Of Rats and Jen

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

V is for Vanity Plate

Filed under: ABC - Along,Folkcat's Fotos — folkcat at 12:43 pm on Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gryphon and I just saw the best Vanity plate ever this weekend.

v_is_for_vanity_plate.jpg

No, I’m not going to tell you what it says!

The sad part of the story is, after I took the picture of this great Vanity plate, we continued driving home. I looked over at Gryphon and said, “you know, I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m going to do for ‘V is for…'”

Some days, the brain cells may all be there, but very few of them seem to be firing…

😆

Trivia about Vanity Plates: New Hampshire was the first state ever to offer them, sometime back in the 50’s. It’s said that we have the highest per-capita rate of Vanity plates in this state, with 10% of all vehicle registrations being customized plates. Which ties in with another great plate I saw once, which simply read, “1IN10”.

Here in New Hampshire, we’re allowed certain punctuation marks in addition to numbers and letters. “&”, “+”, “-” among them. Most people just use them to differentiate their “DEBI&” from the already registered, unadorned “DEBI” they really wanted but couldn’t get. I hate when the punctuations aren’t used cleverly – I think it’s the artist in me that sees “DEBI&” and reads it as “DEBI AND” and says, “that doesn’t mean anything”.

Clever uses abound. Let’s say that the fictional NH driver, Andrea, wants to put her first name on her plate, but finds that “ANDREA” is already taken. Just use “&REA”, and you’re set! There was once a used office furniture store in a nearby city that called themselves Surplus Office Equipment. You guessed it – their truck’s plate read “SIR+” .

As for Gryphon and myself, I have a Vanity plate, he doesn’t. Mine reads, not surprisingly, “FOLKCAT”. We’d get “GRYPHON” for him, but it’s already taken!

Wind, Rain, and Wheels

Filed under: Spinning — folkcat at 12:59 pm on Monday, October 30, 2006

Well, I did it. My class on spinning on a wheel was Saturday. I got to try a Lendrum DT like the one I have on layaway. I learned a few things, and I confirmed some good choices.

Given the weather forecast (high winds and lots of rain), and the fact that I’d have to get a start over an hour earlier than I normally wake up to drive to class in time, Gryphon decided ahead of time that he was going along to serve as driver. I really, really appreciated that – there were times, especially on the trip back, when the water splashed up from passing cars brought visibility down to zero for a moment. I would have been in a panic if I’d been driving.

We arrived a few minutes before class time to find we were not the only ones early. Class was very full – something like nine of us eager learners, just wanting to get started and find out what the wheel was all about.

The first part of the morning session was spent on a lecture and discussion about choosing a fleece and prepping the wool for spinning. Lots of good tips there. There were printed handouts and I made notes, so I will remember all the important parts.

Then we picked up short lengths of wire bent into a hook at one end, and began spinning. Then we moved to drop spindles.

I had brought three of my own spindles, but all of them had projects in progress on them. (The teacher, Debbie Giles, looked at the work I was doing on them and said jokingly, “Go home!”, LOL.) All these spindles I have in the house, and I didn’t bring an empty one for spinning along with the class. So I grabbed one of the class spindles instead.

Lunch break, and I got Gryphon from where he’d been napping in the car to come in and join us for a meal. It was brown-bagging, all of us gathered around the big class double table and chatting while we ate. Pam Grobb, owner of The Fiber Studio where the class was held, brought in a pan of chocolate brownies with caramel swirls – the perfect finishing touch to the meal!

After lunch, and a quick review of types of fibers available for spinning in the shop, and we all moved over to the spinning wheels. The shop’s floor model Lendrum was in the pack, and I sat down there immediately. Debbie talked us through how to get started, and had us ply together two lengths of yarn – one blue, one yellow – so we could see how the twist forms and get a feel for feeding the spun yarn into the bobbin. Then, she handed us some pencil roving, and we began spinning.

First clue that I’m a natural for this – I knew exactly where to reach for the orifice hook on the front of the Lendrum, as if I’d been working on this wheel for a while already.

I had already come to a conclusion before this class that I don’t like pencil roving. I think it’s too pre-drafted for me somehow. It’s far too easy for me to try to draft it out a little thinner as I spin, and wind up with it completely pulling apart. I have a pencil roving project I’ve been spinning at home, and I find it hard to make myself work on it because of my pencil roving issues.

That said, I do agree that for someone who has never spun, pencil roving is like training wheels. It removes most of the drafting variable from the equation so that you can focus on other elements of the process.

My second hint that I have good instincts for the wheel came when I realized that the spun yarn wasn’t feeding into the bobbin well. I reached up for the brake tension – which, again, I seemed to know exactly where it was – and adjusted it a little. Problem solved.

A little bit of pencil roving later, and Debbie distributed some nicer, whiter ropes of roving. Maybe Corriedale, I’m not certain. Much nicer to work with, though. I split it down into reasonable, pre-drafted bits and started.

The Lendrum as sold out of the box only has a flyer with 6:1, 8:1, and 10:1 ratios. Debbie had us start on the slowest ratios to begin with, which made sense – we’re learning, after all. Me, however – I’m already so used to spinning thread thin that, even though I was trying to work thicker, well…

Let’s just say that the third sign that I am a natural for this came when I noticed that my yarn was tending to pull apart. I immediately deduced that I wasn’t getting enough twist into it, and I adjusted the ratio from 6:1 to 10:1 by moving the band into the correct slot. Purely on instinct.

And that was the bulk of the afternoon – simply getting a feel for the wheel, figuring out the rhythm of drafting back and then feeding in, understanding how the parts can be adjusted to alter the yarn. I also helped folks at wheels next to me a little.

I know I should have tried other wheels, but honestly – even as I concentrated on my own spinning, I was observant of the others and saw how they interacted with the wheels they sat at. No two wheels in the class were the same, so there was a good set of examples to study. I could see the folks who found their wheels too small for the way their bodies were built; the ones whose wheels tended to move because they were very lightweight, and more.

The Lendrum was just right for me. The treadling was comfortable and natural. The height of the orifice was exactly at a spot that kept me from wanting to hunch over. The operation was smooth.

We put another $50 down on my layaway Lendrum. Oh, and the owners told us that we were smart to put a hold on it the weekend of the Wool Arts Tour – seems that the only other one they had in stock sold outright later the same day!

Now, I just have to reconcile myself to the fact that Dizzy Lizzy Lendrum couldn’t come home with me yet. Gryphon and I are scraping our coins together regularly, cutting corners when we can, and saving up every penny. It’s our hope to come up with more of the funds to put down on her even before he gets his Christmas Bonus. Yes, we’ll be able to pay her off completely then. But having less left to pay then would be a good thing.

Oh, and Saturday’s class confirmed for me that I’m not going to want to wait to get a Fast Flyer head for the Lendrum. Clearly, I need more twist for the yarns I want to produce. The Fiber Studio didn’t have any in stock, and there might be a six month wait if they order one for me from the manufacturer. So I’ll be picking one of the online sources that has them and placing an order.

Sigh – meanwhile, I’ll just have to settle for the slower pace of the spindle. Which I don’t mind, really – but I’ve had a taste of the wheel life now, and I’m sure you spinners out there know there’s no going back!

Save the Cheerleader, Save the World

Filed under: Television — folkcat at 12:24 pm on Friday, October 27, 2006

Yeah, I’m on that bandwagon. I’ve watched a lot of the new dramas that have come on television this year, but hands down, Heroes has won my heart. It’s my current must-see, the one show I’ll be really ticked off if Tivo somehow doesn’t get it recorded.

The new mantra on the show, the statement that at the moment seems to sum up the goal the reluctant heroes need to achieve to keep New York City from going up in a nuclear holocaust, is “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” The cheerleader is Claire, an adopted teenager who has discovered that she’s indestructible. Except…

I’m not going to try to run down all the characters and their backgrounds so far. But I do want to point out a few things we who have been watching the show know for sure. Things that I think may be connected to each other, and to the title of this post.

We know, for instance, that Claire, at the end of one episode, woke up on an autopsy table in a morgue. She had been “killed” by accident while the quarterback at her high school tried to rape her. She fell on a dead branch on the ground, which impaled her at the base of the skull into the brain.

While the branch was embedded in her brain, Claire was, for all intents and purposes, dead. Her eyes had clouded over. She was immobile and not conscious. This was contrary to other instances where she’d been injured, when she stayed conscious and clearheaded and watched in amazement as her wounds simply mended themselves.

At the instant that the mortician removed the branch, however, Claire’s eyes went clear. And a moment later, she was gasping for air, closing up the autopsy incisions, and climbing off the table.

This suggests that Claire’s healing ability is based in her brain. Affect her brain, and you can, in fact, kill the unkillable Claire.

Now, we also have a storyline going where a serial killer has been going around slicing off the tops of people’s heads and removing their brains. And when Hiro, the time- and space-bending Japanese office worker, accidently traveled to the future in New York, he found one of the other Heroes had been killed in this manner. The killer could be trying to find mutants specifically, though that hasn’t been stated absolutely.

So imagine that the serial killer targets Claire. Removes her brain and destroys it. Poof goes Claire.

Which suggests that the key to saving NY City from the nuclear bomb will be Claire, and that the other Heroes must stop the serial killer to keep her alive to do it.

But then, that’s just my two cents worth of speculation. And we all know how good fan theories are when a tv show likes to throw in new plot twists at least once an episode.

We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

Of Movies, Props, and Beads

Filed under: Beading - Confessions of a Chantraphile,Daily Life,Movies,Spinning — folkcat at 3:25 pm on Thursday, October 26, 2006

There seems to be a new round of allergens in the air this week – everyone I know is having miserable post-nasal drip. I’m exhausted today from waking several times in the night with a massive throat tickle and coughing.

But I’ll muster through, as ever, and get some more Christmas Knitting done tonight at Panera.

As for what I did yesterday that’s worth showing – I did some spinning. It’s hard to tell the difference just looking at the ball of roving, but the topmost layer on the spindle is nearly completely yellow now, instead of green. Which means at least a bit of progress.

Yellow/Green Spinning

And Gryphon and I picked out some artwork to hang on a wall in the new living room:

Art on the Walls

Apologies for the crooked photo – I thought I was standing straighter than that! Guess I’m really tired…

The pair of paintings on the left are my renditions of Gryphon and Folkcat. The posters on the right are part of my mini collection of items from the film Connie and Carla. Rightmost is the movie poster that was used in the movie theater across the street from me when they showed the film.

The one to the left of that, with Connie and Carla shown in monochromatic blue and red, is actually a prop from the movie. If you take a look at some of the scenes outside the Handlebar where Connie and Carla performed their act, you’ll see these hanging there. (Look to the extreme left in the movie still below.)

C&C street scene with posters

What am I doing with a prop from the movie? Well, Wilton, NH has an annual Film Festival. When I owned the bead store, one of the things I did for window displays at Festival time was purchase beaded props from television and movies.

In 2004, I saw the film Connie and Carla when it came out, and really enjoyed it – and then a company that deals in props and costumes put a bunch of items from C&C on eBay. I bought some beaded bracelets, the poster, and two costumes. One is the outfit that Alec Mapa’s supporting character, n’Cream, is wearing the first time we see him – all sequins and beads on a denim jacket, with stretch leggings.

Alec Mapa as n'Cream

The other outfit is a bit more distinguished. Worn by Nia Vardalos as Connie, this is the gold dress she wears in the climatic song-and-dance number in the movie, as well as the one featured on both the box and the actual disc of the DVD.

Nia Vardalos in gold dress

See that gold dress? I own that!

The other Connie & Carla props I have are a rubber tambourine used in a fight scene towards the end, and a poster from Connie & Carla’s act at the beginning of the movie, before they went off and pretended to be drag queens. The cool thing about that poster is that it’s got the little bullet holes from when the gangsters chased them, and there are still duct-taped remnants of the squibs on the back that made the tiny explosions on film.

Sadly, budget and storage limitations have made me hold off on new costume and prop acquisitions. And, okay – maybe Connie and Carla wasn’t the hugest success. But I enjoyed it, and I really enjoy having a little piece of it to call my own!

The Connie & Carla thing happened in 2004. In 2003, the year before, the bead store was in a much smaller space, with a smaller budget. What did I do for a Film Festival tie-in then?

Bracelets and two costume pieces from Xena: Warrior Princess. Nothing as significant as the Connie & Carla items, but at least one that I can show in a still from the episode it was crafted for. Remind me to tell you about them some day!

So – How’s That Working Out For You?

Filed under: Daily Life — folkcat at 1:10 pm on Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The living room/bedroom swap, that is?

Pretty well, actually. We think we’re noticing some unexpected benefits to the re-arrangement of the rooms. For instance, the noise from the upstairs neighbors has been much less intrusive.

And we think that temperature control has improved in our apartment, too. We have tended, in the cooler months, to find that our rooms got up to nearly 80 degrees, and sometimes higher, without our heat ever kicking in. This would happen on cloudy days as readily as sunny ones, on cold days and warm.

It’s been so bad that we often find ourselves opening windows and running fans to cool the house off when it’s snowing with outdoor temperatures in the teens. At 10 p.m. at night. Sheesh.

Since swapping the rooms, and putting a door on the old living room/new bedroom, we find that the new living room still gets up there in temps a bit, but not as badly. And my new bedroom/old living room, where the thermostat resides, is staying comfortably cool, especially if I keep the door closed.

Why is this happening? Part of the answer must be that the room that is now my bedroom has a door, where it didn’t before. Somehow, that’s changing the movement of air enough to keep that room from heating up – even though it’s the one with the most sun exposure over the course of the day. (The windows face south and west.) In spite of this, the thermostat in that room isn’t registering cool enough to turn the heat on and further heat the other rooms of the house.

As for the new living room – I always had a problem with that room getting too hot at night when it was a bedroom, and that seems to be continuing. The new living room gets morning sun, but is out of the light the rest of the day. (Windows face north and east.) The real joker in this room is that it’s located directly over the basement space where the boiler, which heats our entire building, is located. I suspect we get residual heat rising through the floor and warming up the space.

Still, this has us down to a single room that seems to be overheating without our radiators doing anything. Which is an improvement over the entire apartment doing so.

Here’s a look at the new spaces. First, the new living room.

Living Room - From Door to Seating Area

The orange chair is where Gryphon sits, and the blue chair to the right is my spot. I have all my drawers with knitting necessities – stitch markers, needles, tapestry needles, and more – right to hand, as well as good light and my laptop for reading blogs while I work. The table to my left elbow (on the extreme right in the picture) is where the Rattie Sisters live. It’s empty in this picture because Gryphon was cleaning the cage.

There’s a laundry basket in the lower right corner that’s temporarily holding some afghans and such that we haven’t found a place for yet. It also holds the spot where, one day, my spinning wheel will park when not in use.

Living Room - From Seating Towards Office/TV

From my chair, looking towards the office corner, with the entertainment center to the left of that. Off-frame to the left would be the living room door. My office corner so far is promising to be more functional than it was when this was a bedroom, and it is absorbing some of the office-like functions – like managing my 99:99 system file cards – that used to have to live by my chair in the old living room.

When I get my spinning wheel, I’ll sit in the office chair to spin. Yes, it’s on wheels, but if I move it onto the carpet when I’m working (which I’ll do so that I can see the television while I work), the wheels will stabilize and not move unexpectedly under me.

And then there’s the bedroom. Here’s the view from my dresser to the bed. The door is behind me on my right.

Bedroom - Dresser to Bed

Yes, that’s a large-looking four-poster, pushed all the way into the corner. Trivia side-trip: Did you know that 20% of all married people wish they could sleep alone? Gryphon and I figured out years ago we didn’t sleep well in the same bed. As I describe it, he’s too tall, I’m too wide, and we both sleep curled up on our sides. Plus, I’m extra fidgety as I fall asleep. So we sleep in separate beds. Which is why it’s not a problem for me to put the bed into the corner like this, since no one has to climb over anyone to get in.

Putting the bed in the corner also adds an extra level of coziness to sleep time. My extra bed pillows tend to get piled in the corner, making a nice nest to cuddle up to. I’ve been sleeping better ever since the move.

Bedroom - Bed towards Studio

The white cupboard on the left used to sit where the bed is now. It holds a bunch of beadwork collectibles I’ve gathered over the years, mostly home craft kits and supplies put out by the Walco Bead Co. of New York City.

In the right half of the picture is my studio corner, essentially untouched by the move except for the addition of the purple bookcase in the foreground. My access to this workspace is actually improved now that I don’t have to have a sitting area and side table parked in front of it.

On the dresser at the left is my little bedroom television. This is one of the few disappointments we’ve found in this change. The viewing distance for the television from my bed is now about twice what it used to be in the old room. Which, on this little television, makes it nearly impossible to see details of the action, or to read captions or the Tivo menus. We’re going to see if we can find a better place to park the television. Wish I could say we’d just buy a bigger television, but the budget demands otherwise.

And that’s the way it is. The fine tuning continues, clutter remains to be tidied, but it’s workable.

Crafting?

Oh, yeah. That. Well, yesterday I had a very functional crafting day. I completely finished the beadwork for hire that I’m doing, ahead of deadline. It will be picked up Friday. And I got a bunch of knitting done on my Christmas projects. So, even though I can’t show you pictures to prove any of it, yay me for good progress made!

Tuesday Time Travel

Filed under: Daily Life,Knitting,Spinning — folkcat at 1:05 pm on Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The redecorating that I talked about yesterday continues. As I said, the major furniture is moved. What remains now is a lot of fine tuning. It’s often only as you actually try the new arrangement that you figure out what else you must do to make it work.

Like the set of plastic drawers that used to sit by my knitting chair in the old living room. I thought I’d be able to work with an end table in the new space. But I keep reaching for things that are in the drawers, and other things like the pile of remote controls keep falling off the end table. So today, our fine tuning will involve bringing the drawers from the bedroom, where I’d hoped they would serve as a bedside table. And finding something else for a bedside table.

Then there are walls that were formerly taken up with furniture which are now blank and need decorating. Over the coming weeks, Gryphon and I will be picking out what pictures and objects to hang where to brighten the space.

Since I don’t have anything else real to show you, I’ll offer instead the trip to the Wayback Machine that I was originally going to post yesterday. It was one year ago today that I finished what I considered my first successful pair of socks.

Microspun Socks
Lavendar and Hot Pink Microspun

The pattern was from Sensational Knitted Socks, cuff-down with heel flap and baby cable rib. They are more slipper-like than sock-like, but they fit correctly, are loose enough in areas that would bother me (toes and heel), and are properly constructed (cuff-down) from start to finish. And they match.

They also helped me to finally realize that I just didn’t like having my toes confined, thus leading to the creation of my toe-less, heel-less Barefoot Diva Socks.

Not sure when I’ll have any current crafting to show. I’m approaching the drop-dead deadline for the beadwork for hire that I’m doing, so that has to occupy all my spare moments. When I’m not moving furniture, that is. And mentally, I’m preparing for my big spinning class at The Fiber Studio on Saturday. Stay tuned!

Wayback Wedn…er, Monday…er, Backhoe Monday

Filed under: Daily Life — folkcat at 1:58 pm on Monday, October 23, 2006

We had lots of change happen this weekend, which required lots of hard work, and there are still lots of small details to adjust in response to the change over the coming weeks.

We’re still absorbing it all. So just a minimal post today with a picture from a year ago, after I reassure you that the change is good, it doesn’t involve moving, or changing jobs, or anything like that. Just …

Excuse me, had to duck away for a second. Because a photo opportunity that illustrates the change I began to describe presented itself even as I typed that sentence. And it seems to be inspiring me to tell the story today, instead of saving it…

This is the view, right this moment, from what used to be my bedroom window.

Backhoe
Backhoe, Ready for Action

That backhoe came on Friday, actually, and ripped out the endmost bit of hedge. you can see the misshapen hedge they left at that time, with a hole in the ground and a gap between the newspaper box and the remaining hedge. It started raining heavily, though, and they promised to be back today to finish the job.

Here’s the deal. We learned very late on Thursday night that our landlord had a need to create a new parking space for a new tenant. Someone with a car moved into a unit that used to be occupied by an elderly woman with no car. Since every last inch of spare space on the property had been used for assigned parking spaces already, there was only one place left to go.

This little triangular patch of yard has always been part of our apartment, by virtue of us being the only tenants adjacent to it. The spot right along the house is where Gryphon parks his truck, and the rest of the yard we used to store yard-like things. This summer, we also did a bit of gardening there, growing cherry peppers and morning glories.

My bedroom has always been in this corner, adjacent to the yard on the one side, and right up against the road on the other. Even though we have blinds and curtains, there’s always been a certain feeling of insecurity to being that close to people walking by on the street. The bit of private yard along the one wall gave me at least a little sense of privacy.

But now, though Gryphon will still be parking along the wall itself, just beyond him will be a total stranger parking his car. Someone with a schedule and habits we don’t know yet.

The yard is not granted to us by the lease or anything, so there’s always been this chance that the landlord would have to change our ability to use it. So we really can’t be upset about losing it. (Though we are annoyed she couldn’t give us more warning.)

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about this at first. But then, while I spent Thursday night thinking it over before Gryphon came home from work, I came up with a plan.

Our apartment is at ground level on the one side, where the kitchen and bedrooms are. But because the building is built into a hill, the living room, which looks over Main Street, is on the second floor. What if, I thought…what if we swapped my bedroom for the living room?

Gryphon thought that was a great idea. It solves the privacy issue without us having to move. Plus, we’ve been here for over 3 years and felt that the energy in our home had stagnated a bit. Swapping the function of two rooms does a lot to stir the spiritual pot!

It wasn’t an easy job. Think of those sliding tile puzzles, the ones with numbers 1 through 15 where you have to move the tiles around to put them in order. Now make the pattern massively more complex, and move it into a third dimension.

That’s sort of what this was like. No piece of furniture could be moved without moving something else. Luckily, we had enough room in the kitchen to serve as the “empty space” in the puzzle that lets you make room to move something else.

Not all functions moved. Our living room was also a studio, and my bedroom was also my office. The studio and office functions stayed where they were. So now, instead of a living room/studio and a bedroom/office, we have a living room/office and a bedroom/studio.

It took all weekend to get the large pieces re-arranged, and to move the television and Tivo set-ups. We’re exhausted, but we did it. And we’re pleased with the results so far.

Having my studio in another room from the living room means I’m more likely to move to different parts of the house to do things during the day. It won’t be as easy to just vege out in a single chair all day long! Sewing and beadwork will happen in the studio. Knitting and spinning in the living room. The storage portions of the studio are actually more accessible with the bedroom furniture in there instead of living room chairs. The new living room feels less like a warehouse, and more like an actual living room.

Bottom Line

Gryphon and I have always felt that change is a good thing. And this change is going to work out well for us. We’re looking forward to watching how our energy flows through the day with the different arrangement of the house.

We still wish we’d had more time to prep for this one, though!

A Craft Post – No, Really!

Filed under: Beading - Confessions of a Chantraphile,Cooking - Folkcat in the Kitchen,Special Events — folkcat at 3:31 pm on Friday, October 20, 2006

And Now, The Real Reason You Come Here

Crafting! Not only that, but an easy to make recipe, and a simple wire crochet craft project!

I mentioned the other day that I was going to a Halloween party on Wednesday night. Truthfully, it was a Samhain gathering, something of a celebration of a New Year and new beginnings. This particular group does a prayer circle, and exchanges gifts.

And at last, one of the secret projects of recent weeks can be revealed. My gifts to the other ladies were these pendants made of Swarovski crystals and seed beads:

Swarovski and Bead Pendants

The pattern was from one of the bead magazines – I can’t remember if it’s Beadwork or Bead & Button. As published, it was meant to make a holiday ornament in the shape of an icosahedron using long bugle beads and seed beads. But if you substitute 4mm bicone Swarovski crystals for the bugle beads, and put a clear round 8mm bead inside before you close it up, you get these cute little balls. I’ve seen them called Temari Ball Pendants before, because they bear a resemblance to the elaborately decorated Japanese thread balls.

We also brought refreshments to share. I alluded to mine the other day, and here is the photo I promised:

Gingersnap, Caramel, and Chocolate Cookies
Gingersnap, Caramel, and Chocolate Cookies

These were quite well received by the circle. There were many loud exclamations of, “Oh, Jen, these cookies are terrible!” and “My god, these are simply awful cookies!” By the end of the evening, they’d been officially dubbed Jen’s Terrible, Awful Cookies.

The concept is simple. You buy some Swedish style gingersnap cookies at the supermarket. There are two brands I usually see – Anna’s, and Carriage Trade. Buy at least one extra box in case of broken cookies. You’ll need two of the gingersnaps for each finished cookie.

Next, from a craft store that has a Wilton Cake Decorating supplies aisle, you want caramel. This is sold in a plastic tub. You gently heat it in the microwave to make a pourable, dippable, spoonable caramel.

Note: “gently” is the operative word there. Follow the instructions on the tub, but be cautious if you decide you need to re-heat to soften the caramel back up again. If overheated, it will bubble over and spread all over your microwave.

Lay out half of the unbroken cookies on some waxed paper or plastic wrap. You want the bottom side of the cookies facing up. Put a dollop of about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of the caramel right in the center of each cookie, then put another cookie on top of the caramel, bottom side down.

You now have a caramel and gingersnap sandwich cookie. These are quite tasty as they are, and you could certainly stop there. But if you want the truly Terrible, Awful experience, you need to go the extra mile.

When you buy the caramel at the craft store, also pick up a bag of milk chocolate melting wafers. You know the stuff – those bags of chocolate discs that you can melt in the microwave to form your own chocolate candies. Following the package instructions, melt enough of the chocolate in a bowl that you’ll be able to dip the gingersnap/caramel sandwich cookies into it.

Cover a cookie sheet or two with waxed paper. No need to be fussy about this, it’s only a surface to set the chocolate-dipped cookies on while they set up.

I like to leave about 1/4 to 1/3 of the cookie uncoated. This gives a clean gingersnap handle to pick it up by, in case you’re fussy about chocolate coated fingers.

Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl, and maybe even scrape the edge of the cookie a little. You’re going to set the chocolate-dipped cookie down on the waxed paper covered cookie sheets, and if there’s too much chocolate, it will spread out on the paper and maybe stick to the next cookie over.

If you want to decorate these even further for a special occasion, shake on some sprinkles while the chocolate is still wet. For this event, I used a mix of black and purple jimmies with little white ghosts that I found at Target.

I put the cookie sheets in the freezer for about 15 minutes to let the chocolate set up, then I layer them in a storage container or cookie jar with pieces of waxed paper between the layers.

It Was a Costume Party, Too

I sort of copped out. Having been a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), my wedding was in medieval garb, and though I’ve gained weight, I still fit in my wedding dress.

Sorry, no picture of the dress, and I don’t seem to have our wedding picture on this computer yet. I’ll have to fix that.

Edited to add: Aha! Found the wedding photo. My dress is a simple lavendar and pale green weave in an approximation of a late 12th century French style. Gryphon is wearing his fancy velvet court robes.

Folkcat & Gryphon as Elissa and Guillaume, The Wedding Photo

Rather than feel like a total cop-out, though, I made a last minute decision to create a totally new piece for the costume. Having lots of wire of many gauges in the house, plus beads of all sorts, plus multiple sizes of crochet hooks – well, I put it all together and came up with this:

Wire Crochet Crown

Forgive the stern look – do you know how hard it is to take a picture of yourself in the bathroom mirror without getting either the camera or a reflection of the flash?

And here’s a closer look at the work:

Crochet Wire Crown, Detail

I didn’t have any pattern to follow. This was one of those projects where I get a picture in my head, and then manipulate reality until I get there. I can give a general idea of how I worked, though. You’ll need to adjust these instructions as you work to fit your own head and materials.

I used a size I crochet hook. The wire is copper, 22 ga. The stitches are all ordinary crochet stitches – chain, single, and half double – worked carefully to keep the wire from kinking. U.K. readers, take note – I’m referring to the American versions of those stitches. Our “chain stitches” are the same, but where I say “single crochet”, you would say “double crochet”. And for the “half double”, you would use a “half treble”. A great guide to American/English crochet conversions can be found here.

I made a chain stitch band that went around my head at the forehead, leaving a gap of about four inches in the back. I then single crocheted into this for about three inches; half double crocheted until three inches from the other end, then single crocheted to the end of the chain. I cut the wire here, and pulled the tail through the last stitch. (All cut ends got carefully tucked and crimped into the work with a chain nose plier.)

I then strung nine 10mm round fire polish crystal beads onto the 22 gauge copper wire. I attached the end of this wire about six inches from one end of the crown base.

Single Bead Arch: *One single crochet, chain three. Then make a nice loose chain stitch that has one of your beads in it. Chain three more, and skipping one or two stitches, work a single crochet into the base row.* This makes one Single Bead Arch.

Repeat between the “*”s two more times. You now have three Single Bead Arches.

Central Bead Arch: Work another unit just like the Single Bead Accent, only where you put one bead into a loose chain stitch, use three beads in a single chain stitch instead. Skip about three stitches on the base row before working a single crochet to anchor the other end of the Central Bead Arch.

Next, work three more Single Bead Arches. Cut your wire, and pull the tail through your last anchoring stitch before tucking and crimping the end in.

You’ll probably find your crown a little floppy at this point. What I did next was take a 26 gauge wire (thinner than the 22 gauge I crocheted with). Attaching this a little before one of the Single Bead Arches, I then whip stitched across the top edges of all the arches. This stabilizes the top edge, and helps to hold the arches together, so that your crown doesn’t just fall over on your face.

To wear your crown, cut a couple of lengths of ribbon. Attach one to each end of the base row of the crown – I like to double them over and use a lark’s head knot. Position the crown the way you’d like to wear it, and tie the ribbon securely. There should be no need to untie and re-tie the ribbon again – you can now just slip the crown off and on.

Overall, this crown took me about an hour and a half to make – at most. And that’s when I didn’t know what I was doing yet, just making the pattern up as I went. Even a beginner should be able to make one of these in time for that last minute party!

Phew!

Yeah, I know – I posted an awful lot today, didn’t I? I hope you enjoyed it, though, and I hope you have a great weekend. And those of you lucky enough to be at Rheinbeck – please try to visualize me being there next year. Maybe we can make it happen!

Target Update

Filed under: Daily Life,Shopping Adventures — folkcat at 2:35 pm on Friday, October 20, 2006

The Truth Behind the Target Cover-Up

As I posted yesterday, Target’s Customer Service Desk attempted to explain away their associates’ over enthusiastic offerings of “Can I help you find anything?” as a response to online customer surveys that demanded it be easier to find items in the store, or at least find someone to help you locate what you want.

This has been revealed now as, well – maybe not a complete pack of lies. But they’re sure not playing with a full deck.

In comments, it was revealed that Target recently signed up with a Mystery Shopper Service. For the uninitiated, Mystery Shoppers are people hired to pose as ordinary store customers, who then report back to their organization about the service they received. Sometimes they are given specific tasks to perform to evaluate specific areas of store function.

In this case, Target is evaluating how helpful their associates are. All associates have been instructed to ask anyone who passes within ten feet of them if they would like help finding anything, or to at least greet them. If you happen to ask a Mystery Shopper, the Shopper will be noting and reporting your name as successfully completing the task.

Skewed Results?

Clearly, however, all Target associates know that this is going on. Thus, the rabid, insistent, endless pestering of customers with offers of unneeded help.

What I fail to see is how this will produce an accurate evaluation of what goes on in Target stores on a normal, ordinary, everyday basis. If the test subject knows what’s being tested for, and is even given instructions on how and when to respond, and the exact code phrase to utter, then you only learn how well they perform that specific task at that specific time.

What you do not learn is how consistently they are cheerful, helpful associates under ordinary circumstances. (Which, actually, Target associates are. It’s one of the reasons we do shop there regularly.)

How to Survive This in the Meantime?

Some ideas have been bandied about in comments and e-mail. Among the t-shirt slogans suggested for wear in the stores during evaluation periods:

  • No thank you, I don’t need you to help me find anything, and if I do, I’ll ask.

  • I’M NOT A SECRET SHOPPER! (I actually think this one would be quite amusing. Would the associates wonder if it was a test?)

Knowing that coming within ten feet of an associate is supposed to trigger the question, it should be possible to try to navigate the stores, treating the associates like sandbars in the Mississippi that must be kept a certain distance away from the boat. It might be difficult to find a path that lets you get close to what you’re shopping for, but you’ll get more exercise than if you walked straight to it!

And Gryphon suggested that, knowing it’s a Secret Shopper thing, maybe we should just smile knowingly when they ask the question…

Now, as to why it’s okay for the associates to know they’re being evaluated, but not to let the customers know that’s why they’re being annoyed to heck – any theories?

Comment Etiquette

Filed under: Announcements,Blog Admin — folkcat at 9:42 am on Friday, October 20, 2006

Real post later, I promise. Right now, there’s a little business to attend to here.

For the first time, I’ve had to delete two comments.

In my opinion, visiting a blog to read it is like visiting someone in their home. The first time you walk in, you shouldn’t start the conversation by snarking at and insulting your host.

Same thing with a blog. Comments are welcome, I would have turned them off if they weren’t. But when your opening salvos are merely to insult the blog writer for the opinion she shared, you’re not making a positive contribution to any discussion.

It’s also common, accepted practice for a blogger to reply to comments with personal e-mails. To expect differently is unrealistic – this is the way blogs work.

Because I don’t allow people to comment anonymously, you had to enter an e-mail address when you posted your comment. That should have been your first clue. If you don’t want to be responded to personally by the blogger, then don’t comment.

To sum up:

  • Know the culture you’re getting involved with if you want to comment. It is standard, accepted practice for the blogger to reply with a personal e-mail if you comment. To fail to do so is considered rude on the blogger’s part. (With exceptions allowed for blogging systems that aren’t equipped to reply by e-mail, such as Blogger.)

  • Don’t be rude. It’s the bloggers right to post her opinion about things. After all, it’s her blog, not yours. You don’t have to agree with that opinion, but comments that merely say “You’re an idiot for thinking that” are neither constructive, nor do they count as discussion.

It was my hope to never have to delete a comment or ban someone for inappropriate behavior. Realistically, obviously, I may have to do that occasionally.

A few points about commenting at Crafting Jen:

  • Comments are for discussion. They are not just grafitti sprayed onto a wall while you sneak away unknown. It means sticking around to accept ownership of your words and opinions. It means a two-way conversation that will involve someone talking back to you. If you don’t have the courage to accept feedback yourself, don’t leave any.

  • If you start off rude, I’m willing to assume you are having a bad day. But you get one chance to improve.

  • If you are having a bad day, consider curbing the instinct to comment. You might not put your best foot forward.

  • Contrary opinions are welcome, but try to be polite about it.

  • Flame me, and you’re gone, no matter how much sugar you put on it.

  • If you want to be well received here, try not to wait until you are pissed by something I say to comment. Start off with a boring old “Wow, that’s cool!” or something. Or even “That wouldn’t have bothered me.”

  • I do not allow anonymous comments. I require that you enter both a name and an e-mail address to post your thoughts. The e-mail address is not made public. It is merely used to A) make you think before commenting, since you won’t be able to skulk away unknown into the dark, and B) make it possible for me to follow through with proper blogging etiquette by writing to you and responding to your comment.

The commenter in question posted from an IP at a college up in Manchester, NH. I am willing to assume that they are a naive student trying to make their mark in the world, who mistook rude remarks for interacting with other human beings. But she wore out her welcome here fast. She has now been put on the moderation list.

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