Another project off the list

May 31, 2006

In another major step forward for the apartment, Kevin spent all of two weeks ago sanding, staining and varnishing his bookcases, and now they're gorgeous and done! There was just enough time before our out-of-town friends showed up for a long weekend to air out the apartment, truck them back downstairs and fill them up with the stacks of books.

He started with some unfinished pine cube shelves from the furniture store next to our fish store (so convenient!):

After two coats of stain, one coat of varnish, and four days of semi-ventilated fumes in the apartment (we were both thinking that having a garage would be nice...), here they are drying in the sun:

My only contributions to this project were carrying them upstairs and setting up a work area, then carrying them back downstairs when he was done, so I'm appreciating all of his work. Here's the lovely view as seen from the couch:

Now that room is a funny combination of really nice, matching, stylish furniture (the new couch, bookshelves, and my pretty wood end tables), college furniture (lots of particle board office furniture that's seen one too many moves), crazy electronics (kevin's computer, newish huge tv and xbox) and large item storage (yoga mats, empty poster frames, camping gear and sundry).

The shelves are a huge step in the right direction.

A quick project off the list

May 29, 2006

Really not so attractive:

vs. a protein skimmer cozy!:

The protein skimmer is essential to the health of our tank, as it removes nastiness and waste from the water, but it sits in the middle of our living room. Unsheathed, I don't think it adds much to the character of the room, so a little hat for the collection cup was in order for when we had company over. A bit of Cascade 220 later, voila!

Not the most interesting or involved project ever, but it will perform a great service. It also reminded me how much I don't enjoy being a monogamous knitter. After the Olympics, I launched into a clapotis, and have just been plugging away on that. I think it's time to branch out a bit. :-) Ought to make for more varied and interesting knitting content on the blog, too. :-)

Flower Roundup Finale

May 25, 2006

Since I've been posting about the rest of the plants (yay and thanks for the comments), and since it's still raining so the color bursts appeal to me, here's my planter on the front porch:

It's been going strong with various assortments of plants since we first moved here in August '04. (Here's the earliest photo record of it on the blog.) The evergreen (looks like palm fronds), elephant ears (flat, broad red and green leaves to the front-right) and now-unidentified light green variegated trailing plant are still originals. I put in new bacoba (pretty, tiny white flowers) two months ago, and the red snap dragons have been in for a month and are now gorgeously blooming.

The drama, though, is due to a few bulbs I stuck in here way back in February. I think they're called Zantedeschia, but there may be a more common name. The label, with picture, was this:

They lay dormant for months but recently have taken off. The tallest sprouts are well over 8" tall in less than two weeks, and with their forked tops are quite striking.

There were three bulbs, which didn't seem like much at the time, but given that just one bulb has put up six shoots, I'm now glad that there weren't more in the pack.

I'd love if they'd bloom in time to complement the red and gold snap dragons, but since the package puts them at mid-summer and the snap dragons have been blooming for three weeks, I'm trying not to count on it.

The elephant ears have also sent up a bud.

I remember the flower being pretty garish last spring, so it will be interesting to see whether this year's plant assortment is a better foil for it. (It's also interesting that last year's blooms arrived a month-plus earlier. I wonder if that's due to the weather or if something else changed?)

More plant questions

May 24, 2006

Since it's worked before when my plants have perplexed me, I thought I'd host another Q&A, where I pose confused questions, and the gardening experts out in the blogosphere tell me how to fix my problems. :-)

I bought a hyacinth a few months ago on a whim, and it looked very pretty on the window sill for quite a while. By last weekend, though, the leaves were shedding and it was looking pretty dead, so I decided to reclaim the pot. I was completely tickled to find out that the bulbs had been actively spreading:

Instead of the five bulbs that I expected, each large bulb has 3-5 little offspring! Very cool. The only problem is that I don't know what to do with it now. There's a pretty serious root structure, so I just put the whole thing in a short vase of water for the moment.

I don't have any yard to play in, so I can't just plant it out back, and my pots and sunny spots are at a premium, so I'm not going to use one on a non-blooming thing, even if it's cool. If I cut off the roots and put it in a dark, cool cupboard, could I replant it next winter and have it rebloom? Should I gift it to someone with a yard? Perform a random drive-by planting? I'm at a loss.

Question two continues the bulb theme. I was picking out an onion for dinner from the bowl on the counter when I came across this confused specimen:

I really enjoyed planting the garlic that sprouted a few months ago. Does anyone know if planting an onion would have a similar effect? And do you know what it will produce? Just a stalk? Oniony flowers? Baby onions? This guy has quite the lust for life, so it seems like planting might be in order, but I don't really know what it would entail. Thoughts?

Are they supposed to foam like that?

May 23, 2006

I've been meaning to take a picture of the chives for a few weeks now, because the one flower has been persistently blooming. Somehow the thing is still going, so I was lucky enough to remember in time to get a shot:

Isn't it pretty? I had no idea what to expect, and I've been enjoying seeing it whenever I go out to the back deck.

In other back-deck plant news, my strawberry plant survived the winter and is now positively laden with flowers and tiny green strawberries. Neat! My indoor plant is slowly labouring over one misshapen berry, so it's nice to think the other plant might yield some. I was going to go pull off one dead leaf, though, when I noticed foam all over the plant. I'm suspecting that some insect was here:

Do any of you know what is causing this? And any idea why? And most importantly of all, any idea of what I should be doing to fix it, or whether I can just leave it alone and the plant will continue unphased?

UPDATE: It looks like I have an infestation of aptly-named spittle bugs. (See the second and third paragraph here.) According to this and several other similar sites, I have to remove and squish them or the fruit will be tiny and the plant stunted.
:-/ Good to know.

A peevish post

May 21, 2006

The protein skimmer cozy took a bit of a detour. I decided to use the Traveling Leaf pattern from Knitting on the Edge, but after the first eight rows, things looked a bit wrong:

Compared with the crisp neatness of the original pattern, clearly something went awry:

Slightly closer inspection revealed that there were some knits where there should have been purls and several cases where they told you to use color B when they must have meant A. There's probably errata on the net somewhere, but I just went to work with the crochet hook, and managed to repair it to this state after an hour or so:

Much better, but now I'm irritated with the whole book. The good news is that now I visually "get" the pattern so I don't have to look at it anymore, but my tension is off for the "leaves" and the lack of attention to detail by Ms. Epstein and her editors has made me cranky. I'm not giving up on the project since I'm only a few rows from the end of the color and the all-black stockinette round-and-round part will be fun and quick to finish, but still. I bought the book this winter, and it's very lovely, but this first pattern from it makes me wonder what the point is in showing pictures of patterns if the instructions are a disaster?

Kayak storage engineer

May 19, 2006

Given recent events, you can all imagine my chagrin when I found myself, once again, in the plumbing aisle of Lowes, shopping for PVC. I had decided to DIY instead of buying a woah-expensive freestanding vertical kayak storage solution. In classic "if you have a hammer, every problem's a nail" style, and since PVC seemed possible after seeing this design, I thought I'd give it a shot with my own plans. I wanted to be able to lie one kayak flat on the floor, then put another in slings directly above it. My original vision was that I'd be able to pick out some folding things with slings (kind of like a luggage rack) that would cost about $40 and be tall enough to place over another kayak. When, like so many things I plan to buy, this didn't exist and all of the alternatives were expensive, I whipped up this model of questionable stability, went to Lowes, and started working:

I bought a hack saw to cut the 1 1/2" PVC, which at $5 turned out to be an excellent investment. Our old PVC cutter is more even but wouldn't cut anything much bigger than an inch, and despite the multitude of cuts required, this moved pretty quickly. I bought nylon webbing and used the ever-appreciated sewing machine to make loops to fit them on the side supports. In typical PVC-wielding fashion, I bought one incorrect piece, so had to wait for the replacement a day later before I could continue. The stands are wide enough that they won't fit through our door out to the deck and since we still haven't decided if this is an indoor or outdoor solution, I don't want to use the purple primer and PVC cement to weld it all together. It all bent alarmingly when we first put the kayak on but appears to be holding stable since.

Stacy and Andi "admiring" the PVC handiwork:

(We had all the Brown kids over for dinner, so the picture above shows some posing with the still-suspended kayak. With luck, it's stable enough to last till morning.)

While I've always been a projects person, I've never been an engineer, so I'm pretty skittish about the potential for success here. Kevin-the-MIT-grad vetted my plans before I started sawing though, so at least if the ship goes down (ha ha.) I'm in reasonable company. :-)

P.S. For the knitters who wonder about the status of the protein skimmer cozy, we were all correct in supposing that I would not finish within 24 hours. I'll have pictures in a few more rows. :-)

A Sunset Sky for Janell and her sock

May 16, 2006

When I arrived at knitting last week, Janell held up her nearly completed sock and declared that it was hideous and she was over-dyeing it. I realized as I protested that the colors were pretty that this had already been a long topic of discussion, and everyone had reached a consensus that the variegated salmon and lavender colors were, indeed, disgusting. I'm still unconvinced, since to me they looked like that grey-blue-purple that the mountains get against a pink sunset. We happened to have just such a sunset last night, so here's an illustration:

Blurry, since I had to take the flash off, but the colors are true. So pretty! See, Janell?

Half the Mountains

May 11, 2006

We had sort of an eventful evening on Monday. It was a bit warmer and the wind died down, so we decided to take the kayaks out for a maiden voyage along the shores of Lake Washington. While it wasn't that windy, the waves were still big enough to have little whitecaps, which we didn't realize until we'd tromped the kayaks down the hill (it turns out that at 45 lbs each, they feel really heavy for my fingers -- it will get better, but for the moment: oof!). As long as we paddled into the waves, it actually was pretty smooth. The boats are great, I'm happy with the paddles, and I really love the slimmer profile on the shoulders of the lifejacket. We paddled down to Kirkland Center at about a 40 degree angle out from shore, and were just turning around when Kevin caught a paddle on a wave and flipped his boat. I had a brief moment of panic before he grabbed off the spray skirt and got out -- I've seen people freeze and be too disoriented to get out without help, and I was several boat lengths away. Luckily, he kept a cool head and got out, but then we had a kayak 2/3 full of water and a boyfriend with blue lips a few hundred feet out from shore. We didn't have anything to use to bail the water (I wasn't anticipating anyone getting out of their boats and filling them with water... oops. Not so plan-ahead.), and when he tried to get back in, the boat got so low in the water that we were both afraid it would sink, which would have been deeply bad for morale. So, instead, we looped the carrying ropes from the back of my boat and the front of his together, and Kevin grabbed the back of his boat and kicked to keep it straight while I paddled as hard as I could. Kevin kept his shoes on because I was really worried about extra heat loss given the water temperature. It took a brief eternity to get to shore, but we made it, the boats didn't sink, and Kevin didn't freeze to death. All of the stabilizer muscles between my ribs still hurt, but thankfully no lasting injuries and hopefully we've gotten our kayak drama out of our system. And both of us agreed that as miserable as the entire experience was, it was vastly preferable to the kayaks flying off the roof of the car as we crossed the 520 bridge.

Quite the unnecessary adventure!

(Quick aside: Kevin had his cell phone in his pocket when he landed in the drink. It was quite dead afterwards. My mom had read that someone had "cured" a soaked digital camera by putting it in a bag of uncooked rice which absorbed the moisture. Kevin gave it a shot, and the phone is back (yay!), though the LCD is a bit more psychedelic than before its swim. Worth keeping in mind in case you have similar luck with electronics and water...)

In between setting up the fishtank and falling out of kayaks, I've been making slow progress on the quilting. The Olympic mountains are steadily growing -- I'm at about half (shown here with my graph paper chart and a thing of tape for size reference):

When I look at the real mountains from my street, their snowy tops are brilliant, there's a dark line of contrast where the snow line ends, then they gradually get hazier and less vivid as they approach the horizon of the nearer hills. This was my attempt to mimic that with five colors, and I'm very happy with the effect so far.

I'm starting to be quite concerned about the amount of fabric left. It's very hard to tell if it will be enough to finish, and I bought it a year ago so even if they're still making the same prints I can't imagine that the dye lots will be the same. Keep your fingers crossed that the remaining squares are more fabric-efficient than I am anticipating!


Fun with Flowers

May 10, 2006

Kevin brought home tulips after getting groceries on Sunday (wonderful guy), and as always with these flowers I've been having fun watching them grow and bend in the light.

Here they are, new, before they started drinking:

And then last night, straight up and at least six inches taller:

And then this morning right after snipping the stems, working on standing up straight again:

So pretty, especially now that the Seattle sunshine is back!

Boating in the living room

May 07, 2006

The skies today looked like this:

So the kayaks looked like this:

Bummer. I was almost tempted to brave it, but cold and very windy in a kayak just isn't as fun as sunny and calm, so we'll wait. The great thing about where we live is that it's a two block walk down to the Lake Washington and a park with boat ramps. With twilight lasting until almost nine, there's plenty of time to get home from work and go out for a paddle. No need to get blown down the lake. :-)

In the Pacific Northwest spirit

May 06, 2006

Today was the opening day of boating season in Seattle. I've heard (in an entirely non-primary-source way) that about one in five Seattle residents own boats. A very generous handful of that population was camped out by the UW stadium to tailgate and watch the crew races when we were driving across the 520 bridge this morning. (You can see the weather was cooperating. Such a pity after a week of gorgeous, sunny weather in the 70's.)

That picture shows about a tenth of the boats out there. It was neat to see -- especially the yachts bigger than our apartment.

Why were we crossing the bridge? To head to the REI store in Seattle to buy kayaks! Now that I have my new job and know that I'll be in the area for a while, I've been wishing for one. REI is having their huge sale, with boats 15% off, and car carriers 20% off, and accessories 10% off if you buy a boat, so it seemed to more or less be a sign. :-)

I don't know how many of you have been to their Seattle store, but it's an amazing experience. The construction is one part ski lodge, one part tech company, and one part temple to overpriced sporting gadgetry. I took a picture of part of the entrance with the surrounding evergreen forest and waterfall. Sadly, it's backlit so you can't see the loving, willing look on Kevin's face as he realized I was taking a picture of the store for the blog.

This was the third REI visit in under 24 hours, so we had everything chosen out and just needed to collect and pay for it. Kevin got the Perception Pacifica 12 and I ended up with the Necky Manitou. I was planning to get the Pacifica as well, but the Necky boat fits me perfectly -- I couldn't not get it. Paddles were trickier because they're so expensive. I've had one for years that I love which is a one-piece, aluminum paddle, but I couldn't find anything even close to similar. We both ended up with 230 cm Aqua-Bound Manta Ray paddles, which were the sturdiest of the "cheap" two piece paddles (which I have to concede will store well). The jury's still out on these but they felt great at the store. (Knitting aside: I'm thinking about making a second yoga-mat bag to make them easier to carry.) We got spray skirts, cockpit seals (to keep out the enormous spiders that have recently started lurking on our deck and infiltrating the house), and very cool lifejackets.

We also got a car carrier! This was very new territory for me, but I'm pleased with the combination we decided on. For those who haven't had the fun, you buy a base of bars and towers, and then you buy accessories to attach to those based on what you want to lug. For kayaks, you have the option of laying them flat (like they would be in the water) or tilting them on their side. My car is supposed to hold a 48" bar, and the kayaks are 26" each, so lying both flat wasn't an option. The advantage of the flat, though, is that you can put a saddle in front and rollers in back, and then you only need one (strong) person to load a kayak onto it, so that if one of us wanted to go out by ourselves it would be an option. The guy I talked to yesterday suggested getting a wider bar and then attaching tennis balls to the end so no one took their head out. Kevin (smart kid) suggested that we use the proper bar and a mismatched pair of accessories so that one boat would lie flat and one tilt up. I was impressed at his thinking outside the box. :-)

We spent an hour and a half in the REI garage assembling the rack. Luckily the first wave of shoppers had left and the mid-afternoon crowd didn't start arriving until we were almost done, so the top level was almost empty and we could spread out over three spaces. Before:

and, yay!, after (worst photo ever):

We then went to pick up the boats. The loading dock guy was impressed at our resourcefulness with the mismatched setup, and very amused when we asked him to take a picture with the us and the boats "for insurance reasons." The drive home was pretty sink or swim -- five blocks of city streets and then two highways, neither of which had shoulders and one of which crosses a major bridge. The boats were amazingly steady. I'm aspiring to be the sort of nonchalant person who hoists their boat on their car and goes driving off to wilderness adventures, but for the moment the car rack concept makes me very nervous. Practice reduces panic? We'll see.

Do you ever have times when you realize you've just fulfilled a vision of yourself? When I was out on my Microsoft internship four years ago, zipping around in the red Pontiac Vibe that they rented for me, I was completely sold on the area and the ethos. I remember thinking that I wanted to be working full time for Microsoft, driving a Matrix (same car as the Vibe, but built by Toyota) with a kayak strapped to the roof. I'd just met Kevin, and everything here just seemed so *possible*. And last night, as we were driving back from REI visit #2, it made me laugh that I would be driving in my Matrix, next to Kevin, with two kayaks strapped to the roof on my weekends off from Microsoft. :-) I feel like the 20 year old me would be delighted.

A demi-clapotis

May 01, 2006

I'm slowly winding down the first ball, and it's looking like I may actually be done with it this week! About time!

I've been enjoying the colors more as they get diluted in the larger work. I've decided that the dark actually has its uses -- it makes a beautiful foil for the burst of bright (peacock?) blue:

And I made it a few unravels past the original tip over the weekend, which feels like major progress. I'd been very worried that this would end up being too wide and not nearly long enough, but I'd forgotten that each unraveled row adds length to the scarf in addition to width. I think the end length will be perfect -- the jury's still out on the width, though.

One last texture photo:

I was working on the reverse side and enjoying the furrows from the unraveled rows compared to the spiraling columns on the top of the work. The camera has trouble with the shiny silk in bright sunlight, so you'll have to try to sub in the turquoises and blues from the photo above. So lovely.