Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Racing Season, so that means.......socks?

When I was much younger, my family lived in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Whether you personally like motorsports or not, you probably know that Indianapolis is the home of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" - the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.  Every May, names like Mario Andretti, Al Unser (we didn't have to use the "Senior" back then), A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford were commonly heard around our dinner table as we'd talk about who would qualify fastest, and who had the best chance of winning the race.

I remember asking my parents several (probably more than several) times if they would take me to the race.  We went to the Museum a time or two but I was always told that the race itself was too loud, too dirty (as in need-a-shower-to-wash-off-the-tire-debris dirty), and someone might crash and die and I would be scarred for life.

So I never went to the "500" while we lived in Indy.

But last year I took the kids and we met up with an Army friend of mine, and the five of us went to the race.  That is the subject of a whole other blog post.  But it got me to thinking, 2011 is the centennial year at the Speedway.......

I don't paint, or compose music, or do woodcarving or build models.  But I do knit.  So I designed a pair of socks to commemorate the Centennial of one of the Wonders of my world - my first knitting design, the Centennial Socks.

Lots of symbols stuffed into these socks:

There are 66 stitches around the sock.  This is twice the number of cars in the starting grid at every Indy 500 (with a few exceptions).

The cuff is knit in 3x3 rib, so there are 11 sections of 3 knit stitches set off by 11 sections of 3 purl stitches.  The cars line up on the starting grid in 11 rows of 3.

Down the back of the leg of the sock is a 9-stitch panel of seed stitch.  At the start/finish line of the Speedway is a 9-row "Yard of Bricks" that is the original brick track surface from way back when.

Front and center of the leg, and continuing down the top of the foot, is a rather simple lace pattern.  It resembles (more or less) the Pagoda - the control tower at the track.

On either side of the sock is a seed stitch check pattern.  Checkered flags.  :)

There are four repeats of the Pagoda motif in the leg of the sock, because four is the most times any driver has won the Indy 500 (A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser, in case you were wondering).

Why did I knit them in red?  Well, after we moved from Indianapolis, I got hooked on this Japanese dubbed-in-English cartoon called "Speed Racer."  Speed always wore lucky red socks.  His car had fenders and the engine in the front, but I still think he's pretty cool, and I think every race car driver (and every racing fan) needs a pair of lucky socks.

You can buy the yarn here, and soon I hope to update this post with a link to purchase the pattern as well!

Many thanks to Mr. Wayne Long at Mid-Atlantic Sports Cars for the use of his facility and the 1965 Lotus roadster reproduction, for taking some of the photos, and also to Velvet for being an assistant foot model.

Happy Centennial to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and happy knitting to you!

I thought Spring had Sprung!

I really don't like it when the weather doesn't cooperate with my fashion decisions.  I have to go to a fund-raising dinner this evening, and had decided what to wear some time ago.  Now the day has arrived and it is freezing cold!  Argh!  My outfit is appropriate for the calendar and the event, but not the thermometer reading. The weather ticker on my browser says it's 25 degrees Fahrenheit right now, and the high is only forecast to be in the 40s.

So now I am forced to decide whether to wear my original choice of clothing, dashing to and from the car in an attempt not to get frostbite between there and the venue, OR wear something else just as appropriate but not what I originally chose.

I also realize that compared to what the people in Japan and the Middle East/Northern Africa are enduring, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  Perhaps I will wear my first choice and offer up my goose-pimples for those who have nothing to wear, appropriate or otherwise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


is one of the reasons I so enjoy homeschooling:  the fact that I'm right there when one of my kids makes a connection, and I get to see the light-bulb moment.

This afternoon, between thunderstorms, Velvet and I were outside watching the chickens and she picked up a burr she found lying on the ground.  We tossed it at each other a few times, laughing as it stuck to our clothing - it wouldn't stick to jeans, but loved her long-sleeve T and my fuzzy sweater.  She held it in her hands, taking a really close look at it, and then said,
"Hey mom.  Is a burr where they got the idea for Velcro?"
Yes, indeed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The next time I volunteer to plan something, refer me back to this post.

I am trying to plan a retreat.  I am fortunate to have Google Calendar with which to work out the schedule, because you can just click and drag things to change them.  I have clicked and dragged some of the things so many times it is unbelievable.

I think if a person is responsible for hosting/reserving/scheduling a retreat, that person (and that person ONLY) should have complete control over everything having to do with said retreat.

When you have one person nominally "in charge", but at least two other people planning in other locations, a mess is guaranteed to result.

I have, presently, a mess.

I have a feeling that several people are going to gripe and complain.  Several more people will not only gripe and complain, but they will do it behind my back while making sure that I either overhear or that someone else tells me about the griping and complaining.  Six months ago I was looking forward to this.  Now?  Not so much.

Why is it.....

that I have a 2,000 square foot house, but my kids always want to occupy the same 10 square feet of it?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Super Secret Sock Story Progress Pics

Here's the gorgeous yarn; the color is more bright than this picture shows.  First, in the hank:
And wound into cakes, ready to knit up into a pair of awesome socks!

I worked on them at a gymnastics meet, and actually got a lot done that evening.

I have finished the first sock and am halfway down the leg on the second one, so I hope to have photos of the pair very soon.

I've started mentally styling the photos that I'll provide with the pattern, and had a completely awesome idea (which of course I can't share YET).  And the business location I thought of using actually has a perfectly suited piece of merchandise, as long as I can charm the staff into letting me use it as a big prop. I think if I promise proper photo credit, that they will go for the idea.

Oh, and while I was watching the gymanstics and knitting my secret sock, I was wearing hand-knitted socks:  "Sunday Swing" from Knitty:
Funny how the photo makes them look blue, gold and black; the yarn is really turquoise, old gold and brown!  But it was the closest thing I had to Mountaineer colors.

R.I.P. Cindy

Our little rescued cardinal didn't make it.  She was gone when we got home from Divine Liturgy this morning.  Here's a photo of her from yesterday afternoon:

You can see a little of how her entire tail is missing.  She was eating, drinking and pooping yesterday, but I guess she must have had internal injuries or some delayed shock from Antonio's attack. I hope she didn't suffer too badly.  Velvet and Lightning McQueen buried her in the pet graveyard under the hemlock trees, and marked her grave with little stones.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Drive-By Blog Post......

I've finished sock #1 and am well into its mate.

Velvet and I rescued an injured female cardinal from a neighborhood cat this afternoon, and she is recuperating in the downstairs bathroom.  Photos to come; she's very cute and I think she'll recover.

Did you see the moon when it rose this evening?  Wowza!

I need to order new school materials soon.  I may try some new stuff (not math; I'm sticking with Saxon because it's working very well for us) just for a change of pace.

There Might be a Method to my Madness, but I Doubt it.

Just for laughs, I filled out a bracket for March Madness in a semi-serious attempt to win a Troy Polamalu autographed jersey and some other stuff.

I have a completely unscientific system for making my picks, and so far I have 25 out of 32 correct, which puts me in the 94th percentile.......and I discovered that while the chance for Troy's stuff is probably gone, I do still have a chance to win other stuff because I'm ahead of 4 out of 5 other brackets that, if I beat them, I could win something.

I will laugh so hard if I win anything at all.  And I will not be surprised if I don't.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Hope I Get Points for Trying; or, the Meaty Book that stuck in my throat

A friend of mine lent me a book - The Restoration of Christian Culture by John Senior - which I have been trying to get through for the past couple of weeks.  As 'meaty books' go, it's pretty meaty.  But it reminds me more of a pot roast that's been left a bit too long in the oven and then served without gravy, potatoes or vegetables to make a complete meal. Mr. Senior's writing style is very much like Pope John Paul II of blessed memory; extremely dense, with circular statements that wind around themselves and require several re-readings of the text in order to make sense of them.  Had this been my own book, I would have found it helpful to use my handy-dandy marking crayons and a pen to underline and make notes in order to better understand what he was getting at. As it is I managed to make it through about half the book before deciding to skim the remainder out of charity and not further subject myself to a literary-induced headache (in addition to several episodes of wanting to find the author and fling the book at him in utter frustration).

It goes without saying that the author despises television.  But he also inveighs against radio and recorded music as well.
Electronic reconstitutions of disintegrated sounds are not real sounds any more than reconstituted, sterilized lactates are milk. ... Catholics have accepted some of the worst distortions of their Faith in the order of music, art and literature without a shiver of discontent because they never really heard the "Tantum Ergo" or the Ave maris stella" - not for lack of faith, but because there had never been ordinary music in the home to have created the habit of good sound and sense.
And just where are we supposed to hear those two hymns?  Not in any parish around here on a regular basis.  It's lovely if one has a parish where the traditional hymnography of the Church has been preserved and fostered, but the reality is that most of them have lazy, cowardly music directors who think the purpose of a choir is not to lead and support the congregational singing, but to perform for and entertain the assembled people (because, you know, they are too stupid and dense to have an original meditative thought or to have the ability, much less the desire, to actually pray the Mass).

A little later in the book is a section about work.
But one of the bitterest questions the majority of us must ask is whether, even if we do a good job, the work is good to begin with, that is, if it is really necessary to the common good. ...
A test of your own good work would be to think what you will say some day to your grandchildren when they ask, "What did you do in your day, Grandpa (sic)?"  Burke said that though it is true that there is a dignity in work, not all work is dignified - hairdressing, for example.
Unfortunately Mr. Senior doesn't elaborate on his opinion that hairdressing is 'undignified' work.  I imagine he might think that my work, inasmuch as it is not 100% liturgical/clerical tailoring, is not only not necessary to the 'common good' but is also not dignified unless my talent is being put to use for the Church. I don't know whether that's objectively true or not; I only know that there are certain regular monthly expenses of maintaining a household and providing for my children that must be met, and God having given me the gift or talent of being able to sew and tailor clothing, I use that talent to provide as best I can for my family; much of the time the end of one month meets nicely with the beginning of another without undue stretching or monetary panic.

He goes on at length about Latin too, but I freely admit I practically skimmed over that part.  Yes, we are Catholic, but there's more to Catholicism than Latin, and while I like Latin and the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I am much more at home with prostrations and Hospodi, pomiluj instead of genuflections and Domine, Miserere nobis.

The kind of Catholic home that the author imagines as ideal is all very nice if it's possible, but at the risk of confirming to the friend who lent me the book that I really am a despicably secular person it probably won't ever happen here at Magpie Manor. The sort of life Mr. Senior advocates as ideal is impossible without a community of like-minded folks with whom to share the journey, and for my family to undertake this would be like mountain climbers attempting Everest without the aid of the Sherpas.  Neither I nor my children receive anything but the most perfunctory overtures of friendship from other Catholic families we know (excepting the family of the friend who lent me the book; I'm beginning to think she's taken me on as a sort of special project) - I think the fact that I'm divorced is really scandalous to most of them, and I'm just not outwardly pious enough to suit them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sorry, it's really over this time.

My cell phone provider, they of the frequently-dropped calls, missing voicemails, and extra charges for everything under the sun, has recently begin bombarding my email and snail-mail boxes with offers of free phones, splendiferous upgrades and all manner of lovely enticements.......

because my contract is up in 90 days.

But I'm switching carriers.  I hung on two years ago in the hopes that once they got the iPhone kinks worked out the service would improve.  Nope.

So this time I'm really leaving.  I'm tired of being in the middle of giving a client directions only to have the call drop.  I'm tired of messages showing up in my voicemail box hours or days later.  I'm tired of the generic computer-generated greeting that, if I want to personalize, would cost me an additional charge every month.  I'm tired of my obsolete phone, my rate plan that stinks like my son's dirty socks, and the fact that my carrier has one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any carrier in the country.

Sometimes leaving is the smart thing to do.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'Scuse me while I whine.

I'm a professional tailor.  If it's made out of fabric I will tailor, alter or repair it with few exceptions. Sometimes I get minor complaints about the cost to do a project (sometimes to the point of the person not even picking up the finished work, but that's a subject for another day), because they paid less for the item than the cost to do what is required to make it usable.

But the time required, plus the cost of the thread, machine needle, wear & tear on the machine, electricity to heat up the iron to press it after I've done the requested work (or to run the steamer, in which case there's an amount for distilled water too), is the same whether your project is a pair of $300 Swiss voile sheers from Ethan Allen or a $20 pair of polyester ones from Target, or either one purchased for $6 at a thrift store.

I regret the outward 'unfairness' of that, but the way I see it the client has a choice:  either an item that is unusable in the state in which it was purchased, or an item that is usable for the purpose for which it was purchased.  If you didn't care whether you ever hung the curtains or wore the clothing, why would you bother to buy them in the first place?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nothing Wrong With Being Normal

Fr. Dwight posted this morning one of the best things I've read in a LONG time.  You really ought to go read and reflect on his entire post.  Here's a snippet:

He [Satan] hates ordinary Catholics who work hard, pray hard, laugh hard and who love God, love life, love one another and live life to the full. This ordinary, grace-filled natural life of faith is what he hates with a passion. I call  it 'supernatural normalcy' because these are the saints that fill our pews. These are the people of God. These are the ones who live out their faith best they can in the ordinary ups and downs of life. They try hard. They make mistakes, they go to confession with open hearts.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and give me the grace to be ordinary.

There is a big difference between not hiding one's light under a bushel, and shining it square into the eyes of all one meets like a KGB interrogator.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

We Have Style.

We went out to a local buffet restaurant this afternoon for dinner, and afterwards decided to walk down the shopping plaza to the shoe store and TJMaxx - my mom wanted to browse and I am searching for a pair of brown dress shoes that don't look like either (a) I am trying to look like a hoochie-mama or a pageant girl, OR (b) I am one of those blue-haired ladies who keep their shoes, one per outfit, in the original boxes, stuffed with tissue and shoe trees, on shelves in the closet.

We didn't find anything except a box of Celestial Seasonings Coconut Chai tea bags, which I LOVE but haven't been able to find lately, and mom got Banana Nut Cheerios.

On the way from the restaurant to the shoe store, Lightning McQueen was behind me and was evidently moonwalking down the sidewalk, because a truck pulled up next to me, the window came down and the guys inside gave him 2 big thumbs up and a "Nice Moonwalk, buddy!"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Saga of Socks, Sort Of

I received the yarn support for my sock pattern from Knit Picks.  They sent my first choice - Gloss!  It's wonderful yarn; a blend of wool and silk.  Great stitch definition, super comfortable to knit and wear, and the silk makes the yarn have a beautiful shimmer. The colorway is Scarlet; it's an intense red with just a hint of warmness, almost a tomato red.

I borrowed a swift and winder from a knitterly friend, wound up the hanks of yarn and cast on.  I'm well into the first pattern repeat on the leg, and I can't begin to tell you how it feels to have had a mental picture of how something ought to look, then to have the right yarn to make that a reality!

I'll be working exclusively on the sample socks until I've finished them.  I want to get the sample, photos, and finished pattern back to the nice folks at Knit Picks in plenty of time for.......

.......and for that you will have to wait until the pattern goes live, because there's a story there that I don't want to tell just yet!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Must what goes up, come down?

I sure hope so.  I stopped on the way home from Church this evening to fill up the car, using my Kroger discount card to get $0.03 off per gallon.  I gave the guy in the booth a $20 bill, thinking it would be close but would most likely fill up the tank, since the little indicator needle was at about half on the gauge.

It didn't.  I paid $3.559 per gallon with my discount.

I'd quit driving and ride the bus, but that's not feasible.  Where I live, it takes 3 buses to get to any of the three closest grocery stores in town, and the stop is 3 blocks from my house.  Three fares out and back @ $0.75 each = $4.50.  (No such thing as a transfer here; you pay full fare every time you step through the door of the bus).  And let's say I want to go to the Super Wal-Mart here because I need groceries and non-grocery items.  Here's how I'd have to do it:

Blue Line from stop @ Richwood & Charles at 8:05 am, to Depot at 8:55 am
Green Line South from Depot at 9:30 am, to Wal-Mart at 9:45 am
*******shopping, purchasing only what I can carry in two hands*******
Green Line South from Wal-Mart at 11:45 am, to Depot at noon
Blue Line at noon, to Richwood & Charles at 12:05 pm IF THEY HOLD THIS BUS.  IF NOT:
Blue Line at 2:00 pm, to Richwood & Charles at 2:05 pm.  Sure hope I didn't need any frozen food.

Oh, and if they are willing to hold the Blue Line departure at the Depot so I can transfer, it will probably cost me an extra $0.50.

For this to be worth it to me, gas would have to cost 3-4 times what it does now (but then the bus fare would have probably gone up too, right?).

I sort of like these little exercises in practical economics (like the time a few days ago when it looked like Sudafed was going to become prescription-only and I figured out a $15 package of medicine would end up costing me over $100 in actual money and lost income).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Did you shine those shoes with a Hershey Bar?

A week or so ago I went with Birdman to his Color Guard practice to show the other members how to properly spit-shine their shoes for the upcoming competition.  To start, you need the following supplies:  Black shoe polish, Navy Blue shoe polish, a piece of an old t-shirt or an old sock, and a pair of old pantyhose.
My preferred shoe polish brand is Kiwi; the little jar of Navy Blue is Meltonian, which is made my the same company. If you can't find it at a shoe repair shop near you, you can order it online here.
Rags and towels made of terrycloth, like a bath towel, are too rough and won't leave a mirror shine on your shoes without a LOT of extra work. In a pinch you can use one of those red shop rags that come in a ginormous box at Wal-Mart. You also need some cold water; not very much.
Finally, you need a pair of shoes to shine.  Since I'm not in the military any more, I took my Irish Stepdancing hard shoes on which to demonstrate - it is March, after all, and I might be called upon to dance a jig or two at some point........
Load up your sock or t-shirt scrap with some black polish and start at the toe, working the polish into the leather with little circular motions of your fingers.  Keep working at it until you see a bit of shine start to come up.  Add more polish if necessary to keep the swirls visible.
When your hand starts to cramp up, take a break and pour a bit of cold water into the lid of your can of black polish.  When you come off break, dip the fingers of your wrapped-up hand into the cold water - it will not soak in due to the polish in the cloth, but you'll be able to hold a few beads of water and transfer them to the shoe.  Work, work, work this in.  
After the first coat with water, get some of the blue polish on your cloth and go after it the same way.  Alternate black and blue and water, and after a short while you will start to see the black develop a beautiful DEEP luster and begin to take on a mirror shine.  Once this happens, work in one more round of water and take another short break.  Next you'll buff the shine up with the pantyhose.
Roll the pantyhose tightly into a sausage; pull out any wrinkles in the material.  Hold this firmly in your hand, stick your other hand down in the shoe, and buff like your life depends on it.  Alternatively, you can also make a vise with your knees to hold the heel end of the shoe, stretch the pantyhose between your hands, and buff with both hands back and forth very quickly.

Lastly: if your shoes have a line of visible stitching where the leather connects to the sole (the vamp stitchline) you can use an old toothbrush to work polish into this crevice.  And if the edges of your soles and heels are faded and scuffed, here's what you need to make them like new. (A black Sharpie marker works in a pinch.)

Admire your work.  Use the toes of your shoes as a mirror to comb your hair if you wish!

Allow your shoes to 'cure' for at least 36-48 hours before you wear them so that the polish has time to harden.

When I was doing culinary arts and VIP breakfasts in the Army, I got so I could put such a shine on my shoes that I could wear them for a whole week of shifts in the kitchen without giving them much more than a perfunctory buff-out around the middle of the week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Do I Look?

Yes, this is a hen in a Fun Fur knitted scarf.

Never a dull moment, folks.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Coming Soon.......

to Knit Picks' Independent Designer Program, a sock pattern designed by me!  I'm recruiting test knitters and pattern proofreaders, and as soon as my yarn support arrives will be obsessively knitting the sample pair.  When I get the sample done, I'll post pictures and the story of this pattern ('cuz I'm Catholic and you know we're all about the symbols - these socks are FULL of 'em!)