Friday, April 30, 2010

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day Five

Today's topic is location: where do I knit? I knit in lots of places. At home, I knit in my living room, usually while watching TV or fiddling on the computer. Sometimes I listen to audiobooks (although they have to be things that I've read before, because I don't have the wherewithal to process new information while I'm knitting). I also knit in my office at work, and I try to have a project that exists only to be worked on while I'm there. This usually only works for the first few weeks of the term, when nothing is due; about a week before the first assignment, the stream of students and emails will begin to pick up, and once that's done the assignments start to come in, and I'm caught up in an endless whirl of grading. Those first few weeks are pretty sweet, though; I'll buy myself a tea and take off my shoes, curl up in my oversized office chair and listen to music while my hands work.

I also knit at Girl Tuesday's house; we will watch whole seasons of tv shows together, and her cat will hop up on my lap and settle in. He's old enough that he doesn't mind that I knit around him, unlike Bad Cat, who is still enough of a kitten that he has these fits of "MEmeMEmeME" when he deigns to sit with me (plus the usually kitteny interest in the string part of knitting). Sometimes we will go out and knit at a coffeeshop downtown, where we attract interest from older women who have forgotten how much they like knitting, and who are amazed by the kinds of things that we make.

When my friend Jessica got married this past summer, I was one of her bridesmaids. I brought my knitting with me because I knew that on the day of, we would have lots of free time: weddings are often a case of "hurry up and wait" when you're in the wedding party. Plus, I was very nearly done my February Lady Sweater, and I really wanted to finish it. One of the nice things about weddings is that there are cameras everywhere, so I actually have a couple of pictures of myself in the process of knitting.

In short, I knit a lot of places. What about you?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day Four

Addendum: Upon further reflection, there is actually something I want to learn--or, more correctly, learn to do better. I want to learn to take better pictures of my knitting and my yarn. To that end, I'm looking at doing a few online digital photography classes this summer, and I am going to build myself a lightbox tomorrow. It's going to be awesome.

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day 4

Today I am supposed to write about skills. One of the things I like about knitting is the acquisition of concrete skills that result in a concrete product. I think this is partially because English Studies is a fairly abstract field, in a lot of ways: I can write a paper, and people can read it, but chances are only a select few of them are going to have any real understanding of what I'm trying to say (and even then, some of those people are still thinking "and this helps the world how, exactly?"). But when I knit a hat, or a scarf, or a sweater, that's something tangible that people can understand. I also love that moment when something completely incomprehensible suddenly makes complete and utter sense.

I actually can't think of too many skills that I still need to acquite. There are some that I am sure I will try eventually, like entrelac, but for the moment my skill set is adequate for the things that I'm making. I would like to learn to do stranded colourwork better, though; as things currently stand, I can do it, but my gauge is so different from normal it's like I'm a different knitter.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Knitting & Crochet Blog Week - Day Three

I take a lot of inspiration from other knitters (which is probably true of most people who are on Ravelry or who belong to community knitting groups). Back when knitting was a solo endeavour for me, I tended to make a lot of mittens and felted purses. I still like making these things, but I have branched out a lot since then, and I think that's in large part because I have come in to contact with so many talented knitters. Seeing the things that they create makes me a better knitter because it allows to imagine and re-imagine the things that I might make.

Since the purpose of today's post is to highlight one great knitter in particular, I'm going to pick on my friend Sherrin, who goes by strangeangel on Ravelry. I met Sherrin as part of my MA cohort, when she kind of adopted me in the first few weeks of class. We didn't do nearly enough knitting together that year, but we have kept in touch in the nearly five years since we graduated. She is now busy being brilliant PhDwise at another university in southern Ontario, and I love looking at her project gallery on Rav. Not only is she tremendously skilled as a knitter, she has a great eye for colour and an even better eye for matching yarns with projects. I also admire her ability to actually finish her projects.

There's a lot of lovely things on Sherrin's Projects page, especially since she's discovered lace knitting, so I'll try to keep my favourite picks simple: I love her End of Papers Mitts, her first Aeolian shawl, Lions and Lopi and Stranding, Oh My!, her husband's Better Biker Boy, and, of course, Pasha.

Looking at her work always leaves me inspired--I only wish I'd been able to take better advantage of that when we lived in the same city.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

into the great wide open

As part of my trip home on the weekend, I persuaded my mother to part with her DSLR camera for a few months so that I could learn to use it. Photography has been an interest of mine since I got to take a black and white photography class in my grade eleven year. We learned how to use SLR cameras and to process and print our own film. My parents bought me my own camera as a graduation present--an old 35mm Praktica, made in the German Democratic Republic. It suited me well, but eventually the light meter went on it (and the film counter never worked properly) and I got sucked into the world of digital point and shoot cameras. (Which is not a bad world to be in, per se, but it does make for some lazy photography.)

I've been pondering the purchase of a digital SLR for a while now, and I think this is the year to make it happen. I'm hoping that I can re-learn a lot of the stuff that I used to know about photography by using my mom's camera; if I can't, it will be good to know that before I blow $700ish on the Nikon D5000 that I have my eye on...

One of the appealing things about the university here is that there are a number of hiking trails behind the school. The very first weekend that I moved into the residence here back in 2000, my new roommates and I went on a hike to the waterfalls. We were led by a guy named Ben, who was tall and good looking and said things like, "You can trust me. I'm a geography major." (This was a lie. We definitely got lost at least once that day.) I had not been back on the trails since, until today. I convinced one of my co-workers to take a break from his article writing and enjoy the sunshine. Unfortunately, this rather backfired as it snowed for a good portion of our trek, but it was a very good time anyway. The waterfalls are not on a steep incline, but they do go on a good ways, and they are very rocky. I got to climb out along the rocks and stand in the middle of the falls, which was very cool.

I don't spend nearly enough time outside. Part of this is where I live--can you really blame me for hibernating during a Northern Ontario winter?--but part of it is my own nature, which likes the comfort of being inside. I need to change this, though. I can't even describe the way that I felt today, standing out on the rocks with the water rushing all around me. It was, for lack of a better word, amazing, and it was exactly what I needed--it cleared out my head for me, and I've been substantially more productive all day as a result.

I didn't get a lot of pictures because I was too busy looking at everything, and I'm not thrilled with the pictures that I did get. I have a lot to learn about photography. But it's a starting point.

Knit & Crochet Blog Week - Day 2

Today's post is supposed to be about a pattern to which I aspire. I am reasonably confident in my knitting skills, so this was a bit tricky to figure out. Don't get me wrong--there are definitely things that I don't know how to do,* and lots of skills that I still want to acquire, but one of the things that I like about knitting is that I know that, with enough patience and dedication, I will eventually figure it out.

The current project that has me intimidated is Jenna Wilson's beautiful Rogue sweater. Again, it's not that it involves things that I think I can't do; it's more just the sheer size of the project. I am also a little worried about the set-in sleeves, as I have struggled with those in the past. It is also a gift for my mother, so I need to do a good job on it.

I think I'm also a little intimidated by it because I had picked out the pattern for myself years and years ago when I was in grad school and one of my new knitting friends showed it to me. Just before Christmas last year, my mother started dropping the big hints about wanting a sweater with Celtic-style cables, going so far as to point out some sample sweaters at the local yarn store for me.** Unfortunately, these samples were...well, ugly, and I couldn't bear the idea of making something that large that I didn't find esthetically pleasing. I was honour-bound to show my mum Rogue, which, of course, she fell in love with right away.

I'm hoping to cast on later today. Wish me luck!

*For example, I don't know how to do a long tail cast on.
**Remember yesterday when I talked about how my mum knit 16 fair isle sweaters in one year? Yup, same mum. She just really wants me to knit the sweater for some reason.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week - Day One

I was taught to knit by my dad's mother when I was fairly young--perhaps about 8 or 9. My wee Scottish grandmother taught both Middle Sister and I at the same time, at her house in Peterborough, and I can remember the small, white, garter stitch square that I produced, and how much it bothered me that it was ridged. I had thought that I would produce something flat and beautiful, with rows of tiny Vs--I had no idea that stockingette would take work. My grandmothers were both quite crafty, although the impression that I have is that my dad's mother knit and crocheted exclusively, where my mum's mother did just about everything under the sun: knitting, crocheting, tatting, sewing, smocking, painting, everything.* One of them made this for one of us girls at some point:

yarn 303

I didn't stick with it, being fairly involved with a number of other creative endeavours (and, of course, having my nose permanently stuck in a book, which made doing anything else pretty difficult). In fact, I wouldn't pick it up again until the summer of 2000, when I started to work at the Historic Site Which Shall Not Be Named. For the first time in my life, a wholly Protestant work ethic asserted itself: I could not stand to be on site without something to do with my hands. I borrowed an Opinel knife, grabbed some kindling, and carved my own cedar knitting needles. (In case you were wondering, cedar is a singularly poor material to make knitting needles out of, as it is so soft that it breaks without much encouragement.) I sort of remembered how to knit from my grandmother's lessons, so I got someone else to cast on for me, and away I went. Even then, I didn't do much with it when I wasn't at work.

Three years after this, I asked Middle Sister what she wanted for Christmas, and she asked me to buy her a knitting book for beginners. As soon as I saw the cover for Stitch'n'Bitch, which has just been published, I knew it was exactly what she was looking for...what I didn't know is that it was what I was looking for, too. I began to knit more frequently, and to choose projects that were actual projects, and not just scarves. I realized quickly that all of the time I had spent knitting in the seventeenth century had led to a lot of creating my own stitches and ways for doing things: I had even figured out a way of purling backwards so that I didn't have to turn my knitting at the end of the row--I would just work back across it. Following patterns meant having to un-learn some of the things I had taught myself, because it made following patterns very difficult. I also wrap the wrong way, which meant that for the first few years that I knit, all of my stitches were twisted. (Rather than changing my wraps, I eventually figured out a way to accomodate for this; it's one of the reasons why my gauge is generally looser than the norm.) When I moved to Guelph to do my MA, I was faced with the reality of living alone in a city where I knew no one and nothing, and knitting became a solace from some of that loneliness. (It also eventually led to some friendships with the other people in my program--there were a lot of knitters that year.)

Knitting means something different to me now than it did back then, but that's the story of how I became a knitter.

*My mother also knits: she went through a fair isle sweater phase that outfitted us three girls, our cousins, and various friends of the family in beautiful pastel sweaters. However, she never really tried to get any of us to knit, perhaps because she is a leftie and all of us girls are right handed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Sing the Body Pathetic

I recently finished a cute, lace up cardigan from French Girl Knits called "Wrenna". I had to modify the pattern since I used a different yarn, but the end result is quite pleasing, and I was pretty excited to wear it today for the first time. The sweater is black, so I paired it with a pale lavender tank top, grey jeans, and grey ballet flats, and felt very pleased with myself for being so stylish. (I also only had a lavender ribbon to use for the lacing, so it worked quite well.) My hair is pretty much at the perfect length right now, and it has been behaving very nicely these last few weeks.

Then I got to work, and had two separate people ask me if I was pregnant. (If you are wondering, I am not.) I blame this squarely on the empire waist tank top: Empire waists do nothing for a shape like mine, because they fall in a way that emphasizes the widest part of my body while ignoring the parts that taper. Like my actual waist. It is a terrible look for me--I guess I thought that the inherent cuteness and good shape of the Wrenna would counteract the tank top. No such luck.

What's most surprising about this, I guess, is how upset I am as a result. I've done my fair share of feminist theory, and I know all about body politics and the like; I don't think you can be a feminist on the internet without coming in to contact with these ideas at some point or other. One of my favourite units to teach back in my high school teachin' days was the critical media studies unit on gender in the media. (Plus I'm a knitter, and there's nothing like being actively involved in making your own clothing to make you understand how totally arbitrary sizing and notions of body shape are.) I try my best to advocate accepting your body as it is, and acknowledging our cultural standards of beauty as problematic and unrealistic. I know how difficult popular culture makes navigating this world if you don't fit into these preconceived notions of what a woman's shape should be, but I guess I've always sort of thought that I was above all that.

It turns out I'm not above it at all. The pregnancy question has me obsessing over my weight. I keep wondering, Am I fat? I sneak glances at myself in the windows in the hallways at work; I examine my reflection in the mirrors in the washroom; I bemoan the lack of a full-length mirror at home where I can see my whole body.

I know I'm not fat. I know I'm not skinny, either, and I know that I really shouldn't weigh much less than what I weigh right now.* My body isn't shaped to be much smaller than it is right now: My hips are always going to be wide; I'm always going to be chesty; I am always going to be curvy. (I'm pretty sure this comes from my dad's family--the M----rs all have crazy metabolisms. Thanks a lot, Dad's genetic line!) I don't think my body is perfect (there are loads of things about it that I don't love, but that's another essay for another time) but there's certainly nothing wrong with it. So why, then, am I all in a tizzy over this idea that I look like I could be pregnant (which my mind has turned, by extention, into looking fat)?

It's just interesting to me, I guess, to come into such close contact with my own failings. I'm quite surprised that this upsets me that much, but it does. I don't know that I'd go quite so far as to call it hypocrisy on my part, but some days it really feels like the older I get, the more I discover that I keep falling short of the person I like to think that I am.

*I kept writing additional sentences to qualify this statement, about how I have winter weight and could stand to lose 5-10 lbs., but have opted to avoid saying those since I have a normal weight for my height/age and a normal BMI. Funny how even as I say that I'm happy with my body, I'm still nitpicking the details, isn't it?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I dreamed I was dying, as I so often do...

I really hate the way that I'm most productive when I have a lot to do. If there's only a little bit on my plate, I will procrastinate and dilly dally and even lollygag, but the minute I have seventeen nigh impossible tasks, I will get that shit done. For example, today I have: done laundry, marked 1/3 of my exams, cleaned three rooms, watched Napoleon Dynamite*, mapped out part of my upcoming conference paper, read the graphic novel adaptation of "I Am Legend" and taken a nap.

Once these exams are graded and I start tabulating final marks, I will be more or less done for the year, which is terrifying and exhilerating. I have high hopes for this summer. I usually find my time off from work to be really stressful. I like having things to do; I like having a sense of purpose. I dislike not making money; I dislike being left to my own devices all the time. It's ironic, I suppose, that the time of the year that most people look forward to the most is the one that sends me into a depressive state.

Thus, this summer, I have decided that I will have ambition, purpose, and clearly stated goals, so that I do not lose track of myself. The preliminary goal list looks something like this:

  1. Knit my mom's Christmas present (Rogue sweater)
  2. Knit Mat a pair of kilt hose
  3. Design, make, and mail wedding invitations
  4. Write script for graphic novel idea found in old notebook
  5. Write script for own Cinema of the Awkward film
  6. Prime and paint living room, spare room, craft room, and upstairs hallway
  7. Grow tomatoes and/or herbs in backyard
  8. Miscellaneous wedding planning activities
  9. Sew new curtains for bathroom

I hope this is enough to keep me out of trouble. I spent most of last summer napping extensively on the couch because I felt so poorly, and I don't think that I can handle going down that road again.

*I still don't really get it

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Consider the rock lobster

I had a very strange night last night. A local group holds poetry readings once a month, consisting of two chosen speakers and an open set. Last night's speakers were students from the Prose and Poetry Creative Writing courses up at the school. As I taught many of these students in my first year teaching here, I wanted to make the effort to go see them read.

The night began strangely, which should have told me it would end strangely. I had imagined, for some reason, that it began at seven, and arrived slightly belatedly at the bar. A sign on the front door told me it had been moved from the Classy Jazz Bar to the Generic British Pub down the road. Upon arriving at the Generic British Pub, I quickly realized that the event actually wasn't going to start for another hour.

The logical thing to do would have been to leave, perhaps drop in on a friend or a sister in the vicinity, or even get a coffee...but instead I decided to sit at the bar and have a pint. I wound up talking to a man the same age as my father for the better part of the hour; I know this because I asked him about the Masonic symbol on his fleece vest. (Masons are sworn to protect the chastity of the daughters of fellow Masons, so I figured I'd throw out the "My dad's the Past Master at his Lodge" line to head off the flirtatious direction of the conversation.) It wound up being a surprisingly interesting conversation; he told me that he disagreed with the Order of the Eastern Star because of their male-centric mandate.

Eventually people showed up; we went upstairs. Poems and prose were read--some very good, some not very good. A former NHL player showed up to read from his recently published book of hockey related poetry in the style of Robert Service. Everyone else drank beer; I had decided to drive so was abstaining. We [meaning me, Colleague, Friend of Colleague, Keen Student, and Girlfriend of Keen Student] eventually decided to move to the Generically Friendly Bar With Delicious Food, where we crammed ourselves into a very small booth.

As often happens in such situations, we wound up having about six different conversations simultaneously. Everything Colleague said came back to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest at some point, which was quite funny--poetry, religion, hockey, destiny, depression, life at the tiny northern university. Colleague's friend is a documentary filmmaker, and we wound up having the most intense conversation--the kind you can only have with someone you've just met; the kind where one party is completely drunk and the other is stone sober.

The conversation was interesting. I had met Friend of Colleague a few days before at the year end social for our graduating students, and had sort of assumed that Friend of Colleague either wouldn't remember me or wouldn't like me, and had based my interaction with him on that. I tend to be flippant when I feel out of my depth in social settings; I also, unfortunately, think that I'm quite witty, which can be a bad combination. Friend of Colleague is very much the same. The unfortunate part is that everything we talked about was something that could only be discussed in earnest, so little by little, we needed to take down our defenses. I don't know that I've ever had such a long conversation with someone who uses language the way that I do, who constantly disassembles to avoid letting people in. And then, a propos of nothing, he said something to me that completely astounded me--and all of my defenses were gone. I don't know if that's ever happened to me before.

I don't often choose to speak about what I believe, but one of the things that I do believe is in purpose and order, and that wherever I go is where I am meant to be. Thus, I am left to wonder why I needed to hear someone say that right now...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pride Goes Before A Fall

The original title of this post was "Ding dong, the witch is dead" but that seems a tad uncharitable, so I decided against it. Nonetheless...Helena Guergis, MP for the riding where I grew up, has resigned from her minor cabinet post, and been turfed from the Conservative caucus by the PM. He has also brought in the RCMP and the Conflict of Interest commissioner to investigate what he has called "serious allegations" against the "Honourable" Ms. Guergis. (It was especially awesome when he didn't bother to pronounce her name correctly.)

Helena has been in the news very frequently lately, what with her spectacular temper tantrum in the Charlottetown airport, the (unwarranted?) dismissal of DUI/cocaine possession charges against her husband*, and the fawning letters to the editor in her defense that turned out to be from people on her staff. It is presently unknown what the new allegations are (or even if they are new) but it's speculated that it might have something to do with either the circumstances of her mortgage on an $880 000 house in Ottawa, or with the strange behaviour of her husband (a former MP who was still using the Conservative party's logo on his business cards and website up until two days ago).

This is interesting for lots of reasons. First, the PM is pissed.** So pissed, in fact, that he actually voluntarily held a press conference, made a statement, and took questions from reporters--a surprising move given how tight lipped he is about everything else that goes in his government. This break from the usual cloak and dagger routine tells me that the allegations are very, very serious. Even more interestingly, the Conservative MPP for the adjacent riding, Garfield Dunlop,*** gave an interview this morning where he said that on Monday the opposition would be calling for the RCMP to tell the public exactly what the allegations were against Helena, and that they would be right to do so; that the public deserves to know what is going on in this situation.

Since I no longer live or vote in this riding, my interactions with Ms. Guergis have been fairly limited; she has shown up occasionally at local events like the Fall Fair and the Maple Syrup Festival, particularly in campaign years. The impression I have of her, from these public viewings, is one of arrogance and entitlement. Her whole family is actively involved in local politics (her cousin is the mayor, for example), and it will be interesting to see how their political fortunes fare in the next few years in relation to this. (It'll also be interesting to see if the pundits are right in predicting that Helena will hang on to her seat until she becomes eligible for her pension in June, and then resign as soon as she's guaranteed that sweet government money.)

*My dad has posited the theory that the charges were actually dismissed because Jaffar has turned informant.

**And he should be. He doesn't have a lot of women in his party to begin with, so it's not like he can afford to lose one--to say nothing of the fact that accountability and transparency has been the supposed cornerstone of his time in office. (Yes, I know this is debatable. Don't debate it with me.) He has also cut her a lot of slack in the past few months, and she's apparently taken that slack and tried to hang herself with it. I'd be mad too!

***This seems quite damning to me. Garfield is an acquaintance of my father's, and he is a stand up guy--he would not say things like this lightly.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hippity hoppity

The Easter weekend was a busy one. Co-ordinating two families' worth of holiday time is challenge to begin with, which is further complicated by a) the fact that we live 3ish hours away from where our parents live, and b) our parents' families live between 1.5-3 hours away from our parents, in opposite directions. So this round, we had Friday dinner with Mat's parents, and a Sunday lunch with mine, and forewent the extended family. It was still quite busy, though, and not helped by the really gross head cold I came down with last week. I'm still not feeling great, but am vastly improved over Friday and Saturday.

We visited Burnett's and Struth, the kilt store, so Mat could try on jackets to go with his kilt. I was thoroughly unprepared for how dashing he would look. I'd seen him try on the kilt back in August when we bought it, but that was nothing compared to seeing him try it on with a tuxedo shirt and proper jacket. Oh my goodness, I am a lucky girl. His family thinks he's stupid for wearing a kilt when it's not his background, but it makes me really happy. (It makes my dad really happy too, though I think part of that can be attributed to the fact that my dad is no longer the only man in our family.)

I ordered my Flora Macdonald sash, and Mat picked out a sporran. We also checked out the kilt hose--they even have some handmade ones there, all knit in Scotland, with each label identifying the knitter and the place where they were knit. (Only $100 a pair, knit in worsted weight wool.) Still planning on making socks for Mat; still not fully reconciled to doing it in fingering weight. It will have to be sport or DK for sure. Summer knitting, here I come.

We also started our gift registry at Sears. Mat has a hard time with the registry: He thinks that we already have lots of stuff, and doesn't see the point in registring for more. I can understand his desire not to acquire more stuff (we do, after all, live in an 875 square foot house), but there are a couple of good reasons to do a registry. First, people are going to buy us presents regardless of whether we have a registry. Having one prevents us from receiving six blenders (at least in theory). Second, a lot of the stuff we do have is from when we were students, which means that it's old (a lot of my stuff was secondhand to begin with) and/or probably cheap (see: our microwave, which is decidedly wheezy and tempermental). As a result, I've been making a lot of the decisions on my own. It makes me a bit uncomfortable to do this--and it makes me feel a little bridezilla-y--but it's the only way it's going to get done.

I have devised a small game to amuse myself, in which I select totally inappropriate/silly things and tell Mat that I'm going to put them on the registry with the description of being "for him". So far the list consists of: the Koolatron Vending Machine Refrigerator, the Country Cats kitchen set, and the Koolatron Lunch Box Stove.

I don't think he thinks it's very funny, but I do. (And, it should be noted, I haven't actually registered for any of these things, nor will I.)