Archive for January, 2007

A time for congratulations

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

My lovely friend Tope passed her big, bad oral exam this afternoon and is now, except for a couple of technicalities, “All But Disseration.” (She too is an historian of science.)

Join me in congratulating her on this feat, will you? Just to put this in perspective, we’re talking here about six months of preparation, a list of 250 books, three to five professors, and one graduate student on the hot seat.

Let’s just say that under the best of circumstances, this is a daunting situation.

But in this case, a minor, diabolical SNAFU was added to the mix: Tope had been telling us for weeks that her exam was at 2 p.m. on January 31st. So she was in a teaching assistants’ meeting just slightly after noon when the department administrator burst in, interrupted, and said, “Tope, your oral exam was supposed to start at noon.”

Excusing herself, no doubt first to regurgitate her lunch, Tope hurried off, late to her own exam. Nasser later reported that Tope had turned “ashen,” and Alex added that, “really, she did not look well at all.”

Nonetheless, she turned in an excellent performance. In spite of starting out under circumstances that rival your most horrifying academic nightmares. Impressive, very impressive indeed.

In fact, the only person I know with a more nightmarish story about orals was a guy in my program who received a phone call at home the night before his exam—a call that interrupted his busy evening of panicking, retching, and wringing his hands—to inform him that his exam would be cancelled because one of his professors had died. His immediate response, which he would later deeply regret, was, “How could he do this to me?!?”

Tope was good enough to stop by the yarn store after her exam to give us the good news and have a look at “Time Out of Mind.”
sweater back.png
Time may or may not be on my side, but here is Time’s backside.

sweater front.png
The front, in progress.

A couple of technical things to note about the sweater: if you do a similar sweater in Malabrigo, do make sure that you alternate balls of yarn as you knit.

Malabrigo, with their spurious “dye lots,” tries to deceive you into thinking that if you buy skeins that are all in one dye lot, you will have uniform skeins. Do not fall for this trick. I have eight skeins from the same dye lot, yet two of them are no more like the others than a didgeridoo is like a bull moose. They have to be intermingled.

This is in no way a criticism of this yarn, which I love. Just a word of advice.

Secondly, I plan to surprise you with the neckline. Many thanks to all of those who offered their wisdom on this question a while back! Soon, all will be revealed…

Play it again, Sarah

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

I have been making progress on my Cherry Tree Hill socks. 

Cherry Tree Hill socks 1-28-07                                                       As you can see from the above picture, the first sock is done, and I have a good start on the second.  This yarn is gorgeous to work with, but it is so soft that I wonder how it will hold up when I actually wear these.  After all, it is merino, so I’m afraid of it pilling pretty badly.  I suppose only time will tell.

I followed the pattern pretty closely on these–the Twin Rib sock from Charlene Schurch’s Sensational Knitted Socks.  The only thing I changed was to work quite a few more rows of heel flap than she calls for.  Oh, and I changed the heel stitch heel flap to an eye-of-partridge (or eye-of-newt, as my dear sis would say) heel flap, just because I like the way it looks.

Cherry Tree Hill socks heel flap

In other news, a few months ago I recklessly agreed to play the piano in a spring concert at my church.  Back then, it seemed as though spring would never come, and that I would never have to play pay the piper.  But now, April 29 is fast approaching, and I’m starting to get a little nervous.  I’m staring down thirty minutes of solo piano, in much the same way that one might stare down a gun barrel.

I’ll be playing this:

music                          Bach’s Toccata in D-major (three movements–what was I thinking?)

And maybe this:

Samuel Barber Waltz                           A waltz by Samuel Barber–beautiful and dissonant.

Among other things.

Oh, Lord.  I’m going to quit writing this post right now and go practice.

The sugarplum lumberjack

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Over the weekend, in addition to enjoying a number of delectable meals composed of broiled, skinless chicken, oyster crackers, and multivitamins, I also finished my NSF proposal. My guts immediately showed a marked improvement, making it abundantly clear that the NSF hates my guts.

The feeling, readers, is mutual.

Zeno took to camping out surreptitiously in my office chair during my ginger ale breaks:
I was helping you by checking your citations. I swear!

I caught him there again today:
Man that works as hard as I do all night—wink, wink!—needs his afternoon nap, know what I’m sayin’?

You may have noticed the beautiful Clapotis that forms such a lovely backdrop for this invasive pest of a cat. My sister made that for me from handspun. It is absolutely wonderful. I understand why Zeno wants to sit close to it, but I do not approve.

But enough about that fool cat. Back to our weekend! So in between sparring bouts with both my grant proposal and Zeno, I also participated in a ballet class at my gym. As you know, I like to learn new things and enjoy new experiences, and I had been eyeing this class for some time. My sister and I briefly took ballet lessons as children, so I figured I could more or less manage, especially given that a ballet class at a gym ain’t exactly auditions for the ABT.

You may have also realized that at certain moments I am overconfident in my abilities.

My fondest hope now can only be that my disastrous flailing, my uncoordinated flinging about of limbs, my thuddingly earthbound attempts at leaps were of some comic value to the other women in the class. None of them actually pointed and laughed, but that merely indicates that they have good manners. Or absolutely no sense of humor.

But no experience is wasted on the lifelong learner! I learned, for instance, that even if you are an unspeakably bad dancer, the muscles in your legs will ache in funny spots the following day. I am wearing these aches as a proud mark of having given my all in a futile enterprise.

In fact, I’d really like to have a small trophy to commemorate my dancing days. Something on the order of the one I got at the age of ten after a fruitless and intermittently humiliating season of t-ball. While other children received the “Most Valuable Batter” or “Most Valuable Outfielder” awards, I and others of my accursed kind—the unathletic child—received a small trophy with a cheap plastic batter atop. The little plaque glued to its fake marble base read, “T-Ball: I Tried.”

Ballet: I Tried.

The afternoon’s other lesson was this: there is a reason why slightly round (but still lovely, of course), middle-aged (but still vigorous, heaven knows) women are not actively sought out by the American Ballet Theater and the New York City Ballet and the like. And the reason is that when we dance, we look like great, lumbering hippopotami. No one, frankly, would pay a dime to watch it, unless he badly needed a chuckle.

I had an idea about how to turn my dancing into a money-making venture, though. Any of you who think you might be dancers of my stripe are welcome to go in on this. Here’s the plan: we hire a recital hall and we advertise free admission to a sensational new dance performance.

Yes, admission will be free. But they’ll have to pay, and pay dearly, to be allowed to leave.

Believe me, we’ll be rich women before the night is through.

No strings attached

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

As I wrote last week, I finished a pair of socks for Rob recently.  He has put them into heavy wearing rotation, which of course warms the little cockles of my heart.  There’s nothing like having someone really enjoy what you have made for them to make a knitter feel good.

What doesn’t make me feel so good?

Rob's socks 1-28-07 

The wear and tear that one area of the ribbing has received.  Can you see it in the picture above?  There are matching pulled/fuzzy places on each sock from one particular pair of boots that Rob wears.  Evidently these boots have a rough place on their upper edge that plays havoc with socks.

This really brings the issue of gift-giving into question for me, especially handknit gifts.  On the one hand, when I give someone a gift, it now belongs to them.  No strings attached.  Theoretically, they would be within their rights to throw it in the trash, use it to polish their furniture, give it to their dog to chew on.  It’s not mine anymore, right?  So why should I care?  After all, I’ve had the pleasure of making it, and knitting is all about the process.

“But wait!,” the other, more selfish part of me says.  I spent lots of time on that handknit gift.  There are many, many stitches in those socks.  The truth is, I do care what people do with the handknit gifts I give them.  If someone actually polished furniture with a pair of my handknit socks, I would be completely outraged and hurt.  That person would certainly never, ever get another pair of socks from me.  I think we all know that knitting is also about the product.

Of course, the truth in this case lies somewhere in the middle, as is so often true.  If Rob didn’t like those socks so much, he wouldn’t wear them at all, which would really make me angry.  One could argue correctly that those little pulled/fuzzy places are just natural wear and tear, and not a result of carelessness on his part. 

I once heard a story about Maurice Sendak that went something like this:  Sendak drew a little picture for a child and sent it to him.  He later learned that the child had loved the picture so much that he had eaten it.  Sendak said that he thought that was truly wonderful and the best compliment he could receive.

So this is what I have to tell myself about handknit gifts:  the best compliment I could get would be for someone to absolutely use up my knitting–to wear or use it to shreds.  To contact me some time later and say, “Uh, you know those socks you made for me?  Well, I wore them so much that they’re full of holes.  Can you make me another pair?”

Just not in the first week, OK?

High (fiber) times

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Well, here we are, friends, at the end of what can only be described as a crap-tastic week Chez Mad Dog!

The NSF grant proposal, as you know, has not ceased to kick me relentlessly in the arse, an arse-kicking that I thought would be over last night at the absolute latest, but which has instead continued into today and promises to persist for at least three or four more hours tomorrow!

Like any beating, it’s bound to feel good when it quits!

Any attempt to describe the mind-numbing agony of absurd detail that this proposal demands would, I’m sure, be futile. Our powers are only so great. But here’s a little taste: among its various insults to your discretion and intelligence, the proposal has a section in which you are called upon to speak of yourself in the THIRD PERSON.

As in, “Ellen Bales will carry out vital research that will not only excite your senses and tickle your fancy, but will also end the war in Iraq and bring food to those who hunger, water to those who thirst. Because frankly, that’s the kind of person Ellen Bales is. People not only love Ellen Bales, they envy her!”

I’m the Bob Dole of the academy. The shame is so great that I may have to start wearing a disguise.

Meanwhile, the condition of the Bales-Wellerstein homestead has continued to deteriorate and no one has had a decent meal around here for about two weeks.

“Time” was the one bright spot in an otherwise dark and cold week:
Here you can see where I split the sweater for the arm holes.

The glorious back.

How it would look if you were an ant.

But speaking of food, I faced one further, and possibly even more grave, insult this week. Unbeknownst to you, but, um, knownst to me—and how!—I have for some time been having troubles with my guts. Trouble with your guts is a bad kind of trouble, because we all know perfectly well that if you go to your doctor and tell her that you are having gut troubles, she will offer to “help” you by running a camera up your backside and into your guts and seeing what she can see.

A procedure that she will cavalierly describe as, “no big deal.”

Because to her, you see, it is “no big deal.” If that camera were rooting around in her guts, the “deal” would be much, much bigger. Much.

As proof that this week—bad though it was—could have been even worse, I was not subjected to the little camera. I was, however, diagnosed with mild “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” and placed on a special diet.

This, dear friends, is the era of diagnosis. Thirty or forty years ago, we would have just said, “Well, you know how Grandma got so there were so many things that didn’t agree with her. I reckon I’m gettin’ to be like Grandma.” Today, we have “IBS” and drugs and special diets.

We also have this:
I got a little confused when Dr. F. told me I needed more fiber in my diet. So I purchased the Benefiber and a few extra balls of yarn.

So in addition to my Benefiber—mmm, mmm!—I can also have (and I shall start at the top of the list, adding commentary as I go):

1. Water and ginger ale, although the pamphlet hastens to add that, “Many types of flavored, non-carbonated water are now available!” I suppose one is meant to exclaim, “Well, then, Skimpole, you see, things aren’t so bad after all! We are to have YET ANOTHER beverage choice!”

2. White or (are you ready for this?) brown rice.

3. Broiled fish.

4. Broiled, skinless chicken.

5. Broiled, skinless turkey.

6. Soft-boiled eggs. There is no explanation offered for the exclusion of hard-boiled eggs, but I suspect conspiracy.

7. (At this point in the list, many of those who have been placed on the special diet are already weeping quietly in the corner, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.) Number Seven is…a baked potato without the skin! And then, in a powerful example of kicking the dieter while she is already hungry and deprived, “DO NOT EAT FRIED POTATOES!” (Emphasis original.)

Well, fine, then. Take your crappy old French fries and stick ’em where the little camera goes. I got me a case of ginger ale and I’m ready to par-tay!

8. Toast. Right.

9. Cheerios without milk. Talk about taking the “cheer” out of Cheerios.

10. Oyster crackers. But you ain’t getting no chowder with that.

As the diet goes on in this deflating and bland vein, you find yourself kind of slumping in your chair, only to be redeemed by Number Thirty-Two:

Graham crackers!

By the time you get to Number Thirty-Two, graham crackers sound like chocolate torte. You are so grateful! Graham crackers! I get to eat graham crackers!

But there are more special treats in store for baby! Number Thirty-Three?

Fruit cocktail!

Returning to its Scrooge-like abstemiousness, the diet ends a few items later with a dispiriting pair of approved “foods”:

39. Small amounts of oleomargarine. (Really, now, who uses the word “oleomargarine” any more?)

40. Multivitamins.

Now, I am no nutritionist, but last I checked, a multivitamin is not a food. Buzz. I’m sorry. Number Forty is disqualified from the foods list.

Whaddya say we replace it with pulled pork?


Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Although I haven’t been actively working on the Handsome Triangle shawl for a week or so, I have been thinking about it a good deal.  Especially thinking about how much fun it will be to wear it and how flirty, coy, and feminine that ruffled edging will be. 

Handsome Triangle with ruffle 

Actually, I don’t think that many people who know me well would describe me as flirty or coy or even that feminine in the traditional sense.  Yet I find myself drawn to these ultra-feminine shawls–in fact, I also own the pattern for the “Flirty Ruffles Shawl” from Fiddlesticks Knitting and a large cone of Zephyr wool/silk with which to make it.

Flirty Ruffles shawl and Zephyr yarn

Who among us hasn’t fallen in love with a project that just doesn’t really fit the public image we’ve created for ourselves?  It’s part of the magic of knitting–the ability to create a new persona for myself with yarn, skill, and my own two hands.  To create the persona while creating the cloth–to craft a new self and be able to literally try it on for size.  To give myself the gift of living, for a little while, a different kind of life as a different kind of woman:  the kind of woman who wears ruffles, who flirts outrageously, who is unabashedly selfish, who can make strange men fall in love with her on sight.

It’s a lot to expect from a ruffled shawl, I know.  Some day, when the shawl is done, I’ll let you know how that woman is doing. 

A thousand words

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Today we had
Snow, that is, not a new, well-kept backyard. Sadly.

So I had to put
Obviously Shelley mistook her paw wax for a snack at some point, which admittedly is better than mistaking, say, a chair for a snack. Which is not unknown among her canine brethren.

on these.
Forming an “invisible boot,” you see.

Like most grooming or canine-improvement strategies of mine, this one was met with barely disguised impatience and disdain from the dog herself.
Keep it up, and one day I will eat a chair. Your favorite chair.

But it was good knitting weather.

Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation grant proposal “process” is kicking my butt from here to Novosibirsk. But stay tuned! I’ll give you the full report on life, grant applications, and what it’s like to have your arse relentlessly kicked…that is, when this infernal process is over.

Wasn’t it Richard Russo who so eloquently remarked that getting a Ph.D. and surviving the tenure process was like, “being the winner of a shit-eating contest”? Something to ponder, something to ponder…

The Sarah report

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

First of all, many thanks to Ellen for taking over the blog last week.  “Time” is looking seriously beautiful!  As always, she does good work, doesn’t she?

I myself have finished Rob’s striped socks,

Rob's socks                                                               and he has already worn them once.  They even match exactly, a first for me in knitting socks from self-striping yarns.

Yarn:  Regia 4-ply Patch Antik Colors, 75% wool, 25% polyamide  

Pattern:  My standard sock “recipe” taken from Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Simple Socks Plain and Fancy.  (Clearly, these are of the “plain” variety.)

And I have started a new pair of socks for me,

Cherry Tree Hill sock                                     from a pattern in Charlene Schurch’s Sensational Knitted Socks.  This is Cherry Tree Hill Supersock which I acquired on ebay as a mill end.

Cherry Tree Hill supersock

I got 10 oz. of this colorway, which equals over 1,000 yards–more than enough to make two pairs of socks.  This seller has these Cherry Tree Hill mill ends all the time:  check it out!  She regularly has both solids and variegateds.

I’ve done a bit of spinning on the Suffolk wool.

Suffolk yarn on bobbin                                              Not a full bobbin yet, but it’s getting there.

The one knitting project which has gone nowhere over the last week?  Why, The Handsome Triangle shawl, of course!  But never fear, I will return to it in time…

It’s good to be back!

In which progress is made and a new yarn is selected

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

As Lorinda has noted, Time is on my side:
And soon, I hope, on my back.

Time, it must be said, flies when you are having fun.

Meanwhile, in the spendthrift-and-gluttony sector of my existence, I was working at the shop this afternoon and without meaning to at all, I somehow ended up with a couple of skeins of this sumptuous stuff:
Claudia’s Hand Painted lace-weight silk in colorway chocolate cherry.

Yes, I realize that the colors are astoundingly similar to those I’m using for Time, but I believe that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. I draw guidance from the old adage, “You can never be too thin or too rich or have too much yarn in various shades of red and pink.”

Or as one of my favorite customers—a woman who is not only utterly delightful, but who also has a yarn habit that…well, let’s just say she’s what we’d call as “heavy user” if we were dealing drugs…or for that matter if we were McDonald’s—has been known to say, “My life’s goal is to convert all my money into yarn and die bankrupt and heavily insulated.”

Hear, hear!

Don’t let that sunshine fool ya

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Time out of mind is a growing boy (dog is included for scale):
Hey, this smells vaguely like…sheep…

A more sober photograph:
Still life with Time, wine glasses, and the golden egg. The allegorical significance of all this is completely obscure.

I’m a mere 3.5 inches away from separating it into front and back for the sleeves. Which is a damn good thing too because in spite of the bright sunshine, the temperature here has suddenly become miserably cold. I think we’re all especially miserable because the remarkable and unseasonable run of warm weather we’ve had up to now makes it seem even more cold. And unjust. And possibly life-threatening!

I hereby take back every ill-considered thing I said before about the 60-70 degree weather in January being weird, or possibly an ominous bellwether of global warming, or unsettling and wrong, or “too much like April,” or a sure sign of the apocalypse.

That weather wasn’t wrong. I was wrong. And now I’m paying for my mistake, one frozen toe at a time.

Anyway, I need this sweater. To complement the wool hat that I am now wearing both indoors and out.

I have taken all of your suggestions about the neckline under advisement, by the way, but I reserve the right to make an executive decision when the time comes. You’ve given me plenty to think about, though, and I appreciate it. I will endeavor to choose a style that does not make my head look like a stump.

Huh. Now that you mention it, I do see the resemblance.

I don’t know what I would do without Shelley. She keeps me young.