hadn't been a fabulous bargain. The Best American Science Writing 2004 is a collection of articles with a scientific bent. There are tons of these annual collections, best non-fiction articles, best poems, even best travel writing, and I browse through them now and then. What surprised me the most about the collection of science articles was how very readable they were.

I half-suspected the book would be full of technical language, obscure abbreviations, and textbook-dull writing. Instead, the articles were very lively. Most seemed to focus on the personality and quirks of a scientist doing some fascinating work. There was an article about a woman physics professor from Columbia University who does experimental research with Fermilab. Another article was about a biology professor who drives out into the desert with a refrigerated truck to collect pond samples. It reminded me of the time I spent as an undergrad working as "reader" for a bio professor. Biology professors always have the coolest labs--what with the fish tanks and the plants and all. The quirky characters, mixed with the exploration of new research, made this book a great read.

March 18

They're Alive! Posted by Hello

Things I've Learned from Starting Plants from Seed:

1. Some plants (like cosmos) get really tall really fast, while others stay short and squat (like petunias). With this in mind, it is best to plant similar-sized plants together in the same seed tray.

2. The plants like to have the light an inch overhead. This seemed too dangerously close at first. I set the light about four inches above my plants, and they just sat bleak and pathetic, not growing a bit. With the lights closer overhead, they make more progress. Of course, having the light the right height is made more difficult when you have cosmos and petunias growing together in the same tray (see #1 above).

3. Watering the correct amount is hard. I still don't have this down. Either I'm watering too much and the seed trays start to grow a little mold, or I'm watering too little and the plants are sagging and shriveled. Figuring out how to get the water level "just right" is still a mystery.

4. The seed germination rates are much better when the seeds are started on a heating mat. I guess the seeds like to be warm and cosy before they wake up and greet the world. I have one seed tray heating mat, which cost a ridiculous amount so I won't be buying another. Back when I started my first seeds this year, I began six trays of seeds all at once. This meant I kept rotating the trays of seeds so they could sit briefly on the heating pad. The seed trays that had their turn on the heating pad first germinated the best. The seed trays that didn't make it to the heating pad until a week after they were planted had spotty germination, at best.

5. When I began this experiment, I started up a whole tray of tomato seeds, thinking that maybe one or two might make it long enough that I could transplant them outside. Now it occurs to me that the fate of all the plants in the entire seed tray are linked. It's like the tray itself provides the cosmic connection between the little guys. If one tray is thirsty, all the plants go limp. If another tray gets too much to drink, white fluffy stuff poofs out of the soil. Either they all make it, or they all bite the big one. I suppose there is a "life lesson" to be learned here.

March 14

Feeding the Fish in Missouri. Posted by Hello

During my birthday weekend (happy 34th birthday to me!), I visited my sister Anna in Missouri. Her little boy Juddah is adorable and fun. During our visit, we hiked around a state park, ate homemade sweetrolls, and visited her new home nestled into what is known as a hollow, or "howler" as it is prounded in the local dialect. We had a terrific visit, and now I'm eager to head back down for another "Tour of the South."
Sunday, March 06, 2005

We're Halfway there! When it's finished, the purple square towards the top of the frame will be in the center. Posted by Hello
Almost A Blanket

Mary recently asked me how many knitting needles I have. My needle collection really jumped up a notch last year. Randy gave me a set of Denise Needles as a Christmas present (he is so good a picking up hints!). The Denise needles have interchangeable tips, and the plastic needles are quite comfortable to use. These days, I use the Denise needles more than any other.

Denise Needles in a Tidy Case. Posted by Hello

Besides the Denise Needles, I have oodles of others that I picked up while working on one project or another over the years. I have lots of different brands in about the full range of sizes. Most projects seem to demand just the right size of needle, so it did not take long to amass this collection. My other favorite sets are the Clover bamboo needles. Bamboo is very comfortable to knit with, and because the bamboo has a bit of grab to it, stitches are less likely to fall off the needles. When I was teaching basic knitting classes, I liked having the students start with Clover bamboo needles because they had fewer "Dropped Stitch Catastrophies."

Double-point needles in a knitted holder. Posted by Hello

These days, I do find the bamboo needles are a little slower to use than the metal needles. I have some of the Addi Turbo needles, that are considered "speed needles." I don't think my needles ever move at turbo-warp speeds, but the stitches do move along across these needles faster.

The only type of knitting needles that I really don't like are the Susan Bates needles you find at every WalMart. These needles can be very poorly made. One evening, I needed a pair of #8 double-point needles to finish a project. My local knit shops were closed, so what's a girl to do but stop by the local Michaels to see what they have to offer. I was surprised to see the double points in their collection, so I bought them. The needles were a cheap kind of plastic with uncomfortable seams up two sides of the needle. And from what I can tell, a metal rod was imbedded in the plastic to give the needles a little more heft. The metal rod jiggled around with each motion of my wrists--something I found very distracting. As soon as I could, I replaced them with a set of Clovers.

Blob of Circular Needles. It's Alive! Posted by Hello


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