Obsession Thursdays

Obsession: Sunshine

Oh, how I love the sunshine. It feels like we haven’t had a lot of it over the past few months, and I’m craving it. Sunshine makes everything better.

It improves photographs

Natural light and shadow - gorgeous!

allows for easy outdoor knitting

Good light is important for knitting.

and it gives us warmth.

Enough warmth to go outside without a coat. Or a shirt, even.

Roll on, spring! We’re ready.


Obsessing over knitted toys

I finally get to meet a little girl I last saw when she was still on the inside. And I want to knit her something huggable, so I sent out a call today on Twitter for well-received toy patterns, and got a flurry of great recommendations! I thought I should share my favorites with you…

Flo, recreated by Franklin Habit for Knitty

From Knitwhits:  Bramble or Sakura [30% goes to Japan Quake relief, btw]

From Rebecca Danger: just about the whole catalog got recommended!

From Knitty: Flo and Sheldon

From Debi Birkin: the whole shebang

From Hansigurumi: the Anglerfish

From Penwiper: Extermiknit!

From Blue Sky Alpacas/Bobbi Intveld: Baby Bobbi Bear

From Ysolda: Poppy

From Barbara Prime: everything, but I did actually squee at the Alpaca in bikini!

Now how do I choose? What a fun problem to have.

Now we’re just getting nosy

We’re getting near the end of Loooooove week. What? Here…we explain it all on Monday’s post.

The lucky winner of yesterday’s “Name your fictional town” contest, chosen by Rachael herself: Becca, who wrote, “I would name the town Lester, as a bad joke on the pronunciation of Leicester.”  Congrats, Becca — you’ll be receiving a copy of Rachael’s brand-new book, HOW TO KNIT A HEART BACK HOME!

Today’s the last day of our probing questions with Rachael. Tomorrow, we have an extra-special surprise for everyone and the biggest prize this week! Don’t miss it!

Rachael and Lala

Knitty: How did knitting and romance find themselves together in your novels?
Rachael: I’ve always been a writer, but I was, for a long time, a more “serious” writer. I wanted to write Great Things (which, of course, never got written, as things with such weight attached to them often don’t). Then in 2006,  I took part in National Novel Writing Month (an online challenge to write a novel in the month of November). I knew, that Halloween night, that I had one evening to figure out what I was going to speed-write a novel about. I knew I loved two things: romance and knitting, and perhaps if I wrote about what I loved, the going might be easier. And it sure was. I put a knitter and a sheep rancher together (both need wool, but not for heat; they generate enough of their own), and they took over the story. It was a fun, wild ride, and I realized at the end of the month that I loved my little book, and that it was better written than my serious stuff ever was. Over the next year I doubled its length and did revisions, and eventually took it out to find agent representation, and the rest is history.

K: Has anyone you loved (romantically) ever knit for you?

R: Oh, yes. An old boyfriend learned to crochet just so he could make me a yellow afghan, in honor of the first short story I ever published. And my wife, Lala, knits me socks. In fact, she’s almost done with my Christmas pair! (From 2009, okay, but they’re coming! 75% done!)

K: What is in the water in Cypress Hollow? It seems to attract hot men like bees to honey.
R: Ha! Someone once pointed out to me that it seemed like all the men in Cypress Hollow had great butts. I never knew I was someone who really appreciated that side of a man until I reread some of my work—yes, the heroine always, at some point, is behind the hero, admiring the view. Huh. Illuminating.

And then, of course, there are the men like Elbert Romo and Pete Wegman, the older ranchers and town locals who probably had great backsides in their time, but are now more well known for being loving and kind and funny, and I adore them just as much.

K: Is Cypress Hollow based on a real town or a whole bunch of towns that you’ve spliced together?
R: It changes—when I first created it, I thought I was making it up. Now, I realize that I’ve drawn from many small towns I’ve known. In my head, it’s a cross between tiny Pescadero (south of Half Moon Bay) and the coastal ranching town I lived in during my teens (Arroyo Grande). And when people from small towns write to me and say that I got it just right, that people really DO interact the way they do in my books, it makes me feel fantastic.

K: Would you rather own a yarn store or book store?
R: Bookstore! For sure. No, wait. Yarn store! Seriously, interesting question. I hadn’t ever stopped to consider the fact that my first heroine, Abigail, owns a yarn store, and my second heroine, Lucy, owns a bookstore. I worked in a small-town bookstore for five years, so I know that commerce, that kind of trade, better than I know the yarn industry, but I certainly know the PRODUCT sold in yarn stores. But my brain is so tied now to being at my desk, creating worlds, that it would be hard to work retail in any form. I consider those who own yarn and bookstores my heroes, and I respect their chutzpah and bravery in the face of today’s often stormy economy. I pledge to continue to do my part in the form of purchases!

It’s our last book-day giveaway…maybe today will be your lucky day!

This time, to win, leave a comment to this post by Thursday, March 10th at midnight, eastern time. In your comment, tell us what your fictional heroine does for a living. Rachael will pick her favorite and that lucky person will win a copy of HOW TO KNIT A HEART BACK HOME.

See you here again tomorrow for the big finale! A present for everyone AND the biggest prize yet!

Obsession Thursday: Whut’s a Wovel?

[This is Amy, really. I occasionally write stuff about things I like. This is one of those posts. There’s no financial gain in this for me…I just want to share, because this thing has solved a problem for us.]

Okay, so whut IS a Wovel? A wheeled shovel. It looks like this:

this is a wovel. a wheeled shovel. get it?

It made the gadgety press in 2006, but didn’t appear in our house until last week. See, what you don’t know is that my hub has been going through some heart-related stuff recently, and shovelling was banned by his cardiologist. Me? I’ve got hand problems and my back can never stand the strain of shovelling. And with this snowy winter? We were in trouble. [Neighborhood kids never come around here asking for shovelling work. Not sure why.]

He saw the Wovel on sale, and I [who had thought it was awesome in 2006, but had no real need for it, since hub was a super-shovelly man until these recent problems] was right on the case. It came in a few days and he put it together after our recent snowfall. It took 1.5 hours to assemble. But it was worth it.

It works like this:

It's all about pushing and using leverage. it's brilliant.

Hub says it’s faster than the snowblower [which he was not banned from using], lighter and much more enjoyable. He loves this thing. Like really loves it.

Stupid name, awesome product.

Obsession: affordable online eyeglasses

Are you a lucky single-vision eyeglass wearer with a reasonably simple prescription? The online eyeglass world is your oyster. You can get complete pairs of glasses for $10 and up at all of the websites I link to in this article. 

One of the cutest websites I’ve seen is Warby Parker. Everything is $95, all included, AND they give a pair to charity when you buy a pair. They don’t do progressives, though.

Most everyone over a certain age [cough40cough] knows that your eyesight is one of the first things to be affected. I was always farsighted — I needed glasses to work on computers from age 23. Nowadays, because I need help with both distance and close-up vision, I’m stuck in progressives.

these buggers take some getting used to.

Progressives are no-line bifocals. Eyeglasses with three different areas of focus, gently blended so you can’t see the changes as a line on the lens. And they’re expensive.

I have found that, since I’m wearing my glasses all the time now, having sunglasses built in is essential, so I add photochromic Transitions that darken when I’m outside. That’s at least another $100-150. My last prescription glasses cost $600. We’re not talking about Prada frames here, either. No-name vaguely attractive frames. Most of the cost was the lenses.

I found out about ordering eyeglasses online from this blog, several years ago. Since then, I’ve ordered 4 pair for myself and the hub. Because they are C.H.E.A.P. And I mean that in every sense of the word.

my new dedicated computer glasses, with spring hinge and nose pads for comfies (these were perfect!)

Two pair from Zenni Optical were the best of all my purchases. The frames are made in China and I believe that’s where the lenses and assembly happen as well. Progressives without Transitions cost $50. The frames are the ones I’m wearing in my Twitter pic up on the left there. Heavy, but cute enough. Eye Buy Direct was okay, but mostly what was available for months were ugly frames large enough to accommodate a progressive prescription [you need 27-29mm-tall lenses at minimum, from these online shops]. I hate them, but they work. Hub’s glasses have scratched much more easily than usual [he is admittedly tough on his eyewear], but they haven’t broken. I guess that’s something.

my new everyday glasses, with spring hinges (see note below...these ended up being too large and were returned at no cost to me)

None of these cheap glasses had the area of vision that the in-person optical stores can provide. But to save $500, I sucked it up.

I went back to my Optometrist last week and found my Rx had changed again, and this time, I was determined to do it affordably but smartly. I went to some optical shops in town, and found nothing I liked. Or if I liked it, it was exhorbitantly priced…$500 for frames? Really? So I returned to my online searching.

Hoping for the possibility of a brand-name frame, I ended up at Clearly Contacts, which does sell eyeglasses. All their frames were $38, on sale, and their  progressive lenses were much more affordable than anywhere else. I scored two pair — one progressive/transitions, and one single vision for computer use — for $198, all in. They also have a return guarantee, which I’ll gladly take. Not all online companies do.

Here are my tips for finding the best fitting, best looking eyeglasses possible:
– find out what shapes fit your face best. don’t just pick them because they’re cute on the screen. places like EyeBuy and ClearlyContacts have a try-on tool. use it. I did, and found that the frames I’d thought I was going to choose were way too small for my face, BEFORE I ordered them. [follow-up note: the tool isn’t error free. use the next tip as your ultimate guideline…]
measure your favorite current glasses and match the new frames to those measurements. it’s easy to buy something too wide for your face, or too narrow, without having hard numbers to refer to
– look for extras like spring hinges and adjustable nose pads for comfort
– some sites include the weight of the frame. when you can’t try it on in person, it’s good to know how heavy it is before you buy it. use your current frame as reference and weigh it to know what feels okay on your face
– some sites make their money with what they call extras: UV protection, anti-glare and anti-scratch. try to find a site that doesn’t gouge for these necessities.

I wish I could afford to go to my local optician to buy my glasses, but I just can’t. It’s nice that I now have some reasonably affordable online alternatives.

Follow up [March 12/11]: Of the two pairs ordered from Clearly Contacts, my dedicated computer glasses were absolutely perfect right out of the box. The other pair was much too large for my face and went back — Clearly Contacts paid for the return shipping, btw. An order mixup [their error] meant the subsequent replacements came with the wrong pd. Again, they paid for shipping BOTH WAYS and are fixing the error at no cost to me.

After having dealt with Eye Buy Direct, Zenni Optical and now Clearly Contacts, the only one I’d recommend is Clearly Contacts [a Canadian Company; the US equivalent is Coastal Contacts], and they’re the only company I’ll use from now on. The quality of their lenses is much higher than either of the other two companies I’ve tried, especially the progressives. They also offer brand-name frames that feel more solid and durable, and are more comfortable to wear. And their customer service is polite and efficient. Yup, you can consider this an unsolicited endorsement.

Obsession: Hot Drinks

For me, as for many others, knitting and the kettle are inextricably linked.

I love me a hot drink. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate – even hot water in moments of desperation. If it’s warm, and served in a mug, I’ll drink it.

Although it’s very cold where I am right now – and has been for several long weeks – my love for hot drinks is absolutely not weather-dependent. It has to be pretty darn hot for me to drink iced coffee.

And if I’m going to sit down for any length of time to knit, I put the kettle (or the coffee machine) on.

A couple of things have made my life better, as a hot-drink-obsessed knitter….

1. Good decaf coffee. I dearly love coffee; brutally strong, black coffee. It’s my favourite foodstuff in the entire world, but I really do try to keep the caffeine consumption to a reasonable level. So when I found a good, dark roast decaf that tasted the way I liked it, I was thrilled.

Yes, I would probably rescue this from a house fire.

2. A teapot that keeps itself warm. The Guy Degrenne Salam teapot is brilliant: it has a felt-lined stainless steel cover that allows you make a pot of tea and keep knitting without stressing about your tea going cold.  They’re not inexpensive, but amortized out over the number of times I’ve used it, I’ve got more value from this than anything else I’ve ever bought.

Obsessing about travel

foreground dude is suspicious. background dude is dapper.

I love to travel. I love the planning to go, when anything is possible and your adventures have yet to start.

I love the part when you’re right IN IT and enjoying what you came for [whether it turns out as you planned or not, and it’s often not].

And I love the part when you’re finally ready to go home and turn the trip you’re on into a juicy memory that you can chaw on for a long while. And unpack the cool stuff you collected on your trip to help you remember.

I’ve had all of those moments in the last 2 weeks. The hub and I just got back from Heather Ordover of Craftlit‘s London, Bath & Wales adventure. A week of UK overload, focused on literature and crafting. The picture above right kind of sums it up: new UK vs old UK — always contrasting. Heather has been a friend since I went to SOAR in 2007, and this time we got to spend time with her hub, who is awesome. Our boys got along exceedingly well, which made for warm fuzzies on our part. And thoughts of future trips together. But I digress. We started in London:

proof I was actually there
dramatic skies as seen from our moving tour bus, driving through London
i can assure you it is NOT falling down.
v. v. v. old socks at the V&A. a museum that I fell in love with. and I emphatically do NOT like museums.
i Knit London is licensed, and clearly i took advantage of that. i loved this strawberry/pear cider. never got another bottle. whimper.

We also saw the play Oliver!, which was slightly traumatic for me since my sister [very musical, she is] was one of the orphans when she was a kid and spent an entire summer singing the songs in the house every waking hour. Talk about flashbacks.

Heather getting Stephen Moore's autograph

Most excitingly that night, besides being in the famous Royal Drury Lane Theatre, and enjoying the performance, it turned out that the grandfather was played by Stephen Moore. Heather is shown at right, getting his autograph and sharing a charming, heartwarming anecdote. I am standing to Mr Moore’s right, trying not to pee my pants. He was lovely and charming and a little surprised by our enthusiasm.

Who is this lovely man? Why, he is the original voice of Marvin, the Paranoid Android. And now I have his signature on my bagel-fabric knitting bag. Because that was all I had with me. Yay to Heather and Andrew for reading the program and getting us the geeky scoop of the trip!

our beloved blue-badge guide, Peter Ffrench, in his customary road-warrior position
the Crescent in Bath. If you've watched a Jane Austen movie, you've likely seen it. wish the cars weren't there, but I just squinted and imagined carriages and women in Regency dress instead.
i didn't expect to care about the Tinturn Abbey visit. i was an idiot. it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
taking a trip (not up to but somewhere near) Abergavenny! who remembers this from Captain Kangaroo?
i love this man. our tour guide, Peter, was the heart & life of the trip. did you know that?
yarn just-bought being wound on the tour bus before we even left Hay-On-Wye. Sharon is the windOR, Dianne is the helpful windEE (and the professional vacation planner that made this trip happen).
Tenby, beautiful little town in west Wales, where the tide was WAY out.

At this point, the tour continued for one more day, but the hub and I stayed behind in Wales to spend some time with our friends Brenda and Tonia. So now’s a good time to stop. There’s another post left to go, and if you want to see any more of the photos between the ones in this post, you’ll find them in my Flickr stream. You’re welcome to poke about.

Obsession Thursday: The S

The Backnobber II, affectionately know as the S

When I knit or spin for long periods of time, I get knotted muscles in my back in a particular spot – between spine and shoulder blade, just below my shoulder. You know the spot?

Many years ago a co-worker introduced me to this funny looking S, officially called the Backnobber II.   You hook one end  over your shoulder, centering one of the knobs on your knotted muscle then pull down. It puts deep, concentrated pressure on your muscle and releases the knot.

It breaks down into two pieces, so I take it along to spinning and knitting classes, where I tend to be tense from the learning, sitting and working of little muscles.

It can’t compare to a full body professional massage, but for me it’s magic.

Obsession Thursday: Spreadsheets

It’s no secret that I have a background in numbers: I have a degree in mathematics, and I spent 15 years working in product management in the software industry.  I’ve spent many, many hours working with numbers in spreadsheets, sometimes in Microsoft Excel and sometimes in the Open Office spreadsheet program. No matter which program I use, spreadsheets are my best friend, and I love how they can help me even though I’m no longer in the software industry!

I use them for a surprising number of things.

Yes, spreadsheets are good for working with numbers, and I take advantage of this by using them to help me with pattern design and technical editing.  (I may be good with math, but I’m terrible at arithmetic.)  I use them to check the calculations. For example, when creating or checking a garment pattern I create a row with the number of cast-on stitches, I create rows with the number of stitches decreased for armhole shaping, and then I let the spreadsheet do the arithmetic to let me know how many stitches remain after the shaping.

Checking the arithmetic

Very helpful!

But they’re also good for non-number related tasks.

I use them to create charts – these, for example. (I often use the Knitting Symbols font for my own designs, but for Knitty we have our own standard set of symbols.)   I set the column widths and heights so that they reflect the appropriate ratio for a knit stitch (a stitch is about 3/4s of its width in height, so that means  if you set the columns to be 1 cm wide, then the rows should be .75 cm tall.) and then I fill in either the appropriate symbols, or use the color fills.

Colorwork and pattern stitches

When charting, the mathematical functions are amazingly helpful – I don’t need to fill in cell and row numbers – I just set the first one, and use a formula to create the others.  And you’ve got color fills for colorwork charts.

I also use spreadsheets for my to do lists. Here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of Knitty – a sample spreadsheet I use to keep track of my technical editing tasks.

Keeping me on track.

And I even use them to keep an inventory of my stash.

Out of sight, not necessarily out of mind.

Spreadsheets – a knit designer’s and technical editor’s best friend!

I’m obsessed with plastic glassware.

my introduction to Tervis Tumbler madness: the peace sign mug

This is the dumbest post I’ve ever written, but I guarantee someone reading it will have used these things and agree…Tervis Tumblers are awesome.

A year ago, my sister and my mom took a vacation in Venice, FL, and kept driving past the Tervis Tumbler factory. “What’s a Tervis Tumbler?” we wondered. So we made mom stop [yes, we can still do that when we’re in our 40s…oh, the power of children over the mama] and went into a crystal-clear plastic wonderland.

Tervis Tumblers are kind of a stupid idea, and yet I love them. Understatement. I love them. They’re a hollow-space insulated mug or tumbler [lots of different sizes and shapes available], and each is decorated with an embroidered patch stuck between the two layers of plastic. The patches vary from sports teams and colleges to “let’s get drunk” emblems and cutesy girl icons. Lots of ticky tacky to be found.

hub's favorite Big T Tervis

This is a really stupid idea. Who thought of this? How lame is it to use patches like this? But go look in my cupboards. Clearly I’ve gotten over the stupidness, because I have 6 of these in different designs and shapes in my house.

They keep drinks cold or hot forever, come with really awesome lids that will let a straw in if you want, and I just love the things. Also, if they break, there’s a lifetime warranty. Hub loves the ridiculously huge 24-ounce Big T. I’m fond of the 17 oz mug. Yes, there’s a Tervis Tumbler for everyone.

Sometimes you just have to embrace your lameness.

[p.s. looks like they’re branching out…now they’ve got Fiestaware inspired designs that are actually printed on the glass. Way to go, Tervis!]