Thursday, August 31, 2006
I have a long drive, and instead of listening to the radio and the commercials and the traffic reports (even on NPR, which is doing fundraising this week and breaks into the flow of "All Things Considered" even more than usual), I download and listen to an hour of radio rebroadcast over my Ipod.
Some of my favorites: the Tavis Smiley Show, for its point of view and its diverse cast of regulars and interviewees; "On the Media" for its liberal-leaning point of view and its witty unraveling of the stories behind the news; and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," a dryly funny but strangely kind quiz show about the week's news.
My all-time favorite: "Good Food" from KCRW, the best show on food and cooking and the business of anything to do with food. Today I listened to an episode that ranged from the moratorium on salmon fishing in California and its effects on the fishermen and salmon fishing in the future; to vending machines, how they work (new technology means every patron walks away with a food item!), the rise of no-cash vending machines (more reasons to have to use a credit or debit card but less scamming by those wily folks who put a line on their dollar bills and then pulled them back out of the machine), and the fact that seven to ten people die every year from vending machines falling on them, usually because they are trying to secure a food item without paying by thrusting their arms inside the machine and rocking it (you are safe on this point, as more vending machine operators are bolting the things to the wall); and the American chef who will be representing the US at a big food competition called the Bocuse Dore (he will make his two-platter meal some 35 times before the event AND have a doctor monitoring him and his 21-year-old assistant for their peak body measurements so that they can compete on the very best day).
After this incredible array of topics had been covered and the show ended, I went to the knitting show. And, while not "Good Food," it was okay. The host has a fluty British accent and can get away with saying lots of stuff that just would not work in an American accent. Why don't we call sweaters "jumpers"?
And she asked some good questions. And the guest seemed patient and happy to plug her many projects and books.
But, at some point, I began to feel like a lemming. Repeatedly, the host pointed out that knitting has become wildly popular, that there are a plethora of new books on knitting coming out, that the market of books for beginner knitters is especially crowded, and that knitting blogs have driven the popularity of MovableType and the Internet. (Opportune moment for Al Gore joke here.)
At the same time, both host and guest were careful to note that they had been blogging since 2002, as though one is not part of a movement or fad if one starts way at the beginning of said movement.
And, while I began to want to distance myself from all this popularity and group behavior, I also began to ask myself why something that touches many people seems to lose value in direct relation to its popularity.
Is an idea or behavior necessarily any better because it is more rare? Or, is it possible for what is wildly embraced, what becomes a fad, to be just as significant as what is singular?
It strikes me as a particularly American question. That may be because my degree is in American lit. But did you know that John Adams, in the 1700s, was questioning whether America is a meritocracy, where people succeed on the basis of their intelligence and achievments, or a plutocracy, where majority opinion determines one's worth?
We're still struggling with this question. Bookending every "American Idol" winner is the Better Artist who ends up making a Better CD and more money. And do you feel comfortable confessing your habit of watching reality TV to your boss? Look at the ridiculous claims of books read and music listened to in InStyle. Last month a celebrity claimed to be reading Night by Elie Wiesel. No one reads Night, which is amazing, unless it is assigned.
I could say more about this. But I have to go make a fruit salad and watch my Netflix copy of "Dead Like Me" while I knit a lace shawl. There, that's at least two fads or more in one sentence!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Turns out that you can actually buy your very own Time-Turner!
One of my yoga students found it advertised in the back of an airplane magazine while she was traveling recently, and brought the ad to class last week.
There is no justification for wanting one. Is there? What really has me captivated is the accompanying display case. That, and the words inscribed along the Saturn-like rings that spin around the tiny hourglass.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Is this not the best hat ever?
It's a tiny little black straw hat, worn tipped to one side. Out of the 4-inch brim grows a conical part that is open at the top, with this wonderful arch of curving, unfinished straw fibers crowning the hat.
It comes from hatmakers named Ignatius Hats, who had a booth at the American Craft Exposition at Northwestern this weekend. They were the most patient, kind young men, who looked on indulgently as people played with their hats, tried them on, giggled, and tried on some more.
My daughter and my husband convinced me to try on a hat, and it was perfect. Mine is a dark brown straw, sort of like a flapper's cloche but with this incredible swooping piece that flares out to the side. I was too shy to model it for its portrait, but I am including a picture in another post so that you can see what a truly great hat it is. I asked for this utterly silly hat for my birthday.
And as he was paying, I noticed three tiny, Parisian, beautiful hats on the counter. My daughter tried one on, and hers was perfect too. So she also came home with a hat. She put it on immediately and wore it around the rest of the craft exposition. Vendors and customers smiled, and an older gentleman observed her, nodded, and declared in a sage manner: "Young lady, that's perfect."
Sunday, August 27, 2006
This is my hat. And this is the top of my hat box. How can you not admire hatmakers who have the creative nerve to put such an odd picture on their hat boxes and business cards?
They are Ignatius Creegan and Rod Givens. Not only were they talented and humorous , they also were among the kindest of the artists at the American Craft Exposition.
Also welcoming was Daniel Essig, an artisan of small handmade books. The leaves are old, old paper that he finds or buys and the hard covers have a small icon-like window in the front where he places a geode, or some pebbles, or a tiny silver hammer. My favorite thing at his booth was the arch-shaped book with a tiny volume attached to it by a thin metal chain. The little book could be released to the end of its leash, or attached back to the main book with an invisible magnet. Essig is soft-spoken, comes every year to the exposition, and teaches classes at Columbia College as well as closer to home in the South.
I also loved Sally Jones' work, and the fact that she was wearing black pants under her purple and bronze colored skirt so that she could whip the skirt off and pass it to a customer to try on for size. She works in silk screen prints, then sews the Arts and Crafts style fabrics into simple wrap skirts, little pouches on a silk cord, bow ties, and simple but luscious rectangular scarves. The colors are saturated blues and greens and russets and blacks, and each scarf or skirt contains a few different patterns that somehow work together better than they would as separate.
Jay Rogers delights in revealing to each visitor how each of his handcrafted, wooden boxes open in a different way. With some, you need to find just the right spot on the uneven, stepped-down lid to press, and the lid angles off its base. With others, whose tops looked like several pieces of wood laid one atop the other, you need to find the right piece to lift first, and then each one comes off in order. His jewelry box had three compartments and a hidden drawer that could be accessed only once you had opened the rest of the box. He had a series of boxes whose lids looked like ancient maps, with tiny cracks in the wood that resembled rivers running through antique parchments.
Unfortunately, by the time that you read this, the exposition will be winding down. But go next year, walk the show, notice how each booth has its own personality. And be on the lookout for something frivolous, in the meantime, because art and craft can be fun at the same time as it is creative.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Making a dinner as beautiful as the food in the movie.
If Tortilla Soup: then Squash Blossom Soup (with zucchini substituted for the hard-to-find squash blossoms) and Yucatan Fish Tacos from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen.
Shopping at Nature's Best, this wonderfully diverse ethnic market, where you see both customers and ingredients as multi-national as the plastic flag banners hanging above you. The aisles are so narrow and crowded with products that you are best off using a basket carried in your hand rather than trying to navigate around all the obstacles with a shopping cart. My favorite part is talking to the person in front of me in the line for checkout, asking her what she is buying and how she is going to cook it. The United Nations could take a lesson from people from different cultures finding common ground through food.
Cooking while sharing an icy-cold Corona with the other cook and listening to Beliza Tropical.
Eating with your family, having good conversation.
Lime juice in everything: beer, tacos, a fresh salsa made with tomatoes still warm from the back yard and parsley from a big planter on the back porch full of Italian basil, Thai basil, flat-leafed parsley, and rosemary (which I grow every summer and never use). I also grow the tomatoes in big pots on the porch and by the garage, so that the critters (I suspect the dog, who is a Lab and will eat almost anything, including an entire stick of butter in one snatch) don't get too many.
Drinking your first Mojito.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
There was a huge thunder storm last night, about 3 or 4 a.m. Lots of rain, lightening, and big crashing thunder.
Several years ago, a tree down the street was hit by lightening in the middle of the night. If you've never heard this happen, it makes an incredible crack, sort of like thunder but much, much louder and sharper. I thought that I'd hear that last night, again. But it was okay, just lots of loud bangs close to the lightening, and trees waving around in the wind.
I went into my daughter's room to close her windows and saw a shape lying on the bed. It was a little disconcerting to find a body where you expect an empty bed. In my middle-of-the-night sleepishness, I'd forgotten that she surprised us by coming home on the overnight bus yesterday.
This morning the air is cool. There are drops of rain clinging to the trees and leaves. The sky is a sheet of grey. It is supposed to rain again later today.
And the picture of the squirrel? I had meant to have a blog that did not have cute animal pictures. And that's been hard to resist, because I have a beautiful dog and cat. But this crazy squirrel was standing right where I wanted to take a picture, with his head cocked to one side and his paw held akimbo. He stood there for, oh, at least two or three minutes, while I took several pictures of him. I finally had to shoo him away.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Yesterday I followed some of Sally Melville's advice and actually wore something that I knitted.
I HAVE wrapped myself, or carried, or covered fingers and head, or packed in knitted things. But actually wearing a top or sweater that I'd knitted is still fairly new to me. I'm a perfectionist about fit; I learned to sew in 7th and 8th grade home ec and was pretty good at it, but never wore much because I wasn't satisfied with the fit. The things that I did make and wear were forgiving and 60s hippie-era looks. Wrap skirts. Marimekko handbags. Dresses made from Indian bedspreads.
I'm still rooted a bit in that era. My coworkers point me to skirts or shirts they think I'd like by saying "that's a Janet dress" or "that looks like you." And what I think they mean is that the piece is a little bit unusual, a little bit Bohemian, a little bit fun.
This is what I wore with my Waterlily Top: a pink linen skirt with an asymetrical hem, red Mary Janes (the red and pink echoed the colors in the top), and a fitted jean jacket. Lots of compliments and lots of proud feelings.
I continue to fuss about fit, though. I thought I'd made a suave move in lengthening the should straps so that the armholes of the sweater are the same size as the armholes in my favorite Old Navy ribbed tanks. I industriously added 4 or 6 rows to each strap, then connected them with a three-needle bind off.
Oh, hubris. By the end of the day, the sweater had grown about 1-2 inches lengthwise, and the perfect armholes are now way too deep.
My solution: try to delegate this to someone better than me at finishing and working on details. A crocheter and all-around nice person at my favorite yarn shop repaired a 60s era, full-length knit dress that my younger daughter found at what used to be a great, unedited, holy mess of a resale shop down the street from us. She rewove the moth holes, and has now placed first rights on the dress if Molly ever decides to give it up.
Because I did such a great job at weaving in the ends on the straps, I'm hoping that I can hire Nancy to unweave, shorten the straps, and reseam them. Barring that, I may go with the lazy woman's solution and just take a tuck and sew them up shorter.
So, now I know. If the designer uses Colinette and specifies a length or armhole, trust her.
Here's Icarus, nearing the end of Chart 2. If you peer closely at the top of the knitting, where you can see the cable from my needle, there are the beginnings of the feathers that make up the edge of the shawl.
You'll have to look closely, or use a magnifying glass; I was afraid to pull the knitting taut enough to really show the detail. The last time I put photographic excellence ahead of knitting, I spent about an hour ripping and putting stitches back on to the needle.
I'm still loving the colors, and the response to the yarn. I was knitting while wiating to go in to a doctor's appointment, and a woman walked up to me and exclaimed "what beautiful yarn!" Yup, I made it myself. Koolaid dyed, very easy to do, color fast. Yes, she agreed, while she hadn't done any yarn dying, she knew from trying to get Koolaid stains out of her kids' clothes that it is very colorfast indeed.
If one was counting, one might note that after the last two rows of Chart 2, all that will be left to do are charts 3 and 4. And because one is resisting the temptation to make this competitive, there has been an effort to avoid counting said rows. However, eyeballing it, I'd say I have about 35 rows or so to go. Yeah!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
I wish I could say that.
But I do solemnly swear to post, tomorrow.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The pressure to be cool exists as much in the blog world as in elementary school. As does the measure of numbers as a validation. Counting one's comments can become as much of an obsession as counting the size of one's crowd. And just like in grade school, there are those select few who everybody wants to know.
I mention this because I'm finding myself being sucked into this kind of cool kids-not cool kids response to my blog.
While in my heart, I believe that the only reason to write is for oneself, I have to admit that, in my head, I am measuring.
Last night I found myself going down the precipitous path of googling "building blog traffic." There are many, many links to this phrase, indicating that there are many, many people worrying about this. Among the suggestions: linking to the little sites instead of the big dogs, who are too important and busy to heed your tiny site; running contests or quizzes; leaving comments on other blogs with a link back to your blog; and "pinging to weblogs," whatever that is. Other ways to lure, I mean invite, readers to your blog included using lots of pictures, because of the visual allure, I mean content, and posting regularly and often. That last suggestion is usually accompanied with the caveat to only write when you have something significant to contribute; the ethical imperative apparently neutralizing the violent verbal handwaving of "look at me!"
Is it an American fascination with popularity? I'm so new to blogging that I'm far from being ready to make a cultural assessment. So, if any bloggers from another country wander over to my blog, perhaps you can let me know if your citizens are as fascinated with the Sitemeter readings and size of audience as English-speaking bloggers seem to be.
My goal is to go back to the elementary school model, and try to do it better this time around. I'm going to work to be content with the process of writing, rather than the response it draws. I'm going to try to focus my satisfaction on my own work, instead of comparing it to my neighbor's. And if I make a new friend, wonderful, and if I spend time alone, that's fine too.
Because I am truly enjoying writing again. I am finding that it is waking up parts of my brain that I haven't really used since I finished grad school. And I love being able to save beautiful pictures of my knitting, so that I have a permanent record. I'm learning some new skills and overcoming the challenge of a new language that seems almost mathematical to me, and given that I am still proud of the one A I received on an algebra test in ninth or tenth grade, comprehending something mathematical is a big deal for me. And I am connecting with old friends and meeting some new folks.
All in all, not a bad day's work.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
Project: Waterlily Top
Designer: Katy Ryan
Source: Interweave Knits, Spring 2006
Needles: 11, 10.5 and 9 -all 24" circular Addi Turbo
Yarn: Giotto, Colinette from the Knitche
Patty, you were right. Three-needle bind off isn't that hard, and I'm really pleased with the result: you can't even see a seam. The full-length picture doesn't do justice to the beautiful drape of the top.
While I'm not conventionally religious, other students have described my classes as spiritual.
I think it is due, simply, because my classes are quiet, measured, and those sensations are found more often in a religious setting than in everyday life. We always begin by sitting for a few minutes, focusing on the breath and beginning to still the mind. We always end with Savasana, and sometimes I play music, and sometimes I have the students rest with silence. In between, I play classical music more often than contemporary yoga music; I have the students hold one pose for an extended period rather than moving quickly from one pose to the next; and I try to offer a little insight into the meaning and philosophy of yoga.
Lately, I've been reading one of the yoga sutras by Patanjali aloud as we sit at the end of class. It's been interesting for me, and hopefully, for my students. Many yoga teachers and texts refer to the Sutras, which are a series of aphoristic statements about yoga made by a sage some 2000 years ago. The most oft-quoted sutra, or thread, is the first. Donna Farhi, in Bringing Yoga to Life, cites this translation: "Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence" (32).
But in my experience, it is rare to hear any of the other sutras quoted. I try to keep my presentation light, sometimes just reading the verse aloud, and sometimes offering a small explanation.
This week, before class, I searched quickly for a sutra about time. And did not see any, which makes me wonder if the struggle to find time for yoga, or meditation, or any of those other endeavors that enrich your life, wasn't a point of concern for Patanjali. What I did find was a reference to elements that obstruct tranquility, and one of those is restlessness. It seemed a back door into the time problem. If we could still the restlessness and focus single mindedly one one goal or idea, then perhaps time, or the struggle to find more time, would not be as elusive?
Clearly a work in progress.
I wish I had a time turner, like Hermione in the Harry Potter series, so that I could expand the amount of time available to me every day.
I am playing with the template of my blog, trying to get the image and meaning of what a pegotty is toward the top of the blog. So far, I've inserted two codes into the template that did not show up in the blog itself, and pulled the wrong plastic tab off the yellow ink dispenser after trying to have someone explain to me, over the phone, how to install a new ink cartridge in the scanner-copier-fax machine. I am not a mechanically astute person.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Here's some of the booty from the Market at Stitches Midwest. What fun!
I have Yarn Brain right now from investigating all the booths and patterns and yarns. My favorite vendors: Habu Textiles from New York City - amazing fibers, kits that look like something out of a high fashion magazine, wonderful customer service from the young women who work there and do the designs; Windy Valley Muskox from Alaska - the best booth set up, it just invited you in to see and touch the luxurious Quivut (musk ox fiber), Suri alpaca, Pima cotton, and the pattern support was great: fashionable without being overly trendy, classic without being stodgy (you can see the two patterns that I bought from them on the floor); and Rovings from Canada - subtle, natural colors of ivory, deep brown, a beige with pink undertones, a fantastic and muted colorway in the handpainted, with the wool and silk blends absolutely incredible for a shawl or lacy scarf (that's their fingering weight wool-silk in the foreground).
I also treated myself to some EuroFlax after having a conversation with a woman carrying seven or eight skeins in different colors. She is taking a class with Maggie Jackson, and was working on a handbag out of flax as well as other yarns. I asked her if the yarn softened after washing; when you touch it in the skein, it feels rough and stiff. She assured me that it softened even before processing. Her 3-ply flax, a yarn Maggie no longer produces, was already pliable just from being worked as she knit. With the Euroflax, she's making handtowels.
And that got me hooked. I love to weave with cotton and linen, and my favorite projects have been household items that we use everyday, such as pillowcases and napkins. I went with two skeins in a sort of buttery ivory color, and I plan to use the lace pattern from the Kimono Shawl in Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls to make curtains for an upstairs bathroom. The only downside is that now I may never finish the pillowcase on the loom. Sorry Shelly, you will someday get your bday present!
The lovely basket is from Lantern Moon, by way of Windy Valley. And the book is a children's book called Knitting Nell. It's about a little girl who knits a lot but doesn't talk much, until "a small, unexpected moment in the limelight changes her life." The author and illustrator, Julie Jersild Roth, is a delight, and is working on a new book which will be out next fall. I could imagine Knitting Nell being used in a classroom to teach boys and girls to knit, or as a present for any knitter.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I'll post more about it tomorrow. But, in the meantime, if you have an opportunity while she is in town (classes tomorrow through the Knitche and then I believe at Stitches Midwest at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont) to meet her or study with her, do not pass it up. She is one of those teachers whose lessons will resonate over time; she is artistic and extremely smart and funny.
Dinner after the lecture at Clara's Pasta in Woodridge. Great company and conversation at our table amongst the five women there, most of whom had never met before, and whose only connection was knitting.
One of my favorite stories of the evening came from the woman to my left: the mother of two, a boy and a girl. Having knitted for the daughter and not for the son, who was too little to be interested in sweaters, one day her son came to her and said "I want you to knit chainmail for me." And she did, even though this was before knitting had become the trend it is now, and no one had patterns, let alone yarn, for chainmail. But she found a metallic yarn, and made him a tunic and gauntlets to match. Isn't that perfect?
And for the two making the very expensive alpaca and angora slippers, I expect you to send me a picture to post!
More on the lecture tomorrow. . . but at least make a trip to Stitches to see the vendors, and take a free knitting class. I think that there are classes for fee still open and you can check at knittinguniverse.com to see if it is still possible to register - I'm not sure, so please check before you go!
Monday, August 07, 2006
Being competitive about almost all incidental affairs in my life, including parallel parking in the tiniest of spaces, I pride myself in being able to get dressed and ready to go out in under ten minutes. The exception being any time before 11 am.
It's not that I need to sleep late. I don't mind the getting out of bed. But the errands seem to generate uncontrollably, and I find myself going up and down the stairs after a book I want to take with me to read during lunch, and the extra pair of shoes so I can change at my break, and then for the extra jacket or shirt so I can adjust myself exactly to the temperature in the store, neither too hot nor too cold at any one moment. I need, or want, my IPod along; I listen to podcasts of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" or "Good Food" during my long drive. And then I stop to download something new. Breakfast, putting on makeup, packing a lunch. I look up and I must leave Now, or be late.
I have the clock in the kitchen set at least ten minutes fast. And it dupes me enough that when I see how late it is, I force myself to gather up all my belongings and head out to the car. My brain is just slow enough not to process that the clock is a trick.
Why are things that are small so magical?
This is the Abominable Snowman, standing on the window sill in my den. He, as you probably know, is the villain of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, narrated by Burl Ives as a snowman. It is one of my all-time favorite, on-once-a year, you can't watch it any other time, television shows. That, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special that keeps cutting to the scene of all the kids dancing during rehearsals for the Christmas pageant. I'm a sucker for it; each time I see PigPen raising a cloud of dust, others with arms akimbo or feet shuffling, the same little dance repeated every few seconds so that the animators didn't have to create more images, I laugh.
I don't have a large collection of miniatures. But I do like this guy. He's so small and so large at the same time. And wouldn't it be nice to grimace like that the next time someone looks cross-eyed at you?
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Taking Ashland from the Eisenhower instead of heading almost into the Loop and then doglegging over to the Kennedy.
The Signal Ensemble Theatre's night of two one-act plays by Edward Albee (The Zoo Story) and Harold Pinter (The Dumb Waiter) at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park.
The willingness of the actors to perform in a small, basement-like space, only about six feet at the most from the audience. There is no place for them, or you, to hide.
The willingness of the actors to perform in a small space, allowing the audience to observe so closely that the sense of performance drops away. You can see the sweat beading up, the backlighted spit flying, the rise and then release of the actor's shoulders as he weakly tries to assert himself in Zoo Story, for example.
The honor system at the coffee shop during the intermission.
Watching the actor who played Gus in The Dumb Waiter help to dismantle the set and prep for the second play. As he dragged the heavy backdrops off stage, I kept thinking that this had to be one of the hardest working actors around. And everyone at this theater works that hard.
The Goodwill, mismatched, Art Deco living room that you wait in until the theater space opens. Could there be any more flocked velvet in one room? But isn't it nice to see how all the sofas lead people to relax, sit and read their programs, look around?
Friday, August 04, 2006
Next to last day of vacation.
Yoga this morning, lunch with a friend, and two one-act plays by Pinter and Albee tonight at a theater where a friend's son played the Messenger in Waiting for Godot last year.
Please let Lollapalooza traffic not result in hours trying to get into the city. I usually like to drive, but this time I'm sitting in the passenger seat and working on Icarus in order to distract myself from the bumper-to-bumper Friday night rush hour.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
The trick is to republish the entire blog, and then those pesky codes know its time to appear.
Next up, playing with fonts and typeface colors. And I want to install a picture behind my title.
Anyone else blogging on blogger.com? Send me a link and tell me if you've added anything snazzy and how!
The first person to help me get a picture of More than Circular behind the title gets chocolate. I promise.
It's not a gender issue. It's how I think and don't think.
I have a very visual memory. I can recall phone numbers, am an ace speller (who knew it would become a trend?), was great at remembering dates for art history tests because I could "see" the notebook page in my mind.
However, code, logic, and math result in a large garage door lowering in my mind, separating the part that can think from the information it needs to review.
I'm pretty confident that I followed the directions on Blogrolling.com and Sitemeter.com. But so far, no blogs are rolling and no meters are counting.
Just walk away from the computer today. The rain and storms cooled us off some, the air has a nice humid quality, and it's a good day to read Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. Someday, when I can turn off the italics and install a sidebar feature about "What I'm Reading," you'll see this type of information there!
I think that this is the perfect litmus test, even if you have no plans to become a Supreme Court justice.