Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Your Title Here

The only eye candy I could muster today: a crocheted hacky-sack that I did not make. This is one of the things I won on my excursion to Main Event; the rest of the haul went to Thomas, the Coolest Kid Ever.

It figures that today, of all days, I'd come down with a massive case of writer's block. And it would seem that my brain did not return from my mini-vacation as quickly as I did, because I've been pretty well behind all day.

But here it is, y'all: my one-year blogiversary...and all the dragonflies and Sea Silk in the world can't help me find something interesting to say. I know it's temporary, but it's profoundly annoying. Really, just...nothing.

So let me keep it simple. To the 20 or so people that probably ever read Plum Texan (including the 8 of you subscribed on Bloglines), I'm much obliged. Someday, my Nefarious Plans for a blog readable by dozens will come true.

Also on that day: I will finally be able to meet a self-imposed project deadline. (And El Diablo will need a parka because it will suddenly be rather chilly in his neck of the woods...)

At any rate...not the best day for a celebratory post. I'm still happy to be here, though! And thanks to Kara, there's now a second entrant in the contest. You know, that thing where you can win stuff? :) Enterenterenter...

I'll spend the next couple of days trying to get my shiznit together to give you some real content. Hey, quit laughing - it could happen.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ahh (or: What I did on my summer vacation)

Time is running out. Tomorrow, I will again have to rise at 6:15 and get ready to greet my cube with enthusiasm after a mere five days away.

But hey, who am I kidding? I'm seriously jazzed. It's been a nice mini-vacation, and it really didn't feel all that short. Not every day went as planned, but with no major mishaps and a lot of relaxation, I think I'll count it a success.

As for the "what I did" part: haircut, Fort Worth, BFF, movies and bowling and games, coolest kid ever, good food, double dates, not much else. Which is more than fine with me.

Now, sure enough, today is the one-year blogiversary of when I made my skimpy first post. And tomorrow is the 'versary of the full-fledged one. Of course, little to everyone's surprise, I'm woefully unprepared, despite Kelly's best efforts on my behalf. I've had a lot going on (most of it good, but not all of it blog fodder), and I'm completely scattered in my energies as per normal.

I still plan to make a big comeback, though...and reader enthusiasm would sure help...so is anyone else going to enter my contest? So far, Laura is the only one who's hazarded guesses (much appreciated). Come on, folks! Free stuff of your choosing!

The biggest news for today is this:

My Canon PowerShot A570 IS, self-portrait courtesy of the 10-second timer, a nicely lit bathroom mirror, and a flipped image. Preliminary tests indicate that it's easy to figure out and will drastically improve the quality of my photos. To wit:

My everyday bag, shot with my old Olympus D-380. Used the digital zoom for detail, and (obviously) flash. And as you might expect - a little blurry, undefined, washed-out colors, bad white flare, and pixellation even on slight enlargement. This is what I've had to work with; in the words of Agent J in MIB 2, "old and busted." And this:

is the new hotness, shot with the Canon - in this case, 1.5x optical zoom, flash, full auto, macro setting. Sure, there's a bit of white flare...but look at the difference. In focus, sharp definition, amazing detail; I couldn't see pixellation until 300% enlargement on my screen. As impressive as that is, this:

is what took my breath away. It loses a tiny bit in resizing for Blogger, but folks, you can see *the weave of the fabric.* It's slighly less than color-true, but MUCH better than before.

(Be sure to click for larger views...Blogger-sizing reduced some of the drama. :) )

The quality and detail wouldn't surprise me with a good 35mm, or even a well-made digital SLR, but on a point-and-shoot that cost less than $200? It's a godsend, and I'm thrilled. I was expecting this to be a half-step between the Olympus and the Digital Rebel I eventually intend to get; it's starting to look like three-fifths, at least.

As for the rest: Forest Canopy? Still in progress, still fixing missed YOs (IDK WTF I was doing week before last). Red Shawl Dammit? About to come to the fore again, seeing as how I'm a bit brainless these last few days. Husband and cats? Still cute and obnoxious. Other non-blog-worthy things? Rather good.

Odd that I'm feeling a bit out of sorts tonight, but I'm hoping that will improve over the week. As for y'all? Enter my contest, yo. I need to feel the love, even if I'm extending the deadline due to lack of previous interest. See below and change "July 31" to "August 5."

And come hell or high water (both distinct possibilities on the last day of July in Houston), I'm busting out the champagne tomorrow. See you then!

(Note: all photos unretouched except for sizing and cropping.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tinkering, timeliness, and a contest

The Sunday evening post is no longer a piece of Americana...it's now my pattern, apparently. I step in with a sigh, as I'd intended to post more this week, and if nothing else, to have the Heaven and Hell Cake photos up on Flickr.

Alas, no such progress. The week just got away from me, what with work getting busy again and me trying to reorganize my life and, also, preparing for a mini-vacation this week. Yep, there's a whole lot going on.

Nope, no photos today...but that's about to become a less common occurrence, as I finally picked out and purchased a new camera. The Canon A570 IS is winging its way to me this week. I can't begin to tell you how much I'm looking forward to photos that don't need much tinkering, and since it seems I can't stand still even when I think I am, the image stabilizer will be a great help. Expect much crowing when I get the thing in my hot little hands.

The Forest Canopy is still in the works; the rows are hellaciously long now, and I really want to finish. But it's going very well, despite missing several yarn-overs and not discovering them until Thursday night, when Kelly helped me figure out where to ladder them up (thanks again!).

Kelly's also taking a look at my bloggish stuff, since I need a techier mind than mine to get all the way to a rework. I haven't been doing nearly enough legwork on this; I want to re-template and get everything the way I'd like it, but I lost a bit of steam this week. Still, I'm proud of myself for doing this weekly; I've long said that if that's the best I can do, it's a good standard to hold.

You will see some progress, that I can promise. In fact, I came by just to raise some interest in sticking around to see what comes next...especially considering that my real blogiversary - that is, the anniversary of my first post with actual content - is just over a week away. So: a contest!

How to enter: Answer the following question by sending an e-mail to plumtexan AT earthlink DOT net. Please DO NOT leave your answer in the comments, so that everyone can guess as wildly as they like with no extra help. :)

During the month of July, I celebrate three anniversaries that are very important to me. Obviously, one of them is my blogiversary, July 30-31. I marked the other two last week - one on the 17th, one on the 20th. What are they?

(In a fit of generosity, I'll go ahead and tell you that my wedding anniversary is October 16...so keep guessing!)

The winner will receive some Very Nice Yarn or Books in the form of one $25 gift certificate to an online retailer. TechieBK will draw a name at random from all correct answers (or all similar answers) - unless there's only one right answer. If only one of you guesses correctly, that one will be the lucky recipient. I'll announce the winner on July 31...and if all goes well, it will be framed in a new template.

I'd also planned to tell you about my upcoming five-day weekend - but it's bedtime, so that may have to wait until I'm actually on it. Have a good week till then!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Co-Cola + Chocolate = Yum. Plus other baking and a bit of catching up.

Warning: this is yet another long one. Since figuring out the CSS for cuts is more than I want to learn tonight, I apologize that you'll just have to bear with me. There are links to food pr0n ahead; it may be worth your time. Thank you.

First, while many other Texans (and others) have discussed this in a more timely fashion, I wanted to pay my respects to Lady Bird Johnson, the third well-known Texan lady par excellence to pass on within the last several months. I didn't follow her life as closely, but I am enamored of what she did with her prominence. On top of being a calming, charming influence on late 60s politics and a devoted family woman, Lady Bird considered conservation and beautification of "green space" to be of the utmost importance.

So when millions of people drive up and down I-45 (and a lot of other roads) in late March and early April, we have Lady Bird to thank for the profusion of bluebonnets, Indian blanket, evening primrose, and black-eyed Susans lining the shoulder. And her efforts are further enshrined in the Wildflower Center just outside Austin that bears her name. Small things to some, but to those of us who love photos of wildflowers more than any others, it's made a world of difference.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Johnson, and thank you for keeping Texas beautiful.

A photo to tide you over throughout the rest of this lengthy post:

Pandora's not a big fan of being in photos, but she humored me for this one.

So I may have mentioned once or twice that I was handling cake for July work birthdays. And I knew that my kitchen wouldn't hold up to making one big cake - so I decided to make three desserts instead.

Dessert the first is a creation from The Cake Mix Doctor: Old-Fashioned Cola Cake. It's based on legendary recipes that add a touch of fizz to a standard-type chocolate sheet cake...and its icing. Coke and chocolate? It's a sin I've never made this before.

Of course, as I am a good Tex-Southern girl, "cola" most assuredly meant Coca-Cola. And in the interest of avoiding the scourge of high fructose corn syrup, I asked TechieBK* for Mexican Coke...pure cane, baby. You can see this beaut of a sweet chocolate cake in living color.

Second, assembled mostly from what I already had, are Cranberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. I started with Mom K's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which never fails, and which I normally leave alone (except for omitting the nuts).

I decided to mix things up, and went for the cranberries instead of raisins as some of my work peeps think that raisins are evil (a sentiment I do not share, but there you go). I almost never use nuts in baked goods that I plan to eat, but it turned out that the pecans absolutely lifted the texture and flavor a couple of notches. See the cranberry-pecan-oatmeal goodness at your leisure.

And finally, I took the Cake Mix Doctor's recipe for Basic Yellow Pound Cake, added Smucker's strawberry jam for filling, and slathered it in cream cheese frosting from the good ol' Betty Crocker Cookbook, 40th Anniversary Edition.

I didn't have a name for this at first, but it finally came to me after my work peeps and I devoured it: Heaven and Hell Cake. Because it's so luscious it tastes like heaven, but you feel like you're going to hell for eating it. (For the record, you're not.) Pictures were taken, but photo editing is slooooow...you'll see it next time.

One thing this process brought home for me was how very desperately I need a better camera. My Olympus D-380 is really showing its age (which, if I remember correctly, is about 6 years at this point), and it was never all that flexible to begin with. Not a bad buy at the time, mind you, but I could get more than triple the camera now for what I paid then...and all things considered, I couldn't pay much.

I was going to buy Amy's camera, which is much newer and definitely takes better shots, but due to some recent misfortune, she won't be parting with it just yet. So I've returned to doing extensive research and trying to determine how much I'm willing to shell out. $350 is the outside limit for sure, and I'm focusing (heh) on Canon. I'd really like one that's pretty small and pretty powerful; the PowerShot SD800 IS ELPH is topping the list at this point, and it's at the upper end of my price range.

I swear, I used to take much better photos. While I'm a fan of digital's convenience, I started shooting film in a semi-serious way when I was about 11, and it still holds a lot of appeal to me; I'm not sure I've ever thoroughly gotten the hang of good digital shots. I think that something more functional will get me further down the road...at least, I hope it will.

Still here? Amazing! At any rate, sorry for the delay on this, and on the promised bookishness. I couldn't let another day pass, though. I'm really glad to be writing regularly again, and it appears I even have a little readership now. Thanks!

No promises on when, as usual, but this week should hold at least one post before the weekend. Ta-tas, until then.

* Let me tell you, folks - my husband, knowing full well that not all of the baked goods were staying in the house, still volunteered (volunteered!) to go to the store and pick up everything I needed. If you have not already done so, I highly recommend acquiring an SO or spouse that will do this for you.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Good idea...bad idea

As I'd planned, there was Big Love, knitting, and baking this weekend. Also a little apartment hunting, a big headache, and some cleaning up.

Fortunately, only one of those things was bad in and of itself. But all the rest, combined with the return of the summer sun (and, consequently, the heat) have left me...well...plum tuckered. So, a quick rundown:

- I got one repeat of the Forest Canopy done. I'm forgiving myself the one I didn't get through, since I accomplished so much else, and it is growing pretty rapidly.
- We did some more planning for an autumn move. Right now, our challenge is finding a place that will allow us to reduce our rent without too many compromises, most importantly in neighborhood safety and kitchen space. We're batting about .500 at the moment, but there's more on the horizon.
- Significant baking did indeed go on today, with more - plus further documentation - soon to come. There is Old-Fashioned Coca-Cola Cake and a whack of oatmeal cranberry cookies ready for my co-workers to devour on Tuesday. Tomorrow, I'll stir up a moist yellow layer cake with strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting.

The second cake may put my next post off to Tuesday, but you'll get to see final results on all the baked goods...and perhaps a step-by-step on the oatmeal cookies. I do continue to question my own sanity, what with all this baking in mid-July...but so far, it would seem that the results are worth it:

I think Bryan and I both are going to have fits trying to keep our hands off that cake. The cookies have already been gently assaulted, and it would seem that cranberries and pecans work just as well as chocolate chips.

So for now, a quick hello to any new readers that might be out there, and hasta luego, before I collapse on my keyboard.

Friday, July 06, 2007

To clarify, plus: weekend, etc.

Thanks for all the good wishes! I'm quite OK now, but indeed, I was driving down the tree-lined River Oaks section of San Felipe when the errant Sub appeared in front of me, in the same lane. This morning, it even occurred to me that he might have been playing chicken...in hindsight, it didn't seem all that accidental, and the driving was pretty steady, if a bit, you know, EFFING MISPLACED.

*shakes it off*

Enough of that, then. I'm presently enjoying the hell out of Paula's Party on Food Network (Paula Deen, large blocks of cheese, handsome young Army officers in tuxedoes...what's for a Southern f*t girl not to love?) and gearing up to plow through a couple of rows on the Forest Canopy.

Further to the FC, I turned in a couple of Netflix and may be receiving the first two discs of Big Love tomorrow. If they arrive, it's occurred to me that it's perfect knitting wallpaper. I'm aiming to complete at least two more repeats this weekend...guess we'll talk about that on Sunday evening!

I've been greatly looking forward to the end of this particular week. I'm kind of tired and am experiencing some work burnout, though we're not yet insanely busy again. Soon, though...soon.

Hence why I have scheduled myself a nice FIVE-DAY weekend at the end of the month. No mistake, I still adore my job - but I really need a break to get my groove back before flying headlong into the Big-Ass All-Consuming Trade Show Craziness in August and September. There are no grand plans for now, except for continuing the home progress of the last few weeks and knitting a whole hell of a lot. Paradise Found, if you ask me.

My plans continue to build here as well. Kelly has graciously agreed to give me a hand with reworking the site, and as I go, I'll be making good on my promise of diversifying the content, as I'd originally planned. Coming next week:

- I'm reading two different fiction books at once and have at least three more in the wings. So I'll give you a quick list and a few extra details.
- Because I volunteered to make departmental birthday desserts for July, I'll be doing practice baking this weekend. Step-by-step photos ahoy!

Speaking of photos...here's one for the road: Pablo (aka The Buddy), caressing his dearest love.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Still more progress, and going All In

(Nope, no new photos...all my photo mojo went to eBay last night.)

I'm now a full repeat past the original body chart on the Forest Canopy. With a couple of hands from Sharron at SnB tonight, I determined that the blocked wingspan would be approximately 40". Only 25" to go! (My personal wingspan is about 68", and I figure a couple of inches less is OK.)

So tonight, mad props go out to:

- Sharron, for the aforementioned handiness;
- Laura, for showing me in short, unpanicked, profanity-free fashion how to fix my profanity-laden eff-up (I'd missed a YO...it was the easiest fix ever);
- And Amy, temporarily to be re-nicknamed Panic Disabler Amy, for talking me down from a near panic attack incurred when I was - no exaggeration - nearly hit head-on by a Suburban on my way home from SnB.

No, I'm not kidding...yes, I'm mostly OK (if still a bit shaky even an hour later). I think I may have cashed in a couple of karma chips on this one. (If anybody can tell me how I earned them in the first place, please do, because I think this was pretty close to All In and I might need to restock.)

Anyway, thanks, y'all. Is it any wonder that I live for Thursdays? (Oh, jeez, no pun intended.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What a time to be low on cash

So I stopped by Blue Moon, that I might continue to stalk look out for Sock Candy (cotton sock yarn). I still did not achieve a non-kit Sock Candy sighting...

...but I did find this.

Be still, my lace-shawl-knitting heart. It would seem that I need to step up the pace on creating the Plum Texan colorway.

Enjoy the holiday, y'all!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Yarn pr0n and shameless promotion

It took me a while to catch on to the Sea Silk craze. I started out as a blanket knitter and got used to thinking of sportweight as "ridiculously thin" yarn. Sure, I quickly tired of Boye circulars and moved on to Addi Turbos...and then to KnitPicks Options, but at one point you would have had to pry my Lion Brand Homespun from my cold, dead fingers.

I still believe that Homespun (not to mention Sugar 'n' Cream) has its place. But at some point in my three-ish-year career of knitting large, flat objects – when I'd decided that maybe my skills *were* enough to manage it, and was in desperate want of a garment that I could actually wear in Houston – I decided I wanted to try lace knitting.

So after several false starts, including purchasing Folk Shawls, failing at the Knitting Olympics, and developing a serious infatuation with Sea Silk at Yarntopia, I thoroughly mined all of HandMaiden's online stockists and settled on Knitty-Noddy.com. It's a clean, easy-on-the-eyes site with great navigation, not to mention specials and information everywhere. Owner Evelyn has an impressive list of brands from mid-range to luxury, and impressive stock to boot. Best of all, she takes fantastic product shots and makes thumbnails of every colorway; click, and you get a much larger picture; double-click, and a new window with a *still larger* picture opens.

Amy the Yarn Enabler was over at my place New Year's Eve, and helped me choose (after a loooooong decision process) the Amethyst colorway (as seen in the previous post for the IP Forest Canopy). This was just before midnight on December 31...and by 10 am on January 1, Evelyn had personally e-mailed me to let me know she'd send it out the next day. And lo, on January 5, I came home to the trifecta of Excellent Online Retailing:

- A lovely, sturdy package, neither too large or too small for the...
- Perfectly packed purchase, wrapped gently in plastic and nestled in tissue paper, and...
- Shipped by inexpensive, efficient Priority Mail.

Even more, there was a personal, handwritten note from Evelyn, a touch that will put any purchase over the top for me. I e-mailed my thanks and undying loyalty, and she replied warmly. An unbelievably great experience all around...no small thing when you're spending more than $30 a skein on *any* yarn.

I soon discovered that the expense was more than worth it. Just one repeat of the Forest Canopy, and I was head over heels in love – both with lace and with the Sea Silk. I acquired the two skeins of Berry at the lovely Yarntopia, but even this left me wanting more.

Then, on April 1, Evelyn announced HandMaiden's happy error of the 150g skeins (previously mentioned here). I wondered if it was an April Fool's joke, but she kindly disabused me of the notion. This made it impossible to resist, so I didn't: that's when the Ocean, Vintage, and Sea Storm (below) found new homes (i.e. mine). Evelyn showed incredible patience with my selection process, and gave me the same lovely, speedy service she had before.

What's more, we exchanged several e-mails, which included some discussion of my fiber sensitivities and, ergo, why Sea Silk was practically the perfect product for me. Evelyn mentioned that she'd requested a second shipment, which finally came through in mid-May.

Once again, I failed to resist the Sea Siren...hence, the Sangria. A special-edition Storm Water Stole, reworked from the original scarf pattern, came along for only $1.50. And yet a third time, Evelyn came through with the best service around. What more could you ask for? (Aside from more cash for more yarn, of course.)

Here's what, for all you HandMaiden/Fleece Artist fans and sheep-free types like me. In addition to the Sea Silk, there's the new Flaxen, plus Silken, Lace Silk, and much more. Colorways you don't see just everywhere. The ability to special order *any* HM/FA yarn in nearly *any* colorway on the cards.

For the sheepless and sheep-full, Knitty-Noddy.com also carries woolly Fleece Artist stuff, Claudia Handpaints, Lantern Moon, Fiber Trends, Interweave, and tons of other yarn, accessories, and patterns...all this, plus the distinct advantage of personal service from a small business owner who really knows her stuff - and her customers.

In short, stop by Knitty-Noddy.com the next time you want handpainted yarn wonderment. Evelyn – who completely deserves your business – is an absolute yarn wonder her darned self. And when you're buying even a single skein this fancy, you deserve a wondrous experience.


Further to the Forest Canopy shawl, I have completed yet another repeat, plus two rows. This brings me within 4 rows of the original body pattern. Much as I'd love to tack on the edging and call it a day, the shawl is still a bit wee. In the next couple of days, I'm going to pin it out for measuring and determine how much further I want/need to go. And still my enthusiasm has not waned!

Three posts in seven days...has the world gone mad?!