Sunday, November 29, 2009

Desperately in need of a grip.

See this?

This is a couple hundred yards of two-ply silk/alpaca blend I spun myself a couple months ago, if you remember. It's meant as a thank-you gift for The Auntie who helped the husbeast find his new job. In the next couple weeks, I'd like to invite The Auntie and her husband out to dinner with us, thank her more formally, and give her the scarf as a gift.

First, I've gotta knit the fucker.

I'd like it to be lace; I've got some natural stone beads to put on the ends, and the lace will give more square footage for the yardage of yarn I've got. (Plus, thanks to my knitting history, I can do lace in my sleep, almost.) Which pattern? Yeah. There's a question. I have been through every book I've got (that isn't in a box in South Carolina), I've dug through every scarf I can find on Ravelry, and nothing seems right. I'd consider something other than a scarf, but I don't have enough yarn for much else, The Auntie doesn't wear hats, and it's meant as a surprise so I can't fit anything to her.

So, now, I'm down to flipping through the pages of Heirloom Knitting. Nothing against Shetland lace knitters, but when you're down to flipping through HK and considering an original design, you've officially lost your mind. Sometimes that's a good thing, but there's always a degree of insanity involved.

I'll let all of you know what happens next, when I figure it out myself.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Not a lot going on today. I started writing several seriously geeky blog posts (stone age, Phillips head screws, biology...) and ran out of steam on all of them. So I put on my headphones and did some spinning while the husbeast and the Goober watched a Spongebob Squarepants marathon. If I've gotta spend the entire winter in a 700 square foot apartment with two kids and Spongebob marathons, I fear for my sanity by spring.

Tomorrow I'm tempted to make them watch documentaries all day.

After Friday's snow (SNOW!), things warmed up and the husbeast and Goober actually went to the park this afternoon for a while to blow off steam. (I stayed home with the TV off.) The Goob came home soaked to the knees, telling me in detail about all the puddles she jumped in, so she's fine with the whole snow idea. On Friday she kept saying she wanted to make a snowman, and we had to keep explaining that there wasn't enough snow and it was the wrong kind (too wet). So then she got horribly disappointed when it quit snowing. Looks like she'll have a fine time this winter. It's me and the husbeast who are stocking up on fleece-lined jeans. (I'm also wondering if I can get away with pausing the Christmas knitting to whip up a plain vanilla sweater for me.)

Otherwise, it's been a quiet holiday weekend so far. I'm hoping it continues this way.

Anyone got suggestions for geek topics, since I can seem to decide on one?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh. My. God.

That is not frost. That is SNOW. You can't really see it well in the air, with the camera setting I used, but it's there. SNOW.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things that make me laugh.

Thanksgiving is a stressful holiday for many people (all those family members, smashed into too small a space), so today I'm borrowing an idea from Amy Lane and posting some videos of things that make me laugh. Some of it isn't very safe for work, I'll warn you on those.

First, and most obviously, Monty Python:

And, well, more Monty Python. Because I can. (There's a long animation lead-in, you can fast-forward to the live action, that's the really good bit.):

What's Opera Doc, the culturally significant toon in the National Archives:
Some wanker disabled embedding on this, so you have to click here to see it.

Some Phineas and Ferb:

And some Phineas and the Ferbtones:

And in closing, some Steven Wright. 'Cause holidays are surreal, and so is he.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Three Sisters.

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow (here), and I've got native Americans and food on the brain...

The Three Sisters is a traditional name for a companion-planting method used by native Americans in central and north America. They would plant corn, beans, and squash (sometimes pumpkins, not always) in the same fields, and the yield from all three together would be a great deal more than any single plant grown in the western (monocrop) method. The Iroquois League and a lot of other tribes in this region were running on the Three Sisters when the white man got here around 1600AD.

No one's sure of just where the idea of the Three Sisters originated (though companion planting was/is extremely common in areas with non-industrialized farming). It is known that corn, squash and beans are all native to central America, not north, so that widens the field in terms of where the idea occurred. It's even possible that it was invented more than once - southwestern tribes would add a fourth plant, "bee plant", that drew pollinators to the fields. It's also possible that the concept of planting all three together was so darn obvious to the native peoples that it wasn't really invented at all; that's just how they did it.

Here's how it works: Corn is planted in hills (usually with some rotten fish or crustaceans in the hill), allowing for good drainage and making harvest easier. Once the corn is established, beans and squash are planted into the sides of the hills. (Exact planting dates vary widely, due to small differences in soil and climate.) The beans use the corn stalks to climb, and fix nitrogen into the soil - the very same nitrogen that corn sucks out. The squash vines grow out in all directions, providing a 'cover crop' which chokes out weeds and small animals. Once everything is harvested, it's plowed right back into the soil and left to rot over the winter, and everything starts again in the spring. (In the southwest, I bet they could get two growing seasons per year, in some areas.)

Not only do you get sustainable agriculture out of this - there's enough fertilizing and nitrogen-fixing going on to support all the corn grown - but the harvest is then nutritionally sound for the people eating it. Corn and beans provide that 'whole protein' that we've discussed before. Squash provides excess beta-carotene, which is one of the more difficult nutrients to obtain in ancient/traditional diets.

The usual method for modern science to gauge how efficient a farming system is, the unit of measurement so to speak, is 'calories per acre'. Which makes sense, because it's a very obvious indicator of how useful the land is to us. How much food can we get from it? Unfortunately, my text-books are in storage so I do not have concrete numbers, but I've done research on this before and the Three Sisters yield more calories per acre than any other temperate-zone crop, before the advent of modern agriculture. (Tropical crops are something else again. There is raging debate over whether sugar cane or breadfruit win the highest-yield-of-all-time contest.) And remember, the Three Sisters were far more sustainable than the monocropping going on in the Old World. While the Middle East's topsoil was filling in the Persian Gulf, while China's farmland was blowing away, while Europeans were starving from bad crop yields, the native north Americans were simply leaving their field fallow every couple years and going right back to farming it, because the Three Sisters don't deplete the soil.

I'll leave you with my personal recipe for Succotash, a traditional all-in-one meal of the northeast Amerinds. I developed this myself, for a research project, using foods that are native and would have (conceivably) been available. There are some extras thrown in that aren't traditional, for taste, but I'll point those out.

Don't let the simplicity of this fool you; I have people rave over how great this is, and ask for the recipe.


-1 jalapeno pepper, all seeds and white parts removed, diced fine
-4 cups (ish) sweet corn, removed from ear
-4 cups (ish) baby lima beans, shelled
-salt to taste
-pepper (this is not native, but tastes good)
-some kind of fat (bear grease was traditionally used; sunflower oil would work and would have been native to the area and available; usually I use olive oil which isn't remotely native, but good and easily available)
-onion is not native, but a little bit tastes good, up to you

In a cast-iron skillet: coat bottom of skillet with oil, then add jalapeno, salt and onion if you're using it. Allow this to 'sweat' a bit - low heat to draw out the flavors and infuse the oil with flavor. Pour in corn and beans, raise heat very slightly. Stir this around until the corn and beans are warmed through but not cooked to death. Add pepper to taste. Serve. A dollop of butter on the top is very pleasing to Europeanized taste buds.

Other than the lack of bear grease and the addition of the pepper, this is something that could have been eaten in north America a thousand years ago. (Though of course they would have cooked it on a large, flat rock near a fire.) Enjoy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sekhmet, you fucker.

Try and do some spinning and watch some Stargate, and what happens?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Great moments in knitting history.

Today was not one of them.

As I've said before, I think everything is a cycle, a balancing of scales. So while I sometimes have awesomely good days, well. The flip side of that is days like today.

See this?

I've finished the lice portion of the body of Lustkofe En, and am working upward toward the shoulders (about five inches to go). Did the triangles yesterday, did the oxos today. You'd think after twenty-odd years of knitting, I could do some damn oxos, but NO. Establish pattern row? HAH. The first round is knit 3 black, knit 1 cream, so basically you have to establish pattern row AGAIN, on the second round of the pattern. And because of the big steek in the front center, the only way to be absolutely sure it's centered right is to knit and see. So I got about 3/4 of the way around the first pattern round, realized I'd screwed it up, and had to tink back 200 stitches. Then, the second round, I DID IT AGAIN. Three hours to knit two fricking rows. I don't care if they're about 300 stitches each, that's ridiculous.


And this?

This is Skehmet, sleeping on my lap. It makes typing a little tricky. If I wake her up by moving her paw, she bites me.



And since all of you enjoyed the last photos of the Goob, here she is again.

She's not doing much of anything; I don't think she feels well today. But that's what she was doing when I took the knitting photo, so there you go.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A day of sloth.

I started out this morning, writing a post about slime molds and other fun critters, but the research needed bogged me down and, well, maybe I'll post it tomorrow.

It's six PM and the Goob and I are still in our jammies, I spent most of the day asleep, and I think we'll just declare the whole day a wash and start fresh tomorrow.

May each of you have an equally peaceful day, soon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sekhmet, you fucker.

That's an LL Bean raincoat her butt is sticking out from under. I swear this beast has radar for finding goretex. If it's got space-age insulation in it, that cat is on top of it. Or under it. Fucker.


Otherwise, nothing going on. Ran out of all my pain medication about a week ago, so things have been pretty crappy. But I saw a new doctor this morning and should be feeling better soon. Cheerful blogging to resume shortly. (I'm sorry, I didn't ask for the medication that leads to crazy blog posts. Maybe next time. Or maybe not. Haha. I think you guys were the only ones who still liked me after that last round.)


I did take some photos of the Goober coloring the other day. I love watching her; for four-year-olds, coloring is a contact sport, with rolling around and sound effects and crayons arguing with each other.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 1920s in fashion.

This is the one everyone's been waiting for, I think. I've saved bunches of photos for all of you, mostly from Vintage Textile, the Kyoto Costume Institute (they are amazing), and the Life photo archives. I tried to label them so you could tell where they came from, and put dates on the ones who had them. You can find that info by putting your cursor over the photo and looking at the 'name' of it. Things unlabeled are most likely from Vintage Textile... I've got archives going back a decade of clothes I like, and at first I was sloppy about labels. Whoops.

As with the 1910s, fashion in the 1920s reflected what was going on, socially. The 1920s, more than anything, were about rebellion. Women chopped their hair (though, looking at the archives, I think a good percentage of women KNEW they looked better with long hair and left it that way; good for them), chopped their dresses, and went out and partied. Ostensibly they were celebrating the end of World War One, but personally, I think it was more an attempt to forget the horror of it (the casualty figures make my hair stand on end, just looking at them). After that, yeah, I'd be having a drink and a dance, too.

In the US, prohibition kicked in, in 1919. The general populace answered that with bootlegged booze and bathtub gin. Outlaws were popular heroes, the mob was thriving on the illegal sale of alcohol, and, well. Sociologists have written book upon book about the 1920s and why they were a hunormous party. To me, as I've studied it, it never seems like it was a party for sheer joy, it was a desperate attempt to ignore reality. It didn't work, and reality kicked their asses when the stock market collapsed in 1929.

But while the party lasted, they wore some amazing clothes.

Day wear was waistless, and mostly fitted like a sack. Yes, the first picture is listed as day wear. I'm a little skeptical myself, but Life says it's day wear. Look at her hair.

This kind of thing is really difficult to wear well, as the Life magazine photos show. Heck, even the mannequins look like they have no figure, and they're supposedly PERFECT. For all that the evening clothes were awesome, it takes someone built like a fourteen year old boy (or a fashion model) to really carry them. At least, the loose ones.

Knits as real clothes (rather than underwear or blue-collar work clothing) started to become popular; some of these dresses are made of jersey (tee shirt material).

Some of these dresses, while having a below-waist gather, are fitted enough that they would suit someone with a figure.

For the most part, though, they're very difficult to wear if you're working around figure flaws (and aren't we all?)

On the other hand, if you stayed up all night doing the Charleston and drinking bad booze, you'd likely be on the thin side.

A fascinating variety of evening gown became popular in the 1920s, and still is. The solid-colored 'slip' with a beaded or lace (or both) overdress. In most cases, the underdress is lost, but the overdress remains. Keep in mind when looking at them, the slip would have usually been in a analogous color and tailored to fit the wearer as closely as possible.

This is a clever way to dress. You can wash the daylights out of the slip, get a new one, whatever, and the beaded overdress is fine. The ancient Egyptians did something like this, with beads and plaiting over plain linen.

Chanel started up in this era (many of these clothes are her work), and she's the one who single-handedly introduced the idea of black as evening wear. Black was probably THE go-to color for the decade, if a woman wanted to look sophisticated. Metallics and beads were also popular, in part because they were available to the masses at affordable prices for the first time. (Just like the lace explosion of the Victorian era, when they first developed machine-made lace and women swathed themselves in it.)

And since I know you guys were psyched about seeing the 1920s clothes, here's the more of what I've got in my archives. There's a lot, because I love these clothes, too. Enjoy.