Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yarn Harlot

A post like this is the reason that she is one of the best of bloggers. I especially like the quote from Paul Newman.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Graduation is only the First Step

Parker graduated from obedience class last night.

It was a tough night for dogs and humans. Everyone was a little bit crazy. Well, the dogs more than us, or maybe it's just my perspective. (Full disclosure: on rereading this post, I'm not so convinced that the dogs were more out there than the owners.) There was very little sitting on command. Stay went out the window. Heeling. Hmm, the teacher didn't even have us try that: she just demo'd it with the smallest dog.

Two of the four dogs were spending way too much time socializing. I admired the teacher's restraint, because I would have been in there much sooner telling them to break it up. Finally she couldn't ignore the rumble. But good thing that's she's the trainer. She took the trouble makers and separated them from each other so that they could concentrate on the class. And their dogs went with them.

Things calmed down somewhat, but if it wasn't a full moon, it should have been. Eventually the teacher decided to have us spend the bulk of the class on Sit/Stay with distance between the owner and dog. Parker took a few rounds to get the point, but actually managed to stay in place while I walked at least five feet away, turned and called him to come. We can't do anything fancy, like a flip turn or a finish (both designed to bring the dog back around to your left side in a sit), but by round three, he was staying in place. We discovered, also, that a decisive walk away from the dog is key to getting him to stay in place. When I hesitated, he popped up. When I marched away, he stayed in place. I hate that dogs are smart enough to smell fear.

Practicing Sit/Stay also provided the opportunity to see what a small rat terrier looks like when he is very pissed off. There is no more genteel way to describe this. The dog has his owner on the run and he knows it. After several attempts to get this guy to sit sit sit sit stay staaay staaaay (my older daughter taught me long ago that you say the command once, and then expect action or do something to enact the behavior) which failed, the teacher took charge. She kept sitting the dog back down when he popped up. A step away, an authoritative NOOO, then back to making him sit. Finally, the dog stayed, the owner walked away, and I wish that I'd had my camera. The dog was glaring at the owner, eyelids half lowered, lips curled, making very clear that he'd sit and stay, but damn it, he didn't have to like it.

Finally, the end of the hour arrived. The teacher gave each owner a graduation certificate and each dog a toy. I asked her to pick out the one that she thought Parker would like. And Parker loves it: the toy is a giant plush jack, like this. (Amazing that that there is a website that exists to explain how to play jacks. More amazing that this is a game from my childhood.) He loves this toy so much that he wasn't even interested in playing with the other dogs. He carried it around by one spike and could not have been more pleased.

And he's asleep on his dog bed right now, the toy sitting just beyond his paw, like a security blanket.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Knitting Interlude

My knitting bag, or more accurately, the contents.

One pair of socks in Louet Gems - I love this yarn. This time, I'm doing mirror images: finishing the ribbed leg on one sock, then the ribbed leg of the other; then the heel flap on one sock, then the heel flap on the other. This keeps it a bit more interesting and I don't have to dig too far back into my memory to recall whether I have a 48-stitch sock or a 54-stitch sock, and did I start the toe decrease now, or later?

One mitered square finished, one in process, and the yarn for that square: red, beige/taupe, orange, and tobacco brown. And some rogue balls of Tahki Cotton Classic (beyond the frame of the photo) that haven't traveled back to the bowl of yarn upstairs.

Three-quarters of a to-be-felted potholder, out of a skein of Noro something. Waiting to be finished with some acid green Donegal tweed from Tahki which is upstairs and needs to come down.

My clear bag of knitting notions: tape measure, needle sizer/ruler, stitch markers, Post-it notes for keeping track of where I am in a lace chart, some highlighters.

Here's a pretty picture of the sock so far:
See what I mean about the yarn? Unlike other sock yarns that I've seen, this one has a great, tight twist and knits up with authority. One might even call it a manly sock yarn.

Also to be recommended: KnitPicks Classic Circular Knitting Needles. Here's a picture of the join, which is one test of a great knitting needle:

For $9.98, including shipping, I purchased two 40" circular needles with nickel-plated tips, one in the smaller version of size 1 and one in the smaller version of size 2. (They offer two sizes within each number, so that you can really finesse your gauge.) I'm doing a version of the Magic Loop, one sock at a time. The needle points are sharp, the joins between needle and cable are very smooth, and the cable is flexible enough to snake between the two halves of the sock but sturdy enough to have some weight.

You are not going to want to add up the amount of money that you've spent on the gold standard of knitting needles. Just consider it a wise investment; then try a KnitPicks needle. You will then have enough money to plow into yarn, and you can pat yourself on the back for spending less on your knitting than you do on filling up the tank in your car.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My eye doctor appointment

My distance vision has improved. My eye doctor thinks it's from the yoga. I am not making this up.

She told me that she once had a patient who was kicked in the face during martial arts practice and then had lots of acupuncture around her eye, and her vision went from needing glasses to 20-20. And my eye doctor is your garden-variety good eye doctor and not a holistic type at all.

I still need glasses, but they're going to take the improvement in the distance and shift those parts of the prescription to the reading part of my bifocals. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm hoping both to be able to see the tiny score at the bottom of the television during Bulls games and to fix a stitch in my knitting without looking over the top of my glasses.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yoga Party

This is what I love about a yoga party: all the odd and interesting things that people do, that seem perfectly ordinary to them.

I met someone who offered to do a ceremony involving placing a harp on your heart area and playing it.

I met someone who'd spent the day in a state forest preserve, celebrating the summer solstice by drumming, creating a grid on the earth, choosing colors that represent different chakras, and singing or dancing or both.

I participated in a ceremony that was a little bit yogic, a little bit Romper Room, but very lovely. We sang a song as we stood in a circle of teachers, within a larger circle of other folk, and accompanied the song by waving our hands about in front of our face (to signify the word "beauty") or placing our hands as though we were holding a small soccer ball and then turning the imaginary soccer ball to signify beauty above and below.

I spent much of the evening telling people about my two favorite facts from the Yarn Harlot's talk: 1) that knitters have a lower incidence of dementia than the average population and 2) that knitters are beat out only by Buddhist monks in the amount of time spent in theta brain waves. Toward the end of the evening, I sat down with my husband and a friend/teacher to listen to the band, and Joyce and I decided that in addition to what we are calling our yoga soirees - three days in the fall when we've invited teachers to come and socialize and gab - that we want to have Knitting Club. We don't even care if anyone but us comes. We just like saying Knitting Club.

And my husband wore his first pair of hand knitted socks, and they were admired.

Getting up this morning, though, I realized that I am getting Old. Even though I was home by midnight, and even though I didn't drink much at all, I was very, very tired. It's a good thing that I don't do this very often; I could not keep up the pace.

I did notice this morning, as I climbed the two flights of stairs up to the yoga center, that all of my business cards were gone from the table where we keeps cards and flyers. Either I'm in high demand, or someone decided to erase my presence.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Yarn Harlot in Chicago

The row behind me, waiting for Stephanie Pearl-McPhee to arrive. Very industrious. And the row in front of me. Tiny needles, double-pointed, moving like mad.
I lacked the nerve to take a picture of the knitter beside me, who was moving almost as fast on a pair of toe-up slippers. I gestured to them and said to my friend Christine, who stays more abreast of knitting happenings than I do (maybe it's because I'm deleting anything yarn-related from my email before I am tempted) and graced me with a ticket, that I wished that I could knit like that. That being Continental, and I'm a thrower of yarn.

The knitter looked at me, raised her eyebrows and said "You can't do this?"

"Well, it's not a character flaw," I quavered. "Hmm, I'm not so sure," she said. But in good fellowship, she was a nice knitter and we were chatting a bit by the end, especially after she told me not to look and I did and she was trying the teeny toe part of her slipper on her bare foot, in the ballroom of the Hilton hotel.

Here's a terrible picture of the speaker herself: And another.
The thing to know about this woman is that she is smart, funny, thoughtful, and she appreciates knitters and knitting and yarn and people, not necessarily in that order. Did you know that the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's is lower amongst knitters compared to the general population? Or that the simple, repetitive work of knitting helps shift our brains to theta waves - in which the brain is at its most creative? After Buddhist monks, according to Stephanie, knitters are next in line for experiencing theta waves on a regular basis. Take that, bridge players.

Also, and I identified with this one: knitters are not patient people. Instead, they create a bubble of patience around themselves by always having something to do during those endless waits.

Here's a dark picture of the line of knitters waiting to have their books signed. It started at the front of the ballroom and wrapped around two walls. The line ran on a very smart policy, which allowed those with babies inside or outside (the body, that is, not the hall), anyone who had to make the train, and others with special dispensation to go directly to the front of the line, while others politely acquiesced to moving back a few spaces. What an orderly and willing crowd. Is it like this at appearances out East, or is this knitting politesse bolstered by that particularly Midwestern unwillingness to make waves?
After the talk, Christine took me to the Original Rainbow Cone shop in Evergreen. Five kinds of ice cream in one cone: orange sherbet (have I seen it since having my tonsils out in grade school?), New York cherry, pistachio, chocolate, and I think that they hid some vanilla way at the bottom of the scoops. Yum.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Progress on the Mitered Square Blanket: Square #10

Halfway there, according to the pattern in Mason-Dixon Knitting. (Will we need to start calling it Mason-Dixon La Premiere, or some such, when the new book comes out?) Needs a good steaming at the edges and to even out the seaming, but the colors make me happy.
The square that I'm knitting now is a bright red and a taupe. I'm going to contrast it with an orange and a more tobacco shade of brown. I've worked my way through most of the pastels, deep purples and bright greens in my bowl of Tahki Cotton Classic to the reds, oranges, some blues and lots of browns. I've been avoiding the oranges and yellows - such intense colors, and it's tough to find three other colors that work with orange and don't look like an ugly pair of soccer socks.

Yesterday morning I puttered around some resale shops, looking for a piece of used furniture to use as a display piece for retail at the yoga center. Something Anthropologie-ish. No luck at all: my favorite resale furniture place - an old barn crammed with this and that at cheap prices - has turned into a cutesy antiques mall. At the other places, nothing but very ugly wall units of shiny black formica or really heavy blond wood from the fifites, as though furniture from any other period is outlawed from entry or has been beamed up to other planets. If you know of a good place for used furniture in the Chicago area, please let me know.

At the Goodwill in Naperville - my last stop after a frustrating drive to a few other places that had nothing but bundt pans, glass vases from florist shops, and Naugahyde purses, I gave myself a budget of $10 to find something for myself. Score:
And within my budget:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sutra I.18, in which the past never truly goes away

My new yoga room. Hold this in your mind for a while, we'll be coming back to it later.
First, the good news. On Monday, I met with a student who'd come in with very limited mobility in her left arm and shoulder. And huzzah - after two weeks of very gentle therapy, she has so much more range and strength. Yeah! We devised a new practice for her, and she's coming back in a few weeks to check in again.

Still, I have these moments, every day, when I feel panic creeping up on me. Being home, being self-employed, trying to market myself and my yoga - these lay under the surface of my awareness, and between lunch and about 5:30 in the evening, launch a full attack on my confidence that this thing will fly.

I went to a workshop given by a very famous yoga teacher a few weeks ago. He spoke about many, very meaningful topics. But what stuck with me? The moment when he turned to this room full of yoga teachers and yoga teachers-in-training and yoga students (almost all women, except for two guys - and thank goodness for them, because a room full of women, even smart, strong women, start to sound like "Pick-a-Little" from The Music Man) and said: "It's tough making a living as a yoga teacher. " If you can do anything else, then I would advise it, he continued.

What makes it tough? (And I mean tough as a relative measure. As they say in that old Yiddish folktale, things could always be worse. ) The uncertainty. The way time moves at an infinitesimal rate when there is no schedule imposed by a boss or job. Creating marketing materials and business cards and sending out emails and making contacts, as I lay the groundwork for developing a practice in yoga therapy and yoga. No weekly paycheck. The price of gas and food. And yarn. (That one I finally came to an agreement with myself: be creative this summer and find uses for the yarn that I already own. September and my birthday will roll around just as I finish off the stash, and then: gift cards! yarn! books!)

And the biggest obstacle: me and my memories. I think that working from home is transporting me back to the months of slogging away at my dissertation for my doctorate in English. And the politics of my graduate school, where your work had to be sexy, in the academic sense, or at minimum, worth the professor affiliating himself with, in order for you to take one tiny step forward, then two back. Progress was slow. I spent many hours staring at a computer screen (good-bye contacts forever), writing and rewriting and editing and proofing. In the mornings, my daughters would go off to school or home daycare. I would work until lunch, then give myself a short break, work again, and then maybe escape to the gym or for a walk to blow some of the fuzz out of my brain.

See, even writing about it makes me relive the feeling. My eyes feel strangely dry all of a sudden. I have a distinct crick in my neck. The house is empty. And it's beautiful outside, but I'm inside typing away at a computer.

Thank goodness for the wisdom of Patanjali, who must have been a graduate student sometime in his ancient career. In Sutra I.18, he writes: viramapratyaybhyasapurvah samskaraseso'nyah. I call this the Onion sutra: that last word is pronounced like onion-hah. but without the middle n: un-yah-hah.

In this sutra, Patanjali discusses the results of Sutra I.17. (Okay, who remembers that sutra? Two extra points and a skein of something for you.) In I.17, he talks about the different stages of learning, from stumbling like a baby to knowing the topic so thoroughly that it melds into you and there's no sense of having to think about how to do it, as when you ride a bike and it is effortless, because you've gone through all the other steps to learning how to ride.

In I.18, Patanjali explains that the effort, the practice of a new skill, will push down the old, awkward, uncomfortable stages. Thus, understanding, at a deeper level - pratyaya - acts to suppress what was before - and what was before, or purvah, is the awkward, unsure self. But - and my teacher has a way of saying "but" that makes it clear that now the ball is going to drop - the OLD STUFF NEVER GOES AWAY. The samskara - what I think of as emotional scar tissue, or old habits, or our conditioning from our families and society and culture - is always latent. Seso - which can be translated as hidden or latent - is a key word here: the samskara may be less powerful as we add in new, more beneficial patterns, but it's always lurking there, somewhere in the back rooms of our consciousness.

My work yesterday was to try to build a new room for my yoga work. Literally. And probably figuratively too, truth be told. (And yes, my dissertation was on the image of the room in texts, so that pattern is in my mind to stay. Live with something for six years and you'll never lose it, even if you want to.) I cleaned up the sun room, moved the furniture around a bit, scored a deal on the last rice-paper screen at the Oriental furniture store near my house, and straightened the bookshelves.

Here's the sun room. I'm going to experiment with seeing students here and see how it works. Below is a view of my loom. No place for it elsewhere: I'm thinking that it adds a nice, handcrafty touch. The student will face in this direction, toward two windows and the fountain. Does the screen close off enough of the living room for it not to be a distraction? And will the VCR whir too much if I'm taping So You Think You Can Dance?
Now, one hour until I see a student at the yoga center, then I want to sweep all the leaves and twigs off the front steps and hope that my 6 pm student doesn't cancel. Phew.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The World as a Ball of Yarn

Yes, that's what I saw: the world as a ball of yarn. Prizes go to the three guessers. Please send your mailing information to jbwb@att.net and I'll try to get things into the mail this week. Let me know if you have a preference for one of the yarns over the others, and I'll try to meet it.

Here's the loot: Handmaiden Lady Godiva in a crimson color.
Two skeins of Misti Alpaca laceweight. (Yup, only one in the picture, but I'll be sending two.)
And three different skeins of amazing yarn from Habu Textiles.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Contest!


Guess what this picture reminds me of?

Edit: a fourth prize will go to a commenter picked at random, and the contest ends Monday, June 16th.

Points awarded for accuracy (did you guess what I was thinking?) Additional points awarded for artistry in the presentation of your answer: I'm not averse to a little haiku, poetry, or visual aids.

One prize to the first, correct guesser; a second prize to the most creative/unusual mode of answering. Honorable mention to the person who suggests a project that I can make the yarn, which is Euroflax linen dyed and overdyed with Procion MX - about 500 yards worth - into; gauge is about 20 stitches to 4 inches in stockinette stitch. Prizes will be yarns that are worth working for: Misti Alpaca and Handmaiden and something else good.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boat-neck Sweater for Ant-knee

Pattern: Boat-neck Sweater
Designer: Debbie Bliss
Source: Baby Knits for Beginners
Size: 9-12 months
Yarn: Tahki Jeans, color 003, 135 yds./skein, 3 skeins
Needles: size 7 Addi Turbo circular 24"
Gauge: 19 st and 26 rows to 4" in st st
Notes: No, his name is really Anthony, but this is what my husband's nicknamed the boy. And it's fun to say. Try it with a strong Chicago accent - very nasal on the A, and you sort of swallow the "nt" part: Aaant -knee. Hope his parents don't mind.

So, the sweater. The yarn is a narrow tape. It feels very dry and crisp to the hand as you're working with it. The fiber feels almost like an acrylic; however, it's actually a 100% organic cotton. Keep working, though. The finished fabric is wonderful: spongy, a bit stretchy like a wool, and it provides great stitch definition. I could see this yarn being used in a summer Aran sweater or socks for the person who doesn't wear wool. It's machine washable, too.

The pattern is a great beginner's sweater: all stockinette with a few rows of garter stitch at neckline, cuffs, and hem to give it some interest. Also good for knitting that will be interrupted frequently. I worked on this during breaks at my last yoga training. I'm not a multitasker, but with this pattern, I could pick it up, work a few rows or even stop in the middle of the row, and be able to pick it up again without the time lag of figuring out where I was and what to do next. Good summer knitting.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Results: the Stew-pot Method of Yarn Dyeing

Some areas of deep lapis. Some areas of pale celadon. Some areas of almost-natural with a tinge of green. Who knew that throwing turquoise, some royal blue and a tiny bit of navy Dyelon fabric dye into a pot with water and yarn would produce dye that is predominantly sea-green?

Above, my brilliant idea of using the rainstorm to finish washing the dye out of the yarn. My version of Alchemy Yarns, but without the Pacific Ocean breeze blowing across my newly-dyed skeins of fiber.

Below, a moment when the brain cells, thankfully, fired at full throttle and reminded me that Parker + Yarn + Lack of Supervision = Eaten Yarn. Yarn, back into the house for another rinse; dog, out in the yard. (And sorry, no ice cream for Parker. The best that he did was to try to make off with the plastic lid to the sundae, but I nabbed him.) It was tricky trying to photograph the color of the yarn. The green doesn't strobe quite as much as in the photo below.
Still, not what I'd anticipated. Next step is to over dye with a uniform stock of turquoise dye, stirred up so that there is a unified solution. I'll put the skeins back in, give them a stir once in a while, and rinse them out in about 5 hours.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Works in Progress


I'm dyeing some Euroflax linen that I bought two years ago at Stitches. It was one of those drunk-with-yarn/bonding-with-your-fellow-knitters moments, where I was standing in a booth and a woman taking a MaggiKnits workshop persuaded me to the beauties of Euroflax. The part that I can't remember is why I bought the yarn in the natural, undyed shade. I love the look of it, and I love the swatch that I knit and then machine washed and dried - magic, as the yarn turns from a stiff string into drapeable, tangible fabric. But the color, not so much.

So onto one of my favorite games: mix up some dye and see what happens.

Here's my extremely scientific method:

Soak the yarn in water with soda ash. Mix some Dyelon fabric dye from Hobby Lobby (it's Procion MX under a different brand name) with urea water. I added 8 tablespoons of turquoise, 1 of royal blue, and then a smidgen of navy. I'd planned to paint the skeins. Even had the table covered with newspaper and the plastic wrap laid out, and three different dilutions of the stock solution mixed into plastic cups. I filled a plastic syringe with the darkest dye and started to squirt it onto the skein, and thought, no way, too fussy. Instead, I dumped all three skeins into my dyepot, poured all three cups of dye onto the skeins, added enough water just to cover. Oh, and then I noticed that there was some dye powder gunking up the bottom of one of the cups, so I added some water, mixed it up, and poured that on top. Covered it all with plastic wrap and left it to sit until tomorrow.

My hope is that it turns out like a skein of Malabrigo: various hues of the same color with just enough variegation to keep things interesting, but not so much that I need to work with two skeins at once.

Parker and I are now off the the ice cream place for a hot fudge sundae for me. If my husband arrives home from his fishing trip while we're out, we've left a note and his new, hand-knit socks.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sraddha


New plantings in the backyard: proof that I do possess a smidgen of belief, or sraddha.

As I was digging these rootings of pachysandra into the ground, into which I'd first dug a few large buckets of really rich soil from the bottom of the compost heap, I was thinking that you can't garden without a whole apparatus of beliefs supporting the activity. First and foremost, that the earth is going to turn on its axis and bring warmer weather to help the plant grow. And that the weather cycle will hopefully (there's that word again) bring rain, too; even better, light rain showers on the same day that you plant the seeds into the ground. And that the carrot peelings and coffee grounds and watermelon rinds and fall leaves will undergo an alchemical process over the winter and become the perfect fertilizer. And that the plants will do what they've done every other year since antiquity: they'll photosynthesize and feed and grow and then feed us, or cover the ground, or feed the animals who feed us (well, not me, except for the pigs and bacon, but that's another post.)

My study of the Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali is helping this slow, sideways amble toward belief. Patanjali, who must have been a very wise person, keeps his discussion of faith and a supreme being in very neutral terms. My favorite definition is in the 26th sutra: faith derives from connection to a source of knowledge, what Patanjali calls, in the translation by TKV Desikachar, the "ultimate Teacher. . . .the Source of guidance for all teachers, past, present and future."

As I'm accustoming myself to being self-employed, I'm holding onto this definition. When I waver - which can happen many times in one day when you are back working from home and the last time that you did this was when you were writing your dissertation - for two long years - (talk about bad samskara, or patterns that you DON'T want to repeat), I remind myself that my teachers believe in me and in my ability to teach, and that even if my little mind is fussing - that things will be okay.
Patience is another meaning for sraddha, which comes in handy with gardening and in bringing up a new dog. That ripping sound behind me as I'm writing this all-will-be-well post? The dog, chewing off a strip of cloth from the slip covered chair behind me. And last week's obedience class was the anticpated controlled insanity that I'd expected. My favorite moment was during the play time at the end, when the terrier in the group discovered that he could jump up onto the sofas, be taller than all the other dogs, and then launch himself into space with his mouth wide open and teeth bared.