Friday, June 29, 2012

Finished Object Friday: Starling Yarn

I don’t really consider yarn to be a “finished object”—more of a start to a project than the finish, but since I spent last night glued to the spinning wheel instead of seaming up the Jordan top, I’m sneaking yarn into FO Friday. 

It started with some pretty fiber and a plan.

Fiber:  Polwarth/Silk from Woolgatherings
Color:  Starling, dyed for Completely Twisted Spinners SAL

I admire the heck out of people that are carefree with their crafting.  I’ve known people who sit down with needles and some yarn, cast on however many stitches they feel like and let the project develop from there.  My reaction to these people:  You’re doing WHAT?!?!  But HOW? I. DON’T. UNDERSTAND. YOU.  Then I go back to the safety of my pattern and try to put the disturbing episode out of my head. 

I am a little less uptight with my spinning.  I’ve definitely been known to sit down at my wheel and just see what happens.  The problem is that when I do this, the result is usually yarn I have no freakin’ clue what to do with, and waste bothers me just about as much as the idea of aimless knitting.  You can imagine my delight that one of the main themes in both spinning classes I took in May was to have a plan for your fiber.  Plan, sample, execute.  Music to my ears--the planner in me rejoiced!  When my 8 oz of SAL fiber arrived a few weeks ago, I sat and thought and planned. 

First thing I needed to decide was what to make with the finished yarn.  Despite my lack of shawl enthusiasm as of late, I saw this fiber as a shawl.  A semi-circle shawl to be exact.  Yup, this was going to be Citron.  But a big Citron, not the little scarf/shawlette in the pictures.  I decided I wanted the colors to remain distinct instead of getting all mixey-mixey when plied, but I also was a little sick of chain plying, which is the easiest way to keep the colors separate.  In my color spinning class we had practiced how keep colors lined up in 2 ply yarns, and so I settled on giving this a try for real. 

For the first braid, I folded the length of fiber to make sure the colors lined up and split it in half—not down the middle or lengthwise, just broke the length of fiber into 2 pieces.  This meant there would be fewer color changes and the color runs would be long. I spun each chunk in the same color order and then set to plying.

Pretty, matchy bobbins!

Initially the colors lined up perfectly, but I inevitably reached places where my spinning had been inconsistent and one bobbin would have more of a certain color.  When this happened, I broke that single, and wound off the mismatched color until the bobbin was back on track.  There may have been a large handful of wasted singles before I was done.

Poor discarded scraps

All in all though, not too bad, and the result was about 390 yards of pretty fingering weight yarn, exactly as I pictured it.

I had initially planned to do the second braid the same way, but then I started thinking that the long color runs might make rather thick stripes in the beginning of a semi-circle shawl when there were only a small number of stitches per row.  I thought maybe I could make the next skein with shorter color runs and use it for the beginning of the shawl, switching to the first skein when I got to the longer rows. 

So for braid 2, I split the fiber lengthwise and then repeated the same procedure of spinning the colors in order and editing out mismatched colors when I plied. 

The finished skeins look remarkably similar but the color runs on one should be shorter.  I just finished winding up that skein (had to do it before I got them mixed up) and I'm off to hunt up needles and start on Citron.  I'm not sure whether this will work out or not but am certainly curious to find out.

Visit Tami's for more finished objects--hopefully more than just yarn!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Square #9

And WIPW returns!  It's amazing what I can keep up with when you take endurance training out of the mix.

I haven't posted anything about the epic handspun afghan in awhile and since I actually have been chipping away on it, I thought it was time for the squares to make a reappearance.

Progress to date:  8 squares

And today's WIP:  square #9

Only a few more rows to go thanks to an hour wait at the podiatrist this morning. I think this is my favorite square yet, although I also think I've said that about every square I've knit.  But I really really mean it this time.  No, really.

The fiber is superwash BFL dyed by Woolen Mill St. Yarns.  I admit the major factor that pushed me to buy this braid was the colorway name: "The Shire" (yep, total Lord of the Rings nerd here--and you guys thought all I watch/read is vampire crap).  Cute name aside, I was thrilled when it arrived.  I love the color variation, and the fiber was fluffy and soft, and I adored spinning it.  I actually had a bit of a hard time convincing myself to wind up the squishy skein.  

But I'm glad I did since now I have a soft squishy blanket square.  I think I've settled on a 15 square afghan, so in theory, I only have 6 squares to go.  I'm having serious doubts about the colors though (Who me? Stressing over color?  But that never happens).  Since I am buying fiber as I go for this project, I never devised a clear color plan except to use relatively monochromatic fiber for each square and to have some variation.  I really didn't think through what I meant by "variation", and I'm not sure I like the mix that I have right now.

The earthy-tone squares seem to stick out to me.  I'm not stressing over it yet, but I can definitely see getting to 15 squares and feeling like I need to replace a few because of the color issue.  I've already put aside some  of the finished skeins that I originally intended to use for the afghan.

Like this one.  Just seemed too bright.  Although with the current green one in there, maybe not?

And this one.  I adore how this skein came out, but I'm thinking too earthy.

Sigh.  Color, you remain my nemesis.

Visit Tami's for more WIPW!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Power of a List

Saturday morning I was dangerously close to spending the weekend as a zombie in front of the computer and television.  Finally having a free weekend was awesome, but it also illustrates why I need to keep signing up for races--the fear of needing to prepare for an event is one of the few things that will shake me out of my characteristic laziness.  Well that and apparently posting a to do list on the Internet.  The house is cleaner, laundry is caught up, dogs got a 3 mile walk on Saturday, and I willed myself to get on my bike for an easy 20 miles yesterday instead of taking the nap I was pondering.

I have 2 more ounces of fiber spun up, leaving only 2 more before I can ply and finish this spinning project.

And Jordan was soaked, pinned out, and is currently drying on the guest bedroom floor.

The only bummer about all this progress?  It all felt like work.  Okay, cleaning is supposed to feel like work, but even the spinning sort of sucked.  I sat down at my spinning wheel last night only because I needed to cross it off the list, not because I felt like spinning.  I'm clearly still working out that balance of how to make steady progress on my craft projects without turning it into a job.  Still, progress is progress, and I'll be happy if I'm wearing a new top by Friday and knitting with newly finished handspun.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

For the last 5 months, almost every weekend  has been dominated by run and bike workouts or by a race.  Housework has suffered, laundry has piled up, grocery shopping was often put off until mid-week.  The dogs got shorter walks and less attention, and in recent weeks, as icing my aching feet took priority over treadling a spinning wheel, even the pace of my crafting slowed to a crawl.  Running and triathlon took precedence over all else.

With Eagleman and a sprint tri I raced last weekend behind me, this is my first free weekend in months.  Mike is currently battling up mountains on his bike at the Savage Century, so I have both free time and the house to myself.  When Mike leaves town, I usually plan a home improvement project to surprise him with a freshly painted room or newly planted flowers or something.

This weekend all I planned was to catch up on the disaster of my house, but what have I done since coming home from work Friday evening?  Well, I've watched hours of True Blood (I know, I know, don't judge me).  That's right, infatuation with a viking vampire is threatening to derail the whole weekend.  Sheesh, that sounds even worse typed out than it did in my head.  And have you ever noticed how indulging in one guilty pleasure is sort of a slippery slope?  As if being captivated by bad television isn't enough of a treat, instead of my usual wholesome healthy breakfast, this morning I baked a chocolate-chip cookie pie and have already consumed a quarter of it.  I can't feel too guilty since it's made with garbanzo beans and oatmeal, the only sugar coming from banana (which I subbed for the dates), applesauce, and the small amount in extra-dark chocolate chips.  Relatively healthy baked goods notwithstanding, I'm not exactly off to a great start for a productive weekend.

I'm torn between 
wanting to accomplish something and wanting to spend the rest of the day with my feet up watching vampires and then maybe a nice action-packed brainless superhero movie.  Hmmm, perhaps Thor?  Okay, enough is enough.  I am not going to waste my weekend staring dreamily at tall blond Norsemen.  I'm nothing if not a good planner, and all I need is a list to get me moving in the right direction.

1.  Clean, laudry, yadda, yadda.  Basically, do shit around the house.  I never said my list had to be detailed.

2.  Extra long walk with the pups.  They deserve it.  
3.  60-90 minute bike ride and 1-2 hours yoga.  A break from running is not going to equal sitting on my ass.
4.  If I really want to go crazy, clean out the car.  You know you're jealous of my wild side.
5.  And finally, get your crafty act together!  This means reblock Jordan, finish weaving the scarf started in (gulp) December, and spin 2 more ounces of these lovelies.

Almost as yummy as Eric Northman

If I'm not back in 48 hours with some progress, someone disconnect my Internet connection.  I've succumbed to the temptation to catch up on 3 seasons of True Blood in one weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


If someone had told me just 2 years ago that in 2012 I would finish my first marathon and then my first 70.3 triathlon, I would have stared in disbelief.  Then I would have laughed. Loudly. In the summer of 2010, the idea of running 13.1 miles was totally overwhelming, and really the only reason I was motivated to try that was because I wanted an excuse to go to Disney World.  Hello, my name is Heather, and my actions are motivated by the same thing as 7 year olds.

Nevertheless, after 3 seasons of sprint and olympic triathlons, the desire to try a longer distance (even without a Disney reward) became impossible to ignore, and last summer I decided I wanted to register for a 2012 half-ironman.  So what if I had just worked up to finishing an olympic tri and a half-iron is more than double the distance?  So what if I like to sleep in?  And lounge around on the couch?  Who cares that my training is inconsistent and I blow off workouts all the time?  I can totally do this.  Crazy, meet Heather. 

The first sign I had entered Crazyville?  On June 10th, the alarm went off at 3:55am.  W. T. F?  Insomnia or serious partying are the only reasons people should be awake at that time in morning, and neither of those involve an alarm clock.

Within 30 minutes Mike and I were out the door, and by 5am we were walking into Great Marsh Park in Cambridge, Maryland to join a couple thousand other crazies to participate in Eagleman 70.3

I should so be asleep right now

First things first--my rules for Eman:

1.  DRINK! DRINK! DRINK! While this rule makes me think of keg-stands at college frat parties, at Eman, chugging down water and electrolyte-filled sports drinks would be an absolute necessity.  A long distance race + 95 degrees + poor hydration = an all expenses paid trip to the medical tent instead of the finish line.

2.  It's not a race.  Most people will argue with me on this one, but after my failure to live up to an ambitious marathon goal, I really wanted to feel happy about just finishing this beast.  So no pushing too hard early and then crashing out for the sake of 2 minutes or one spot higher in my age group or something equally meaningless.

3.  Embrace the suck.  A popular phrase among triathletes.  It was inevitable that parts of Eman were going to suck--I had to be ready for it.

The time between 5am and 7:30am is a blur of setting up my transition area, eating, meticulously applying sunblock and body glide, and squeezing into my wetsuit. My nerves really went into high gear as my swim wave time approached.  The task in front of me seemed so daunting, and as I made my way into the water, my heart was pounding and my head was racing with worry about how I would hold up on the run.  Deep breath--one thing at a time.  Deal with the bike and run when the time came, but right now just focus on going for a swim.  No big deal, right?  Just out for a nice swim.  In open water.  With a current.  Surrounded by a couple hundred other people battling for position, and a distance I probably only swam once this year.  NOT HELPING, BRAIN!  Shut up, shut up, shut up--just SWIM! 

All of that panic was ridiculously silly because I love swimming in open water, and once I was warmed up and the pack had separated, the rest of the swim was smooth sailing.  I stroked until my hand hit the sand and before I knew it, I was out of the water and it was over.  Swim goal time was 45 minutes (yes, I did still have target goals despite rule 2), and I was thrilled when I looked down and saw 42 on my watch.  Official time: 42:09.  Onto the bike.

While I like to say that I suck equally at all three disciplines, biking is my true weak spot.  I've gotten stronger each year, but I have yet to embrace the love for 3 hours on a bike.  My legs were stiff to start but loosened up, and I was happy with the steady 18 mph pace I was able to hold for the first 30 miles.  Then I started to feel really tired.  And hot.  And cranky about my stiff back and chaffing shorts.  Yeah, yeah, cry me a river.  I was biking 56 miles--it's not supposed to be easy.  See rule 3.

Miserable, but still able to smile for the cameras
I kept my weariness in check until somewhere between miles 35 and 40 when  I felt ominous chills on my arms.  I was out in the sun and it was already at least 90 degrees, but instead of sweat I saw goose bumps on my arms.  Oh. Shit.  That meant I was dehydrated.  I admit I had a mini-panic attack when this realization set in.  I was on track with my fluids, salt, food, everything, and having never been in this situation before, I was lost.  How serious was this problem?  Was I going to hurt myself if I tried to run?  Should I finish the bike and then drop out?  I wonder where that chick in front of me got those cool yellow tires? 

I biked on for another few miles, seriously at a loss.  Then I gritted my teeth and decided to pull myself together.  I gave myself a little lecture right there around mile 45. No quitting.  Not yet.  You are tired and dehydrated, but you are not going to throw in the towel.  It's supposed to suck, remember?! I started drinking as much water as I could get down, took in some more food and salt and hoped that the fluids and calories might get me back on track enough to be able to run.  (Oh my god, I still have to run 13 miles!)  I counted down the last ten miles on the bike--which admittedly just makes everything seem like it is taking forever, but I couldn't get my mind to focus on anything other than mile 50--just 6 left.  Mile 54--2 miles, Heather, just 2 more miles!  I let out a big sigh of relief as I rolled back into the park and dismounted and made my way to rack my bike.  Bike goal time was 3:15.  Official time 3:13:31, average pace 17.4.  Damn, despite my problems, I was still rockin' those targets.

T2, I think I love you
I took my time in T2, mopping off my face and diligently applying more sunscreen.  Remember rule 2.  Saving 60 seconds is not worth a painful sunburn.  Instead of jogging I walked until I hit the timing mat at the T2 exit and tried to wrap my brain around the fact that I was about to attempt 13.1 miles. Dehydrated.  In 95 degrees.  After already enduring 4 solid hours of exercise. I was screwed.

And so I began the long hot run--the beast of Eagleman--13 miles  on blacktop with absolutely no shade. I had heard all the horror stories.  From his experience last year, also a day in the mid-90s, Mike described the Eman run as: Hades, running through a furnace, and pure misery  (gee, don't sugar-coat it for my sake).  I knew what was ahead of me.  It wasn't going to be pretty, but I was going to try.  Slow and steady--no problem. I jogged for maybe a quarter-mile before throwing that plan right out the window and dropping to a walk.  My calves were painfully tight--a common problem for me running after a long bike.  I stopped and tried to stretch them out and kept walking most of the rest of the first mile.  

See ya in 13.1
At this point I seriously thought there was a chance I was going to end up walking the entire 13 miles.  I wondered if I was going to be that person whose run split was actually slower than her bike time.  Okay, forget the 2:30 target, just come in under 3 hours.  I hit the first water stop, loaded up my sports bra with ice, drank a cup of water, chewed on some more ice, and then started my slow jog again.

I was able to slowly run the next couple of miles.  The course is an out and back, and I saw Mike running strong around mile 3.  I tried not to think mean thoughts despite my supreme jealousy that he only had 3 miles left while 10 more were waiting for me.  For the next 6-7 miles, I ran when I could, walked when I needed to, poured water and ice over my skin at water stops, and very slowly counted down the miles.  I was surrounded by athletes in the same boat.  We were all battling, and I tried not to think about the fact that we all paid money to do this to ourselves.  Yup, I was fitting right in with the locals in Crazyville.

Around mile 9, I heard a volunteer say, "they're dropping like flies", and I glanced over to see a couple of athletes on the side of the road getting assistance and a ride back to the finish.  I fantasized for a moment about joining them before snapping back to reality.  I was exhausted, the tendonitis in my feet ached, but I was okay.  One foot in front of the other.  A sign around mile 11 proclaimed "moving forward is a pace" and I smiled. I was walking when I saw it.

Still vertical = victory!
For most of miles 8-11, I was able to hold a run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes pace.  By the time I hit 11, however, I was done.  I remember trying to do my 3 minute run and only making it 90 seconds before dropping back down to a  walk.  Eh, at this point, who cared?  I got a boost from some residents partying on their front lawn and made it to the mile 12 marker.  During that final mile it started to hit me that I was about to finish a race that covered 70.3 miles.  I tried to thank some clapping spectators and my voice wavered.  By the time I turned the corner into the finish chute, my chin was quivering.  I dug deep for that last bit of energy, picked up my pace, and threw myself across the finish line with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.  Run(/walk) time: 2:47:03.

I grabbed my medal and rushed through the finish area.  I didn't even bother to grab water.  I staggered straight to Mike and fell into his arms.

Total race time: 6 hours, 51 minutes.

Am I thrilled with my performance?  Nah, but honestly, it was about what I expected.  I was undertrained because of tendonitis problems from the marathon, so I knew my endurance was lacking and the run was going to be a long grind.  So, thrilled with my time? No. Super proud of myself?  Hell, YES!  I had good for me swim and bike times, and even in a best case scenerio, I figured my time would be 6:35-6:40, and I'm not going to get bent out of shape over 15 minutes for my first 70.3.  Besides, I could have bailed on the race when I started having foot problems. I could have dropped down to the aqua-velo division and skipped the run.  I could have thrown in the towel when I realized I was dehydrated.  But I didn't.  I kept going.  I finished.  I am a half-ironman.

What's next?  A long break to let my feet heal and then I want to do it all over again.  Hand over the mortgage papers, I'm in Crazyville to stay.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mission Accomplished

Know what went around my neck Sunday afternoon?

I started. I suffered. I soared across the finish line. 

Okay, maybe I plodded across the finish line but then I'd lose the cool alliteration thing. 

Details soon!

Friday, June 8, 2012


The knitting on Jordan has been finished for weeks now, yet finished-object Friday is still a fail for me this week. 

So close!

All I have to do is re-block the sleeves (uh, see how the one on the right looks a little longer?  yeah, it looks that way when I tried it on too) and seam, but I have not been able to think about anything other than the race I have coming up on Sunday.

So instead of finished knitting, today I present "10 signs the running/tri thing is taking over my life":

1. Until last month, the only new shoes I purchased in the last year and a half were 2 pairs of running shoes and flip-flops for the pool.

2. The last time I used my hair dryer it was to dry the sports tape on my feet and not my hair.

3. Although almost every pair of shorts I own are falling apart with holes, I cannot seem to find time to go shopping for new clothes, but I did manage to get to the store to buy new bike tires and running socks.

4. The refrigerator always seems to be empty, but the basket of protein bars and sports nutrition is always full.

5. I have been known to set my alarm on the weekends to get out for a long workout earlier than I do to get up for work during the week (this is a big one for me--I am NOT a morning person).

6. I sometimes look forward to Mondays more than the weekends.  Monday is a “rest day”.  Last Saturday my bike/run workout was over 4 hours.  Followed by 2 more hours of running on Sunday.

7. I was just as excited about the package that arrived this week that contained compression socks as I was about the one with fiber (at least I said "just" as excited, not "more".  I haven't gone completely crazy yet).

8.  The only knitting I did this week was when I was icing my feet.

9.  I spend as much time reading running blogs as knitting ones.

10. I've spent more $$ on race fees this year than on yarn. 

All of this due to my recent marathon and because on Sunday morning, I will attempt my first half iron-distance triathlon.  If the forecast holds, I will be trying to cover 70.3 miles (1.2 swim, 56 bike, 13.1 run) in 90+ degrees on a course with no shade. These conditions are exactly the same as last year when I watched Mike cross the finish line with muscle spasms and almost collapsing from heat exhaustion. Yet I still thought it was a good idea to give it a go this year myself. Clearly a brilliant decision. With those conditions and foot injuries that have thrown a big wrench in my training, I don't have high expectations.  I think the day will be successful if I avoid being carted off the course in an ambulance. 

Setting the bar high there, Heather. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Finished Object Friday: Diagonal Top

Yes, I crapped out on this week's work-in-progress Wednesday.  Sheesh, it only took until week 3 for me to get behind.  I thought I'd last at least a month.  To make up for missing WIPW, I'm giving the whole "finished object Friday" thing a shot.

I'm ridiculously excited about this finished project. Like crazy giddy excited.  So excited I couldn't even wait around to get decent pictures but instead set the timer in the backyard.

At least that's my excuse for washed out colors and why I look like death in the picture.  Mom, I swear I had makeup on.  But let's forget about my zombie complexion and instead remember:  CUTE WEARABLE TOP FROM HANDSPUN!!  Totally worthy of shouting.  I mean the top started as this:

Another crap picture--sorry, but my camera hates purple.
And that's sparkle, not dog fur.  At least most of it.

And today that bag of fluff is a wearable garment.

Cuter from the back

Given my history of disappointing handspun projects and the long list of doubts I had about this top, I'm pretty stoked it didn't end up a total disaster.

Pattern:  Diagonal Pattern Top
Fiber:  Bullseye bump from Loop in Kaleidoscope Eyes spun into a single-ply fingering-sportish weight yarn. This fiber was created for a spin-along on Ravelry.  I didn't have much interest in these Loop bumps before the SAL, but it was so much fun to spin, I'm totally hooked now.  A couple more are already stashed from MD Sheep and Wool.
Mods: Well, except for using a completely different yarn weight and fiber type, not much.  Since my yarn was thinner than the pattern yarn, I held black elastic thread together with the yarn for the bottom ribbing, and I did 1x1 twisted rib instead of the regular ribbing in the pattern.  I was afraid that it would sort of just hang without the added stability, and since the top has no shaping, I at least wanted the bottom to be fitted. I feel like I should have more to say, but really, that's it.  The pattern is easy-peasy so long as you're okay with "yo, k2tog" around and around and around for eternity.  And while this may seem obvious to everyone else, I had to screw up a couple of rows before I realized, "k2tog, yo" is NOT the same thing.

This top was definitely a gamble.  I did everything I could to thwart success:  totally different yarn substitution, no swatch, risky stripey colors, and yet the knitting fates smiled at me and granted me a top I'm pleased with.  Of course, this just means that the next sweater I diligently plan out and swatch is going to be too small on me or something.  I can already feel a bit of the knitting karma balance coming back to bite me since seaming up the Jordan top could definitely be going better.

Visit Tami's for more finished object Friday posts.  If I manage to wrangle Jordan into shape, I might even be back next Friday.