Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Trouble with Reading

Everybody seen this poster?  Books do show us a new world just beyond our walled-in reality.  Sometimes that new world is filled with castles and hot air balloons and frolicking unicorns.

But sometimes the world over the wall is filled with factory farms, genocide, political bullshit, and the "thoughts" of Steven Tyler.  Not everything over the wall is pretty.

After reading Holly's post about the Barbara Kingsolver book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, I checked it out from my library.

Click the book to go to its Amazon page.

It is fantastic.  FANTASTIC.  It's about a family of four who decides to take one year and eat as locally as they can.  Kingsolver makes a compelling case for avoiding food that had to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to reach our plate.  (Did you know that the average distance any food on your plate has traveled is 1,500 miles?  Nor did I.)

I knew about factory farming, and that played a significant role in my decision to go vegetarian.  Kingsolver addresses this, and if my only reasons for abstaining from meat were for reasons based on the environment and the treatment of animals, I might be persuaded to go back to being an omnivore, albeit one who shops for meat differently.  Those aren't the only reasons I have so I don't plan on going back to meat, but I am trying to convince Andrew to buy all the meat he eats from local sources.

It's a great book, and I highly recommend it.  It's a book that has wiggled into my brain, and I'm not yet sure what the ramifications of it will be.  I am just sure there will be some.

Be careful when you look over the wall.  That is exactly how they work.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I think I have a problem.

I used to laugh condescendingly at people who said they had reached SABLE (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy).  Those were the people who bought more yarn than they could ever knit in their life. Who would do that?

I'll tell you who would do that. I would.

It starts out small.  I buy a couple skeins of yarn that I can use for a baby blanket because it's on sale and, hey, there will always be baby showers.  This is just savvy shopping.

Then maybe there's an annual sale, and I buy enough yarn to make a few pairs of socks.  I like to knit socks.  I knit them a lot.  This yarn is on sale and, really, I'm being responsible by purchasing yarn on sale that I would eventually purchase anyway.

Then I'm hit by something unexpected.  There's a local yarn shop going out of business.  How many times does this happen in one's knitting life?  (Twice, so far, and I've only been knitting for five years.)  I have to buy a bunch of yarn then.  I need to help these lovely people liquidate their inventory, and holymarymotherofgod the prices are delightful.

Before I know it, I'm driving two hours one way to go to a yarn shop's liquidation sale.  And at this sale, there are grab bags that are $5 each or 4 for $20, needles and books 80% off, and balls of cashmere 50% off.

I was able to justify all of this until last night.  I was sitting on the couch flipping through a Knitpicks catalogue and admiring their new yarn.  I saw this...

Knitpicks yarn in new Thunderhead colorway

Gray is my favorite color.*  This new colorway is available in several different types of yarn.  I want them all.

That's when I had to admit that I have a problem.  I am hoping it is not too late to save myself.  I am going to admire this color on my computer screen, but I am not going to buy any.  I don't need any yarn.  I have lots of beautiful yarn already.  I don't need any yarn.  I have lots of beautiful yarn already.  I don't need any yarn....

I did put it on my wishlist though.  It doesn't count if someone buys it for me, right?

*a) Don't make fun of me because I like gray.  b) Did that sentence make anyone else start singing, "I felt so symbolic yesterday."?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More Babies, More Hats

My cousin is pregnant with twins, and her baby shower is next weekend.  I'm nursing a cold and generally feeling that walking up and down the stairs is as much activity as I can be expected to do, so I'm spending a lot of time on the couch knitting.

Swirl Hat knit in Felici fingering weight yarn in some unknown colorway 

Swirl Hat knit in Felici fingering weight yarn, Cochineal colorway

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Knitting for Alpaca with a Twist

Alpaca with a Twist sent out a request for volunteers to knit some samples with their Baby Twist yarn.  I volunteered, and they asked me to knit four sample "squares" (read: rectangles) that they would then sew together and hang at TNNA.

Baby Twist yarn, image from Alpaca with a Twist's site

When I received my box and excitedly torn it open, I saw that I was to knit two Zebra Eyes and two Leopard Eyes colorwork samples.  The knitting world pays attention to fashion trends, and I had read that animal prints are very on trend.  I had not anticipated that fact ever, ever, ever to touch my life, but the universe has a sense of humor.  I actively hate animal print. 

Nevertheless, I was excited to get started.  The fact that it was animal print was a tiny setback, but this whole process was going to be fantastic!

The yarn, oh, the yarn.  It's delightful.  It's fuzzy--not mohair fuzzy, but fuzzier than wool, and so soft.  It was a pleasure to knit with that yarn.

I cast on and nearly immediately came upon a problem.

I've done colorwork.  It requires you, if you hope to do it with any sort of speed whatsoever, to hold one color in one hand and a second color in your other hand.  I have knit enough mittens and fingerless gloves that I can knit fairly well this way.  It's awkward, but I can do it.

Do you know what mittens and fingerless gloves have in common?  They're round.  When you knit round things, you are always looking at the front side, and you're nearly always doing the knit stitch.*

I'd never had to work across the back of a colorwork project, and I had no idea how to hold the yarn in my left hand.

It took watching some Internet videos over and over and over again, but I sort of figured out how to do "combination knitting," made famous by Annie Modesitt and, somewhat awkwardly, continued. 

I also realized just how many ends there are in these patterns.  A lot of ends, people.  A lot of ends.

There was one point in the leopard pattern when there are four colors used in a single row.  There's no good way to do this that I know of, so there was repeated detangling of the yarn balls. 

I was really worried about these guys before I blocked them.  They were extremely curly, and although I had tried to be very aware of not pulling the yarn too tightly, I was afraid that I had.

I blocked the heck out of them, and they turned out all right!  I used an absurd number of pins.  I didn't want those guys going anywhere.

Here's one of the zebra squares pinned with a gazillion pins.

Here's the finished product!  They're on their way back to Alpaca with a Twist, and I hope they're pleased with them.  I am, and I'm extremely excited to be finishing up a pair of socks with only one color!

*Yes, I know that's not necessarily true.  If you're a knitter, you know what I mean. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The fabric I won from uberstitch's blog came in the mail.  I'm smitten.  It came in an adorable tied bundle, but I am not clever enough to get the ribbon back on it once I took it off.  You'll just have to trust me that it was pretty.

It has a bajillion different fabric squares in it, and they are gorgeous.

Click to enlarge.  Seriously, click.  You won't be disappointed.

One of my sisters has kindly agreed to put these together for me in a quilt if I'd like.  I may have her do that, although when she'll have time with a full-time job, a 3-year-old, and a newborn I can't imagine.  I may also borrow a book on quilting from the library and give it a go myself. 

For right now, I'm content to spread out this beauty and admire it.  If you're in the market for some awesomeness, go visit their store.  Be warned that you may find yourself buying things even if you don't sew.  The draw is strong.

Thanks, uberstitch!  I love it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Yesterday I raced home from work to get outside in the garden.  I'm trying to incorporate some better gardening practices into my little space this year, so I started by working in some organic fertilizer.  It looked like dirt and smelled like poop, so it certainly seemed organic.

Spreading fertilizer necessitated a call to Miracle Grow's toll-free number.  No matter how many times I read the bag, the information I needed wasn't there.  The bag said to use 1/3 c. for vegetable gardens.  Nowhere did it say how many square feet that covered.  Was it 1/3 c. for the whole bed?  What if your bed was small and your neighbor's was big?  Was it 1/3 c. per plant (which seemed crazy)?  The nice Miracle Grow lady looked up my product and told me to put 2.25 T. per square foot for new vegetables and less for established gardens.  

The soil looks great.  The compost that we picked up from the city is so much better than the soil I have in my backyard, which is equal parts rocks, roots, and clay.

The seedlings did much better this year with the addition of a grow light.  These Napa Grape tomato plants did especially well.

The tomatoes that are the smallest are the Brandy Boy, which are on the left side of the planter above.  I'll need to keep an eye on them and perhaps replace them with plants from a nursery.  I only had room to plant eight tomato plants, so I'm planning to give the rest to a friend at work.

A couple hours later, I was finished with the garden (at least until I buy a couple more plants), had planted the hellebore, sprinkled some sunflower seeds amidst a bunch of weeds and wished them the best, repotted the begonia, and watered everything.  I was filthy and sweaty and happy.

The irony that the plant that looks the best in that picture is the oregano I purchased is not lost on me.  I'm trying to focus on how much better my seedlings look this year compared to last year.

This square is mostly peppers with some garlic in the front corner and peas struggling in the back.  I may have planted them too early this year, or it may just be that the seeds I used from last year weren't able to sprout this year.  

I had a couple of mystery plants show up in the potting tray, so I stuck them in the ground and will see what happens.  I accept that it is possible I just carefully transplanted weeds.

Before I went inside for the night, I sprayed the perimeter of the little garden with Liquid Fence, a horrible concoction of nastiness that is supposed to smell so badly to animals that they'll leave your plants alone.  I know that I certainly didn't want to hang around the garden after I sprayed it, and they said that animals are sensitive to the smell long after it's faded enough to not bother humans.  Here's hoping.

Every year I say I'm going to do things better outside, and this year is no exception.  Here are my goals, some of which are met and some of which will take work throughout the summer:

  • Use a grow light for the seedlings and transplant them to roomier digs when necessary.  Check.
  • Pick up more compost from the city and add it to the garden and front flower bed.  Check.
  • Water the hellebore more regularly so it doesn't meet the fate of my first one.
  • Water the front flower beds even though it's a pain to get the hose there.
  • Check the garden every day--just a little walk-by to see if any plants are having problems, need to be trained in a different direction, etc.  
  • Fertilize.  Check for initial application.  I need to check my notes from class to see when it needs to be done again.
Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sacrifice Made

Remember how I said herbs are my sacrifice to the gardening gods?  Yesterday I set the herbs outside to get some sun. This morning, I saw that the basil had blown over. I went out to right it, and...

I hope this is the only sacrifice required, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Other Danger of Sun

My new Ivory Prince Hellebore
Today there was sunshine!  SUNSHINE!! 

And so I found myself pulling into the garden center on my way home from work.  I told myself it was because I wanted to buy a hellebore and perhaps something for Mother's Day for my mom and Andrew's mom, which were both partially true.  The rest of the truth had to do with sunshine! and green! and blooms! and the smell of damp earth!

Really, I should be relieved I came out as unscathed as I did since the odds were so clearly stacked against me.

I bought my my mother-in-law a gorgeous dahlia.

 I found myself admiring begonias, which is unusual for me.  I say this pink beauty is for my mother, but....

I also decided to get my herb ritual out of the way.  Each year I buy herbs, and each year I kill them.  Although I always believe I will succeed (people say they're so easy...), I never have.  It's easier to believe that it's a necessary sacrifice to the gardening gods.

There were patches of frost on the grass this morning, but it has to end sometime.  When it does, I'll be ready.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Andrew and I have been sponsoring a boy in Rwanda through Compassion International for the past thirteen or fourteen years.  I started in college, and we continued after we married.  The oldest letter I found in my file was from November of 1997.*

His name is Habineza.  We get letters a few times a year.  We would write back and sometimes send photos or, when he was younger, stickers.  In all the years, our letters never really changed.  We talked about the weather, about school, about crops.  I never felt we connected well, but I knew that our money was doing something good for somebody else. 

We sat down tonight to pay bills, and we saw that our Compassion statement said we didn't owe anything.  On the back, it said simply, "Child left program-funds on hold."

Habineza is 20 now, but I knew he could choose to stay in the program until he was 22.  I also knew that the last two letters we had received had been written by someone in the program and not by him.  I didn't know the reason.  I called Compassion after seeing the note on the bill, and they looked up his record, said they didn't know much and that they would call if they received any additional information.  What did their records show? Simply that Habineza had left the program because he had joined the military.

He joined the Rwandan military.

Let's pretend that I'm not a tree-hugging vegetarian with Buddhist leanings.  Let's even pretend that there hasn't been genocide in Rwanda within Habineza's lifetime.  Let's just look at him as an individual.

In June of 2009, Habineza wrote:

"I had started studies in S-1 but I did not continue because of sickness.  From where I went for treatment at first, they sent me at the hospital of University of Butare and it is where I am treated from and I have been examined, I have not get drugs.  Doctors told me that vessels in the heart and in the head do not function properly.  I normally have weakness but I hope with prayers that God will make me feel well.  As I am writing now I am still sick."

In April of 2010, he wrote:

"I am fine in Rwanda though I am a little bit sick.  As I write for you I am at the hospital.  I am sick."

That's all I know about his illness, and in the April letter he went on to say that he had bought a goat and two rabbits to raise.  He said they would help him when he was no longer supported by the program.

What the hell happened?  I don't think I'll ever know.  I don't know why he decided to join the military.  I don't know how his health is.  My guess is that we will have no more contact.

There's nobody to blame here.  Compassion is a good program, although I probably won't support another child through them.**  We made a difference in his life and in his family's lives, and he made a difference in ours.  Habineza reminded us how wealthy we are, we who live squarely in America's middle class who often forget that we are indeed rich. 

Soon, I will do research and find another charity to which to send that money.

But not today.

Today I'm sad that I never knew if he wrote us because he had to or because he wanted to.  I'm sad that his family isn't going to have that income coming to them.  I'm sad that he faces illness and quite probably doesn't receive the kind of medical care that I would receive for the same condition.  I'm sad I'll never get closure, and I'm sad that he has joined the military.

I'm not looking for anyone to say we did the right thing.  Yes, our sponsorship made a difference.  Yes, it is equally true that what made a tremendous difference to him was not a real sacrifice in our lives; this is the inequality of riches in our world. 

I'm looking to somehow acknowledge, however feebly, a part of my life that has been with me nearly since I became an independent adult that has now ended.

Today I am sad.

*I logged on to my Compassion account to see if it said when I started sponsorship.  His record has already been disconnected from mine.  It was as if he was never there.

**Compassion is pretty conservative.  I used to be.  Now I'm not.  There are other charities that would be a better fit for me.

Been There, Tried That (or Not)

A blog I read, CanaryKnits, posted a meme about knitting experience.  She highlighted the things on the list she had done.  I do love a good list, so I did the same.

Dragon for Stephen
Drop Stitch
Twisted Stitch
Slip Stitch/Smocking
Moebius Band (not on purpose, anyway)
Indianapolis Knitting Guild KAL
Graffiti Knitting
Continental Style
English Style
Portuguese Style 
Fair Isle
Short Rows
Knitting with Beads
Long Tail CO
Tubular CO
Backwards Loops CO
Provisional CO (I still bear the emotional scars)
Knitting and Purling Backwards
Knitting two socks on two circulars simultaneously
Magic Loop
Thrummed knitting

A Cardigan for Arwen


Monster Slippers


HatMittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
Fingerless mitts

Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up

Sweater, Shrug/bolero/poncho
Toy/doll clothing
Baby items
Stuffed toys
Knitting items for a wedding
Holiday related knitting
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cozies well, toaster cozy actually…)Purses/bags
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Kalajoki Socks for Andrew

Publishing a Knitting Book
Participating in a KAL
Charity Knitting
Knitting in public
Teaching a male how to knit (what does it say about our culture that this is a big deal?)
Teaching a child to knit

Besides loving a good list, this gave me a chance to reflect on what I've done and what I'd like to try.  Learning to knit either Continental or Portuguese style has been on my list for awhile, but I keep avoiding it because it's easier to do things as I've always done them.  I think I need to bite the bullet, cast on for a boring, straight stockinette pair of socks, and try to learn to knit Continental-style.

I'd also like to try steeks, but, naturally, they terrify me as they are hideous, horrible monsters waiting to destroy all my fibery hopes and dreams.

Spinning is a deep rabbit hole that I think it's best not to go down.  I've thought about trying to design something, probably socks, but it's not a pressing desire of mine.  There are so many beautiful patterns already that I never search Ravelry for something and thing, "Drat.  There are no patterns that do what I want!"  If a beloved friend were to get married, I would happily knit something fabulous for him/her, but only if he/she requested it.  If a kid showed an interest, I'd happily teach him/her, but since I don't have any kids the opportunities are infrequent.

Hmmm, Continental.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Trying and Not Trying All At the Same Time

Think of "trying" both in the sense of attempting and in the sense of frustrating.  That's where I am today.

I have been making a conscious effort to be less... well, let's call it what it is-- bitchy at work.  I do like my job, and I choose to work here because of the people with whom I work.  That statement should in no way be construed to mean that I don't regularly want to pop various colleagues in the schnoz.  I do.

Today, when faced with three separate incidents in which people made me frustrated, I realized that I wanted to respond in a snarky way.

I'm not sure I can make this distinction clear, but bear with me.  I actively wanted to respond to colleagues in a way that is unprofessional, unpleasant, and produces negative energy.  Often I feel that I've responded to a situation in such a way as to create negative energy because I reacted instead of stopping to consider my response, but today I found myself feeling a little glee over complaining.

This is not whom I want to be.

So, in the words of Inigo Montoya, I go back to the beginning.
  1. In life, there is suffering.  Coworkers feel entitled.  People bring problems that should not be mine and dump them on my desk.  It is a fact.
  2. Suffering is caused by craving and desire.  My coworkers make me crazy because I want them to act in ways other than they are.  
  3. My suffering can end if I stop craving and desiring things to be other than they are. This doesn't mean that the situation changes.  It means that I choose to be in charge of how I respond.  I do not wish to be a negative person, and so I can choose not to be.  People have control only when I give it to them.  
  4. The way to stop craving and desiring things to be other than the way they are is to follow the Eightfold Path: right speech, right action, right thought, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, right concentration, right understanding.

Each portion of the Eightfold Path is like a spoke on a wheel.  They all lead to the same center.  I just need to pick one and focus on it.  I choose right effort.  I am going to actively try to accept situations for what they are and respond in a kind manner.  It is better for me, better for my coworkers, and better for the universe.

I'm fairly sure this is going to be hard and I will fail at it.  It is a laudable goal, and perhaps by focusing some of my effort here, I will have less available effort to be snarky.

And, if I do fail, I've got the rest of this lifetime and lots more to keep working on it.

It's important to me that anyone reading this realizes that I suck at all this.  I don't want to come across as someone who knows what she's doing.  I don't.  I'm not a good Buddhist nor am I a good Christian.  In the words of Geri Larkin, my favorite Buddhist, I'm stumbling toward enlightenment.  We all are.  Maybe life is just a series of "trying again,"  trying again to be the person I want to be even though it seems that I fail nearly all of the time.  

And so I go back to the beginning.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Beginnings!

This morning, my sister did fabulous work.

This is Matthew Jack.  He weighed 6 lb. 9 oz., and he's perfect.  His brother arrived quite early nearly four years ago, so we've all been holding our breath and sending positive energy to encourage him to delay his entrance until he was big.  My sister said she kept saying, "If he'll just wait until May, everything will be fine.  Just wait until May."  He did.  At 1:00 a.m. on May 1, she went into labor.  I talked to him here and encouraged him to wait until mid-May, but 37 weeks was as long as he was prepared to wait, and that's long enough.

I've spent most of the day being stunned that this new person is here.  My sister and brother-in-law made an entirely new person.  I can't believe we don't spend all of our time as a species walking around in a daze that this sort of thing can happen.  Miracles.

In other news, I finished another pair of socks.  These are for a friend, but I kind of wish they were for me.

Socks of Kindness pattern knit in Knitpick's Felici fingering weight yarn, Rainbow colorway

They're not anywhere close to as impressive as Matthew, but they're nice.