Archive for May, 2012

May 22, 2012

Happy Mother’s Day! (It’s the thought that counts)

In my continuing efforts to make my hobbies more cost-effective, I am making gifts again.  I have been knitting for nearly a year and crocheting for three months!  But, despite the fact that I have made quite a few gifts now, the staggering cost of needles, hooks, more needles, a few of the NUMEROUS knitting accessories available today, books, yarn without purpose that I bought because it was pretty, and plastic containers to hold all this crap has far exceeded any benefits I may have experienced by making rather than buying my gifts.  But I will persevere and (rest assured, folks) eventually tip the scales in my favor.  This Mother’s Day, I made a plethora of potholders.  Mockingly called “One-Hour Potholders” (using a pattern found online from Lion Brand Yarn), each one actually took me a couple evenings apiece although I was able to do one of the crocheted potholders in one night (yay, small victories!).  I used a 100% cotton, worsted, multi-colored yarn and worked three strands of yarn at once for thickness.  The three balls of yarn lined up side by side on the couch proved too much of a temptation for a certain feline filcher (Jack) who would snatch the whole ball up in his teeth and beat a hasty retreat earning him the nicknames “Jackrabbit” and “Jack-be-nimble”.  I would suddenly have the strange sensation that something was wrong in the world and look down to find only two balls of yarn and no trace of the thief.  Luckily, catching the culprit was pretty easy; one merely followed the brightly colored strand up the stairs to where the yarn had been abandoned in the hall in desperation to save his own ass.  Anyways, as an improvement to my previous attempts, I even completed them in a timely matter and was able to snap a few photos before wrapping them and sending them on their merry way!  Beautiful?  Perhaps.  Thoughtful?  I’d like to think so!  Effective as potholders?  That remains to be seen…


And in the event your friends and relatives aren’t fans of homemade gifts (or you haven’t sufficiently convinced yourself that they are yet- try harder, you’ll get there!) or you don’t feel like having a two-day hand cramp when you misjudge how long a project will take and have to put in some overtime to finish on time, I also found a great gift: the Skin Smart Tea Collection from Tea Forté, my favorite source for teas.  The tasty teas, which include Cucumber Mint and Honey Yuzu flavors, are antioxidant-rich, Fair Trade-certified, and certified USDA organic.  The loose tea canisters, pyramid infusers, lovely assorted teaware, and essentially everything else available at are also great choices.  My mother, regrettably, is a coffee drinker, so she’s stuck with potholders…


May 11, 2012

Wool and wine

Festival season is upon us!  And, unfortunately for me and as it sometimes tends to go in life, people were inconsiderate and did not stagger their various events leading to several already jam-packed weekends this summer alternating with several weekends in which I have absolutely nothing to do.  Take last weekend for example: I organized a Cinco de Mayo happy hour at work complete with margaritas, sangrias (which I’m aware are Spanish), and an enormous amount of Mexican beer; I attended a bachelorette party with appropriately inappropriate party favors, Mardi Gras beads, and phallus-shaped nametags with naughty names written on them (Carrie Rubbers, at your service!); then, I attended overlapping festivals on the same day that were held 40 miles away from one another, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and the Bud Break Festival at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.  Take into account the fact that I had to make a pit stop between festivals to pick up the Greek, who with his handsome olive skin and Mediterranean ancestry is not terribly fond of wool but is immensely fond of wine (his favorite at the festival: EVOE!, a red wine named after the shouts of joy uttered by ancient Greeks during festivals honoring Bacchus, the god of wine), and I drove about 120 miles total on Sunday!

Here are just a few photos of the weekend’s fun-filled festivities (only from the festivals though as tequila and heavy, expensive cameras are not a good mix):

What would a wool festival be without sheep!  Any kind and color you can imagine!  All as equally displeased with life and your kind…



Some scenes from the festival…



There were all kinds of other animals there as well, including alpacas of course (freshly shorn!) and a pair of French Angora rabbits (on their cage was a bag of velvety-soft rabbit wool; it was so soft it felt like finely ground sand or some sort of creamy liquid!)


There were all different kinds of artisans showing off their craft…


…and competitions galore!  No doubt laughably unexciting to the athletes and die-hard sports fans out there, but I thought it was interesting.  The ladies in the snorkeling gear were competing in the Sheep-to-Shawl contest.  Yes, she is ingeniously using a drill to spool the yarn.  Teams must shear their sheep, spin the wool into yarn, and weave the yarn into a shawl, and the entire competition takes less than four hours!  All the teams had their own customes, themes, and team names (like “The Black Purl”).  The folks in the bottom two photos are shearing their sheep the old-fashioned way…with really sharp blades and what I assume to be a whole hell of a lot of expertise.



They had herbs too!

A few other observations:

1.)   There were an inordinately large number of sheep named “Mitt Romney” at the event.  Contrary to the beliefs of my more politically savvy friends, this was not some sort of witty satire or symbolism.  They’re just really into Romney, earning them the name (by my ever clever Greek) of “Sheepublicans”.

2.)   It seems in poor taste to put the lamb kabob stand right beside the show pavillion; the poor sheep can smell their brethren cooking!

3.)   There were not nearly enough cotton candy vendors given how aptly themed (and delicious!) the snack was at that particular venue.  It would actually end up being my only purchase because, as it happens, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing; the sheer (shear?) volume of choices for yarn and accessories caused my brain to short-circuit and I left with nothing.  NOTHING!  Next year’s plan: come with an actual plan.  I’ll bring a whole list of projects and specs and clean them out properly, which I’m sure the Greek will be just delighted to hear!

Next on the agenda was a wine festival celebrating the beginning of the grape growing season, when the buds are breaking on the vines (hence the name “Bud Break Festival”).  Not as many pictures at this event as wine, crab cakes, and lying on a blanket in the grass saps the motivation.  They’re great pictures though.  You’d be surprised the exclusive access you can gain when the vineyard owner catches you scaling his wood post fence in an attempt to get your camera over the 8-foot deer wire fence for a better shot.  Nice man.  I bought a bottle of the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Pinot Grigio, but I also thoroughly enjoyed their sangria.  It’s made from their 2011 Stomp sweet Merlot, the product of an annual event in which the vineyard’s guests participate in an old-world style, barefoot grape-crushing competition, a fact that I pushed from my mind while I drank.  The sangria contains fresh peaches and blueberries put in the glass just before the sangria.  A capital idea, because this girl does not like her sangria with bits of partially metabolized debris in it.  The sangria we made for my work happy hour was made the morning of with citrus fruits only, which tend to stand up better to the alcohol and sugar.  That’s the way to do it, people!



May 1, 2012

The Misadventures of Spots and Stripes, Part Two: Testing the new camera on uncooperative subjects

In June, I will have been maintaining this blog for one year.  As a treat to myself (or I just wanted it and the dates happened to coincide…tomato, tomato), I got a new (i.e. good) camera.  One too many blog posts with dim, fuzzy photos finally pushed me to it.  Honestly, it’s hard to believe that phone cameras, in 2012, can still be so crappy.  It’s physically impossible to hold the phone still enough; the Earth’s rotation alone creates too much movement for what I can only imagine is a Civil War-era shutter to take a clear picture.  Ideally, I might get something like, say, the Nikon D800.  But, at $2300, it’s a little out of my price range.  Or, more modestly, the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G3, which comes in at a more conservative $700.  But with an SLR, you then have to buy the various interchangeable lenses, and those will run you $250-300 apiece.  Not to mention the fact that I am by no means a professional photographer, and the fancy camera might be overdoing it a little.  In the end, I got the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS.  It’s moderately priced, requires a medium level of skill to operate, and is a Consumer Reports Best Buy (Consumer Reports is my Bible).  And, I decided to try it out last weekend, and what better way than with my little bundles of joy, who would not sit still for a picture if their lives depended on it.

First, Little Jack (a.k.a. “Spots”) helped me test the Sport mode.  The increased shutter speed allows me to capture fast-moving subjects with high resolution.  I simply hold the button down, and the camera takes continuous shots.  For those times when that braided bit of yarn on a stick…just…has to…die!


Then, Otis (a.k.a. “Stripes”) helped me test the Vari-Angle LCD.  The 2.7-inch screen can be swiveled almost a full 180 degrees, which allows me to perfectly frame self-portraits…or, far more easily capture the antics of cats who like to lurk under benches and behind charcoal grills to pounce on the next unwitting bird who lands at our feeder.  One picture I won’t be able to get, however, is Otis actually catching a bird, but I assure you that will not be the camera’s fault.  Moths, on the other hand, have been put on notice.


Finally, I was able to try out the 35x (yes, that’s right, 35x!) optical zoom on the local wildlife in the woods behind the house.  These pictures were all taken whilst sunning myself on the deck.  Ah, I love letting the technology do all the hard work. 


Damn squirrels! Spots and Stripes, in their characteristically dog-like way, find squirrels both maddening and mesmerizing (Side note: So do Australians. I have now independently heard this from enough Australians to make it official. Despite the evolutionary aberration that is their entire country, Australians are, as far as I can see, uniquely and uniformly fascinated by our squirrels. They also remain unable to explain why in a way that makes sense to me). The squirrels remain uninterested and unintimidated, as my picture of a squirrel having its way with my birdfeeder illustrates.

But alas, some subjects are just too quick to catch!

Stay tuned for more adventures, now with clear, high quality photos…

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