Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whirlwind = list

It's been a whirlwind of a week around here.  I can't for the life of me figure out how it got to be the end of June already.

And when my mind (and house, and life, as you will see...) is disorganized, I turn to listing.  Do you ever do that?  Just list things in your head--things to do, things to read, things to remember...?

1. M officiated at a friend's wedding last weekend.  Yes, as a third grade teacher and former altar boy, the internets, and, subsequently, the state of Washington, deemed him suitable to unite man and woman in the holiest of unions.  (Side note: It's a funny world we live in, where my husband, wonderful as he is, can spend 25 seconds on a website and be eligible to unite a guy and a girl in a marriage, while this gay couple, who have been together since 1958, can't get married at all.)
2. He did a great job.
3. The wedding, start to finish, lasted less than 10 minutes. Several guests, who were married with full masses, averred that they wish they'd had M as their officiant instead!
4. We came home on Sunday, tired, but ready to tackle a few projects in between trips.  (Because, of course, we are headed off to Olympia on Thursday bright and early for some work on my in-laws' house and his dad's 60th birthday.)
5. And so, I sit typing this at the computer table, currently the only piece of intact furniture in my bedroom, having spent much of the last 24 hours removing wallpaper.
6.  Wallpaper stinks.  The only silver lining is that they only put the paper on the bottom half of the walls, sort of a half-assed chair rail look.
7. I've had to take wallpaper out of all three bedrooms in this house.  I wish I'd realized how much better it would have been to do all of them at once before any furniture was placed in the room.  We were smart and did Miss E's room before we unpacked it--of course, it was our office/guest room then, and it also had the most hideous wallpaper/paint combo: mauve, blue, and metallic silver seashells with the top half of the wall painted a pukey light mauve.  Very 1984.
8. Mr. D's room was less onerous:  blue and white vertical stripes with a blue and white floral border, the top half of the room painted blue.  (Badly.  In all 3 bedrooms, it looks like they tried really hard to make 1 gallon of paint stretch to paint all of the walls and the ceiling, so they were all streaky.)  It actually looked pretty good--but then, when he was about 4 he figured out he could pick at the paper and peel it off, and pretty soon we had to do the whole room.
9. Our room has yellow striped/floral wallpaper with and lemon yellow above.  And if you don't know why an English teacher wouldn't want yellow striped wallpaper (besides the fact it looks like something Laura Ashley puked up after a frat party gone bad), you need to go read this short story.
10. Each room also had sort-of-coordinating valences over the windows.  I say "sort of" because none of them quite match exactly, and often the colors were far different.  For instance, our yellow wallpaper is sort of goldeny sunshine yellow, but the paint above is full on lemon.  I much prefer the streaky adhesivy walls I'm uncovering now, I must say.
11.  So the next step is to prime over where the wallpaper was, and then get to work on painting the room.  We're going to go with a nice neutral in most of the room, with an accent wall, probably deep gold (NOT LEMON YELLOW), behind the bed.

And that is today's list.  I hope to return to knitting soon.  I've made one washcloth in the past week and that's all I have to show.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Poetry Friday

Confessions of an Underpaid English Teacher

by S. Thomas Summer

I admit I'd like to stroll
the other side of the tracks

own the house on the hill,
stick a silver spoon in the pit

of my son's mouth; yet here
in the belly of July, heat

scraping the day like an ulcer,
beer is cold, grass freshly

cut.  The hammock sways against
a breeze that ushers a mourning

dove through the air inches above 
the backyard shed. For a moment,

it rests on a lounge chair, chubby
as a tear. Light rain falls--a pair

of robins spear the soft ground
for drowning worms. My son captures

a caterpillar in an empty jelly jar.
We celebrate--Fig Newtons and cherry

popsicles. And of course, there's a volume 
of Kafka waiting for me on the kitchen

table, deep in the shadow of a wine
glass tinted red with a fine merlot.

I originally found this poem in an issue of English Journal, the bimonthly publication of my professional organization.  (You didn't know English teachers HAD a professional organization, did you??)  

I found the title intriguing, and the sentiments are something every teacher can relate to:  it'd be nice to be paid more, but the intangible benefits of this job, like summers off, can outweigh the lack of prestige.

The more times I  have read it, though, I note the overall bittersweet tone, heavy on the bitter.  There are a number of interesting word choices and images that, taken together, yield a dark effect:  stick, pit, belly of July, scraping, ulcer, cut, mourning dove, spear, drowning worms, captures, Kafka, shadow.

It's not a simple poem, saying, "Gee whiz, teachers, isn't it great we get such neat-o summers?"  Anyone who chooses to spend his summer reading Kafka, has got to be a little dark and twisty himself, with no illusions that having the silver spoon life he imagines would be any better than what he already has.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fifi is finished...!(?)

Finally finished 'er up.  My expression in these photos, though literally due to the apparently arduous task of taking my own picture, suitably reflects how I feel about this sweater--conflicted, concerned...let's just say: the jury's out, and Fifi may not have Henry Fonda on her side.

Here's my litmus test for a handknit:  if I wear it to work, and not one person says, "I like your sweater" or "cute sweater" or "did you knit it?"--I worry.

It could just have been that it was the last week of school and I spent most of the day I wore it sequestered in my classroom reading junior research papers that are a graduation requirement and thus engender more procrastination than any other paper my students write all year long...but I also nipped out for a couple of hours, taking my last bit of personal leave, to attend Mr. D's kindergarten graduation, and Not One Kindergarten Mom said anything, either.

So here's the fence where Fifi sits:  A great knit, a fun pattern, entertaining to work, should be flattering to my body type...but I think I picked the wrong yarn.  The Shine Sport just doesn't have the body that is needed for an overall ribbed sweater at this gauge:  it flops and flows; it doesn't cling.  I don't know if I should have used Shine Worsted, or Comfy, or if I should have gone all the way and bitten the Rowan Calmer bullet (though, expense aside, I REALLY don't like Calmer's color palette).


Friday, June 19, 2009


How better to celebrate the end of the school year, that time of 180 days of focusing on OTHER PEOPLE, than a good-old-fashioned navel-gazing post?

Found this meme on Blue Garter's blog...
1. Respond and rework; answer the questions on your blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your invention, add one more question of your own.
2. Tag eight other people (if you feel so inclined).

What is your current obsession? I just started a knitted log cabin blanket (Mason-Dixon knitting) and I'm thinking that might be it.
What is your weirdest obsession? I only eat the same colors together when I eat skittles, and always two at a time, one on each side of my mouth.
What are you wearing today and why did you choose it? red Keens, red capris, blue & red Ravelry t-shirt, gray hoodie, and red ballcap. I have been working in my classroom all day, cleaning and filing, and wanted something peppy and comfortable, plus layers because the weather was indeterminate this morning...typical June in Western Washington.
What’s for dinner? Tortilla soup and a good malty beverage
What did you eat for your last meal? mandarin chicken salad
What’s the last thing you bought? Two copies of my Teacher's Daybook for next year, one for me and one for a friend...the best teacher planner ever.
What are you listening to right now? "Before the Goldrush," an album I just discovered & bought on iTunes. It is a benefit CD for Teach for America, and features artists famous and not-so singing covers by artists who influenced them. I'm loving Billy Joel's "You're My Home," covered by Rebecca Elliott; Van Morrison's "Into The Mystic" covered by Swell Season; and Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" covered by Korby Lenker. (full disclosure: Korby and I sang together in our college choir; he's since moved on to Nashville where he records great pop-bluegrass-uncategorizable music. I would heart him even if I didn't know him.)
If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go? Downtown London and just sit and people-watch.
If you could time travel to anyWHEN in history for the next hour, where would you go? I'd go to Vienna and watch a premiere of a Mozart opera.
Which language do you want to learn? Spanish
What do you love most about where you currently live? Our backyard and all the natural light inside the house. I also really love our community as a whole.
What is your favorite colour? Red.
What is your favorite piece of clothing in your own wardrobe? my Back-to-school U-neck vest I made from Fitted Knits. It makes me feel stylish and cute, yet still professional.
What were you doing ten years ago? I was finishing my first real teaching job, starting my summer job and a whole summer riding my bike everywhere, and (although I don't think we knew it then) about 8 weeks away from moving to Texas.
Describe your personal style? Northwest casual is a good descriptor--Jeans, t-shirts, scarves, sweaters, fleeces. Not quite crunchy (i.e. granola), maybe just mildly textured? More REI than hemp.
If you had £100 now, what would you spend it on? $165.19 in US dollars...Hmm. Oh, I know: two Amtrak tickets to Seattle with my sweetie, Mariners tickets because we haven't gone to a game in years, and a dinner out before coming home.
What are you going to do after this? Pick up my son, go to the bookstore, and spend a gift card I just found in my desk while cleaning it out. (Cha-ching!)
What are your favourite films? Anything Baz Lurhmann (except Australia), Casablanca, Lord of the Rings, Pride & Prejudice (both recent versions), Say Anything.
What inspires you? Helping someone find their truth and express it in writing. Excellent analysis, humor, wordplay, and fearlessness.
Your favorite books? Jane Austen (I used to be a P&P devotee, but now Persuasion, I think, is on top), Lord of the Rings, Cold Mountain, Narnia--anything that transports me. Over the years I have really come to appreciate The Scarlet Letter.
Do you collect anything? random papers, receipts in my pocket, extra pounds on my thighs, and yarn.
What makes you follow a blog? A sense that the person is writing from the heart, with his/her own personal style and sensibility, and not pandering to an imaginary audience. I"ll read almost anything if it seems authentic and thoughtful. Nice photos don't hurt.
What was the most enjoyable thing you did today? Drilled through the piles down to the top of my desk for the first time in months.
What new skill would you like to learn? This summer I want to work on my photography skills, and actually be able to understand what all the gizmos on my yearbook cameras do without relying on the auto setting.

Consider yourself tagged. And, commenters, can you guess which question I added?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I heart vancouver

The Mister and I got home Saturday evening from a long-overdue mini-break up to Vancouver, B.C.

This city is super excited for the Winter Olympics, which it is hosting this coming January. Witness crap cell phone photo, above, of the Olympic count-down clock, which is strategically placed outside of the art museum.  Only 244 more days, people, until I have to decide what my knitting olympics project is!  

Vancouver is one of my favorite places, no question.  

I started to type that it is one of my favorite cities, but then realized I don't have many cities with which to compare it.  I've been to Seattle, of course, many times...also San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Phoenix...but that's about it on the large cities of North America front, and most of those I've only visited for a day or two total, with the exception of Houston, where we lived for two years.  Prague, Salzburg--which is really barely a city except for its long history--Venice, and Milan round out the European crowd.  

(I'm not counting cities like Los Angeles, London, Baltimore, or Chicago, where I've only been through the airport.)

Full disclosure over. Now.  Vancouver is one of my very favorite places.

I just can't express my love for Vancouver in strong enough terms.  It is a compact city, with a very dense population in the downtown core (how nice that people actually LIVE downtown, unlike so many cities decimated by flight to the suburbs).  I read somewhere that it is the most densely populated area in North America outside of Manhattan island, but you'd never know it while driving or walking around.  There are huge high-rise apartment buildings and towers of industry, but it feels safe, and clean, and friendly somehow.  (Canadians are the epitome of good-natured friendliness.  Even punk pierced Canadian teenagers will stop and give you directions or return a smile.)  Stanley Park is absolutely enormous, with an aquarium, lagoon, bike/walking trails, and miles of beach. 

Over the years we've often day-tripped up across the border.  (Vancouver is actually closer to us than Seattle; it takes about an hour to get there if border traffic is light.)  It holds wonderful memories for us...it's the site of our first date and is the place M proposed to me, back when we were such younglings (19 and 20, though of course we felt so mature)....And now we have a new set of Vancouver memories to add: staying at Lonsdale Quay and watching the sun set over the city skyline, waking up early to see the big cruise (or was it ferry?) boat slide through the water and dock across from us...taking the water taxi across to downtown and walking up to the Dutch Masters exhibit--a Vermeer! some Rembrandt! and a bunch of other cool stuff!--at the Art Gallery...great Greek food.

We'll be back up in BC in July for sure, staying in Whistler for three nights with my folks...I wonder if we can stop for a day in Vancouver on either end of that trip?  and how long can I stow away in the city before they notice I am American and make me go home?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A great mail day

I still get a thrill when I get mail.  

Real mail, that is, not credit card offers, political flyers, ads for Wal-Mart, or incredibly depressing investment statements.

So imagine my excitement when I opened up the mailbox and found, first:

The shaven head of Stephen Colbert.

The most hilariously unironic issue of Mary Maxim ever. 

I mean, sequin art?  Really?

And this little exciting number all the way from the UK--

I had forgotten I ordered the hard copy as well as the e-version.  It is such a cute little booklet, so professional.  I imagined something hand-made on a color copier, stapled together like those 'zines that were popular back in the '90's, but it's actually perfect-bound.  

Well worth it for the gorgeous patterns as well as to support a fabulous designer.

The first peony!

This is a terrible photo of a peony--but it is a beautiful flower.  I just love the layers and layers of petals, like some sort of sea anemone.

I forgot to stake up the peonies in the front yard, so rescued this one from imminent disaster as it lay on the ground, toppled over by its own beauty...if you can call killing something "rescuing", I guess.

Monday, June 08, 2009

From the sublime to the ridiculous

I have recently started facebooking.  (It's like googling; it's a verb.  This is what my students say.)

A couple of friends and family members had encouraged me to join, and there are some things I really love about it.  I love being connected in with the people I care about.  That part is fun, since I have a far-flung family and don't make the time for phone calls and e-mails as much as I should.  And I have to admit that the novelty factor of "friending" people who I haven't seen or, in some cases, thought about in years, has not yet worn off.  The guy I went to homecoming with in 10th grade?  Teaches math.  The diva-with-a-heart-of-gold from college choir?  Opera singer in Toronto.  My yearbook editor from 2005?  Loving junior year of film school and pestering me with questions about "Lost."  That part is cool--the sense of network, of connection, of reconnection--it makes the overall experience worthwhile.

The parts that I'm uncomfortable with.  Well, they are legion.  
  1. The aforementioned people I haven't thought about in years?  Well, they feel free to comment on my taste in books.  (Hey!)
  2. Other people can post embarrassing pictures of me from college and tag them with my name.  And current colleagues and family members can click on them and see just how much beer I drank during the Europe trip of 1997.  (The nice thing is that I was such a goody-two-shoes that my hair in the 90's will likely be much more incriminating than any party photos.)
  3. There is an uncomfortable sense of being back in the not-cool crowd when I see the photos others have posted from high school.
  4. I totally overthink the status updates ("What are you thinking about?" it asks) because I have both a lesbian librarian and an ultra-conservative quiver-full Christian in my friend list.  Will saying "friggin'" offend anyone?  Is saying I like the show "Dollhouse" revealing me to be in favor of the subjugation of women?  If I'm gardening, am I pedestrian?  If I'm reading Lord of the Rings, am I a nerd?  Basically--this all comes down to feeling judged, and being a sort of private person who also, ironically, loves to connect. 
  5. How long will it be before a current student sees one of those pictures of me drinking the beer in Europe?  How long before the worlds collide in ways that I can't anticipate??
  6. With all the time I spend connecting with former/online friends--am I neglecting the actual flesh-and-blood people in my life, nay, in my house, even?
We're in the middle of a communication revolution.  

I read a recent blog post that spoke eloquently of how historians can look back at pre-printing press and post-printing press and see clearly how the advent of literacy for all (or most, at least) changed civilization--religion, politics, you name it. 

What historians can't comment on is how it felt DURING the revolution--to be a leader when the power structure was shifting under your feet--to be a follower, unsure of the ramifications of new freedoms and industries.

By the time our children are adults, I think the face of the change will be clear, the implications for education, privacy, and government.  But for now--it all feels a little katy-bar-the-door.

What do you think?  Do you facebook? What do you like--or not?

Fifi update

So while I've been musing on my summer-vacation-to-be, and philosophizing about life as we know it, I've also been knitting.  (I KNOW!  Imagine that.)

My May (...june...) project has been Fifi, by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes.  I bought Kristeen's new book, French Girl Knits, a couple of months ago, and fell in love with her design sensibility--feminine, romantic, yet practical.  She specializes in one-piece designs:  top-down, bottom up, and even side-to-side.  So, since I had this wonderful book in front of me with 18 designs in it, I immediately...got on Ravelry and bought the pattern for Fifi instead of starting anything from the book.  

Fifi calls for Rowan Calmer, six or seven balls of it for my size.  This wasn't in my budget--it costs about $12 a ball--so I searched Ravelry for an appropriate substitute and landed on KnitPicks Shine Sport in Chipotle.  Calmer is a cotton/acrylic blend, and so is Shine.  There was one other Fifi on Ravelry in Shine Sport and the knitter reported not having to do any modifications as a result of the sub and her photos were supercute.  So I ordered the yarn, swatched on size 7s, and it all looked good.

I don't know if it's because I don't knit with cotton very often, or because the sportweight wasn't a good substitute for Calmer, which is listed as either DK or light worsted depending on where you look, but I'm not 100% happy with the fabric.  It just feels a bit...floppy.  What was nice and smooth in the swatch is a little bit droopy in a full sweater.  I don't know if I should have gone down a needle size, or if I should have used Shine Worsted or Comfy instead (two more popular subs once I started looking more closely)...

There are a couple of other issues with my Fifi, which you can see in the photo below:
  1. my center cable is off center, since the stitches to the left of the cable (the little buggers are on the right in the picture, but remember the sweater was knit top-down) are really loose.  I've not had this problem so dramatically before, and I knit a lot of cables, but that's probably also because the cotton is so much less elastic than my usual wool.
  2. The pattern calls for inserting a few short rows at the bustline to ease the fit.  It doesn't give directions for doing this unobtrusively, though...and as you can see from the WEIRD GAPING HOLE in the picture, I don't think I did this right.  There weren't any directions, so I followed the short row directions in Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters, and the short rows just came out kind of funky and gappy.
I'm going to soldier on, though, because the fit is fundamentally OK and I think, cotton being what it is, that I will be able to shape it during blocking.  I plan on making elbow-length sleeves rather than cap sleeves, and I've also switched to size 5s for the sleeve ribbing to keep it a little snugger.  So we'll see.  If the sleeves turn out well I may reknit the body on 5s or 6s.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I just saw this on a blog I visited and thought, hmmm?

Please do not link to this blog, any post (or part of any post) , any project or any photo on Ravelry. I do not want their kind of attention and hope you will respect my request.
Thank you.

There is something I am not getting here.  "Their kind of attention"? 

I'm sure the blogger has a good reason for this, and I respect the wishes (not that I was tempted to link) but--what?  Nefarious Ravelry?  Big Brother and all that?  So confused.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summer: the double-edged sword

One of the best things about teaching is its cycle of open and close, renewal, and fresh starts--every year a new chance, a change. As the season turns and another school year closes, my mind turns to new opportunities and summer studies.

It's hard to refute the stereotype of teachers getting "three months off" a year, especially since I have worked in the private sector and know the pain of an entry-level job that accrues a mere week or two of "Personal Time Off," or PTO, a year.  For most, PTO time is intended to cover both sick and vacation leave, and the corporate lackey also receives, grudgingly, a few national holidays, which stud the calendar like raisins in a pudding (an image I think I just stole from Louisa May Alcott.  Or someone).

That said, my husband and I have had very few summers "off."  Either he, or I, or both have taken classes, worked a second job, or some combination of the two every summer for the past twelve years.  

This summer, though, marks a milestone:  No classes.  No summer work.  Just family time, and lots of it.

All this freedom?  Oh no!

My summer could look like this:
  1. Read classics I've always meant to read; study Anna Karenina with friend Michelle
  2. Bike or run every day; look amazing
  3. Finally develop that rhetoric/linguistics unit for my AP class that's been half-baked in my mind for two years
  4. Refinish bedroom dressers (only 12 years late) and finally get rid of horrific yellow wallpaper in master bedroom
  5. Weed-free garden; clutter-free home; healthy organic meals daily
Or, it could look like this
  1. Eat crap, gain (more) weight
  2. Futz around on computer, wasting hours per day
  3. Procrastinate on school because "I have so much time until September"
  4. Dither over house projects and end up starting many, but leaving several half-done

How do I make option A happen and option B go away?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Your rainbow is shaded yellow.

What is says about you: You are a joyful person. You appreciate optimism. You're good at getting people to like you.

Find the colors of your rainbow at spacefem.com.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Toni passed this on to me, which was so nice!  Thanks, Toni.

The rules are:

1. List 7 things you love
2. Link back to the person who gave you the award
3. Pass it along to 7 other bloggers.


I love:

1. My husband
2. My children
3. Science fiction & fantasy
4. Knitting (duh)
5. Reading and writing nonfiction
6. Really great singer-songwriters
7. Sitting on the dock at my family's cabin on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho

And I will pass the award on to:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What Grownups Do

A conversation between my husband and my daughter, age almost-3, yesterday.

Miss E:  I'm getting to be a big girl.  I'm almost a grownup.
M: Oh really?  What do grown ups do?
Miss E: (Thinks.) Turn on the lights. (Something she has recently learned to do, being exactly the right height, on tippy-toes, to juuuust baaarely push up the switch.)
M: What else do grownups do?
Miss E: (Thinks again.)  Turn them off again.  

A second conversation, during a marathon Nerf basketball session in big brother's room.  Mr. D has recently become very interested in money, how it works, how much he (and we) have, and personal buying power.

Mr. D: What would you buy with a million dollars, Miss E?
Miss E: (Without hesitation) Strawberries.

So there you have it.  A million dollars' worth of fruit, and magical ability to make lights go on and off--that is what it truly means to be grown up.  Rich indeed!