Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulders

After about four days of near-constant rain, the sun has finally come out again here. Not a moment too soon, really, as I've been feeling cooped up. It's been good for the garden, of course, but some sunshine will also go a long way there.

In good knitting news, I finally finished the bulk of the work on my Ephemera cardigan last night. It's all pinned out and blocking currently; if all goes well I should be able to start on the finishing tomorrow.


I don't know that I'll be in a hurry to make a cardigan in fingering weight again for a while (though I do have my eye on a Tempest done in two shades of blue) but I think that I will really like the finished product. I need a good worsted weight project to work on, but I can't find the yarn that I want in the craft room right now. So obviously the logical thing to do was to cast on another pair of socks. I'm using a yarn that has mohair in it, which should be awesome for my perpetually cold feet come winter. I really wish I liked knitting socks more, since I love wearing handknitted socks so much.

Pride is coming up in Toronto next weekend; I finally made a point of telling my sisters that it disappoints me that they have never invited me to go with them. (Their response was, "We didn't think you'd want to come--there's so many people there." While I take their point, I can handle people for a day or so, particularly if there's no expectation that I have to interact with all of them.) Part of the sisters' annual Pride tradition is that they decorate their own t-shirts to wear to the parades. Even though I'm not going this year, I am going to help Middle make shirts for her friends.

If I were going, my shirt would say, "Straight but not narrow."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Something New

I am undertaking something new here at Casa Skylark--something almost unheard of.

I am purging books.

So far I've got about twenty in a box. There are more I want put in the box, but they belong to Mat so I suppose the polite thing to do is to wait.

The other thing that I should do is start returning books to people who have lent them to me. I have some that I've had for several years now (and yes, that's years plural).

What brave new world, gentle reader. What brave new world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I wasn't looking forward to this weekend. Mat's childhood best friend and former roommate, James, is getting married this fall, and his bachelor party was held over the weekend in Killbear Provincial Park. Then Mat's dad organized a big Father's Day fishing thing for all of their extended family. Four days alone with no car and two bad cats? I wasn't thrilled about it.

And then I got sick. I looked after a friend's little girl for a few hours on Thursday, and by the time I got home, I could feel the tickle in my throat and the pressure building in my sinuses. I spent most of my time alone moping on the couch, watching re-runs of Criminal Minds and feeling sorry for myself. The recovery efforts were somewhat hampered by the bad cats, who persisted in waking me up to be fed breakfast at absurd hours of the morning. I was able to drag my sad sack self to World Wide Knit In Public Day at the mall, which went well enough. (Though it did result in the purchase of more tea, much to my beloved's chagrin. Who am I to resist a first flush Darjeeling?) I was pretty much wrecked by the time I got home (owing to a lack of sleep the night before), and my intended nap was sidetracked by a phone call from the bank to tell me that my credit card had been compromised. And I still had a baby shower to go to.

I was in bed by 11 and slept until about 7:30, excepting a brief detour to toss the bad cat ringleader into the bathroom around 5. It was glorious and I feel much, much better today, aside from occasional sneezing.

I really hope this week is a better week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sweet Charity

If you're a frequent reader around here, or someone who is (un)fortunate enough to experience my company in real life, you'll know that I'm often ambivalent about the role religion plays in my life. I don't want to sidetrack this entry by pontificating on what I believe or how I practice, but a small reference to religion is sort of necessary for a thorough consideration of today's topic, charity.

Religious ambivalence aside, I do believe very strongly in the concept of charity and good works, which is something that (however loosely) has trickled down from the long line of Scottish Presbyterians from whom I am descended. I do some volunteer work (though not as much as I ought to) in the community, and I donate money to charity when I can. Most of my money goes to scholarship funds at the university, but I also donate to the AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area, the OSPCA, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Terry Fox Foundation. I try to keep my support to secular charities where possible, because I've yet to find a religious charity with a mandate to which I can reconcile my belief structure. I also try to support charities that are Canadian when I can, because I believe that we often forget that there are a lot of people in our own country that need help. That said, however, I will donate to international aid organizations when I can.

Which is how, in January of 2010 (some full 18 months ago, for those of you keeping track at home), I came to donate some money to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders after the earthquake in Haiti. It wasn't even a lot of money--maybe $25? However, since then, I have been bombarded with emails and paper newsletters from the organization. (In fact, according to my gMail account, I've received 30 emails since that donation; I would guess that I receive at least one paper mailing from them per month as well.) I would be willing to bet that by now, they have spent at least the cost of my donation on trying to convince me to donate more.

I might well have donated more at some point in the future, I think, were it not for the telephone call I received from them last night. I should've just ignored the phone, but I didn't. When I picked up, I got a five minute spiel from the caller, who outlined all of the "like, amazing" work MSF has been doing with my donation.1 She then asked me to consider a monthly gift of $25.2 When I told the caller that I had just been laid off from my job, and thus could not afford to lay out a monthly sum, she didn't even pause before saying, "Well, look around your house and see if you can round up some loose change to donate."

At that point, I did hang up.

Part of me wishes that I'd given her a piece of my mind--as much as I try not to be rude to people who are just doing their jobs, I think that courtesy should end when those people stop being polite to me. I find it completely galling that after I've just told someone that I no longer had gainful employment, that person would turn around and ask me for money. Yup, stuff is bad in other countries, and MSF largely does work that I support, but if I can't pay my own bills, if I can't feed my husband or my cats, then things are pretty bad in this country for me, and going into debt to make charitable donations is just plain stupid. In soliciting from me this aggressively, MSF has ruined any chance that they have of receiving money from me in the future.

Any tips on charities who treat their donors like people, rather than endless money bags?

1 I have a personal policy of not hanging up on telemarketers; I listen, I refuse politely, and then I ask to be taken off the calling list.
2 Given that I gave them $25 18 months ago, this seems unlikely.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Graduation Day


Yesterday, I attended my first convocation ceremony at the university. Just as I had completed my fourth year at my "new" job, the students I taught in my first year had just completed the fourth year of their degrees.

They came to me as teenagers, some as young as seventeen. I was their teacher, but they were my school: I had just come out of one of the worst years of my life to date, and I didn't know my ass from my elbow. I wasn't convinced that I should be teaching, or even if I could teach any more. You'll notice that 2007 was this blog's worst year in terms of posts, as well, which I think speaks to my frame of mind--I just don't write when I don't feel well.

As usual, though, time and experience are the best teachers. I learned so much in that first year, far more than I think the students got out of it. I learned the pleasure of teaching people who actually want to learn, and I learned the aggravation of teaching those who are only there because someone else has paid for them to be. I learned how to grade, how to explain grades in a way that seems clear and fair. I learned how to find plagiarists, which instincts to trust. I learned how to break out of my shell, how to see myself as an authority in the classroom, and how to get others to see me as an authority as well.

It is so much easier to see your own mortality through the aging and experiences of others. When I look at my students four years later, I can hardly believe the changes that some of them have gone through. Their faces are so much more mature; they are so much more confident than the little kids who came through my classroom, who were nervous about speaking in front of others and so eager to make friends. I couldn't be prouder of them, but the pleasure in their success is tinged with some sadness on my part. And so it goes...

Monday, June 06, 2011

Sock Woes


I knit differently than most people do--I wrap my yarn around the needles the "wrong" way. I'm a firm believer that there's no really wrong way to knit as long as you get the results that you want, so I've never felt the need to correct this little problem.1 One of the results of this particular quirk is that my gauge (the number of stitches per inch) is looser than most, which can affect the fit of anything I'm trying to make. The easiest way to fix this is by using a smaller needle: smaller needle=tighter stitches.

Unfortunately, this makes sock knitting a chore: socks need to be knit at a tight gauge because they need to take a licking and keep on ticking, and feet are kind of a high traffic area. To get a tight enough gauge with many commercial yarns, I would need to knit with needles smaller than 2mm wide.2 The smarter decision for me, in terms of avoiding general craziness and future repetitive stress injuries in my hands, is to use a heavier yarn. Handmaiden Casbah has been a good yarn for me for this reason. It also machine washes and dries, as well as surviving being pounded by my feet when I stomp/walk around.

I've been working on a pair of Nutkin socks for the last few weeks in the Hemlock colourway of Casbah. I decided to mod the pattern to be toe-up and to get rid of the purl ridge on the toe, which I don't like. Since I've only made a handful of toe-up socks, I decided to try a new heel construction, from Wendy Johnson's Toe-Up Socks With A Difference. Despite following the instructions, I wound up with a sock that was drastically too long for my foot:


As I also didn't care for the way the heel fit my foot, I decided to knit the second one with the gusset heel that I have usually used for this style of sock. It fits me much better. I finished the second sock last night, and once I could try on both of them, I realized that I was going to have to re-knit the heel on the first sock.

Not a huge deal, really, but I was so excited to be done my second pair of socks for the year, and now it turns out that I'm not really done. Boo-urns.
1 Plus, I've been knitting for so long at this point that I have a pretty good sense of how my knitting works, so I can usually compensate for this pretty easily. Learning to wrap the "right" way would throw all of that off.
2 Yes, they exist, and yes, they do usually bear a remarkable resemblance to toothpicks.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Mooning and June-ing

Today is the first day of my unemployment. It was a surprisingly busy day--I finally talked Mat into helping put a garden in our backyard, which meant that he spent a good portion of the day ripping out the raspberry bushes that have been threatening to take over the back.

We're lucky to have a fairly large plot of land (the lot is 33'x125'), but unfortunately we've managed to do next to nothing with it in the three summers since we bought the house. I am not a gardener by nature (the green thumb in my family managed to pass me by all together) but I'm determined to make a go of it this summer. We've put in a 5x10 raised bed which is about half full sun and half partially shaded, and I'm hoping to plan a variety of veggies back there. I currently have a red pepper plant, two tomato plants, and a zucchini plant. I have plans to add a Thai chile plant, some cucumbers, some beans and peas, and some lettuces. I've planted some herbs out front: lots of basil (I have high hopes for basil and tomato salads this summer), cilantro, mint, rosemary...I'd like to get a cherry tomato, maybe as a hanging basket...

garden 047

I'm excited for this little beauty, purchased at the local farmer's market last week.