Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

This is a post about camels, cosmic order, and a new year.

We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory yesterday. This is a great thing to do on a winter day in Chicago. It's fairly quiet, the animals are relaxing and enjoying the vacation from crowds, and it's free. It was very cold and windy, and in spite of the weather, lots of folks, especially families with strollers and kids around the age of four or five, were out. For some reason, at least half of these kids were not wearing mittens. The kids were walking five to six steps behind their moms and dads, examining the landscape and the snow and the muddy sidewalk, while the parents pushed the empty strollers and got a moment's conversation in. Inevitably, there came a moment each time, when the kids realized, yikes, it is cold out here, and then there was a pause to seek help in putting the mittens on. It's a good thing to have a mom or dad or relative who helps you put your mittens on when you really need them.


We walked the long way around to the entrance of the zoo. The first thing we saw was this: camels from the back side. How can you doubt that there is a sense of humor in the universe when you look at a Bactrian camel? Huge furry feet, and they can close their nostrils when there's a sand storm. Very long eyelashes, for the same reason. There was a third camel standing by him/herself, licking a rock. I don't know, maybe it was a salt lick at some time. My story was that she was a girl camel and wanted to hang out by herself, while the guy camels stood with their backsides to the visitors. My supporting evidence was that her fur looked like a bad Mary Tyler Moore bob/wig. Made sense to me, but I can't confirm it.


Next, an elephant water fountain! With baby elephant! Someone was thinking when they made baby animals so appealing. Everytime I get an L.L. Bean catalog in the mail, I wonder why there's no catalog order number for the wonderful lab and golden retriever puppies that they use to market their products; I bet they'd sell better even than the Bean boots. Sometimes I worry that they are using the same pictures of a litter from years ago, or that these puppies are homeless after the photo shoot. Mainly, I wish that I could order one.

Meerkats. Again, can someone give me an evolutionary explanation for these guys? They're just silly. They crowd as many of the group into the smallest place possible, until somebody loses his balance and then they start over again. Here they're on a log. Quick, how many meerkats do you see? Nah, they're four here; there's one hiding underneath the guy in the middle.
Here's the Meerkat Quartet. If there isn't a rock band with that name, there should be. After this pose, they all scurried off and became immensely busy digging holes and chasing each other and posing winsomely on their hind legs. They were a definite crowd pleaser. Maybe L.L. Bean should use meerkats in next year's catalog?

Lincoln Park Zoo has several habitats that look like lakes or streams, but sided with glass so that you get the fish's eye view. This is very meditative to observe, but then I begin to think: what do fish think about all day long?
My husband says that they think about finding smaller fish to eat and watch out for larger fish that want to eat them. Seems monotonous to me, but who am I to judge?

Another possible topic for thought? See that dark bump at the base of the mangrove tree, over to the left at the water's edge? Female alligator. She was holding onto the edge of the pond with her front feet, head barely above water. I heard the zookeeper, who was giving a private tour to a young couple nearby, telling them that sometimes the alligators eat the fish, even though they - the alligators - are well-fed. And he was surprised. Not me. Now who's smarter: the alligators double-dipping or their keepers?

Giraffes. 'Nuff said.


So, here's the cosmic order part of the post. I've been thinking this year, every once in a while, about what kind of meaning life has, whether there is an order to it, and what do people mean when they speak about faith? I'm testing out the meaning of the last, for me, by substituting words like hope or trust or confidence in the future for the exhausted, co-opted term of "faith.". I don't have an answer for these questions, and more to the point, I think that there are as many answers as there are individuals in the universe. But what I will say is that, when I look at nature - I get a sense that there may be some order at work, and there definitely is a sense of humor.

Here's my resolution for 2008. I found it on the door to my younger daughter's bedroom:

Happy 2008 - much happiness and health for all of us this year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Human Ingenuity is Boundless

Sock and Glove. On shelf at the library near my house. Eureka: I have a destination and a reason to take a shower and get dressed.

And The Crafter's Companion, also on shelf, which I read about over at Clara Parkes' blog after wistfully gazing at pictures of her beautiful new workroom, complete with scads of windows and bookcases. I have room envy.

Gloves are the new metaphor. All Things Considered covered a story this week about an art student in Pittsburgh who's put together a site called One Cold Hand. Its mission: to reunite lost gloves and mittens with their mates. Not only do the gloves get back together, but they represent the way that the Internet brings people into community and companionship. I love art and craft.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Winter

It's snowing. Lots, supposed to be 3 to 6 inches today. I'm in for the day, hoping that my Netflix of My So-called Life arrives.

And reading I Capture the Castle, which is perfect. I saw the movie a few years ago but can't remember much but the sets, especially the wonderful moat that they go swimming in. My favorite house, as a kid, was this giant Victorian that I walked past on my way to and from school. It had a round tower at the top of the place; I've always wanted a room like that to read and weave and sit in.

And my elbows seem to be improving just the tiniest bit. My tendency is not to notice the getting better and to focus needlessly on the problem. So last evening, after stir-frying the zucchini and taking a trip to the supermarket, where I lifted two giant cans of chicken stock off the bottom shelf while leaning around a lady with a shopping cart, I became a pitiful heap of whining. Man, I hate getting old. But this morning I'm trying to notice that they didn't hurt when I woke up, and that I was able to lift my coffee cup down from the cupboard much more easily, and that means improvement, right? Right.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No-Knead Bread

This honestly is the best bread that you will ever make, with absolutely no effort involved. You mix up the ingredients, wait 18 hours, flip it around a bit on a floured counter, wait, bake, wait some more, and eat. There are a million blog postings out there about this bread, so I won't clog up the information highway much more than to point to the original recipe here.

Oh, and to weigh in on two much-debated points. The first is the type of casserole to bake it in. Fancy bakers, or at least folks with a better arsenal than me (okay, I do have a set of All-Clad, but they were a gift long before I even knew what All-Clad was, and the same goes for the cashmere sweaters that the moths ate) use a Le Creuset casserole. I went with my wedding-gift, still-in-use Dansk casserole: enameled interior, not that heavy a gauge, and it worked fine.
Second, the original recipe calls for instant yeast. I've been baking bread since peasant blouses and dresses made out of Indian bedspreads in junior high and I've never seen instant yeast. Instead, I used two tsp. active yeast, proofed for a few minutes in the water to make sure it was alive, and everything rose and blossomed as needed.

I did the final rise of the loaf on baking parchment. Highly recommended: this way, you gently ease the paper into the casserole, put it in the oven, and wait. The original version suggests that you ease, maneuver, pour, or plop the very wet dough into the pre-heated casserole. And you get this lovely corona effect of baked paper around loaf:
Crust. . .
Interior. . .

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why I Knit

I'm not knitting much these days. My elbows are still pretty sore, and I'm trying to stick with the therapy of icing, stretching, resting (a variation on my kids' track coach's treatment of RICE - rest ice compression elevation) to get them back to normal. If you want to feel old and decrepit, try having trouble lifting the coffee cup out of the cupboard in the morning.

Anyway, not to whine about aches and pains, or at least not in public, not knitting has me thinking about why I knit. No pictures here, just a list, and it applies to weaving and cooking and sewing and just about any activity where you create something tangible:
  1. I love the feeling of achievement. You pick out a project, you stick with it long enough (an average of three to four months for knitting, one year for weaving), and you have something. How many things in life can you say that about?
  2. I love color. It's ironic, because my wardrobe used to be entirely black, white, and blue. But the longer I go, especially through these endless gray Chicago winters, the more I enjoy seeing color. Yesterday, I remembered my very first weaving project at the arts center near our house in Pittsburgh: hot pink, very deep teal green, and bamboo sticks to separate the sections. Wow, very 60's.
  3. I love using things that are hand-made. I'm not religious about this, but it does give me pleasure. Way back before I discovered Mason-Dixon Knitting and their talent for knitting dishrags and blankets and rugs, I focused on weaving things that could be used every day. I started with kitchen towels and baby blankets, then migrated to napkins and pillowcases. The pillowcases are my favorites. And the more that you use them, the softer they become, which is a nice side benefit.
  4. Control. Life is messy and full of unresolved questions. But your knitting? You choose the pattern, the yarn, the needles, the outcome. Even when a project is going wonky, you get to decide whether to bail or persevere. And there's no drama to knitting; what a relief.
  5. Control #2: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  6. Community, what is called sanga, in Sanskrit: a group of like-minded individuals who support one another. I love walking into my local knitting shop, where the staff welcomes me by name, I can hang out at the table and knit when I'm at loose ends, and there is a sense of fellowship.
  7. A way to pass the time. I've spent many years being very busy, and I missed the lesson on how to sit still and enjoy doing nothing. I was thinking about this yesterday, and I remembered that family vacations were very planned, down to where we would eat each meal and what plays we would see and where we would shop. On the other hand, my best friend's family would wing it completely: you start out the day doing something that you want to do, and things just follow from there. So I'm still trying to learn to sit still and relax. Knitting gives me a sense of doing something while I try to do nothing. Better still would be to relax while doing nothing, but I'm working on that.
  8. Patience. This is the toughest one. Call it Control #3, or an addendum to Reason #7. The hardest thing for me to learn is to wait. To not control. To let things evolve as I observe. To not try to force life into a rational development. To feel from the heart instead of thinking everything through the mind. Making stuff by hand takes time. Stitch by stitch is a slow process. And things go wrong. And you change your mind, or make mistakes. But it's okay. You make a change, and then you keep going. And as frustrating as that it, I think that it's trying to teach me to be patient, to try to learn to enjoy the process instead of jumping ahead to the end result. Erg. Even writing about patience makes me impatient.
  9. Creating a fiber time-line: I can look at the little coat that I wove for one daughter [Harrisville singles ina tweed pattern, lined in blue, with little frogs for closures) or the first sweater that I knit for my younger daughter (washable yarn in a mix of pastels) or my first color work scarf (1824 wool, lots of changes, and it fell apart the first time I washed it because I didn't know how to secure all of the ends), and remember where I was and how I felt and what I was trying to accomplish. And when I do that, I feel good, even for just a moment. I made something, it's beautiful, I did it out of love, and there it is, solid and touchable and real.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Progress on the Snap Cardigan

I am recruiting a Namer of Things to my team, who will be in charge of designing a name and, if crafty, a logo for my yoga therapy practice. First query goes to the person at Malabrigo who names their yarn colors: here's the back of my Snap Cardigan in Malabrigo Velvet Grape and Rhodesian.

To the dismay of all proper knitters, I switched out the needle size in the middle of the back. Instead of fighting with the size 8 circulars, at 18 stitches to 4 inches, which worked fine on the smaller width of sleeves but were a drag on the greater width of the back, I changed to a size 9 needle, which gives me 16 stitches to 4 inches.

No, I did not swatch. I admit it. Go ahead, stone me with yarn skeins. Do sleeves count as swatching? I did dig a few squares of Malabrigo stockinette out of ye old swatch box, which is a shoe box jammed with knitted squares and, if the gods are with me, the details of their needle size and gauge on an index card. But I think that I'm either going to have to commit to Huge Swatch Squares in the future, or experiment with making the back of a sweater on a larger needle than the rest. Does this happen to you: the wider your knitting, the tighter that you knit?

Here's the inside of the back. If you look closely, you can see a difference in size between the purl stitches at the bottom and the top.
My lazy knitter solution was to decrease a few stitches so that the width stayed about the same. I'm hoping that the shoulders are wide enough: they looked mingy after I bound off, but there's only going forward with this sweater. It's cold in Illinois: I need wool!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Oriental Gifts

Sunday's shopping trip to Whole Grain market (formerly Diho). It's tougher for me to resist impulse-buying based on package design here than it is at Target, where things leap into my cart with abandon and with no requisite utility.

Here we have the buy of the week: sesame seed oil for $3.59 a bottle. Feels the same, seems to work the same, as the $34 Almond Supple Skin Oil from L'occitanne and my standard winter treatment, the slightly less expensive Sesame Body Oil (picture here but out of stock) from Neutrogena. I poured it into the empty Neutrogena bottle, added a capful of rosewater, and created my own after-shower moisturizer. How to use it: rub lightly all over while still wet from bath or shower, towel dry, and the oil merges with the water to seal the moisture in without leaving you feeling like a turkey being basted. If you want to get fancy, you could buy some essential oils from Whole Foods, or your local essential oil purveyor (I know two, how strange is that?) and add the scent that you prefer. Fancier still is to make it into an aromatherapy experience, but I'm happy enough with that slight hint of Middle Eastern falafel.

And the candles? Destined for an alternative use as next year's Hanukah candles, 51 to a package.

And chopsticks: bamboo, comfortable, reusable, enough if friends come over to eat.

Not pictured: the ingredients for vegetarian sukiyaki, which was my excuse for stopping. Garlic leeks, which look like little green onions but pack a more garlicky whop; pea shoots, to saute with garlic tonight (see the theme emerging?); bok choy; tofu that comes fried and packed into cunning little square pillows, actually intended for stuffing, but so much better and easier to use than the fresh tofu that you buy in square containers, floating in liquid.

And cookies. Mo Chi.

Not sure about these. They're pretty, the packaging is great. But when I think cookie, I'm thinking crumble and sweetness and some butter at work. The cookies that I bought (again, seduced by the packaging) are a jellyish round with a red bean filling. One could tide you over for days at a time.

Or not. I just researched the cookies here, and they apparently are a potential death trap as well as a plot device in a Japanese movie. Hmm, maybe there is a strategy behind this cookie.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hemstitching

Time to hemstitch, which translates to being almost finished with one pillowcase. Here's one of my favorite weaving books: Finishing Touches for the Handweaver by Virginia West, posing on the loom. Step one of hemstitching: bring a darning needle threaded with a length of matching weft yarn (3 times the width of the warp, or length-wise threads) under a bundle of warp threads. In this case, six threads per bundle, which will give me an even 70 bundles across the warp.
Step 2: bring the needle up between the complete bundle and the next warp thread.
Step 3: dive down between the first thread and the previous bundle, then bring the needle out a few rows beneath the edge of the fabric. Basically, you've created a tie around the six threads, then come out a few rows below in order to secure the tie. And it creates a lovely effect of narrowing the warp, then inserting a diagonal line onto the body of the fabric.
Step 4: tighten the tension on the tie, so that you emphasize the contrast between the area that is hemstitched and the looser threads above and below the stitching.
Finished. What you can see the main body of the pillowcase, which is woven in a pattern called Six-Fold Basketweave (from Davison's Handweaver's Pattern Book, which is the Barbara Walker Treasury for weavers); the plain-woven fabric at the border of the case, interrupted by hemstitching. Weaving is more dramatic in the difference between the fabric on the loom and the dressed, or in knitting terms, blocked, fabric, so this may not look like much.Once washed and dried, everything will tighten up and become more textured and shadowed by slight differences in the way that the light hits the fabric. At this point, I'm missing the color that I seek in my knitting. But the end result will be satisfying: there's something simple and reassuring about a handwoven, cotton pillowcase.

I'm already thinking that I could weave a Mitered Square Blanket from Mason-Dixon Knitting much faster than I could knit the gazillion squares needed. And the seaming, while still daunting, will be a bit more manageable. My loom is wide enough to do a 35" width, so I'd need to do three or four long strips to make a full-size blanket, then seam the strips together and add a border. And I could order the equivalent of Tahki Cotton Classic from a weaving website, such as Cotton Clouds or Halcyon Yarns. I haven't checked prices yet, but it might even save me some money to go with yarn in bulk instead of in skeins. I'm sitting on my hands until I finish this warp. My standard weaving speed is four napkins per year, so I am trying not to get too far ahead of myself here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Things to Recommend doing when You Aren't Knitting

weaving! last time that I touched my loom was sometime in 2005. This project has been on the loom so long that it actually had cat, hmm, furballs from my cat Satoko, who died at least two years ago. In two places. (One of those things that you walk by every once in a while and think, jeez, I should really do something about that, and then you keep walking.) Two other signs of how long it's been: I was working on a 50th birthday present for a friend who's now somewhere around 53, and before I could start to weave, I had to unravel 15 rows to figure out the pattern. Then I wrote it on the backside of a library slip (1516 3536, with arrows to remind me which way I'm moving) and taped it to the loom bench so in another five years, I can just pick up where I stopped.

But it's great to be weaving again. The good thing about weaving, compared to knitting, is that it goes fast (once you've gotten past the behemoth that is the designing-measuring-threading the loom part): ten inches equaled the second half of the Knit Picks' podcast plus one disc of Children of the Storm. And you get to keep advancing the warp (moving more empty thread to the front of the loom, for you non-crafters) every 5 minutes and cranking it tight again and switching the empty bobbin in the shuttle to a full-of-thread new bobbin and winding more bobbins when you've used up the four full ones (in only two hours).

Here's the view from my weaving bench. The project: handwoven pillowcases in a natural color of cotton. Unmercerized cotton, which becomes softer with each washing. The kind of fiber they would've used in ye olden days, before chemicals and mercerizing and color. I'd done two sets of these in the far-distant past, before I was romanced by knitting and the ability to actually carry your project with you around and out of the house (it's hard to fit the loom in the front seat for driving vacations or waiting in a doctor's office).

Very utilitarian as well as handmade: my favorite type of project. The only downside is that I'm still using my elbows. But there's banana bread with chocolate chips and almonds cooling in the kitchen and a new Jane Lawless mystery to read, and not much ice on the sidewalk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Knitter's Elbow

Knitter's elbow has struck. A stabbing pain in my right elbow in some positions and a slight twinge in my left elbow. I feel like an old lady with too many complaints. Especially when it's the ordinary stuff that hurts, like closing the car door or picking up the tea kettle to pour water.

My theory is too much K2P2 ribbing on the Watch Cap on a size 4 needle, along with a large amount of seed stitch on the Minimalist Cardigan, struggles on the Snap Cardigan with Malabrigo on what felt like too small a gauge, combined with more free time than usual to knit. At this point, you may be wondering why I like to knit, because it all sounds like too much slogging away without much payback. But I do love it: it's quiet, it has a beginning and an end (my biggest developmental is not anticipating the future, but in knitting I can see it and try it on and change it), it has color and texture, and it creates something beautiful that is useful and I can put on and be proud. And I love the feeling of fiber: the slight scratchiness of wool with its bounce and stretch, the light warmth of alpaca, the softness of silk.

Yoga to the rescue! I've been on a vacation from my yoga practice, which stretches my arms and strengthens my wrists and exercises my fingers in all sorts of gentle ways. I'm revising the new practice; after yesterday's try-out, I was beat. So I'm going to decrease the chanting to one repetition of Mantrapuspam (which is surprisingly tiring when you're doing two repetitions of a very long chant at full voice, and you have no idea if you're hitting the notes right, so the mind is working), done quietly instead of at full throttle, sit for a bit, and add in some gentle stretches for fingers, wrists, and shoulders.

Internet to the rescue! Good aspiring yoga therapist that I am, the light bulb went on this morning and I thought "huh, how about searching for "carpal tunnel and yoga"? Here's what I found: My Daily Yoga, and an excellent article about Repetitive Strain Injury and yoga. Go here for the article by Ellen Serber, a series of yoga postures to help alleviate the strain, and animated demonstrations of the poses. (Ellen also has a very wise disclaimer, which reminds us to see our doctor if there is significant pain. And I would add that if you are not a yoga teacher or a long-time student, you will want to seek out a teacher to aid you in learning these exercises.)

Breakfast, and then some yoga. Knitting, I'll be back soon, I hope. Just got my delivery of Malabrigo in Rhodesian, and I'm wanting to wear the Snap Cardigan soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

International Seafarers Ministry Watch Cap

Pattern: Seafarers Watch Cap
Source: International Seafarers Ministry
Yarn: Jo Sharp DK Wool, one and a half skeins used
Needles: size 5 and 6 16" Addi Turbo circulars, size 6 doublepoints for the man's size or to get gauge of 20 stitches and 24 rows to 4" (for a woman's size, use a size 4 circular for ribbing and a size 6 for the stockinette portion or size needed to obtain gauge)

The classic watch cap, derived from the ultimate source, a website for sailors. (Be aware that this is a missionary-style site, and if that offends you, you may not want to visit it. I'm not an advocate of missionary work, but I happened upon this pattern years ago while in search of a traditional watch cap, and in the spirit of religious tolerance and respect for good knitting, I recommend it because it's still the best that I've found.) Six and a half inches of K2P2 ribbing, four inches of stockinette, then a series of 10 stitches decreased until you're down to 11 stitches. Then you break the yarn, thread it through a darning needle, take it through the last stitches and tighten up the crown so that there are no holes, and finish it off. Finish any loose ends, and it's ready to wear.

I've made this same hat, in the same yarn, at least three times, and I still enjoy the simplicity and classicism of the pattern. I've tried it in Rowan Felted Tweed, too, in a claret color, but I think that this hat wants to be navy or black, or maybe grey on a more adventurous day. It's reminiscent of pea coats and English accents and cold, sharp wind and sailing vessels. It knits up fast and lends itself to short bursts of knitting while waiting for appointments or riding in the car.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

A New Practice

I have a new yoga practice. (I'd end that sentence with an exclamation point, but I'm trying to wean myself away from CAPITALIZATION and excessive punctuation that expresses joy. ) This is one of my favorite parts of the training that I'm doing in yoga therapy.

Here's how it works: I sit down with my teacher. We talk about how things are going, how I'm feeling, what is working in my current practice and what is not. This is my third go-around, and each time my practice - meaning whatever I try to do each day that constitutes yoga - changes substantially.

My first practice was about 1 hour long and based mainly in asanas, or physical poses. I fell out of the habit because I couldn't get myself to work that long a session into my morning routine. A good practice, but not done with enough regularity to effect the central benefits of yoga: decrease agitation and suffering, increase calm and happiness. My teacher has many definitions of yoga, but this is one of my favorites (see, I have lots of favorites): yoga is about relationships and awareness.

My second practice addressed my slacker ways (I was skipping things entirely because I told myself that I could not do the whole thing, or I would start, but instead of decreasing my worrying, I would be thinking: how much more? what time is it? oh, I didn't do that pose long enough because I'm rushing). My teacher split the work into two parts, so that I could fit in a short, 20-minute maximum practice in the morning before the day got away from me and a very brief, relaxing practice with a gentle inversion at the end of the day. This was genius and it worked very well. I could note a significant difference in how I felt on the days that I committed to the discipline of getting up a bit earlier, and the days that I neglected it and slept in. The short session at the end of the day was a healthy antidote to all of the movement and rush and interruptions that are a typical day in retail. Just lying down for a few minutes, doing some very gentle poses, and then propping my legs against the wall were a good psychological and physiological respite.

My new practice addresses my wish for some yoga to do while I finish recovering from an operation. I've been feeling unmoored. Yoga has a big bag of tricks (the so-called astanga, or 8 limbs of yoga, which includes the most familiar aspect to Americans - the physical poses - all the way to meditation and having the right attitudes toward others), but none that I tried on my own was effective. I've tried meditating, but the mind keeps chattering. I've tried doing breath work, but it's amazing how many unfelt muscles you can use just to do a good, long inhale and exhale. (Abdominal muscles are the great, unrecognized workers of the body. Baking cookies is as good a workout as crunches, if you have a stubborn oven door like mine. Who knew you used obliques to pull the door open to check the shortbread?) I've done some chanting with my Yoga Sutras cds, and that was the most enjoyable. And I'd been trying some visualization, which is a fancy work for imagining, in your mind's eye, something that you like or whose qualities you are looking to increase in yourself, as you meditate. Not so successful, either.

I nattered on about this to my teacher. Then, I rambled on about loving the ocean and the beach. Any special beach? No, I said, just any body of water, though ocean is more relaxing than creek or stream. Then I talked about what I'd been trying to do since coming home from the hospital, and my Sutra cd, and the chanting I've been doing over the phone with my teacher in California, and how she compliments me and sometimes I feel like a star at chanting, and that I'd just discovered that, at the end of the Sutra CD, Sonia Nelson chants straight through the whole book instead of breaking each sutra down, and she goes fast, and that I'd tried to keep up and made it to Sutra I.30 or so. The process is like stream-of-consciousness in that I tend to leap-frog from topic to topic, then think of something else that I want to say, and suddenly I'll realize that I've been gabbing solidly for several minutes while my teacher takes it all in.

He then sat for a few minutes, grabbed a book out of his knapsack, and taught me a chant. It's a chant about water. And I do some visualization, but nothing too New Agey. And I do some more chanting, especially if my mind starts to chase around the metaphorical hamster-wheel that is my brain. Then a tiny bit more chanting. Perfect. Turns out that I am musical and can nail the pitch, so there, my fourth-grade music teacher. Magic. Now I just have to work the abhyasa (practice) and vairagyam (detachment from the otucome) part of the program. Those are the toughest parts, way harder than opening the oven door.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

One More Update on Knitting for Compassion

375 scarves! 32 hats! 6 pairs of gloves! 4 handbags!
(And a partridge in a pear tree!)

We kicked the hell out of our stretch goal (that's retail for aiming much higher than you need to) of 300 scarves. Collected from many different givers: a group that knit every morning on the train, members of the Sisterhood of Rodef Shalom Temple in Pittsburgh (not even the same city where the scarves would be donated), loyal and generous knitters of the Charity Knit Nights at the Knitche in Downers Grove, employees from my district of the company that I work for (if you haven't guessed yet, you'll just have to remain in the dark, because this is a discreet-about-other-folk blog), customers of the same, and friends who responded to my email a few months ago by recruiting knitters and crocheters that they know, or digging into drawers for donations, or turning the project into an opportunity at the camps that they run or the Sunday school classes that they teach.

It's cold in Chicago. It's snowing. It's the time of year when flying out of O'Hare becomes even less reliable, thanks to the weather. It's a good day for getting a scarf. This weekend they're having their holiday party at Housing Opportunities for Women, and everyone goes home with a scarf. Again, good job!

If you're in the giving mood but, like me, find yourself spending countless, lost hours on the computer, either surfing the Web in search of the right item or best price, or trying to navigate the checkout lane on line (I'm sure if I added up the minutes of indecision I would have a whole 'nother lifetime, or at least a sweater finished), take a look at Clara Parkes' gift suggestions here. Skip to Number 10 if you're not shopping for a knitter. There's a critter to fit everyone at Heifer International, and nearly no better organization (the perfectionist in me is couching this, but really, charity, well-being, medical care for those who can't obtain it - what more could we ask) for caring than Doctors Without Borders.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Hanukah

Yep, happy hanukah to those of us/you out there who celebrate the holiday. It is with a sense of relief that the day arrives. This year I'm out of the retail-mall storming-package wrapping loop for the most part. Even still, the relative calm of this holiday makes me relieved that I have so fewer steps to take to make my holiday happen.

Packages in the mail to my daughters. Done. Many batches of shortbread baked to be given to my husband's staff. Done. Requests for ideas for gifts for my parents. Done. Gifts, not done, but I'm thinking of making some cards for my mother with pictures of miniature furniture made by her mother (you can see the card table and chairs in my sidebar), and I'll try to motivate myself to do one more batch of shortbread. It's easy and fast; bringing the butter to room temperature and then hand-shmooshing the four ingredients together is the main workload.

And a new menorah. You could fill a warehouse with the ugly and over-priced menorahs on the market. Each year I try to invent something home-made and beautiful, something that won't require the classic yellow box of 40 candles that you had every year from Sunday school. We no longer belong to a synagogue, and it's hard to find Jewish cultural artifacts in my area of the Chicago suburbs. This year I had a vague idea about tealights and river rocks and a big wooden bowl. Then I started thinking a tiny bit smarter, and I thought, wooden bowl, burning candles, flames. Perhaps not such a good idea.

Then, in his wanderings about book stores this weekend, my husband came across this one at Borders. Simple. Unfussy. Good candle colors. Only $19.99. Fits on my dresser by the front door, somewhat in keeping with the request that you place your menorah in a window so that it can be seen from outside the house. You load the menorah from the right, then light it from the left. (I always forget, so I'm letting anyone else out there who needs to know, know.) The one slightly taller candle holder is the shamash, or the head candle, which you light first, then light the other candles from that one. Every night you add another candle, so that you work your way from two candles (the shamash and the first night) up to nine.
Good loot, too. As per tradition, a new desk calendar. This one is awesome: Women Who Dare, from the Library of Congress. First up is a favorite, Jane Addams. And I always check the birthday pages for good luck. On mine, Maya Plisetkaya, a Russian ballerina who danced on the Bolshoi stage once more for the celebration of her eightieth birthday. And a book and a CD of ocean sounds and a share in a knitting basket (two sheep and two llama) from Heifer International.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dhyanam

A little bit of dhyanam, or meditation this morning. The sun!! Planted my cushion dead-center in a sunbeam coming in the windows on the south side of the house.
More sun on the bed.

Sun on the carpet.

Sun on the finished front of my Minimalist Cardigan on the sun on the bed. Thirteen and a half inches long this time, and then decreased for armhole and shoulder shaping.

Sun on the rolled edge of the front of the Minimalist Cardigan.

Sun on the cat on the carpet in the sun. Very wise animals.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fetching



Pattern: Fetching
Source: Knitty Summer 2006
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (1 1/2 balls), color 330016/dyelot 71C
Needle: size 6 Bryspun circular, size 6 doublepoints
Source: Knitche, Downers Grove, IL
Gauge called for: 21 st and 30 rows to 4"
Actual gauge (measured across 4 x 1 rib): 19 st and 26 rows to 4"
Started: 10/07
Finished: 12/2/07

Not sure who these are going to. I've been eyeing the pattern for a while and a colleague admired my Reading Mitts one day early in the fall, when I was using them as gloves instead of reading handwarmers, so I chose the yarn with her in mind. She bicycles and canoes and bicycles some more (she's taken the back seat of her SUV out so that she can transport her bicycle with her) and has a great laugh and a great attitude.

Here's me modeling the finished result. Way too big for me. I checked gauge by making the gloves; I'm okay with that, though. There's no learning curve in knitting unless you make something twice, so I'm calling this the test. I recently read that Elizabeth Zimmerman recommends making a hat as a gauge test, so I'm in good company.
Next time: I'd go down to a size 5 needle for a firmer fabric and better fit; try a different method (copped from another pattern) for making the thumbs. I didn't love the way that they turned out. Picking up stitches per the pattern left large holes at the base of the thumb, which I had to darn to close. My Reading Mitts are thumb-less, but for cold weather, I prefer the option of having some wool to cover the thumbs. Otherwise, there is a good reason that this is such a popular pattern: simple but slightly intricate knitting, good proportion of cable to ribbing, easy, transportable, fast, great yarn, and, for me, the product knitter, a quick project.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Last Update on Knitting for Compassion

GOOD JOB EVERYONE!!!
We more than nailed the goal. We collected over 300 scarves, several pairs of gloves and mittens, several hats, and two hand knit purses. I am so proud of what we accomplished. I've sent all along to the manager at another store, who is the contact with Housing Opportunities for Women, and more mobile than me at the moment, and she will be delivering it to the agency next week.

My hope is that every child whose mother is a client of this non-profit has the ability to choose something beautiful and warm to give to her as a holiday present. My other hope is that we all learned, from this project, a few things: that doing something for someone else can be an ordinary act, as disciplined but easy as brushing your teeth; that making something beautiful but functional does enrich the life of the artist as well as the recipient; and that color and fiber can help you get through a Chicago winter.

Thank you to everyone who contributed and to everyone who followed the arc of this project.