Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trying new things

I want to thank everyone who has commented on my two recent non-knitting screeds - I truly appreciate how thoughtful each post was, and how much I know many of you are thinking about this issue.  I also want to thank everyone who is being so patient with the total lack of knitting content.  It's not because I'm not knitting!

I am, though (I must confess), knitting less than I usually do.  There are several reasons for this, all of which have to do with trying new things.  I have never been someone who believes that you can't teach an old dog new tricks - in fact, I think that learning new things, maintaining that childlike enthusiasm and wonder for the world, is one of humanity's most important traits, when humanity can hang on to it.  And really, doesn't it make life more interesting?

Of course, I really should do a better job of rationing my new things so that they don't happen all at once, across multiple areas of my life.  I've been trying some new behaviors on a personal level, ones which feel more coherent with the person I am, and while I won't go into details here, I think I'm not alone in finding that sort of thing extremely difficult, and in finding that it doesn't always go smoothly.

I've also been trying some new pedagogical techniques.  One of the hot new teaching tropes these days is "flipping the classroom" (go ahead, Google it, I'll still be here when you get back).  For better or worse, everyone's talking about it.  So I've been paying attention, and have attended a few Faculty Center seminars on it, and I think that there are some techniques from this movement that I can use in the classroom, especially in the area of developing group work which pushes students into interesting new areas.  On the other hand, I have to admit that my very first question when I heard about the concept of flipping a classroom (to take the "lecture/information acquisition" part of learning out of the classroom, so that students can do more interesting and higher-level analytical and applied work in the classroom, facilitated by the professor) was, "Isn't that what a seminar is supposed to do?"  You know, you have the students read something outside of class, gain a basic understanding of that something, and then come to class prepared to do something more analytic and challenging in class.

Except that begs the next question: what do you do when they don't do the bloody reading before class? (!!)  So I'm trying some new things, including creating short little introductions on YouTube to each of the course readings, to move that out of class and give us more time in class for the stuff I love the most - the hard analytical and applied work.  Of course, that requires me to create one of those little videos for each of the class readings.  Doh.

So that's work and emotional lives.  What else could I add?  Well, inspired by my sister-in-law, I have been working to increase both my distance and speed when I walk.  I managed nearly nine miles at under 13-min/mile on Sunday, so that's coming along.  But even better is this:

That's Older Daughter, finding her focal point.  I think I mentioned a few posts ago that the girls and I are taking horseback riding lessons every week, and we are loving it.  We've all three agreed that it's just about the best two hours of our week.  Last week, we spent the whole drive home giddily saying, "We trotted!  We trotted!"  (Until Younger Daughter pointed out that, actually, it was the horse that trotted; we posted.)(Pedant.)

So with all of that new, my knitting has not been of the challenging sort.  I finished and blocked the Shattered Sun Shawl.  I think it turned out fairly well (bad photo notwithstanding).  This was a nice knit.  The pattern was clear, not difficult, and the results are lovely.  I used Jade Sapphire Silk/Cashmere, and it took just a titch less than one skein (whew!).

 That isn't the best color representation - below is closer (it's a kelly sort of green):

I also finally cast on for a sweater that I've been wanting to knit since seeing it in the Fall KnitWear.  It's Katya Frankel's Gathered Blouse.

I am taking a bit of a chance and knitting it in cotton, rather than in the wool blend of the sample in the photo.  It is possible that the weight of the cotton will change the drape of the neck enough that I don't like it, but I also need more cotton sweaters, and I'm risking it.  I have split for the sleeves, and I think that what I need to do is to not knit it for a night, and to (dorkily) wear it around the house to see what happens when the weight of the cotton pulls down on the sweater.  We'll see. 

I'm knitting it out of Cascade Ultra Pima, which I had in stash (I have been trying to be better about using stash yarns), in the 35 3/4 inch size.  There are a number of clever things that I like in this pattern, including the use of short rows to raise the back of the neck, and the pleats along the sleeves and front, but I am finding that some of the numbers aren't right in this size of the pattern.  When I am done, I will try to put those together on my Ravelry page for this project.  (Again the color isn't too close above...it's more of a seafoam green, which I very much like.)
So, that's it.  A whole lot of new, and some old.  I'm also revisiting projects that are languishing OTN, with an eye to working my way through them one by one.  More on that next time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Those who do not know history...

Today's holiday and inaugural celebration have inspired me to take one more post to work through some additional thoughts I've had about the gun control issue, over the last few weeks since I wrote about that topic.  (I hope the connection will become clear.)

During that time, like many people, I've been reading everything I see about gun rights, gun control, gun violence in the United States and elsewhere, and have been looking at the arguments for and against various levels of gun control legislation.  One argument for gun control that I see frequently, one which I have deployed myself in the past, has really been recontextualized for me as I have done this reading.  This is the frequently-employed refrain: People don't need assault weapons to shoot deer (or some variant of that), so why won't gun rights advocates just be reasonable?

This is true.  I don't know a single hunter who would disagree with that (at least, not a single hunter who wants to eat anything she or he has shot).  But note the underlying premise.  The underlying premise is that the reason that gun rights advocates want their guns is for sport.  And while that may be true for many gun owners, the reading that I have been doing lately suggests that owning guns for sport is not what inspires the truly passionate among gun rights advocates.  Instead, I see, again and again in the discourse of gun rights advocates, two overarching reasons to passionately defend the broadest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment: first, that people need to own and bear arms in order to protect their own safety and welfare, and that of the people that they love, in the face of a dangerous society and a police force that cannot adequately do the job; and second, that people need to own and bear arms in case the day comes (again) when the citizens of the United States need to rise up to overthrow a tyrannical government (one which would, without the Second Amendment, be in possession of all the weapons, leaving citizens helpless to change the situation).

Until we address these strongly-felt reasons, we cannot have an open and above-board discussion about gun control. 

I want to come out and say outright that I don't find these reasons compelling enough to allow the unrestricted ownership of guns.  While it is the second reason that I most want to talk about today, on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and on the day of the second inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, I also want to say that I believe that our armed forces, both at home (our police, coast guard, and national guard) and abroad (our army, navy, air force, and marines) devote their lives to the safety and well-being of the citizenry of this nation, often in the face of low funding and difficult odds.  I am not saying that there have not been incidents of abuse of power, but that to focus on those to the exclusion of the sacrifices made by the people who are charged with protecting their fellow citizens is to do everyone a disservice.  (There is a lot more to be said here, about Wild West mentalities, about whether people really are more polite and less violent when everyone carries a weapon, but that really is not what I want to write about today.)

It is the second reason that I most want to take issue with on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  That second reason is based on the assumption that the only way to effect real and lasting political and social change is through force of arms.  And it occurs to me that, if one is only educated in a history which celebrates and documents the struggles and successes of white men, that may appear to be true.  But, as a counterpoint, I give you:


And, decades earlier.
And the struggles of those people, and countless quiet unphotographed and unremembered others, brave in the face of rubber bullets and tear gas and guns, mockery and hatred and vituperation, led to this, today.
History is rife with people who changed the course of events, who overcame tremendous odds to do so, not through force of arms, but through other means.  Imagine if Black Americans throughout the South had risen up in arms fifty years ago to overthrow the tyrannical governments who were the architects of their oppression.  Imagine if, fifty years before that, suffragettes had taken to arms to convince a repressive government of their right to vote.  Imagine if now, women across the nation took up arms to overthrow the system of hegemonic patriarchy that keeps them underpaid, unsafe, and underrepresented.

I don't think that the gun rights movement has that vision in mind.

But I do think that the belief that guns are a necessary and maybe even best tool of lasting political change is based, among other things, on a most limited view of history, and of whose successes are important in history.  A day like today exists to remind us that that just isn't true.  Guns are not the only, or the best, tool to overthrow oppression and create lasting change.

Civil disobedience.  Peaceful protest.  Education.  These are the tools that last.  These are the only tools that allow us to build, instead of just destroying.

These are the tools that allowed a great man to stand in front of his nation, and to say in a voice that rang like a bell: "I have a dream today."

Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In which I am tired of mushy food

Note: I am, for the first time, trying the Blogger app. I am finding the picture-adding feature unintuitive in the extreme, so all the pictures associated with this post may end up at the end. Not sure what I think of that...

It has been quite a couple of weeks. We did, as planned, go to Mammoth the weekend before last, and, as hoped, the skiing was really, really good. It was cold, though. From my perspective, it was really cold. Mostly in the teens. I think that should count as cold. (It was actually 1 degree out when we drove by the airport, but we didn't stop to get out of the car. You might be able to imagine why not.)

Rick kindly agreed to take the daylight part of the drive so I could knit mitten thumbs (I succeeded in finishing the hand of the second mitten the night before we left), and by the time it got dark, I was *this* close to finishing the second thumb. In fact, I was so close that Rick kindly let me put the dome light on for the last 20 minutes of knitting. As a result, I had mittens when we got up there, dangly ends tucked inside. (Refer to photo of mitten backs here.). And the best bit? The antlers! (Refer to photo of mitten palms here.) The girls were wildly amused by the fact that I was so amused by having antlers at my disposal.

These really are fun mittens in many ways. I am not sure how well they would serve for extended periods of outdoor wearing in truly cold weather, but they were perfect for doing around-town things in the cold of Mammoth. And they have been very useful to me of late in the mornings around here (which have been in the mid-30s, temperature-wise), especially when driving. A winter or two ago, I developed Raynaud's syndrome, which sounds more impressive than it is, and which involves having the tiny blood vessels in my fingers or toes suddenly squeeze shut, resulting in strange, bone-white numb places. The treatment for Raynaud's is to avoid triggers, and for me, the number one trigger is holding a cold steering wheel. These mittens are a big help in that area.

I would change only two things, one small and one large. Small: I would knit a longer cuff, before the second Latvian braid. Large: I would rejigger the thumb to have it coming out of the palm. The pattern is written so that the thumb grows out of the side seam, but thumbs (at least my thumbs) do not come out of the side of the hand, so these have a tendency to pull around, moving the seams off the edges of my hand, and de-centering the lovely antler pattern. If I had to do it over, I'd probably do an afterthought thumb on the palm. To be fair, I am guessing that the reason why the pattern-writer didn't do that to start is because it's not really possible, per the usual Scandinavian mitten of this sort, to blend the thumb pattern in with the palm pattern, given the fun antlers - hence the non-interfering side-seam placement.

Since coming back, things have been rather insane. Department chair work has come crashing down on me in the form of schedule-management, and I am also working on my course syllabus. At the same time, I had my two bottom wisdom teeth pulled on Friday morning. I will spare you the details (although I was awake for all of them - local anesthesia all the way, baby!), and I will say that I have been remarkably lucky in my recovery. The pain wasn't bad at all (really, more discomfort), the swelling wasn't bad, either, and really, the biggest bummer is that I am just sick and tired of squishy food!! I want to CHEW something!

But I was recovered enough that on Saturday morning, the girls and I were able to start our big holiday present: horseback riding lessons. (Pictures of girls on horses here.) I know that I will write more about this as we go, but learning to ride has been something I have wanted to do since I was a child. And the girls, too, have asked, and dreamed, and hoped, and I finally decided that this kind of time-together, shared-experience gift is exactly the sort of thing that I value, above any stuff, and did my research and made the commitment. One lesson was enough to tell me I did the right thing. Number 2 is tomorrow, and we are all three really looking forward to it.

I have also finished the Shattered Sun shawl, although it is not yet blocked, but I think that is for another post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

To recap: A holiday in knitting

This is just a quick post, as it's been a busy several weeks, and I'm still coming to grips with the whole "2013" thing; weren't we just fretting about Y2K?  Where did the last decade go?

Nevertheless.  For all that I can't get my head around the year, I did manage to reach some knitting goals for this holiday season.

Wonderfully mismatched/matching socks for Younger Daughter (her favorite kind)?

Warm hat for Rick (designed to work for skiing on cold days)?

Sweater for Older Daughter (pattern chosen by her)?

Mittens for me?

A few details.  The socks are plain old socks, using Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato Heel, knitted out of Zauerball on size one needles.

I am particularly proud of Rick's hat.  The pattern is a heavily modified version inspired by Ellen's Que Sera, Suri hat (in other words, she gets the credit for what went right, and is in no way to blame for the weird things that I did that didn't turn out so well).  The yarn on the outside there is handspun (I think I posted about it before?) dyed by Erica at DesigKnit.  I spun it woollen and then chain-plyed it, hoping to keep the colors fairly true and non-barber-pole-y, and to create some striping in the hat itself.  I think I succeeded.
Aren't those colors gorgeous?  I will most definitely be doing the chain-ply thing again - definitely.  And because Rick wanted it to be very warm and somewhat wind-proof for cold ski days (of which there will be some this weekend in Mammoth), I knitted a lining out of a merino/possum yarn that I bought in New Zealand years ago, and which I have been saving.
I think this is definitely going to fit the bill.

Older Daughter's sweater is knitted out of Malabrigo sock.  I bought it at the year-end sale at my LYS, and as soon as I walked in the door and saw her face when she looked at it, I knew it was going to be a sweater for her, not me, and so it was.  The pattern is the Lilly Tunic, knitted in the S/M size.  This was a very nice pattern, with small details that really make an otherwise-plain sweater like this special.  For example, the box pleat in the front was fun.
And the little pleats at the tops of the sleeves.
It also has very neat (literally) i-cord edging around the neckline and the hems, which finishes it off nicely.  Older Daughter has been wearing this quite a lot, mostly with a wide belt, which I hear is rather the thing.

So, I did manage to finish the three knitted gifts that I had planned for the holidays.  Hooray!  I immediately cast on for the mittens that I have been craving in a rather ridiculous sort of way since I first saw them, in hopes of finishing them before we go to Mammoth.  Tomorrow.  Hmmm...  It's not impossible, and I really would rather like to, as it's rare that I go somewhere where mittens really make a huge amount of sense, but they will up there (where the nighttime lows will be in single digits).  Hence this short post.  Briefly, they are the Oh, Deer! mittens, knitted out of Alpaca With a Twist Fino, which I bought ages ago specifically to knit these mittens.  The yarn, however, is veryvery fine, so I am holding it double to knit, using size zero needles.  There was one rather unholy mess made by trying to knit that braid edging out of two colors of yarn, both held double, but I got through it, and they're incredibly soft and (I hope) warm.

But here's the part that sold me on them:
Antlers!  On the palms!  Seriously - too cool, right?

You can see why I have to go and finish them.  Right now.

But not without wishing you all a Happy New Year, first - a year filled with all of the things that you love best.