Saturday, September 25, 2010

And it's looking like a sweater...

How do the weeks go by so quickly? I wish I knew...

I know where some of this past week went, at least. Last Sunday, we went apple picking in Julian with some dear friends and their three kids. We came home with bags of apples (the Jonathans are particularly delicious right now), having had a wonderful time. It was my first time apple picking (I know, I know), and it was so much fun to try all the different varieties as we wandered around, picking first from this tree, then from that, adding to our bags as we pleased.
I knitted away on the handspun sweater all the way there and back, but that was the last of the knitting for several days. What was I doing instead, you may ask?

In a word: grading.

My first pile of essays came in from one of my classes, and it took me nearly 12 solid hours (yes, that's hours) to grade 36 essays (I should point out that these essays ranged from 2-5 pages). I'm not talking about one and a half work days, with time off for coffee and lunch and checking email and peeing. Nope, I'm talking the time I spent sitting with my butt in a chair and a pen in my hand. It was painful (on a lot of levels; my back is killing me). It's astonishing to me how few people actually even re-read their papers before turning them in, let alone actually editing them. (This in spite of the fact that on the assignment I clearly stated that by the end they must have proven to me a number of things, including the fact that they re-read their papers.) We'll see how the second essay goes when I get it in a few more weeks.

I finished that grading late on Wednesday night, so when I got home on Thursday, I settled down to a well-deserved couple of hours of knitting while watching Bones and Fringe (new seasons, yay!). And I finished the body on the handspun sweater. I'd already ripped out what you saw in the last pictures and started again because the body looked too big for me, so I was really hoping that I'd hit it on the money this time. I actually think I may have gotten this one right.
What do you think? It seems to fit exactly the way I want it to, and I am still truly loving the way the colors are coming out (that picture is pretty accurate).
I picked up the stitches for the first sleeve and got that started on Thursday and worked more on it yesterday, thinking the whole time that it really did look too big (I apparently think I am a much more imposing person, physically, than I actually am). I tried it on this morning, and yes, it was way too big. So I ripped that all out, picked up stitches again (40 fewer stitches this time, and it's still not too small, that's how way too big it was), and I think this is going to work much better. It will also mean (I hope) that I have a much better shot at finishing this without running out of yarn. All I have left are the two sleeves, and then I pick up and knit a rolled neckline, which I'll just do with whatever yarn I have left after the sleeves. I'm still thinking this is going to be a bit of a race to the finish with the yardage I have, but I'm feeling more sanguine now that I've finished the body using the yarn I'd allocated for it.

And that's all there is to report. I knitted on my Noro sock yesterday while watching The Town with some friends (I liked it), and I only stopped because I think I'm at the point where I need to start the ribbing, but I have to compare it to the other sock first. So those may be done soon, too. I am nurturing this little hope that I'll finish the sweater in time to wear next weekend, when we go to Sacramento to visit my dad for his birthday, and to drag my mom to a local fiber festival at the same time. Of course, it might not be cold enough for wool; we have finally gotten a summer down here, and after months of weather where the highs hovered in the mid-70s, we're hitting the 90s today. That's fall in SoCal for you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It knits like yarn

So, I swatched with the handspun I posted pictures of last time, and it seems to be acting like, well, not to put too fine a point on it - yarn. I made yarn! Yarn that can be knitted! Into a garment! (I hope. Still keeping my fingers crossed that I've calculated my yardages correctly, or the sleeves on this will be "bracelet length"; read: I didn't have enough yarn for the usual length.)
That appears to be knitting, doesn't it? I can get even closer, and it still looks like knitting.
Yup, lumpy and bumpy a bit, but I am still very happy. What this means, of course, is that I am absurdly proud of a feat that, two hundred years ago, could have been accomplished by a seven-year-old. Nevertheless.
The way this sweater works is that I knit the shoulder straps, then picked up stitches and am now knitting down the back for a bit; I will do the same for the front for the same length, then join them together and knit in the round until the body is finished. This is a lot of stockinette, so I'd planned to save it for knitting in meetings. That may not work, as I'm having a lot of fun with this thing. On the other hand, there may be other distractions on the horizon.

This brings me to a request I've been meaning to make. Could all y'all please, really just please, stop finding beautiful things to knit? You're killing me here. The latest distraction came from Lori. I've already bought the pattern and am in the process of assessing the stash (do you think Briar Rose alpaca laceweight held double would work? I really want it to...).

I beg of you, no more!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

As promised


As I've mentioned, I've been working my way through 15 lovely ounces of Blue-Faced Leicester (BFL) from Briar Rose. This fiber spins like a dream, and it has the gorgeous longwool luster that I adore. When I was in Ohio looking at fiber in the Briar Rose booth, I kept finding myself reaching for those lustrous bumps of wool, and every single time it was BFL; I feel the same way about some of the other longwools, there's just something about them that looks like silk. They are definitely not as soft as wools like Merino (nor as soft as silk, for that matter), and I think that if I were to try to spin them worsted, as my spinning preference lies, they wouldn't be as gorgeous as they could be. But this experiment of spinning this fiber woollen has worked out beautifully, I think. For non-spinners, it basically means that instead of getting a tighly-spun yarn with very little air in it (the kind of yarn that's perfect for socks), I ended up with a bouncy two-ply yarn with lots of air and loft in it. I am so glad that I didn't keep saving it "for best", because now I have five skeins of lovely yarn; I haven't counted just how much yardage I have exactly, but I think it's about 220 yards per skein, so, if I'm calculating correctly, that's a sweater's worth. Hooray!

Chris is truly an artist with color. I never cease to be blown away by the things she can do with dye; her colorways are so organic, every one of them tells me a story about something that I love. The colors in this wool remind me of the blues and browns and grays of Sierra granite, perhaps my favorite rock on earth, up to and including the big rounded river rocks that make me so happy. (Am I the only person who has a favorite rock? Maybe it has to do with all of my early childhood memories of playing on huge boulders in the mountains or in Yosemite, with that particular feel of decomposed granite and pine needles under my feet, and the smell of cold pine and campfire in the air, the way that smell changes as the sun begins to warm the trees and the rocks, the sound of a creek nearby, the rough stone under my hands when I climbed, and the give of the earth when I jumped off and landed... There's nothing like a good granite boulder.)

My woollen spinning still isn't even, which means that the resulting yarn isn't even, so I'm not sure how this will knit up. It seems to range between a heavy sport and a worsted weight yarn, and one skein (in spite of mixing up the bobbins as I plied) feels like it's a lighter yarn that the others, so I may have to mix that in as I knit to keep it from being too obvious.
You can see the changing weights there. Does anyone who is more experienced at knitting their handspun into sweaters have a sense of whether I'm in trouble here?

I am thinking that I have finally spun the yarn that I need to knit Cloisters, a sweater I saw in Spin-Off ages ago, and that I've been wanting to knit ever since. (There's a better picture of it here; it's the green sweater fifth from the left in the top row.) I think that the plain stockinette body will show off the colors nicely, and the lace pattern is simple enough not to be too obscured by the vagaries of handspun yarn. I also think it'll be a simple enough knit that it will be soothing during this busy time of the semester, and one of those really wearable sweaters, like a sweatshirt, but uniquely mine.

I will leave you with some granite to consider.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A contest worth visiting, plus new vocab

If only because the photo is so great, it's just begging for a caption: Check out this contest.

(Thanks to Yarnerinas for the link!)

P.S. I've been spinning like a madwoman; three bobbins full of a gorgeous two-ply and more to come tonight. Pictures soon.

P.P.S. And how much did I need this word today at work? Thanks, Fuzzarelly, for that link. I can tell this word is going to get a lot of use in my world (especially the way I drive and shop for groceries)...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pictorial update

I have survived the first week of classes. That's always a good sign, since it means that it's time to start settling down into a routine for the next twelve or thirteen weeks, until the chaos of Thanksgiving and finals comes around. I'm still finding my feet with all of the schedule changes, though. This is the downside to being a teacher and having kids in school at the same time: all of us have everything shift around at the same time at the beginning of the school year. Everything from class times, to soccer practice, to dance practice move right about now, and I spend the first several weeks of September obsessively checking my calendar, sure that I've forgotten something crucial (mostly because it has been known to happen).

But I did mean to share at least some pictures from our trip up to the Bay Area for Grandmom's memorial. Her actual memorial service was beautiful, a completely fitting tribute to her life. I think that it was harder to get through, for me, than it might have been right after she passed away; at that point my sense of her readiness was vivid, and while "happy" isn't the right word, maybe some of you know that feeling of vicarious relief for someone who was really OK with having reached the end of a long and good life. By now, though, I've had time to remember how much I miss her, and how much I'm going to miss her, and hearing people talk about the person she was, in the years before the end stages of her life, just reminded me more vividly of how much I enjoyed her company and valued her friendship.

The other good thing about the trip, though, was the gathering of family. The girls got to spend more time with their cousin, whom they absolutely adore, and we got to spend time with lots of people, but especially Rick's brother and sister-in-law, whose company we really enjoy, and which we don't get enough of. We dragged them to the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, where the girls grabbed their own maps, and requested that we not follow too closely behind them.
So we wandered around on our own, taking in the sights.
Some of which were rather unexpected.
We got to chat a while, and visit.
We saw trees that didn't seem like they should be thriving quite so well as they were.
Plants that were aptly named, like this spiral aloe.
And plants whose names didn't seem to fit them quite so well.
(That little sign says "Giant Stipa", in case you can't read it.)

The girls kept playing with their maps.
Until we hauled them off to see the little amphitheater in the redwood grove where we were married.
Lest you think that I've completely lost the thread (pun intended) with this supposed knitting blog, my sister-in-law and I did, in fact, manage to visit two yarn stores while we were there (and can I just tell you how much fun it is to have a partner in crime on these trips? even if she is a terrible enabler...). We went to Stash, where we spent a lovely time browsing before deciding on our yarn. You should see the stunning coppery silk laceweight that my sister-in-law bought -- there was no way I could have let her walk out without it. And I decided that it was time to try some Noro sock yarn, which I'm working up into plain meeting socks (as in, socks that I can knit without thinking about them, during meetings).
I'm not quite sure I'm 100% convinced about the whole Noro thing, but more on that another time. Then, when we were in the City, I mentioned something to Rick about having heard there was a fabulous yarn store that was really worth a trip, and he, lovely enabler that he is, promptly hauled out his phone and found it for us. He even got us directions. So off we went to Imagiknit, about which all I can say is, boy howdy. We were a little overwhelmed.
In a sort of hysteric kind of way. There were two rooms chock full of yarn. Perhaps more amazingly, when we both looked to match a skein we'd found so we could get more of something, the folks who worked there would calmly say things like, "Well, it looks like we have 30 more of that colorway in the stock room" (!!), and then they'd go and get more. Unreal.

I managed to walk away with (only) three skeins of Malabrigo sock yarn for a sweater. I adore this colorway. Love it. It's the first yarn I picked up when I walked in (you can see it in that picture up there), and after looking at yarn for an hour, I was still clutching it to my chest and refusing to put it down. That seemed like a sign.
I'll work on getting a better picture, because the blues are more robin's-eggy, like in the picture up above. I'm thinking this will be the perfect yarn for Anne's latest henley, no?

So there you have it. There was also a trip to Muir Woods in there, and a walk across some of the Golden Gate (of which I have no pictures, but I'm sure someone does). Lots of good food. Lots of good company.

This past weekend has been a busy one, too, with two birthday parties, a feis, and a bat mitzvah so far. But today there is nothing scheduled for me except a date with the washing machine and my spinning wheel. Just what the doctor ordered, I think.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On budgets and the stories we tell ourselves

Classes started yesterday, so I'm buried in the usual beginning-of-semester madness (I know that many of you are in the same boat). It was wonderful to see my students again, especially in my upper-division class, which has many students who have taken some of my other classes. That feeling of pleasure is what convinces me, semester after semester, that this really is the job I love best.

The administrative side of things, though, is not my happy place. This semester we are facing a particularly interesting situation, which manifests in increased pressure not to take crashers over our class cap numbers. Now, I actually approve of not going over class caps for a number of philosophical and pedagogical reasons. I can teach better when my classes have the number of students (and no more) that they are designed for. More generally, I can teach better when I have fewer students; when I started here, the goal was for faculty to have about 90 students each semester among their various classes. In the fall semester before furloughs, I had 120+. I just can't do for 120 students what I can do for 90 (up to and including learning all of their names). Note also that we are not paid more for teaching 120 students, even though that adds a third again as much work in terms of grading, etc, and none of our other workload decreases concomitantly. Hence my philosophical approval of the maintenance of class caps.

The added wrinkle this semester has to do with funding. As a state school, we receive a certain amount of money per student. We also receive a target number of full-time equivalent students (FTES) for each academic year. And, we must accept all students in our service area who meet the minimum requirements for entry into the system. All of this seems very reasonable, until I tell you that this semester, we are close to 700 FTES over our target, and that if we can't bring that number into line next semester (by cutting many sections from our schedule), our campus will pay a fine for every full-time equivalent student that goes over our cap + 2%.

That's a lot of abbreviations and numbers, but here's what it boils down to: we may end up paying a fine for teaching too many students.

Yes, you heard that right.

The upshot is that I had to turn away students who are working harder to pay more tuition for a smaller number of possible classes and increased time to graduation. It broke my heart.

In the meantime, I am seeing increasing numbers of bumper stickers around here lambasting big-spending Democrats (the president in particular, but there's a general sense that lefties spend too much money). And I'm getting pretty cranky about it. Because every single time I see one of those, I want to stop the person driving that car and ask them: which of the two presidents prior to this one left us with a budget surplus and actually had plans to pay down our national debt? (Hint: Not the Republican.) And which of those presidents spent hundreds of billions of dollars that we didn't have and left us deeper in dept than we have ever been? (Hint: Not the Democrat.)

In other words, it's not that simple. Let's be completely honest here: both parties spend money. Lots of it. It costs serious amounts of money to run a nation (or a state, or a city). Period. The difference between the left and the right is not in how much they spend. It's in what they choose to spend it on, and where they get the money that they do spend. Do they spend it on corporate welfare or social welfare? Do they spend it on education, or on tax cuts for top earners? Do they get money by raising taxes, or by reducing social services? There are arguments, both philosophical and fiscal, for either position, but we can't have a conversation about the merits and consequences of choosing one over the other if we're busy stating categorically that Democrats are big spenders and Republicans aren't. 'Cause it just ain't so.