Friday, February 26, 2010

all the love that I've found

So far all of my prevaricating about how I feel about the Olympics, I have watched a lot of them these last few days. I've also enjoyed watching them, which has caught me off guard. I'm largely uninterested in sports at the best of times (with a few exceptions--baseball and curling), and we don't actually even have any sports channels in our satellite package, but it has been really exciting to watch a lot of the events. The highlight for me so far has been Joannie Rochette's figure skating. While she is obviously not in the same league as Yu Na Kim, she skated tremendously well, and did so under enormous emotional strain. (Her mother flew out from Quebec last week to see Joannie skate, and died of a heart attack a few days later.)

The Ravelympics haven't been so good to me. I finally figured out a pattern that I've been wanting to design for years now, but it hasn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I've got the first mitt blocking right now, and I'm hoping that will sort out some of my problems with my colourwork gauge.

I'm spending my Friday night putting the finishing touches on a paper proposal for an interdisciplinary conference on Eros. (Luce Irigaray is the keynote speaker. ZOMG.) We had a guest lecturer at the school yesterday afternoon lecturing on the cultural politics of the zombie narrative. Prior to the lecture, we watched David Cronenberg's Rabid (which is called Rage elsewhere), and now I have all of these ideas about motherhood, fertility, and the monstrous feminine in horror movies floating around in my head. (To say nothing of the geopolitical implications of what happens in Rabid...there's a whole paper on the FLQ crisis and French-English relations in Quebec in my head right now.) It figures that I am getting my academic mojo back shortly after having decided that a PhD is not in the foreseeable future.

If I could just find a good pattern for a hat in worsted weight yarn, I'd be away to the races.

Friday, February 19, 2010

come in from the cold

It has been a very interesting day around these parts. We were woken up this morning by the loud and incessant cawing of a murder of crows. There were about thirty of them in the tree on our front lawn, on the wires and the rooftops. If it weren't so cold out, I'd even go so far as to say that the darn things were having a hootenanny. What could possibly have so many birds all riled up at 6:30 in the morning? I asked myself. Then I slid my fingers through the slats in the Venetian blinds, and looked out at the yard.

This is what I saw:

The racket went on for a good hour or so until the owl took off, and all the crows just exploded behind him. It made me feel as though I was in a Hitchcock movie.

For this week's foray into new food territory, I decided to make some gyoza. The university held a food fest a few weeks ago, and I had some there that were just ridiculously good. They didn't seem as though they would be excessively difficult to make, so I snooped around to find a good recipe and wound up settling on an Anna Olson recipe. I only changed two things: first, I used lean ground pork instead of regular (it was all they had at the store), and second, I only put in about 125 grams of cabbage instead of a pound. I honestly don't know how they'd be with a full pound of cabbage in there. The little bit that I had was more than enough. It wound up making about 75 little dumplings, which are very tasty. (The other thing that I changed is that I've just been steaming them, not frying then steaming then frying.)

Not much progress to report on my Ravelympics knitting except that I've ripped out and started over again (so that I could go up a needle size). I'm pretty sure the third time's the charm, though; this gauge seems much more workable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

drink up, baby, and stay up all night

I've been visiting my mother for the last few days, and it has been absolutely wonderful. After spending an afternoon with a few friends and my mother, I departed for one of the girls' house armed with my knitting and a bottle of red wine. We wound up watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Women's Moguls on the Olympics, and the bottle of red wine was consumed entirely by me. It was interesting to revisit 2001, as it has been several years since I'd watched it last. I was quite surprised to learn that it is actually only 2h25 long, as I would have bet good money on it being more in the four hour range. It turns out that it only feels four hours long. My main memory from the last time I watched it was that I'd spent most of the film reflecting on how much George Lucas had cribbed visually from the set design of the spaceships. My main memory from this time will probably be that the ending is pretty incomprehensible when 3/4 of a bottle of red wine is inside you.

Post-red wine, my mum and I took a trip down to Toronto to visit her parents. My grandfather hasn't been well lately, so I was excited but apprehensive about seeing him. (He's 86, and has a number of health issues related to age, in addition to a recent diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis.) He had a really good day, though. He was chipper and full of jokes, and even agreed to come out of the house to visit a farming store. He doesn't remember my name, but he does remember who I am. (I blame my mother for giving me such an outlandish name.) ;) My gramma was in good spirits as well. She's not much younger than Grampa, but is in much better health. The responsibility of taking care of Grampa falls on her, and I imagine that can be very trying sometimes. They have been married for almost 60 years.

On the knitting front, I've been working on a pair of mittens for the Ravelympics. I don't want to post pictures until I've managed to knit a little more of them, so that the pattern is more visible. I've had to rip them out entirely once already due to gauge issues, but I think the end result will be worth it.

The best thing that I have done so far on reading week, aside from consuming a large amount of delicious sushi, is write a short story. It's the first thing I've written in almost six years, aside from a few snatches of very bad poetry. It's not any good, but it makes me so unbelievably happy to have written something again. Let's hope there is more to come.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gearing up for the Ravelympics

Every competitor needs some swanky new clothing for competition. Sadly, the Ravelympics are not sponsored by HBC (and after this post, I can't really blame them for that.) Thus, I have taken it upon myself to create a new avatar for the next two weeks:

Let the games begin!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

DVR Clearout I

My taping appetite has apparently exceeded my capacity to watch the things that I record, so today I decided to buckle down and watch a bunch of the stuff that I've been avoiding for a while. The Olympics are coming (perhaps you've heard?) and I anticipate that there will probably be a few events that I'll need to tape, so I want to make sure that I have room.

Part of the problem is that the kind of movie that I like (and like to tape, evidently) is the kind of movie that requires a certain frame of mind to watch: the PVR is currently full of Very Serious Films, that cannot simply be watched while I'm puttering around with other things. They need (and, arguably, deserve) my full attention. Anything that's a bit more fluffy gets watched quite quickly.

Thus far I've been successful in clearing out some CSI, Criminal Minds, and Star Trek: Voyager, but I also managed to watch The Pelican Brief, starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, based on the Grisham novel of the same name. I'd watched and read The Pelican Brief years ago when they first came out (and yes, that would put me at about 11 or 12; my parents never restricted me as a reader). It was an interesting film to revisit. So much of the plot depends on conventions of film writing that are now dated and nearly obsolete. Cell phones, in particular, completely eliminate the "but how will I get ahold of you?" tension in the plot; Julia Roberts's character would have a much harder time going off the grid if the movie were written today. The ways in which the various characters are restricted (in terms of movement) by the need stay in contact with others is fascinating. In these days of email and instant communication, the idea of the hard copy of the actual Pelican Brief being passed around is also quite fascinating, as is the card catalogue/filing cabinet style research that Roberts and Washington do.

I'm not a huge Grisham fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I do find some of his work entertaining. It makes me kind of sad that what is actually a decent legal thriller is now more curious for its antique qualities than its plot.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

the only thing that helps me pass the time away

It's the sixth week of the term, which puts us at the official halfway point for the year. On one hand, this is awesome, because it means that next week is the Spring Study Break, but on the other hand, I have come to the realization that I have only graded 10% of the work my students will submit to me this term, which means that the remaining 90% is still to come. Yikes.

I am making an effort to focus on the positive this term, which means that I am actually going to give myself a proper Spring Break. I had to grade my exams over the winter holidays, resulting in only 3 actual days off for me in the 2.5 weeks I had "off" work, and I am determined that I need a real break this time. This can only happy if I get a goodly chunk of work done before the break begins, of course. My plans are not especially grandiose: I am going home to see my mother, who is home alone currently, having been abandoned by my father (golfing in the States) and Youngest Sister (adventuring in New Zealand). She is talking about going to see my grandparents, maybe, and possibly doing some house painting. It will be nice to have a couple of truly relaxing, vegetative days in the middle of all of this craziness. (Once I finish grading my 125 essays, I have about 100 midterms to grade as well, with more on the way.)

On the knitting and wedding front, I just finished my wedding shawl. The pattern is called Feather Duster, and it is lovely, using ostrich lace for the repeats. The yarn is also lovely: I used a 2 ply fingering weight yarn in natural ivory from Misty Haven Alpacas, which is right outside of town. I picked it because I like the heft of fingering weight yarns in comparison with laceweights, and because the 2 ply fingering is made from Misty Haven's own alpaca herd. (Most of the yarns they carry are from an alpaca co-op, where all the members contribute fiber and then receive a proportionate amount of yarn.) Although it is a millspun yarn, it feels very much like a handspun, as the thickness varied from part to part. The fabric is likely the softest thing I've ever knit, and feels unbelievably luxurious. I cannot wait for my wedding dress to come in so that I can see the two of them together. The best part is that I made the whole shawl out of one skein--less than 400 yards. I'm ever so pleased with myself.

I've got socks on the needles right now, and I think I may actually have broken through my sock rut--I finished the first sock in three days, and am up to the gusset increases on the second already.

For this week's cooking challenge, I made Chicken Saltimbocca for supper. It actually came out really well--I even found a Marsala wine to make the sauce. The sauce, on its own, didn't taste especially good, but once it was on the chicken, it mellowed out the saltiness of the proscuitto and was generally quite tasty. I would definitely make it again.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cowichan sweaters, HBC, and what I'm not knitting for Ravelympics

Regular commenter Castor Rouge has contributed the above photograph, taken at Ottawa's Winterlude festivities three years ago. It makes a good segue to the subject of today's blog, which manages to address a bunch of stuff that I've been pondering off and on for the last few months.

During the last [summer] Olympic games, Ravelry hosted the Ravelympics, in which various teams competed in different knitting related categories. Everyone cast on their projects during the opening ceremonies, and the first person finished in each category would "win". It's happening again this year, which is pretty cool. I'm competing on Team Three Irish Girls (for the yarn club I belong to). We have our own colourway, Sheepnuts, so called because...well...

sheep nuts
(thanks to Kregarious for photo under Creative Commons license)

Anyhow. I was thinking about potential projects for Ravelympics, and I hit upon the idea of making a Cowichan-style sweater. In many ways, it would be the perfect project for the Vancouver Olympics: it would be uniquely Canadian; I could make it out of a heritage yarn, like Briggs and Little; it would be challenging but not intimidating; it would pay homage to the aboriginal people of British Columbia.

Unfortunately, when you're a critical theory person, these things are never so simple as that. At what point does pay homage become cultural appropriation? As a white person of British descent, would I simply be perpetuate the cycle of colonization? It doesn't help that these sweaters are already fraught with controversy in relation to this Olympic games. The Hudson's Bay Company (yes, the same company that used to trade blankets for beaver pelts) is the official clothing company for the Olympic games. As part of their collection for the Olympics, they have a sweater that they swear is *not* a Cowichan sweater. Local aboriginal groups are upset because HBC opted to contract out the sweater making rather than having aboriginal knitters make them, claiming that the Cowichans wouldn't be able to produce sweaters to HBC's strict standards. HBC also claims that their design isn't Cowichan:

I'll leave you to be the judge of that. I especially enjoyed the statement that HBC released:
It is a contemporary design inspired by a great fashion icon that is recognized as a knit sweater all across the country.

If you can tell me what "recognized as a knit sweater" means, exactly, I'd really like to hear it.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying that I'm probably just going to make a scarf rather than a sweater during the Olympics. Is there a way to mitigate that uncomfortable feeling of cultural appropriation?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Knitting, Cooking, Cleaning: The Life Domestic

It has been a busy few days here; when I haven't been thinking about the politics of knitting, I've been actually knitting. (Scary.) There's also been a lot of cooking and cleaning happening over here. Friends of ours are due to welcome a baby girl into the world in a few short days, so I've been working on a wee feather-and-fan sweater for her, and Mat and I are making up some food to take over. We've realized that we've been in a rut lately, so we're trying to be proactive in making changes in our lives.

I frequently try to tell my students that life is a learning process and that university is not necessarily about learning to identify the parts of sentences, but I tend to forget that myself. Living with my partner has meant a lot of learning for me. We have very different temperaments: he will brood where I will attack; he sleeps more than I do; he is much neater than I am. One of the things that I have learned about myself since we've moved in together is that if I don't plan my week out in advance, nothing gets done properly.

This never seemed to be an issue when I lived alone, but I think that's because I only ever had to worry about myself. If left to my own devices, I will often graze rather than eat properly, which just doesn't cut it when you need to feed someone else too. It also didn't matter when I cleaned the tub or did the dishes, or if I remembered to wash the sheets or vacuum. Add another person into the mix, though, and that does start to matter.

In the spirit of breaking out of my biggest rut, which is a food rut, I've decided to make one new recipe every week. This week's adventure in fooding will be a pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes.