Archive for August, 2007

The pilgrimage

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

It has pained me to be so long gone from the blog. I was in the D.C. area, working at the National Archive:
Here we have the Reading Room for Textual Records. Feast your eyes, oh ye sons and daughters of man, for truly it is a wondrous place! Lo, a place of pilgrimage for all lowly historians and all the wretched of the Earth, for surely there is no woman so wretched as she who must slog through 600 unsorted boxes of EPA records. Oh Lord, hear her lament about archival work!

I was looking at these:
Only there were many, many carts just like this, chock-a-block with boxes full of musty old documents. Weep, weep, for there is nothing else for it!

There was not, however, internet access. The suffering was very great.

In the evenings, however, I finished the Elephant Baby Sweater.
I am so proud!

Rowan Pure Wool DK and Debbie Bliss Rialto, comin’ at ya! I did this on U.S. Size 3 and 5 needles, the new Addi Turbo lace needles in fact. It was great fun. I even followed the pattern for once. Well, more or less.

More when we return tomorrow about D.C. and my adventures there…

Glad to be back!

Are you working on something new?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Well, yes and no.

As it happens, my new job (well, it’s not really a new job, just a different position in the same old job) looks like it’s going to afford me lots of knitting time.  Of course, the knitting needs to be smallish, portable, and somewhat mindless.  And what fits that description better than socks, I ask you?  Well, nothing, that’s what.  So it seems that I’m going to get lots of socks made this year.

I am virtually finished with the soldier socks.  The second one just needs a bindoff, and then both need to have the ends worked in.

soldier socks

After I finish these, I plan on starting a pair for my friend H., whom I have promised a pair of socks for winter.  (Practically as soon as I told him that, he started asking me, “How are my socks coming?”)  Of course, they will be in subdued and masculine colors, appropriate to his manly pride.  (See here and here.)  Fortunately, I did not have to go through the entire and dreaded “interview” for the proposed socks, just gave him two balls of yarn from which to choose.

In the “something new” category, I have been playing around again with some ribbon yarn with which I have played around before.  (That sounds a little kinky, doesn’t it?  Well, I’ll just let you think whatever you want…)  After much trial and error, I have settled on a simple garter rib pattern with V-neck shaping.

sweater swatch

This is just a swatch, although I realize that it does actually look like a little sweater front.  (“Little” being the operative word there.)  I’m envisioning this as a somewhat fitted, short-sleeve sweater with raglan shoulder shaping.  Minimal finishing–just a self-finishing neckline which you can see in the photo above.

For those of you who might be wondering, no, I never have finished Rumpelstiltskin.  It is sitting on my couch in a wad, reproaching me silently every time I look at it.  So I don’t look at it.

I am coming along with projects in my new house, including my stated goal of decorating  with my vast supply of yarn and fiber.

basket of fiber

basket of fiber

I’m running out of baskets.  Time to a) hit up the garage sales again and/or b) get creative.  Do you think it would be in poor taste to just put giant wads of unspun fiber all around the house?

Outside looking in

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

By popular demand (well, OK, really just Jennifer–hi Jennifer!), I’ve decided to post a little virtual tour of the outside of my new house.

Starting with, naturally, the front door.

door of house 8-22-07

The house faces west.

And here’s the entire front side (the west side, as established above.)

front of house 8-22-07 

Looking down the sidewalk to the south.  The cemetery is a block away, and a very nice place to walk Hugo.

looking to the south 8-22-07

See those cool stone (maybe concrete) square pillars?  Those have been there for many moons, and are one of my favorite features of the yard.  Here’s a closeup.

stone pillar 

This is the southeast corner of the yard; the tree in the back corner is an elm, and in the foreground there are some kind of berry canes–I’m looking forward to finding out what kind next summer.

southeast corner 8-22-07

Moving on around the house in a counter-clockwise fashion, this is a view of the back door and the small back deck.

back door and deck 8-22-07 

The northeast corner of the house, and some of the trees in the backyard.

northeast corner 8-22-07 

The north yard.  I think those two trees there are just the perfect distance apart to support a hammock.

north side of house 8-22-07 

The large picture window on the north side.

north side of house 8-22-07 

And, moving back around to the front of the house, the large tree right outside the front door, which is a favorite with the local cats.

tree 8-22-07 

There’s one now!

kitty in the tree 8-20-07 

This drives Hugo bonkers, as you can imagine.   He can see those kitties in the tree out the front window, but he can’t get to them. 

He lives in a constant state of anxiety tempered with hope, as do I.

And the celebration continues…

Monday, August 20th, 2007

I am pleased to report that the Elephant Baby Sweater is no longer just a vest, but is growing a sleeve:
This was the state of things last night at 6 p.m. Sleeve fashioned from the top down on two circular needles—same method I use for socks.

And growing and growing and growing:
Around 7:15 last night. Visible progress!

I love doing sleeves from the top down (and these are particularly easy because they’re just a drop sleeve, no sleeve cap, no short rows, no fuss, no muss), not least because the sleeves get smaller and smaller as you go down. In this case, I started out with only a few more stitches than would be involved in your average sock and before you could say “Is that a trunk you got there or are you just happy to see me?” I was down in the neighborhood of 40 stitches or so.

And then you can just fly along.

For a project that involves the dreaded intarsia, the Elephant Baby has really given me absolutely no trouble at all. In an unusual move, I have actually followed the pattern, improvising only in the area of assembly, where I have done as I damn well pleased, thank you very much. (Mainly, I’ve saved myself from the awful fate of seaming up the sleeves, an activity I find preferable only to eating live worms.)

All this knitting was done on our sunporch in the most gorgeous weather imaginable,

more like mid-September than mid-August. The quality of the light was wonderful—not quite Napa Valley, but for Eastern Massachusetts, about as good as it gets.

Shelley and I were keeping the celebration going,
Still life with champagne flute, cell phone, mechanical pencil and Saturday crossword.

and really, well and truly, relaxing.
And let’s face it, people, it’s not like she’s the most relaxed person OR I’m the most relaxed dog you’ll ever meet.

Alex later joined us for a somewhat peculiar dinner of chicken (cooked on the grill), blue corn chips, guacamole, and bing cherries. It remains unclear what unifies those foods or how they complement each other, but sometimes that’s the way it is Chez Mad Dog. I learned as a child that one is meant to be grateful for even peculiar dinners, and so I am. Especially those of which I myself am the author.

And so concluded another delightful weekend Chez Mad Dog, where the celebration never ends.

Oh, except for one thing: Shelley came in from the yard on Saturday night with just the tiniest flecks of blood on her paws and muzzle. Not a lot of blood, just a little. After I made the nervous-dog-mother’s full body check to ascertain that my adorable little pup was not herself bleeding (she was completely sound and unhurt), I concluded that she must have, well, killed some very small animal in the backyard.

In subsequent searches, no body was found. (As an aside, this raises an inevitable question: did Jimmy Hoffa have any enemies who were…dogs?)

Shelley claims that she was just doing her job.

Me? I’m committed to keeping the celebration going. My dog is my hero because…when she kills a small animal, she’s smart enough to think to hide the corpse.

Bless her little canine heart.

Keeping the celebration going

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Alex and I read with some interest the article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about couples in group marriage counseling. Well, okay, we read it with some interest and some alarm, frankly, because while it was clearly intended to leave you with the impression that marriage is a worthwhile enterprise—deep, mysterious, complex, rewarding, and so on and so forth—it also led you to the gnawing and inescapable conclusion that it is grindingly difficult.

And nearly impossible to get right.
Here’s something I got right, I believe: the neckband of my elephant sweater. This is an in-progress photo of it before I seamed the shoulder and the edges of the band. I like the crisp way the V of the V-neck turned out.

Well, crap. And here I thought that life was going to be a field of daisies, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou from here on out. Guess my parade just got rained out.

But seriously, we’ve only been married about two months at this point, and I think I can fairly say that I’ve never been happier. According to the therapists in this article, though, that is because at the beginning it is easier to “keep the celebration going.”

Apparently, “keeping the celebration going,” as one of them put it, is the key to long-term happiness. Since this is touchy-feely psychobabbly kind of talk, I will translate. At no extra charge!

What they mean is that you have to openly, frequently, and ebulliently take delight in your spouse’s or partner’s achievements, good qualities, and talents, remarking often and to all who will listen on the heroic qualities of your spouse, his or her exceptional cleverness and preternatural good looks, his or her recent lucrative promotion at work, and how much you appreciate the $400,000 in-ground tiled swimming pool inspired by the pools at Hearst Castle that he or she is building for you in your commodious backyard.

After a few months of this, you will have the best marriage on your block! Which will be important because you will no longer have any friends.
Elephant Sweater, the Vest Years. Alex, if you are reading, I’ll be expecting to overhear you telling everyone about the amazing achievement that this sweater represents. Feel free to embellish. The phrase “master knitter” may be a useful one in that connection.

Okay, they never said anything about boasting about a swimming pool. But they did suggest that you begin sentences, “My husband is my hero because…” That sentence could end any number of ways, of course. How about “…he got paroled early from the penitentiary over in Leavenworth because of good behavior.” Or “…he drank a whole fifth of Jack Daniels in forty-five minutes and it didn’t kill him.” Maybe “…he got in a brawl with a guy up at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this year but he didn’t use a tire iron.” Or how about “…he was voted the area’s Most Convincing Elvis Imitator at the County Fair and he had the prize pumpkin.”

The point is, you’ve got to focus on the good in a man.

Admittedly, “keeping the celebration going” has become a running joke Chez Mad Dog, but even so Alex says we’re doing a great job of it. Mainly because we still have a case of champagne left over from the wedding at the foot of the basement stairs.

And finally…
…a completely gratuitous canted shot of elephant sweater.

Keepin’ the celebration going, people, keepin’ it going!

Moving in and moving on

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Over the past week I have been moving in to my new house.  It’s hard to describe how I feel about this; I wasn’t really prepared for how thrilling it would be to have my own space:  mine, all mine.

I can do things like put beautiful yarn in baskets and set them around the house, just because I like to see them there.

decorating with yarn 

Put my spinning wheel in the middle of the room if I want to.  Or both wheels, for that matter.

spinning wheel  

Have Hugo back with me.

Hugo 8-14-07 

Put books and bookshelves wherever I wish.

bookshelf in corner 

Decide by myself where every little thing goes in the kitchen.

kitchen 8-14-07

Fill up all the storage space with fiber.

storage in bedroom 

Buy my own tools.


And use them to put up towel bars just where I would like them.

towel bar 

As well as an entire closet system.  (I put this up by myself this morning–very empowering.)

closet system

If things don’t get done (which is also happening, let’s face it), I have no one to blame but myself.  But as things do get done, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Tomorrow:  mow the lawn and get all my clothes hung up on the new closet system.

Moving on.  Focus.  Set goals.

As high as an elephant’s eye

Monday, August 13th, 2007

As you may have noticed, I pretty much never do intarsia. Okay, I never do intarsia.

So I feel the need to make a big ole whoop-de-do about this intarsia elephant I knit a couple of days back:
Humor me, will you? But truly, is it not cunning?

I happen to have taken a close-up…
…because I am especially proud of that eye, which is neither too loose nor too tight, but miraculously just right. Believe me, it isn’t skill. More like beginner’s luck.

I recognize that little malicious tree elves have messed with the tension of some of the stitches, but I remain hopeful that blocking will correct all their sins. And maybe even some of mine.

Meanwhile, from the Captain Obvious School of Package Design and Marketing, comes the text for the thirty-six pack of Mountain Dew!

Just in case you weren’t paying any attention whatsoever in math class. Or are easily amazed by simple mathematical facts.

Note that there is nothing said about a price break or it being a better deal than the smaller packages or anything of the sort. Nope. You are simply meant to rejoice in the exciting numerical truth that thirty-six is half again as much as twenty-four!

And who among us wouldn’t, really? It is, after all, the simple pleasures…

Diving through

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Along with all the other enchanting events of this summer—like getting married to a really incredible man on a sunny day at a lighthouse when I had previously given up all hope of getting married again at all and then having my sister make me some bang-up fancy cakes—my friend Red, the surfer, taught me how to swim in the ocean while we were in North Carolina.

I mean properly.

Those of us who grew up landlocked do not necessarily know how to swim in the sea. In fact, I was thirteen before I ever even saw the Atlantic Ocean and twenty-three before I laid eyes on the Pacific.
And at this rate, I’ll be forty-three before I finish this elephant sweater.

I do however know from soybeans and feeder corn and can, upon request, do a perfectly credible imitation of a 1970s-era radio farm commodities report, the “shipping news” of the Midwest.

The following can only be properly delivered while wearing a John Deere cap. (There is also no talking or commentary between the individual commodity listings. The basic information should be enough for you; there is no need to carry on about it or embellish it. Who do you think you are, some kind of fast-talking East Coast economist? My God man, this is Southwest Iowa, not Wall Street!)

Soybeans, up two.

(Long pause to savor this good news. Silently.)

Feeder corn, down three.

(Another long pause to allow this ominous drop to sink in.)

Milo, up four…

And so forth. It’s a kind of poetry to me. But it doesn’t teach you how to deal with waves.

Last summer, I mistakenly thought I knew how to swim in the Atlantic, which was all well and good until I got hit by a big, big wave. I mean, I stood there and got hit.

The wave broke over my head, swamped me, picked me up, turned me upside down, and smashed me on the beach. Smash, scrape, smash! I had scrapes and sandburn and a bathing suit full of tiny rocks and sand. So roundly was I dashed against the beach that there were little stones and sand in between the lining of my bathing suit and the outer layer.

So there I am sitting on the beach in a tangle of my own limbs, choking up salt water, spitting up small fish, gathering up what tiny shreds are left of my dignity, not to mention my bathing suit, and thinking, “Guess I don’t have the hang of this.”
I finished this Cherry Tree Hill sock, though. (Shown here with canine head.)

This summer, Red showed me that when a wave is about to hit you—and in particular to break right over your head—you just hold your breath, make like a fish, and dive right through it.

In two seconds, you are out on the other side, none the worse for wear and ready to work with the next wave. But that’s the key, you see, a fact that I now understand. You have to work with the wave, you can’t fight it. You can’t stand there like a oak tree and expect a good outcome. You gotta move like a fish, even though instinctively it seems like diving through a big wave like that is the first step down the path toward a drowning death.
Still life with handknit sock.

Even while we were out there diving through the waves, I was thinking that this swimming lesson could be a great metaphor for how to manage life’s difficulties. I think too often I stand there gracelessly and let life’s “waves” hit me, pick me up, and smash me against the beach and then I sit there choking and sputtering and bleeding and wondering what the hell just happened. I struggle and flail about and fight situations I should be wise enough to…dive through and let pass right over my head.

Think there’s any chance I can actually practice that maneuver instead of just bloviating about it on the blog?

Or will it be like Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of wisdom, that it always comes too late to do any good?


But I have hope. After all, look how much I learned about diving through from just one summer to the next.

The Closer

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

I am closing on my new house today.  This simultaneously excites me incredibly and scares the peewaddin’ out of me, as my mother would say.

On the one hand, I get to pick out everything myself, arrange it all to my own liking, and stay up till 3 a.m. playing the piano if I want to.  Yee haw!  On the other hand, I’m going to have to mow the lawn, hook up the washer and dryer, and find a way to float my own boat financially.  Oy vey!  The idea of personal growth is all well and good until you’re actually forced into it, I find. 

So at this point, when I’m not actively freaking out, I’m actively packing.

boxes                                                                      Boxes full of books, mostly.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I actually have not done that much packing up until now.  There are several reasons for this, the first and foremost of which is that the process of buying the house has been so fraught with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, that I think on some level I felt that to start packing would be to tempt fate.  Totally unreasonable, I know, but there it is.  Also, I am moving a total of two blocks down the street, and as Ellen pointed out with her recent move next door, there are just some things that are easier to just pick up and walk over.  (Or, in my case, set in the front seat of the truck.)  And, let’s face it, I am naturally lazy.

But now I have begun!  It’s never too late!

And I’m reminded once again (as if I really needed it), just how much yarn and fiber I have.  Witness this large tub o’ stash.

tub o' stash                                                      Now, this may look like a manageable tub full of fibery things, but that actually could not be further from the truth.  It is HUGE.  It is a (brace yourself) 55 gallon tub.  Luckily, it has little wheels on the bottom so that it can roll around on the floor.  I am carefully not thinking of the moment when I have to lift it into the back of the truck.

Then, I have a closet full of fiber and yarn. 

stash closet                                                                    The top.

stash closet                                                                    The bottom.

I am certain that the builder of this apartment thought of this closet as a linen closet, and if you look closely in the photos above, you can see a set of pink sheets and a couple of purple towels.  I’m using it as a linen closet, see?

As far as the amount of stash in there, well, I really don’t quite know what to say.  But I will remind you that I never moved all the stash out of the house I lived in with Rob.  There is at least as much, if not more, still at the house.  Ahem.  Let us just draw the curtain of privacy over that issue, shall we?

When I absolutely have to sit down and calm myself, I am doing a little knitting and spinning.  I started the second sock for my soldier buddy.

second soldier sock 

And I’m working on the wool/silk laceweight on the Kromski.

wool/silk on wheel 

It’s humbling to me to try to spin this fine.  The yarn keeps breaking, or I don’t get enough twist in it, or sometimes I get too much twist in it.  I learn what I need to do, and then I lose focus or try to go too fast and I forget.

Like I said, personal growth is a harsh taskmistress.

OBX, how do we love thee?

Monday, August 6th, 2007

I’m just back from North Carolina’s Outer Banks and readjusting to New England’s fabulous weather (90 degrees, 95 percent humidity, thunderstorms expected in the afternoon, one could simply weep…).

This afternoon, for instance, I was caught in a downpour without an umbrella and had to wring out my own hair once I had gained the shelter of the T Stop. I would have wrung out my shirt too if it wouldn’t have constituted public indecency.

Yes, New England is a place that reveals its charms—and there are in fact many—slowly. You must be patient. And it helps if you are a Calvinist.

Comparatively, the Outer Banks is an easy place to love, a magical place (as my OBX friend Geoff put it), a place that is rich in natural beauty:
The sun sets over Jockey’s Ridge.

The foam of a breaking wave on the beach.

A picturesque walk to the fishing pier.

Then, of course, there are the wonderful things one’s younger friends do, like surf:
Red catches a wave. If you haven’t surfed before, let me tell you, this is an achievement. It ain’t as easy as the Beach Boys make it sound. Remember that whole “That’s all there is to the coastline craze”? And “We’re loadin’ up our woody with our boards inside/and headin’ out singin’ our song”? Or who could forget, “When you catch a wave, you’ll be sittin’ on top of the world”? Yeah, well, only if you were born in Ojai. The rest of us are gonna be eatin’ a lot of sand and swallowin’ a lot of salt water before we’re singin’ our song or sittin’ on top of the world.

Or build a sand octopus…

…named Julie.
The Cardinal shows off his creation.

There’s all that, yes, and then there are the noble additions of humankind, like the billboard for Dirty Dick’s restaurant that is emblazoned with the legend: “I got crabs at Dirty Dick’s.”

Truly, the heart soars!

Or the surfer dude driving down Croatan Highway with his left foot out the driver’s side window and the following heartwarming message soaped onto his rear window: “Hey baby, want to ride my longboard? Lookin’ for chix…”

What can one say, but…thank heaven for little boys!

Or the tasteful mementoes, available for purchase at fine stores all along Rte. 158 and suitable for display in one’s home, of the carefree times one has spent in the OBX:
Talk about your robust Morning Blend!

And then, there is as always the knitting:
Here’s a close up of the Cherry Tree Hill Gems Merino sock, born in North Carolina, but fated to live out its life in Massachusetts.

Emerging intarsia elephant:
If you look very closely on the right, you can see his trunk.

So it’s goodbye to all that (except the knitting, of course) until next year when—with any luck at all—our friends will return, the water will be fine, the sunsets will be stunning, and the Outer Banks bazooms mugs will be cheap and easy to procure.

Next year, I’m going to have a set of four accompanied by a gift card shipped to my reprobate uncle: “Dear Uncle Armbruster, Saw these, thought of you!”