Saturday, April 28, 2007

Knitting and Madeleines

In Remembrance of Things Past, the taste of a madeleine spurs Proust to recall a memory. On a far more prosaic level, I'm noticing that knitting with color has a similar effect. Each square summons up for me a bit of my history, a recollection of an experience.

This square? Those three-layer candies from my childhood. Sort of a small rectangular slab, with each color juxtaposed against the next. Pink, cream, chocolate. The flavor? Coconut, something like marzipan, or almond.
The latest square? Girl Scouts.

I never made it past Brownies. But didn't we all know someone in grade school who was a career scout, and proudly wore her uniform and sash full of badges to school on Scout day? Like Proust tasting a single bite of the madeleine, and sending himself back into the past, this square, as I was stitching it up, brought back to me my marginal relationship with scouting. A square that reminds me of that deep green uniform, crossed with the sash full of badges. The yellow is the same color as the embroidery around the edge of the badge.

I've settled on a plan for my squares. Two background colors, two contrast colors.
I use each of the contrast colors (here, the yellow and the lime green) to knit two squares with one background color (the forest green). Then two more mitered squares with each contrast striped with the other contrast(the sky blue). Assembled so that the same background color is on the diagonal from its mate (for example, the forest green squares at the top left hand and bottom right hand of the picture.) Oh, yeah, and the stripes alternate, so that none of the stripes meet each other in the same color. All four colors work together, versus the beginning plan of contrasting a bright with a dull color. If I had a color wheel handy, I think that I'd discover that I'm gravitating toward colors that neighbor each other.

It's really much, much easier in practice. Cast on 72 stitches, alternate colors every six rows, and just play. No matter what you do, something good comes out of it. And how many things can you say that about?

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Dangerous Precedent

I came across this link to Kazim Ali's piece on how his effort to recycle poetry manuscripts led to police interrogation, near arrest, and suspicion of terrorism on Cara's January One blog.

It's significant and frightening, a clear example of the insanity that our current attitudes toward difference and the Middle East and power have led us to. I think that the most frightening part of the piece is his university president's response, which is to blame Ali and to refuse to acknowledge the real apparatus in play.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Always the Last to the Party

I'm in retail. You would think I'd know how to track down a sale. But no, I have no gene for markdowns.

Thus, I am the only knitter in America to miss the Knit Happens sale. The prices, the yarn, the colors. Did I mention the prices? Amazing, high-end fiber at half the price. All, all sold out. How sad. Apparently I am not destined to save a bit on the yarn habit.

Vairagyam, in Sanskrit, means letting go, detachment from the outcome. And I have that about sales, for the most part, or at least about sales on clothing. But yarn? It's an indulgence, a temptation, a solace, and finding a beautiful knitting yarn on sale feels like a coup.

So, if you ever come across a good sale on silk-alpaca in a DK weight, clue me in. My favorite yarn for shawls. Especially in blue.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Third Square

Kismet. Pink against pink.

Sun and shadows on a square.

Closeup of the center. Interesting how knitting the same shape over and over can yield subtle differences in the width of stripes or the depth of the inner corner. Some of it is due, probably, to small disparities in the way the Tahki mercerized cotton takes up the dye: some skeins being stiffer, some softer than others.

Some is due to me losing count of the rows, or to my effort to teach myself to strand with the left hand in what I think is called Continental style. I'm a thrower, and being competitive, am trying to teach myself to purl the European way before my next yoga training. I'm still remembering the colleague who marveled at how slowly I knit, but that I just don't give up. I had the teacher at my local yarn shop give me a quick explanation. I then turned to the wonder of the Internet, and found a great tutorial with video. I'll link it if I can track back to where I found it.

Much trickier to execute than it appears in the video. My biggest challenge is keeping the strand over my index finger taut enough that I can easily whip it around the needle, and then pull the stitch through. And how do I execute a SSK or a K2tog with the yarn in my left hand? The discrepancy in the stripes? Probably all the places where I gave in, mid-row, to my comfort with returning to the cumbersome method of throwing the yarn with my right hand. And is this why my right palm feels a bit sore today? Feel free to send advice my way, especially if you've managed to reteach yourself an old skill.

And regrets over the death of David Halberstam to note. My dad went to grade school with his older brother.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sometimes Spellchecker Does Not Save You

Not El Carne Magnifico. Il Cane Magnifico. At least I think so, on the advice of my husband and a free translation website. But feel free to let me know if I'm still mangling the Italian language. All these years, and El Carne Magnifico has just been rolling off my tongue.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Next Square

Seamed up, two down. Halfway done but pausing to figure out the other half: one orange-red-purple combination and one beige-red-purple combination. Oh, and another one and a quarter, where I've sewed (sewn?) each half, but didn't notice that I had the pink and brown squares butting up against one another and, rather than rip, decided to knit two more halves. Right, so, as Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia preceded every answer to Terry Gross' questions on his Fresh Air interview, this must be the Next square.

Inspiration comes from many places. I, here again, am following Cara's lead in pulling the four colors that will be partnered in this square. And when I took a quick photograph, I noticed that the blue is almost the same blue as on the cover of this week's Chicago Tribune TV guide. Hmm.

And if you've gotten this far, gratuitous pet pictures. Belle and Guido, El Carne Magnifico. (Named by a colleague from graduate school, when my younger daughter was young.) The one with the dirty nose is Belle. She spent the night, by her own choice, more or less, in the basement. I'm wondering what she was investigating. Probably best not to know.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Knitting and Reading and Yoga

Reading TK's brief aside about how our knitting and reading habits resemble one another got me thinking. And I know most of you don't want to hear, yet again, about how knitting is the new yoga. But, stick with me here for a paragraph or two, and maybe it will seem a bit more palatable.

Story: when I was at my yoga therapy training in Louisiana, I occasionally worked on the Cabled Bolero. And the number of yoga teachers who wandered over, inquired about the project, and then explained why they didn't knit was astounding. Especially because these are folks who are knowledgable about how deeply ingrained our habits are, and how we spend most of our existence repeating the same behaviors over and over. Yet, one would say to me, "I can't knit because I'm too impatient." Another explained that knitting was not for her because she sets ridiculously high expectations and then feels disappointed when her knitting doesn't meet the standard that she has set.

I was surprised. Because if yoga has taught me anything, it's that we dig a path for ourselves, or it is dug for us by our parents or teachers or culture, and we keep following that path in everything that we do. Yoga is a mirror. It illuminates who we are, warts and irritating habits and foibles and talents and enthusiasms. Yoga doesn't change you; it just shows you more clearly who you are, and then, hopefully, gives you some awareness to make a choice whether you want to stay on that same rocky path, or try a new one.

And knitting and reading do the same thing, I think. Here's my knitting for the day. Square #2 seamed while watching marathon episodes of Heroes. Colors not that accurate in the lamp-lit living room. Sunlight does more justice to this project.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The First Square

Lovely, if I do say so myself. Seamed up the very first square, and I love it. Now that I can see the asymmetry and the way that the colors meet, I'm liking this approach. Squares 2 through 4 were intended to be more symmetrical, more like Cara's. But one of the best things about this project is that you can redesign it over and over, and each new version is ready for inspection in about a day or so, given the amount of reality TV consumed and the attraction of whatever I'm reading.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Long Time, No Blog

Okay, I'm indulging myself in one whiny, sad sack post. Be forewarned, though, that it will eventually move into giant water bowls for duck ponds and the progress on the mitered square blanket.

Here's the self-pitying part: I have extreme blog-envy mixed with definite blog-self-beating-up. In other words, I'm wanting to peek at my blog and see an occasional, well, to be honest, a good batch, of response. I know you folks are out there. First, I've had too many conversations in which my colleague says something that he or she would not know unless he or she had read my blog. There's a sudden recognition that the game is afoot, and then, generally, we both pretend as though the source of information had not been my blog. And I like when that happens. It lets me know that you're out there, joining the trip with me, at least once in a while.
And second, I have (now all will flee in panic) a Sitemeter. I've of two minds about it, and had even removed it for a long while because I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of gathering information on who is visiting, where they live, what blogs they tracked back to my blog from. But I then re-installed it because I was becoming too involved in the traffic, or lack, to Pegotty, and I just wanted to know what was going on out there. You can find the Sitemeter way at the bottom of my sidebar, with a title that reads "Is Anyone Out There?" Right now, it's pass worded. But if I keep it, and my instinct is to make it go away again, I will un-password it so that anyone visiting can see the same data that I can see. (Note: I've unpassworded the meter.) In this era of Patriotic Acts and Guantanamo Bay and 24, I think that the less information gathered, the better. But it is reassuring to go to the world map part of the Sitemeter, and see the little red and green and white dots all over the earth, representing folks out there who are reading my blog.

The main point here? Maybe once in a while, you can give me a hello that you're lurking. I play with having a blog because I love to write and because I enjoy being part of a community. I've met some wonderful people in the short time that I've been writing Pegotty, and I hope to meet more of you in the future, or connect with friends that are already there.

Enough then, and if I've driven you away screaming, never to return, I apologize.

Now, for the knitting and the water bowl. Here's progress on the blanket. Not much knitting this week, as I'm back to work full time. And last night, after a very good day at work (a good visit with my boss and a visitor from our corporate office, which involved refolding almost every top in the store), some great sales, two credit cards opened by me at the same time (this brought much notice from one of my assistants, who praised me numerous times for the two-at-once aspect), a perfect score on our secret shop, I came home and discovered that my arms were just too tired to knit. And that I'd found a good book to read. Life of Pi. A bit strange, but intriguing so far. So here's where I am. An indoor and an outdoor shot, because the colors play differently in the light.

And a close-up of the pale purple and blue square. A good visual of the concept of value in color. Almost exactly the same shade, because of the equality in value, despite being different colors.

And finally, the Water Bowl.
You know spring is here when we put this giant water bowl out on the back porch for the dog. I wouldn't be surprised if I came home one evening to discover a family of ducks, or even swan boats, navigating through the waters.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ten Shofars, a Green-haired Bagpiper and Yo-Yo Ma

The sexiest girl bagpiper ever, with her hair tinted green, a long gold skirt and a burnished maroon sleeveless top, holding a green bagpipe and gyrating to the music. Beside her, a short Chinese artist of the sheng, a small, pipe-style instrument that sounds part accordion, part kazoo, and he was also dancing. Another musician, stocking-footed, playing what looked to me like a small mandolin. Maybe it's traditional for his instrument to be played barefooted, and he put on socks for the more formal occasion? Yo-Yo Ma on the cello.

Truly amazing. The last piece performed by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, kicking off two weeks at Symphony Center Thursday evening, was the premiere of Rose of the Winds, by this year's resident composer, Osvaldo Golijov. A mix of instruments, themes, and ideas from the marketplace, world religions, and protest songs, it's a sight to behold as well as to hear. And in the final movement, the horn section put aside their trombones and trumpets and French horns and each picked up a shofar. A shofar is a ram's horn; the first chair in the trumpet section had one about two feet long, that curved round and round itself. It's an instrument usually trotted out only for the High Holidays in Jewish synagogues. It's quite the honor to play the shofar, and when someone stands up to sound it, the congregation collectively holds its breath, hoping that the musician will be able to make a fairly pleasing sound in the absence of mouthpiece, reed, or any other part of a typical wind instrument. To hear ten shofars played at one time? It was hilarious and invigorating and a moment in which the mission of the Silk Road Ensemble worked perfectly.

If you are in Chicago, try to get tickets for Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble's concert, repeated on Tuesday evening. Go here to see a review of the concert.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Post about Miters and Sutras

It's best to chant in Sanskrit, for the first time, when you have the house all to yourself.
Husband at a meeting. Children in far-flung cities. Dog on the couch, keeping me company. Call and response, courtesy of my Ipod, into which I'd downloaded a sonorous, rhythmic, melodic version of the Sutras by T.K.S. Desikachar. A little bit Benedictine monk-like, a little bit hymns in temple on a Friday night. Listen to the chant. Pause the Ipod, and try to repeat it. In class in January, the teacher advised us that tone-deafness can be a stumbling block for a student who we are teaching to chant. "But what," I asked in complete seriousness, "should you do if you're tone-deaf?"

I've realized this week that desire to learn this stuff isn't going to get me there. It's all about the time you put in. Thus, I'm trying to give myself little homework assignments on my days off. Today, I finished reading through The Heart of Yoga, a book that I'd fallen across a few years ago in a bookstore. Turns out to be a central text for the program I'm enrolled in. The chanting seemed like a deserved reward. One of my favorite colleagues in the program talked to me about her love for chanting. She admitted that she'd always been shy, uncomfortable in social situations. But chanting has changed that, and from her ease in the midst of a potluck full of strangers and my sense of a calmness within her, I was ready to give it a try. Today, I listened and recited the first ten sutras. Over and over and over. I can't hear myself, but I'm guessing I'm what Randy, on American Idol, calls "a little pitchy." All the same, it was a hoot. And I had a moment where it felt right. It's been years since graduate school, but it was, very briefly, a feeling that my mind is making space for some good new stuff.

Choices, choices. I read, and thus, not much knitting has occurred. But lots of new colors from the yarn shop.Another subtle square.

Here, the evening sky on my way home from work yesterday.

And the second square finished, and most of the ends darned in on the way to the symphony last night.

Of that, I'll post tomorrow. How can I let twelve shofars, a green-haired bagpiper, and Yo Yo Ma go to waste?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Required Reading

Lately, I've been haunting January One. I'm an admirer of her beautiful work on her mitered square blanket, of her Random Fluctuating Banner (the banner at the top of the blog, which, on Cara's blog, morphs from one beautiful image to another), of her compassionate involvement in causes. And, in that somewhat strange internet way, I feel a certain kinship because she, too, is a long-time fan of the soap opera Another World.

So, I encourage you to visit her blog, especially for today's post. A very apt discussion of etiquette on blogs, the importance of kindness, and the fact that, ultimately, we're all stuck in this world together, so let's be kind to one another. And a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut, RIP. Well said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Peanut Butter and Chocolate

Peanut butter and chocolate. Ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Cheesecake and dark beer. Knitting mitered squares and watching reality TV. There are just some classic pairings that are meant to be.

Sunday night, a square for The Amazing Race. Monday night, another square during Dancing with the Stars. Then, I'm ashamed to admit, I cast on for another square while I allowed myself to watch The Bachelor. The Bachelor, for crying out loud! I hesitate to think of the minutes lost that I'll never get back, yet it's such an intriguing sociological experiment. Why do these girls want to appear on national television in competition for a husband? In any case, it is Good Knitting TV. (And has anyone other than me noticed that the Bachelor does more to suck in his tummy than any of the girls in bikinis?)

I've been watching a lot of television since my operation. At first, it was because the mind just didn't have the energy to do much else. And then, it became a habit. I'm now trying to wean myself away from the vehicle. Last night, I actively turned off American Idol, came into the dining room, and ate my dinner while reading a book on dyeing yarn.

And yes, I know that I've had this food theme going on lately. I think that it's a response to being subjected to hospital food last month. Now all things edible look really good. At work, the snacks in the stock room whisper my name all shift long. Someone brought in leftover Easter candy, and I've been working to convince myself that the jellied candies are lower in calories and healthier than the peanut butter eggs. Yesterday, we sent someone to Trader Joe's with a prize from Thanksgiving. Her mission: find salty, sweet snacks that are not fattening. The result: chocolate covered graham crackers; the Palmiers cookies which I know, from the Jersey shore, as elephant ears; and a bag of Oriental crackers, to satisfy the salty, crunchy requests. Neither non-fattening or necessary, and joining in the siren song of food calling to me.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Want Candy

Strawberry and chocolate and peach ice cream in today's square. And a plan for the blanket. Colors that are dusty, tea-stained, a bit decayed. Roses in a vase, withering after a week of being admired. Old embroidery canvas, yellowing. Parchment, browning, beginning to crumble.
A challenge to find such colors at my local yarn shop. In my dream house, I'll have a space devoted to dyeing yarn. In this house, I'll need to either experiment with ordering yarn over the Internet, or see if I can find a source for mercerized cotton in hanks, which I'll then dye myself. Nah, ordering it is. Give me a heads up if you know of a good source.
Below, the bowl of colors.
Yesterday's work.

And a new toy. A lovely fountain, where the water trickles from the copper arch onto the slate, then down into the copper bowl. The cat, who is increasingly adept at pushing objects off of counter tops and dressers and water glasses covered to protect them from being used as paw-washers, seems also able to push the stones in the fountain about, Last night, after going to bed, the fountain seemed to thunder through the house. This morning, we discovered that the cat apparently was rearranging the pebbles again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Color Studies in Mitered Square Blanket

Square #2 in process. What I'm quickly learning is that I prefer colors that relate. Maybe I observed them in nature (the purple and green of the first square definitely reminds me of the pansies that I planted last week). Or I see a relation at work: say, the pale pinks and apricot and violet tones of a sunset, or the ice-cream color palette of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.
I think that the technical term for this is value; in any case, the colors seem to vibrate with the same depth.

But in this square, the colors seem to be fighting. Orange and purple look right to me, and the purple and oatmeal square looked wonderful on its own as I was knitting it. I can live with those two together, though I think, in hindsight, that another neutral color - brown? - would have been a better choice than the beige. But what of this Harry Potter square?

Or a bad cross country uniform? As I was sitting on the sofa, watching poor Tiger Woods let the Masters slip away, I was trying to recall color combinations that I've liked. I remembered back to my kids competing in distance running in high school and college. And I couldn't come up with a single example of any track uniform, from the hours I spent watching high school track competitions, that was pretty, or even appealing. Perhaps the point was high visibility for when the sun went down and the kids were still running around the track in the long distance events.
Here Harry Potter meets Kaffe Fassett.
Hmm, much better here.
Still, the goal is to keep knitting. A light bulb went on earlier today (ah, how slowly the mind doth work): I can knit like crazy, and reshuffle the squares anytime that I care to. So I'm finishing out this square by making a maroon and beige mitered square. Perhaps these four squares will be friends, or perhaps they'll separate and join closer color relations. I sense that I may be an analogous/monochromatic/various tints of the same color kind of mitered square blanket knitter. Yet I'm trying to force myself to go outside of my blue-red-Rowan shades of muted pastels and see what happens.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Progress on the Mitered Square Blanket

The title of this post? Somewhat ironic, because not much progress is being made. This project is a lot tougher than I'd expected. No wonder Cara calls it Madness.

First square. Lots of ends showing, because that's part of the reality of this project. There will be LOTS of finishing to do: sewing 4 squares together, then sewing the main squares together to form a blanket, then sewing in of all those ends.

And the interesting part of the project - the color - is also the most challenging. I went into this by randomly, sort of, buying yarn that reminded me of a Kaffe Fassett sweater or an Amish quilt. But once I started knitting, the colors reminded me of a bad high school sports uniform. Purple and green? Orange and blue? I keep going back to look at others' blankets for inspiration. The lesson here: just keep going. Don't over think it. Because when I look at the purple squares hanging out together, I do like it. In part, I'm following Kay from Mason-Dixon Knitting's suggestion to pair a "juicy" color with a "blah" color. And I'm also following Cara at January One's rule of a dominant background, sort of. Oh, decisions, decisions. Sitting on a beach is looking really good about now, and this is just my knitting.

Here's square #2. You will observe that I changed my mind after two stripes. Here, again, I felt like I was making a rugby sock for a Division 3 team. But, I'm going to try to focus, and stick with the plan. Minimize over-analyzing it, and push on with the initial idea of the brightness and crazy color combinations of a Fassett piece.
This one is going to be ripped back to the red stripe, and then continued with the orange and red. Then, the plan will be two squares with a juicy/juicy match, and two squares, repeating the juicy contrast colors, with a blah color. Or, something like that.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Happy Spring Holidays

I'm in Pittsburgh for the first night of Passover, spending some time with my sister and my parents. It's good to be here, but at the same time, such a different experience than being at home. Everything here is busier and noisier and louder and more: more food, more talk, more cooking, more people, many more times of phone ringing. I like it, but it's a bit of a culture shock.

This morning I treated myself to a pedicure. My father drove me over, because the route there was so circuitous that my mother gave up trying to map it. And this place was jumping. Lots of retired ladies getting manicures and pedicures. An elderly gentleman came in to have his fingernails trimmed. An elderly lady came in to have her toes done, sans polish. She pulled on her little white cotton socks and went on her way, having enjoyed the soaking and the pampering. The young woman doing my toes was simultaneously working the phone, juggling appointments, cleaning up, keeping everyone on track, greeting new customers. The whole place was like a finely oiled machine at work. And now I have pretty red toenails again to take me into spring. There's something happy about looking down and seeing bright red toes.

I put the mitered squares aside for the trip and brought along the Swallowtail that I'm trying to finish in Noro Kureyon. Onto the second Lily border, and hoping that the yarn will eke out a finish. Or I'll grab some Blue Sky Alpaca and do a border in a sage green, and that might be even nicer.

It's a busy week. Spring has sprung, and then we have all of the various religious holidays over the next week. Happy Whatever, and take some time to walk outside, see the greenness, and feel the air. I write this from a penthouse apartment with no windows opened, and I'm holding onto the hope of fresh air, for me, at least.