Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yarn Art?

Well, actually, yes.... I'm seriously considering getting this print to hang in my office.  I realize that using yarn to recreate nature scenes might not be to everyone's taste, but when I first saw this one a few months back, on the cover of Pattern Works Summer Catalog... it just warmed the cockles of my nature loving, woolly heart :)  They have also done similarly "fiber artistic" covers for their Spring and Fall Catalogs (see below), but so far, this is the one I like the best.  I've always been partial to waterfalls, so how am I supposed to resist a waterfall of merino?

Now, I entirely understand that most of you will not be decorating your home offices with yarn art, but still.... if you had to choose one,  which would it be?  Honestly, I like all 3.  Help me choose, so I can put it on my birthday wish list :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Idea of a fun site....

I may be turning into my 5th grade teacher, who actually was a nun -- so, this transformation is more dramatic than you might think. Sr. Patricia taught grammar with (no kidding) a wooden rod in her hand.  She never actually used it on anyone, though she did once slap a kid so hard, he walked around with a red hand print on his face all day.  I'm sure her intent was to humiliate him in front of the class, but the kid never shed a tear and was actually idolized by all of us for some time afterward.

Sr. Patricia was fierce when it came to proper grammar and usage and if she's still alive, I hope that she too has found Paul Brians' website called Common Errors in English Usage.  It's a keeper!  My bookmark has been set and I'm sure I'll wander over there frequently just to leisurely read through various entries.  Yes, I realize, that's bizarre.  There's some freakish part of my character, that finds this stuff so darn fun.  Apparently, it's infectious as I've managed to convince my daughter, Charlotte, that diagramming sentences if a fabulous way to spend a morning.  If I succeed with Grace as well -- you'll have to admit I'm gifted :)

But, I'm a teacher and a writer and not only do I not wish to look like a fool, I love having a central place to send students.  Mr. Brians has even put his site of wondrous knowledge into book form too.

Sr. Patricia would be tickled pink if she knew.  I have to add (just to give a proper visual here) that the nuns at my school in the 1970s were startlingly modern and didn't wear habits.  The change, coming as it did after so many years of not having to make fashion decisions, was not an easy one.  There were a number of days when Sr. Patricia came to class dressed in pink (or purple) polyester pantsuits (the alliteration of which was surprisingly, completely lost on her, though not on her students).

Despite her alarming attire, I must thank Sr. Patricia.  If I hadn't had her in my life, I might not be able to identify the ablative, genitive, or nominative cases.  I can't say I've ever been asked to identify them, but still.... that likely just reflects my own lack of interest in foreign language study.

Because Sr. Patricia hammered grammatical knowledge into us with the aforementioned wooden rod (if only figuratively),  we were all ridiculously intimidated by her.  Not too long afterwards, as an organist for the same church when I was maybe 18 or 19, she and the other nuns (there were maybe 3 still there) invited me over to the convent after mass for coffee.  These were hardly the same women.  They were kind, sweet and charming.  They were still recognizable when around the kids in the school yard, but one on one with adults -- well, all I can say was the difference was stunning!  I still remember walking out of the convent door that day in a daze -- feeling that my world had been altered in a rather incomprehensible way.  I'd always loved that convent and as a kid had briefly considered becoming a nun just so I could live there.  The isolation of it all was alluring to me even then, but I was discouraged by the thought of becoming such an implacable, icy sort of gal.  Turns out -- it was all an illusion.  We kids had all been duped into submissive behavior.  I left that day  with even more respect for Sr. Patricia than I'd had before.  In fact, now I wonder if the pink polyester pantsuits weren't part of the gag.  Nah -- couldn't have been.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Call Backs

Peter Pan auditions continue.... both girls were called back to audition again tomorrow night.  Grace got called back to audition for a "twin" -- one of the lead "Lost Boys," though not the one she tried out for last week.  Charlotte was called back for Jane (Wendy's daughter) and Liza (the maid).  The role of Jane gets to sing, so that would be nice.  She also gets to fly -- nicer yet, in Charlotte's opinion.  Still, she's flattered to be called back for Liza because it's a role for the older kids.  So, since I included a Lost Boys clip last time -- here's Jane.  She doesn't sing the lullaby in this version, but it does cover her lines.  The "Jane" section starts at about 2:40:

Homeschooling Geography with the aid of Animaniacs

I LOVE the Animaniacs and was so jazzed to find their bit on U.S. States & their capitals!  The girls have now memorized these and are well on their way to knowing all the presidents in order and all the countries of the world thanks to Wacko, Yacko and Dot :)

Monday, September 27, 2010


Seriously... 113 degrees today in L.A. -- Hottest day ever in 130 years of record keeping!  And the temp may have been even higher, but the thermometer broke at 113!  Can you say Al Gore?
In 1993, I made this book required reading for a paper I was having my students at USC complete.  It struck me then as a well-argued wake up call.  When Gore ran for president, I was horrified by the criminal way in which that election was stolen from him by Bush, Jr. and spent 8 years regretting that Gore was not in that position -- for a multitude of reasons.  But, I was heartened that Gore returned to his first and most important cause -- environmental issues.  When his movie and book came out:  Inconvenient Truth, I made them required reading for my current, most important students... my daughters.  We baked and sweat through our day long activities down in town today and I thought about how we'll manage when it hits 120 degrees.

I follow Gore's Blog and his entry today was no surprise:
“Record-breaking summer temperatures and the warmest year to date in 131 years are wreaking havoc on the global environment, say climate scientists.”

“The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, is about to report near-record loss of sea ice this summer, and modelers say total ice volume is at a record low. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued warnings about coral bleaching throughout the Caribbean, a problem exacerbated by high water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.”

“According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the first 8 months of 2010 is the warmest such January-to-August period in climate records stretching back 131 years. This period was nearly 0.7 degrees C warmer than the average temperature from 1951 to 1980. (NOAA announced roughly the same finding today, using many of the same temperature stations but a different analysis method.) Scorching summer temperatures set records across the United States, and nighttime temperatures hit record highs in 37 U.S. states this summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council will announce in a new report tomorrow.”

What will we tell our kids? How bad do things have to get before the ridiculous global warming naysayers, who either can't understand simple scientific research or refuse to stop protecting their personal interests above all else, get scared?

I've always thought the slogan "Save the Planet" was misleading.  How about "Save the People!"  Maybe then people will get it!  Let's emphasize that the planet will do just fine, it's us who should be worried! 

Stonington Shawl

Kids are in bed, maybe not asleep.... but definitely in bed for the night, so I'm settling down with the Estonian Shawl to put on side #4.  Part of the genius of this design is that there is no cast on edge.  You begin with 2 stitches (okay, you have to cast on 1+ your slipknot) and then create a square on the bias by increasing each row.  You throw in some yarn overs to create a concentric square lace design along the way, just to keep from falling asleep.  Then you pick up stitches along one side and garter back and forth, increasing a stitch on each end until you get a bizarre looking extension that only looks right when connected with the other sides.  I've now done 3 out of 4 sides and things are looking like this:

Difficult to tell from the photo, but this is knit out of a gorgeous slightly variegated purple from Madelinetosh Praire Laceweight called "Thicket."  Here's a picture from another site that shows the color much better:

Once I've finished up this last side, I'll knit on the lace edging.  As I've moved from side to side adding this edging to the original square, I've kept all the stitches live... that's what all those wandering pieces of yarn along the edges are -- place holders.  So, as I add on the lace edge, I'll just pick up each live stitch as I need it.  The concept is easier to understand if you see a sketch of the design:

So here, you can see I've completed the center square (A,B,C,D) and am now completing the surrounding border.  Next I'll be on the wavy lace edging that connects E,F,G,H.   This is the sideways lace edging.  I'm awed by the simplicity of the design and it's turning out beautifully.  This is an Elizabeth Zimmerman variant on the traditional Estonian Shawl and I'm really enjoying it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shrug Complete

Done, done, done.   Now if only the weather would cooperate and cool down so there'd be some conceivable reason to wear the darn thing!  I did end up using Cotton Ease in Terracotta and Snow.  Can't say it was the nicest cotton I've ever knit with, but it wasn't as bad as I expected.  Felt kind of waxy though, which was odd.  The pattern for this is Autumn Shrug and it is a free download on Ravelry.  It actually ended up being a pretty fun knit.  It was cheap (only took 1 skein of each color) and quick -- easily done in 2 days (though it took me a little longer to get the buttons on -- I'm sort of allergic to sewing on buttons).  There's plenty of the white to do another, so we might pick another color to do for the first day of Winter -- maybe a baby blue.  The pattern was also fairly intuitive -- a basic raglan, top down design with 2 cables down the front and 2 in back (not shown.... it's actually kinda hard to see the ones on the front in this picture, but they're fairly darling on the actual shrug).  I may even do another that's a full-length cardigan for littlest daughter.  If I do though, I'll definitely use a different cotton, maybe Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece in Prosperous Plum.

Creatively Teaching Writing

This semester I'm teaching a Creative Writing class to 12 incredibly eager homeschoolers.  The waiting list for this class was long (only 12 per class) and I had some seriously upset kids who couldn't get in, so I'm thinking it will be one I offer next semester too.  It's been a pleasure so far because they're tremendously excited about their writing.  The goal of the class is for each student to complete a novel during the semester.  Lengths will vary by student, but the minimum goal is 15,000 words.  We've spent a few weeks brainstorming ideas and creating outlines, but this week we officially start.  I've been putting together handouts on motivational techniques to keep them on track and have adapted ideas from many sources.  I'm actually not too worried about their managing this though.  Unlike the academic writing classes I also teach, these guys have been straining at the bit to get started.  My older daughter (who is also taking the class) not only completed a 3 page write-up outlining the 6 elements of plot we focussed on last week, but unable to help herself, she started in and has already completed a substantial first chapter.  Happily, I don't think she's the only one.  I've had a number of parents commenting this week that their kids are (in some cases for the 1st time) incredibly excited about writing.

In my academic writing classes, where I focus primarily on argumentative writing, it's often a struggle to get them going.  They have lots to say, but have a difficult time (like most of us) organizing their ideas into a coherent argument.  Students taking my literary comedy class are probably at this moment feeling rather tortured as they wrack their brains to complete their rough draft on Chaucer's comedic technique in the Miller's Tale and Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale (due tomorrow morning :)

I feel their pain.  Writing can be difficult, though I still hold that there are very few things in life as satisfying as completing a writing project.  This semester's creative writing class will hopefully be enjoying that very sensation before too long.  It's exciting to sit here on the brink of 12 new novels!

The Wit and Wisdom of Anne Lamott

I've always had to be careful where I read Anne Lamott's books.  I'm not a big guffaw(er) type, but she can always make me laugh out loud unexpectedly -- a dangerous thing if you're drinking coffee or quietly reading in study hall type settings.  Less distracting though, is her ability to make me nod my head in agreement -- another thing I don't often do.  Her article in today's L.A. Times got me on both counts.  I'm still cleaning coffee stains off my computer screen...

She includes some great lines about recent disturbing female politicos:

"Nor do I want to hear another judgmental word about Mrs. Palin, Mrs. Angle or the astonishing Miss O'Donnell. These women are the three finest natural comediennes to hit the national scene in decades. No one else has come close to bringing me the number of laughs that these gifted conservative women have. Every day brings new one-liners and mirthful observations from one of them, and these never fail to lift my spirits. In fact, some days Sarah Palin is the only thing that keeps me going."

She continues with other wittily on target things to say about the current political scene and as usual gets right to the salient points.   My favorite book of hers, Bird by Bird, is filled with the best sort of "just get to it" writing advice I've seen and this article takes a similar approach to politics.  She cuts to the main point of it all and I for one, very much appreciate her efforts to re-focus people's attention.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not a fan of Indian Summer

I am definitely not liking the return to warm weather.  It's cruel to tease us with cooler temps and then whoosh back up into the 90s.  Granted, this was a fairly mild summer, but I'm still more than ready for the crisper days of autumn.  It's why I live in the mountains.  I like the years when the neighbors all speculate that we might even see some snow in October....  Alas, in the five years we've lived here, that October snow hasn't actually materialized -- November snow either for that matter.  Whatever happened to snow at Thanksgiving?  It seemed like that was a regular occurrence when I was a child.  My whole family remembers the Thanksgiving the CHP barely allowed us off the freeway because there was 4 feet of snow on the ground and more on the way.  Snowplows couldn't even get to the street in front of the cabin.  We had to trudge up and down a fairly good-sized block carrying all our luggage and supplies for a Turkey bash for 30-40 people in the aforementioned 4 feet of snow.  Never happens anymore... doesn't seem fair does it?   I want my kids (and guests) to enjoy a trek like that :)  If nothing else, I'd like them to see how gorgeous this place looks all decked out with the white stuff.  Begone 92 degree days -- and don't let the door hit ya in the arse on the way out!  Comments?  What's your preference warm or cold? sun or snow? 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dell Hell

How I hate Dell.... let me count the ways.... been on hold for well over an hour now trying to get them to fulfill their warranty commitments (which, I paid a considerably expensive premium for at time of purchase). But, hey... I'm SOOOOO enjoying all their helpful little hints that periodically interrupt their crappy muzak -- truly helpful advice it is too -- for example, Is your computer plugged in???  They also keep reminding me to be in front of my system with my service code ready because.... God forbid I should waste THEIR time!!

Lost Girls?

Well, the girls are in the process of auditioning to be lost boys in Peter Pan.  They memorized lines, practiced songs, danced the proper choreography and last night they gave it their best shot.  Their were about 200 kids there trying out for various parts and I sat with the anxious parents outside.... we're far too noisy and distracting to be allowed anywhere near the kids :)

We had our own fun hang though, waiting outside.  We'll know if they made callbacks by next Tuesday, so we're keeping our fingers crossed and continuing to practice.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where I want to be....

This is definitely the place to be in October!  I know, I know.... Rhinebeck got lots of attention last summer when Chelsea Clinton got married there, but let's be serious now.  Rhinebeck is the place for wool.  If only I had the financial resources to grab my knitting daughters and whisk us all away for the weekend for fun and stitches at Rhinebeck....   But alas, it's not to be.  I will now go quietly sob into my pillow for the next month....

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Glory of Worsted Weight Socks

Birthday Socks
Well -- I'm a believer.  Knitted socks for my brother's Birthday done in two days... no problem.  Thanks to Thuja, the clever pattern designed by Bobby Ziegler who similarly needed socks for a family member and had mere days to get them done.  Worsted Weight rocks for speed and they're pretty warm too.  I ended up using Vintage Wool from Berroco and they're warm, cozy and have great stitch definition!

First day of Autumn....

Yes, yes... I know.  Tomorrow (9/22/10) is really the first day, but my daughters woke up saying it was today and I haven't the heart to spoil their fun with reality.  They're making each other "1st day of fall" gifts and my eldest has even decided what my gift for her ought to be (note beautiful Autumn Shrug photo to the left).  I'm not sure what yarns I'll be using yet.  DD is pretty certain she wants the EXACT color used in the pattern, so I may have to resort to Cotton-Ease... ugh!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dangers of Drinking while Knitting

So, I'm trying to drink a glass of red wine 3-4 times a week.  I'm really NOT a drinker, but the health benefits of occasional vino are more and more convincing, so I'm making an effort.  This along with more fish, B vitamins, exercise, etc., (aren't I being good?).  Still, I've always known that wine effects my thinking with almost the first sip and tonight is no different.  As I sat, knitting away on my Estonian Shawl it occurred to me that I'd forgotten my brother's belated birthday party this weekend.  Having no gift, I began to think of what I could knit in 48 hours.  I've made him hats, scarfs, afghans, etc., in the past and I surely could have given him more of the same, but my brain fixated on socks.  It is a well known phenomena that alcohol can lead one to believe they are capable of more than they actually are.... and somehow, here I sit with a new pair of socks on the needles and the entirely unrealistic goal of finishing them by Sat. night at 6pm.  Crazy, stupid crazy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ayn Rand? Seriously???

CNN is running an op ed piece this morning advocating a new moral code based on Ayn Rand's tired old "serve only thyself" ethic .  Two questions for the ages:  How has Ayn Rand, who's lack of writing talent ranks right up there with L. Ron Hubbard as an easy target for ridicule, ever amassed a following that gets her ideas a forum on CNN? and more to the point:  If "the pursuit of personal profit" is your moral ideal -- what care you for other's opinions of your conduct?  It seems odd to spend any amount of time trying to institute a "moral code"  for others that sanctions your behavior.

A friend from high school (popular, though admittedly not the sharpest tool in the shed) first recommended I read The Fountainhead,  I'd been in an existential philosophy phase and with my Dad's urging had been reading lots of Sartre/Camus and this friend thought of Ayn Rand as a philosopher (definitely a stretch -- Oddly, said friend later became a rather "in your face," born again Christian... never noticing that Ayn Rand was the antithesis of a Christian worldview -- although perhaps not so odd;  the individual was clearly flailing about for something/anything radical to be immersed in).  At 16, I was underwhelmed by the tediousness of Rand's writing style and disgusted by the world view she promoted.  If memory serves, this was also the year I'd read Elie Wiesel's Night and the contrast was dramatic.

Imagine my surprise when a few years later, I saw posters advertising Ayn Rand Society meetings at UCLA!!!  My first thought was that the posters were gags, but soon discovered there actually were people who met to discuss Rand as a serious philosopher.   The same morbid curiosity about "how people get hooked by idiots" that sometimes leads me to listen in (lurkingly) to Rush Limbaugh programs, almost got me to attend one of those meetings.  If I could've been a fly on the wall, as I am on the internet or listening to "I can yell the loudest" radio, I might have gone.

Because I teach argumentation and how to use logic in writing, it's useful to know how students think they can get away with fallacy-filled essays.  Listening to Limbaugh and his ilk provides painful clarification of how students are learning to argue.  It takes a great deal of patient logic training to undo the damage caused by talk radio.

Anyway, I'm wandering off topic here.  I would've loved to listen in on the A.R. Society meetings back at UCLA just to be able to grasp how they rationalize her ideas.  Reading the CNN piece today gave me some sense of that... and as I expected -- it's a type of circular, self-justifying logic that makes sense only if you come in convinced already that self-aggrandizement should be the primary goal of every human being.  And I'm sorry, my opinion of Ayn Rand is the same now as it was when I was 16 -- she just wants to justify being a selfish bastard.  Yet I'm still surprised that she and her proponents expect those whose interests are more expansive, those inclined to find value in promoting community welfare, to alter their underlying moral structure.  Basically, "change your values and you'll agree with me." Huh?

The only rationale they hold up for such a change (at least in today's CNN piece) is that progress has been made by those who place themselves first.  But their evidence won't hold up to even the barest of scrutiny.  They claim that science has been behind most medical and technological advances (and few will dispute that), but they hold that up as though the scientific inquiry were made out a spirit of purely self-promotion, rather than for communal benefit.  Were Galileo, Newton, Pasteur and Darwin only out for themselves?  That's a pretty big leap.

The Ayn Rand types don't even like a world with compromises.  They complain that the Bill Gates entrepreneurs of the world should expand the discoveries of science and then hoard all profits -- they see no value in his philanthropy and seek to discourage it.  Odd, since it's precisely the medical, technical and educational philanthropy of entrepreneurs like Gates that will create possibilities for further advancement in future generations.

I just can't follow their logic and so, I'm back to my original question:  how have Ayn Rand books sold millions of copies?  Why is her stuff still even in print?  Considering what's out of print, that's just a shame.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Knitting is the saving of Life" - Virginia Woolf

By Holly Van Houten

Inspired today by this quote from Woolf to finally begin this blog.  A friend who spins and dyes her own yarn -- and was my first spinning teacher :) -- posted this quote from Woolf on Facebook this morning.  I had to know more and a quick google search brought me to this lovely portrait... painted in 1911 or 1912 by Vanessa Bell while Woolf was working on the draft of her first book The Voyage Out, 1915.   Woolf had already been in and out of "rest homes" and made this statement about knitting to her husband, shortly before they were married.  Of course, knitting only saved her temporarily.  But, it's comforting to think of knitting as the therapy that helped stave off her suicide for some 30+ years... allowing her the time to write her masterpieces.

I'd like to think that my own mind is not quite as troubled as hers, but knitting is certainly therapy to me as well.  It's not only therapy -- it's craft -- but, I'm guessing that's why it's therapeutic for me.