Random Ravelings

Thoughts on knitting, yarn, writing, and life, as the mood strikes me.

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Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recent Reading

Two books, one by a long-time favorite author, the other by a writer-friend.

The Margarets, by Sheri S. Tepper. Her long awaited "next" book, after The Companions, though not a sequel. This novel concerns a future Earth, massively over-populated and ecologically barren, and a number of other starfaring races, some of which like the Earthians and are inclined to help them, others of which would like to see humans permanently removed from the universe. The problem is, if the humans can't reduce their population and start rebuilding the earth's ecosystem, they will be wiped out (the full reasons are more complicated -- read the book!). Anyway, the main character is Margaret Bain and six other people who also once were Margaret Bain, but whose histories split off at a key point in her past. The solution will be for one person to walk seven roads which are one road. Tepper handles the multiple narrators well and the story moves along smoothly to its almost inevitable conclusion. If you liked Tepper's earlier work, then you will find this book to be along similar lines: an interesting story, interesting characters, a situation that turns out to be rather different than it first appears. Tepper does have an agenda, as she does in most of her books, but I think she manages to present her views without overwhelming the story or getting excessively preachy. I enjoyed this book.

Mother Feral's Love, by Lawrence Barker. Barker, a long-time friend, is primarily a horror writer, and while this book would likely be considered fantasy, there are still some hints of his horror roots in it. For example, his almost loving description of a particularly gruesome execution of a street criminal, still makes me cringe a bit just thinking about it. However, such details aside, this novel takes an outsider character, a "Feral" (sort of hybrid between human and flesh eating ghul) and makes her the lead in what is basically an amateur detective story. Evrandal must find out who really killed the alchemist so she can save her daughter from a short, unpleasant life in the mines. The daughter is being raised by a healer friend who has been arrested for the murder of said alchemist. The trouble is, no one really wants to talk to Evrandal and very few people are inclined to help her, leaving her to take desparate measures in her quest. The world is a bleak one, a city in the desert, surrounded by mountains full of howling ghuls. The technology level is very low, artificially low, as it turns out, and Evrandal ends up caught up in the middle of political manuevaring between city law enforcement, the city shrine, and the heretics. Through sheer determination, she manages to pull off a minor miracle, freeing both her friend and her daughter, but at a price. If you're ready for something different in the way of fantasy, with a true outsider as the main character, you might give this one a try; but if you're at all squeamish, don't say I didn't warn you. Just take a look at Barker's earlier books, if you don't believe me. (Previous books: Renfield and I'll Take My Stand, neither of which are for the squeamish.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


I've been slowly landscaping my yard, a little bit each year. Over the last few years, I've been planting daylilies, those wonderful, hardy perennials. They're easy to grow, hard to kill, and keep coming back year after year. Here's a few of the flowers I've been enjoying this year.

This one is called "Persian Market".

And this one is "Orange Vols".

I'm fortunate in living within easy driving distance of Oakes Daylilies and was able to attend their annual Daylily Festival last weekend. They have a lovely display garden open to the public, plants for sale, a free daylily plant for every guest and so forth. A few pictures will suffice.

Here is portion of the display gardens. It was a gorgeous, sunny day.

Here's "Good Impressions",

"Ruffled Ruby",

and "Lady Georgia". These are just a few examples of the many varieties grown here.

I wasn't planning to buy many more daylilies this year, having only limited areas that actually get enough sun to grow them. But, I succumbed, and came home with four new plants -- one free and three that I bought. I planted the new ones over the weekend, two in my main daylily bed, the other two in really big pots which will eventually be moved to just outside the gate in my front fence -- a nice sunny spot. Nothing much to see of those, yet.

In closing, here's one more image from the Oakes display garden,

"Mauna Loa", a personal favorite.


I've been knitting socks lately. Actually, I've been knitting socks for several years, but in the last two months or so, I've finished three pairs and am in the middle of the fourth. So, what's going on?

Well, I finally decided to try toe-up socks. And bamboo double pointed needles. And something just clicked. So to speak.

I bought the bamboo needles because I was getting ready to attend a conference in Spearfish, South Dakota in the beginning of June, which was going to require traveling by plane, with a couple of lengthy layovers between flights. Knitting is a great way to pass the time, but I didn't want to try and get a set of size 0 metal double-points past the security screeners. While knitting needles are usually being allowed these days, I figured metal double-points, sharp, pointy needles that might really be able to do some damage, just might get someone's attention. Hence, the switch to bamboo needles. I bought a couple of set of Clover bamboo needles in size 0 and size 2 (my LYS didn't have any size 1's that day).

I also was interested in doing something different in sock knitting, something other than my standard top-down, mostly stockinette, mostly striped yarns, socks. So, I looked through my books, mostly the Charlene Schurch sock book (Sensational Knitted Socks), and also the article by Ann Budd in the latest Interweave Knits magazine ("Working Socks from the Toe Up", Summer 2007, p24). The Schurch book includes a variety of toes and heels and stitch patterns for the sock itself, a treasure trove of material I'm still working with. The Ann Budd article described a toe that I realized was essentially the same as the toe I usually work from the cuff down, though worked from the toe up of course, and that was it.

A day or two before the trip, I cast on for the toe up socks and started the first one. Between a long layover at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport on the way out, knitting through a couple of plenary sessions during the conference and some down time in the evenings, I finished one sock and started the second, then was able to work on the second during another really long layover in Minneapolis, and finished the second sock less than two weeks after starting the first one. That may be a new record for me. The first pair of toe-up socks are here.

The yarn is by Opal, in a color called "Lollipop", out of my stash, not sure when I bought it.

Then I started the second pair while on a short trip to Cherokee, North Carolina with some friends. Also toe-up, with the same toe, but where I'd used a short-row heel in the first pair, I tried the "forethought" heel from Charlene Schurch's book in the second pair, and then used Wendy's feather and fan pattern on the ankle. Finished those in less than two weeks, promptly breaking the previous record for finishing a single pair of socks.

Yarn is by Regia, also out of my stash.

Then, last week, I started another pair. Same toe, but I wanted to try out one of the ribbing patterns from Schurch's book. I had one false start (tried another toe, didn't care for it, came out too wide), and have the first sock of that pair almost done. Yarn is KnitPicks "Essentials" in burgundy. No pictures yet.

I really like the bamboo needles. While I worried at first about breaking the needles, that hasn't happened (yet). They're noticably lighter than my usually Inox metal needles, which makes them easier to knit with. They're also not quite as slick and that combined with the lighter weight means the needles don't tend to slide out of the stitches quite as easily. While they don't seem to be quite as pointy, I was still able to execute all of the necessary K2Tog (knit 2 together) and other increases and decreases.

And what I like about the toe-up socks, is that you can really try them on as you're knitting. Also, I feel like I have more control over the fit, and it's much easier to do a loose bind-off than a loose cast-on, thus eliminating the problems of a tight cast-on round at the top of the cuff.

So, consider me a convert. Woohoo!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Few Finished Objects

Having a week off from work between Christmas and New Year's gave me some quality knitting time and I managed to finish off several projects.

First, the extremely long, Doctor Who Scarf(Season 16, with color variations) finally reached it's inevitable conclusion. It measures in at about twenty feet, unstretched and is really too long for me to wear without some extra loops to keep it off the floor. This is the folded up view.

Second, a little scarf I whipped up for myself as a quick Christmas gift, from yarn and needles I bought a year ago at Christmas time. Seemed appropriate. Color is a bit greener than what it looks like here, in spite of going for natural lighting.

Third, a pair of mittens (Spruce Mittens from Robin Hanson's Favorite Mittens), which will be a gift.

Fourth, a hat for myself, of Chunky Wool-Ease, based on a hat I knit a couple of years ago which I liked for warmth, but hated the color. So now, I can still be warm, but also more colorful as well. The cables in the turned up part of the hat were knit as pairs of twisted stitches done from the purl side of the cable as knit so it would show up as twists on the knit ribs when turned up. Turned out pretty well, in my opinion.

Current projects include coming to the end stretch of a ripple stitch knit afghan and pulling out a sweater I started two years ago and deciding that I really did like it, so I'm working on it again.

I'll close with one more photo, the waxing gibbous moon, rising in the east in the late afternoon a week or so ago. Enjoy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Almost Solstice

The tree is up, partially decorated. The dog is ignoring it. After an arctic cold snap in early December, the weather is now unseasonably warm. The moon is rapidly fading, a hair-thin crescent this morning in the southern sky. Lots of clear nights, so the it's been a great month for moon-watching.

After spending November writing the first draft of the Novel (NaNoWriMo), I hit the 60,000 word mark and haven't touched it since November 29th. So, even though the excitement of being a "Winner" has worn off a little, I did put the winner's icon on the blog. Woohoo! And I am going to frame the certificate and hang it on the wall, too. I can use all of the encouragement I can get!

On the other hand, having spent November writing, the plans for knitted holiday gifts did not pan out at all. So, in early December, faced with rapidly approaching shipping deadlines (family all live out of state) and no knitting projects finished, I first thought I just massively scale down the whole plan and knit some cute little stockings as Christmas ornaments. Nice idea, but that one didn't work out either. What with one thing and another, I managed to start only one such ornament and that one took more than two weeks to finish. Finally, last week, I just went the on-line route, ordered some stuff, let the merchants ship it and voila! All done. Except for cards. Still working on those.

This means that I can start planning for next year. It's not like I've given up knitting or anything like that. Just revised my plans. A lot. And this morning I felt the distinct nudgings of the urge to start a new project. Not sure what yet, I'm going to let that idea simmer for a few days before leaping into something too quickly. Besides, I do have a pair of mittens almost half-finished -- just the thumb to go on the first one.

And just for fun, here's a picture I took while in Clearwater, Florida this past September. Can you name the bird?

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Magic Number

After writing almost 5,000 words today, I crossed that magic line, 50,000 words and even managed to hit the end of the story. Or at least, an end of the story. So here's the official celebration photo:

Now I'm going to go unwind. Maybe sleep. Now there's a concept!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Still Writing

Word count is a bit over 41,000. Story is actually in or near the last major section, I think. I'm summarizing a lot since I would like to reach the end of the story somewhere around 50,000 words. Which, with two days off this week, plus the weekend, I should reach by about the 25th, if not sooner.

As I write, whole scenes get condensed to a few sentences, whole subplots get sketched in, to be filled out later. Little details like weather and clothing and most descriptions get reduced to the minimum necessary. Right now I'm trying to finish the story, not pad the word count. In fact, after several 2000 word days over the weekend, I've been writing only around 1000 words per day this week. This kind of sketching is actually harder in some ways than writing out the whole scene. If I write the whole scene, then I usually can figure out what happens next while writing the current scene. When I'm summarizing and condensing, I get through each scene a whole lot faster, and thus write slower while I figure out what happens next. I do still write out at least some scenes, it helps keep me in synch with the characters.

And I've found a little time here and there to knit a bit on a couple of current projects. I've not started anything new and won't until November is over. I've got one two color mitten about to the decreases for the top of the hand, and I've gotten sock number two of a pair started in July to the point of starting the toe decreases. This particular pair of socks is not actually one of my favorites. The colors are so bright I've named the project the "Clown Socks". The first sock was started on a road trip to Canada where I didn't have to do any driving and got a lot of the first sock done in the car both ways. The second sock was started in mid July and here it is four months later and I might finish it before the end of the month. I will wear them though. Just really wanting to move on to a different kind of sock. Stockinette in self-striping yarn really does get old after a while.

All of the leaves are pretty much down now. Even had a brief snow flurry yesterday morning, which I missed due to working in an interior office. The snow didn't stick though. It almost never does this early in the season.

Haven't heard rats in the walls since I last posted on the subject. This is a good thing. I'm still skeptical about the critters being truly gone, but at least they're not anywhere I've noticed them. I did spot what I suspect was an owl flying around the corner of the house last week at dusk one day. It looked brownish in the light from the porchlight, and I suspect it was too late in the day to be a hawk. I can only hope it might be helping to reduce the rodent population in the area.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Over the Hump ...

The month is half over, I've written a bit more than 30,000 words and the story is probably less than halfway done. Following Chris Baty's advice in his book (No Plot, No Problem,available here) for week three, I've started attempting to leapfrog through this novel so I actually reach the end of the novel somewhere aroung the 50,000 word mark. This means writing some scenes, but leaving others as brief descriptions. E.g. [Main Character travels to X by boat. It's cold and wet. Someone gets eaten by the sea monster.] Then write some more. Throw in some more short scene references. Keep going. This process does move the story along, but sometimes leaves me feeling like I've left out important stuff. Still, Chris does give the writer permission to go back later, after the 50,000 word deadline was reached at the end of the novel and there's still time left in the month, to go back and start filling in those sketched in scenes.

So, I figure I'm really kind of sketching in the plot in this draft. Trying to get the whole story down inside of 50,000 words, leaving out some detail, but including enough that I can go back later and have something to actually revise. And more importantly, a whole novel at the end of the month. If I'd continued as I had been, I would have hit 50,000 words about halfway through the novel and probaby continued past the November 30th deadline before finding the end of the story. This way will be more challenging, but the increased pressue to get the thing DONE may help keep the internal editor at bay.

Now, my editor is getting some work these days, on posts like this, on work related projects, but she is getting time off while I work on the novel. Instead of shipping the editor off to the Internal Editor's Spa and Retreat Kennel for the month, it's more like she gets sent off to a sound-proofed room in the attic for a mini-vacation, complete with any amenities she wants while I'm slogging away at the novel. A compromise that' s mostly working.