Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Food and Reading

At this time of year, if you can't be eating something, you might as well be reading about eating something.

Cookbooks are one option. One of my favorite authors: Marcella Hazan. Two volumes, The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classic Italian Cooking, of very opinionated pronouncements on how to cook real Italian food, the real Italian way. You don't find a narrative tone like this in most novels.

Here's Hazan on salad dressing:
"There is absolutely nothing mysterious about the dressing for an Italian salad. The ingredients are salt, olive oil, and wine vinegar. Pepper is optional, and lemon juice is occasionally substituted for vinegar." My friend Lori marvels at the tone. Confident, authoritative, unwilling or perhaps uninterested in considering that there might be another way to do it. Nope, this is it, and let the reader move on.

The recipes are brief, clear, and to the point. Even the newest, least experienced of cooks could open Hazan's books at any page and make a great meal. After each recipe, directives on what to serve before, with, and after the course. Every single thing that I've made from these books has been wonderful. Some have become such stand-bys that I no longer eat them. My husband has a theory that each person can only eat a certain quantity of McDonald's within a single lifetime, and then is done with it forever. I feel this way about Bucatini with tomatoes.

I also like to flip through Fanny at Chez Panisse from time to time. I also have a much-used copy of Chez Panisse Deserts (every fall I make a double batch of the Apple Crisp topping and store it in the freezer for those days when the pears and apples are tired and need to go away - then I cut them up, throw them in a casserole, toss some of the frozen crisp mix on top, and throw it in the oven for the most wonderful desert/breakfast/snack; my friend Michelle's trademark desert at one point was the Lemon Tart) and Chez Panisse Vegetables. Again, food that is simple but the very best of what it can be. And in Fanny, you get a lovely story about what it's like to grow up in a restaurant, have a mom who's committed to the pleasures of eating well, and easy, good recipes.

I rarely use it, but have a certain affection for The Joy of Cooking. Whenever I come across a copy in a used bookstore or resale shop, I grab it. The different editions are little histories of America. Older editions comment on war-time substitutions; newer ones reference the invention of the microwave. And everyone who cooks in America seems to have started with this book. In My Life in France, Julia Child reminisces about lunching with Irma Rombauer, who may have even influenced Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Rombauer told Child that her publisher wouldn't allow the extensive index she wanted in Joy of Cooking. Check out the index in Mastering: hmmm. And though they may not use it much either, I've made it a tradition to give each of my daughters a copy of The Joy of Cooking when they moved into their first apartment.

And Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. As sad as I am whenever I think of this author, who died in her forties and left behind a young daughter, I love to reread her essays on food. Here's what Colwin writes in the introduction to More Home Cooking:
". . . life itself is full, not only of charm and warmth and comfort but of sorrow and tears. But whether we are happy or sad, we must be fed. Both happy and sad people can be cheered up by a nice meal. This book was written for the sustainers and those who will be sustained. I hope both will eat happily and well from it."

Well said.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sleeping it Off

Here's what I did so far today:
Knitted and listened to the radio.
Ate lunch.
Knitted and listened to the radio.
Made dinner.

I find that the best remedy to not feeling well is to sleep it off. Like some of my most favorite people, I seem to have two speeds: constantly moving or asleep.

My yoga teacher commented yesterday that we behave in almost direct contradiction to the season at this time of year. It's a time for hibernating, slowing down, resting. Instead, we are rushing about like lemmings unsure of where to find the next cliff. Well, I added that last part; I'm sure that she didn't mention lemmings.

What I did achieve today: finished a project!

It's truly a relief to have completed something. You can say all that you want about process over product. But one of the particular satisfactions of making something is seeing it in a finished state. So much of what we do is incomplete. No matter how long you are around, there are always so many loose ends, so many starts that wander off on their own and have a destiny that you don't see. A book, a cake, a shawl: sometimes you just need to be able to say, Done.

Here are some dusk-time, not-enough-light-to-see-the-lace-in-all-its'-glory shots. One, as you will note, even has a dog peeking around the corner of the shawl. I've resisted the pet shot until now, but since there's no red eye and she is the Best Dog, I'm allowing this indulgence this one time only.

Mason-Dixon Knitting

There is no happier blog than this one.

Don't you love bright colors, enthusiasm, optimism, with a tonic touch of sarcasm and irony?

Monday, November 27, 2006

How to Grow a Felted Bag

A post in which I use the premis of finishing my felted bag to give way too much information.

When I was stymied, on Thanksgiving Day, in my pursuit of a finished product, known in knitting blogland as an FO (I think!), I knit and finished and felted lots 'o flowers. (The 'O is in honor of the summers we spent at Land 'O Lakes, Wisconsin, in a cabin on a lake, when my daughters were little. My husband suggested, one year, that it would be a good idea to send a truckload of the letter F up north, so that all the letter O apostrophes could become OF's.)

This is what I kinddly refer to as my freakishly small hand, showing how the handle will look with the bag. (Freakishly small in that when I place my hand, palm to palm, with a much younger person, say a daughter at 8 years old, my hand is SMALLER. And the health screening folks say that if, when you wrap your index finger and thumb around your wrist, that you have A) a small frame if they overlap B) a large frame if they don't meet or C) a medium frame if they just touch. Mine just brush, but again, the palm and fingers are so short and I myself am only 5'2 1/2 or so, so my explanation is that I have a small frame and too small hands to measure.)

The real goal of this post, though so buried that any sane knitter will have clicked on to another blog by now, is to ask: advice on attaching the handles?

The NoniBag website suggests sewing them on with button thread, or threading a piece of fabric thru the small openings at the base and sewing those tabs to the bag. But I'm not sure that sewing thread will support the weight of the bag plus contents (and I'm a heavy packer).
Any experience to contribute with using a grommet tool? Or machine sewing or having the friendly shoe repairperson sew the tabs on?

Finally, a virtual field of felted flowers.

Try saying that five times, alternating with the phrase "freakishly small fingers." Winner gets a prize!

"The Bachelor: Rome" Finale

This evening, I will be watching The Batchelor: Rome finale for its psychological interest.

This is not the same, I assure you, as reading Playboy for the articles.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Things to Recommend about Dance Chicago

We made our annual pilgrimmage to Dance Chicago at the Atheneaum last night. I love this theater and I usually love this occasion. A small, old-fashioned theater with great sightlines to the stage from anywhere in the place. Lots and lots of local dance groups packed into one evening. Performance, curtain down for a moment, then up for the next group.

A hometown sort of occasion in a big city kind of place. You see friends and relatives coming in with flowers for the dancers, just like what you do when your kid is in the end-of-year ballet recital. At the intermission and afterwards, you see the performers in the lobby. They always look so much younger, and smaller, than when they were on stage.

This night's theme was Jazz Fusion. The result: a smorgasbord of dancing: hip-hop, modern, tap, and even a little bit of ballroom. Hard to choose a favorite when they're all so different. Eddy Ocampo was The Choreographer of choice for the night. First, a piece that was lovely to look at but conceptually a bit shaky, about children drafted into wars. His second piece, for Illinois State University's troupe, also thematically interesting: sort of a riff on the mannerism inherent in ballet. And an intriguing costuming choice: female and male dancers wearing the same black leotard with a deep V-neck opening outlined in lime green. Middle of the leotard also accented with a wide swath of lime green. And why slightly disconcerting to see the male dancers wearing the exact same costume as the women?

My most favorite group: HipHop ConnXion. Brash, edgy, clipped movements. Smart and funny. A great set piece at the end with everyone pulling on tiny black blindfolds and the lead dancer walking across the backs of five other dancers crouched down. Second favorite: MADD Rhythms. Ten or twelve tap dancers, standing in two lines across the stage. Nothing complicated, just tapping. But oh, so good at what they do. I've been watching the same young woman grow up, tap-dancing with this group year after year, showing much self-possession and concentration. The stage miked so that you can hear the staccato cleanness of their tapping. A bit of a look toward the past, presented by dancers in their twenties with lots of years of tapping ahead of them.

My only disappointment: this year, no Joel Hall Dancers. No Gus Giordano dancers, except for a brief and very foggy piece which featured some students from the company. The program seemed to be padded with some works and groups that gave it their all but lacked polish and surprise.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things to Recommend about Thanksgiving

Recognizing that you are truly very lucky.

Watching the National Dog Show, with John O'Hurley commentating. Appreciating the very Zen quality of the Tibetan Terrier, which could be no accident.

Having your family urge you to text-message in favor of the Tibetan Terrier, who got robbed by the Toy Poodle as Best of Show. My heart goes out to the Toy Poodle. Worse than a Barbie doll with a bad haircut.

Seeing the sun.

Baking cocoa cupcakes to help get you and your staff through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Looking forward to post-dinner sleepiness, at which point I hope to lay prone on the couch, read a book, and fall asleep before going upstairs to bed.

Help Needed on More than Circular Edging

Here's hoping that some lucky knitter will find this post and save me from a Thanksgiving day of not being able to cast off More than Circular.

My first time casting off a circular shawl. And I'm confused by the directions. How does one separate the pointed edge cast off on the right hand needle from the next set of bound off stitches which are waiting on the left hand needle?

Though there are 195,000 hits in Google for More than Circular shawl, no help has surfaced in the first three pages of links. Perhaps I can track down the designer, Jo Anne Besold, and solicit her assistance? Unless she's at KMart shopping today, in which case I feel pity for the amount of time she will be waiting in line while her cashier determines how to ring the special.

No, not so bitter. Just frustrated. I woke up wondering if I made the shawl way too huge and looking forward to turning some almost-done knitting projects into finished objects today. Lots of videos from the library and a day off. But I'm trying to, figuratively, sit on my hands so that all the work on this lovely shawl doesn't fall prey to my impatience.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More than Circular Update

About to start Row 95 of More than Circular. One sizeable ball of yarn left to complete it.

Thinking that Row 95 may be the very last row of this shawl. And it involves something with knitting and purling into one stitch and the use of a crochet hook. Maybe I should wait till tomorrow to tackle that.

Progress measured in: ten minutes of Oprah, five minutes of "The View," "Fresh Air" and a great interview with the writer and producer of "The Wire" (is it on DVD for those of us with no cable?), a bit of "All My Children," the last two episodes of Season 2 of "Veronica Mars," and quiet.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What do Vegetarians Eat for Thanksgiving?

No, the title to this post isn't the set up for a joke. Though I do know a yoga joke: How many Iyengar yogis does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Only one, but he'll need a strap, two blocks, four blankets, and a chair.

Okay, now I feel better. I actually was thinking about that joke on the way to work today, trying to find an excuse to put it into a post.

But the subject at hand is colleagues' and friends' fascination with what I'll be eating for Thanksgiving. I've been more or less a vegetarian since going to yoga teacher training three years ago. For two weeks, we were treated to amazing meals every night, cooked by the inhouse vegetarian chef. The idea probably was to get us hooked, and it worked. The more or less part comes in because I do eat bacon in spaghetti carbonara or on BLTs; I eat seafood; and I'm not now nor ever plan to be vegan. No cakes?? How does one persist under such conditions?

Being a vegetarian in the Midwest is, at least in my world, akin to traveling from some farflung exotic place to America. People are polite, curious, intrigued, and occasionally bemused. Always polite, though. And I try to be equally considerate. The best advice I read about being a vegetarian came in a cookbook by, I believe, Deborah Madison, who has written several good cookbooks as well as running Greens in California, one of the first gourmet vegetarian restaurants around. She suggests that when you go out for dinner and you are served something not vegetarian, that you reply "Thank you." Perhaps you taste it or not. The part that sticks with me is to not judge someone else's eating habits. Not only does the Golden Rule apply here. But eating certain foods or not doesn't make one a higher life form. It's another one of those differences that make us all so interesting.

So, for Thanksgiving, I'll be concentrating on the cornbread stuffing with apples; the mashed potatoes with gravy from scratch; slices of the mass market canned cranberry sauce that still has the lines from the metal can inscribed in it; and brussel sprouts, crisp and sauteed in the wok with some soy sauce. And a bite or two of turkey. Just the same meal I've always eaten, even before I became, more or less, a vegetarian.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sun in Chicago in November

Cherish the memory.

We won't see much more of this until May.

I like to prepare myself for a Chicago winter by remembering that it will snow in April.

Still, I'm gonna miss the sun, especially when it comes into the house in the morning, lays on the floor and the counters, and warms everything up.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stash, or Loom Festooned

Having a stash is about believing in possibilities.

Laughter and Saturday morning yoga

We laughed today. Quite often. Contrary to the general notion of yoga being an ultra-serious, touchy-feely endeavor, yoga is fun.

Much, but not all, of the laughter took place before we started class, as students were coming into the studio and getting organized. Putting down mats, gathering blankets and blocks and straps, settling in, chatting with a neighbor. Mostly Thanksgiving talk. Much discussion about how to unfreeze a pie for Thanksgiving dinner today. Comparisons of who's doing the cooking. Admission that the non-cook for Thanksgiving dinner can escape doing the dishes by a pathetic demonstration of being very relaxed after dinner (okay, that's me.)

One of the things that I enjoy most about teaching is my students. They are a welcoming bunch. They take a newcomer into the group immediately. There's no hierarchy, no cliques, as far as I can tell, and I think that I would notice. Tenured folks introduce themselves to a first timer. Conversation is as likely to happen between strangers as between friends. And that's rare. I'm still searching for a religious institution that would be as welcoming and warm as the yoga studio where I teach.

At the end of class I thanked my students. I am grateful to be a teacher and honored to have the opportunity to teach them.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I heard an interview with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, last week on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." The conceit was to ask him questions so outlandishly unbelievable as to dumbfound one, and then to chant the refrain, "It must be true, because I read it on Wikipedia."
And to each of these wonderfully wierd questions and the three possible answers, the founder would sigh and say "Wow." So 60s. So accepting and amazed at the same time. And then, each time, he would proceed to choose the wrong answer. Three out of three times.

But all I can say after this week is "wow."

My timesheet showed that I worked my expected number of hours. I feel, in contrast, that I put in double that amount. Lots of good results to show for my work and everyone else's. All the same, I wish that tomorrow was a day of Doing Nothing and Knitting. I need to work harder to corral all those errands into a tiny segment of time, not running concurrent to my day off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Good Book is Hard to Find

Stopped at the library on my way home from work yesterday and picked up an armload of books.

But I'm in one of those hard-to-please moods. Already have set aside the Sherlock Holmes re-do (I feel guilty about reading any Holmes that isn't original, except for the Laurie King version that imagines Holmes married to a smart, clever feminist) and the mystery that starts off with a great opening scene (of a stuntwoman falling from a mesa into a grove of trees when the crane holding her wire slips) but then degenerates from there into using Zen Buddhism as a foil for the character's psychological fear of the woods (I skimmed ahead and saw too many references to "But you are afraid of the woods" for me to continue).

Staring at me next is The Places in Between by Rory Stewart. Great cover art and a blurb that makes it sound worth trying: "A mature debut, and an intelligent and illuminating introduction to this fascinating country," Afghanistan. Looks good. But I'm in the mood for easy, relaxing reading.

Maddhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees was perfect: a bit memoir, a bit historical, a bit family drama, and lots about food. I don't think it's really bedtime reading, but I'm giving Gale Gand's One Last Bite (a desert cookbook) a try. Gand is a pastry chef in Chicago who makes the best root beer. Maybe there'll be enough narrative to make this one a go while I continue the hunt for a good book.

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Cake Please

We did a Very Bad Thing at work this week. We ate someone's birthday cake without her.

The tradition is that the birthday person gets a cake of her choice. This time the choice was the shortcake with strawberries between the layers and whipped cream for icing. I was closing, so I stoppped at the supermarket on the way to work and picked the cake up.

Missed the birthday girl by about 20 minutes; she'd had to leave early. We looked at the cake. We put the cake in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. Someone suggested calling her for permission to start the cake without her. I vetoed that. When you have to leave early for a personal reason, you shouldn't have to get a call asking if your birthday cake can be eaten without you.

Lots of sadness. Lots of inability to concentrate because there was a cake in the stockroom. Lots of pondering how to get around the evil of eating the cake without the birthday person present to eat the first piece. (Another tradition: you are challenged to eat all four corners of a cake with icing on your birthday.) Finally, I made an executive decision: we're eating the cake. Let's just say that we put that cake out of its misery quickly. I believe that a token morsel was left to represent the fact that we'd even gotten a cake.

Last night, at our store meeting, we tried to make it up to her with another cake. This time, I thought, I have this under control. Not the loaf-sized version this time, but the large, round, actual cake-sized cake. Plenty for leftovers. Enough for her to take some home for herself and her family to enjoy. I ordered the birthday recipient to close her eyes, then we all sang "Happy Birthday" as I presented the new cake to her.

We polished that sucker off in about five minutes. No leftovers. Someone who shall go unnamed even licked the whipped cream and strawberry filling off of the cellophane wrap that held the layers together during transport. And no, it wasn't me.

Cake makes everything so much better.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Known Unknowns

Much better when you hear it recited, but, forthwith, a bit of poetry by Donald Rumsfeld, from the Slate piece by Hart Seely:

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Saturday, November 11, 2006


I had the first persimmon of my entire life today.

The taste? Sort of a cross between a kiwi and a banana, but soothing, reminiscent, in a good way, of all those Thanksgiving vegetables, like sweet potatoes and squash and pumpkin pie. (Don't you consider pumpkin pie a vegetable?)

If you're in the know about persimmons, it was a Fuyu. I had no idea what I was getting when I saw it at the market. But I'd heard Laura Avery talking them up on the Market Report segment of "Good Food" and I decided to be a bit adventurous. Shopping at Nature's Best is like being at Target: it's impossible not to impulse buy. Suddenly you realize, halfway through the store, that all sorts of things have just jumped into your cart, with no effort on your part. I successfully resisted all the hot peppers, the plantains, the big bags of jasmine and basmati rice. But three persimmons? Why not?

Got them home and had no idea what to do next. I consulted the Chez Panisse Desert Cookbook and Chez Panisse Vegtables. Nada. But in The Greengrocer: The Consumer's Guide to Fruits and Vegetables, a book that I use about once every three years, brought to the marriage by my husband, I found a good description of persimmons. Best tip: buy them firm, then put them in a sealed plastic bag with an apple to ripen. Eat when mushy.

Laura Avery suggested cutting the persimmon in half and scooping the flesh out with a spoon. I sliced off the top and ate it like a pear, as I drove to work.

By the way, in the background you can see my progress on flowers for the Clare Bag: three knitted, none felted.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Miriam Felton's Bush rant

I love that Miriam Felton, in her knitting blog, goes off into a complete rant about the President's drape comments in his welcoming of the first woman Speaker of the House.

Somehow, I missed the gaffe. And whether or not Bush was working from an earlier comment about the Democrats prematurely measuring drapes for their offices or not (you can follow this thread in the comments to Mim's post), it is amazing that a male politician in the 21st century would be so dense as to make decorating the premise for welcoming the person third in line to become president? In other comments to the post, several readers, including one retired teacher, speculate, no, they state, that it's been rumored for years that Bush has a learning disability. That, according to these folks, is why he is incapable of speaking off the cuff.

On the way to the stable last Sunday with my daughter, we heard a news piece about politicians who misspeak. A great cut of Howard Dean's scream, including the yelp mixed into house dance music; Dan Quayle mangling the mind is a terrible thing to waste speech; and Bush, completely flummoxed as he scrambled to finish the second half of a saying. Kind of scary.

Nice to see the knitting community debating the point. Smart people, knitters.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's my Day Off, so it must be HTML Day

Testing a right click on a permalink to see if I can figure out this individual linking vs. homepage linking thing.

Here's Chicknits' take on yarn and the vote.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More than Circular update

Not a very attractive shot, but the point here is to try to illustrate of how unwieldy a circular shawl becomes, the larger it gets.

I've switched from a 24 inch size 10.5 bamboo needle to a size 10.5 metal on a 47" cord. That helps somewhat. Now I can spread the weight of the shawl out a bit more, and there's room for the stitches to slide as I work them. Bamboo had seemed a good choice at about row 40. But by row 95 or so, the struggle to slide the stitches down the needle, across the join between needle and cable, work them, and then slide them down the needle on the other side was getting old.

But the thing is heavy, literally. I lay it down on my lap, then try moving the needles closer to the shawl, then shift the whole thing to the side.

Very different from a triangular shawl, which grows sideways at the same time as it develops length. The needle and cable seem better suited to supporting something growing sideways instead of vertically.

If I'm lucky, I'll work my way through the rest of this relief round and maybe even start the edging tomorrow.

Sidenote: I'd meant to include one of those obligatory fetishistic yarn shots in this post. (You know the ones: close ups of sumptuous skeins of yarn, tangled colors, an aura of mohair. I love 'em, but these pictures always remind me of an interview I head on "On the Media" about foodporn and the Food Network. And my grad school training was very being on examining the fetishizing of material objects, but that's a story for another night.) In any case, the color looks all wrong, so you'll have to hold your breath and wait for another day to see a closer view of the beautiful colors in this hand-dyed bamboo yarn.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pictures from Boston

Like driving in Boston, much of the sidewalks in the neighborhood were red brick, impractical, old, and charming. I finally must be a Midwesterner: how do they shovel snow in winter?

The light had a different cast to it. Somehow more clear and bright than the light at home. And more red brick. We get so much siding and wood and so little brick where I live. I miss the look of brick buildings.

The Ware glass flower collection at the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. This is the way a museum should look. No interactive doodads, no blinking lights. Quiet, lots of wooden cases, labels that suggest that the world is an orderly place.

These glass flowers, grasses, and cross sections of pistals, stamens, and so on substituted for the real thing for students studying botany at Harvard at the turn of the nineteenth century. Handmade by two glass blowers, a father and son from Germany, and paid for by a wealthy American woman and donated to Harvard. The lighting is low, and there are many signs that warn you not to lean on the case or place anything on it. The flowers, over 100 years old, are delaminating and cracking.

Only in Boston: a bookcase factory outlet. Boston is a book lover's heaven. There are a million different bookstores with a million different genres. The only thing more frequent than restaurants, as we walked about, were bookstores.

Moody's Falafel Palace.

Did you Vote Today?

Did you vote today? I did, with only ten minutes to go before the polling place closed.

Given the horrendous traffic that I fought to and from work (1 hour and 15 minutes there, about the same on the way home, even though my very wonderful managers took dinner early so I could book out of there at 5 p.m.), I decided to ride my bike over to the polling place, rather than sit in more lines of traffic, waiting for the train tracks to clear so that I could get to the other side. I came home, changed into my favorite running pants, grabbed my bike, and rode over.

Very dark, and no light on my bike. Me in black pants and a black down jacket. Still, very nice to be on my bike, riding through the cool evening, on my way to doing my civic duty.

If you didn't vote because you thought that you didn't have the time today, or you're not registered where you're living, or you decided that your one vote wouldn't matter, promise that you'll do things differently for the next election.

And because we are all only four years old at heart, the voting commission even gives you a sticker that says "I Voted Today" when you've cast your ballot.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More Things to Recommend doing in Boston

Darjeeling tea with milk and honey after lots of walking.

Meeting your daughter's friends.

Having a free computer to play with at the bed and breakfast.

Doing some yin yoga in the morning and working out the tightness from traveling.

Again, the T. I marvel at the beauty of public transportation. Why are suburbs so car-oriented when buses and subways and els make so much more sense?

Many, many bookstores. Even more restaurants. Nineteenth-century houses and twisty streets and brick sidewalks pushed up by tree roots.

The autumn sun falling across churches from the 1800s and a very old cemetary with tiny, grey, leaning gravestones.

Sitting on a couch at the Gap, waiting for my daughter while she tries on jeans, reading a new story by her just published in an annual
edited by a friend. She brought us one of the first copies out, just delivered in the mail. A great story. A wonderful, organic flow; lovely, interesting characterization; a sense of place; a sense of humor and whimsy and darkness lurking at the edges of the tale. Really good. No surprise there, but it still is wonderful to observe.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Things to Recommend in Boston

The T: best thing about living in a city is having mass, public transportation. I love seeing all different sorts of people taking the T: lots of teenagers in groups, either groups of boys posturing or group of guys and girls, boys still showing off. And the people walking to and from the station. Lots of beautiful women in this town, scarfed and wearing high boots over skinny jeans. Lots and lots and lots of Ipods, and lots of couples or friends sharing a set of earphones.

You just can't people watch when you're driving on the expressway.

Also, Zoe's off Porter Square: a little, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. A small entryway and then three steps up to a small dining room. Nothing to drink but water. But a fantastic menu, and everyone in the place but us is Asian. Only chopsticks are brought to the table. You havw to ask if you want the knife or fork. We do not, and do quite fine. (I learned to hold chopsticks from my maternal grandmother: a German first-generation American who also did Japanese brush painting, made miniature doll furniture, sewed entire 40s era wardrobes for a beautiful series of larfer Madame Alexander dolls, and could do 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.)

Our dinner: cold noodles with sesame vinagrette, vegetable dumplings, wok-roasted shrimp with pepper and salt, sauteed peapods and water chestnuts.

And lunch, grabbed at Moody's Falafel Palace off Central Square: another hole-in-the-wall with great food. Why can't the suburbs of Chicago do this? Falafel, a wonderfully lemony cucumber and tomato salad, pita bread, and a counter to sit at by the window where I could more people watching. Three young men at a table in the corner, having a very intense academic conversation, in the way of students in a college town.

Off to Boston

To Boston for the weekend to visit my older daughter.

Two knitting projects (the felted bucket bag, the flowers for my purse?) , one hardbacked book (Maddhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees). And shoes? A pair in my suitcase, and still I want to have my boots along.

Gonna eat a lot, walk a lot, eat some more, see my daughter and her dog and her horse, and Boston.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Measuring Up

I am a Very Competitive Person.

If you know me, you know that's true. If you don't know me, or haven't seen me in a long time, perhaps more of a surprise. I am, after all, a yoga teacher. I try to stick with a regular meditation practice, too. I knit and weave and cook: lots of lovely domestic crafts. And I love quiet, to the point that I have to have some every day or I start to feel very frazzled.

But I do love to win. I love to be able to do things well, and to do them the best way the very first time out. No learning curve. Instant gratification.

I apply this competitiveness to even the most ridiculous opportunities. Once, at work, my manager and I were breaking boxes down on the day-after-Christmas return avalanche. I looked at her and issued a challenge: "Bet I can break my boxes down faster that you!" She looked me dead in the eye, just the way you stare down a member of the pack in order to remind her who is the alpha animal, and then quietly answered, "I'm sure you can." Oh, there is no prize for Best Gift Box Breaker-Downer, is there?

Lately, this winner takes all mentality is creeping into the rest of my life. Perhaps because so much of my daily work is about meeting goals, beating numbers from last year, increasing units, I bring that big-is-best, faster-is-right attitude to the other things that I do. Am I knitting fast enough? Are my projects showy enough? How many projects can I keep going at once?

Or my yoga practice. Rather than appreciating my abilities, I find myself noticing more often what I'm not. Not a gymnast. Not Ashtanga. Not 20 years old. And I think that my yoga practice is trying to teach me back. Used to be that Saturday morning classes were relatively full and Sunday morning classes were small. But lately, as if to force me not to count on numbers as a measure of worth, the Saturday classes have shrunk to four or five people and on Sundays, lots and lots of students. My yoga teacher would say that this is the trickster at work. Think you're in control? No way.

I tell my customers that sizes are just a game that the manufacturers like to play. You might be a size 6 at one store and a size 12 at the next. It's just a mind game.

What counts, I say, is how you feel. Wish I could take my own advice more often.

Nicky Epstein's Five Star Flower

It isn't so much about the flower or Blogger or HTML. Moreso about figuring something out, solving a problem, learning how to do something new and finding that place where you can do it without struggle.

In yoga we speak about having shtirra and sukha in each pose: steadiness and softness.

Everything is yoga.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pictures, finally, for the Post Below

Blogger was not cooperating today. Finally, at 10:19 p.m., after taking five minutes that I'll never get back to load these pictures, I managed to post them. Tomorrow's pictures of the now-felted flowers will be more lovely still.

And I stopped at the knitting store this morning between getting my hair cut and going to work to trade in some extra green and brown Cascade 220 for a shocking pink and an extremely bright yellow to knit the flowers for the Clare bag. Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.

Do you know the song from Precious Friend with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie? Very worth listening to, even if you hate folk music. In "Inch by inch, row by row," Arlo leads the audience in a sing along that starts out with the crowd repeating the words after him in that very slow, sing songy way that your worst second-grade teacher used to teach you memorization. That song, and the rest of this live recording makes you think that this isn't such a bad place after all.

Nicky Epstein's Knitted Flowers

Best book on knitting flowers: Nicky Epstein's Knitted Flowers.

Best flower in the book: the Sunflower.

Best part of the way the book is put together: its size and the clarity of the typeface.
The page is more square than rectangular; the book itself is small enough that you tote it in a knitting bag or lay it beside you on the couch as you knit. And you can see the instructions from further than four inches away. The main headings are in capital letters and boldface; the instructions continue in capital letters but a slightly smaller typeface. Clear, easy to read, easy to follow. White letters against a multitude of beautifully colored page backgrounds that accent the sumptuously-photographed flowers. Think Martha Stewart Living meets knitted flowers.

As I write, I have the Five Star Flower as well as several leaves and a rose from the Wooly Embellishments pattern (from Two Old Bags) swooshing in the wash machine. The Cascade 220 seems to take forever to felt. And the leaves? I was too lazy to weave in all of those ends.

Pictures later.