Archive for the 'Minnie' Category

The awful truth

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Finishing Minnie (yes, it’s true!) has put me in the mind of that genre of jokes in the good news/bad news form, my favorite of which is this:

Mr. Jones goes to the doctor to get the results of some recent tests. When the doctor comes in, he looks at his patient’s chart and he shakes his head. He says, “Mr. Jones, I have some good news and some bad news. Which would you like first?”

Jones says, “Well, let’s bite the bullet. I’ll take the bad news first.”

The doctor says, “Okay. The bad news is that you’ve got pancreatic cancer and the prognosis is not good. I’d give you six months to live.”

Jones says, “Wow. Um. That’s pretty bad. So what’s the good news?”

The doctor brightens and he says, “The good news is that my son got into Harvard!”

By the way, if you ever find yourself working as a college counselor at a high-test private school attended primarily by the children of NYC’s wealthiest people, don’t try to tell that joke at a parent meeting. Unless you enjoy stony silence.

Believe me, I know from whence I speak.

But I digress…

So the good news first in this case: Minnie is done.
Here’s the back. Fairly pretty, I think.

I’ve begun with the photo of the back because full frontal shots can only point us toward the awful truth—Minnie is not a flattering sweater on me. Maybe on someone, but not me. That, my dear, dear friends, is the bad news. After all that work. One could simply weep.
Knitter or Mack Truck? I have even worse pictures, but to post them? The shame is too great!

What have we here? Why, it looks like an unflattering handknit sweater that was furthermore a hellish thing to knit and caused its creator nothing but grief. Woe be she who picks the wrong garment!

Chez Mad Dog is a dark, dark place today.

And in fact, I must run. Alex has offered to take me to see Eastern Promises, the new Viggo Mortensen film in which my man Viggo appears buck naked but for his tattoos.

Apparently, there is a feeling in some quarters Chez Mad Dog that there is nothing like Viggo Mortensen naked to cure what ails a girl and make her feel like her sunny self again.

I cannot, I fear, argue with that logic.

Last gasp

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Fourteen rows left to go:
Never has a sweater been so anticipated, and yet never has the urge to quit and make Tangled Yoke instead been so great…

The only thing that is keeping me going is your encouragement and the appreciative remarks of customers at the yarn shop who keep popping in when I am working on her and who are kind enough to say, “Oh, that’s so beautiful.”

This is, I imagine, just like being the frazzled mother of an adorable-looking three-year-old who has been throwing tantrums all afternoon, but has calmed down just in time for a neighbor to drop by and say, “Oh, isn’t she just an angel! What a cutie pie!”

Besides, I think people are primarily seduced by the beads. But then again, given that I am now knitting this sleeve for the excruciating second time, I’ll take what I can get.

I gets weary, and sick of tryin’…

Back to the needles, my friends. And if I know what’s good for me, I won’t look up until those fourteen rows are done…

On deck circle

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Way-ell, folks, it’s late in the game, bottom of the ninth inning, and Minnie is up to bat:
We’re counting on her to take ’em one day at a time, give 150% every game, and do everything she can to help the ball club. Even if she has made a lot of mistakes this season, on and off the ball field.

Meanwhile, in the on deck circle, we have Alpaca with a Twist’s Highlander (shown here in colors #4011 Lady Fern and #4010 Lichen), just waiting for his big chance to show us that he can be a contributor to this outstanding fall team of yarns:
He drinks a lot of beer when he’s not on the diamond and chews tobacco and spits, but he’s so soft, lofty, squeezable, and lovable that we forgive him.

And waiting in the dugout, Reynolds Whiskey (in color #86 Deep Raspberry), a yarn that has just been brought up from the minors:
But has already been slated for Eunny’s Tangled Yoke Cardigan in this fall’s IK.

Meanwhile, Minnie is still up there facing some nasty heat and a pitcher whose attitude has turned surly. Twenty-nine excruciating rows to go, sports fans.

If you ask me, it’s time to bring in a pinch knitter.

Bond girl

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Remember this?
Minnie with misbegotten, accursed right sleeve and the beginnings of a reasonable left sleeve.

Now the left sleeve looks like this:
A left sleeve I can stand behind.

And the formerly misbegotten, accursed right sleeve currently looks like this:
I believe in second chances.

So now you know how I spent Saturday night. Frogging.

Don’t say it. I know what you are thinking: this woman lives a life of constant danger, thrills, and excitement!

The name’s Bond. Jane Bond.


Friday, September 7th, 2007

Sometimes you have to take what you can get in this life. If you are an American, like me, you will probably take it in large, even bulk, quantities (Oh, CostCo! Mon amour! How great is mine love for thee, with thy ample 50 lb. bags of sugar, thy voluptuous barrels of velvety ketchup, thy shapely buckets of golden canola oil…more, more! I’m still not satisfied!) and hoard it in your basement or garage.

Apparently, even my dog has absorbed this received idea of American existence. Here’s the story.

Alex’s birthday started with his traditional greeting from Shelley,
Gettin’ up, birthday boy?

and progressed inexorably, in the way a birthday should, toward dinner at our favorite restaurant, Chez Henri. Eating at Chez Henri is a genuinely special occasion for us because we only venture through its inviting portals when we have been gifted with large sums of birthday cash.

To do so more frequently would surely lead to bankruptcy and ruin. But what a way to be ruined!

The food is excellent and so is the service.

Shelley meanwhile had been left in charge of home and yard security. Since we moved to the new house, Shelley’s affection for the new backyard has been plainly evident, not least because we have an apple tree that has been dropping its fruits all summer.

Windfall! I may never have mentioned this, but my dog loves fruits and vegetables, and much though I have attempted to toss out these apples (some of which aren’t in the best of condition by the time they hit the ground) in a timely fashion, she has nonetheless eaten several.

By “several” I mean about forty or fifty. Over the course of the summer, of course.

The tossing of the apples is a Sisyphean task. Toss out ten or twelve in dubious shape, find fifteen more on the ground when you come home. Roll that boulder up, watch it roll back down.

Watch your dog gnawing on a windfall apple. Again. Go slowly mad.

That said, she paces herself. I’ve never seen her eat more than half an apple at once. Lately however, having observed my futile yet dutiful attempts to dispose of the apples, she has taken to digging holes for the half-eaten ones and burying them in the yard.

Even a dog begins to see the inherent problems with this method pretty quickly.
Hey, I may have a shallow brain pan, but dirty, rotted apples are a no-go.

So we arrive home from Alex’s birthday dinner to find the living room in some disarray. Most notably, the corner piece of the sectional, which normally looks like this:

Looks instead like this:

Yes, that is what you see, tucked quite deeply into the very corner of the sofa cushions:
A windfall apple. I ask you now to contemplate the effort required to BURY an apple in a sofa when you don’t have an opposable thumb.

Hoarding behavior. Now where did she learn that?

In knitting news, the reconceived sleeve for Minnie is very nearly done:
Here’s how it looks fairly close.

Now attached to the sweater.

I am pleased with this progress. When I finish this sleeve, I shall face the grim business of frogging the other one.

Stay tuned…

A spate of finishing, or “The Plan”

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

There was in fact, more to my D.C. experience last week than just this:
An assortment of scriveners toiling away at the National Archives.

Although sitting in front of a computer with a musty box (or twenty-four) at my side did account for the vast majority of my time.

But the beauty of archives is that they close on weekends. What is a hard-working historian to do but…
…go to the National Gallery and see some rather impressive Calders?

My uncle took me, bless his heart. He is a physicist and probably not in truth that enthused about art, but he went to oblige me.
Uncle is shown here, however, taking a call from his mechanic explaining that my aunt’s car needed some expensive repairs. I frankly thought my uncle was going to pass out from the shock. He does not enjoy spending money. Unlike some of us, who enjoy it rather too much. Particularly given the paltry amount we earn. But let’s not dwell on that, shall we not?

There were traditional D.C. photo ops:
Here’s where it all happens. Or not, depending on the particular Congress.

And then the weekend was over and I went back to the archive. Some historians are what we call “archive rats,” the history version of the “gym rat” of the physical culture world. I am not, however, one of those historians. Once I’m out of the archive, I get great enjoyment out of using my documents and sources toward some bigger analytical point, but I do not particularly enjoy the process of procuring those documents and sources, which involves sitting there hour after hour going through vast reams of paper, most of it totally irrelevant to your topic.

It’s about as enjoyable as working in a zinc mine. But with better lighting. And usually better ventilation, although that is not guaranteed.

Thankfully, I am now home and the fun part of the work can begin.

In knitting news, I sent the Elephant Baby Sweater to its intended recipient on Thursday; she should receive it today. I stopped short of demanding that the child’s mother take a photo of the child wearing the sweater and send it to me immediately, but I was tempted. They are lovely people and they will probably think of it anyway.

I hope.

I also held back from demanding that the child’s mother produce another baby in short order so that the sweater could get double use. That seemed just a tad rude and presumptuous. I mean, just a tad. But it would make me very, very happy if two babies wore that sweater… I’m just sayin’, is all.

I have also decided that this fall will be “The Fall of Finishing.” Some of the more loyal and astute readers may have noticed that there are several items that have been introduced on the blog, but never unveiled as finished objects.

There’s a reason for that.

But now them U.F.O.s are going to land!

First, Minnie. Remember Minnie?
Her lovely beaded front.

Green beads and green buttons.

The back.

Fortunately, I am still feeling the love for Minnie and I am very nearly done. Although not quite as done as it looks, unhappily, because once I finish this second sleeve, I am going to frog most of the first:
Respectable in its way, but there’s no way around the ugly fact that I made it too short. I had some goofy idea about how I was going to accidentally drag the bell sleeve in my soup or some such nonsense and I got carried away with this notion and now the sleeve is grievously stunted and there is only one solution. Ribbit.

Horrifically, I also did this at the underarm:
Blech. Too much stockinette where I should have continued the lacy pattern. What was I thinking?

All by way of saying, the completed sleeve leaves much to be desired.

We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We also have the motivation. And plenty of extra yarn, something I bet the Six Million Dollar Man never had.

Minnie completion is my immediate goal. Then I’m going to tackle my version of Bristow, which has a back and two fronts, but has never been seamed or sleeved, and return at long last to Rogue, another sweater for which I am still feeling the love, but which is another material reminder that love is not all you need.

You need sleeves.

De minnie-mus

Monday, May 28th, 2007

You probably thought that with all the hurly-burly of the wedding and the move to the dream house that I had forgotten about Minnie. Confession: I did ignore her for a while. I had decided to do her sleeves from the top down, which was fine until I got to that motif that forms the bottom of the bell.

And then…whoa boy! Trouble. Long story short, Sean and I spent a good five hours puzzling over how to reverse the motif so that it could be knitted from the top down rather than the bottom up. Easier said than done.

We puzzled and swatched and puzzled and swatched. We cursed and swatched and puzzled some more. Cursed some more.

Finally we arrived at a reasonable facsimile:
If Sean hadn’t helped me out on this one, well… I had hit my wall for frustration well before we found the solution, but he persisted. So a big thank you goes to Sean!

Given that the first sleeve was an experiment, I was initially pretty happy with the results:
Although a couple of flaws convinced me to pull it out to the underarm and take another run at it. C’est la vie. I can’t bear to have the mismatching shoulder seams AND a semi-dud sleeve all in one disastrous sweater.

So staring down the barrel of frogging (and having been dragged through a frustrating problem-solving session), I put Minnie aside for a time while I pondered whether or not we could continue to be friends.

Now, however, I am working on the second sleeve:
My ultimate plan is to model the first sleeve on the second, which I feel will be more successful. Famous last words.

One thing has gone right with Minnie, though. Well, two. The beading and the recent acquisition of the perfect buttons:
How often do you get a match like that? Made in heaven.

I’m trying to love her, but I think it is going to take time to rebuild trust.

One final note regarding the upcoming nuptials…and you heard it here first, folks: if I never hear the phrase “your special day” again as long as I live, it will be too soon.

The case of the red leg

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

My energy level this evening is not what one might hope, given my age and general level of fitness, and it is all because I made a very, very bad error last night involving my “bedtime reading.”

Lately, I’ve become obsessed with popular books written by doctors about the medical profession. My own dissertation research has a history of medicine/history of public health thread, my grandfather was a doctor, and I am generally fascinated with how the medical profession operates (no pun intended), so these books are a natural draw.

First I blazed through Pauline Chen’s Final Exam, about how poorly doctors and modern, scientific medicine deal with mortality and the dying patient. Very nicely crafted. Then I turned to Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die. (Keep reading this genre of books and trust me, you will notice a thematic pattern developing. And alarming thematic pattern…) Also a very interesting book in spite of Nuland’s tendency to veer nauseatingly into the realm of the maudlin from time to time.

I only accept the maudlin when it has to do with dogs.
Hey, you wanna stuffed goose? I happen to have one right here.

All this prepared me, or so I thought, for Atul Gawande’s Complications, the first of his two books about doctoring. The second just came out in hardback and is called Better.

As in, “You better not read this right before you go to bed.”

Atul Gawande is an astoundingly accomplished person, the kind of guy who makes you wonder what it is you do with your time, really, because you sure as shootin’ aren’t wringing as much achievement and just downright excellence out of every day as my man Atul. Not only is he a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he is also an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School.

His Wikipedia entry coolly notes that in addition to these prestigious professional posts, Atul “has written extensively on medicine and public health for The New Yorker magazine and the online magazine Slate. He has also written for New England Journal of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The Best American Essays 2002 and The Best American Science Writing 2002. His book, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science was a National Book Award finalist. In 2006 he was named a MacArthur fellow.”

A MacArthur fellow. A recipient of a so-called “Genius Grant.”

That has to feel good. I wish someone would certify me as a genius.
I knit this sweater AND I’m writing a dissertation. Plus I am an amateur dog trainer and I make a very fine Jell-O salad. And did I mention that I routinely and uncomplainingly perform feats of strength like removing sunken paving stones from the yard assisted only by a shovel and a “can-do” attitude?

It’s hard to explain why I have been overlooked by the committee year after year, but you know how political these things can be.

But I digress. Let’s just say that I admire Dr. Gawande and I think his first book is quite well-written, but it is, how shall I put this?, unsparing in its use of medical detail.
Knitting detail. See, I know from detail.

You may remember that medical details are not something that I tolerate especially well. How poorly do I tolerate this kind of information? Well, I once actually fainted when a friend told me in detail about her experience of giving birth to her daughter. And you will note that I myself have no children of my own today. Just coincidence? I don’t think so.

Moving on, however, I nonetheless cannot stop reading Gawande’s book, although I learned quickly not to try to read it on my lunch break. But last night as I settled in for my bedtime reading, I thought, “What could be the harm? This is so fascinating!”

Enter the chapter entitled The case of the red leg. The case of the red leg involved a woman in her early twenties who comes to Gawande’s hospital with a red leg and to all appearances, a skin infection called cellulitis. But Gawande, being a genius and all, has a bad feeling about her red leg. A very bad feeling.

He and the other docs convince her to have the tissue biopsied and they find—brace yourselves—that she actually has necrotizing fasciitis. Yeah, the flesh-eating bacteria! Incredibly rare, incredibly dangerous, often deadly.

I don’t know about you, but…FLESH-EATING BACTERIA? Oh my God!

I should have quit reading right there. What was I thinking? Instead, I forged ahead, reading about how they decided not to amputate her leg (the standard treatment…I mean, that’s how bad these flesh-eating bacteria are, people!) and instead did four nightmarish surgeries to debride (a more genteel word for “ruthlessly cut out”) all the muscle and tissue in her leg that the bacteria had destroyed.

You can read the details for yourself. I would even go so far as to recommend this book to you.

Just take my advice: don’t read it after 4 p.m.

The lost patio of Atlantis

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Work on the Back Yard of Doom continues apace! Over the weekend, Alex and I did further clearing of pernicious vines, raking up of debris, and tossing out of the veritable pile of beer bottles that our drug-dealing neighbors (yes, we lead a life of constant danger!) left behind on their back porch when they moved out in January:
Isn’t that extra special? Yeah, Corona Extra special!

These were positioned such that in a stiff wind, one or two would tumble off the edge of the porch and smash in the yard below, leaving dangerous shards of brown and green glass everywhere. How utterly delightful! I love suburban living!
Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heineken!

The worst part is, those guys never invited us to any of their parties.

Alex cleaned up all those bottles and rotting cardboard cases, because he is good and decent and well-raised, unlike your average drug dealer. In the process, he found an exciting original object for his “Cabinet of Curiousities”:
No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a wasps’ nest INSIDE a beer bottle.

If you look down the neck of the bottle, you see this:
Dude, we wasps love livin’ in a beer bottle! It’s like, when you’re tired from buildin’ the hive, you can sip some brew and kick back. Beats the shit out of living underneath the eaves of a shed, amigo!

Or this:
Do not ask yourself, “Is it art?” The answer should be obvious.

Meanwhile, I was working down below, attempting to clear what we call “The Lost Patio of Atlantis.”
See those vaguely round depressions in the ground there? That’s what I’m talking about.

It seems that sometime in the distant past, long before we were born, someone made a strange little patio out of mysterious circular stones they purchased in the ancient agora, but over time, these stones sank and were nearly completely occluded by grass and weeds.
Q: Mama, is there really a Lost Patio of Atlantis where the ancient peoples of New England conducted their summer rites, like getting half in the bag on Sam Adams Boston Lager after a Red Sox loss and bellowing “Yankees Suck!” so that everyone in the village could hear?
A: No one knows, child. No one knows…

My original objective was to clear away all the grass, weeds, and dirt that obscured the Lost Patio of Atlantis.

I lasted about thirty minutes at that backbreaking and futile task before it occurred to me that it would be a whole lot easier (and better!) just to take the paving stones up, Roto-till the whole shebang, and replant grass.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Lost Patio of Atlantis was weird and, let’s face it, not that conducive to a nice yard party and/or wedding reception. In spite of its historic significance.

So I began prying the stones up with my trusty shovel, heaving them out of the ground, and stacking them against the garage. Even after living here for nearly two years, we frankly had neither any idea that they were round…
Who knew?

…nor that they weighed so much.

Here I am with my twentieth stone, propping it up with my shovel and thanking the good Lord that I lift weights on a regular basis:
A single Lost Paving Stone of Atlantis can also be used as a cheap alternative to a commercial tombstone!

My handiwork from the air:
I had quit at this point for the simple reason that I had begun to ache all over.

So. I’ve pulled up twenty stones. There are at least thirty-five left.

I can’t help but think of that line from Robert Hass’s poem Santa Barbara Road, the one where he is speaking to his son:

I started this job
and I hate it already
and now I have to finish it.

His son replies, “Well Pop, that’s life.” And so it is, so it is.

Back on Thursday with news about Minnie, who is getting a lovely right sleeve…

That’s when the grin should start

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

We’re not going to look at Minnie’s shoulder seams anymore. And we aren’t going to discuss them anymore either. Just let it be known that I am not impressed with this kind of so-called design work.

We are not amused.

If I were queen this woman would no longer be allowed to publish her designs and fob them off on unsuspecting victims knitters who would then sweat and toil and hand-bead the bodice with “special beads” until their fingers bled…only to find that the motifs do not match up at the shoulder seam.

I am beyond consolation. But I did start one of Minnie’s sleeves:
I am knitting from the top down using a short-row technique to form the sleeve cap. All in a sustained effort to do an end run around setting in a sleeve. Which to me is about as much fun as working in a zinc mine.

I’ve finished the neckline and the button bands:
The search for the right button has come up short, I’m afraid. We didn’t have the right button at Woolcott, which means I’m going to have to go outside the “family.” I don’t feel good about it, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do.

This sweater is going to look fine when it is blocked. As long as you don’t look at the shoulder seams.

Meanwhile, wedding preparations have taken a dark turn. As you may know, we are doing something slightly unconventional in that the “wedding” is not a single event, but rather three:

Event Numero Uno: We will be married in an extremely small ceremony at an “undisclosed location.” This event, the wedding itself, will involve only our immediate families, an arrangement that we may ultimately live to regret, given how little our immediate families have in common with one another and given our foolhardy decision to have everyone repair to a “festive” dinner together after the ceremony.

I have been threatening to hire actors to take the roles of the various family members, including me and Alex. They will be given a script, the right things will get said, conversation will be witty and well-paced, the topic of religion will not come up, and the whole thing can be videotaped for our viewing enjoyment.

I will be played by Nicole Kidman.

She always looks great in photographs, and since the bridal industry has left me with the impression that the most important thing is how one looks and particularly how one looks in photographs…well, I think this will be absolutely ideal!

But seriously, just think! If the wedding and wedding dinner are miserable, horrific disasters, I will certainly get a funny story out of it and you can read all about it here. Stay tuned! This could be a lot of fun for everyone!

Event the Second: Two days after the strained, awkward meeting of our two families at a highly-charged emotional event, a situation that any fool can see is a proverbial recipe for disaster heart-warming joining of two people in the sacred bonds of holy matrimony, we will have a reception in California for all of our friends and family who live more or less out that way.

I have no major concerns about this. It might even be fun as long as we’re not dogged by an aggressive photographer, required to smash cake in one another’s faces, or forced mete out cheesy wedding favors like the “Love Beyond Measure” measuring spoon set.

Not that any of those appalling possibilities have ever actually come to pass at an American wedding, events known throughout the world for their restraint and unerring good taste.

Event No. 3: The Final Stop on the Bales-Wellerstein “Love Fest” Tour. Two weeks after the reception in CA, we will have a celebratory party out here for all of our East Coast friends and relatives. I’m very excited about this. Very excited! It’s just wonderful to think that my extended family and many of my oldest and dearest friends are going to be at this shindig.

There’s only one source of anxiety: we’re having this party at our house. I thought this was a really great idea when we dreamed it up a few months ago, and I still basically think it is a good idea. People can come when they want, stay as long as they want, bring their kids… It’ll be warm, informal, truly celebratory. Shelley can be there, and you know how I love that dog.

There’s just one problem: I was feeling expansive when I made the invite list and I believe that I’ve invited, um, well, something like 180 people. I’ve kind of lost count. Hey, I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve lived awhile and I have a lot of friends. What can I say?

One thing I can say, and this for sure: this house is not all that big.

“But you have the back yard!” I hear you cry. Yes, and what a back yard it is! Having been “let go” for approximately twenty years, the back yard is a splendid example of unfettered natural beauty, including pernicious vines, rotting railroad ties laid down in tamer times, strange concrete paving stones that have shifted into mysterious formations, and buried Miller Lite cans that surface periodically after a drenching rain like so many archeological treasures. Home to wasps, garter snakes, and the occasional groundhog, the back yard is an ideal place to gain a closer understanding of your relationship to nature and your own place in the natural order of the world.

It is not, however, a great place to have a wedding reception.

I decided last Sunday that I needed to rake and clean up one small sector of the yarn only, to at least take a stab at beginning to get it under control. I worked for two backbreaking hours. I filled two garbage cans and two large bags with detritus:
First can of yard crap.

And its little chum.

And all my toil, all my efforts resulted in this:
Suburban back yard or abandoned lot?

Toward the end of my yard session, I had taken to belting out, “You gotta have heart!/Miles and miles and miles of heart!/When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win/That’s when the grin should start!”

Thereby squandering all my accrued social capital with the neighbors.

The fact is, I’m no gardener. So here is my question to you: what do you know about gardening? About getting an unruly back yard under your thumb? I’m not after the Gardens of Versailles here, but just something passable.

Spill. Please. Come summer, there are 180 people who will thank you.