Hoover and the Lake House

Hoover the cat is set in his ways. He sits at home in his cat tree looking out from a second floor bedroom. He sits in his kittypod in the living room window and watches the neighborhood’s activity. In the summer, he sits on the back porch staring at the air conditioner unit waiting for a chipmunk to appear. He likes salmon Pounce treats. He ignores tuna Pounce treats. He wants his salmon treats when I come home from work. He hides from men, except Dan. And he hides from children. When we come to the lake house, Hoover stays home and Carol his cat sitter stops by once a day to check on him.  He is a stable, contented cat, afflicted with the typical Siamese “mouthiness.”

This is the fourth time, in as many years, that he’s come to the lake house. It was Thanksgiving and what the heck. He basically bounded out of his carrier when we arrived. He immediately remembered all the favorite spots from prior visits. He spent four days taking it all in. He raced around watching birds, squirrels of all sort, the neighbor’s dog. He was quite taken by a few stray flies that entertained him doing that twirl-on-your-back break-dancing move on a few window ledges. He slept at the fireside each late afternoon and into the evening.

It is so good to know that an old cat can learn new tricks. Gives me hope for us old humans too.

Big Mac

No, not that “Big Mac.”  This one is the real deal. The Big Mac that links Michigan’s upper peninsula to its lower one. The bridge that was opened to traffic on November 1st, 1957. When I was 5 years old and Michigan’s governor was G. Mennen (“Soapy”) Williams.  Big Mac a/k/a Mighty Mac cost Michigan just under $100 million dollars to build, financed by the sale of bonds. We just recently retired the debt.

Five men died building it. One diver, one laborer, and three steel workers. Frank Pepper, September 16, 1954; James R. LeSarge, October 10, 1954; Albert Abbott, October 25, 1954; Jack C. Baker, June 6, 1956; Robert Koppen, June 6, 1956. And, despite lots of people who believe it, not one of them fell into the concrete supports never to be retrieved. The workers used no nets. No safety harnesses. It was a far different time.

The bridge contains nearly five million steel rivets, over one million steel bolts, and 41 miles of cable wire. It was built in only 4 seasons of work. The central section of the bridge is special. The span is partly constructed of open steel grates. Yes, through the roadway, you can see the water about 550 feet below. If you come to Michigan on Labor Day, you can join the annual walk over the bridge and check out the grates close up. Even just driving over them can be a bit rattling. Especially on a windy day. The open grate section allows Big Mac to withstand the sometimes intense winds of the straits. On November 10, 1975, the day the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sunk with all hands on Lake Superior, the winds in the Straits were clocked at 90 miles per hour.

Big Mac is the third longest suspension bridge in the world, spanning the Straits of Mackinac. Or the fourth longest, there seems to be some debate about that. The Straits are 4 miles wide, which is the most narrow point between our two peninsulas. Adding in the approaches, the bridge is five miles long. Mackinaw City anchors the south end of the bridge. St. Ignace anchors the north end. Lake Michigan is to the west. Lake Huron to the East. Have a look. It’s far more impressive in person.

Big Mac made one state out of what was really two. You used to have to take car ferries to meet your other part.  Sometimes the lines for the ferries to the “U.P.” would stretch 16 miles all the way to Cheboygan. It was quaint, but didn’t work well. Big Mac even made it into our state pledge of allegiance, written into law in 1972:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, two beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.”

United by a bridge of steel. Come visit us sometime. This country’s “Third Coast” is so worth the trip.

Log Cabin…ing

Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne, of Mason-Dixon fame, popularized this knitted Log Cabin technique. My version most closely tracks the design they call “Joseph’s Blankie of Many Colors.” Mine was a stash buster and ended up only about 50 inches square. I’m calling it “Joseph’s Not So Big Blankie (Of Many Colors).” It’s going to be a holiday gift. A lapafghan. And it also isn’t going to be Joseph’s (once it’s gifted).

The technique is totally easy. Knit a central square. Pick up stitches for one log along a side. Then pick up stitches for another bit longer log. And keep working out from the center until you: (1) run out of yarn or (2) run out of tolerance for miles and miles of garter stitch. I have a spooky tolerance for garter stitch. It’s the first stitch every knitter learns and I just fall into the rhythm and knit and knit.  Instead of the I-cord border, which is what Gardiner and Shayne suggest, I picked up stitches all around the blanket, and worked 10 rows of garter stitch in the round, mitering the corners as I went along.

This is knit in 3-ply Philosopher’s Wool and the now-discontinued Tahki Soho Bulky. On size 10 needles. It is one very heavy little blankie. It’s possible it could trap and crush a small child or a cat, so I’ll have to gift it with the appropriate warning.

Here’s a few more views:

Simple Stuff

This pattern is spruce. So simple a fair isle pattern that you can work inattentively and still have it come out looking great. Three white, one red. Next round (basically), three red, one white (centering the three stitch midpoint of the same color from the round below). In other words, start out 3 white, one red through the first round.  On the next round, start with one red, one white, three red, one white, three red, one white.  And on and on. If you make a mistake it leaps out at you immediately.  You need a multiple of four stitches to make it work. Until you see this knitted up in green and white, it doesn’t quite hit you why this is called spruce. Tall spruce trees with neatly trimmed boughs appear, organized in rows just as if they were planted by the Depression-era Citizens Conservation Corps (CCC).

I learned this pattern from Robin Hansen’s “Fox & Geese & Fences: A Collection of Traditional Maine Mittens.” Robin’s two main books, the other being “Flying Geese and Partridge Feet,” have been repackaged in one volume called “Favorite Mittens.” My copy of F&G&H is copyright 1983 and well worn.

This aptly named “Spruce Cap” is contained in F&G&F, the first book in the series. I modified the pattern a tad to fold the ribbing under and create some extra warmth for ears. Hanson’s book includes a matching mitten pattern.

The only trick to this type of stranded knitting is you must establish a pattern for how the yarns will relate to one another and stick to it throughout.  Establish a rule like “red (yarn) over, white (yarn) under.” Or do it the other way. Just be consistent. One color moves slightly forward in the pattern and the other moves slightly back. If you twist the strands of yarn inconsistently, your spruce trees will seem out-of-focus and your knitting will look undisciplined.

The decreases at the top of the cap are wonderfully explained in Hanson’s pattern. Alternating which yarn is used for the decrease creates a neat tri-point descent to the cap’s top.

Hanson preserved some very old traditional Maine Mitten patterns in this book.  We knitters owe her big-time.

Oh yes, she has one of the best lines ever, making the familiar boring point to “Save time, check gauge.”  Hanson says: “The one time you don’t make a test gauge may be the one time the designer had a knit tight enough to repel pygmy blowgun darts, or loose enough to be used as gill nets for tuna.”