Thursday, January 27, 2011

Warm hats not hot heads

I don't know about you, but I was disheartened to the point of paralysis by the events in Tucson, and by the steadfast refusal of some folks to step back from hateful rhetoric.  I have spent a lot of time and thought over the last two years and more, trying to figure out how to encourage thoughtful and respectful public discourse when a not-insignificant group of people refuses to see the importance of such mutual conversations.  What has caused me even more distress is the fact that these hatemongers are not abjured by those for whom they claim to speak.  Where are the people who should be saying: No.  You don't stand for me.  I may share some of your goals, but I do not want my goals promoted with hate and fear.

I'll tell you where some of them are.  They're right here among our fellow knitters.  And I'll also tell you how glad I am that Ellen and Alison haven't been paralyzed, but instead have decided to do what knitters do best: to knit, and to use that knitting to remind people of their common humanity.  They have begun a project called Warm Hats Not Hot Heads, with the goal of getting people to knit hats for as many of our Congressional representatives as possible, to remind them that, in the end, we all have the same basic needs even if we go about getting those needs met in different ways, and that respectful discourse is crucial in working together as a nation to meet our common goals.

Looks like I'll be knitting some hats this month.  Who wants to join me?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The train!

Yup, the light at the end of that tunnel was a train.  As of tomorrow, the semester is officially here.  I'm as ready as I usually am by this time; my syllabi are finished and posted on the online course sites, my files with course materials are all in the drawer in my desk (instead of in my filing cabinets), the dates on the course assignments have been changed, I have printed up the class rosters, and added the names of the many students who have asked to be put on wait lists (because it's apparently impossible for our administration to actually activate the wait-list feature on our enrollment software - and yes, that does make me cranky, because it's both a huge amount of additional work for me, and because it means that faculty have to be the bad guys, even though it is by no means our fault that there aren't enough sections for all the students who need classes).

I have also wound up yarn for meeting-type projects, copied the patterns (I like to have trashable copies in my knitting bags - I don't want to lose any originals), and cast on (I don't know about you, but I need to concentrate when I get a project set up).  Since I also have a birthday coming up (and since I will be spending all day on my birthday in meetings - CFA, budget committee, Senate, right in a row), I decided that starting a couple of simple projects in decadent yarns would be the way to go.  To that end, I got started on the Lune shawl last night with my handspun silk/cashmere.
It's knitting up beautifully.  The scarf will probably turn out smaller than the pattern, as I'm using a slightly finer yarn and smaller needle, but I like the way the fabric is turning out at this gauge.  Once the pattern is established, it's completely mindless, but decadent in this yarn, just right for meetings.  I also cast on some Bugga - my first for myself! - to knit another pair of the Kimono Socks.  I have/had a pair, but they seem to have slipped into the dryer, and are now too small for my feet.  I have long wanted a second pair, so this seems like the perfect opportunity.  Of course, for these to be a second pair, I may have to knit yet another pair after this, but this seems like a good start.

That's it in knitting news.  I finished my aunt's socks, which don't make for exciting pictures, since they're exactly like the Lenore socks I knitted for myself.  I've mostly been enjoying the lovely weather by taking my knitting out to the back patio - it won't last, so I'm sucking up the sun while I can.  I haven't had a chance to take any pictures of the hood I knitted (too busy sitting in the sun), so I can't share that.  I can share a couple of shots from some hiking we did a few weeks ago. 
Happy kids, happy dog. 

We have also lately had some spectacular views of the snow-covered mountains north and east of here.  Right from the hills behind our house.  I wish we could get a clearer shot - early in the morning, when it's clear, they're just right there, bigger than life.  I think if you click to embiggen this picture, it's clearer - the white there on the horizon is not clouds.
Snow-covered mountains and San Diego.  Weird.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's that light I see?

I do believe it's the onrushing train of a new semester!

Classes start a week from today.  This week is report-back week, so I'm wading through my usual pre-semester List O' Things To Do As Of Yesterday.  Last semester, the list was organized into Soon, Sooner, and Soonest; we'll see how long I can go before I'm at that stage again.  I appear to have syllabi for my classes, though, and as I've taught them both before, I have lectures and assignments prepared, so I oughtn't to make a complete fool of myself during the first week.  In fact, I'd be sitting pretty, really, except that one of these classes I've only taught twice before, and once was during the furloughs, so I keep wondering whether I should change it around.

Part of the reason why I'm feeling a bit like I don't have my feet under me yet is because the last week or so has been nutty.  Last week I had two all-day meetings, Rick had two all-day meetings (overlapping on one of those days), we had out of town guests who came an unexpected day early (which was wonderful in a lot of ways, as it gave us far more time to visit than I'd thought we'd get!), and then as soon as we both finished our all-day meetings on Friday, we packed up the car and headed for Mammoth.  Traffic wasn't too pretty, and we didn't get in until about midnight, but then we got two absolutely perfect ski days - warm and sunny and almost no wind, great snow, and the lines weren't long!  The fact that Mammoth is such an absolutely huge mountain (one might even say - wait for it - mammoth) means that there's always some run, somewhere, that doesn't have a lot of people on it.  And the best bit?  I was skiing on my brand-new skis - a Christmas present courtesy of my beloved husband, who remembered how much I'd enjoyed them when I demo'd them last year, and hunted them out, as Nordica isn't making these anymore.  The new skis with the deep side cuts are so much fun to ski on the steeps that it almost feels like I'm not working at all (barring that high-altitude panting - 11,000 feet makes for thin air)!

We got home yesterday and here I am today, having some trouble committing to the whole work thing.  It's this time of the semester that it really hits me how much work eats into my knitting time. Of course, I'm bound to be singing a different tune after my first day of back-to-back meetings.  In anticipation of that day (February 2, to be precise), I have already begun to line up projects, winding yarn and finding needles and patterns and packaging them all up together in knitting bags.  I wouldn't want to be caught short, right?

I did finish one big project just before we left.  I don't have pictures of the whole thing yet, but I do have a few of the pretty part:
This is the Wintersweet Scarf from IK Holiday Knits.  I used Elsebeth Lavold's Silky Wool and I completely rejiggered the edging.  It was supposed to be a pretty little colorwork scarf knitted widthwise, but that meant purling the WS rows in colorwork for 60 inches or some such (further complicated by the fact that I wanted three colors, intead of the pattern's two, which would have meant long floats across the WS rows), so I had another idea (imagine some kind of drum beat indicating incipient doom here): I decided that I would cast on somewhere around 80 billion stitches, then knit the scarf part from its long edge (casting the middle bit off and then on again to create the spot where the hood is inserted) in (get this) linen stitch.  With a seed stitch border.


The colors are gorgeous, and I was right about the linen stitch - it's given the whole thing a lovely subtle woven look.  I also didn't have to carry any floats at all, and (I realized halfway through) I was essentially doing intarsia when I knitted the end seed stitch border, so there's a new skill learned.  But honestly, each and every row took about a half an hour.  I was like to die.  It took forEVer.

And now that it's done, I'm not sure that it's as charming as I'd hoped it would be.  Rick used a phrase that might have been "old Russian woman" when I first put it on.  I need to get some opinions, so you can bet there'll be photos at some point.

Meanwhile, I'm working on the second of my third pair of Noro socks.
These are addictive in their simplicity.  I've been knitting them toe-up (not my usual style, but for some reason, that's how I tend to start short-row heel socks - short-row heels are also not my usual style, but with the self-striping yarn, it just seems like the way to go), so I cast on and off I go, mindlessly watching the colors appear and disappear.  I'm almost ready to turn the heel on the second sock, so that'll go quickly.

I have also started (more) mitts for the girls.
That's the first of them.  It's more Classic Elite Waterlily.  I love this yarn perhaps more than I ought.  I want a pair of these mitts for myself.  I love this yarn so much that I also knitted a hat out of it, for Rick.
It's a much nicer mossy green color than it looks there.  This is Anne's latest hat, David's Toque (I don't think that the pattern's out yet), and Rick wore it all weekend in the mountains, nice and cozy and warm.

I also have a pair of socks on the needles for my aunt (she requested a pair of the Lenore socks that I knitted for myself while I was in New Orleans - just like mine, she said, so I ordered the yarn and waited - it didn't come in time for the holidays, but they'll go to her as soon as they're done, a belated Christmas present).  So, that seems like a reasonable set of knitting to get me set up for the start of a new semester, doesn't it?  Just in case it's not, I also wound up the yarn to start a new project:
Tucked away in there are the makings of another Babushka.  You may note the needles that are sitting right there on top?  Those are a gift from my lovely SIL (along with the bag, actually) and her family - Signature needles, size five, with the medium tips - they have become my new favorite needles in the whole world.  The join between the needles and the cable is amazing - truly, it's smooth as can be, and the join actually turns so that the needle rotates relative to the cable.  No kinking, no twisting, no getting sort of rucked up the way cables sometimes do.  Just smooth smooth smooth, with the signature (ha!) Signature needles, grippy in the right ways; even the medium tips are plenty pointy.  I think I'm going to suggest to some of those who love me that a set of the size sixes might be a nice birthday present.

And speaking of the Babushka, I will leave you with a knitter story.  On Sunday night, after our second day of skiing, we bundled up and headed out to Angel's for dinner - our favorite spot for our last night in Mammoth Lakes.  I was wearing my Babushka, because it really is the scarf I wear the most.  Suddenly the woman at the table behind me leaned over and said, "Excuse me.  Are you a knitter?"  I said yes, how did she know? But of course I knew, and I had to laugh when she asked for the pattern name, complimented the seed stitch (I love knitters!), and immediately recognized the cashmere content of the yarn when I handed it over.  Am I the only one who always feels just a bit warmer when recognized out there in the world by a fellow knitter?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


It's that time of year, when a young person's mind turns to thoughts of goals, plans for the new year, resolutions.  I know I'm not the only one; I've read some really wonderful posts lately contemplating goals for the new year, including a few with watchwords (appealing to my linguistic self), some of which really resonate with me, including "deliberate" and "sufficient".  I think that both of those are keywords which help to remind me of long-term overarching practices like balance and mindfulness.  Being deliberate is an aid to living mindfully - slowing down certainly helps me to pay much closer attention in the moment; and understanding sufficiency leads to greater balance.  This got me to thinking about whether I have a resolution for the year - not the usual: lose ten pounds, start lifting weights, publish another paper - but something bigger, a practice rather than a goal to check off the list, one of those things that's worth keeping in the front of my mind, something that encourages me to be mindful and balanced.

A phrase came immediately to mind, and I've been contemplating what it actually means, and why I find it so difficult to even approach.  Put simply, I need to work on this: just because I can do something, doesn't necessarily mean that I should.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who acts, more frequently than not, on the basic belief that the only thing that should stop me from taking on a new commitment is an inability to actually do whatever it is that I'm being asked to do.  The problem with this belief is that, push comes to shove, there is very little that I couldn't do (I don't think I'm unique in this, either, by the way; I think that all of us, if we really really had to do something, could find a way to do it).  The problem is with that "push comes to shove" bit; I am not good at judging if the pushing and shoving are real, or if the sense of do-or-die pressure is simply a fiction dreamed up by the little anxious voices in my back brain.  The upshot is that I find it very difficult to say "no, I can't".  And nearly impossible to say "no, I don't want to".  (It probably doesn't help that questions are so frequently phrased as, "Can you do this?"  Well, yes, I suppose I can...)

I don't know about you, but when I'm struggling with an old ingrained habit like this, it helps a lot to know where its power comes from.  This one has a lot of oomph, some of it from more general bad habits, some, though, from principles that I hold dear, and that's what makes this a tough one.  In terms of the negative, some of this comes from a sort of deficit mentality, the kind where I think: I'll never see this yarn again/have a chance to eat this particular food again/get this opportunity again.  And the next thing I know, the yarn is purchased, the food is eaten, and the commitment is made.  Hence the resonance of that watchword "sufficient".  Added to that is a long-held sense that what other people want is somehow more important than what I want, or than my needs/sanity/etc.  Not to mention the fear that if I say no to people, they will no longer like me.  These are not useful things to believe, and I'd be more than happy to shed them.

But the feeling that my ability to do something in some way obligates me to do it also comes from principles that I have really thought about and that I try to live by.  One of these is my general dislike of hypocrisy.  I try really hard (I don't always succeed, goodness knows, but I do try) not to criticize people for doing things that I also do, and as a concomitant, I try hard not to expect things of people that I wouldn't do myself.  It makes me crazy when people stand around saying, "Why doesn't someone do something", but then refuse to step up and do things themselves.  I guess what I'm saying is that I try hard to hold myself to the standards that I hold other people to. 

I also know myself to be truly lucky, to have not only a sufficiency but an embarrassment of riches in my life, and I am very aware that no small part of those riches comes from the actions of other people, some of whom I know but many of whom I don't.  And I believe in my obligation to respond to that generosity of the community of humankind with a generous heart.  That means that when I see something that needs doing, the seeing comes with an obligation to act. 

I also fundamentally believe in people, and in the capacity of people to do great good.  And I believe that I should do what I can to make the world a place where people have a chance to exercise that capacity.  Again, I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that I always (or even mostly!) manage any of these things, but they are guiding principles that I come back to when I judge my own actions, and when I try to decide on right action.

What I seem to have lost here is a sense of balance, of not only taking care of other people, but also of taking care of my self, of holding non-violence as a key principle in judging my own actions.  I encourage my friends to set limits, to take care of themselves, to say no, and I cheer them on when they do, but I don't give myself the same encouragement.  If I truly do believe in holding myself to the standards I set for others, why not that one?  This is where I stall out, though.  I know what I can do if I have to, and the voice in my head that says that choosing not to do is the lazy choice (and furthermore, that my "principle" of finding balance is just an excuse to be lazy) is a pretty loud voice.  I think that this is where a broad reading of "sufficient" would be a good thing: not only do I have sufficient (a plethora of sufficiency, in fact!), but I am sufficient.  Imagine.

So there it is: Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.  Deliberate.  Sufficient.  Balance.  Mindfulness.  Watchwords for a new year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taking care of business

That's what I'm starting to feel like I need to do. I spent some time this morning deleting and filing email, which always makes me feel like I've got things more under control. I also am working to get dates and plans put into my calendar (my external brain; without it, my life would be even more chaotic than it already is!). I also have some business to catch up on here on the blog.

First, I have to share with you one of the things that came in a lovely holiday package from Stella (there were a number of fun things, but this one has captured my imagination).
Look at that gorgeous fiber! I can't wait to spin it up; my long-draw is finally starting to get marginally better, and merino this lovely just calls to be spun up into a light, warm, soft, fluffy yarn. I adore the colors. Stella was aiming at finally finding me the kestral-colored fiber I've been desiring; I think that what she got here are the California hills in the fall at sunset, which is perhaps even better. Thank you, Stella!

Stella also just posted about a lovely pattern that she wrote last year; I was lucky enough to get to test-knit it, with wonderful results.
It's a little ballet wrap (which can be knitted with beads and sleeves; you should go see her version - it's wonderful; she also has a contest going to name the pattern, and the winner gets two skeins of one of my favorite sock yarns ever, so maybe I shouldn't be telling you about this...). I love this so much, I am tempted to knit one for myself, using the largest size and heavier yarn (this is two laceweight yarns held together).
I highly recommend this pattern, if this is the sort of thing you, or a young dancer of your acquaintance, might like. What I particularly love about this wrap is the fact that it takes advantage of everything that knitting has to offer in the way of construction, everything that makes knitting unique relative to working with, say, woven fabric. The shape of this garment is constructed as it is knitted, in one piece, rather than being worked into it later with seams. It's clever, but not so clever that it's annoying; it uses the flexibility that is available through knitting, rather than doing odd things simply for the sake of doing them differently. It's what knitting should be, and I wish I could think of garments three-dimensionally like this myself. I may not be able to, but I certainly can appreciate the results when someone else does!
So, apparently, can Younger Daughter.
I knitted this last February; I don't have a project page for it on Ravelry yet, but I'll try to get to that soon (more business).

In other business, I've been wanting to be more consistent about my spinning time. I love spinning when I do spin, but it's not something that I do every day, or even every week. It's something I tend to save up for when I have a whole day, which is rather ridiculous. Janel Laidman (she of the sock club that I appear to have joined, oops; that makes two, since I also rejoined the Rockin' Sock club this year) has decided to do a spinning stash-down this year, based on Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's self-imposed sock club idea. In Janel's version (all the rules are here), you make a monthly goal for spinning, post that goal somewhere (that would be here that I am posting it), then each month show the fiber and the spun yarn. I am making my monthly goals very small, mainly because while I do find the time to spin reasonable amounts of fiber in spurts (for example, spinning that big bump of BFL from Briar Rose that became a sweater), I don't spin consistenly, fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there, and I'd like to try to motivate myself to do that.

So my goal: to spin between 2-4 ounces each month, working my way through the smaller bits and bobs of fiber that I've picked up at various festivals.

My hope is both that this will make me spin more consistenly, and also that it'll help me to keep up with the spinning that I need to do if I'm going to feed Older Daughter's dyeing habit.

With that in mind, I sat down yesterday and spun the two ounces of silk/cashmere that I bought at the fiber festival in October.
I spun this fiber long-draw, both because I still want to get a better handle on the technique, and because at my spinning class in Ohio last spring, the teacher said something about the fact that the way one spins a fiber blend like this (a blend of short fibers like cashmere and long fibers like silk) can bring out the characteristics of one or the other fiber. I tend to spin something like this worsted, which brings out the characteristics of the silk (smooth, shiny, dense). This time, spinning woolen brought out the characteristics of the cashmere (light, fluffy, SOFT).

I ended up with about 230 yards of this loveliness.
I love the colors, and I can't wait to knit it up.
The plan is for it to become the Lune Shawl (the small version); I already have the pattern. And even though this means that I met my January goal, I'm going to haul out the two little packets of suri alpaca I also got at that festival, and put them near the wheel so I can keep going and aim for that four ounces.

On a final business note (because this post is FAR too long for me to start talking about New Year's thoughts and goals), I am experimenting with taking the word verification step out of the commenting process. I know that for some people, any typing at all is an exercise in endurance and discomfort, so adding to it doesn't help. I promptly got a spam comment this morning, but only one, so I'm going to see how it goes. I'd like to keep it off - one less step to commenting is great - so I'll keep my fingers crossed that the spam stays within reason (is any spam reasonable? a question for the ages). Happy New Year!