Mixology Mayhem and Two Good Books

I’ve been wanting to make a Mixology (by Casapinka) for quite a while. One night I printed out the pattern, shopped the stash, gathered up some yarn, and casted on with a sense of reckless abandon. Great yarns, great colors, and I couldn’t wait to see how it would look as I mixed them up in the shawl.

Yarns for shawl.
Look at these happy colors. Won’t these be a lot of fun in the mash-up of Mixology

Okay, I have to be honest here; I just don’t do any swatching. Ever. I’m lazy. Maybe I need instant gratification. Anyway, I like to just throw the yarn onto my needles and launch into the project. Besides, how could these colors not work out?

Knitting
The knitting has a lot of colors changes at the beginning. So far, looking good! MacKenzie: cat toy!! 
Knitting.
As I kept knitting I began to question my choices. Gee, the pink is awfully bright and the yellow variegated yarn isn’t really pulling its weight. Where did all of that green come from and where did the blue go? What can I actually wear this thing with in my closet? I should have asked myself that sooner, but in my defense, I was seduced by the yarn…

I ripped it off the needles and recycled all of the yarn. I was pretty cheerful about it. I had just bought a few new items for my wardrobe in indigo blue and thought that I should build a Mixology that would go with them. Back into the stash I dived…

Yarn for shawl.
There. Don’t these look like they would like to play with my new denim jacket and dress?
Knitting.
Here it is. Mixology 2.0. I love the colors. My best friend said something about it being dark, but I had faith in the colors to come. I went out to look at the shop sample to see how the whole color sequence would work out.

The shop sample was a lot smaller than mine. Like 6 inches smaller across then my knitting. Oh, oh. I was first drawn to the shawl/scarf because of the size of this sample. If it is too big it won’t work right. I checked my needle size and the pattern again. Yep. I was using the right needle. Then I checked the gauge. Holy smokes, who ever checks the gauge on a shawl? Well, it might have been nice if I had…

My best friend Deb helped me rip it all out. She’s fearless that way, and is know for her ripping (and cutting) episodes. Hmmm… what a good opportunity to make some yarn color changes. Since I just happened to be in a yarn shop…

Yarns for shawl.
Behold: Mixology 3.0. I added a couple of Baah! La Jolla yarns that added more variation and bridged the red and blue a little better.
Knitting
I went down a needle size and I’m exactly at the gauge that I want. I just love how the colors are working together. It’s a keeper!

I’m approaching the half-way mark on the shawl now and the colors are working out great. I’m going to get a lot of use out of this, and I learned a lot while going through the process. As you can guess, it has taken several weeks to work my way through the different iterations of the Mixology, and there were some big breaks where I just lost myself into a book for an evening and let the knitting sit in a corner to think about what it had done for awhile.

Books
Meet the knitting break books.

I read a lot, and I’m doing a reading challenge at Goodreads. With a sense of optimism I committed to reading 50 books this year. Book after book, week after week, I have been chomping my way through mysteries, science fiction and popular novels. I rate all of the books at Goodreads, and they almost always get 3 or 4 stars (out of a possible 5). I usually like all of the books that I read, and they certainly keep me entertained, but I long for a book that is well written, with characters of real depth, and a sense of magic. I don’t want to know where the book is going before I get there. I want to feel impacted by the book. I want 5 stars!

Well, during the various Mixology melt-downs and knitting breaks I found two treasures lurking in my Nook and on the bookshelf. Two remarkable books that deal with death and loss, family dysfunction, grief, crisis, and the eventual coming into their own of the young people who make their way through the emotional storms in each book. Seriously, I’ve been up half the night with each of these. I had no idea that they would deal with similar  subjects, but somehow I launched into them back to back, and will treasure each book for quite some time. Here they are: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  I highly recommend both of these books.

You know, I did all of that knitting with yarns from the stash (until I got to the last version of Mixology), and both of those books have been with me for months. I need to toss the house to look for other treasures. I wonder what is in the fridge, although things abandoned there are usually dangerous. Still, I’m feeling really hopeful as I write this. I’m going to poke around in the kitchen as soon as I finish this. Chocolate. I bet there is chocolate down there.

Cat peaking from under blanket.
Yellow Boy: and maybe you could find us some cat cookies while you’re own there!!

Have a good rest of the week everyone.

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Update: Knits, Quilts, a New Book and Cold Cats

It has been just crazy hectic here the last two weeks. I have been driving to doctor appointments, cleaning the house, running errands, and staying pretty darn busy getting stuff ready for Christmas. This week I’ve been chipping away on several Christmas makes (with lots of cat help), and while the list of things I’m making seems endless, I finally got several things done all at once in the last couple of days. Finally, some progress! Check it out.

Shawl
I finished the Jujuy Shawl that I’m making for a cousin. I was told to use bright colors; this should definitely fit the bill. Ravelry notes here.
Mitts and Book
I also got these Akiko mitts done while I was reading a book. These babies are made with Anzula Cricket yarn and the cashmere blend makes them feel really yummy. This is the second pair of these mitts that I’ve made. I wasn’t happy with the thumbs on the first pair so this time I moved them over onto the palm of the mitt. Ravelry notes here. Looking at the tops of the mitts they look misshapen and thumbless, but if you turn them over…
Back of mitts
…there they are, tucked away on the back of the mitt. I moved the gusset over 6 stitches on these; I’m still fussing about these thumbs and may do a third pair with the thumb moved 4 stitches… This is a illness, but I prefer to call it a mitt study. 🙂
Table Runner.
I also got this table runner pieced and ready to quilt. The pattern, Waffle Time,  is really fast and easy to make. I bought the fabric last year and finally got going on the stitching this month. Did I mention that I have another table runner and a quilt to get done too?
Fabric close-up
See how cute these fabrics are?

I just want to say that all this crafting wasn’t easy at all since the weather turned dangerously cold for kitties this week and I couldn’t let them go out for more than a couple of minutes at a time. MacKenzie has been especially crabby about the turn of weather events. This morning when I got up it was -10 degrees F and the ground was covered in snow! Yikes! No way could the cats go out in that!

Annoyed cat
MacKenzie: Do I look annoyed? Yes! I would like to speak with whoever is in charge of the weather. This is completely unacceptable.
cat on shawl
MacKenzie: If I can’t go outside I should be able to help with the knitting, right? Yarn chomping time!! I mean, what do you expect a bored cat to do?
Cat
Yellow Boy: Yarn chomping is so yesterday. I prefer to sit on the pattern and stare at the Mother of Cats until she gets me some chicken to eat. If I can’t chase bugs I should have chicken. Chicken, chicken, chicken!! Did I mention that I can stare for a LONG time?

When they aren’t yarn chomping and staring at me (sitting on the pattern, of course) the cats have insisted on sleeping on top of me. These are big cats! The little one is over 15 pounds, and MacKenzie is a whopping 18 pounds of dead cat weight.

Book
Luckily this new book was published this week so I can read while serving as a cat bed. Oh, my goodness. This is the latest book in my most favorite series ever, The Expanse. I watched the first season of the television show made from the books last week to warm up for the release date, and as soon as the book was available in the early hours of Tuesday morning I downloaded it to my NOOK. 

I really do love these books. I even blogged about them. I like the characters, the political/social situations created as people move onto other planets and into space, the science is good, the pacing of the plots is excellent, and did I mention that it is SPACE OPERA?!! Hello, Science Geek! Here’s the previous posts about these books:

This new book is the 6th in the series. I didn’t feel compelled to blog about the 5th book, but this latest book has really hooked me back into the story. All my favorite characters are back, the story is moving right along, and there has got to be a space battle coming soon.

Thank heavens it is cold out. What a wonderful excuse to stay inside to craft and read. I may get all of my Christmas makes done on time this year. The cats will get more attention. I will get my book finished lickety-split.

Cat
…and I will get more chicken!! 

Thanks Polar Express.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Darwin’s Garden

Over the last two weeks I have had a crazy case of synchronicity going on. Several random events, totally unrelated, unsolicited, but absolutely linking to a theme of… genetics! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. If you are a total geek of the biology type (me!!) it has been a couple of fun weeks. Here’s what went down.

The Gene
One of my favorite authors published his new book. Hello summer reading!!

I’ve been spending my mornings outside in my garden swing reading and drinking a latte with the cats. It has just become the best part of the day for me. Two weeks ago the book of the mornings was this one, and I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying the narrative that weaves genes, history, evolution and personal experiences linked to the author’s genetic heritage together. A wonderful book. A topic that is close to my heart after years of teaching cells, genes and evolution to many, many students. Everyone, in my mind, should know enough genetics to navigate safely through life. While I was reading this picture arrived in my phone:

White squirrel
Yep. That is a white squirrel for sure!

I sometimes get calls from friends and neighbors who have biology tales to share. This picture came from someone who was excited about the “albino” squirrel hanging around his home. It has been running through the trees and chasing another squirrel along the fence so I told him it was probably not an albino, but a white squirrel as it seemed to have good eyesight. He didn’t understand that there is a difference, and therefore sent a picture to provide proof. We got on the phone and finally ironed it out with a little Wikipedia help and some genetics review. Now he’s waiting to see what color the pups will be. It’s an urban experiment!!

After the call I put the book away to start on a little gardening. What garden was next on my list? The one that I call Darwin’s Garden!

Overgrown Garden
That poor little rose bush that is getting swarmed by other plants is my Charles Darwin rose. 

As coincidence would have it, I had just read about Darwin in the book. Time to start weeding! Looks to me like survival of the fittest is a little out of control at the moment…

Plant
I call this Darwin’s Garden because of the rose, but also because there is a lot of natural selection going on. I move plants from other locations to this one and basically let them fight it out. The clear winner is this plant, and I have no clue what it is!! It is spreading everywhere, has tall spikes and little purple flowers that will emerge soon. When I started weeding a lot of this plant got ripped out!
Groundcover
Well, look at this. This ground cover type plant has been growing underneath the spiky plant; I don’t like it all that much, but the plant said “whatever… this is Darwin’s Garden, bitch!” I let it stay; with an attitude like that it deserves a chance. I also found snapdragons, columbines, roses, and some iris. There is a butterfly bush that is swarming some rose plants, but I decided to let them just fight it out for now. 
Johnny Jump-ups
These Johnny Jump-ups have been growing in the rock border by my driveway out front. Since they are escapees from the flower container they belong in I decided to dig them out and move them.
Rooting Hormone
I dipped the roots into this rooting hormone and then popped them into Darwin’s Garden. Let’s see if they can take on the purple spike plant! Maybe they can slap the ground cover plant while they are at it…
Flower in new location
Here they are a week later in the garden. Transplant was successful.

Here’s the next crazy coincidence: that rooting hormone is a type of auxin, which was first discovered by none other than Charles Darwin!! No wonder the transplant to Darwin’s Garden went off without a hitch. Every single one of the plants I moved made it.

Rose
This week things are looking a lot better in the garden. The Charles Darwin rose even bloomed.

Last week I worked at Camp Macusani (which is a whole other post) so the garden suffered a little. Tomorrow morning I will return to the garden swing, my book, and Darwin’s Garden. I’m thinking of moving some angelica that is out of control in there too… Maybe the purple spike plants will be blooming so I can post a picture. If anyone recognizes them, please let me know what they are… Right now I’m calling them Darwin’s Bane.

I’m finally up to the part of the book where we’re getting ready to start genetic engineering. For a biogeek with a molecular biology degree, this is heaven. I can’t wait to see what Dr. Mukherjee is going to say next.

Summer is for geeks!

 

Outdoor operations

The weather has really warmed up and stabilized this week; sun, heat and no thunderstorms; just what I needed to make my aching muscles and joints behave themselves. This week has been a good one and I took to the backyard for most of the afternoons. There’s a lot that can be accomplished outside. Let me take you on a little tour of my days.

That's right!
MacKenzie: when she says that she took operations outside what she really means is that I was forced to share the swinging garden chair with her. Does she not understand, June is for cats?!!

The shade of my locust tree covers the lawn swing and a couple of the gardens. What could be better for a person with a latte and an incredibly good book?

The City of MIrrors
The aforementioned book…

I’ve been consumed with the Justin Cronin novel, The City of Mirrors. Oh, my goodness. What a well-written, tightly-crafted book to spend the summer afternoons with. I read the first two books in this series and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to dive into a book of over 700 pages to learn the fate of mankind in their battle against the Zombie apocalypse, but the reviews made me take the leap and I pushed the “buy” button on my NOOK. Good decision. I keep highlighting passages that are just so wonderful I want to savor them later. I usually race through good books but this is one that I am stretching out so the experience will continue. The perfect June book.

After an hour of reading the knitting begins. Check out my progress on the Solaris shawl (by Melanie Berg).

 

Shawl
I’ve gotten through the first two color inserts in the shawl. To get a different color in the short row section I pulled off some yarn until I was at a new section. Fast, easy, simple.
Colors in ball of yarn
and I still have some great (crazy) colors in the ball to use. Project details are here.

I’ve also taken some weeding breaks. The little roses in my tea rose garden are now blooming, and I have gotten the weeds pulled out of another couple of patches. There are a lot of weeds, but everything is getting ready to bloom so I’m pretty motivated to keep at it.

Rose
The bloom on this tea rose is just great; really big for such a small plant.  This was one of those little roses that are sold at the grocery store. I put them out in the garden when they look a little worn out and they winter just fine here in the Denver area.
Mess
Here was today’s project. Do you see the rose plant in there?
Rose
Oh, there it is!!

Towards the late afternoon as things really warm up I water the flowers and gardens and head inside for food, the news and more knitting (bet that was a shock, huh!) Even the cats are ready to come in by that point. OK, they get kitty treats for coming in, but they would probably come in anyway… especially since I just watered all of their favorite plant nests. 🙂

Outdoor operations have ended for the day.

Tomorrow I am going to attack another garden!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

 

Rocked by the Week

Wow, the week just sort of rushed by without me getting much of anything done. Mostly I have been going to doctor’s appointments and getting tests done; lots of energy being drained away without a single knitted object to show for it. What is up with that?!! This week I didn’t do any rocking; it was more like getting rocked by the week this time.

Still, there have been accomplishments. Check out the finally finished slippers that I made from the Dream in Color kit I bought a few weeks ago:

Slippers
The color is a little dark as it was really cloudy when I took the shot. These are the Pleasant Pheasant Slippers (by Laura Neel) made with Classy with Cashmere in the February 2016 colorway. So nice and comfy!!
Slippers
Here a shot I took of the slippers the sunny day I started them. Aren’t the colors fabulous? They are very warm and cushy, and did I mention the cashmere?
Shawl
I am still working (and working and working) on my Waiting for Rain shawl. It is getting there. Really, it is…

But mostly I spent the week in doctors offices or in bed reading my latest series of compulsive reads: the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James. They are fast cozy mystery reads that feature a murder-mystery solving librarian with a giant Maine Coon cat sidekick. I enjoy the books, but it kind of bothers me that the cat on the front cover, who is excessively handsome, is not really looking all that much like a Maine Coon to me. I kind of know about this because Yellow Boy is a Maine Coon mix.

Cat
He has a huge ruff, lots of hair in his ears, and those paws! They are giant, furry Ugg-boot paws with fur between all of his toe pads. Yellow Boy isn’t a giant cat, but if he was he would look like this guy who has been traveling the internet…
Diesel, the cat in the book is 35 pounds. Kind of like this guy I think. Maine Coons have lots of fur, and then there is the tail!
book cover
Here’s a cover from one of the books. Handsome cat, but where is the ruff and huge fluffy tail? 

Still, a small detail. Perhaps the artist had a particularly well groomed cat for the model. The mysteries are fun and I am chomping right through them. There is a housekeeper named Azalea in the books who takes care of the house cleaning, shopping and leaves yummy food in the fridge for people to eat when she isn’t cooking up killer breakfasts for them. She even does the laundry. I need Azalea. Seriously, maybe one of the doctors can write a prescription for Azalea for me. 🙂

I hoarded up energy so I could go to the Interweave Yarn Fest on Friday. What a trip! What a great day! But that, my friends, is another blog post.

 

 

Rocking the Week #4

It is March in Colorado, which means we are in the midst of endless weather adventure. This last week we experienced a march of weather fronts that came through the state with wind, wind, and more wind. It was sunny but still miserable for cats and people.

Cat
It was so windy the cats were afraid to go outside. I finally made Morgan a little fort by hanging a blanket over the patio table and chairs: he stayed in his fort most of the day Tuesday! Here he is under the table sitting on a chair under the blanket.

I was pretty miserable myself. Usually my joints are OK, but this week all of my tendons took to hurting. Gee, there are a lot of tendons in a human body! Not only did my hands and wrists hurt, but so did my knees, hips, feet… well, pretty much if it moves, it hurt. I finally had to resort to pain killers and spent a lot of time in bed this week.

NYPD RED 4
Hello books! I polished off the last two books in this series of murder action/thriller books. These are fast reads and aren’t literary masterpieces (the authors did not spend great blocks of time agonizing over the correct descriptive phrases to use…), but they were just the ticket for me. All right, they were actually kind of silly and predictable, sort of like a racy (and totally unrealistic) detective show on television, but exactly the type of mindless escapism that I needed with sore knees and aching hands.
Cat and book
MacKenzie spent the whole time laying on my legs while I was reading. He’s kind of like a purring, foot-kneading heating pad. What a good cat he is!!
Rose
Thursday I crawled out to the grocery store and found this wonderful little rose bush there while I was loading the cart with the essentials of life: chocolate, soup and guacamole dip. Hey, my knees hurt!!
Pantry Disaster
Cheered up by the roses I took on a little job: look at this disaster of a pantry. There was no room to put away my new bag of corn chips for the guacamole! Clearly a crisis.
Cleaned Pantry
Look what I accomplished in a half hour! OK, there were three bags of trash to take out. I really don’t think that I should eat food that is over 10 years old, do you?
Soup bowl pot holder
Friday it snowed 6 inches and oddly enough my hands felt better. Time to be productive: I made myself some cute soup bowl pot holders to use in the microwave. These are the most useful little items ever. My hands don’t grip well in the best of times, and this week they were really unhappy. These holders allow me to handle the hot bowls of soup with zero risk of accidents! The pattern was online and really easy to sew. I made two holders in about 90 minutes using fabric and batting from my stash. The pattern is from Seams Happy and can be located here.
Knitting
Last night I returned to knitting and made some progress on my “Waiting for Rain” shawl Look at that short row lace! It is much easier than it looks.
Lace
and look at how nice my new stitch markers look on the lace!
Robin in tree
Now it is Saturday, the snow is almost melted away, and the sky is blue and sunny. Look closely at the left end of the tree branch. No, not the white patch of snow, the other end of the branches. Can you almost see the beak? That my friend is the FIRST ROBIN OF SPRING! He was on the ground when I first saw him, but for some crazy reason he flew as I stalked crept up to try to get the picture. Still, I can absolutely verify that he is a robin. 

That’s right, it is now spring. We are in for weeks of chaotic weather, but the plants will be coming back to life, the birds will be arriving soon, and I can’t help but be happy. Today my hands feel fine, I’m going to heat up some soup for dinner using my new bowl holders,  and then I have a beautiful shawl to knit.

It turns out that this was a pretty good week after all.

Return to Reading: Three Good Books

I am just nuts about books. I have been, and always will be, a voracious reader who hoards and treasures books. I have multiple copies of my very favorite books so that no matter what happens, I will always have them. (My most collected books so far: Great Maria and Floating Worlds, both by Cecelia Holland.) I can’t imagine going through a day without reading. I have books stacked up in a reading queue and more on hold at the library. I am a reader.

Except that suddenly stopped this spring. Around the time my rheumatologist moved me to stronger drugs I realized that I was having a lot of trouble with vocab recall and speech, and I was really struggling to read. Maybe I just needed a better book, I thought, and kept prowling book stores and the library hunting for that illusive great read. It just didn’t matter; no matter what the book was my mind just skittered around and refused to engage in the story. A book that would usually take a few days to read dragged on for a couple of weeks; by the time I finished it I couldn’t remember what it was about. Crazy. Thank you scleroderma!!

Last month I scored a form of CellCept that would play nice with my digestive system and finally settled into a consistent drug regimen. I think that it actually takes weeks (and months) for the full benefit of these immunosuppressant drugs, but this month I have actually finished three (pretty darn good) books, and the last one I raced through in just a few days. OK, the drug is also causing some sleep disruption, but I’m finally reading again!! Woohoo! Here are the books of October:

stuff
MacKenzie is my reading companion. 🙂

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

This book is a continuation of the Millennium series by the deceased Stieg Larsson. Oh, my goodness. Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back. If you aren’t already familiar with these characters, let me just say that Blomkvist is an investigative reporter who is the champion of truth, loyal to his friends, famous for huge exposés, and sometimes hauled into court. Salander is… well, she is different. She’s brilliant, a computer hacker extraordinaire, a survivor, a champion, and probably a sociopath. She is broken, and she if fabulous. This book brings back the flavor of the previous books with the same intricate plotting; a murder, a conspiracy, convoluted electronic trickery, and the pace of a perfect thriller. I don’t think that it was quite as dark as Larsson’s books, but it was still a really good read.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Sometimes a book is more of an experience than a story. OK, did I mention that I’m having vocab recall and brain fog issues? Reading this book just messed with my head but was so amazing that I kept going. The story unpacks in bits and pieces back and forth in time as we learn about the life of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor of the last century. Dorrigo falls in love, goes to war, survives the horrific ordeal of building a railroad in the jungle as a Japanese prisoner of war, becomes a famous war hero, marries, has children, and carries a book of Japanese death poems. It is a magical story of love, guilt, endurance, survival, betrayal, and endless charges ahead in the face of impossible odds. I’m not completely sure that I understand this book, but it haunts me still.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Narrow Road just warmed me up for this one. Once again I was reading a rich and complex novel that centered on the life of one anchoring character, Holly Sykes. The plot is broken into 6 segments that move forward in time (thank you, Mr. Mitchell!) but also loop and reconnect to characters and events in the other sections. Holly is extraordinary in that she hears voices and has accurate premonitions; the plot deals with these supernatural elements but also builds rich characters and situations that kind of left me stunned. It was with this book that I realized that I was once again a reader. I was immersed in the story, drawn to the characters, and caught off guard by twists and turns in the plots. This book had several story threads going at once, and it should have been confusing, but it wasn’t at all. I loved it and even cried at the end.

Three good books in a row! When I logged them into Goodreads today I noticed that two of the books are on a list for the best books of 2015, and the third is on the Nook Best Books List. Yep! They were just great and what I needed to return to reading. The number one book on the 2015 Tournament of Books list is one called Station Eleven. Hey, it is a science fiction! Hmmm… I may have to check that out.