Switching to a smaller set of needles did the trick - the gauge swatch came out right - so I'm on my way. A tiny little ribbed cuff complete, and about a third of the heel flap. So far so good.
Ravelry has opened my eyes to all kinds of new things and I'm learning as fast as I can. I signed on as soon as I got my invite, and then created a google membership to get a Flickr membership to post photos. And then I started this blog and joined my knit-along group. That's a lot of passwords to remember!
And I've started to examine yarn with new insight. The texture and consistency of the yarn will impact stitch definition. And in some yarns the plys mingle better than others, so they are less "split-y". I guess I knew that somehow, but I've never heard it explicitly discussed and compared before. And here's something to take note of: some yarns become scruffy-textured when ripped out and reknitted. So I'll consider myself warned; ripping out and reknitting is one of my specialties.