Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back...and Looking Forward

Every year, everyone does it: the politicians, the pundits, the media, and that tempts the rest of us (well, maybe not all of us) to do our own "year in review." As hackneyed and trite as it might seem, I find it to be a useful exercise. I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions, but looking at my successes and "not-quite-successes" helps me figure what to keep doing in the coming year and where I can improve.

  • Achieving my running goal (qualify for the Boston Marathon): I'm not sure why I succeeded; perhaps it was because I never let my training lag and during the race I was very focused.
  • Becoming more technically adept at work: A couple of large software projects gave me the opportunity to do a bit of testing again and made me realize that I hadn't lost my testing "chops."
  • Finishing the baby blanket...and knowing when it was done enough, even though I still had yarn left.
  • Getting through most of my Christmas holiday to-do list: I'm notoriously bad at making to-do lists and then ignoring them. I managed to focus and get through most of my tasks each day and by the time I go back to work, I should have completed the remaining chores on it.
  • Training a bit too hard and injuring my foot: I don't think it was the distance, but perhaps the speed and the road miles. I'll spend more time on trails this coming year.
  • Finishing only one knitting project: Due to my work schedule and the lack of time to do things at home, I didn't allow myself sufficient knitting time
  • Working long hours: Not much can be done about that and unfortunately, 2010 is probably going to be worse than 2009. Working at home one day a week will help, especially if I can plan it so it falls on the knitting group day.
  • Not holding up my end of house chores: See the previous item. The long hours, coupled with running long on weekends, led Tom to rightly declare "I do everything around here." I need to focus on better work/life balance.
  • Not spending enough time on the mat: Perhaps if I established a regular home yoga practice, my life will become a little more balanced. If I can keep myself from going back to bed after I feed the cats in the morning, I've got this one in the bag!

Knitting Progress

The spiral scarf should not have looked like a sock. I came to that conclusion the other day and ripped it all out. I had miscounted some rows early on and ended up with the increases on the inside edge of the scarf instead of the outside edge. It looks much better now and I think it is going to be a quick-ish knit. I don't think it will be done by the time I go back to work, but it might be close.

I've also been teaching a friend to knit, which has been a blast! She's picking it up quickly and is so enthusiastic. The last knitting lesson was teaching her the purl stitch, then putting the knit and purl stitches together for stockinette and a 4x4 rib, which is in preparation for knitting a hat. The next lesson will be about gauge, how to read a pattern, and coming up with the 4x4 rib hat design.

Room Progress

Alas, the painting has not commenced because Tom is still working on stabilizing the ceiling, but the plaster washer installation doesn't appear to be going well. Last night Tom said that maybe we should just gut the room, which while it would be nice, is not strictly necessary. I don't need the room to be perfect; I just need it to be comfortable. The remaining "public" rooms (the dining room and the library) are more important. Besides, I'm still scarred from the kitchen/bath renovation we did in 2002.

So that's it for this year. I wish you and your family a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2010.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

OMG...It's an FO!

Presenting perhaps the first and possibly the last finished object of 2009:

This is the baby blanket for my co-worker that I started back in April. Baby G. was born in May and I finally finished it in December. It's a very simple pattern, once the stitch pattern is established. I used my all-time favorite baby blanket yarn, Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece. It machine washes well and wears like iron. So why did it take so long? A distinct lack of knitting time. The blanket will be shipped off to Baby G. this week. I hope it becomes her favorite blanket to drag around.

Here's a closeup of the slip stitch pattern:

While I haven't exactly abandoned the garter stitch scarf, it is in time out and I suspect I'm going to have to rip it out and start over, due to what looks suspiciously like a change in gauge. See the lower part of the scarf and how it's nicely zigging and zagging, creating a subtle argyle pattern? And then see how the zigging and zagging just sort of falls apart? It's like it's almost zigging and zagging and then gets tired and just stripes. Even though it's pretty, it's not acceptable.

That left me without a new knitting project (let's not mention the UFOs; there is something wrong with all of them and it will take more brainpower than I'm willing to muster right now to figure out how to fix them). I could knit socks (I have two years of Rockin' Sock Club socks to knit), but I'm not quite ready. I thought about a sweater, but again, that seems too hard. I bought some yarn from Laura Bryant of Prism Yarns in October in a luscious silk/kid mohair blend (Indulgence, Embers colorway) with the intent of knitting up her spiral scarf pattern. It's garter stitch, with just enough short row shaping to keep it interesting. It doesn't look like much right now (it looks more like half a stocking than a scarf), but I think it's going to work out just fine:

I don't like mohair. It's too floaty and the fibers end up in my eyes or food, or mouth. Bleh. However, the silk single is wrapped with what looks like a two-ply binder thread. It doesn't seem to lose fibers, even while winding into a ball. I'm very pleased with it (even if it is a little splitty).

Christmas Vacation
I'm officially on holiday! The week is stretching out ahead of me and it looks like there will be plenty of time to do a lot of stuff. I know this is not true, however. And I hit the first stumbling block today.

The big plan for the week is redo my fiber room. That means painting (the room is still the same dingy white that it was when we bought the house 13 years ago), getting new shelving, lighting, and a comfortable chair (so I have a place to knit and listen to music without hearing the television). While it's tempting to plunge in and just get the furniture and deal with painting later, that's not the right way. The right way is to paint first. So today we went to Home Depot and I got some paint.

My plan (since I don't want to deal with moving out everything in the room) was to tackle one wall at a time, moving furniture as necessary. However, the ceiling also needs to be painted. And true be told, the ceiling plaster needs some serious stabilization. That kind of took the wind out of my sails, because theoretically, that needs to be done before anything else. And I don't know when Tom will be able to do that. I'm tempted to say forget the ceiling and I'll just paint it as is. But once again, that's not the right way. So I'm not sure what's going to happen there. I'm very afraid that I'm going to lose momentum and really, with a whole week off, I don't want to put this job off.

Bosco, however, is wondering why I'm all worried. He strongly suggested I follow his example:

Just find a spot in the sun and take a nap!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hemmed In

During sivasana at a recent yoga class, Barbara had us take a "mini-vacation" and visualize our favorite vacation spot and recall how we felt while we were there. I immediately went to the Caribbean and then out West, remembering the grandness and sense of space. Then I started thinking about how I feel while I'm on vacation and compared it to how I feel when I'm not (It was at this time that Barbara said "If you've left your mini-vacation, it's time to go back." Oops...). What I revel in, especially if our vacation includes being in the wilderness, is the sense of freedom, of openness. And it struck me that my day-to-day life makes me feel, well, hemmed in. I leave my house in the morning, get in my car, go to work, sit in my cube and conference rooms all day, get back in the car, drive home, eat dinner in the kitchen (or in front of the TV if Tom is watching something I want to watch), then go to bed. Repeat for five days.

The weekend routine is only slightly different. I don't go to work (usually), but the days are usually spent in the house, trying to get caught up on chores that I didn't do during the week. Sometimes I just spin my wheels and don't accomplish much. Hemmed in.

On vacation, however, and most notably when we took a road trip through New Mexico, Utah, and a tiny part of Colorado (and again in South Dakota when we were there for the Lean Horse Ultramarathon), that hemmed-in feeling disappears and I feel free. I can't quite figure out why. Is it because I have no responsibilities other than just being? Is it because I'm out in nature? Is it because I'm out West and the landscape is so vast and grand? Whatever it is, I would dearly love to feel like that in my non-vacation life.

And speaking of vacations, for the first time since I've been out of school (I won't mention how many decades that's been), I'm going to take both Christmas Eve and the week after Christmas off! Usually the companies that I've worked for schedule a major software release in January, and given that most software development efforts involve the code being delivered to the testers several weeks late (without the release date slipping), I've worked long hours over the holidays. Not so with my current company; the last release of the year was delivered this week. So I'll be free! I've already started a to-do list that includes fun things and chores. Maybe I'll pull out some UFOs and finish them. Maybe I'll pull out the spinning wheel and finish some spinning. I want to paint and re-do my fiber room. I want to cook up a bunch of gluten-free food to take to work for lunch. I'll be teaching a friend to knit (we had the first lesson yesterday). How much do you want to bet that I won't get any of it done (other than teaching the friend to knit)?

Breaking Weather
It's snowing!! Now, for those of you in the more northern climes, I'm sure you're groaning at the thought of snow. However, in Virginia, and particularly in the Washington, DC area, a good snowfall is rare. The last several winters have seen a couple of snowfalls that were only a couple of inches. Pitiful. Shameful, actually. However, the National Weather Service is predicting a "significant" snowfall and they've been upping the accumulation estimates all day. Now, they are saying that we'll have 5-9 inches over night (up from 1-3), 8-12 inches on Saturday (up from 7-11) and another 2-4 inches Saturday night. I'm pretty sure that the higher accumulations will be in the mountains, but a minimum of 14 inches is pretty good. I'd like to see the maximum, of course, but I'll take what I can get.

It was difficult to concentrate at work today because of the predicted snowstorm. I swear, I'm worse than a child. While I don't like driving in the snow (the drivers around here are pitiful, either going too fast because they have four-wheel drive or too slow because they don't), I love shoveling snow. I know, it's kind of weird. But there's something satisying about clearing snow. You can actually see the results (the results in my job are somewhat intangible).

And then there's the hush that falls when it snows. All the sounds are dampened, muffled, almost reverential. It's the same on Christmas Eve, when everything seems to be hushed in expectation of the birth of Jesus (or the visitation of Santa, depending on your beliefs). It's mystical.

I absolutely love it.

Knitting Progress
After many months (eight months, to be exact), the baby blanket is off the needles, the ends woven in, and washed and blocked. I'm pleased with the way it turned out, even though I see the mistakes in it (I slipped yif once instead of yib, and left out a row in one pattern repeat, but I at least I was consistent). The hand of the fabric is nice, somewhat heavy, but fluid. And even though I was using magenta and lime green yarns, the magenta did not bleed into the green when I washed it. What a relief! I'll post a picture later this weekend then I'll send it off to the happy family.

I'm working on the garter stitch scarf (I'll post a picture of that, too), but I'm not sure about how the dye pattern is working out. I raveled back to where I untied the knot, retied it, and everything was going along well for a while, but now there are stripes where there was an argyle pattern. Did my gauge change that dramatically? Of course, I was quite relaxed when I started knitting it at the knitting retreat and am much less relaxed now, which could result in tighter knitting. I ripped it back once more and tried to consciously loosen my gauge, but to no avail. I'll continue on and see what developed. Maybe a full do-over is necessary.

Well, that's all for now. I need to check the snow status and head to bed. I'm working tomorrow to verify the implementation we're doing tonight. Fortunately, I can work from the comfort (albeit chilly) of my own home.

Happy snow!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Runner Down

Prior to running the Steamtown Marathon, I was experiencing some pain in my heel. It was nothing major and the pain was alleviated by running. After the marathon, however, the pain was pretty much constant. I made a visit to my doctor who diagnosed plantar fasciitis and told me to take two to four months off running and do the stretches that can be found online. To maintain aerobic fitness, she suggested swimming and riding a stationary bike (swimming in a public pool grosses me out to no end, plus I don't have access to either a pool or a stationary bike).

So I gave it three weeks and tried a slow 6-mile run up Old Waterford Road. It felt good to run, except it was clear that my heel wasn't better. A friend recommended a chiropractor who specializes in sports injuries and practices applied kinesiology. A combination of foot strengthening exercises, ultrasound, and deep tissue massage seem to be helping, at least a little bit. The heel still hurts, but I'm walking much better. The goal is to start running again in January.

I don't like this enforced inactivity one little bit. And it comes at a dangerous time of the year...the Holidays. We celebrated two Thanksgivings, one with my family and one with Tom's. There are already two Christmas parties on the calendar and mostly likely one or two more will pop up. And then there's Christmas Eve dinner (I'm considering attempting Julia's Duck en Croute), Christmas dinner, and New Year's Eve dinner. Yikes! Dangerous times indeed.

And then there's the whole stress reduction thing that comes with running. I'm trying to increase the amount of yoga I'm doing. If I'm not running early in the morning, I should be practicing my yoga, right? And theoretically, the yoga will increase my flexibility, which should help my heel. We shall see.

Knitting Progress
With all this enforced inactivity, you'd think I'd be knitting up a storm. Ha! For some reason it isn't happening. There's so much that I haven't done around the house (the dust buffalo have evolved into dusty mammoths), that I feel guilty if I take the time in the middle of the day to sit and knit. And after dinner, I'm too tired to sit down and knit, especially during the week, given that I don't get home from work until after 8:00 most nights (thanks be to Tom for taking over the cooking duties and everything else during the week).

But there has been knitting. The baby blanket is six inches away from being completed and I've got until the weekend to finish it. The baby's mom is coming to town next week and I would like to give it to her then. Must give it to her then, because I'm terrible at mailing packages.

And there's been a lot of thinking about knitting. After the blanket is done, what shall I knit? One of the sweaters that I've been dreaming about (never mind that I've got more unfinished sweaters than I care to admit lying about)? How about a shawl? Or a scarf (I do have a garter stitch scarf on the needles; that's my totally brainless knitting) (except it isn't working out because I untied the knot in the yarn, which threw off patterning) (who would've thunk it?)? Maybe a pair of socks? (Oh wait...I have two pairs of socks on the needles) Or yoga socks (Barbara's studio is kind of chilly)? How about a wimple? Patternworks has a wimple pattern designed for Schaefer Andrea yarn (why is it that I always type "yearn" first?), that's 100% silk. I love hats, but look stupid in them. And they flatten curly hair. Maybe a wimple would be the perfect thing to keep off the winter chill!

Of course, if I were a good and thrifty knitter, I'd finish up the myriad of UFOs that are tucked away in various boxes and baskets and bags and knit from my stash instead of adding to it. Of course, she says, it doesn't count as stash if you knit it immediately. Right?

In parting, since I haven't posted any photos in a while, here is a picture of Bosco (in the back) and Emma in a rare moment of truce:

Actually, they're a lot better than they used to be. Bosco has stopped trying to exert his dominance (for the most part) and Emma will actually initiate playing with him. She still hisses at him and swats him for no reason other than she walked by him and he looked at her (but isn't that what big sisters are supposed to do?). Bosco still attacks her, but usually it's in the early morning to keep her off the bed. And then he only feints an attack (which shakes the entire bed)(he's a big boy).

Well, that's it for now. Time to get some knitting in!