Archive for November, 2006

Like a fish needs a bicycle

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Just when you think that you’ve seen the worst the bridal industry has to offer, they surprise you with some new “innovation.”

What fresh hell is this? Well, cats and kittens, here’s the latest bridal merchandise, marketed under the banner of, “Show Everyone You’re Getting Married!”:

Dearly beloved, there’s nothing like a “got husband!” t-shirt to make you yearn for the bygone days of the 70s, with their humorless “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” apparel, bra burnings, consciousness raising groups, ubiquitous subscriptions to Ms. magazine, and orange shag carpets.

I’d even be willing to suffer through a new wave of Bee Gees hits if we could get back at least some of that spirit. Stayin’ alive, indeed.

I’m not even going to explore further this t-shirt’s icky connection to the “got milk?” campaign, and the subtextual undercurrents that invoke and link up—at least by thematic association—marriage, the resort to manipulative tactics by an oppressed group, female passivity and objectification, fecundity, and dependence on the male.

Oh, crap. I said I wasn’t going to do it, and then I did. Never trust a graduate student who says she’s going to resist long-winded analysis. It’s always a lie.

Now, in “honor” of this new t-shirt offering and the ongoing, full-court press by the bridal industry to get all brides to “drop a dress size” before the “big day” (discussed in greater depth on this blog here) AND Alex’s recent resolution to start pumping iron in an attempt to look more like Daniel Craig, I have made the following deals with my beloved:

Deal 1: I will wear the “got husband!” t-shirt if, and only if, Alex will wear either a t-shirt that says, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” or “got wife with Ph.D. and power tools who don’t take no crap!” I think it’s nice to offer a choice, don’t you?

Deal 2: I will “drop a dress size” before our wedding if, and only if, Alex will commit to a frenetic bridal-style self-improvement program that will include (among other things, naturellement!—like teeth whitening procedures and regular manicures…) a minimum of five, hour-long workouts a week so that he can package himself for me on our wedding day as an object that perfectly reflects to “The Masculine Ideal.” Something close to, say, oh, Daniel Craig.

Or you could think of the deal this way: I’ll drop a dress size if Alex commits to gaining a dress size! Or, um, something like that.

All joking aside, however, I’ve been thinking about all these threads—the present day bridal industry, the early days of feminism, the issues still facing women in American society today—and I’ve come up with more questions than answers. Here’s one thing I’ll say, though: upon reflection, I think that when all is said and done, a good man is an awful lot more valuable to a woman than a bicycle is to a fish.

But a woman needs a “got husband!” t-shirt like, well, a sturgeon needs a Schwinn.

I don’t know about you, but even though the 70s are long gone, I still got on my feminist boogie shoes.

Knitting? Still making progress on those gloves:

Back on Monday with some exciting stash enhancement news…


Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

First off, I want to thank all of you who left such kind and supportive comments on my post from Monday.  After I got to feeling a bit better (on Tuesday), I started to think that it had been a bit self-indulgent of me to post that on the blog, but I can tell you that it really was heartfelt at the time.  However, I certainly don’t feel that way all the time.  There are many, many good days, and there are also many days when I am able to retain my sense of perspective a bit better.  Anyway, thank you all for listening so patiently and responding in such a supportive way.  It really does help me to know that there are people out there who care.

And now, back to fiber!

Ellen and Alex sent me these three gorgeous skeins of Alchemy Haiku for my birthday last Friday.

Alchemy Haiku

I am attempting to think of a project that is worthy of their gorgeousness.  Thanks, Ellen and Alex!  (I’ve pulled them out to pet them several times now.)

In addition to baking lots of batches of cookies recently, I’ve also worked on combing my fleeces.  (Combing is a great activity for me when I am unsettled in my mind:  I get to work with fiber, it’s surprisingly physical, and it’s also repetitive in a meditative sort of way.  You have to pay attention, but not too much attention.)

I have a pretty little pile of combed grey Romney, which I hope to take to the wheel some time this week,

combed Romney

and more of the double-coated dark brown fleece.

combed double-coated fleece

(The guard hair is on the right in the picture above.)

I just really enjoy combing this dark brown fleece.  There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction in turning that unruly, messy, dirty stuff into something not only usable, but beautiful.  Hey, maybe it’s not a yarn of transformation (or not yet, anyway), but it’s a transformation nonetheless!

I thought about Monica’s suggestion about dyeing the guard hair, and then I started thinking about plying it with a strand of mohair (both spun fairly fine) and dyeing the finished yarn.  Wouldn’t that be pretty?  You’d get the greyed tone of the guard hair and the shiny jewel tone of the mohair, playing off each other in one yarn.

Hugo, meanwhile, has been occupied with pestering our old and chubby cat, Tortellini.

Hugo and Tortellini 11-29-06                                          “I just don’t understand why she doesn’t like me!”

Hugo and Tortellini 11-29-06                                  “Maybe if I go around to the other side…”

Hugo, Dog of Transformation.


Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

First of all, I would just like to commend Sarah on her courageous, honest, and powerful post yesterday about parenting an Asperger’s child. I hope you’ll join me in extending her, and other parents who confront similar issues, our support in whatever ways we are able.

Maybe this is a good time for me to say this: I’m deeply impressed by parents. I don’t quite know how you do what you do, and it sure doesn’t look easy. Thanks to all of you who are civilizing and nurturing the next generation. Because it is a terribly important and terribly demanding job. And if people like me, who don’t have kids, don’t realize that, well…we should.

Sarah, I fervently hope that the rest of your week, and Harvey’s, is better.

Chez Mad Dog, things have been a-hoppin’. We richly enjoyed a visit from the lovely Emily:
Photographed shortly after each of us consumed a devastating Cointreau-and-Grand-Marnier-laced margarita. With lunch. 2 p.m. never looked so good!

She will soon be the recipient of the plum-rose colored Wine and Roses Mitts, which will be her birthday gift. That is, when I finish knitting them. And yes, her birthday was last week. But let’s not get all tangled up in petty and guilt-inducing details of that sort, shall we not?
One down. Er, um, all but the thumb…

I love to knit for Emily, who is one of the most generous and kind friends a person could wish for and who, furthermore, knows exactly how a handknitted gift should be received. She oohs and aahs appropriately at the moment of the gift presentation and then later reports that she is, for instance, wearing the Regia Bamboo socks several times a week and that they are like having a foot massage every time she takes a step and that they are wearing like iron and that no commercial sock could ever even hope to come close to these fabulous handknit socks that you made, Ellen.

Now that is the kind of response that gets you more handknit socks. And even cashmere gloves. Or someday a sweater. Take heed, ye readers and friends, and follow her!

That’s the right way to treat your knitter.

In honor of Emily’s visit to Boston, we hopped on the T and rode downtown to Newbury Street, home of Boston’s most upscale shopping and, as we discovered, a lone representative of bargain-hunting and frugality—the Newbury Street Filene’s Basement Outpost. Originally, we had planned to do exclusively the “window” variety of shopping. But there it was—right there alongside the Chanel Boutique, Emporio Armani, and Nanette Lepore—shining forth, a beacon of affordability.

Truly, it was a wonderful thing to behold! It was as if you had gone to an auction of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s and found that Lot 31—in a stunning departure from the norm—was exclusively black velvet paintings, including the classic Dogs at Cards.

But seriously, we love Filene’s Basement. And yesterday, we discovered a truly marvelous fact. I’m not even sure I should share this with you, but…well, okay. The Newbury Street Outpost of FB has the most incredible collection of provocative, yet cut-rate lingerie.

I haven’t spent much of my life thinking about lingerie, but all that changed recently when I read (and I believe this was in the New York Times) that a survey showed that something like 85% of French adults believed that, “lingerie is an important part of life.”

At the time, I thought, “Of course. They are French! Naturally they believe that there should be a line-item in the household budget for lingerie. How could it be otherwise?”

But in the days that followed, I couldn’t shake the thought that the French were onto something. Perhaps it was the dizzying prospect of getting married next June, a commitment that represents my first genuine foray into long-term monogamy—an unknown and, admittedly, somewhat daunting territory for me. Perhaps it was the pervasive notion that the French are simply a more sophisticated people than we are. Perhaps it was the Bordeaux. Or the brie. Or the chateaux. Or the liberté, fraternité, et egalité!

I don’t know. I don’t know. I just know that when I was confronted with racy lingerie at prices that were a good old American steal, it suddenly seemed perfectly legitimate and perhaps even imperative to start including that $15 or so as a line-item in our monthly household budget.

Because here’s what I’m realizing: successful long-term monogamy requires props.

In your heart, you know I’m right.

Now then, when you look at it from that perspective, bargain-basement props with lace, satin, and burn-out velvet details are both a rather tame and an economical place to start. Et voila, as we learn from the old chanson, everything old is new again!

Les Français. There’s a way in which they really never stop helping us win the revolution. Et vive la révolution, mes amis.

A Knife in the Heart

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I don’t talk much about this on the blog, since this is, after all, a knitting  blog, and I try to stick to the subject most of the time.  But some of you who know me personally know that my son, Harvey, is an Asperger’s child and has emotional and psychological issues that manifest themselves as problematic behaviors at home and at school.  We’ve struggled with one thing and another since he was a very little boy.

Some days are good, and some days are bad.  Today was a bad day.

Unlike a child with a different and more visible kind of disability, my child looks “normal.”  But he isn’t.  Because his problems show up mostly as behavioral issues (back in my school days, they called these kids “BD,” for “Behaviorally Disordered”), other people look at my husband and myself as though we must have done something wrong–we must be bad parents, because, after all, their kids don’t act like that, and by God, if they did, there would be hell to pay!  “Does he have consequences at home for his misbehavior at school?”  they ask.  “I know when my kids get in trouble at school, I make sure they have no life when they come home!”  No one really wants to face the possibility that you can do things as well as you can, be the best parents you can be, and still end up with a problem child.

Here’s what I tell people, when they stand still long enough to listen.

This is what’s it’s like:  Every so often, and you don’t know when it’s coming, someone comes up to you and stabs you in the heart with a knife.  You gasp, fall to your knees, weep and sob.  The knife wielder walks away.  Your heart breaks and bleeds, but you live on.  You go back to work and try to act as though nothing is wrong, as though your heart is not breaking, as though you are not weeping and sobbing and screaming. 

Instead of gaining the relief of death, you live on.  You get up the next morning and go about your business, knowing that the person will come back to stab you in the heart again.   Maybe today, maybe the next day.  Maybe next week.  It may even be two weeks.  But he’ll be back.  And then you’ll get to do it all over again.

Some days are good.  Some days are bad.

Today was a bad day.



Casino Royale

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

I would have posted earlier, but I was in a tryptophan coma until about an hour ago, thanks to, well, Thanksgiving.

Which looked like this:

All courtesy of Molly, shown here opening a bottle of sparking cider and transporting her new baby daughter,

and Ben, who disappeared when the camera was unsheathed, alas.

Among many other things we are grateful for in this life, we give thanks for Molly and Ben and their cooking skills. And for letting us come over from time to time and hog their baby, who is too young to protest much about being hogged.

Alex gave everything the old thumbs up,

while Aaron looked generally cheerful after a couple of bottles glasses of red wine.

Like Ben, I refused to be photographed, but I can assure you that I was wearing Icarus, as I have been at least part of every day since he was finished. Everything was lovely.

We’ve been in recovery ever since.

I haven’t really knitted all that much. For a while, I wondered if Icarus was my swan-song, if I had hit my dinger and was ready to hang up my cleats, but then I started these mitts:
Interweave Knits Winter Issue, Wine and Roses Mitts pattern by the marvelous JoLene, Colonial Rosewood DPNs in U.S. Size 1.5 (hey, don’t look at me…I don’t make up these sizes), and Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere 2-ply.

The green yarn, by the way, is just waste yarn that is holding the thumb gusset stitches.

A little closer up:

There is really nothing bad that one can say about working with luxury fiber, except that someday the project will be over.

Another thing I can’t find too much bad to say about is the new James Bond flick, Casino Royale, which we saw on Saturday—at the same showing, I’ll have you know, as John Kerry, whose amazing silver mane was unmistakeable across the crowded movie theater. For Boston, this was a serious celebrity sighting!

In any event, Casino Royale’s only major deficit (aside from some glaring plotholes and some downright goofy chase scenes), was the minimal number of shots of Daniel Craig emerging, buff and exquisitely rugged, from an ocean swim. There were probably five of these. Fifty wouldn’t have been too many.

Oh my! My, my, my, my, my! How is it possible that I have not noticed this actor before? What has he been in? Did he look like that before or is this a recent development?

I pointed out to Alex, purely academically of course, that Daniel Craig was a stone hottie. This was met with an unfavorable response.

“Well,” Alex grumbled, “he’s clearly been working out a lot, but you can still really tell that he’s pretty old.”

Later in the evening, Alex announced, apropos of nothing, that he was planning to go to the gym several times next week. I may be wrong, but I suspect this may be motivated by the buff-tastic appearance of Daniel Craig.

But I’m not asking too many questions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

The Thanksgiving meal has been eaten, and we are awaiting the arrival of more family to chow down on the Thanksgiving pies, which are, let’s face it, the best part of the meal.

apple pie 

Apple pie, fresh from the oven.

Thanksgiving pies 2006 

Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies.  Some of us can hardly wait, while some of us are practically in a wine-induced stupor.  (And some of us are glad that others of us get to do the cleanup.)

Happy Thanksgiving from the Knit Sisters!

Strawberries, chocolate, and champagne

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

Truly, this is a momentous day.

After a nice, long soaky bath,
These Eucalan baths are a little-known beauty secret of the stars.

and a torturous day stretched out on wires and pins (I could not bear to photograph it…it was hard enough to witness his suffering…), Icarus is ready for his debut:
Specs: Three full skeins Alchemy Haiku in lovely “Vermillion,” plus a single, sanity-sparing ball of Kidsilk Haze in “Villain;” U.S. size 3 needles, bamboo; blocking wires up the kazoo; 60+ pins; a case of Jacob’s Creek Shiraz-Cabernet; a bucket of tears; a stream of curses in four Indo-European languages.

But worth it. All of it, worth it. Indulge me, will you, while I show you yet another view?
Measurements: 76″ wingspan, 36″ from top edge to center point.

Aw, hell, days like this don’t come along very often:
A lone wing with portrait of Shelley in the background. Yes, she is the only mongrel in all of North America who has sat for a series of portraits. And yes, I know what you are thinking. But it’s a good kind of crazy.

Icarus in motion:
I got feathers, can’t I fly?

Icarus on the edge:

I’ve made things in the past that were cute, or functional, or delightful, or even a little ingenious. But I think this shawl is flat-out the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made.

I couldn’t be happier with it.

That pop you just heard? Champagne cork. The untrammelled celebration has begun Chez Mad Dog.

Raise a glass with me? And Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American readers.

Preparation is everything

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

I have been running around madly today, trying to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Here’s my food list for the holiday, living next to the holiday cookie list on the refrigerator door.

Thanksgiving list 

Note that pie is a major player in my holiday meal plan.  Also note that I do not intend to cook a turkey this year.  In fact, I never cook a turkey on Thanksgiving.  I always (well, almost always) make lasagne, salad, and bread and then we pig out on pie.  This year I plan on making three pies:  pumpkin, pecan, and apple.  Why, yes, it’s true that there are only three people in my family.  What of it?  (Pay no attention to the mention of carrot cake on the list above.  That’s another matter entirely….)

I’ve begun making preparations for Christmas-cookie-making, as well.  This starts with the traditional pulling out of all the cookie cookbooks in my library, shown here with pecans.

cookie cookbooks 

There are quite a few.  Some are not even pictured.

Then I make a list of people to whom I intend to give cookies.  Then I make a list of cookies I intend to bake.  (See above.)  Then I think about how many days are left until the day when I need to get these cookies in the mail or give them to neighbors.  Only then do I begin to feel a bit stressed.  But hope springs eternal.  This year I will get it all done!

Why, I’ve already finished one knitted gift!

And am progressing steadily on a second!

blue angora 

This is shaping up very nicely–a pretty little cloud of blue fluff.

No worries.

Boots                                       “I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.  A can of tuna should satisfy everyone for the holiday, doncha think?”

Houston, we have a problem

Monday, November 20th, 2006

True to form, Icarus was my problem child to the bitter, bitter end. As promised, I finished him yesterday, but closure without tears? It was simply not to be.

But first, we shall discuss the fun part of the weekend!

Saturday afternoon Alex and I hit the Harvard-Yale Game, a.k.a. “The Big Game,” although I’ll have you know that in California “The Big Game” is between Berkeley and Stanford, so “The Big Game” is geographically relative, you see, and—as we would say in the academy—this “Big Game” signifier has no stable relationship to the signified…oh, wait…crap, it does. No matter where it happpens, what is signified, in fact, is an afternoon during which the American pseudo-aristocracy gets smashed on sangria and Heineken while wearing insignia gear, reliving their more-or-less distant youth, and verbally abusing people exactly like themselves who happen to have gone to another school.

Like so much that human beings do, it is the triumph of pure reason and good clean fun. Hoo-hah!

We never made it to the actual game, but we enjoyed the tailgate party greatly because we got to see our delightful friend, the Incomparable Kate—up from D.C. for the occasion—and meet her lovely mother and sister.
The Balersteins in full chat mode. (Photo courtesy of the Incomparable Kate.)

So far, a great weekend! The trouble began when we returned home and I decided to power through the last 2.5 rows of Icarus.

In an attempt to ease the pain of 550+ stitch rows, I turned on PBS. Soon Zeno had joined me to watch a semi-fascinating documentary program on Lee Harvey Oswald, a show which attempted to answer one of the age-old questions that still plague us today: Was Lee Harvey Oswald part of a conspiracy?
Ever since I was a little kitten, I’ve believed that Oswald acted alone.

Other questions in this category, by the way, include:
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Did he fall or was he pushed?
What puts the “ape” in “apricot”?
What does she got that I ain’t got?
Shaken or stirred?

Zeno was remarkably attentive to the Oswald documentary, which makes me suspect that he is hatching his own plot to assassinate the president.

But then just as Oswald got his fateful job at the Texas School Book Depository…tragedy struck. Yes, with only two-thirds of the bind-off remaining, I ran out of yarn. Frankly, if someone had chosen to assassinate me at that moment, I might have regarded it as a tender mercy.

Once I had recovered my equilibrium, however, I realized that solutions that didn’t involve bullets might be in the offing.

I trundled off to Woolcott as soon as it opened on Sunday afternoon. My first stab at a remedy went something like this:
Kidsilk Spray in a deeper set of pinks. What’s not to like?

Lots, as it turns out. I bound off about 50 stitches, took a look, and realized to my horror that a beautiful handcrafted item had just been turned into a “Loving-Hands-at-Home” monstrosity. The darker burgundy was lovely, but where it shaded into a loud fuschia, it fought with Icarus’s dusty pink and looked as garish and out of place as a man wearing a clown suit in a cathedral.

For the second time, I tinked back a bind-off in mohair. Only the fact that I was in a public place kept me from howling, weeping, and rending my garments.

In defeat, I trudged back to Woolcott. This time, relief and succor presented itself in the form of a ball of Kidsilk Haze in a deep chocolate brown shade the Rowan folk call “Villain.” Misnomer. This yarn was no villain! It was my savior:
Alchemy Haiku and Kidsilk Haze. Two great laceweight mohairs that look great together!

Pale strawberry feathers with a chocolate edge.

A little stitch detail.

I gotta tell you, although I know that the propensity to rationalize in disastrous circumstances is great, I really am convinced that this shawl looks better with a darker edge than it would in all one color. I am just in love with the contrast and definition that “Villain” provides. Besides, who doesn’t love an outlaw?

And please. This is Icarus. We all know darn well that if you fly too near the sun, you’re gonna singe the tips of your feathers.

Back on Wednesday with a blocked and finished object! The excitement Chez Mad Dog is almost too great to contain!

It just felt good

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

I felted the purple and pink tote bag this morning.  Here’s how she turned out:

felted tote bag 

Although I have a front-loading washing machine, and there has been much discussion among knitters I know about felting items in a front-loader, I myself have had no problems at all getting things to felt in my washer.  In fact, even though various instructions you read would have you open the washer from time to time throughout the cycle, I blithely throw everything in (everything being the item to be felted and some towels or rags or something), set the washer on “hot wash, cold rinse,” close the door, push the button, and walk away, only to return when the washer has gone through its complete cycle, including the spin cycle.  I realize that this demonstrates a great deal of faith on my part, but so far it’s worked out fine, and I’ve made a number of different felted things.  (Ask Ellen for a picture of Zeno’s cat bed.)

Here’s a closer view:

felted tote bag 

Oh, and, by the way, I was wrong about the two rows of applied I-cord at the top of this thing.  There were three rows.  Enough said. 

Hugo says:

Hugo 11-18-06 

“Um, no offense, Mom, but I don’t really care about your felted bag.  Can’t you take me for a little walk?”

Melinda asked about my 5-pitch combs.  You can read more about them and see pictures here and here.  They are some of my most heavily-used tools.  I really don’t use my hand-cards since I acquired and learned how to use the combs.  Their great beauty is that they can take a dirty, messy fleece (like the one I pictured on Wednesday) and turn it into something beautiful.  It’s really somewhat addictive–seeing what’s going to come out of the combs at the end of the process.

Monica, I do think the guard hair would look great dyed in some jewel-like color.  I hadn’t thought of that–thanks for the suggestion!