Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Knitting: Project Overload

If you look at the column on the right of this entry (assuming you're reading at the actual blog site, not off my Facebook tie-in) you'll see a list of my current knitting projects and their current progress bars.  Yeah, I kinda went nuts.  I think the New Year's resolution is officially blown.

Part of the list, though, is the reason I made the resolution in the first place.  Unfinished objects, or UFOs in knitter's parlance.  I've started picking them back up, trying to get them finished off and usable... like the Moderne Log Cabin blanket.  It's the difference between one more bag of yarn taking up space, and another afghan... taking up space.

Got some new books this week.  My daughter gave the Socks a la Carte 2 an "awesome!" and "coolest book ever".  The little mix-and-match flippy section in the back is what did it.  Personally I would have been more impressed with the flippy section if the instructions were actually ON those pages, instead of just as a visualization aid, but it is somewhat handy the way it is.

I also got a book on knitting with the Brioche stitch... I actually have a UFO using the Knit one below method that I was trying to design on the fly, but the increases and decreases were making me crazy.  I was hoping the Brioche book would help me in that regard, and it does look like it will fit the bill provided I get five minutes of peace to actually concentrate.  It's been a gonzo-nuts kind of week, and next week won't be much better.

Monkey-pants has a school-related thing next week.  Yep.  It's insane how early in the year school stuff starts these days.  She has some kind of "back-to-band" assessment week.  Has she touched her flute at all this summer?  Heck no.  I'm thinking there will be tears, complaints, and "I hate band!" comments flying around.  I'll let her quit, if she wants... she stuck it out for a year... but when she *was* concentrating on it, she loved it.  That's my only concern. She's easily distracted, and being in the school band does take a minimum amount of commitment, especially if there are events out of town that you need to attend, such as playing at away games or parade-type events.  But it needs to be a continual commitment, not an "okay this month I feel like it" commitment.  I'm not sure if making her do it will teach her about committing to something, or just make her resentful.  Guh, now I feel like I need childhood development courses.

If you don't hear from me for a few days, assume I'm running around like a chicken, etc.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gaming: Sometimes, gear is everything...

So last week we had a brief power outage... one of those just-long-enough-to-say-hey flickers before it comes back on again.  We had a casualty though... my Zboard keyboard.  It was a couple years old anyway, and I didn't like the way the drivers were set up... who ever heard of a USB keyboard that you HAVE to plug into the exact same USB port as when you installed the drivers or the system doesn't recognize it?  Plus, the games I really wanted keysets for, they never had them.

So despite the fact that I'm saving up my allowance for... something to be determined (either a four-shaft loom, a new HDMI capable receiver, or a house, lol) I bit the bullet and ordered a new keyboard.  I got the Logitech G15, a gamer's keyboard if ever there was one.   I *almost* got the fancier model, the Logitech G19, but for more than twice the price, you only get two additional features (color display panel and changeable color LED backlighting for the keys) so I restrained myself.

This is an excellent keyboard.  Not only does it have a three-bank set of programmable macro keys (perfect for MMORPGs) it's quiet and so far very reliable.  The small mono-chrome display is just an added bonus.

The only drawback?  Now my daughter wants one.  Sigh.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Food: Hobbit Breakfast for Dinner

One of our favorite things around here is to have breakfast for dinner.  Eggs, toast, hashbrowns, sausage or bacon... you know, the breakfast staples.  Sometimes waffles or pancakes, but there's always eggs.

Last night we continued this practice with what my daughter likes to call "The Hobbit Breakfast".  We do play LotRO together, so we all know what it means, but for those of you that don't it's the eggs, hashbrowns, and toast, but with nice, plump smoked sausage on the side.  She claims it looks just like the game icon.  They're a bit cartoonish, but I do see the resemblance.

Here's hoping she doesn't ask me to make Lembas bread, because for the life of me I don't think I could find banana leaves or something to wrap them in.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Television: Impatience Prevails

In what I'm sure is going to prove to be a serious mistake, the producers/writers of "The Gates" have decided to reveal the presence of one of the supernatural "factions" to the new chief of police.  I'm sure it's intended as a bonding moment between the two, but in fact I think they're moving down this road prematurely.  Am I the only one who remembers what a disaster it was for the show dynamic on "Roswell" when they revealed the alien presence to the sheriff?  And that was after a whole season.  I have the same feeling I had when I observed that  the first season of  "Moonlight" appeared to be the first five seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on fast-forward... like the writers are so anxious to explore the un-explored territories of the shows before them that they speed their way through major events to get to the "new" stuff. 

Nothing feels *earned*.

In the words of the music group "Survivor"... when there's magic in the music, it's the singer, not the song.  Same goes for television.  Just because the issues of vampirism, or being something alien stuck among normal humans, have been explored before, that doesn't mean you need to gloss over them to get your characters in the same context as other shows so you can explore new areas.  There are still stories to be told, you just have to have the confidence in your writing and in your acting team to create a new, fresh look at the old material.  Otherwise you're going to hit season 3 and discover that you've sped your way into the new territory, but now there's nowhere further to explore.

(I was going to insert some kind of MMORPG gaming metaphor in there, but... nah.)

In short, learn patience.  You have a great story idea for a vampire who's struggling with retaining his humanity, but has killed before, and needs an ally on the police force?  Save it for season two and get the character there more slowly.  Otherwise, you may not GET a season 2, because the audience has checked out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miscellaneous: Blu-Ray upgrades, healthy snacking, and the road to creativity

Amazon is having a sale on blu-ray releases of (to my daughter's generation) classic 80's films... $30 for the entire Terminator trilogy on blu-ray?  Pretty damn awesome.  No, I don't count the fourth one.  CGI Arnold doesn't cut it for me.

Planter's has this new snack line (well, maybe it's old, maybe it's new... I just noticed it and that's what counts) called NUT-rition, with snack mixes planned for various healthy options like heart health, energy, and a South Beach diet mix, which if you ask me sounds like it would have a limited customer base.  Adding dried fruits and nuts to your diet, provided they're not coated in tons of salt and artificial oils, is a good idea no matter how you slice it, and has to be better for you than living on home made sugar cookies.  Let's just say I made serious inroads on my last batch, all by my lonesome.  I really have to stop making them.

Do you know any creative geniuses?  I'm not talking about your aunt Joan, who knows how to turn a napkin into a swan, or create cute decorative items out of Popsicle sticks.  I'm talking artists, musicians, writers whose work inspires you.  I don't know any personally, but I've always wondered about some of the artists who inspire me... what are they like in their studios?  Is everything neatly organized?  Or do they thrive on a chaotic environment?  Sometimes I find that during the process of organizing my own chaos in my home, I have time to think about projects... get solutions to things that I'm stuck on.  Other times  I'm wishing the cleaning was over with so I could GET TO IT ALREADY.  I want to go, go, go.  It seems to be a balancing act, and I suppose it depends on whether I'm already full of inspiration, or am waiting on my muse.

Which are you... order or chaos?  Or a mixture of both?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Knitting: Stuff has looked better

Gave up on the Ms. Green I started and frogged it.  Apparently my gauge was way off, and I didn't feel like making a skort, thanks.

I've finished the back of my Tempest and started on the left front.  I've also given up on reading the chart for the KP Snowflake socks, and instead have decided to just carry the viney cables up the two sides, leaving the middle plain stockinette instead of that gawd-awful "snowflake" pattern.  Sorry, but when the horizontal bars of this supposed snowflake recede past the reverse-stockinette of the background, while the vertical bars of the snowflake pop out in front of the background, it no longer looks like a snowflake.  That, and there's some kind of writing error with the cluster stitches that was throwing off my stitch counts.  It looked like crap.

The multitude of $1 skeins of sport weight wool I ordered from Knit Pick's "oops, the factory screwed up" sale have arrived.  While I agree with them that they are more over-twisted than their sportweight usually is, it doesn't look that bad.  Of course, it has not been knitted into a swatch and washed yet... all kinds of weird and unusual things could happen then.

I ordered WAY MORE than I should have, but I do have plenty to make my daughter a felted cloak she requested "just like the one in Lord of the Rings Online".  I think she wants to sneak around the house with her hood up, pretending she's her burglar character.  Oy.  Personally I've always thought about making myself one, with a more generous cut to it, so that I can wear it down to wait with her for the bus.  It's like a blanket that doesn't fall off, yes?  Why not?  It's not like I'm a fashionista anyway, not with the crazy hand-knit socks I wear.  So I'll make a smaller version for her and see how it goes.  It's going to be a long-ass series of projects, so I want to clear the decks before I start them.  If only I could get a definitive answer as to how much shrinkage to expect, but there are too many variables.  I'm going to have to (gasp!) knit a swatch, felt it, and do some math.

Yes, gramma, I did need math for real life.  You win.  :D

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gaming: What, there are other games?

Still kicking it up in LotRO.  Monkey Pants has discovered... Role Play.  Apparently she has joined a band on the Landroval server, and last night at an event I watched her play an original composition.  I don't know whether to be proud or afraid.... very afraid.

I think I'm going with a little of both.

If you listened to my advice and got Dragon Age: Origins on Steam, yesterday they released a humongous patch fixing various minor items, and apparently paving the way for some new downloadable content coming soon.  There are also rumors of a DA:O 2 in the works.  I've not heard if any major roles are going to be reprised by the same amazing voice talent (Claudia Black, Tim Russ, and Kate Mulgrew, to name a few) but even if I'm not currently playing the game that doesn't mean I can't fall back under its spell any time soon.

I've had a copy of Dead Space for months now, waiting next to the Xbox 360.  Have I played it?  Heck no.  With as much yarn as I own, I feel like I'm being a lazy slug if I sit down in front of the TV without knitting something.  Same story with Gears of War 2, with the added slowdown of wanting to play through in buddy mode with the hubster.  We did that with the first one and it was a blast.  I might even let him play Fenix this time if I can get him to sit down for five minutes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Food: Health Pockets

I wanted to make small, quick, portable meals that the rest of the family would be could grab while on the go.  Diabetes runs in the family, and while none of us have it, I don't like the idea of anyone skipping meals for the sake of expediency. 

So I dug out my old copy of 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger and turned to the section on Pocket Pies.  Michigan-style pasties, strudels, turnovers.... it seemed ideal.  Then I noticed that most of them needed pie pastry... rats.  I am not a good pastry maker.  I don't know why, but I can't seem to get the knack for a good pie crust.  Then, tucked in a corner, I noticed one that used canned biscuit dough... eureka!

Here is my loose interpretation.  You will probably need several tubes of biscuits to use up all the filling, but if you tire of rolling out the dough circles, we've discovered that the filling is equally delicious piled on a plate and scooped up with chips.

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1 large russet potato, finely diced
3 Tbs. flour
1 C. spicy V8
4 cans refrigerator biscuit dough

Brown the ground beef, mashing the meat with the back of the spoon to get a fine texture, until the meat loses its pink color.  Add the onion, carrot, and potatoes.  Cook and stir until the onion starts to look translucent.  Turn the heat down to med-low.

Place the flour and V8 juice in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously for a minute, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated.  Add to the meat mixture.  Turn up the heat to high and cook and stir until the tomato mixture is thick and bubbly.  Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool, as you don't want to stuff the pockets with a hot mixture.

Meanwhile, prepare a cookie sheet with a layer of tinfoil or parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Take the biscuit circles out of the tube and using a rolling pin, roll them out into rough 4" circles about 1/8th of an inch thick.  Place a tablespoon of filling onto each circle being careful not to go all the way to the edge, and fold it in half, creating a half-moon shaped pie.  Press the edges with the tines of a fork to seal.  Place these half-moons on the prepared cookie sheet.  When you have a full pan, put them in the oven for 12 minutes.  Watch them carefully... my first batch got very brown.  Cool on wire racks and repeat until you've used up all your dough, or all your filling, whichever comes first.  Makes about 4 dozen pockets.
 **End of recipe

If you get tired of repeating this process, put the filling in the refrigerator and continue later, but let me tell you, my family ate the first batch quite quickly.  You're better off getting it all done at once.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Television: Summer Fare

Networks that are not in the top three biggies (ABC, NBC, CBS) have been experimenting with starting their new series in the summer, avoiding competition and boosting their numbers.  I don't remember who did it first, but it caught on in a big way.  Now, summer doesn't have to mean boredom if you're a couch potato.

Not much in the summer crop has caught my eye, with the exception of "Rubicon", which I mentioned last week, and now "The Gates".  This new supernatural, vampires-among-us FOX series has the potential to be really, really good, or fall victim to the weight of its own ridiculousness.  I've viewed the first three (free on Amazon's VoD) episodes, and so far there are vampires, werewolves, succubi, witches, and a possible fifth supernatural species as yet to be identified.  They have a slight "CW" problem, by which I mean there are a lot of too-pretty-to-be-real teens running around with teen drama, but fortunately that light, fluffy sweetness is mostly counteracted by the new chief of police and the vampire drama.  While vampires struggling with their addiction is nothing new, this british pair are also trying to raise an adopted human daughter who is oblivious to their true nature, which could prove intriguing.

So far I am not convinced that this show can be something I can love.  I was certainly disappointed by "The Vampire Diaries" for reasons I can't fully grasp at this point, since I have stopped watching.  At least "The Gates" does manage to make me want to watch again, but who knows what can happen in the next three or four episodes?  If they can avoid the pitfalls of some series' mistakes, and create a mythology that remains constant to its rules, then it has great potential.  Otherwise, I may stick to re-watching "Buffy" on the Netflix "Watch it Now" service and skip new shows altogether.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Knitting: One Tempest down, one to go

The daughter's Tempest sweater is finished, soaked, and drying.  I've started the armhole shaping on my Tempest's back piece, and rotated my projects so that my Tempest is now in the living room and my Snowflake sock project is in the bedroom.  I may have to rethink that however, as the pattern for Knit Pick's sock kit is complicated, charted, and just plain wrong.

I mentioned I got the KP Summer Garden sock kit right?  Maybe not here... well, I got it.  Twelve sock patterns, enough yarn for four pairs of socks.  Since I over-bought the blue yarn for MP's Tempest, I had an extra two-sock skein of the blue, so I started the Snowflake socks as a portable project.  The toes went fine, then I got to the chart.  The LEGEND on the chart has you cabling two stitches over one stitch.  Fine, I can do that.  However, the symbols on the chart don't match the legend... not quite.  Through guesstimation I figured out they were the same symbols, just one stitch shorter than the legend.  So everywhere they say to cable two to the front, I have to cable ONE to the front.  And vice-versa.

I always have this problem with Knit Picks patterns.  They make mistakes, or assume you know what they're saying even when their writing isn't terribly clear.  This is not the first pattern of theirs I've almost given up on in disgust.  It's a company full of knitters, but I swear there's not one technical writer in the bunch.

Because that's what writing knitting patterns takes... technical writing.  This is why my own pattern-designs never leave my hard drive.  It is VERY difficult to write technically accurate items that are also fun, clear, and concise.  My big problem is the concise part.  Oh, I'd get you there accurately, but it'd take ten paragraphs when it should take two.

I've seriously considered finding out of the local community college has a technical writing course.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gaming: House of the Black Swamp

Barronius and his fancy helmet
We're still going all out in LotRO.  This week our small kinship managed to get the game money together for a modest kinship house in the Shire.  All the house-related items we've had stowed in the bank for the past three years (have we had memberships for that long already?) have been put in the house, creating a decorator's nightmare of eccentricity.

Kinship house exterior

My Sabertooth trophy and a pesky doormouse and his cheese.

A breakfast table I crafted in the main hall.

Sinister Keg... drink from it and you end up in a random location with no pants.
 I forget how I got the Sinister Keg.  I believe it was for completing a quest for the Inn League.  I do remember that when I drank from it, it was the first time I'd ever been in snowy Forochel. 
My Room

Main Hall
The Kinship house has two sections, so you can decorate the walls, floors, and music separately for those two sections.  I wish it was a room-by-room so I could have my personal colors and theme music in my room only.  Ah well.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Television: Highbrow Conspiracy

I've been playing with a new toy, a Roku media streaming player.  Since our second Blu-Ray player completely died (Ugh, never buy LG products... its Blu-Ray lasted less than six months, and the streaming died after a year) I'd been looking for a way to stream Netflix's Watch it Now selections, and the Roku is amazing.   Not only does it stream Netflix, but can stream my entire library from my associated Amazon account.  No more waiting for them to download to my TiVo on slow internet days.

I had the good fortune to spot a little freebie gem on Amazon's Video on Demand, a new A&E series called "Rubicon".  It's a little hard to describe, but imagine if you were watching the first season of "Alias" from the point of view of the guy who sat at his desk all day analyzing data.  Now imagine if he finds something unusual, gives it to his boss, and his boss gets mysteriously killed.

I'm probably making it sound terribly dry, and it does start out terribly dry, but it has all the hallmarks of what could be my next obsessional TV show, without the possibility of a disappointing ending like "LOST".  There are small, repeated clues, details to be observed, and mysteries to be unraveled.  The pilot is currently being offered for free, so by all means check it out for yourself.  You can watch it right on site if you don't have a streaming player.  The minute I saw where the dead guy's car was parked, I went "Aha!".  I knew this was a show I could love.  Maybe you will too.

Last summer's favorite, Warehouse 13 has returned with a bang.  Literally.  I can't wait to see how this steampunk-esqe X-files storage facility gets in trouble this season.  Saul Rubinek is always a joy to watch, and the leads played by Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly contrast against each other in an intriguing way.  I'm not too sure about last year's mid-season addition of Allison Scagliotti's character, but I suppose she's there to add comic relief and a younger generational appeal.  Personally I find her annoying.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Knitting: Tempest fever

As I noted previously, I started the Tempest cardigan for my daughter.  Since it's not a portable project (and I had my final-for-a-while dentist appointment last week) I have also started a pair of socks in the same colorway as the solid color of her sweater.  I also started another Tempest for myself, in Knit Picks "Royalty" stroll and Twisted's Valkyrie colorways.  Yeah, I'm going to look like a serious Vikings fan, but I'm okay with that.

I got the knitting books I was pining after.  The Skinny Yarns book was not quite what I was looking for, but it *is* inspirational.  The Two-at-a-time Socks book was okay, but every pattern seemed dependent on a specific yarn to get the desired look.  What I like in knitting books is a variety of patterns in their specified genre which are not yarn-dependent... I don't want to track down your ultra-expensive yarn in X colorway.  What I want is to be able to use my stash, whatever's in it, and still have the item come out looking passably attractive and at least similar to the finished product pictured in the book.  While I may use a modest amount of silk in my projects, there's no way I'm blowing money on cashmere, yak, or quivuit.  I don't care how skinny it is or how well it drapes.... it's too expensive and too hot for Texas.

What I'd really like to see... a book for using lace-weight yarn on something that isn't a shawl, and isn't terribly lacy.  Anyone have suggestions?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gaming: Still in the Shire

The family is still on its LotRO kick. (That's Lord of the Rings Online for the newcomers) so far we have started new characters on the Landroval server and taken them to level 11 strictly through questing as a family.  In fact, those specific characters are intended only for use when we're all together.... no side-questing solo.  Little monkey pants finds questing "boring" and would much rather stand in the Inn and play music, but we manage to get a bit done each weekend.

Right now, I am switching between all my characters on LotRO and playing a couple of single-player games... in fact, I'm farming Mint leaves on Silverlode while typing this.  Farming is SO boring... but the best money-maker.  Once I'm done with my daily crop-gathering, it's off to play Dawn of Discovery or possibly some rare gaming time on the Xbox 360.  Since MP co-opted my rental copy of Scribblenauts the DS is pretty much out of the picture.

As a Kinship (Guild) on LotRO, we don't have many lofty goals.  Levelling our characters to the next crafting-tool tier, earning enough gold to purchase and sustain a Kinship house, experiencing some of the content that we simply cannot experience as solo players... that's pretty much it.  So we're not getting the best raid and PvP gear... we don't really care about those areas of the game anyway.  We just like being immersed in Middle-Earth surroundings.  And that's okay... sometimes the cool, leafy surroundings of the Shire or Rivendell is preferable to the 100+ degree heat of east Texas.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cooking: Up a Creek

So last payday I finally ordered a Canoe Pan I've had on my wishlist for at least a year.  Remember that post last fall where I was praising Kroger for their 10 for 10$ deals?  Yeah.  I've barely made a dent in the 10 cake mixes I bought.  We're not big on the sweets, here, unless they're cookies.

So, I bought the pan thinking I could turn those cake mixes into better-for-you Twinkie clones.  Not so much.  Turns out the pan comes with its own recipe.  Here's the thing though... it's very vague.  The ingredient list calls for a cake mix and a pudding mix.  Do they not know these things come in various sizes?  Well, I went with the cake mix I had on hand (doh) and the large pudding mixes.  Then more vague-ness... they do not tell you how to prepare this other than "follow the instructions for cupcakes on the cake mix packaging".  They should have stressed that this includes HOW FULL to fill each cup, because their instructions tell you to fill each well of the pan.  So I filled them to the top, thinking the pudding must make them rise less.

Boy, was I wrong.

Apparently the included recipe is for two full pans full of cakes.  Also, I would recommend having space in your refrigerator to cool them more quickly, because you cannot get them out of the pan without breaking them into a million pieces unless they are fully cooled.... so unless you bought two pans, you're screwed.

I have not tried their filling recipe yet.  At this point, I'm tempted to give the family the marshmallow fluff and a spoon and telling them to have at it.