Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Please water your dead wood, every two weeks.

This weekend, I took a basketweaving class at Hill Country Weavers. It was affordable, and I'd always been a little interested. Plus, it never hurts to have a new crafty skill, right?

We made a God's Eye melon basket. It took about three hours. When we were done, the teacher held up one of the baskets for everyone to see. "Make sure you spritz your basket with water every two weeks to maintain its condition."

Excuse me?

"Even if you treat it with sealant, you still need to spritz it. Otherwise it will get hard and brittle."

You mean I have to water my basket? Every two weeks? I know wool sweaters need some tender loving care, but I don't have to freakin' water them.

This teacher was telling us earlier how she teaches at weeklong basketweaving retreats, and she has furniture that is built from basketweaving. No doubt she gives away many of these baskets as gifts, otherwise she wouldn't be able to walk through her front door. "I'm so glad you like it!" I imagine her telling the recipients. "Now be sure to water it at least once every two weeks." And does she walk around her house every week or two to spritz her whole furniture set?

Suffice to say, you won't find me making any more baskets. In fact, I have no idea what I'm going to do with this one:

Wait a sec. Let me check that.

Oh, darn.

Yup. Adding some expensive insult to injury, my digital camera has crapped out. All I did between the last use and this morning was recharge the batteries. The display works just fine. I can look at pictures taken before the aneurysm without a problem, which means it's something in the works that can't be fixed by the likes of me.

Sigh. I had plans for those $150, but I suppose the economy did need a little reinvigorating.

Please pardon me if posts in the immediate future are picture-free. (Assuming I can still download pictures already taken off the camera, I should at least be able to post that light box tutorial I told you about.)

In the meantime, I'm going to go water my stupid basket.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Call a duck a duck, even if it's naked.

There's something known as a True Austin Day. Anyone who's ever had one knows it on sight.

I had a True Austin Day my first weekend in college, when a friend I'd literally just met invited me to hitch a ride with her from San Antonio, where we (1) met up with some friends of hers, (2) saw that Princess Diana had been killed via a newspaper box on the Drag but didn't have any quarters to find out more, (3) watched a bizarre bunch of people we didn't know rehearsing in their living room for a Rocky Horror show that night at the Alamo Drafthouse, (4) were witness to a meltdown over a Key Lime Pie involving a long-haired, goateed fellow in a broomstick skirt, argyle socks, and a chef's hat, and then (5) fell asleep on someone's floor as more people we'd just met watched Ghost in the Shell with the volume on high.

That's a True Austin Day.

It's impossible to define in specifics because the major identifying characteristic is its sheer unpredictability. (Bonus points if you wind up sleeping on a stranger's couch.) Essentially, a True Austin Day is the kind of day where you wind up somewhere you could never have predicted when you woke up that morning. One guy I know wound up at three different parties one New Year's Eve, including a biker bar, a barbeque, and then a political pow-wow at a state senator's mansion. Hard to say which was roudiest. A dear friend had a True Austin Day recently when she and her husband went to pick up a used drum set only to find themselves the recipients of much free booze, and you can imagine where that's going.

Having said all that, I'll admit that yesterday wasn't really a True Austin Day. I mean, I slept in my own bed and went to work, so already I'm out. But I had a glimmer in the evening, when I went to see Girls Girls Girls, a friend's improv troupe, perform.

After they were done, another group took the "stage" (in fact the back patio of an Eastside bar, next to the dumpster). They were called Kitty Kitty Bang Bang. As I learned shortly, they are a burlesque group.

Now check this out: when you say "burlesque," the French linguistic roots apparently make it different than stripping. I had no idea the power of language.

First there was a song by a short girl in skimpy lingerie and pincurled hair who flashed her parts (rather clumsily, if you ask me) at the audience, which happened to be made up of actors, singers, writers, and musicians (it was a theater party). They all watched very politely, but I wonder if I wasn't the only one who was thinking, "Damn, if I only took my clothes off then I wouldn't have had to spend all that money on voice lessons."

Then there was another woman in a wig and I think she was African-American, but she was dressed up in a purposely cheesy Native American getup -- faux skins (very tight across the bust), doofy headdress, mini-tomahawks, a few feathers, and a dinky fake fire on the ground. She did a little dance that mostly involved arching her back and spinning the tomahawks on strings around in the air.


Okay, part of me wants to get into the problem of whether that's considered disrespectful or not to Native American peoples, and whether or not the fact that the dancer was something other than Caucasian gets her a free pass... but really, I'm just kind of stuck on the fact that there was a nine-year-old boy in the front row who looked like he wanted to be ANYWHERE ELSE.

I'm told that these ladies perform in respectable venues -- coffeeshops, famous 6th Street music clubs, and so on. And I'm really working up a sweat trying to see how them calling it "burlesque" means they don't need a nudie bar permit.

At first I thought this was the second sign of the week that I'm getting old. (The first was the serious pain in my right knee while roller skating, thank you college track and field.) But no, I would have thought this was ridiculous even when I was that 18-year-old college freshman wandering around the Drag in a haze of confusion over the fate of Princess Di.

Man. Artistic sensibilities apparently go out the window once you find a group of girls who like showing off their boobs in public. Because look, they weren't even good. (The girls, not the boobs.) If they were really good performers, or if they'd found some great, interesting way to appropriate the burlesque formula or whatnot, then maybe I'd go along with it.

But really. Call a duck a duck, and don't use its feathers to hide your hoo-has unless you can really back it up.

So to speak.

Cross-posted at Letters from the Orchard

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The knitter on the bus goes snaGROROARRRRWLrl!

"All through the mor-ning!"

One of the charms of living in Austin is that anybody, and I mean anybody, will strike up a conversation with you. They say the South is friendly (minus Atlanta)? Come to Austin. You can step on somebody's foot and they'll invite you out to see some live music with them. People love to talk here.

Yesterday, I was riding a bus home. I've been taking the bus and saving oodles of gas money for about a year now. It's become more popular, with the increased attention to climate change and rising gas prices, and my once-empty bus home has become, over the last twelve months, full of semi-cheerful commuters who ride both the bus and a veritable cloud of smugness as we do not fill up our cars.

In the last three months, another knitter has joined the ride. She knits socks on DPNs, so it goes without saying that she's some to crazy-land with the rest of us. Sock knitters have bought in wholesale, yes? And knitters just loooove to talk about knitting. One of my fellow arts critics in Austin knits nothing but garter-stitch scarves, but she still wants to talk about knitting every time we see each other. My knitting Meetup group talks nonstop for the whole time we're together. My mother and I talk mostly about knitting - not because we don't have anything else to talk about, but we both really like it. (Plus I think my father's short on opinions regarding magic loop vs. DPNs.)

Yesterday, for the first time, the Other Knitter and I wound up on seats across the aisle from each other. I looked over curiously at the black-and-gray variegated sock yarn. (Maybe that should have tipped me off, as black is a color I won't touch with size 15 straights when knitting.) She didn't look up.

"What kind of yarn are you using?" I asked, smiling.

"Excuse me?"

"What kind of yarn is that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh. I guess I meant like brand." Surely she'd seen me knitting, too. I'd just put away the EZ Tomten Jacket a few minutes ago. She had to know I spoke her language.

"It's a yarn I found on Etsy." She turned back to her knitting. End of conversation.

Well. All I can think is, she must be a recent transplant, because that sort of thing just isn't done around here.

I did sneak one or two more glances at her, and I saw that she does this really weird thing with her left hand even though it's continental style, and it's really slow-going. Sucker.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Buy Your Color Here!

I'm pleased to announce that I now have my very own Etsy shop for hand-dyed yarn. To start, I'm offering six different fingering-weight yarns for sale.

For a limited time, I will offer a $4.99 discount off your entire order if you purchase a digital download of Arts the Beatdoctor's "Progressions" at Beats Broke for only $4.99. (Low-key trip-hop, perfect for late-night knitting with an iPod. Think Moby, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow.) See the store for more details!

These pictures were taken in my brand-spankin' new lightbox, built by yours truly. With a run-of-the-mill digital camera, a little color tweaking was still requred (trust the yarn, not the background), but it's a vast improvement over my kitchen table. I'll post a tutorial soon on how to build your very own lightbox for less than $20. It's worth it -- trust me!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Turn a Corner, Turn a Heel

This post is a big shout-out to my gal Nicki, who is a very accomplished knitter but who for some reason had as much trouble as I did figuring out the heel of her very first sock. So great was her consternation, in fact, that I think the lady attempted like six pairs or something before she finally got a pair of Crazy Monkeys nailed down, and then proceeded to make the whole free world try one on.

I mention this because Leyburn, you will not keep me down.

I finally figured out the short-row heel. It's not rocket science by any means, but my confusion stemmed from the stranded stitch pattern on the instep and stockinette on the sole.

See what happens? Every fourth row of the lattice stitch is full of floats, not stitches. That means that every fourth row on top is not knit, but it is knit on the bottom. Therefore, you have 33 percent more rows on the sole than on the instep. I had no idea how that would affect my heel.

Finally I just said darn the torpedoes and went for it. I used Wendy's Toe-Up Sock tutorial, and simply worked it out to have fewer short rows placed just so, and by all appearances, I've got it.

I brought these socks with me to work on in the lobby before seeing Tongue and Groove's Red Balloon (my as-yet-to-be-written review, eep, will appear in the Chronicle on Thursday). While waiting, a nice couple next to me asked after the sock. Like any of us knitters who have passed the crazy point and stamped our passports, I was pleased to tell all.

"Gosh," the woman said after a bit. "That's kind of a lost art, isn't it?"

Lost? Well, I did spend six months trying to figure out a short-row heel, but I'm not lost anymore, thankyouverymuch.

I politely informed her of the great knitting movement, and of the popularity of sock knitting in particular. But goodness me. It's like when I was knitting during a rehearsal break last December and a fellow actor said, "Geez, I didn't know you were eighty."

What's your favorite response to comments like that?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's here, yo!

The creation of brilliant work is so grinding.

All the making-of documentaries in the world can't capture the late nights, the back aches, the headaches, the surprises, the tiny pleasures, and the eventual relief and pride of putting out a new album.

Thank goodness you don't care about any of that. What you do care about is adding something brilliant to your iPod, so you can knit with a tapping toe and a wonderfully relaxed muscular system.

Arts the Beatdoctor is a 24-year-old Dutch producer with a stellar new album. Five songs, three of them instrumental (but don't you dare call them ambient!), make up Progressions, his newest achievement and his first American release on the Beats Broke label. Think Moby, Massive Attack, or DJ Shadow. Think about ending a really crappy day in bad traffic with a foot massage and a sexy scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Follow this link and go to the right side of the page to listen to two sample songs.

Then go to this link to get you some for only $4.99.

Let me know what you think!

EDIT: Okey-doke, for you iTunes peeps, here's the link. (I'm in the iPod-less stone age and didn't think.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Good Morning, Sunshine!

It's always the bad days when you wind up on the evening news.

Let me backtrack. My fella owns Beats Broke, an underground hip-hop record label. They have a new release called Progressions from Arts the Beatdoctor coming out on Tuesday, on both digital and double seven-inch vinyl. It's freakin' awesome, by the way. Steamy, smart, complex, fascinating music.

The vinyl is the issue. An internet blog is not the place to catalog the number of ways in which vendors have royally screwed up my fella's orders, but let's just say he's had to mention the words "Better Business Bureau" to more than one merchant over the last few weeks.

Also, the release party is in one week in Utrecht, the Netherlands. We are not in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

These circumstances meant that we both woke up bright and early on July 4 (me after attending a play, whose review I still need to write, on July 3) to begin stuffing records into sleeves and sleeves into envelopes along with stickers, download cards, and liner notes. Then a series of frantic phone calls to in-town merchants who will rush a shrink wrap job on July 4, to be told, "Yeah, but you need to get 'em here in half an hour" for the pleasure of having someone else run the things over with a glorified blow dryer.

Quick interlude: fireworks in Cedar Park, getting lost and briefly stuck on the %&#$ing toll road.

Figured out how to pack sixty double seven-inch records. (He did that. I was knitting a sock, I believe.) Woke up early this morning to get to one of the only neighborhood post offices open today, argued with the clerk that expedited shopping really is available to that postal code, finally won only to spend ten minutes puzzling over the customs forms, me without makeup and he in the clothes he slept in.

Then a news camera sets up in the lobby.

My hope at this point was that the cameraman was there to grab a few seconds of footage of the clerks stamping things. In fact, he argued with said clerks about federal restrictions on filming inside post offices, but in the end he won, and stayed.

And stayed.

The customs forms and various transactions meant that we both had to fetch things from different corners of the post office. We started to notice that the camera was following us from place to place. I walked over to grab some priority mail stickers; the camera followed me. It stayed trained on us as we debated how to list the price per unit in triplicate. And it didn't go away.

My only explanation is that between the two of us, the fella and I embodied an Austin archetype: the young couple out together before noon on a holiday weekend, semi-coherent, bleary-eyed, not dressed for success, and really wishing they could just go have breakfast.

Well, if anyone watched KXAN this evening at six o'clock, you might have seen us stumbling around the post office, vinyl-laden boxes in tow.

I, for one, did not watch the news.

Cross-posted at Letters from the Orchard.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

I appear to have gone the whole month of June without an FO.

Except for, y'know. The NOVEL.

I ended that late last night, the eve of my fella's birthday, with the completion of his gloves. Here he is, holding another of his gifts, a former shoeshine tin now used for coasters made from recycled vinyl, care of the stellajames Etsy shop:

Too bad I didn't have time to model them on my own hands before I had to wrap them up. They looked like floppy clown gloves!

pattern: Basic Glove Pattern by Ann Budd.
completed: June 30, 2008.
yarn: Plymouth Encore DK (acrylic/wool; just over one skein)
made for: my fella. Happy Berfday!
needles: size 4 dpns

Now, speaking of floppy clown gloves...

I want to share some math with you. Without giving away too much personal information, the fella's hands are 8.5" around at the knuckles, and 7" at the wrists. That ought to have meant a men's size M, according to these ingenious charts.

Had I followed the chart religiously and cast on 46 stitches, the cuff would have been ginormous. This is a common feature with Ms. Budd's patterns: she does not take away the requisite ~20 percent with cuffs and instead relies on ribbing to draw in the fabric enough so that the thing doesn't fall off (and I don't have to knit another glove). I eventually settled on 33 stitches.

I don't say this to criticize the designer or say mean things about people. Only to wonder why I seem to be the only person online who's mentioned this. Perhaps my ribbing is saggy? Perhaps the fella's wrists turn mysteriously scrawny at the merest touch of 2x1 ribbing?

No matter. Only, if you should follow Ms. Budd's otherwise helpful patterns, mind the sag.