Archive for September, 2007

All this down-time at work is great for personal productivity: knitting, catching up on bills, blogging. The quiet and low-pressure days allow my mind to expand as though in an empty room, to wander and drift, catching the peaks and eddys of the cultural effluvia around me. It’s this expansion that allows me to bring together a series of moments and observations into some ad hoc philosophising:

A few days ago a co-worker and I were in the kitchen together – I was washing a bright green granny smith apple, he was rinsing a bucket of raspberries purchased at the local farmer’s market. We both simultaneously remembered the recent NPR story about rinsing produce with a water-and-vinegar solution and I gushed about how much I love NPR. Yes, he agreed, but I sometimes wish they didn’t focus so much on the war because then I tune it out.

I completely understand this feeling. Recently it seems that everything that gets reported in the media seems somehow fictional, as though seen through the gently colored gels and mylars of Hollywood lighting. Since watching the Twin Towers fall in footage that could’ve been plucked from a visual-effects demo reel, much of current events media coverage seems so remote or bizarre that it could only be fiction. A glance at the CNN headlines today reveals protesting monks, a high-schooler taking hostages at school, and a woman who gave birth in her car. TV and films spend so much time on Law-and-Order-esque stories “ripped from the headlines,” and news outlets spend so much time finding “news” stories that will “entertain” that the actual events of the day can easily blur out into a barrage inputs that blend into the visually identical, but fictional, images we’re exposed to every day.

The extension of this blurring of reality extends to our wishful thinking. There’s a film coming out today called THE KINGDOM – I haven’t seen it, but it purports to send American investigators to Saudi Arabia to investigate a bombing. The very Politically Correct and intentionally diverse team (Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx alongside Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman) shows up in the Middle East where they kick ass and take names, risking their own lives to defeat the “bad guys.” If only life were so simple. If only all of us girl-next-door, plain-Jane-cutie brunettes could have the tough-yet-tender Jennifer Garner play us in our life stories. It’s hard not want to yield, in all things, to a vision of life as a shiny, neatly-packaged media mouthful, with a sweet happy ending and a chewy moral-lesson center – a happy couple with a white picket fence, a stroller and a puppy defended by a handsome young man happy to lay down his life to defend them – a touchingly tragic but bloodless death. But this prefabricated vision is above all, imaginary – I’m not Jennifer Garner, with perfect hair and judo technique, nor are all my life’s emotions and ideas black and white, or even technicolor.

And now I come to the point: gratitude. Because in the past few days, thinking of this vision of Jennifer in fatigues and a ponytail plastered on billboards all over Los Angeles, something’s clicked for me. A few months ago, Bill Maher invited an NPR reporter, Jamie Tarabay, to join the panel on his show Real Time. Her voice was familiar to me from countless morning commutes, but somehow seeing her on television changed my perspective. Forget that she’s far too beautiful for radio – here was an articulate woman around my own age who’s actually chosen as her life’s career to report from a war zone. Suddenly, when I hear dispatches from the “front” I picture not a sexy-but-grizzled photojournalist or an ageing news anchor trying to boost ratings, but a woman who could be my friend or my sister or even me. She’s not Jennifer Garner, she’s better – she’s the real thing. Because those reports from Baghdad are real, are actually happening, and it’s not just that she’s placed herself on the ground to observe and report but that in a very tangible and immediate way she brings me there with her. Her reporting makes it impossible for me to tune out, in the same way that I couldn’t check out halfway through a juicy phone call with a girlfriend. I think she’s unspeakably brave, incredibly smart, and I appreciate beyond measure that she’s bringing her reality into my brain every day.


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The fruits of my labor

Here’s what can be accomplished when the bosses go out of town and the workday is quiet . . . I’m still at work, but I’m out of yarn . . .

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The big boss is out of town so I am getting in some really quality at-work knitting time today. I’m planning on catching up on online TV and getting through as much of the hand towel as I can. In other slacking-off-at-work news (besides the blog, ‘cause duh, what else is there to do at the office?) today our months-long game of Water-Bottle-Recycling-Jenga came to a tragic end.

What’s Water-Bottle-Recycling-Jenga? Quite simply, it’s a game of skill and strategy based on the classic brick-stacking Jenga game whose history is helpfully detailed by the Hasbro Corporation on their website, here.

The Office version is a simple variation on the old classic. First, find an inconspicuous office cupboard or closet, like so:

Then begin building a tower of empty water bottles within. When the game reaches the height of suspense and anticipation, you’ll have something like this:

The game ends when a hapless soul opens the cabinet and places the final empty bottle or can that causes the whole pile to spill out and any available minions to quickly scoop up and bag all the empty bottles before the boss approaches with the attendees for the big meeting in tow. Here is evidence of the carnage:

Good times ’round here at the ol’ cubicle farm.

Oh yes, today’s big loser was in fact yours truly. Hey, I can knit. You can’t win ‘em all.

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So the secret (and now not-so-secret) project I’ve been toting around with me is the Monkey Socks. The actual knitting is going well – no problem at all – but the yarn is pooling and I think the gauge is off, because although the socks are the right size so far, the stitches themselves seem too loose.

To review:

I am working with Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock yarn in the colorway Motherlode. While the yarn itself is quite lovely to work with (aside from a minor problem learning to use my ball winder) I’m not happy with the way the colors are falling. On both socks, instead of being all jumbled up, the colorway is pooling so that one side is yellowish:

And the other side is reddish-purple:

Even worse, although I am working at the specified gauge, the fabric just seems too loose. Here, I hold up the sock to the light and take a photo. Should socks have this much light flowing through them? Is that going to be warm and/or comfy on the feet? The only quibble I have with my own recently-completed socks is that at times they seem a bit too holey . . . I can occasionally see a flash of toenail polish through the mesh of the knitted fabric. Thoughts?

For these socks I’m on US size 2 needles and I think I need to go down to at least a zero and perhaps add one more lace repeat so that each row consists of five instead of four repeats. I have to admit, I am getting a little frustrated with the amount of prep-time that I’ve been doing lately. I have tons of projects I want to be working on but I never seem to have the right stuff at the right time, all ready to go. I just want to knit, you know?

Last night, in knitting despair, I snuck into the guest room for inspiration.  I dug around in the bin, pulled out the KnitPicks CotLin from my stash and cast on for the Moss Grid Hand Towel from Mason Dixon Knitting. I think I’d imagined this yarn becoming a gift for The Baron’s sister-in-law – hand-towels are as good a gift as any – and I’ve been thinking of using CotLin for baby gifts but didn’t want to start any infant projects until I’d had a chance to test out the yarn. So far, so good. At least this will keep my fingers busy for the next little while . . .

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It was a desperately productive weekend at the Barony. I managed to clean out and re-arrange the medicine/linen closet and I made serious headway on moving my stuff into the guest room. It still looks like a storm just passed through, but at least I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve chucked a bunch of stuff that I just don’t want or need anymore and I did a massive pile of laundry, so all the “keepers” are now fresh and clean and put away. A few weeks ago, I did the same kind of triage on my dresser (at which time I actually labeled each drawer as to contents with my trusty rusty p-touch, much to The Baron’s amusement) so now I’m feeling as though the clouds are parting on getting organized and settling in. It’s a long process, though, so I am trying to be as patient as I can with myself.

It was a cozy and quiet weekend – lots of at-home chores got done – and Friday night’s thunderstorm made me feel like it was entirely appropriate to just stay home all day Saturday, puttering around. After we had breakfast I made a pan of brownies, which filled the house with a yummy, chocolate-baking smell and which filled our tummies for the rest of the weekend. In the afternoon we worked on a puzzle which we finished, sore-necked, just before bedtime. All in all, a great at-home day – I changed out of my jammies in the evening to shower and then put on fresh jammies for bed, avoiding real clothes altogether.

 The gentle energy of the weekend was also applied to my knitting, which, in all honesty, has suffered badly the past few weeks. I couldn’t get to my darning needle through all the clutter in the guest room, so save for the weaving in of ends, I finished my skinny Clapotis scarf and another square for the Warm Up America! blanket. Somehow I managed to screw up the Clapotis so that the beginning of the row didn’t correspond to the end of the row, as written in the pattern. This wasn’t really a problem, except that at the end of the scarf things got a bit tricky and the dropped stitches didn’t fall exactly where they should’ve. Even so, I was fairly proud that I managed to eyeball the yardage of the precious Lion & Lamb so that I finished the piece with hardly any yarn to spare. I even ripped back a bit in order to add a few more rows – I just couldn’t bear to waste any of the rich, silky yarn. Miss V, one of my office-knitting buddies, suggested that we each knit a scarf to wear on our office trip to New York in December. She’s still just learning to knit and purl though, so now that my New York scarf is done, I might have to knit one for her too. It feels good to get a project off the needles (just like it felt good to finish that puzzle Saturday night) but I’m feeling a bit desperate at the moment, casting around for a meaty project to sink my teeth into. I might just have to cast on another “mindless” project to keep my sated until my next yarn shipment arrives.

The blanket squares are good to have finished – they’ve been quick, easy knits and good examples for the new knitters I’m trying to teach. Pictured below, the bottom square is plain garter stitch, the middle is stockinette with a slipped-stitch pattern (right side: k5, sl1, wrong side: purl all stitches) and the top square is 2×2 checkerboard (right side: k2, p2, wrong side: p2, k2, right side: p2, k2, wrong side: k2, p2). I also did a simple square in pink with a heart motif worked in yarn-overs in the center. Good times. Hopefully the rest of the girls in the office will be done with their squares soon so that I can get everything finished, washed, blocked, and off to New York.

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Knitting toys I covet

There’s talk of rain on the news today – even though the sky is clear-blue and the sun seems bright. The Baron says that it feels like fall, 70 degrees and sunny. We both really love the rain, and of course cooler weather does make the idea of pulling out more serious and substantial knitting a bit more palatable. But with the fall comes a certain special occasion . . . something that happens just once a year and marks the introduction of a certain someone to the world. There are lots of reasons, all of them fairly lame and rooted in my own made-up pop-psychology, for why my birthday makes me feel icky. The past few years, though, I’ve been fighting the negative and trying to keep things fun.  So on that note . . .

Yes, I’ve been thinking about (if not actually) cutting down on the excess and unused junk/clutter in my life. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in a few particularly cool knitting tools making their way into my world. Here are a few knitting toys I’ve been coveting:

Something I need:

An umbrella swift to help with yarn winding. Now that I’ve figured out how to properly operate my ball winder (frequent readers may remember my unfortunate first attempt at winding) I need a swift so that I don’t have to tear The Baron away from the pinball machine every time I want to wind a skein of yarn. Umbrella swifts are also cool because they are available in all kinds of yummy natural woods, often handmade. KnitPicks sells their wooden swift here, and Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review does a nice round-up here.

Some things I just really want:

I am head-over-heels in love with my KnitPicks Options needle set – the interchangeable nickel tips and the super-wonderful, flexible cables are now my go-to needles for almost every project. So now KnitPicks is offering a new needle set, a colorful, wooden-tipped set of interchangeable needles called Harmony. I don’t need the set. I have a perfectly good, nearly identical set. But I can’t help myself . . . I just covet the crap out of these needles.

And while you’re visiting KnitPicks, I’ll take just about any color you like of their Swish Superwash line of yarns. I adore the soft, squishy fabric that Swish knits into in garter stitch on size 7 needles – it’s what I’m having all my new knitters work with for our charity blanket squares.

I’m in love (like many others) with the intricate and surprising designs of Norah Gaughan, and I pause over Knitting Nature every time I visit the bookstore.  Four times a year I eagerly await the arrival of Interweave Knits, my most favorite knitting magazine, as well as Vogue Knitting (both surprisingly inexpensive considering that the anticipation, reading and knitting all make me a very happy person). This year Interweave Knits will publish The Best of Interweave Knits, which I hope to add to my knitting library as soon as it’s available.

And finally, a knitter just can’t have too many cute bags and pouches for carrying knitting & tools. Some of my favorites are Jordana Paige’s Knitter’s Satchel, the oh-so-overpriced Betty Needle Case from Lexie Barnes (that green floral is oh-so cute!), and pretty much the whole line of Namaste knitting handbags.

Knitters out there: is there a must-have that I’m missing?

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Today’s going to be another day of bits and pieces, disjointed thoughts and rambling . . . I can just tell . . . so here goes:

The big knitting question of the day: Now that I’m living with The Baron and I have a huge closet in the guest room to play with, how do I get my yarn and knitting and crafty supplies organized? I’ve stored yarn in plastic bins up to now, but I’m thinking of moving one of the ratty old bookcases from my old apartment into the closet and just put tools and supplies on the shelves. I like the idea of hanging bins a la the Ikea laundry hamper as a hiding spot for yarn, but I also want to be able to plunge my hands in for tactile inspiration. Ideally things would all be arranged in a way that was not only tidy but also beautiful, but since I want the guest room to be useable as more than just a nest of crafty goodness, I think I’d better focus on getting it all hidden away in the closet rather than out on display.

A few other thoughts:

The Baron talks a lot about de-junking, and I think as I “unpack” my stuff into his life, it’s time for me to do the same. Goodbye, pants that haven’t fit in three years, goodbye, ratty old picture frames with nothing in them, goodbye knickknacks from high school that I just don’t care about anymore. There’s a lot less to clean and a lot less to (mentally) keep track of and maintain if you get rid of things you don’t need or want. Eventually, if you have too much stuff, you stop owning your stuff and your stuff starts to own you. I think it was a Rockefeller who said that . . . in any case, it’s very true.

Work was pretty lame today, so I decided to treat myself to some yarn purchases. As it happens, my stepmom took a look at a photo of the Peacock Feathers shawl and decided that what she’d really like is a sweater. Mom and Glamorous have both been asking for natural-wool fisherman-type sweaters. And thanks to the moral support and helpful advice Mick sent, I’m considering doing the Hourglass Sweater (knitalong here) from Last Minute Knitted Gifts for myself. So I went over to Sarah’s Yarns (where they are currently having a 20%-off-plus-free-shipping-sale – use the codes FREESHIPPING and SYPRIVATE) and I bought two cones of JaggerSpun Maine Line in cream and two in light blue. Then I bought enough grey Mission Falls 1842 Superwash Wool to make myself the hourglass. Once the yarn arrives I’ll start doing serious planning for what to make, but I think Starsky is high on the list, and maybe something that feels like a grown-up version of the Elizabeth Zimmerman February baby sweater from her Knitter’s Almanac.

This leads me back to something important about my stash: When I started knitting, I didn’t really know what I was doing and I made lots of impulse purchases of just a few balls of yarn – not even enough for a scarf in some cases. I also feel really invested in knitting – I’m spending so much time and energy on it that it’s worth it to me to be a yarn snob and work with really wonderful materials. The long and short of all this is that I think it’s time to get rid of some yarn – either by knitting it up into charity blanket squares, giving it away or selling it. I just don’t want to have “stash yarn” that is, for most intents and purposes, unusable.

Tune in tomorrow for more detritus from my brain.

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