On the seventh day of Christmas…

Tonight, I give you repair No. 2. My sister-in-law commissioned a repair many moons ago, which unfortunately sat untouched for too long while the chaos in the craft room stubbornly refused to be tamed.  When I finally dug out the supplies for Dear Roommie’s Dear Mother’s necklace, I warmed up with this repair. It seems sister-in-law’s sister had a necklace made with these large, heavy turquoise beads that were so large and tightly strung that they stubbornly refused to lay flat.  Then the nylon string on which they were strung finally gave up altogether, and the necklace broke. The request was very simple: Can you fix the necklace, and maybe add some beads in between so the thing will lay flat and not break? Having played with some turquoise for a previous project, I knew exactly what the necklace needed. I have poppy jasper chip beads in my collection, and they are some of my very favorites because of their rich color and the variety of shades of red and brown.  The giant turquoise beads also happened to have similar shades of brown in them, so it seemed a natural fit to pair my tiny poppy jasper chips with the turquoise monsters.

The color match is bold, but works because the red is so small.  I briefly considered silver spacers as well, but that just seemed unnecessary.

The final product was yet another success.  Not only did I score another victory in my new adventures in color coordination, but I also secured the mechanical fix needed to prevent the necklace from self-destructing.  The beads are strung on not one but two strands of nylon-coated wire.  In addition to the spacer beads, I left a little slack on the string so the beads will freely move when the necklace is pulled into a ring.  Most of the hardware was still functional, so I just reused it, but I used fresh bead tips.

Once again, the necklace was delivered to a very satisfied customer.  Sister-in-law’s sister immediately put it on and wore it all night when I saw her on December 23.  It even survived a little tugging by our darling niece.


On the sixth day of Christmas…

Now we venture into the repairs portion of my holiday crafting.

My aunt and cousin arrived at our little mountain paradise earlier this week.  Yesterday, my aunt very sweetly asked for my assistance with a small problem.  You see, she had purchased as a Christmas present for my cousin, a really awesome kitty hat – a Cat Hat, if you will.

However, Cat Hat was missing a pom pom.  It may have been missing already by the time of purchase, but my Aunt was just so thrilled to find something her daughter would so dearly love that she just didn’t even notice the status of the pom pom until after the giving of the gift.

Her request to me:
“Can you think of some way to replace this pom pom?”

In the course of investigating the construction of the remaining pom, I realized that it was far too dense to properly analyze.  Shortly thereafter, I came to the conclusion that the thing could probably be cut off and split into two poms, which would likely still be very full and fluffy.

Tonight I did just that.  I was able to find the knots holding the pom on and together, and as I cautiously pulled out chunks of string, my aunt diligently straightened and grouped the strings so that they could then be retied and reattached.

The finished product, I am pleased to report, looked perfect.

On the fifth day of Christmas…

We now move into the first of the August craft fair gifts.  Specifically, this is the only one that required any further crafting.  I purchased a very lovely glass pendant for Dear Roommie’s Dear Mother, with plans of turning it into a necklace.

Exhibit A
Lovely pendant:

Needless to say, I didn’t get it done before I drove Dear Roommie and Dear Mother to the airport two days before Christmas.  Instead, I dug out a corner of the craft room and put together the necklace in the few hours between the airport drop-off and my own long drive to Houston.

I am especially fond of creating multi-strand and mixed-media jewelry.  In this case, the ribbon back half also served to save my sanity after stringing half of four strands of seed beads while under a time limit.

The finished product turned out a good bit longer than I intended, so I’ll probably have to take apart the ribbon portion and try again, but I was really pleased with the final design.

Exhibit B
Completed necklace:

On the fourth day of Christmas…

One of the girls at work set out a box at her cubicle with a sign asking for donations of hats, scarves, blankets, or really any warm things anyone could spare for the homeless served by SAMMinistries.

Naturally, I took the opportunity to make some warm things, figuring hand-made scarves and hats not only supplied warmth, but said, “Somebody cared enough to make you something new.”

I ran out after work and bought four skeins of Red Heart – two green, two red – and decided I’d just make things until the yarn ran out.

The scarves were all made with double-stranded yarn and a size Q hook – roughly the size of my thumb, for reference.  The hats, sadly, just weren’t working out with the Q, so I had to go to single-strand on an N.

I knocked out the full set of red things over the course of two nights, and I didn’t get overly creative with the stitches.  I did one scarf in the standard form, with a short row repeated the full length of the scarf.  The other two I started with a chain the full length of the scarf, then did only a few rows.  The hats are really basic, just crocheted in the round.  I think I started one with 6 stitches and the other with 8.

I had more fun with the green yarn. I have a new crochet stitch guide, so I tried out some new patterns.  I think the most successful one was the really wide one, made with Rope Stitch, which yielded maximum fluff for minimum yarn.  Sadly, I ran out of time before I used up all the green yarn, but my contributions were much appreciated.

I arrived at work with the stack of scarves and stuff, and immediately one of my coworkers asked if I could make a set for her little girl.  I’ll be adding hats and scarves to my January list, apparently.

For an impromptu project, I’d call it an overall success.  My only regret is that I didn’t have time to make more.  I’ll just have to get an earlier start and stock up for next year.

On the third day of Christmas…

I have to start with another “na-na na-na boo-boo” for all my friends back in Texas:

The sky has cleared, the mountains are now visible behind the trees, and we topped off at just shy of seven inches of light, fluffy snow.  Local officials strongly recommend everyone stay off the roads today.  With a view like this from the warm comfort of my parents’ living room, why would I possibly want to go anywhere else?

With that out of the way, on to the crafting!

Bright and early on the morning of December 1, Dear Roommie hits me with another unusual request:

Roommie:  yo
can you crochet a squid?
me: Probably

(Why a squid?  For a Secret Santa gift.  Naturally.  That’s all I got from her.  I’ve learned to stop asking.)

me: What color?
Roommie: squid colors?

(Apparently in Roommie-world, squids are purple and blue.)

me: How big?
Roommie: ummm
maybe like 8″ with tentacles?
it would mostly be tentacles

(TENTACLES! …see, this is funny because there’s this spoof that someone did that’s Fiddler on the Roof, but about Cthulu… Yeah, that’s one’s pretty obscure, isn’t it?)

Yet again, I set to work and knocked the thing out in one night, because really what could be more fun to make than a blue and purple squid?

There was a good sale on Vanna’s Choice a while back, so I now have a sizable stash of yarn that is ideal for amigurumi.  I similarly stocked up on doll eyes and stuffing at some point last year.  The idea was that I could just make critters whenever the mood struck me, and this was an excellent proof of concept.  I didn’t have to buy any new supplies for this project.

The real trick was figuring out how to make all those legs.  I finally landed on an inspired little idea.  I made a grey base in the round, starting with 8 stitches.  The second round was 16 st (2sc in each st), and the third was 24 (2sc in one st, 1 sc in next).  The next row was where all the magic happened:
1sc in st, ch 20, turn
1 sl st in each chain back to base, 1 sc in st from the original round
1sc in st
repeat that pattern around a total of 8 times (to make 8 legs)

Then I built the rest of the body from there starting with a sc up and down the top of the legs.  The two long tentacles, purple fins, and eyes were added before I finished off the body.

Dear Roommie squee’d in delight upon first view of the unfinished bottom portion.  I actually worried briefly for her health when I presented the finished product.

I think I’ll be making some smaller versions – maybe some anatomically simpler octopi – for general sale in the new year.  We were discussing a little octopus with a tiny red bow tie for Valentine’s Day.  Adorable, yes?

On the second day of Christmas…

So back in November, I’m bothered by one of my very best college friends with the following Facebook message:

“Random Question: Do you crochet?”

I responded that I do, and she soon commissioned… a panda hat.

I was thrilled by the picture she sent, and managed to knock out the hat in one night.

I did the main body of the hat with two strands of I Love This Yarn and a large hook (maybe N?  I can’t remember), and used a half double crochet for those nice big fluffy stitches.  The ears were also double-stranded, but with a smaller hook (J-ish).

The placement of the ears is a little Mouseketeer-ish, but it’s just so cute!

Of course, my friend wasn’t able to collect the hat until three days ago, but it was well worth the wait.  She was overjoyed, and giggled heartily at the thought of how her friends at law school would disapprove, and how much she wouldn’t care.

On the first day of Christmas…

I woke up this morning to this view:

By the time Dad and I finished our first pass at shoveling the driveway, there were just over two inches of snow on the (non-driveway) ground.  By the time Mom and I finished the second pass after dinner, it was just shy of six and slowly coming to a stop.

There is nothing particularly crafty about this lovely Christmas treat – this is just my loving “Neener-neener-neeeeener” to all my fellow Texans before I get into my Christmas projects.

That said – part 1 of the Christmas blitz:

Let’s face it – Christmas is a good excuse for making good things.  I’ve done more crafting and creating in the last four weeks than the previous four months.  Last week I made the open of the Christmas Season official…

I made Scramble.

I think I have referenced an old cook book in the past.  Usually, that old cook book is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, specifically, the 1969 edition.  For my first post-graduation Christmas, my sister went to the trouble of finding two of the very same cook books that our mother has been working out of since well before we were born (I can only assume they were wedding gifts), and even marked some of the staple recipes for me.  As much as I would love to credit her with the idea, she actually stole it from a family friend who did the same thing for her three daughters (thank you, Ebay).

Anyway, one of the noted recipes has long been a holiday staple at our house.  It may be just another Chex mix, but it’s our Chex mix.  The recipe calls for a few varieties of cereal that we generally don’t include (the Shredded Wheat soaks up all the goodies and leaves everything else bare, and that’s just no good), but the critical ingredients are Worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, and seasoned salt, mixed with vegetable oil and baked into the whole mess.

I was thrilled when I successfully made my first batch last year and it actually tasted just like Mom makes.  It seems like just a dump-and-bake thing, but the two-hour process requires careful skill, acquired over many years of practice under Mother’s watchful eye.

It’s all in the stirring, you see.  All the oil and seasonings sink to the bottom of the pan, and if you don’t stir thoroughly enough, the pieces on top don’t get enough flavor.  But then if you stir too much, you have cereal all over your kitchen.  (Then in my case, you have a dog consuming things covered in garlic, which is apparently bad for him.)

Needless to say, I’ve been working really hard at staying hydrated this last week, as I don’t generally consume that much sodium, nor can I resist eating unhealthy quantities of this stuff.

(Next year I’ll be working out a less salty version.)

Traveling with a musical instrument

My vacation has officially begun.  I am off work until the new year, I have finished the vast majority of my Christmas gifts, and I have a virtual stack of pictures waiting to become new posts for you.  But right at this moment, I am sitting in Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, waiting for my flight to my parents’ little slice of frosty paradise in the Appalachians.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a quick and easy pass through security this morning, despite my usual worry when carting a netbook, a baggie full of *potentially dangerous* cosmetics, and a little rectangular case full of oddly-shaped metal and wood.   To the real eyes of other musicians it is obviosly an oboe.   However, on an x-ray screen viewed by your average TSA agent, it could be… well, most of them correctly guess musical instrument without demanding a further inspection, but I’ve had a variety of reactions.

Granted, the easiest solution to the security problem would be to simply put the damned thing in a checked bag, but between the sentimental and monetary value of that horn, I would just as soon check my firstborn child.  I accidentally left it in a gate-checked bag once, and spent the entire flight in a state of mild panic, breaking into a cold sweat as I wondered what the temperature was in the cargo hold, and if the pressure difference would damage the reeds.  No, I just have to brave security when carrying my precious oboe.

I once had a screener stop the belt for a good thirty seconds while she stared at my bag.
“Is that a… flute?”
“Ohhh…  Oboe.  …Right.”
It has been my experience that the vast majority of the human population does not actually know what an oboe is.  It’s a crossword staple, so most people know the word.  Some will show a degree of familiarity when you say, “It’s the duck from Peter and the Wolf.”  Others will look quizzically at the small case because they are picturing a bassoon.  I once had an Abbot and Costello-worthy conversation with a trumpet player in my high school band as he excitedly told me about the “double reed” he had seen at a concert.  I was thinking he’d seen something unusual like an oboe d’amore or one of those cool foreign instruments.  Finally he said, “No!  The one you play!”
“You mean an oboe?”
“No, not the big one!”

I once found myself going through airport security fairly late at night when there was no one else around.  They decided I needed a full bag check, so I sat and talked to a couple of agents while another took my shoes and another three or four opened my bag.  I was mid-thought when I quickly leapt up and launched myself toward the table where my suitcase was opened.  Someone had pulled out the oboe case and started to open it – upside-down.  I had a terrifying vision of the pieces rolling out over the purple velvet, then falling down the stacked contents of my bag and finally the fatal three feet to the floor, where the keys and springs would be bent and rendered unusable.  It later occurred to me that it was very lucky those agents weren’t actually armed or otherwise trained to react to sudden acts of aggression.  By all rights, I should have been treated as a threat, jumping up like that.  Instead, they stepped back while I gingerly turned over the unlatched case and politely explained that the contents were worth more than I was.

Today’s pass through the TSA checkpoint was quick and uneventful. Shoes off. Netbook and baggie extracted from my backpack.  Everything else went before the backpack, so I was slipping my shoes back on as the woman looking at the screen squinted a little then turned to me and asked, “Do you have a clarinet in there?”
“Good guess. It’s an oboe.”

On Black Swan

I will preface this by saying that I should have known better.

I generally avoid any film with “thriller” anywhere in the descriptors, as I have no need for gross-outs, cheap shocks, people making obviously bad decisions (don’t go into that dark room, you moron!), or shaky hand held cameras.  I understand that many people thoroughly enjoy the genre.  I’m just saying that I don’t.

But I got suckered into this one.  It has a knockout cast, I heard good interviews with some of the filmmakers, and the reviewers have been going absolutely gaga over Natalie Portman’s performance.  Moreover, Dear Roommie asked if I wanted join her and a friend for Mexican food and a movie, so how could I refuse?

It was, without question, the most messed up movie I have ever seen.  I say this having watched Requiem For a Dreamtwice.  At least Requiem has drug abuse to excuse the mind-breaking terror.  Black Swan is simply the product of the mind who thought a Swan Lake allegory featuring a paranoid schizophrenic ballerina would make for a really engaging film.

Now don’t get me wrong – the execution was excellent.  Portman had me grinding my teeth in sympathetic anxiety within the first thirty seconds, the visual styling with all the nifty mirror tricks was stunning, and I absolutely believed every corner of the set, the horrifically awkward relationships between… well, everyone, and the cringe-inducing acts of self-mutilation.  But it is highly abnormal that I find relief in the scene showing a character vomiting – because it’s only vomit this time.

I’m really not sure what I was expecting to see, but I got Center Stage meets American Psycho.

Fortunately, we returned home with enough time yet this evening for some palate cleansing.  We’ll be spending the remainder of the evening singing along to the Muppets until the creepy goes away.