Saturday, January 30, 2016

BO or Be careful what you wish for

I wanted to make this pattern the first time I saw it. Because of the ribbing. I love, love, love sweaters with ribbing so much that I even buy them in stores sometimes. Normally, since I make sweaters myself, I don’t buy them – it seems silly and would devaluate all the time and effort (not to mention money) I invest into my knitting. Yet, if I see ribs – it is an obsession, I can’t help it… I like the look of knitted ribs  – slick, simple, and classy.
The pictures of Michelle Wang’s patterns most of the time are very impressive (in my opinion). Not this one. It seems rather heavy and too oversized for a slender model who doesn’t look particularly happy drowning in this huge dark sweater and big shapeless pants.  Yet, this pattern has an unusual and interesting construction, nice delicious ribbing with decreases, bat-wing shape. If made out of lighter (in weight and color) yarn it could be rather flattering to any body type.

(If you are wandering what is this red thing on my project – it is a kitchen timer. Why did I put it there? Because I like it very much – its shape and color! And I think it looks good with grey!)
I found in my stash about 14 balls of Fanion, 100 % cotton, with 149 yds in a ball. Bo requires 11 or 12 balls, 142 yds each, for two smallest size. I bought this yarn from Phildar Internet shop years ago, when I WAS buying yarn and magazine from Phildar. I used to love their patterns. I stopped doing it. Why? Terrible customer service. Like really TERRIBLE. And I can speak and write in French. Anyway, the yarn was dirt cheap at the time, so I bought quite a lot. Now I could finally use it.

The construction of this sweater is rather unusual. You make a central panel, then – pick up 129 sts and rib at nauseam. First you rib the right batwing, then – the left one. Then you make another central panel and keep ribbing. The fact that I used needles size 2.00 and 3.25 mm (0 and 3 in US size) and I knit purls and knits alike through the back loop (because it looks better – neater and more even – this way) didn’t make my life easier. I don’t remember when I was so bored with a knitting project for the last time. It is not like you can zone out, watch TV, or listen to a book. I tried. You’ve got to pay attention. There are decreases every 10th row on one side, and other decreases every 4th row on another side and, if you forget about them, you’ve got to unravel the whole row. I cannot tell you how many times I had to reknit a row or two because I’d forget to make a decrease. I got really frustrated with this one. Some days I even didn’t knit at all, just couldn’t pick up my needles – which doesn’t happen to me often.

I made the second smallest size. The directions say that on the side you have to rib for 6.25” from pick-up row. I made only 5,5”.  I also made the sleeve shorter (I have short hands and always make sleeves shorter). I was using 2.0 mm (0 US size) needles for the last 20 rows of the sleeves.
When you are done with two main parts, you have to seam front and back together along sleeve tops, pick up stitches for the collar and start ribbing again. Instead of 2.5” of ribbing I did only 2”. It seemed plenty to me, and I was afraid that my big head wouldn’t get through the opening.  At the end of ribbing we are supposed to “BO loosely but neatly in pattern” (this is a quote from the pattern directions). To me it seems like oxymoron – since it’s either neatly or loosely (at least, for my style of knitting). I tried my best in binding off loosely. Still it was difficult to get my noggin though the opening.  So I unraveled the last row and bound the stitches using Tubular Bind-Off. You have to separate the knit and purl stitches from each other onto 2 different needles, with the knit stitches all on the front needle and the purl stitches all on the back needle. Then you bind off the stitches by grafting them together using Kitchener Stitch (this is my favorite explanation of how to do it). There is another way of binding off to create an elastic, stretchable edge. It is described in Meg Swansen’s classic Knitting. And I’ve been using it rather often. Yet, in this case, since I had 1x1 ribs anyway it made sense to use Kitchener.
Now, you are done with the main part – yappy!!!! However, to finish this sweater you need to pick up stitches at the bottom and do more ribbing – ughhh!!!
I really like the end result though. It took me an unusual amount of time, quite a bit of effort, and a lot of frustration, but it is versatile and fits me surprisingly well.  The only thing that I regret is the variegated color of the yarn. I think it would look better in monochrome. Made from a silky, shiny yarn to emphasize the ribbing with all the decreases…  By the way, this yarn was not easy to work with – splitty and hard on my hands.
 Oh, and in my next project – no ribbing!!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Key West - Then and Now


We came for the first time to the Keys in February some 3 or 4 years ago for a long weekend. My husband promised me great weather, great scenery, great days of exploration and relaxation and a picturesque drive to Key West as a grand finale.

The weather was fantastic especially after gloomy, cold, and snow covered Pennsylvania. The scenery was strikingly beautiful. After a long hike during the day we decided to reward ourselves with a dinner at the local restaurant at night. I was dispatched to find a really good one in the area. So I googled “Islamorada restaurants” and came with a restaurant famous for its sunset views and cocktails.

Disclaimer. Normally I don’t drink. I mean, I can have a glass of wine with dinner, usually when there is a special occasion or something. Yet, the picture of a sunset on a beach with a cocktail was really tempting. Plus the said restaurant was just across the road.

Google didn’t lie about the sunset view. I was an inexperienced Florida tourist then and didn’t know that you cannot really fail with a sunset at sea. They are always great. As well as sunrises.  All the time. Everywhere. Yet, the above-mentioned restaurant basically built its business around sunsets. There was a special observation ground where people could take pictures. Which they did. Non-stop till there was no hint of any sunlight above the horizon.

Food was not important and secondary to the natural wonder of sunset. When we got any food that is. And it took a while. While waiting for it I ordered a cocktail and my husband – a whiskey.  You cannot imagine our surprise when we got our orders. My cocktail was in a big jar (!!!), and my husband got something like half of a small bottle of Glenfiddich.  As I already mentioned, the food took a long time to come and when it did it was bad, scarce, and extremely overpriced. Since the sun has already set, we had no other entertainment besides a lively conversation than our drinks. And we drank, and drank, and drank from our bottomless containers. At the end of our dinner I couldn’t even stand up, not to mention walking straight. It was a real blessing that the hotel was so close to the restaurant. Otherwise, I cannot even think about how this evening could have ended.

Waking up next morning was the toughest thing that I ever accomplished. The hangover, the headache, the regrets… My husband was in a little better shape (conclusion – when in doubt, drink a natural product, not an unknown mixture).

- Come on, - he said. – Let’s go to Key West. You’ll feel better after the drive.

If you feel like dying it really doesn’t matter where you die – on a hotel couch or in a rented car. Fortunately, I didn’t die, just fell asleep. Didn’t see anything on our way to Key West – not the infinite bridges over the blue-green sea, not the blue sky without clouds, not palm trees, not little green quaint islands, nothing. I woke up in Key West in front of the restaurant entrance.

- Let’s eat, - my husband said. – You’ll feel better after lunch. He is a hopeless optimist.

I didn’t feel better after the drive, why was he so sure I’d feel better after lunch?

After the lunch we went to Ernest Hemingway house. It is a place where the famous writer used to live and it is a museum now. I was concentrating on putting one foott behind another so the pertinent question “Why we are going to this particular place?” was asked while we were standing in line to buy entrance tickets to the museum.

- You know, I don’t like Hemingway much, - I said to my husband.

- So what? I don’t like him either. – He replied. – Actually, I never read his books. What was he writing about?

It was our turn and we went inside of the building. I won’t bore you with details of our visit. I couldn’t even if I wanted – don’t remember much. Just the cat cemetery – I was really surprised to find so many cats (all with tombstones, names, and dates). Somehow, it contradicted my previous impression of Hemingway as a macho man. Cats don’t go with “macho” for me. I am old-fashioned like this.

And I promptly went back to sleep on our drive back to the hotel. So much for the grand finale.


This time we drove to Key West with our kids just before Christmas. Sober. We enjoyed the drive – bridges, palm trees, islands, birds, sea, and sky. We had a great lunch. No sunsets. Just food.  No Ernest Hemingway and no cats. No museums whatsoever.

Instead we saw a manatee who came for fresh water (apparently they love fresh water, it’s like candy for them) and played with kids.

We saw pelicans – dark headed and light headed. Their faces bear surprisingly thoughtful expressions. They fly together like silent fighter-bomber planes with an air of determination and melancholy at the same time.

They patiently waited at the pier for the pieces of fish thrown by a guy who was cleaning the catch of the day. “Obama birds” – that was how the guy called the pelicans, because they would come for freebies.  “Can I quote you on Facebook today?” – asked someone the guy. “Quote as much as you like”, - he was too busy noticing the crowd that assembled to admire his handiwork and the birds. So, I am quoting him now.

This particular pelican was waiting for fish next to a couple of fishermen. It came really close and ignored everyone else. My daughter wanted to pat it on the head, but got scared at the last moment.

And, in conclusion, some short observations about sunsets and food. Later, probably during our next visit, we discovered that on Islamorada there is a certain correlation between food and views that a restaurant offers. If you want to eat – you’d better go to a place without a view. Great food is guaranteed. If you want a view – eat at home, or starve. You won’t get much for your money besides a sunset. And if you have a car you can just park it along the road and admire this or any other sunset as much as you want for free.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Random thoughts about statistics

The record breaking jackpot makes you think: what if? What are the odds? Well, they are so small that mathematically speaking they could be called insignificant. A friend called the lottery “a tax on poor people”.  I would rephrase it as “a tax on people who don’t know math and don’t understand statistics”.
I am not a specialist in math either but I have read several rather thorough books about statistics. Why? First – because I do like reading books, even if they are about such strange matters as statistics. Second – because I’ve lived for almost 30 years with a guy who has a finest knowledge of math and is an expert in statistics, so I wanted to arm myself with data and particulars in order to be able to beat him in an argument. Spoiler alert - it didn’t work! What actually changed is my understanding of odds and I don’t draw general conclusions anymore based on a singular fact or some anecdotal evidence. It is actually not difficult. Here, let me give you an example.

Do you like how a new car smells? I know that some people do. I don’t. It makes me nauseated. I can’t wait till the car gets to smell like me, smell me.

Yet, I like a new car very much. Give me a new car every day (of course, if it is the same model, with very few innovations and changes, and colored blue or grey, I don’t want any other colors, thank you very much, but no) and I’ll be happy. Or as happy as I can be since my default state is a deep depression.

I am a worrier by nature. I do worry about potential bad things happening to me for the most part of my day. That is why I like the idea of car insurance. Since the day I saw a car insurance commercial on TV for the first time, I was hooked. They always show the most adorable families, the cutest kids, and the happiest people. You know the famous Voltaire’s saying – If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him? For me it is the same for car insurance – if it didn’t exist… I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

How can you sleep imagining objects of different form and size (like trees or big branches) falling on your car from everywhere, or running animals (a deer, a raccoon, or a big squirrel) colliding with you on the road, or a natural disaster – earthquake, flood, hurricane (that’s why it is called “natural” because it is natural to human nature to imagine it, right?), or fire, vandalism, theft – you know, the common every day calamities that can happen to anyone.

I just see myself quietly driving my car, unaware of an upcoming disaster, and then – boom! – a tree falls on the roof… Or… a deer appears from nowhere and runs into my car at record speed… Or… a terrorist springs out of a bush with a Kalashnikov, and a big branch, and a deer/raccoon/squirrel, and takes me and my car hostages. At this moment the thought of insurance coverage is like a balm for my figurative wounds, a thing that gives me a glimpse of hope in this insecure and unpredictable world.  And I sure want Nationwide, as well as Geico, State Farm, and/or Progressive by my side.

When you buy a new car you’ve got to sign up the paperwork. At that moment the nice women/girl behind a desk (they are always unbearably nice and friendly) starts telling you that you can also buy their warranties and even roadside assistance. Buying a car is a big endeavor. Usually you come ready to pay quite a lot of money. So what a little bit of extra means if it brings peace to your mind?

Unfortunately, statistically speaking these kinds of warranties are just a scam to fleece a customer. To fix any real damage, should it happen one day, will cost much less. And to buy those warranties from a lovely person behind the desk would be a waste, a stupid waste of money. I know it as well as I know my own name (I read the books, remember?)

Yet, every time my knees start shaking and I have to hold myself tight in order not to blurt: “Yes, please, sign me up for this and any other kind of warranty you can think of now”.  I have to restrain myself because my husband is sitting next to me and he would never buy anything without carefully calculating the odds. No matter, how strong is my urge to agree, I have to smile politely and say “No, thank you” to the temptress behind the desk.

So, if you are a worrier, like me, and your nightmares are full of catastrophic scenarios, just get statistics and calculate the odds. It is worth trying and you’ll breathe easier, believe me. You will start driving your car much more carefully but won’t be so anxious boarding a plane since your chances of being killed in a road accident are much higher than in a plane crash. And if you are afraid of going to, say, France, because “people get killed there”, just look at the numbers of people killed in your state every year and you’ll see that your odds of survival are much better in France.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Life lesson or Big mistake

I don’t know why when our grown kids come home for holidays we feel compelled to entertain them 24/7. It doesn’t mean that we actually do it – we do have other responsibilities and obligations in life. Yet, there is this constant gnawing feeling of guilt. After all, they’ve come all this way to see us...

This inexplicable guilt sometimes forces us to act like our combined brains are switched off completely and we stop thinking and just rush to satisfy our kids’ fancies. So, when our older girl proposed to go to a park nearby where on could take a boat with a glass bottom to see the flora and fauna of the coral reef, my husband and I both agreed without a moment’s hesitation.

Big mistake!!! (as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman would say)

I get seasick easily. No, I get seasick just by watching a boat. Or even a swing. There is something wrong with my brain or maybe not the whole brain but at least a part of it. I need to feel a firm ground under my feet. My husband has the same problem, maybe not as evident as I do. And our kids – they are OUR kids, so, if we had thought about it at least for a while, we would have figured out that our kids must have inherited this specific feature from us. Yes, big, big mistake!

So we went to the park and bought our tickets for the boat ride. The cashier was rather brutally honest with us. She didn’t want us to suffer, poor soul; she tried to prevent an imminent disaster.

- There are waves 4 to 6 feet high at the coral reef. If you get seasick, you won’t enjoy it.

My daughters just smiled, and my husband got Dramamine for all of us.

- We’ll be fine, - he said. I think at the moment I was experiencing a short spell of insanity, when your head just gives up on you and your stubbornness.

A little bit later, while we were waiting in a long-long line to board the boat, I looked around me – most people standing in line had kids. Beautiful mothers with cute babies, proud fathers with pretty athletic daughters. It is so interesting to watch families – they are different people yet it is obvious that they are related. You see same traits, same mannerisms, same smiles and gestures.

All of a sudden, a thought struck me.

- What am I doing here? I’ll be sick and I don’t want to be sick. – I am sure I said it aloud. Because I got an answer “Too late”. And off we went… Big, big mistake!

At first it wasn’t that bad. We were going through a long narrow cove between tall mangroves. I even had my “Titanic” moment – my husband put me in front of the boat at the most prominent point and I was bathed by the wind and feeling rather euphoric (“No nausea, no nausea, no nausea… yet”). But then our cute little vessel took to the open sea, picked up the pace pressing forward to the reefs. The boat started rolling and moving up and down. I went inside and sat next to several girls who would scream rather loudly every time we were going up. Those screams didn’t help.

One of the girls asked our cabin attendant if the waves were already as high as they told us they would be.

- Not at all, it is going to be ten times worst, - she smiled and kept giving away vomit bags to the passengers. These bags were a big hit. Passengers snatched them away with an amazing speed. The smiley attendant looked at me and added:

- You should go outside, upstairs, fresh air will help you.You don't look well.

Ha-ha, I didn't feel well either. I don’t know who I hated more at that moment – the screaming girls or the cheerful cabin attendant. Basically, I was ready to kill them all. The only thing that saved them all was that I couldn't move. Yet, I managed to stand up and go outside, even picking up some mints on my way upstairs. Do you know that mints are supposed to calm your stomach?

The other cabin attendant told me to look at the horizon. And this was how I spent the next hour – looking at the horizon and chewing mints. Pretty soon our little boat turned into a little vomitory. Almost everyone around me was either sick, or heaving, or vomiting. I discovered that the old saying was wrong. And the right way to say it is - family that prays together vomits together No more smiling, joking or running around. Even the screaming stopped.

On the background I could hear a cheerful voice of our guide who was describing the flora and fauna we could have seen through the glass floor if we all were not so terribly sick.  

I didn’t see anything besides the horizon. My younger daughter who became sick the last in our family and who actually stayed inside almost to the end and tried to see something, told us later that the seawater was too muddy and she didn’t catch anything.

At some point my husband looked around (I was still concentrating on the horizon) and didn’t find even one happy face. All people on the boat, besides the attendants with vomit bags and mints, were definitely unhappy. So this was our combined idea of family fun – to go on a boat and spend two hours fighting with nausea and looking at the horizon!

As soon as we set foot on firm ground again, no one complained. No one said much at   all. But when the next day I proposed to go snorkeling on a boat, my husband said:

- Hey, we just went on a boat yesterday. Doesn’t life teach you anything?

So this is what we did instead: