Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Socks That Rock,

My Own Personal Truck Stop,

and Stunt-Blogging

Because I have been in overdrive trying to keep one New Year's resolution (a personal, work-related goal which would be doomed by bad ju-ju if revealed at this moment), I have neglected another resolution (to blog more often) but, as you see, I have returned.

They have arrived: two skeins of Socks That Rock from Blue Moon Fiber Arts, purchased in a display of moral and financial support while the gals at BMFA fight the bad guys at Nastybank. This purchase involves a Near Occasion of Resolution-Breaking, but sock yarn technically doesn't count as a yarn purchase, in exactly the same way that sampling the apple-smoked bacon, grape tomatoes and cheese chunks at the grocery doesn't count as breaking your diet. Yarn purchases, like grocery-bacon-nibbling, is merely an act of grazing. No guilt.

The colors in my photo are very close to true. The top skein is Fire On the Mountain (me, with more than a touch of grey, buying yarn named after a Grateful Dead tune? Nah.), and the bottom skein is 24 Karat, a luscious skein of variegated golds which is looking at me with big, big eyes and pleading to be made into a Celtic design and, possibly, even kilt hose.

This bundle of color couldn't have arrived on a better day. Here in Louisiana it is chilly, grey and rainy, which ordinarily does not depress me (any weather not involving hurricanes, heat or tornadoes is good weather as far as I'm concerned, and I say this with authority because I have spent time in the deep freeze and all sorts of other weather extremes), but adding the Saints' loss to the messy weather doesn't make for a cheerful week at all.

Cold and wet and misty and muddy calls for knitting, and a pot of chili on the stove, and coffee. Lotsa coffee. For Christmas, the ever-thoughtful Dave provided me with a Hamilton Beach Brew Station Deluxe, so now I have my own personal truck stop in the kitchen:

And I also have some caffieneilicious Hawaiian coffee to put in it, courtesy of Lisa Louie.

People who know me well understand my odd fascination with truck stops. I love truck stops. I cannot imagine living in a place like Siberia or Kenya or Outer Mongolia where there aren't any truck stops. To me it doesn't matter if the truck stop is large and bright or small, old-fashioned and tidy, as long as I can get coffee, a clean bathroom, diesel for the VW and something to eat, all in the same place. I have spent an inordinate amount of my adult life driving (and driving and driving), and as a result, I know where to find clean bathrooms, digestible eats and decent coffee in a surprising number of states.

One truck stop fixture that I have always coveted is a coffee maker where you just press your cup against a metal lever and hot, strong, heavenly coffee pours out into it from the urn above. No glass pot to fumble with and possibly crack if (when) you (inevitably) bounce it against the counter. Just a big, piping-hot Tower Of Java ready to fill my cup whenever I want.

And now I have one. I am happy. Very happy. Lots and lots of coffee have made this chilly, endlessly rainy January a surprisingly cozy time.

This calls for digging among the bags of UFOs and finishing a few cozy post-holiday items:

Ray Whiting may recognize the metamorphosis of a bag of various Noro Silk Garden leftovers into this casual shawl:

Does this butt make my shawl look big?

This snazzy pose demonstrates why I had to abandon my previous career as a supermodel.

Also, the interminable rain has provided opportunities for sock-finishing:

While it rains, I am also stunt-blogging for Joan Hamer as she recovers from yet another abdominal surgery. This arrangement actually worked out conveniently for both of us. I was thinking of starting a sub-blog for knit-alongs anyway, and Joan needs someone to keep her readers occupied until she feels well enough to blog regularly again, so, in addition to my regular blog here, I will be stunt-blogging and conducting a knit-along for my cozy fingerless mitts on JoanKnits.

And speaking of cozy:

Shamu says, "I love it when the humans have warm ideas like putting a kitty bed on top of the fridge, right under the heat vent. Oh yes, I love it a lot. You can't see it in the picture, but those toes are strategically positioned under the heat vent. Oh yes."
"And, might I add, that chili smells darn tasty."


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Friday, January 12, 2007

"Is There A Commie

In Your Sock Drawer?"

My husband was astonished.

"Who are they looking for ... Osocka Bin Laden?"

That's what Dave said when I told him what happened to the women of Blue Moon.

As a bank customer, what would you think of your financial institution if you had been operating a small business and maintaining an account with them for several years, and they suddenly refused to accept your money? And what would you do the next day if you discovered that your bank decided that your business was a scam, and they refunded all of your customers' credit card purchases? Without doing any sort of research or investigation?

That is exactly what happened to the women at
Blue Moon Fiber Arts.

Blue Moon wanted their customers to be able to join their Sock Of The Month Club by using a credit card online. If you live in the United States, annual membership in the Sock of the Month Club is $210 US. If you are an international sock addict, the extra postage bumps you up to $240.

Lots and lots of people joined the Sock of the Month club.

Blue Moon's financial institution, who shall hereinafter be referred to as Nastybank (on the advice of their attorney, Blue Moon is not publicizing the name of the actual bank at the moment), became alarmed when a whole bunch of people from all over North America and a couple of other continents joined a two-hundred dollar sock club all at once.

Now before any of you knitting bankers out there start talking about fiduciary responsibility and national security and how it is the bank's responsibility to investigate unusual account activity -- please refrain from educating me, because I already know all that. And if the bank had stopped there -- if they simply had investigated an unusual blip in account activity -- they would have been doing their job. "Wow, Blue Moon sure is doing a lot of business! Let's look into that! Well, whaddaya know, a bunch of knitters bought yarn! Imagine that!"

But they did not investigate. Not one tiny bit of investigation-type activity occurred. Not even a Google search. Instead, a six-pack of suits at Nastybank had a little meeting and decided that it was impossible that a whole bunch of people could be knitting socks by hand. That it was impossible that anyone would join a Sock Of The Month Club. And, without further ado, Nastybank decreed that Blue Moon Fiber Arts was either running an Internet scam or laundering money for the Mafia, terrorists, Columbian drug lords or all three, so they shut down Blue Moon's credit card activity and refunded the membership dues to each and every person who joined the Sock of The Month Club.

Just imagine how that financial event would pull the proverbial rug out from under your small business.

Now listen up: I know for a fact that there are Quilt Block Of The Month Clubs, Birdhouse Of The Month Clubs, Fishing Lure Of The Month Clubs and Fruit Of The Month Clubs. I can't vouch for the others, but the Fruit Of The Month Club has been around for a long, long, time. My late aunt Miriam used to belong to it. Before you could get things like kiwis and starfruit at the supermarket, she sent a company in California some money every year, and then each month she got a box of weird tropical fruit. It was real. I ate it. It was good.

So let's talk about possible and impossible. I wonder if I went to Nastybank and declared, "I want to be able to accept credit cards online because I have an Internet porn site where people can pay to watch a Sumo wrestler wearing a tutu, cowboy boots and a fireman's hat have live sex with an albino midget wearing a Girl Scout uniform and a rainbow-colored afro wig."

"Oh, and also a Slip-n-Slide and a recumbent bicycle are involved."

Would the executives at Nastybank say, "No, we can't give your porn site the ability to accept credit cards online because it is impossible that anyone wants to watch a Sumo wrestler having sex with a midget." Would they?

You bet your sweet nether regions they wouldn't decline me. I would have the ability to accept credit cards online in about eleven seconds, and as soon as they got back into their cubicles each and every one of Nastybank's credit officers would log on, whip out their credit cards and crash the bank's server checking out that stuff.

But Blue Moon Fiber Arts did not want to sell porn movies, nor did they want to launder money for the Mafia, run a Nigerian wool scam, or secretly fund the Taliban.

All they wanted to do was sell sock yarn kits. But their credit account activity was somehow suspicious because:

(a.) it is impossible that anyone would join a sock club ...

(b.) they had an unusually high number of transactions. To underscore the highly suspicious nature of this alarming surge in account acitivity, I remind you that Blue Moon is a retailer and this spike in purchases occurred during the holiday shopping season. Somehow I doubt that Amazon or L.L. Bean's customers were all refunded their online credit card purchases because of the frightening nature of a spike in online retail transactions during the Christmas season.

Quick, somebody call the CIA! Dig up Joseph McCarthy, harvest his DNA and clone him! A bunch of women in Oregon are selling sock yarn -- and people are buying it! Clearly these women are terrorists, subvertng the minds of our youth, and must be punished quickly and to the full extent the law allows.

Now if you are like me, I was beyond fury when I first heard of this yesterday. I wanted to grab a pitchfork and join the mob screaming for heads to roll at Nastybank.

And, in due time and due process, they will.

But before heads roll, Socks Must Rock.

What can we do to help?

Because Nastybank's identity cannot be revealed quite yet, we can't all withdraw our accounts and have a run on the bank, or crash their server with emails from sock-knitters the world over. Nor can we send barbed-wire socks to the credit card review committee, or have a sit-in of sock-knitters in the lobby of the main branch.

We can do all those things later, when Nastybank's identity becomes a matter of public record.

In the meantime:

Order some sock yarn from Blue Moon. Just one skein. They have legal expenses, and also other expenses caused by having their finances jolted, and getting credit card acceptance back up on their website with a Nice, New Bank which is happy to accept money from a small business. So even if you have a New Year's resolution to knit only from stash, just one skein of sock yarn from Blue Moon won't count. The Knitting Goddess will absolve you.

Write a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. We can't inundate the bank officers with e-mail yet, but they all read the WSJ.

For the full story, click here and go to the January 11 post for evidence that I am not making this up.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Forty-Six Equals Ten

Things I Have Done So Far in 2007 To Create Knitting Time and Avoid Tax:

1. Yesterday was Twelfth Night, so I had to take down the tree and put away the Christmas decorations and put the tree at the curb to be recycled, and then today I had to do this:

2. Have a birthday. Since my birthday falls at the beginning of Mardi Gras season, I get to have a King Cake if I want, instead of a regular birthday cake. People in other parts of the world only get to have King Cakes on January 6th. We get 'em from Twelfth Night up until Mardi Gras Day. For those of you who don't have a tradition of Twelfth Night, King Cake is essentially an oversized cinnamon-roll log, which is bent into a ring shape, and then it is drowned in icing, which is further engulfed in colored sugar sprinkles. A King Cake is nothing but sugary, fatty deliciousness, and it goes quite nicely with Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.

Today I am 46. That number sounds good.

If you add 4 and 6, you get ten.

I think I will be ten today. Bring on the cake! And where's my treehouse, so I can go hide and knit all day long, because it's my birthday and I can do anything I want?

3: I also did this:

Lots of this. Because it is my birthday, I can knit all day if I want to. And eat cake without worrying about whether or not I can zip up my pants tomorrow.

Because I am ten.

4. We have really, really clean litterboxes.

5. Flossed teeth.

6. Went to the YMCA yesterday to make up for today's cake in advance -- not sure if this counts as tax avoidance, because it does sort of count as keeping a New Year's resolution, considering the cake and all. Someone once told me that birthday cake has no calories if it's your own birthday. It's like a birthday present from the Cake Goddess. I'll buy that. Going to the gym also creates knitting time, whenever I can wrench the recumbent bicycle machine away from the way-too-skinny guy who spends most of his waking hours on it. I really wish he'd go try out the Spinner bikes, or something. The recumbent bike is the only excercise thingy I can knit on. I'm too spastic to knit on the stairclimber or anything else you have to hang onto.

7. Made solemn note of Elvis Day by playing some Blue Suede Shoes and cleaning the bathroom yesterday. January 8th is Elvis' birthday, and I'm sure that the elders in the Church of Elvis would be quick to point out that the King died on the toilet, so it's important to make sure that your bathroom gets a good cleaning so it is presentable on Elvis Day. Especially the throne.

8. Updated blog (see?).


Friday, January 05, 2007

Another Year
Without a Valium Salt Lick

I called the feed store over there in St. Francisville -- like I do about this time every year -- and I got the same answer I always get:

"No ma'am, nobody's making a Valium salt lick yet."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, ma'am. I checked all the supply catalogs. Nothing."

I usually get a hankering for a Valium salt lick at about the same time each year that I have to collect up all the papers and put them in a box and bring them to Peter The Tax Guy (please see my January 1 post for more on this).

There are only two ways to safely approach the treacherous north face of Paper Mountain in January -- the highly caffienated way, or the highly sedated way.

Disclaimer: Just in case anybody from the DEA is reading this -- the concept of a Valium salt lick is a JOKE. Okay? Overworked, middle-aged women fantasize about Valium in the exact same way that middle-aged men fantasize about Angelina Jolie, which means, pretty much all the time. And, like your fantasy of Angelina Jolie, I have to live with the fact that a Valium salt lick just ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean a girl can't dream.

So back to the tax thing. I need to keep my resolution about this, and I also need to knit, and I plan to do both today. I will need a break from the tax, and because I don't have a Valium salt lick, I will have to settle for knitting and strong tea to settle me down when I take a break from sorting out That Which Can Be Deducted, from That Which Cannot.

I am one of those people who should simply not be put in charge of managing large quantities of individual pieces of paper which need to be sorted into various categories. At least, I should not be held responsible for sorting individual pieces of paper into various categories that other people can understand.

I keep telling people this -- do not give me paper to manage -- but they just refuse to listen.

I mean, I am technically capable of doing it, and all that, but this does not mean I like it. I have done it in the past, over and over, for grants and tax and jobs and everything, but it is hurtsome. I have done it well enough to suffer grant-management scrutiny and have every cent accounted for, right down to receipts for an individual roll of Scotch tape and a bottle of White-Out. But this sort of paper management requires my most earnest efforts, a great deal of concentration and antacids, and copious amounts of caffeine.

If I cannot be sedated for this activity, you can bet your sweet heiney regions that I am going to be wired for it.

Compounding my taxoid difficulties this year is the fact that our house is still throbbing with boxes from my office, which also contain paper in staggering amounts. So I live in constant fear that someone besides myself, in search of something they think they need, will open and strew about the contents of a box that does not contain anything they need, thus intermingling Paper Which Has Been Managed with Paper Which Has Not.

Ya know, most Americans are whiney-heineys about the simple fact that we have to pay tax so we can have things like paved streets and schools and police officers and all those things we whine about not having enough of, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy because the majority of us are always voting not to pay more tax so we can have enough of this stuff, and then we whine some more when (surprise!) we don't have as much of it as we want.

I am not one of those people. It's not the actual payment of tax that bothers me -- it's the fact that I have to do all this freaking homework so I can pay it.

And I also like to get something back. If possible. So this year I am doing mileage, what with all that commuting to New Orleans. And I will take advantage of the deduction for putting folks up at our house after Katrina. I'm looking up what else is legal to deduct, too.

Is yarn deductible? Does anyone know? Does it fall under "medical" for mental therapy? Or can I claim it under that thing where you can get a deduction if you insulate your house?

If I name my stash -- let's call it, "Roxanne" -- can I claim it as a dependent?

I do wish the medical-bills pile was smaller -- no one wants to get deductions through sick family members.

Back to the grind. Back to knitting content tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Not Taking Any Chances:

Last night we had the whole nine yards for New Year's dinner -- blackeyed peas (for luck) and cabbage (for prosperity). Also, rice to put the beans on, because we are in the South, and because I am almost certain that you can get arrested if you serve beans without rice south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Not shown: generously buttered bread (also for prosperity). And it has to be real butter, mind you, none of that fake stuff. In days gone by, the wealth of an Irish household was measured by how thickly the family members buttered their bread.

I made enough of everything in the Good-Luck Food Group for a few days, just to be on the safe side. We stayed at home all day on New Year's Day, hopefully to assure an uneventful New Year.

On the counter, above the blue enamelware pot, you will see the bayberry candle I lighted on New Year's Eve still chugging along at dinnertime on New Year's Day. It finally burned out around 3:00 this morning, January 2. It was one of those jar candles, but since it burned all the way from New Year's Eve into today, I hope that is a good sign for the coming year.

Part of our uneventful New Year's Day involved watching movies and a considerable amount of knitting. Dave's sweater in La Lana Forever Random is now united in body and in sleeves, and awaits the insertion of the Fleur De Lis motifs I have worked out. I didn't finish Dave's sweater for Christmas, but if luck is with me I will have it ready, blocked and everything, before Twelfth Night, so it still counts as a Christmas gift.

Stay tuned.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Still Waiting...

...for the bayberry candle to burn down, and its 8:00 Central time here in North America on New Year's Day, but lemme tell ya, this puppy is gonna burn out, you hear me? I lit it yesterday evening and it's still chugging along.

Last year, I made a big mistake. As in, "huge." The bayberry candle was still going when I woke up New Year's Day, so I figured it had done its job of burning overnight ... so I blew it out.

And all the bad Karma of 2005 just poured into 2006 like some sort of bad-luck levee had broken.

So Dave and I spent this New Year's Eve at home, safe from misguided drivers, and I spent the entire day being happily Irish and OCD, making certain to go through each and every ritual conducive to good luck in the New Year, from making certain that the house was reasonably clean and the chores done, to putting shiny new pennies in our pockets and a loaf of bread on the table ... and the bayberry candle burning ... and a log in the hearth ... and sweeping the old year out the door with a new broom (not forgetting to give 2006 a good swift kick in the arse on its way out) ... and and and...

Last year, I also neglected to make any real resolutions, partly because I didn't have time to make any --what with my workload in the aftermath of Katrina -- and partly because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to resolve to do, except to work.

It was kind of hard to think about anything except fur and paws, this time last year.

So here are my resolutions for 2007. Numeric listing represents the order in which these things came out of my head and made their way to my little scratch-pad -- this is not necessarily their order of importance.

1. Do everything within my actual, personal control to make 2007 not suck.

2. Go on a yarn diet. Let's be honest. I am putting this high on the list because this is the very first resolution I am likely to break, so I might as well break one resolution, and get it over with as quickly as possible. But my honest goal is to at very least look in the stash first when the urge to knit something new strikes, and not to buy any more yarn unless I actually need it -- "need" being defined as "Mom wants a Chanel-pink wool vest for her birthday and I truly have no Chanel-pink wool whatsoever in my stash".

"Need" in 2007 shall not be defined as, "it entered my field of vision."

Our house is not so big, and I have a lot of plastic tubs full of yarn. I also have all of my office stuff stacked in Permafiles all around the house until I find new office space.

Have you ever seen, anywhere in any Feng Shui book, the following words? "To increase positive chi, stack plastic tubs full of yarn and cardboard boxes full of books and files in every corner of your home."

Neither have I. Therefore, I have a sub-resolution (I should run for Congress) promising myself to:

2a. Organize the stash better. At the moment my stash is somewhat tidy, but it is not truly organized. It is roughly sorted into kitty-litter tubs marked "Koigu," "Cotton," "Wool-Ease," "Sock Yarn,""Handspun," "David Bowie yarn," "Various Alpaca," "Noro," "Magpies," "Brown Sheep," etc. If I have a whole bunch of one brand of yarn, it gets its own plastic tub (or two). But I have to come up with a better way to sort things out, particularly in the "David Bowie" and "Magpies" departments. Right now, if I have more than one skein of anything flashy or glitzy, like eyelash or metallic yarn, it goes in the "David Bowie" bin. Individual, impulse single-skein purchases, glitzy or not, go in the "Magpie" bin. Now "Magpies" is a great place to rummage when I need to crank out a one-or-two skein project for a hurry -up gift. But really. I have to do something about this. If the stash were better organized, it just might be easier to hunt for what I really and truly need, instead of buying more yarn.

3. Walk every day. Walk outdoors, unless the weather is absolutely severe. Okay, I can hear my fellow Southerners choking (sorry about that) and blowing coffee through their nose: "Mambocat is going to take a walk eleven times in 2007!" But I am serious: I shall walk outdoors in the winter, spring and fall until I cannot distinguish betwen outdoors and the Amazon Jungle (this is roughly May 1 through September 30). Cold I can deal with. Cold I can walk in. Cold? Drizzle? Bring it on. But heat? Mais non. I'll get on the treadmill at the Y in the summer, and on days year-round when the rain is coming down like a carwash. But every passably decent day shall be walked in.

4. Drink lots more water. This is both a little thing and a big thing because walking and drinking more water are part of my plan to:

5. Lose about 15-20 pounds over the course of the year. Not all at once. I know that's likey impossible, and not a good idea for weight stasis. I just like my jeans better when they are not so tight. One pants size down is all I ask.

6. Go to bed earlier and stop trying to get "just the laundry and blog and dishes and and and done" before tucking in. If you ever look at the time/date stamp on my blog entries, somewhere after 11pm is my average posting time. This is because I usually update my blog while the dishwasher is running and a couple of loads are going through the washroom. Granted, I am also having my Lunesta and a cuppa herb tea about that time, because if I didn't, I would be up till four. If anybody ever comes up with a real cure for insomnia, please let me know, okay?

7. Eat healthier. I got into a wicked pattern of convenience food in the months after Katrina -- not to mention the first few months when there was nothing but calorie-packed FEMA food for relief workers. Don't get me wrong -- we were very grateful for the food tents, but FEMA meals have about 11,000 calories per portion to keep you going when you are working your arse off. Which is fine while you are actually doing the physical work of disaster recovery, but once you slide into the management part, and spend more time in front of a spreadsheet than in the field, you just don't burn those calories quite as fast. And it's hard to cook when you are working 80 hours a week, even once the grocery stores were opening up again. Katrina Fatigue also hit me about the same time that I realized I had been married for twenty years, that I am the sole cook (I think my husband is the only Louisiana man ever born who cannot cook), and I have literally thought up, shopped for, prepared and cleaned up after thousands of meals. That realization makes it super-easy to pick up Chinese take-out, which also has the advantage of being cheap. So: More meals from sratch this year. Lighter, fresher, more use of the wok, less use of the pizza delivery people. It is very bad when all the kids who work for PIzza Hut know your first name.

7a. Also: take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement every day.

8. Try to get my act together to create some sort of online means to sell my patterns for extra income. This would also mean:

9. Get more original patterns into saleable condition: make graduated sizes, do them up nice on the computer, etc. My horoscope says that this September will present planetary conditions beneficial for Capricorns to turn a hobby into a career. I would like to do that very much, without losing focus on my animal work.

10. Do something pro-active to stop feeling like I have to be all things to all people all the time. This is a very vague resolution, but it is important. I don't know what "pro-active" means for me yet -- anti-anxiety meds? A shrink? Yoga? -- but I am sick and tired of wearing myself out because I can't stop raising the bar on myself in ways that it does not need to be raised.

11. There is a very important career goal I need to focus on, but I can't reveal the details yet. I need to focus on it really hard, and really soon.

12. Spend more time with friends and family.

13. Do something concrete to really and truly understand my finances. This year I want to learn how to manage money better. Something besides piling all my receipts and W-2's and such into a box and dropping them off at the office of the ever-suffering Peter The Tax Guy.

14. Floss. More often, anyway.

15. Clear my closet of clothes I haven't worn in ages. Shoes too. I am really not much of a "shoe person," but I never get rid of shoes, either. I own far more boots than shoes and I spend about 99% of my shoe-wearing time in Birks or roper boots anyway. And sneakers for walking or the gym. I have shoes that are so old, I could sell them to the retro store. Hmmm....

16. Read (or re-read) one classic book each month. There are too many great books I either read far too long ago, or did not read completely because I procrastinated until the day before exams and I had to default to Cliff notes. I am starting the year with Origin of Species, which I did read in its entirety the first time around, but so long ago that it smells like patchouli.

So there I am. Putting up my resolutions for the whole world to see, or at least that portion of it which reads this blog. Maybe it will be motivating. I hope so. I can also check back now and again to see how I am coming along.

A happy New Year to all of my readers. I do value each and every one of you. May 2007 bring peace, health, prosperity and happiness to you all.


Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: