06 August 2014

Smoking Ice (for MakeHartford makerspace)

I am a member of the MakeHartford makerspace, and on the first Wednesday of every month we do a Show-and-Tell event.  This month's started when I posted a link on the MH Facebook page showing how to make a carbonation rig.  Our newsletter editor was very interested and declared the theme for August, and said he would create the rig.

What could I do that would be cool and demonstrable for a crowd without actual onsite cooking?  Lacto-fermention is one thing, at least the setup with a tasting of finished products, then I saw an article about making smoked ice for mixed drinks.  Really??!  Yes, really, and I knew that this would intrigue people.

When talking to people about my intention, the reactions were great.  Once they realized that I was not talking about

  • Dry ice (which does smoke nicely on its own)
  • Consuming street drugs
  • Some slang for excellence at winter sports

they became genuinely puzzled because of course smoking involves HOT while ice needs COLD, and the two seem completely incompatible.

NOTE - this is a holding article so I can put the link into my handout for Show-and-Tell.  Stay tuned for the full post with photos of my process, and some reaction shots.


04 August 2014

Go-Go Dancing and Knitting and Crocheting Things

It may actually surprise a few readers that I did NOT do these at the same time!  Last night - so just barely into August - I went to a party at a local venue.  Theme was "Deep Blue Rendezvous" and part of the inspiration was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, so one of the costume suggestions was light blue clothing and a red watchcap.  I told a friend I would lend one to him, then realized I needed one for me.

And of course, far be it for me to have a plain red watchcap:

That's based upon the Trilobite pattern, but with a repeat of three instead of four.  It took less time to knit than you might think, at least once I got the cast-on number right.  Most of it was knit on Saturday, finishing about 6:00pm.

We had a LOT of fun dancing to The Aquatudes, which turns out to be one of four surf bands in Connecticut.  Fun stuff!  There were DJs in another room and after The Aquatudes finished, we danced there.  Typical of a lot of the parties I've been to here, whether you have a partner or not is fairly irrelevant. There was a Poseidon, a sailor, several persons in swim gear (including an inflatable stingray that was passed around), and lots of people in red knit caps, including the friend at right who's also wearing one of mine.  Several members of a local burlesque troupe mingled, often dancing on boxes of flashing lights like go-go dancers, and when the hour waned and the crowd thinned, I was pulled up on a box for a bit.  Yep, that would be my new thing for August, and completely unplanned by me - go-go dancing.  Even, go-go dancing with members of a burlesque troupe!

Of course, that was not my only knitting.  I finished a cotton top I'd started a couple months back, just in time to wear to brunch today.  Not entirely happy with it so it may head to the thrift store after a wash, but I want to wear it because this group saw me knitting on it at previous brunches.  I didn't get it done sooner because I've been sidetracked by mostly charity knitting and crocheting, such as these items, which I wrote about on the charity's blog, especially about the yarn in one of the singleton hats:
Eighteen wool yarn and sock yarn baby hats ready to mail.
Easy crocheted caps with earflaps for warmth and ties to stay on.

These five hats came from two balls of Patons Classic Wool.
The center one is a favourite pattern of mine from KnitPicks.

"Onesie" hats, unlike any of the others, mostly doubled yarn.

Pairs of hats - same yarn used, although the center one is a
different pattern, not the standard watchcap.





The crocheted hats pattern is a Lion Brand one, and the hat in the centre of the picture of pairs is based upon a Lion Brand pattern but done in a single weight of sock yarn.  The others are two or three strands together - three of sock yarn, or one sock yarn plus a DK or sportweight wool - in a basic watchcap pattern on 56 or 64 stitches.


Do you remember back in May when I knit four black-and-grey sweaters for boys in orphanages in Kazahkstan?  I now have photos of the delivery.  Only three of the boys wore their gifts when posing for the camera:

23 July 2014

Music in My Life (an essay)

I have stage fright.  It's part of the reason I am much happier being backstage in the theatre world.  It's also something I want to overcome, at least to some extent, so I have started telling stories.  This involves standing up in front of people, mostly strangers, and talking and not fainting.  There are a lot of storytelling events in the Hartford area - Other People's Stories, The MOuTH, Speak Up, and Syllable Series, where I read the following essay.  The theme for July was "Music" and featured a mini-concert by Bandshes.
Music in My Life
© 2014 Margo Lynn Hablutzel

Music has always been a part of my life, although I am incapable (despite lessons in the standard instruments - piano, flute, violin, and guitar – and some less-standard ones like recorder) to create any myself.  I don’t sing well, and appreciate the fact that when there are a lot of us making “a joyful noise unto the Lord” She doesn’t seem to hear the off notes.  There are times when I can’t even follow a clapping pattern that the rest of the audience seems to reproduce as easily as breathing.  But I enjoy music, have found myself singing in the shower or when alone, and can’t imagine life without my own personal soundtrack.
Most of the rest of my family plays music – classical, jazz, ragtime, Christmas carols which we learn to sing (or approximately so) in languages ranging from English and Spanish to German and Latin and Hawai’ian.  As a child I went to local pubs to hear folksingers and Irish musicians, enjoying a bowl of stew or pint of rootbeer and feeling very grown up because my rootbeer came in a real pint mug, until the owner announced that family hours were over and all underaged persons had to go home.  My brother’s first photography jobs, when he was in junior high, were in those pubs, taking publicity photos of the performers.
My mother also raised us with musical theatre.  A performer from a young age, she could sing and even when I didn’t know the musical itself, I knew the songs, even lesser ones such as “Buckle Down, Winsocki” which I thought was our local NFL team’s other theme song.  As I grew into a theatre rat on my own terms, safely backstage where I didn’t have to remember lines or wear makeup, directors found it odd that I knew the score to musicals but not the book, or script.  Scripts are not on the cast recordings.
I learned about pop in high school and about rock in college.  My mother hated that, calling rock music “noise” and “unmelodic” as if we were twenty years in the past.  I was surprised to find out recently that she liked the Beatles and ABBA.  OK, I’m also a little embarrassed about the ABBA part.  I inherited most of my father’s record collection – although I’m not sure he knows about it – which includes The Rolling Stones and the Who and Lynyrd Skynrd and sometimes I wonder if my mother would enjoy the folkie sounds of The Band.
I’ve sampled most other genres.  There are those with little more than a beat you can dance to; those you can whistle while you work; and the ones that require you to roll down the windows and crank the car stereo and peel out of the parking lot and hope for a long stretch of highway ahead.  I learned that sea shanties are perfect for calming a fussy baby, who luckily doesn’t care how badly you sing as long as you don’t hit too many clinkers.  I’ve looked at how music and art intersect, and music and science, and how people make music out of everything from volcanic eruption patterns to birds sitting on overhead wires.  Music took me abroad, as I accompanied a choir (my Spanish language and herding skills more valued than anything musical) to Argentina and New Zealand.
One of my friends, who is a movie reviewer, jokes about pocket orchestras that are responsible for music in movies when there is no other obvious source, especially when a character seems to have a leit motif.  If you know Anna Russell’s summary of theRing Cycle, she translates that as “signature tune.”  I sometimes wish I had a pocket orchestra, so I don’t have to change a CD, jump over a track, or change radio stations when ads come on.  My pocket orchestra would know my moods and when to change from one genre to another, or would surprise me by following Chumbawumba and Bruce Springsteen with Ravel or Scott Joplin as my brain sometimes does when I am roller skating as a way of blowing some carbon off the plugs when my brain needs a rest.  Music rests my brain.  And music charges my heart, giving me energy, hope, joy.  “Pictures at an Exhibition,” “Yfory”, “Oye Como Va,” “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Young”.  I can’t play a Chopin etude, but I can make one my ringtone.
Some of my family members play or sing professionally, others only for the pleasure of family and friends.  I will always appreciate my aunt, who performed with symphonies and opera house orchestras around the world, assuring me many years ago that audience members are essential to the musicians’ life and my inability to create music of my own was no mar on my personality.  So I’ll happily stay in the audience, appreciate the music, buy CDs, support the musicians, and try to keep my volume down when I cannot help singing along.

Testing - testing - checking in

So much for my resolution to keep up the blog!  I kept thinking that I needed to write up what I was doing in June, and then I got busy doing it, or something else, and never got around to writeups.  Now it's the second half of July, and it's been two months since I wrote.  I'll try to do a bit of catching-up.

I've been a bit better about doing new things, though.  I cannot talk about the May one as it's in progress and not ready for public consumption.  June was a mixture and more of taking things I had done in the past into new directions.  My favourite thing in June was a road trip I took to Dallas, Missouri, and Kansas.  Well, I flew to Dallas, then between Dallas and Kansas City, but I put a lot of mileage onto rental cars in between.

My new July thing would be a bad fall off a bike, but I recovered (still a bit scabby) and went on the Real Ride, which was my first long bike ride that I can remember.  I did not do particularly well, definitely at the end of the pack most of the time, but I had fun and did not fail.  I walked in a few places, but rode at the end, completing the whole course.  And I turned out to be a photo op because to joke at myself and the fall I had taken, I built a costume of pool inflatables and pool noodles (complete with roll bars) and had a light-up warning sign on the back:
As you can see, I became a photo opportunity.
It was too awkward to ride in the costume, but I took the sign and attached it to my backpack so I could wear it, especially as the bike had no lights.  After the ride I promptly donated the bike I was using to a local Free Bike project, where they will work on the bike to make it more rideable (it was secondhand and not in as great shape as I'd been assured at the bike shop), and they said they would give me a credit against a bike that comes in and doesn't meet their standards for the ones in their system.  The organizers try to keep a certain type of bike on the road, but they accept almost anything and trade or sell the others.

Since then I've been on a ride around Hartford as part of the Colt 200 activities, and that was a lot of fun. By that time I was on a Schwinn, and even though it's a bit small I've decided I love Schwinns.  Well, I've always loved Schwinns.  Maybe it's a mental thing, but when I decided I needed to get a bike, a friend let me ride on a Schwinn Hollywood and I fell in love.  I wasn't sure about buying it, and then he sold it to someone else.  [Insert sad face here.]  I fell off a Raleigh that I had on loan, and the secondhand one is a Jamis, and a bike shop tried to get me to buy a Trek that just felt uncomfortably big to me (I think it has to do with the handlebars), and the one I have now is another Schwinn and despite the size (20") I am happy again.

Another new thing for July - going up into the cupola of the Colt Armory, on one of the Colt 200 tours:
I was on the tour with my friend Rayah and her friends the Berriens.
You can see what the armory looks like in this area - dicey.


Because it is in one of the less-well-kept areas of the complex, you can't just wander in, and tours are rare.




Views up there are great.  That's the Connecticut River behind me.  In 1854 it flooded, including the then-present factory, so Sam Colt built a series of dikes to hold back the water in the future to protect his equipment.  You can see a panorama of the flood at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and the panel with the Colt factory includes a tiny rowboat with people in it who are factory workers being rescued.


18 May 2014

Four sweaters in two weeks

The timeperiod wasn't that short overall, but some serious procrastinating made it seem so.  I had two sweaters partially done, but the prospect of finishing all four in time was daunting.

Why did I have such a deadline?  There is a group called Mittens for Akkol that makes warm items for the children in orphanages from which a number of the women have adopted children.  The orphanages are in Kazahkstan, so it gets COLD there.  I have posted about knitting for this group before, and this year thought it would be easy to get four sweaters done and I could do some extra items.

Then I went overseas for a couple of weeks and wanted to take something smaller and more meaningful to work on whilst traveling (ditto DFW Fiber Fest, mostly a small item so that I could save space in luggage for yarn, of course!), and came back straight into a very intense play rehearsal and performance schedule, on top of which I was involved in a couple other events, such as SWAN DAY for which I wanted to make a number of items to sell (I sold one, which made me think it wasn't worth the time but others sold zero,and they will go into my Etsy shop), including helping to build the set items for Trashion Fashion 2014 which involved a couple near-allnighters.  The stuff looked really cool in the end.  But that brought me to midmonth and not much further ahead - two sweaters half-done.

It was clear that the only way I could get these done by the beginning-of-May deadline, although friends will tell you I am a fast knitter (one emailed that when I mentioned using a machine, he thought I was referring to the fact that I can knit without paying attention - plain knitting, anyway), was to pull out a knitting machine.  Mine is an older model and I used it last year when asked at almost the last minute whether I could do a replacement sweater for one that was promised and not made.  Which I did.

Could I do two, plus finish the ones that required handwork, and get them to Nanci before she travels so they can be packed, without having to take time off work and being able to get some sleep?

Apparently, with the help of the machine, and not a lot of sleep - yes.

Sweater for Dima - machine knit
Sweater for Sasha - hand-knit
Sweater for Ramil - machine knit
Sweater for Vlad - crocheted body
I waited to post until I was sure the second box arrived.  Forty minutes earlier and I would have sent it by Priority Mail, but I had to use UPS, which is slightly more trustworthy but cost about twice as much.  Oh, well, part of the penalty I paid for not working on these more diligently earlier.

As I said, to get the sweaters done, I did two on the machine. And I ended up doing the tweed sleeves on the machine - body crocheted, so I didn't need to put ribbing on the hem, with handknit ribbing on the sleeves and neckline.  Out of curiosity, I timed the making of the last sweater.  Here's how it went:

First, set up the machine.  I have five balls of black worsted-weight wool and three of light grey (Patons Classic Wool), plus a large ball of multicoloured cotton that is the waste yarn.  I used all five of the black wool and a bit less than two of the light grey.  The teens get to choose up to three colours for the items (sweater, hat, scarf, mittens, and two pairs of socks) they receive, and all four boys asked for black/white/light grey items.  Apologies that some of the colour levels are weird - black is a difficult colour to photograph, especially at night with limited indoor lights.
Ready to start.

Setting up for 96 stitches across.
Ready-to-knit, first with cotton waste yarn.
Changing to the black wool - and error!
You start by setting up the machine for a certain number of stitches per row - 96 in this case, because Ramil is a large guy.Chest 38.5" and neck-to-waist (so sweater has to be longer) is 26".

A few rows of the waste yarn, then I switched to the wool.  Every so often I had stitches "pop" as shown in the picture on the right, and I had to fix those manually or get holes in the knitting - or worse, it fell off the machine entirely!

It took me about 1h30 to knit the back and 1hr50 to do the front - I think I was more tired and not as careful about getting the tension correctly, as I had more manual repairs to do.  The back has about 16,320 stitches in it and the front about 14,400 because you shape the shoulders to allow for the collar to fit better.  I did this part - shaping and adding the collar after sewing the shoulders together - I did the manual knitting in about 2h30.
Taking the piece off the machine.

Shoulders and collar done by hand.
Next the sleeves get added.  Instead of waste yarn, you do the pickup directly into the sides of the sweater body.  This means rolling up the body around the weight - and re-rolling it when the sleeve gets long enough to reach the floor.  The sides are rectangles but the sleeves are more triangular, every few rows I decreased a stitch on each side.

Getting ready to knit the sleeve.

FUBAR!  Remember what I said about
dropping stitches?  FROG TIME.
The righthand picture shows what happened to the first sleeve.  I didn't check when I knit the first row, and as you can see a number of stitches were dropped, then picked up about two rows later.  Of course I frogged this (after using some of my extensive and multilingual vocabulary of bad words) and restarted it.  Later.

The sleeves took about 2h15 total, not counting the restart due to the holes.  So total machine knitting time was a little under six hours - more, of course, if you count the re-doing.

Going on a needle to handknit ribbing.
I matched stripes pretty well.
Once that was done, all I needed to do was sew the side seams and add the ribbing for cuffs and at the bottom of the sweater.  I was a big chuffed that I did such a neat job matching stripes, as seaming is NOT something I enjoy and one reason I tend to knit sweaters (such as Sasha's) in the round.  His is the icelandic-style (round yoke) one, with ridges of white alpaca separating the grey/black tweed from the black main body, and done at a somewhat chunky gauge for speed.  The final sewing-together and ribbing was another 2.5-3 hours, so the handknitting, although much less in terms of number of stitches, took as long as or longer than the machine knitting.

By the way, the stripes on Dima's and Ramil's sweaters are not just to make them more interesting.  They helped me to count how many rows were done so that I knew how many more to go for the length needed. I didn't want the sweaters to look exactly alike so I gave them different stripe patterns.

It felt very funny when these were all gone, and I didn't have knitting sitting right next to me.  I'd put all the in-progress projects away so I would not be distracted.  Time to get them out - you'd think I'd want some time without yarn in my hands, but it doesn't feel like me!

22 April 2014

Ten on Tuesday - Things I Like To Do Outside

My friend Mary Kay periodically posts her lists, and every so often I am inclined to as well.  This is actually from last week, but I didn't see it then and last week wasn't very good for outdoors (due to us getting a snowstorm, yes, in mid-April), so since Carole is on vacation this week thus did not post a new list, I think it is OK for me to use this theme.  My blog, my rules.

Ten Things I Like To Do Outside

  1. Hike
  2. Concerts
  3. Sailing, canoeing, and other boating
  4. Reading
  5. Movies (drive-ins, in the park, someone's back yard)
  6. Baseball
  7. Fair rides (essential part of going to a fair, like fried food)
  8. Ziplines and flying squirrels
  9. Picnics and cookouts
  10. Knitting, crocheting, and suchlike

OK, some of these are things you can ONLY do outside.  And you can add to that list things like flying kites (I am thinking of running some workshops and possibly hosting a kite-flying contest at the Hartford Makerspace this summer), riding horses, climbing trees, and so forth.  There are other things, like swimming, that I couldn't figure out how to fit onto the list but I'll do them inside or outside - like reading, knitting, crocheting, concerts, .....

Some of these I have not done in much too long.  I think I'll be glad I am not stage managing a show this summer!

I'll add another photo from Sunday's hike, just because I can:

21 April 2014

Taking a Hike after Doing Art

I've been a bit overwhelmed lately, mostly because I have over-committed myself.  I was stage managing a play, which included having to provide transportation to two of the actresses and creating props, and a friend was creating the set for this year's Trashion Fashion event, and I wanted to help her.  Well, I like doing art, even though I'm not creative, I do have good construction skills and can follow directions.  Months ago I volunteered to knit four wool sweaters for the Motherless Child Foundation Mittens for Akkol collection, but I put my yarny time to making things to sell at SWAN DAY CT 2014, at which I sold a grand total of one hat.  Even with the extended winter we've had, April wasn't a good time to sell warm things.

This was all after work hours, or sometimes between work hours as March is the end of our fiscal year and we had some heavy deadlines that took up enough hours for two jobs.  In addition to my main responsibilities, I am covering for a colleague who suddenly went out on a Family Medical Leave, and was providing support for a new business bid.  My weeks were already well over forty hours, without the extracurricular activities!

So I am behind in the sweaters.  I should have been doing some catch-up on Sunday, and had planned to work up one on my knitting machine during the day.  But it was lovely weather.  Really lovely.  And although I'd stolen a few hours a couple weekends ago when the weather was truly nice, I haven't had breathing time of my own since the middle of March.  Every weekend was taken up, and of course weekdays were more than absorbed with work and the play - rehearsals, tech, performances.

Instead of meeting obligations, I went for a hike.

There are trails near me.  Really near, such as up the road a bit.  But in all the time I have lived here, I have not taken advantage of them.  Part of them is caution about hiking alone, part is laziness, part is that I always seem overwhelmed on good-weather days.  I decided that excuses were not going to cut it, and after studying maps to figure out the nearest trailhead, I packed a backpack (water, snacks, yarn and hook in case I decided to sit a while, camera) and headed out.

After a bit of getting lost and finally finding an entrance to the trail proper, I headed up the hill.  Up is easier when fresh, after all.  I hadn't planned to do anything in particular, just followed the path.  Taking pictures as I went, whenever something struck me.  Like all the little growing things:










Of course, with our long winter - including snow at the beginning of the week, there many dead things on view:
I found the bleached-white
leaves fascinating.










And most of the trees were playing it safe and remaining dormant, which gave some nice lace patterns against the sky:

Then I spotted blazes, and followed those.  I don't usually do tough bits when I am alone, but the verticals didn't look too tough, and the view was worth the small risk:



Advantage of hiking - bikes had to stay down there:

I also got to see a number of small waterfalls, and a pretty little bit of swamp:

It was tempting to sit and listen to the falls for a while, but I wanted to keep moving, as I wasn't sure how long the trail was or if I would end up doing parts of it again, or getting distracted by a different set of blazes (it's happened!).  I did record a few, here's a very small one.
video

I found this particular deadfall interesting, it brought to mind a line from a poem I learned in high school ~ "Lying together like lovers in kemmer":

________________

One thing that disappointed me was all the trash along the road I walked to reach the trailhead.  Technically the road is also part of the trail, and parallels the trail which is inside a fence.  The next time I plan to take that road on the way home I will take gloves and two bags, one for trash and one for recycling.  It won't be a huge help, and it won't be permanent, but it will be something.  I picked up some small bits of trash on the trail, and two plastic beverage bottles (one water, one sports drink) and carried them out.  The water bottle might have been dropped, but the sports drink was clearly emptied and left - apparently whatever was in it went to the drinker's arm muscles more than his (or her) brain muscle.

These led to an interesting experience at the end.  I had to walk back of course, since I'd walked to the trail.  I ended up coming out at a different spot and headed up the road to the road off which I live.  I was carrying the trash and bottled, and figured I'd dump them at home, when I remembered a petrol station on the road.  I realized that even if it were closed, there would be a trashbin of some kind, and maybe recycling.

It happened to be open, and there was trashbins but no recycling.  So I opened my pack and dropped the garbage into the bin, then headed on my way again.

As I walked past a packky and bike shop further along the road, a station wagon pulled in ahead of me and the driver called to me.  I recognized him as someone I'd seen at the gas station, walking out of the building to his car as I headed to the trash.  He offered me a few dollars.  Confused, I asked why.

He seemed confused.  "I thought I saw you taking cans out of the trash back at the station.  I wanted to help."

How nice of him!  No, I explained with a smile, I'd picked up some trash on the trail while hiking and needed a place to dump it.  He smiled back at me.

"I just wanted to be sure you have a nice Easter," he explained.

"No worries!" I assured him, and thanked him for his kind intentions.  Then we wished each other well, and he pulled back onto the road, while I continued my walk home.
________________

I'll add to this a new thing I did in April:  I abandoned art.  There is a group that focuses on doing Art Abandonment with the goal of "encourag[ing] random acts of art, left in various locations around the globe. The idea is that folks can make something and leave it for a lucky unsuspecting person to find. Artists can then post locations and photos of abandoned goodies…and finders can let everyone know that they are the lucky finder! O' sweet abandon!"  I'm not much of an artist, as I said above.  I can't draw (I've tried! I've tried to learn!) or paint (ditto!) but I can do structured things.  I plan to do some crocheted or knitted items later, but this weekend needed to do fast things.  So before I went on the hike, I made a few, with packaging I'd picked up earlier in the week.

The bead at left became my inspiration, it was so spring-evoking!  The packaging is easter-printed bags, which have a clear side through which the Art Abandonment tag shows.  The beaded items go into the carrot-shaped egg, which I thought is really cute, then into the plastic bag.




I abandoned two around the building where we did the play, and four others on the trail in places like these:

The weather is supposed stay good, so hopefully they will be found before rain, since I'm not completely confident about the water tightness of the packaging.  Maybe someone will think they are left over from Easter - and maybe some have been found and the Art Abandonment email hasn't been notified.  Every so often, the website posts emails from finders.  Even if I never hear about these, I'll keep abandoning art, just to make the world a little more fun and art-filled.  And even if my art isn't what people generally think of as "art", it will be decorative.  I posted some of the pictures, and several persons said that what I do is art, even if it's not painting - we all do different art.  That makes me feel better.
________________

I'm working on another "new to me" thing that I'll report on later.  It's an all-month thing, and I suppose I should be posting as an ongoing event, but with everything else happening (see above), I've been doing it in spurts and catch-ups and may not be fully done until May.