Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sun in an Empty Room (1963)

My favorite painting in the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago is Sun in an Empty Room. Done toward the end of his career, Hopper makes the subject of the painting a room occupied by a beautiful quality of light not done justice in the reproduction here, (though not Slate's fault; I remember my high school art history teacher showing us five different slides of a Rubens painting, all with different tones of peach to pink to orange flesh). The painting is quiet, and there's a sense of permanence and calm.

I do love Nighthawks at the Diner, too, but that's a gimmee in this show. More interesting were the etchings, and the way that Hopper shows so many of his subjects from the outside in. Another favorite was an early etching, influenced by Millet, that depicts two cows standing in a field. What does Hopper show but the gnarly backsides of the cows, looking away from the viewer. And there's a great, almost comic-book like, early piece that takes an aerial view (apparently Hopper was one of the first to use the skyscraper as point-of-view in an art work) of a tiny man dwarfed by the shadows and buildings around him.

And I did love the way that he captures the contrast of late-afternoon sun - clear and yellow and bright - against the shadows that it creates on buildings and sidewalks and floors. There were a few intriguing nudes, with opalescent skin and bellies that had touches of green and purple, but I most liked the scenes of interiors of houses and restaurants and people eating alone or together, but just missing eye contact. There's a wonderful portrait of a man sitting in a chair, reading the paper. He's dressed in evening wear, and the woman in the painting sits to his left, idly playing a tune on the piano. She's also dressed for an event. And there's no communication between them; they're very much in their own worlds, though only inches apart. Truthfully, I like pictures of houses: my favorite Van Gogh is the painting of his bedroom, with its humble little bed and nightable.

After Hopper, we walked through the Winslow Homer exhibit, which are paired together. Nothing appealed to me. I liked his sketches much better than the finished paintings, and by then, I was hungry and ready to take a break. We had lunch at the Artists' Cafe in the Fine Arts building and then headed home.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the New York area for a yoga therapy training session. I'll have the lap top but no camera, so perhaps there will be posts, but no visual aids to include.

Friday, April 25, 2008

but you knew this, didn't you?

It is impossible to count correctly while picking up stitches - especially the evil gusset stitches - on your second-ever hand-knitted sock while the dog is playing with his squeeky toy.

And if dogs have super-sensitive hearing - able to hear sounds at a pitch that humans are unable to detect, why doesn't the incessant squeaking bother them?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baby Bolero from One Skein

Pattern: Baby Bolero
Source: One Skein
Designer: Leigh Radford
Yarn: blue sky alpacas organic cotton, color 80, (1 skein = 150 yds/100 g)
Amount needed: 1 skein plus about 20 yards from a second skein
Needles: size 6 Addi circulars in 24" and 16", size 6 metal doublepoints for sleeves
Gauge: 18 st and 24 rows to 4" on size 6 circulars in st st

Detail of the back: a simple eyelet detail that gives the sweater focus:
And a duckie button!

  • I'm learning to read other knitters' notes in Ravelry before (well, to be honest, during) the making of something new. Many folks commented on the number of seams and ends to be finished in this little sweater, so I went with a few suggestions: a three-needle bind-off for the shoulders instead of binding off fronts and backs and then seaming; picking up stitches for the sleeves instead of working the sleeves flat, seaming them, and then seaming those into the armholes; and I followed directions for the sleeves from a knitter who made the bolero in a Wasabi yarn (sorry, can't recall the name right now) to pick up 40 stitches at the armhole, work one round plain, then decrease SSK, K1, K2 tog 4 times at "underarm" seam," repeat every 4th row 3 more times, then work sleeve plain for 4" total, do 2 rows of K2P2 ribbing on same size needle, and then bind off
  • I added a button to the front so that the baby could have a more dignified look, if preferred.
  • I worked a crocheted button loop (my first ever) from Nancie M. Wiseman's The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques - this is an excellent, easy-to-follow manual that covers a myriad of finishing techniques and options, and has clear illustrations and pictures to help you to visualize the technique. (I don't crochet and I never do button loops, and I did a respectable job while watching Jesse Martin's last episode of Law and Order.)
  • this yarn goes in the Pegotty Hall of Fame of Great Yarn: soft, textural, easy to work with, a lovely pearlescent sheen that is not too fussy for baby boy sweaters, and organic, long before the trend hit the fiber world. Happy Belated Earth Day.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sutra I.14

In Sutra I.14 of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists the elements that go toward having a practice that moves one toward clarity and away from misapprehension or suffering. It's one of those laundry-list sutras that are fun to chant. You get into a rhythm, there are few changes in pitch, and there's a sense of a thought being framed, delineated, in the way that the Sanskrit words line up, one after another.

How do you begin to see yourself, and thus, your relationship to everything else around you, more clearly? First, by practicing over a period of time: dirgakhala. And this applies to anything that you do that provides that momentary flash of Aha, that's who I am, that's how I see the world. For me, it might be yoga or knitting. For you, it could be any one of a million different things. The key is maintaining that practice for more than a moment, sticking with it for the long haul.

Take Parker, for example. He loves to chew yarn. In the two weeks that he's lived with us, he's been consistent in his devotion to finding any skein of yarn within reach and turning it into a chew toy.

Second, nairantarya: you practice without interruption. Instead of going to Pilates today, then tai chi tomorrow, and then scuba diving on Wednesday, you focus on one main practice that helps to ground your frantic, wandering, over-opinionated mind. For Parker, nothing gets in the way of his effort to chew fiber. Even when I put my knitting into my knitting bags and put the knitting bags up on the sofa - out of reach, I thought - he managed to delve into the bags, find the yarn, and make off with it, leaving the bags neatly on the couch.

Third, satkara. Sat means truth, and this one is the trickiest to explain, because it goes toward the New Age-y language that I try to avoid in my teaching. The way that I understand satkara is that through a practice, you peel away all those layers that come from your upbringing, and society's expectations, and what you think you need to be in order to be right, and then, there you are, at the center of the onion, as in Peer Gynt, and it's you, without all the stuff that was superimposed on who you really are. Some people call this living your truth, and that's fine if it works for them. I think of this one as having that experience of being really comfortable in your own skin.

Fourth, adara: with enthusiasm. You practice more consistently because you enjoy what you're doing. And the more that the practice is enjoyable, the more that you will discipline yourself to commit to it. (I think we all see where this one would go in the Parker analogy.)

Fifth, asevito: service to the practice. Not in the sense of being a slave, but as a student respects a teacher: service to a wisdom, a body of knowledge, out of respect and a desire to learn and grow. Here I'm showing you a picture of Parker's work on a ball of Tahki Cotton Classic. In the background, a picture of Rosie. This wasn't planned, but I like the idea that Rosie, though never a chewer of shoes or yarn, would have been a good mentor for Parker. Here's how much adara this dog has: I turned my back for a moment this afternoon, as I was planning the Baby Bolero from One Skein by Leigh Radford, and he had my ball of Blue Sky Alpaca Organic Cotton in his mouth and was chewing the wrapper off.
And the first sock! I'll put my dirgakhala up against any sock knitter and raise you twice.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Last night I woke up at about 4:30 a.m. It felt as if someone was holding onto the bed frame and giving it a series of quick, sharp bumps. I thought perhaps I'd dreamt it, but no, my husband remembered it too, and then checked the online Tribune for more info.

Yup, earthquake. In Illinois. About 230 miles downstate, which means in another world to most Chicaogans. It's sort of interesting to get a tiny taste of what it must feel like to live in California.

No pictures again today - sorry. It's been a long and tiring week. I did finish the first sock and have completed about 4 inches of ribbed cuff on the second sock. And the dog ate a hole in my practice sock today. Tomorrow is going to require some serious dog-proofing of anything knitted, woven, or wool within jaw's reach, and he's tall, able to set his chin on the dining room table if we let him.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No Donuts

No donuts. No chicken. No racoon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Creatures Welcomed Here

There must be a sign posted above our house, in many different animal languages, that says All Animals Welcomed Here.

Rabbits in the backyard. Birds nesting in the garage. Year after year. A bird that flew down the chimney and into the living room while my husband was out of town and the kids were gone. I'll admit it: I pulled one of my only girlie moments and asked the neighbor to come over and catch it. I just don't do birds, too much Alfred Hitchcock as a child. And a very well-fed squirrel, who has driven every bird in the neighborhood away from our bird-feeder this winter. Years ago, a mama raccoon gave birth to a litter in the basement part of what used to be the coal chute. We scared her away, and then sat across the street, watching her transport each baby out in her mouth until, hopefully, all had been relocated. And, of course, the gerbils and cats and dogs and fish that we intentionally housed.

And now, raccoons in the crawl space. (If you write a song with that as the title, please let me know.)

I've been hearing strange scramblings and scratchings in the walls for the last few months. A few weeks ago, flashlight in hand, my husband ventured into the attic crawl space and found nothing. Then, over the weekend, as I was sitting at the dining room table, I heard definite sounds of movement in the ceiling and the walls. Very creepy. I went outside and looked on the roof. Nothing. More scrambling and scratching in the walls. Then, upstairs to look out the window of the dormer bedroom onto that roof. Nothing in sight. But we know something's there, because it just is not normal for a house to sound as though living things are moving through the walls.

The raccoon wrangler came today and set up a trap on the roof. It seems to be baited with miniature powdered-sugar donuts and a raw chicken breast. The raccoon chewed a hole through the roof and the window frame, so some carpentry will be needed once we get the unwelcome visitor out. We check the trap every morning and night for three days. After that, something else goes into effect, but I'm not sure what. And we pay per animal trapped, so we're hoping that something happens before our raccoon gives birth.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Some things that I've learned this week

  • having chocolate fondue at Ethel's Chocolate Lounge is a very good way to get to know your staff
  • the home-made marshmallows are really, really good, but anything dipped in warm chocolate is worth eating
  • too many women believe that working with all women is a recipe for an environment of gossip and negativity, which seems both an excuse and a slander against one's own tribe; not true - I went to an all-girls high school and have been in retail for a long time, and the only places that are full of gossip and negativity are full of people of either gender who are gossips and negative
  • knitting socks is an endurance test

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Day in the Life

Yarn, meet dog.

I guess it's time to baby-dog-proof the yarn stash, which has been living in a wicker laundry basket on the floor beside my loom.

Perhaps a new, soft, pink toy that looks like a fresh dust mop will be a good stand-in for a mouthful of good wool?

And it squeaks. Over and over again. (My husband almost opted for the hedgehog toy that farts, but wasn't sure that I was approve. Also passed over: a sheep that baaaaas continuously. Even a dog would go insane.)

An array of toys. Maybe it's the influence of the yarn stash (now on top of the loom behind the chair), but Parker likes to organize all his toys into one area.
Asleep. He took a header into the tiny little pond in the back yard as he leaned in for a drink, then dashed madly about the yard in perhaps an effort to distract any onlookers from his klutziness.
And I promise that this will not become a log of Parker's every move, but I'm giving myself a week of blog indulgence and then it's back to the knitting and the yoga and the cooking and reading. Maybe.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

This is a lovely book. The story of a shy girl who loves to read and uses a vocabulary sourced from dictionaries to hold people at arms' length. She is trying to escape from the very long shadow of her mother, who is a famous concert pianist and finds friendship with a story-telling, dictionary-loving, captivating traveler-about-the-world who moves in to the next-door apartment in her brownstone in New York City.

There's something old-fashioned and reassuring about this book; the four Somerset sisters roam the world and have fantastic adventures. At the same time, it is a very nice portrait of what it feels like for Cornelia to be growing up awkward and alone, and then finding someone who sees the beauty and wonder that's been there all the time. And I loved the descriptions of Virginia Somerset's apartment (each room decorated to recreate her travels - a living room that is a Moroccan palace, a library from Paris, a bedroom designed after her time in Bombay, complete with bed enclosed by white, flowing draperies.)

Also, good character names. Virginia's black French bulldog is Mister Kinyatta; Cornelia's mother's opera-singer friend is the Howling Dog; and the Somerset sisters' four French bulldogs are Monsieur Un, Deux, Trois and Quatre.

In knitting progress, I'm 3/4 done with one sock and re-working the left front of the Minimalist Cardigan. Pictures maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Welcome, Parker

Welcome, Parker.

We visited him tonight at his foster family's house. On purpose, we did not bring a leash or the Jeep, which is more the official dog transport car in the family. We visited, talked with the foster people (really nice, welcoming people), then went out for coffee and to take a moment to really think about this. Honestly, we were already snared. When we met him, he seemed sweet, gentle, then had a bit of a puppy frap of dashing wildly about the room at breakneck speed from person to person, then wandered about with interest, and even settled down for a rest every few minutes.

And when we went back to the house to tell the foster people that we wanted him, I discovered one of Rosie's old leashes in the trunk and a Nylabone on the back seat of the car. Just right. My husband just introduced him to our cat, then praised Parker for conducting himself in a very fine manner (mild sniffing and no barking or jumping). The cat is not so sure. She stayed off the ground and looked mildly, well, pissed off. She is most likely thinking, dang, and I just got control of the entire house.

He's from the Midwest Labrador Retriever Rescue organization. This picture shows the most Lab-looking part of him: his ribcage, legs and paws. His fur is a very pale yellow, but his head definitely has a touch of something not Lab, and he can hold his ears directly behind his head as though in a giant wind stream.
And the only thing that I could take a picture of that was not moving: his new Kong. (For you non-dog people, it's a hard rubber toy that bounces crazy when you throw it, and you can stuff it with treats or peanut butter and it will entertain the dog for most of the day as he tries to prize the treats free. You know you have a dog again when there's need to stop at the pet store for food and Nylabones and kongs.)
I have no idea what will happen when we try to go to sleep. Parker did, voluntarily, walk into and out of the crate a few times, with no urging. But this is the part of having a dog that is most like being a parent with a new baby: you have no idea whether you'll be sleeping through the night or getting up every hour to check on the new being, and in this case, take him outside for a bathroom break.

Minimalist Cardigan Do-over

I have finish-itis. I just want to see something done. I've put the single sock on hold and pulled the pieces of the Minimalist Cardigan out of the basket to see what kind of surgery needs to be undertaken.

Here's where I am: two fronts and a back that need to be ripped back to 13 1/2 inches and then continued with redoing the armholes and necklines. One unusable sleeve, completed, unless I decide to throw all details out the window and put a seed stitch (that's 2 knit stitches, 2 purl stitches) sleeve onto a moss stitch garment (1 knit alternating with 1 purl). I didn't notice as I was knitting it, and somehow it felt different, easier to work, but I didn't cotton on to the mistake until the sleeve was finished.

Theraputic ripping did take place. I planted one (stockinged) foot onto the sweater piece and wound the yarn as I watched a bit of a soap opera. Then I retreated to my bedroom to listen to something on my Ipod as I reworked the right front. About two hours later, I have an almost armhole. I probably need to show some restraint, as this is the project that led to too-weak-wrist-to-hold-coffeepot syndrome back during the winter.

Another do-over started last night. I've finally figured out that the Handmaiden Lady Godiva wants to be Ilga Leja's Antique Lace:
And not Swallowtail:
I'm surprised at how tightly I am knitting the Antique Lace. I swatched on a size 6, corresponded with the designer on Ravelry, and am now going with a size 5, sans swatching. And I'm trying to remind myself that I don't trust my gauge swatches or my sizing as much as I should, and that with both the cardigan and the Juliet sweater, I second-guessed myself and made them too big. Maybe I just need to get the word "process," or maybe "patience" stamped someplace visible for these recurring moments?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Progress on the Ribbed Sock

Chugging along on the sock: finished the decreases for the gusset while waiting for an appointment, and now I get to move to Stage 4 (1 being the leg, 2 being the heel flap, 3 being the heel turn, oops, 4 is the gusset, so I'm onto Stage 5): the foot.

This seems the most crucial of measurements; having put on a handknit sock, who wants cramped toes? And I get to move the stitches around the two circular needles again, which always feels like a landmark has been passed.

And is there a yarn conspiracy out there? Every day, another yarn sale beckoning from my email. Yesterday, a one-day 20% off Rowan yarn at the Village Sheep. And look at Joan's stash: how can I resist when I'm craving bags of yarn like this? And over at Webs, Queensland Rustic Wool, a superwash wool in variegated tones that looks an awful lot like a more pricey, hand-dyed sock yarn, but only $3 (edit here: wishful thinking, but still only $7 for 99 yards) or so for a skein. I might just have to give in and order some to test out. If you've tried this yarn, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it, please.

Now: sitting down in the living room, drinking my tea with a shot of Scotch, watching junk TV until Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor: London Calling (the cheesiness of this name matches or even betters the cheesiness of this show) are on (see, there's a qualitative difference between Entertainment Tonight and The Bachelor) and hopefully decompressing from a long week at work.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Measuring against the Gold Standard

I'm trusting that measuring my first sock against a SmartWool sock is the way to go to determine length of the leg and foot. And if Charlene Schurch doesn't keep records of rows worked, but just holds the first sock up against the second to measure for a match, I can do that too (I thought that I heard her say this on a KnitPicks podcast, and if it was wishful thinking, I'm going with it.) Though sock number 2 is far in the distance.

The Louet Topaz is much more comforting to work with than the fine weight. Still size 3 needles, but somehow, I seem to be knitting more tightly on what must be my 11th or 12th effort at this sock for my husband. The color is advertised as Pewter; in person, it's more of a soft brownish grey, but fine for a man's sock.
And no pictures to show, but I'm almost done with the Budding Lace section of my Swallowtail shawl. Does this qualify me for a Knitting with Nora button?

Right now, I'm either going for a walk and getting out into the springy air, or sitting down to (re)work the heel turn on my sock. This yarn's a bit splitty, and I think that I hit a reworked portion just as I was (re)working the heel area. Experienced sock knitters: should I be using reinforcing nylon thread along with the wool for the heel area? And if so, what type do you like, and where do you find it?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Perfect Fudge Sauce

Very few foods receive the appellation of "Perfect" in my household (Perfect Brownies being one of the few), but this truly is.

Perfect Fudge Sauce:

Combine 1/4 cup cocoa (I use Hershey's from the market), 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 2 T. flour in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 1/2 cup milk. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then let mixture boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 T. butter and 2 tsp. good quality vanilla (the Spice House has amazing Madagascar vanillas). Let cool until slightly warm.

Scoop up a few spoonfuls onto a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and the world is suddenly a much better place.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Soul-warming Chicken Noodle Soup

There are some things that only chicken soup will cure. Part 1: Chop up 2 large onions. Peel and slice in largish diagonal slices 5 carrots. Slice up 3 stalks of celery. Gently bruise and then peel the papery skins off of all the cloves in a head of garlic.

Melt 1 stick butter in a large pot. Saute the above for about 5-10 min., until the onions are translucent. Add 1 large can (about 4 cups) of College Inn chicken stock and 10 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced. Simmer for about 10 min. Turn off heat while you prepare the rest of the soup.

If you can multi-task, you can work on the other parts while the vegetables are sauteing. Otherwise, do this in steps and at the end, all will be combined.

Part 2: Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add enough kosher salt so that the water is slightly salty. (Any questions, see Marcella Hazan on salt.) Add 1/2 of a package of extra-wide egg noodles. (I think mine were Manischevitz, but you could get fancy here. The key, for me, was to replicate a chicken soup from the nearby noodle restaurant that handcuts wide, thick, chewy noodles for their soup.) Cook until still slightly chewy. Drain. Add about 1 T. of olive oil and stir to coat the noodles.

Part 3: Skin 3 chicken drumsticks. Bring a pot with 1/2 cup of white wine, 2 cups of chicken stock (new - not what you used above for the vegetables), and enough water to cover chicken to the boil. Add drumsticks. Simmer, slightly covered, for about 20-30 min., until meat starts to fall off of the bone. Remove from pot and cool chicken.

Now, to put it all together:

Part 4: Bring soup to a gentle simmer. Add noodles. Shred chicken into small bits and add. Let it get nice and hot, but don't cook it for more than a few minutes. Add 3 T. of chopped, fresh parsley. Stir. Serve immediately in deep bowls, with crackers or good bread for dunking.

Tune in tomorrow for the best hot fudge sauce ever. In the process of gathering ingredients, my husband actually said "Stop! Do you have arrowroot?" I looked at him and replied, "Now when will you ever have the chance to say that sentence again?"