Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year Thought--3D Technology in 1913

"A New Year Thought and Wish" features a garland surrounding a verse: "To greet you now, kind words I send, and wish 'A Happy New Year, Friend.'" The leaves and stems of the garland are silvery, and the card has a strange texture that makes the leaf surfaces seem to "pop out" at the viewer. The postmark is "January 10, 1913, Des Moines, Iowa," and it is addressed to "Miss Florence Williamson, Prescott, Iowa, RR 1." I can't read the signature, but the message reads "How are you all? We are in usual health. Having a big poultry show. We heard some of you people were in Des Moines a while ago. That is not the way to treat your friends. A Happy Year to all."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Thoughts (With Wishbone and Pansies)

"Merry Thoughts--New Year's Greeting." It's another floral holiday card, this time with a golden good luck wishbone. The year is unreadable on this card, but it's addressed to "Mr. W. A. Williamson, Prescott, Iowa" and postmarked "Northeast Pennsylvania, December 28, 6 pm." The message is "Wishing you all a glad New Year--Maggie." I believe that would have been my great-grandfather's sister. I hope we all enjoy merry thoughts in the new year, and pansies too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy Vintage New Year

My grandma's postcard album has more New Year's greetings than Christmas cards. I don't know if this represents personal preference or something cultural. Her father was from Scotland, and several of the cards have Hogmanay references. This card is just pretty and glittery, and too fragile to keep its glitter through the mail. It must have been hand delivered, for here is the back:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Linux Year in Review

I haven't chronicled my Linux adventures since attempting to upgrade to Debian testing back in January. I depend on my blog to keep track of my Linux trials and tribulations in case I have to figure out later how I fixed (or messed up) some recurring problem. In January the update path from Debian Lenny to Debian Squeeze just wouldn't work on my hardware. After a couple of days of trying, I installed the latest Kubuntu and called it "good enough for now."

As spring progressed, I had continuing "challenges" using Kubuntu 9.10. Desktop compositing in KDE didn't work at first, then I got it going, then it gave up again. OpenOffice crashed consistently until I replaced the package with

The Ubuntu update process seemed too "pushy," with less user control than I was used to. As it updated Xorg and drivers, I began to have the sorts of problems with Kubuntu that had snagged the Debian stable-to-testing update process. Eventually, the update process removed the sound card driver and replaced it with one that didn't work at all. So I had flaky video, and no sound at all.

I tried a clean install of the next Kubuntu version, 10, but I still had no sound and video problems. By this time, I was really sick of KDE 4.4. The eye-candy was cute, but it really didn't add anything to my work process--in fact, it was mostly a distraction from productive work. Clearly, it was time for another shot at Debian testing. This time, the netinstall disk worked without a hitch, and I had Squeeze up and running in short order.

I didn't even bother to install KDE--I've just used Gnome, the Debian default desktop. I depend on several KDE-based programs, but I installed them with all the KDE libraries and programs they needed, and they have worked just fine.

This summer, I finally broke down and bought a laptop to use at my collection of part-time jobs. I teach college classes on Microsoft Office and Windows, and it became more and more burdensome without regular access to a Windows box. I originally planned to buy the Windows OS and make my desktop a dual boot machine, but that was just about as expensive as buying a laptop with Windows 7 already installed.

Turns out I don't hate Windows 7 nearly as much as XP or Vista (although I don't like it as well as 3.1, which let me use DOS whenever I got frustrated). The cherry on top was setting up my laptop to dual boot with Linux and Windows 7. I followed a tutorial from an Ubuntu group for setting up a dual boot. It was a tutorial for dummies in that it didn't explain what the various steps were doing, it just said "Do this. Now, do that." It worked and it didn't hurt my head, but now I wish I'd understood what I was doing.

Of course, I installed Debian on the laptop, not Ubuntu. (I don't follow instructions, even for dummies.) The only hitch I encountered was that after I ran an update on Windows 7, the boot loader was messed up. I was able to fix it by running the Debian netinstall disk I'd made, using "rescue mode." I reinstalled grub (the boot loader), and ran the command "grub-update."

It's probably lucky for me that I had that problem then, because this week, after running Debian testing updates on my desktop, I got a kernel panic upon rebooting. I reinstalled grub (the new, improved version, evidently), ran grub-update, and, after about 4 reboot attempts, it's back in business. I'm not sure why I had to reboot so many times before it worked, but that's what happened with the laptop, too.

Now I have a laptop, a working Windows machine, and no more classes to teach. I hope I can scare something up before my Windows OS and software are obsolete.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Little Sock Prints in the Snow

I got to knit someone else a pair of socks for Christmas! (I am not surrounded by sock petitioners, and I hesitate to force unwanted hand knits on people who prefer to toss cheap cotton socks in the washer and dryer and trash basket.)

This time, a durable pair of heavy wool socks (in a manly color) were required for rubber work boots in cold weather. I made these from a single four-ounce skein of Germantown wool--my favorite for warm utility wear. I knitted the heels and feet holding a single strand of wool and a strand of wooly nylon, and I knitted them tightly, as you can see from the way the ribbing compresses itself. I knocked these out in three evenings, and it was really fun to finish something so quickly.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings to My Friends (1912)

A particularly appropriate message--"Christmas Greetings to My Friend." This one is addressed to my grandma, Miss Florence Williamson, Route 3, Prescott, Iowa, and postmarked "Creston, Iowa, December 24, 1912." The message reads "How are you? It seems like years since I seen you. I have so much I want to tell you. You want to come down and see our new piano before it gets old. It does not seem like last Xmas, does it? We expect to be up New Years Night start New Years right. Come down soon. With love as ever, your friend, Mary B."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Periwinkles for Christmas

I don't know whether periwinkle flowers are traditionally associated with Christmas, but the floral holiday cards in my grandma's collection are favorites of mine. This one is postmarked "Bridgewater, IOWA", and reads "From your Cousin Margaret. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Inquiry Concerning the Christmas Goose, 1908

Here's another postcard addressed to my grandma's mother, Agnes Williamson, postmarked Des Moines, Iowa, December 22, 1908. I can't make out the signature, but the message begins with business: "Are you going to have one of Florence's geese for dinner? I would like a piece."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Risque Christmas Cards, 1910

These two cards are not addressed to my grandma, but to her parents. They're both postmarked Dec. 22, 1910, and addressed to Prescott, Iowa. "Under the Mistletoe" is addressed to Mr. W. A. Williamson (my great-grandfather, born in Morayshire) and the hadwritten message reads "Here's to the man, braw and gay, That would take a wee sip on New Year's Day." The smoochy picture below is addressed to Mrs. W. A. Williamson and says simply, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." They're both signed "Agnes," and I believe that would have been Agnes Moore, school chum of my great-grandma (Agnes Williamson). I believe my mother (Agnes) was named after both those ladies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finishing (and Refinishing) Projects at Year's End

I'm not sure what spurred my current obsession with finishing, repairing, sorting, and putting away. Maybe it's been concern to finish things "before the snow flies." Maybe it's wrapping up projects before the year's end. Maybe the new house has inspired my inner "Becky HomeEcky." I hope it's not a sign I'm fixin' to die!

Whatever the explanation, I've been working on projects I've been meaning to get to for years. Here's a piece of furniture I found in the trash in Manhattan during the first Reagan administration. Although it wasn't damaged, its varnish was crazed and blackened, and its drawer pulls had been removed. I had some wooden drawer pulls I'd collected at my local landfill, and it went straight to my bedroom.

I salvaged quite a bit of furniture over the years, repaired and refinished most of it, but this item languished. It just didn't look that bad. About 10 years ago, I bought fancy brass drawer pulls for it, but postponed refinishing indefinitely.

During that last unexpected spell of warm weather in November, I hauled it out in the yard and stripped off the old varnish. I was really surprised by what was underneath! A bit of walnut colored stain and some tung oil, and it's quite pretty.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Silk Socks--Navy Pennants

Here are the latest socks from my collection of disappointing silk skeins. In the early 1990's I found several discounted skeins of "Grainy Silk," from Rowan yarns. They formed a series of different intensities of indigo dye, and I thought surely they'd make a lovely, subtly-shaded Fair Isles sweater vest. I swatched and swatched, but the yarn has no elasticity at all, and stranded knitting looked and felt quite dreadful.

Cables and twist-stitch patterns were equally unsuccessful. The only viable choice for patterning seems to be knit-purl patterns. I fell back on this "Pennants" pattern, which behaves as a ribbing, making the socks a little more flexible.

The afternoon sun makes the socks look black, but these skeins were actually the darkest of the indigo series.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Label 'em Up, and Move 'em Out

It's come to my attention that my storage space is finite, the most crowded corners being occupied by fabric and fiber. With this in mind, I gathered up my odd skeins of hand spun wool yarns, priced them as if for a yard sale, and took them to a local shopkeeper. Of course, yarn needs a pretty label to make it look "real," so I spent an afternoon experimenting with the sidebar photograph I call "The View from Droop Mountain."

I printed this on pastel card stock, and wrote fiber content and care directions on the back. I think it looks OK.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More Serger Practice, and a Grouse

I've become a bit more adventurous in my serger sewing. The last batch of tee-shirts were all sewn of cotton jersey, using a four-thread overlock stitch with just original "neutral" factory settings. This batch features different sorts of knits, including a thermal knit shirt and a nightgown (simply a knee-length tee-shirt, but with stretch lace instead of ribbing).

Princess, our yellow cat, interrupted this clothesline photo session by flushing a grouse hen from the tall grass. Mighty pretty feathers, but an disappointing hunt for Princess.

I've learned to adjust the differential feed for smooth, even seams on knits of different weights and textures--that thermal underwear fabric was pretty much a disaster on my standard sewing machine. I decided this pink ribbed neckline was fine without any top stitching at all.

There were, however, several serging disappointments. I had little success sewing lingerie elastic, and reverted to the standard machine to apply the leg and waistband elastic and decorative stretch lace on these underbritches. I'll some other elastic application methods soon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving With Raptor

Thanksgiving postcards are uncommon in my grandma's album, but I am fascinated by the inclusion of non-turkey fowl in this one.

The back is postmarked "St. Paul, Minn., Nov. 27, 6:30 PM, 1912," and addressed to "Miss F. Williamson, Adams County, Iowa." The message reads:"Dear Florence, Received your postal some little time ago and was glad to hear from you. We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Mother and I have been busy stuffing the turkey--Love to all. From Edna."

Happy Thanksgiving! We're enjoying a wild turkey this year, so there'll be no stuffing and few leftovers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Sewing Machine Alert

I had expected that by now I'd be back in the swing of blogging, but you may notice a 17-day gap since my last post. This is due in part to the recent unexpectedly nice weather. However, the main competition for blogging energy has been my new serger sewing machine. Much of my garment construction involves sewing knits, and I've wished since the 1980's that I had an overlocker/serger. I always told myself it was a frivolous luxury that I could do without.

I can't explain what mental switch flipped this fall. It had something to do with shopping for tractor parts, and chainsaw parts, and chainsaws, and tires, and car parts. Instead of saying "Must conserve dwindling funds," my brain said, "Hmmm...Wonder how much a new sewing machine costs?" Instantly, I was cruising, where I found just the machine I'd been craving, a Juki MO 735 with all the trimmings, for less than I expected. This website looks like a vast, impersonal warehouse outlet, but they are also in-the-flesh sewing machine dealers in Louisiana. When I had trouble with the last sewing machine I bought from them (a "White" brand made by Husqvarna-Viking), I called their number and got to talk to a lovely man named Alex who walked me through fixing the problem.

The serger arrived right away, and I spent the first few days with it just threading it and reading the manual, and threading it again....Threading a serger is a very different affair than threading a sewing machine, and there are 27 different ways to thread this particular model, depending on what you want it to do.

These five men's' tee-shirts are my first project with the new machine. I know how to use the overlock stitch and coverstitch functions now, and I'm really thrilled with how much better the serger stitching works than the conventional sewing machine kluges I'd been using. The seams and hems lay flat and stretch exactly the right amount. Awesome. You can see I'm still learning to use the coverstitch, and my technique is a little wobbly, but I'm having a wonderful time!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Firewood 2010

The woodpile this year looks particularly nice, something for which I can take no credit. (The new chainsaw does look proud of itself.) Last year, the wet summer and early snows cut firewood preparations short, but it looks like we will be better prepared this year.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day, 2010

Mt. Olivet Methodist Church, Droop Mountain, WV

This is the most picturesque and also the most convenient polling place I've ever voted. The whole process took about 15 minutes, including travel time. I actually tried to early vote last week, but I happened to hit the courthouse around noon, and decided not to stand in line there. I hope your voting experience was also pleasant and stress free.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Silk Socks--Still More Stripes

More of the navy blue silk yarn, with more stripes of mohair scraps. This time, I made what Elizabeth Zimmermann called "Afterthought Heels," because I wanted to make sure I remembered how to do them.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Silk Socks--More Bargain Shopping from Long Ago

There was a lovely yarn shop at Dupont Circle called The Woolgatherer, and I haunted the sale bins there in my grad school days. There was a line of Rowan yarns, silk and wool, with subtle mixes of glorious colors, priced well above my reach. It was seductive on the shelf, and I bought odd dye lot skeins as they turned up in the sale basket. Sadly, these subtle skeins produced knitted fabric that was simply "brown," or in this case, "navy blue." Pairing it with other colors failed to awaken the colorful slubs and neps.

I've used it as a background for these odds and ends of mohair. I love knitting Fair Isle patterns, but the silk yarn is too inelastic to make comfortable socks that way. The simple pattens here are slip-stitch.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Year in Socks--Pink Mohair Pizazz

I bought this partial skein of variegated pink mohair yarn in the 1980's, long before the development of commercial self-striping yarns that are so popular now. It was on sale, and I was sure I would blend it with some other yarns for a lovely sweater. Unfortunately, the shades of pink never matched anything else (except this old quilt of mine).

Spring cleaning and organization inspired me to pair it with a partial skein of white to knit these striped socks. Of course, they're not simply striped--they're dappled, pink, "plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough." They have pizazz.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Joy of Gravel

Last fall, early snows kept us from graveling the driveway. We waded snow and mud until April, when it finally got dry enough to have this work done.

The muddy wagon ruts are replaced with a lovely, smooth driving surface, which we enjoyed at least as much as apple blossom season.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Taming Bookshelf Bulge

The last few months, I've been exploring the world of Internet book-swapping sites, specifically Bookmooch and Paperback Swap. To my surprise, I find I've given away 106 books since April. That means that I can request 106 books and some nice person will wrap each one up and stick it in the mail addressed to me. Pretty cool, eh?

Moving to the new house forced me to sort through my books, and identify the "keepers." Sadly, some old friends were in such poor condition they were of no use to anyone, and I reluctantly sent them to the landfill. (Sorry, Mr. Dickens. See you on Project Gutenberg!)

That left another large pile that I was not going to read again. They were unlikely to interest the local libraries or to sell on-line, but an enthusiastic friend had described Paperback Swap, so I thought somebody somewhere might be interested in a few of them.

I'd also heard of Bookmooch, and decided to try them both. I picked out the ten books I thought most desirable and listed them on both websites.

This was a mistake. I had a cookbook instantly scarfed up both places, so I had to refuse someone's request the very first thing. I've since discovered that Paperback Swap has an automatic hold feature, allowing people to reserve books they want in advance, while Bookmooch sends out emails to members if your book is on their "wish list." I have the best luck listing books on one swap site one day, the other the next. It's also not a good idea to list a lot of books at one time, unless you're feeling flush with cash. The weekend I listed 20 books at one time, I had a shocking total to pay at the post office.

I've found it worthwhile to participate in both sites. It's easier for me to find books I want instantly on Paperback Swap , while it's much easier for me to give books away on Bookmooch . Paperback Swap is a for-profit enterprise, with a slick e-commerce interface, automatic holds, and options to buy books through their site. They also have busy forums and a variety of ways for genre enthusiasts to interact.

Bookmooch is less slick, and has no commercial aspirations or detailed rules about the sorts of things you can list as a "book." I've given away vintage knitting brochures and magazines on Bookmooch--in fact, people started requesting them before I'd finished listing them. Bookmooch also lets you describe the book's condition in as much detail as you wish, so you can crow about a book's excellent condition or warn prospective moochers about its flaws. Paperback Swap has very specific rules about types and conditions of items that can be traded, but there's no simple way to add condition notes to your listing.

It seems I am no good at predicting what books people will request from me on either site. Most of the books I've given away are nonfiction--knitting, crochet, food, nature guides....but a bird book and a nutrition book have languished on my "bookshelf" for months with no takers. Some genre paperbacks aren't moving, while some obscure novels were requested right away.

The whole sorting process also left me with a pile of books I bought long ago but haven't read yet. These forgotten finds, along with some books I've mooched from the swapping sites, have given me a nice stack of "new" reads for the winter. If I don't like a book, or if I don't anticipate rereading it, I can offer it on line, and slow the inevitable bulging bookshelf syndrome.

Be a book trader at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shaking Out the Cobwebs

I'm back! Don't adjust your RSS feed. Pocahontas County Fare is being served once again.

Gainful employment is a feast-or-famine affair around here, and for the last few months, I've enjoyed an over-full work schedule. At this point, I've enjoyed about as much as I can stand, so the upcoming work-hiatus is quite welcome.

Please excuse me while I knock down some cobwebs and sweep out the dead June bugs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Don't Live Like a Lab Rat!

Earlier this week, Terry blogged about a Princeton study showing that All sweeteners are not created Equal. (Thanks, Terry!) The press release she cited begins:

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

I was rather excited about this--I sometimes teach simultaneous biochemistry and statistics courses for nursing students, and a paper like this would be ideal--combining carbohydrate chemistry, data analysis, and dieting. It would be bound to pique their interest.

Unfortunately for my purposes, the press release veered into diet-guru pseudoscience right away, speculating that

as a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.

Really, that's their explanation? Hydrolysis is an extra metabolic step here? I suspected that the researchers were not responsible for the flaky press release, so the next step should be the actual article. The press release said the article was published online Feb. 26, but it provided no link. Still, search engines soon took me to the abstract: High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. The abstract seems reasonable enough--no speculation about metabolic pathways, no suggestions that fructose calories are qualitatively different than sucrose calories. Unfortunately, the abstract is all you get from the publisher, unless you wish to purchase the full text for $31.50 USD. My adjunct professor status doesn't cover such costs.

Meanwhile, everywhere I looked, there were blog posts and science news articles concluding that if we switch to soda pop sweetened with sucrose, it will keep us from getting fat. Much as I would like to eat more sugar and lose weight, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.

As I went about trying to sort out this puzzle without spending $31.50, I found some helpful and interesting discussions of the article (listed in the links below), and this afternoon a Slashdot commenter provided a pre-print of the actual paper.

The press release conflated the two experiments described in the article, overstated the differences in weight gain, left out the data from female rats (which seemed to contradict the male rat results) and didn't mention how small (eight rats per group) the treatment groups were in the long term study. If you look at the table of final weights for the short-term study, the rats that had sucrose to drink 12 hours a day had the same mean final weight as the 24-hour-a-day corn-syrup drinkers. The group with a statistically significant difference was the 12-hour-a-day corn syrup drinkers, and their standard error bars came very close to overlap. Given that there were only 10 rats per treatment, I'd hardly call this a definitive finding.

The graph on the right shows the inconclusive results in female rats in the 6-month study. Over all, I'd say this is an interesting little study over-hyped by Princeton's PR department. If it's now true in science, as in Hollywood, that there is no such thing as bad publicity, these researchers can look forward to some more funding.

Here are some of the links I found informative or interesting.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shopping, Crochet, and Spring Wildflowers

I believe I stated a while ago that I had plenty of crochet patterns and books on hand, that there was no need for me to spend any money on this new pursuit, or to acquire more stuff to clutter the new house. When I found a big gap in my collection of crochet hook sizes, it didn't seem outrageous to buy a set of large-ish steel crochet hooks at Wal-Mart. They wouldn't take up much space, and they only cost seven dollars--not as much as many new hobbies require, surely?

A few weeks later, shopping online for a replacement flashlight, we found what we wanted on Amazon. Just a few dollars short of the free shipping minimum, I dipped into my "Wishlist" and added on Beyond-the-Square Crochet Motifs: 144 circles, hexagons, triangles, squares, and other unexpected shapes by Edie Eckman.

Although I'm nickle-and-diming my way out of my frugality promises, I am very pleased with this book. It's hardback and spiral bound, and the colorful example motifs fulfill my yen for new eye-candy. I'm pleased to have both text directions and diagrams, and I've learned some new-to-me techniques. There's also a section at the back on how to design your own unique motifs. That's something I'd never even thought about before, but that is one of the truly cool things about crochet--you can go wild and just try things. (With knitting and the sort of sewing I usually do, you need to plan ahead more.) I'm really pleased with this book, and here are some of the motifs I've made so far.

Eckman's book shows all the motifs in colorful sport-weight yarn, so of course I'm trying them in some rather coarse crochet cotton thread (using my new Wal-Mart steel hooks). A couple dozen of the ecru squares at the top of this post would make a handsome table runner, I think. I like how open this square is, compared to the granny squares we're used to seeing sewn into afghans and blankets.

These motifs remind me of dogwood blossoms. I think I'll sew them onto my next pair of slippers, with some little gold buttons in their centers.

These white motifs are two variations on a theme. I think they both look floral in crochet thread, like some small spring ephemeral--perhaps wood anemones?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Long-Deferred Socks Complete At Last

I started knitting these socks as part of Sharon B's fiber arts community Take It Further Challenge, February 2008. My participation in her inspirational project fell by the wayside due to an unexpected work opportunity and the building of our new house, and the socks also stalled.

Originally, I planned to knit a dainty texture pattern on my smallest steel needles, with this machine knitting wool held double.

Unfortunately, fine yarn held double played the devil with all the twist-stitch patterns I tried. I couldn't keep from splitting the yarn, so I fell back to knitting this sort of wide, plain rib pattern:

Columbia Minerva sock pattern, 1947

It was slow going at this gauge, but after I'd knitted about four inches of the top, I knew something wasn't working well. It looked nice enough:

However, the stockingette stitch was rather loose, even with my tiniest needles, and I've found that loose-knitted socks are very uncomfortable inside shoes. You end up with a mesh pattern embedded in the soles of your feet. So, I unraveled again, and this time I knitted with four strands of yarn held together. This was bulkier than fingering weight, but finer than sport weight, and it produced a nice fabric. I chose a knit-purl design to make these fancy ribs, and I used a strand of wooly nylon to reinforce the heels and toes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wearing of the Green, 1909

Although my grandmother, Florence Williamson was the daughter of a Scotsman and a Bohemian, her St. Patrick's Day postcard collection is quite extensive. This one was sent from Des Moines March 17, 1909, and reports a foot of snow still on the ground. Much like this year, I'd guess.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Crochet in Plaid, My Favorite Color

Here's another crochet-skills-building exercise I've worked through. These place mats are rectangles of crochet mesh, and my big accomplishment is that I have the same number of stitches on each row. At least in the case of mesh stitches worked in yarn, I'm now able to create actual rectangles, sporting lovely parallel sides.

I changed color several times in the mesh pattern, to make stripes, and then I took advantage of the "holes" in the mesh to slip stitch perpendicular stripes over the top of the mats. I've been fascinated by crochet faux-plaid patterns, and it happens to be a simple design to make, one that doesn't require much advance planning. It's perfect for using left-over bits and pieces from other projects.