Archive for the 'Elephant baby' Category

Here’s how

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

When you receive a handknit gift…
Such as, for example, an Elephant Baby Sweater

…from a friend or loved one, you may find yourself wondering, “How should I respond? What does etiquette dictate? How can I express my gratitude in such a way as to receive further handknit gifts in the future?”

Wonder no more!

Below please find a superior response model. Feel free to adapt and modify for your own purposes, but be sure to retain a similar tone of unfettered enthusiasm and unbridled gratitude:

Ellen!!!! Thank you so, so, much for the adorable sweater for A.!

I am almost at a loss for words—such a kind and generous thing to do. I know how much work goes into a hand knit sweater like that and I am just speechless. A. saw it and yelled “ant”!! Which is her word for elephant right now and I held it up to her and she looked very proud 😉 I will take a picture as soon as I get it on her.

Oh, just thank you so much – I am so touched. I have such deep admiration for people who can do fine hand crafts like knitting, needlework, etc. and feel very lucky that people I know do them.

Ellen, just a truly wonderful thing for you to do and I send this with a million thank you’s and I’m just very overwhelmed. Thank you, thank you!!

I’m filled with gratitude and send my warmest thoughts,

Now that’s the way it’s done.

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!

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!

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.

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!”

Asko not

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

I strongly believe that we do have to do something radical about our energy consumption in this country. Strongly. Believe.
I also strongly believe that I should have more done on this elephant sweater than I do, but…

I would however be the first to admit that this is easier said than done. After all, we’re not just talking about changing people’s habits, which would be hard enough, we are also talking about an entrenched infrastructure and set of broader social habits that rests on the assumption that more or less every American has access to a car.

So it isn’t just that we’ve got these gas guzzlers on the road, it’s that there is massive technological momentum (as we call it in the science studies biz) behind the automobile. And technological momentum is extremely hard to reverse.

As an individual, you cannot reverse it. You cannot. There is literally no way to live in most parts of this country without a car. It can’t be done. So at the moment driving a car everywhere doesn’t mean that you’re part of the problem, it means that you’re part of an inescapable system.

Now I’m singling out the automobile here not because there aren’t other environmental issues, but I think from the standpoint of the individual the car is, well, the thing. What I mean is, the car drives (no pun intended…heh…heh) a great deal of the rest of our overconsumption. And that drives a lot of industrial pollution and energy consumption and so forth.

Alex and I happen to live in one of the handful of places in the country where one can be “car-free,” and we happen to be in a phase of our lives where there ain’t a lot of loose cash floating around, if you know what I’m saying, so we don’t own a car.
Although I did make this lovely ribbing. I love the way the colors look together. And also the odd way that the ripples in the fabric look a little like…Voldemort’s face. Or maybe that’s just me.

When you don’t own a car, you think very carefully about what you buy. Because you and you alone are going to get to haul it back to Chez Mad Dog on the city bus. I hasten to add that this condition does not make us morally superior to anyone else.

It just means we’re strapped.

But it has led me to reflect upon the fact that there’s just a lot of stuff you can’t buy if you don’t have a car. A lot of stores you cannot frequent—including nearly all those horrific superstores like Home Depot, Costco, IKEA, etc. A lot of large stuff you cannot haul home and hoard. Interestingly, when people learn that we do not own a car, they frequently express shock and say something like, “Oh my God, how do you do it?”

Rather like they have just learned that both of us have recently lost an arm and a leg in a tragic accident and are now stumbling about on crude, newly-acquired prostheses.

It really is not anywhere near that bad. But it is a comment on the perception that having your own ride is just downright compulsory. Even in the rare instances where it is not.

Which leads me back to the problem of said automobile. Among other things, we’re going to have to deal with the car and everything that radiates outwards and backwards and forwards from the car, and that’s going to be a tough, tough thing to do. Not impossible, but very difficult. It will have to be a systematic fix too, not a matter of a few individuals here and there deciding and being able to ride bikes or take the bus.

I’m all for the bikes and the bus, by the way, but I’m speaking here of a society-wide solution that works, one that modifies the central technology we’ve got, works with the existing infrastructure, and acknowledges people’s real needs. I myself do not have a feasible plan right now, of course, but I’m working on that… I am taking suggestions. Feel free to share your ideas.

Meanwhile, we’ll all continue our nickel-and-dime environmentalism—recycling bottles, cans, jars, mixed paper; buying green cleaning products; driving a Prius. It’s not going to be the thing that solves the problem, but at least we can feel that we’re doing something.
Want to talk about overconsumption? Look what I just bought. Cherry Tree Hill Gems Merino. And this when I was actually on a successful yarn diet…

Alex and I have recently added to our nickel-and-dime environmentalism portfolio a new washer and dryer made by Asko, a Swedish company that stresses the environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient, water-saving aspects of its machines. Our landlady brought us these over the weekend, bless her heart.

Asko. As in, “Asko not what your washer can do for you, Asko what you can do for your washer!”

Because—and I don’t mean for a minute to sound ungrateful here—the Asko washer and dryer is not like your old Whirlpool. Here’s the front of the washer:

And a close-up of the “dashboard” of the dryer:
Simple in its way, yes, but would you know how to run a load of laundry without reading the manual? Yeah. That’s what I’m saying.

So a couple of nights ago, I decide to run my first load of environmentally-friendly laundry. I read the manual for the washer. I screw up the programming a couple of times. I curse and stomp. I finally program it to run a “normal” load of dark clothes. All is well, I think.

Then I read the digital timer at the right of the display. It reads, “One hour and fifty-five minutes.”

Yep, you got that right: two hours to run a “normal” load of clothes. Green is apparently a synonym for “excruciatingly slow.”

Okay, I think, next time I’ll try the “quick” cycle. It will probably only be an hour and a half.

I dutifully come back two hours later. I read the manual for the non-intuitive dryer. I screw up the programming a couple of times. I curse loudly and impugn the name of the Swedes and their mothers and grandmothers. I cry out in anguish, “Whirlpool, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then I finally manage to program it for a “normal” drying cycle.

This time I’m less surprised when the digital timer reads one hour and twenty minutes.

I am however weeping with frustration and otherwise going to pieces quietly in the corner of the basement.

When I informed Alex that a “green” load of laundry takes three hours and twenty minutes to complete, he said, “I see it all now. The Asko machines are more energy efficient because you quickly figure out that it is faster to do all your laundry with a washboard and a mangle.”

And so it appears that in appliances as in other arenas we have a long way to go to make our ideals match up with our practical needs.

Until then, I’d hang onto your old Whirlpool.

A time to every purpose under heaven

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

There are times for joy and times for sorrow, times to plant and times to reap, a time to be born, a time to die, times to cast away stones and times to gather stones together.
Times to include a nice photo of your wonderful, generous father-in-law on your blog because he asked you to and he asks for so little, really.

And then there are times to hightail your sweet wazoo to the bank.

This is one of those times.

We got our deposit, with interest, back from Craphound in the form of a check. He was evidently persuaded by Alex’s not-all-that-heavily-veiled threat to haul his lying, cheapskate *ss to court and bust his miserable chops for triple damages.

Shelley also barked and growled viciously at Craphound for the entire duration of his “visit” to drop off said check, behavior that is completely out of character for her. But I think it was just her adorable, little, canine way of saying, “If my pack members leave this room, scumbag, and it’s just you and me…I’m gonna rip your throat out.”

That’s my girl!

We are now hightailing it to the bank to cash that check before Craphound gets any further larcenous ideas.

(As an aside, I would like to say that I am very impressed by my husband’s courageous poison-pen letter-writing campaign. I doubt that many of Mr. Craphound’s ill-used tenants have had the cajones to tell him exactly what they think of him and, given the power relations involved, understandably enough. Feeling powerless has a way of making you feel like you can’t do anything but go off and mutter to yourself in the corner, but I think the heartwarming and valuable lesson we have learned here is that we often have more power than we think.

Or maybe it’s just that if you look up a bunch of picky legal information, you can use it as a crowbar.

Anyway, whatever. My husband, my hero…)

Speaking of landlords, our current landlord is such an angel that she’s having a better washer and dryer installed at our house this weekend. Did we ask for this? No. The current ones are perfectly fine. She just wants to give us something better.

Did I do something really good in a previous life?

I could literally weep with gratitude. So I am making a sweater with an elephant on the front of it for her daughter. Just because I want to thank her for being so much better than called for in her role.

Right now the sweater looks like this:
A combination of Rowan’s Pure Wool DK and Debbie Bliss Rialto.

But click this link and check out the elephant design to see how cute it’s going to be: Roo Designs for Children.

I like all the designs, truth be known. I’m also very pleased with my color combination for this particular sweater:

And now, to the bank…