Monday, March 31, 2008

Sammy's Hill: a review

Young, idealistic Samantha works for Senator Gary in his capitol hill office as his health care policy advisor. She is smart, capable, and a hard worker. Her personal life is considerably more fragile, less organized, and fraught with neuroses. It is early in a presidential election year and Sammy begins dating a speechwriter for a smarmy Senator who also happens to be a presidential candidate. The romantic trajectory is relatively predictable, but the political climate Kristin Gore has created is exciting and a refreshing change to the chick lit genre.

Sammy is humorous at times, but so neurotic as to render her unrealistic. Her odd quirks - a love for telemarketers, odd daydreaming scenarios, an obsession with disaster-preparedness - were probably inserted to add depth to her character but feel tacked on. Still, the character is sympathetic and admirable in a lot of ways; she's obviously smart, an expert in her field, and holds political views with which I sympathize.

President Pile is a thinly veiled George W. Bush (I was tipped off by her description of his permanent "deer in the headlights" expression). Although the book was published in 2004, the presence of both Pile and female presidential candidate Melanie Spearam feel very current. Unfortunately, Spearam drops out of the race after a public emotional meltdown over a love affair; a bit too stereotypically female for me (but thank goodness, not a danger in the current real-world race!)

Despite its flaws, I was humming "Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow" by the end of the book and I'm very much looking forward to reading the follow-up, Sammy's House.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Word of the day: Failure

Today we will learn some knitting vocabulary, shall we? The two terms we'll familiarize ourselves with are frog and hibernate.

To frog means to completely unravel a project. It is referred to as "frogging" because you "rip it rip it" (I know, lame, but I didn't make it up). One frogs if a project is coming out so poorly that it cannot be fixed without re-starting, or if it is so hopeless the yarn should be rescued and used for a more suitable project in the future.

To illustrate, the Here And There Cables Scarf:

I couldn't think of one good reason to keep going on this scarf. The only reason I started it was because I had the yarn leftover, and I had a copy of Scarf Style which I had never used. These, my friends, are not good reasons to embark upon a time- and effort-consuming project. I don't need another warm winter scarf, the color doesn't match my coat, I had nobody to give it to, and it wasn't even coming out as nicely drapy as I had hoped. So there it is. A reminder of why I normally choose a pattern I want to make, and then buy yarn appropriate for it. Very simple.

When a project hibernates it means that no further progress is being made, but it is not being frogged. Hibernating occurs when you are so despondant at your failure that you cannot even bring yourself to frog. The article is simply stuffed into a bag and then into the farthest reaches of your least-visited closet.

My hibernation example, sadly, is the Sweater with Rib Pattern:

I was told by Eric that I should go ahead and make the second sleeve as "it's not terrible," but I won't. First of all, "not terrible" isn't a good enough reason to continue putting in that much work on a project. Secondly, perhaps it doesn't look terrible but it was not his arm that was losing circulation from this sleeve.

Had I used wool I could block it larger, but of course I used a cheap acrylic as I wasn't super-excited about the pattern and just wanted to use up the yarn (see above lesson learned about using these determinants to choose projects.) I could, if I had the wherewithall to do so, take the sleeve out, knit a new slightly larger sleeve, then another similar sleeve, and finish. But honestly, I just can't. I have been bogged down by this project for too long and don't like the sweater enough to continue. I've already made 3 back/fronts and a sleeve. I have nothing more in me for the Sweater with Rib Pattern. And of course, I have only myself to blame as I knew from the start that this project was ill-conceived.

So there you have it - two perfectly apt real-world illustrations of important knitting concepts. There will be a quiz. I hope we don't have to go over these concepts again. I really, really hope not.

Monday, March 24, 2008

March: Craft

Craft is the theme for the BAM Challenge this month, and while the theme is open to interpretation, I took the narrow view and read No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne L. Macdonald. Spanning from early colonial America through the 1970s, the scope of the book extends well beyond just the craft of knitting - war, the changing role of women, fashion. Still, it is mainly of interest to knitters as that is the central focus, though I must admit there were craft references that even confounded me (What the heck is "picking lint"?)

The author used primary sources and quotes are used liberally throughout the book. For this reason, I found the chapter on colonial America the most difficult to read because of the style of writing from that period. But in general, it made the history seem more real as it was told through the words of those who lived it.

My favorite chapter was "Westward Knit!" which appealed to my love of all things remotely related to Little House on the Prairie. Here is described a method of dyeing yarn by first wrapping it in corn shucks to create gentle gradations in color. Also in this chapter was a story of a woman kidnapped by Narragansetts, who knit items of clothing for them to earn their food and good will.

Macdonald described the important role knitting played during wartime. A loyal informer to the army during the Revolutionary War would insert messages containing British military information in balls of yarn and "accidentally" drop them when General Washington's troops passed by. During World War I knitting for soldiers reached frenzied heights, spurring knitting bees where participants achieved such great feats as knitting an entire sweater in one day. Many men knit for the war effort as well, including prisoners at Idaho State Penitentiary, where two prisoners braided their yarn into a 25-foot long rope and used it to escape.

Some of the anecdotes in this book sound very familiar as a knitter today:
-Women who knit bathing suits, only to find out - in the most embarrassingly ways possible - that they were impractical for swimming.
-A knitter in the 40s, when argyle was very popular, described rigging a shoebox to keep different colored yarns separate to prevent tangling, which would have been useful for me a couple of weeks ago
-When patterns finally began to regularly include gauge information, many knitters simply ignored it, beginning our long tradition of not knitting gauge swatches even though we know we should

As a knitter, it is distracting to read a book about knitting. When I read about the constant sock knitting (two socks at a time, even!) during WWI and WWII I would suddenly need to put the book down and work on my sock; when I read about knitters finding ways to knit and read at the same time, I was inspired to scour the internet for a good book stand. Despite my inability to focus, it was a very interesting book packed with information - and photos! - of knitting throughout US history. Published in 1988, it doesn't contain knitting's most recent surge in popularity, and I look forward to seeing how some future book characterizes knitting and knitters in the 2000s.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Privatize your library?

This is not the way to support libraries. Two towns here in Massachusetts are proposing privatizing their libraries, saying that they are struggling with continuing services while keeping taxes low.

First of all, this completely goes against the very idea of what public libraries are. Private companies are not accountable to the public the way that a city or country run library is. Or is it? LSSI, the company that already runs libraries in California, Texas, Oregon and Tennessee, say that they would not rely on fees and would instead get their funding through grants and taxes. Kind of like now. So if the libraries would remain free and still operate on the same funding, what exactly would the role of this company be?

Secondly, and this may partly answer that question, I'm concerned about one of the statements in the article: "LSSI generally does not hire unionized employees, helping it to save on benefits packages." Given the way my union has behaved I'm all for not being in a union, but what this says to me is that they don't want to give librarians decent benefits. Because everyone knows that librarians are compensated way too much, right?

Predictably, the MA Board of Library Commissioners opposes the idea. And although the idea was originally proposed by a resident, I have to think that many people won't want their tax dollars going to a private company. I sure wouldn't.

Here is an article about the privatizing of the Jackson County, OR libraries last year. 15 branches had closed due to a budgetary crisis, and re-opened with LSSI running the libraries with a smaller staff receiving fewer benefits.

Maybe I'm just a socialist at heart, but I think corporations have enough power already. It's bad enough that you can't see a movie or a concert or even a roller derby without being advertised to, so let's just keep the private companies out of our libraries, shall we?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Lovely, impractical socks! I do not like this thing called intarsia, nor do I think it's a good choice for sock heels. But they are cute, no?

The pattern is from Knitty and designed by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka the Yarn Harlot. Unfortunately, it's a bit sloppily written but if you have sock experience it's not too bad. The sizes are very unclear; while the pattern lists sizes S, M, L it actually only includes one set of instructions with a note that if you want to make the larger size, use larger needles. What if you want to make medium? Or maybe I made medium and it is small that is missing. We will never know, because the pattern doesn't include any measurements to help define S, M, or L. The instructions also neglect to tell you to work in stockinette or switch to white for the toe, but you can tell from the pictures. But mostly it was a fun project and really, I enjoy make anything that is turquoise. And they are very springlike.

But what is this wayward stitch marring the otherwise orderly gusset?

Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea what happened there.

I made these for the February Sockdown on Ravelry. The theme was to make socks with a heel that is new to you; cast on anytime during the month of February and finish by the end of March. There are fantastic prizes for some lucky winners, which is what it's all about. Or maybe it's about having yet another pair of fabulous handmade socks?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls' memoir is a gripping tale of a dirt poor, nomadic family, headed by irresponsible parents who barely even tried to provide for their children. Their lives were full of pipe dreams, and plans to build a glass castle in which they would live in some unspecified future time. Their reality consisted of running from debts, living in run-down houses with no heat or water, starving, lying, and refusing any help available to them.

Maybe I'm just cynical because of the recent memoir scandals, or maybe it's just because of my general feelings about memoirs, but some of the anecdotes read like tall tales. Although I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of her story, I do not for one moment believe that she was proficient with a pistol when she was 4 years old, or that she was an excellent reader when she was 3. The story about how the family filled up the entire car with grapes and ate only grapes for weeks just made me wonder how long grapes will still be edible. They don't last for "weeks" at my house. I also don't think a wild rat - or any wild animal - is going to climb into your bed and come after you, but I suppose anything is possible. Much of this is surely based on poor memories or just the way the author perceived events as a child.

Nevertheless, I was carried through on the quick narrative flow, but I think the real strength of this book is in the characters. Walls' parents were fascinating. They were both very smart, with hippie-ish ideals, but lazy and unfocused. Their father was an alcoholic and spent any money he could get on booze; their mother was immature and selfish, and most likely mentally ill. The author is far more forgiving than I would have been and way too much of a pushover with her father. I don't care how charming the guy was - if it was between food for me and booze for him, I wouldn't hand over all the family's money to him.

An interesting story and decent writing; despite its few faults, it was better than many memoirs I have read. Most importantly, I came away feeling very grateful that my mother isn't a lunatic.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hoppin' Down the Bunny Trail

Considering this for Easter?

First, please consider this:

Futon, destroyed.

Yes, this is a library book.

Lovely black chair from Ikea, apparently tasty.

Magazines, borrowed never to be returned.

At least this part doesn't show when the boot is zipped.

Three consecutive issues of Interweave Knits.

Vintage SciFi book, expensive because of the previously excellent condition.

Not pictured: computer cord chewed through in 2 places, new computer cord already chewed and taped, pee spots on the hardwood floors, and one extremely harrassed cat.

If you're prepared for the destruction and want a rabbit anyhow, good luck and enjoy your bunny! But if your possessions are important to you, think long and hard first. And keeping them caged isn't the answer - would you keep a cat in a cage? (If you answered yes, I hope you don't have pets. Or children for that matter.)

Rabbits aren't for everyone. Animal shelters are full of them. Now you know why.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Second Top-Down Hat

This is much better now. I ripped back to get rid of some of the decreases, did some more math, and re-knit. Simple stockinette with a seed stitch brim. Mailed both hats off to my mom - I hope they fit!

I have some lovely brown Knitpicks Decadence with which I hope to knit myself a cabled top-down hat. I've been thinking about it for a while but wasn't sure how the cables would work with the increases. The practice from these hats, especially the ribbed one, have made it a little more clear. It'll still take a bit of fiddling and adjusting but at least now I have a better idea. I think.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Adverbs: a review

Daniel Handler's narrative voice is that of the quirky guy you don't know if you should make a second date with. Erratic, a little neurotic, humorous from a distance, but you may not want him to be part of your life.

Adverbs is a non-linear novel, though it's sometimes described as a book of short stories. It's glimpses of sub-plots of a larger story that never quite materializes. After the first few stories/chapters, I stopped trying to remember where I had met these characters before, and just read it like short stories. Vaguely, it is about love, which all of the characters are looking for, or in, or falling out of. With whom is not always clear.

As in his other books, Handler makes profound insights that begin as generalizations and become oddly specific:

"You dream forever of the girls who stood next to you and didn't notice, as far as I can tell so far in this rainy life, or if you're gay maybe a boy in a locker-room glimpse or a wine-soaked memory of something furtive in a sleeping bag, although nothing like that has ever happened to me and I don't care what fucking Tomas says."

Or that seem like good maxims to live by if only you could figure out how they relate to your life:

"If you are going to take a lifelong journey with somebody, you can't mind if the other person believes they are leaving for that journey an hour earlier than you, as long as truly, in the real world, you are both leaving at exactly the same time."

But I enjoy reading anything by Daniel Handler, no matter how confusing it is or how little sense it makes. And I suppose it does make sense, just not in the way you would expect.

His is a dark sense of humor, and even his thoughts about love are frequently tinged with despair.

"Love is, I hope, more than two people sitting down for a while and telling secrets before help arrives."

I hope so too.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Blue Ribbed Hat

Of the two top-down hats, this one come out acceptably on the first attempt. The increases that I expressed so much pleasure with in the last post looked even better when I turned the hat inside out, and so that is how it remains.

The yarn and rib pattern were a good choice. The hat is very soft and stretchy and although it fits me fine, it should still fit my mother as well.

Teal Hat 2.0 is also finally done, so stay tuned for pretty pictures!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I love reading personal ads. They are enticing, pathetic, sad, sometimes unbelievable, and frequently funny. They are not, however, able to convey anything of actual importance about anyone, certainly not enough for a stranger to decide whether or not to date that person.

Those who place ads in the London Review of Books have apparently given up on trying to sell themselves and now try to outdo each other by writing the most creative, bizarre and self-deprecating ads out there. My colleague over at Notes & Comments turned me on these ads, and a little while ago I read the book in which many of them are collected, They Call Me Naughty Lola.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a drunken night out and covered in too much tahini. Before long I'll have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you're the perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32. Rarely produces winning metaphors.

Not all female librarians are gay and called Susan. I, however, am and would like to meet non-librarian gay women to 35 with names such as Polly, Kate or Demeter.

This ad is the final phase in my plan to conquer the earth. Man, 41, seeks puppet-like trillionaire F with vast army and intergalactic fleet, ready to hand over total control of all affairs. Must also enjoy canasta and be a non-smoking vegetarian.

Lacks imagination, talks too much, frequently absent. Look at me now, Miss Webster of year 4. History professor, 56. Lacks imagination, talks too much and is frequently absent. Seeks woman.

Slut in the kitchen, chef in the bedroom. Woman with mixed priorities (37) seeks man who can toss a good salad.

The most hilarious thing about the book is the fact that there is an index, with entries such as Falcon Crest, clowns, lanolin sensitivity, Reynolds, Burt, skinny mocha latte, spork, and Yoda (footnoted within the text as "jedi master," which I'm sure is quite enlightening if you don't know who Yoda is.)

Whether or not you are looking for a date, this is a great book to pick up if you want to feel better about yourself.

Monday, March 3, 2008


This can't be right, can it? Can you even see that there is a sock under all those bobbins?

This is my first real intarsia and I'm a bit flummoxed. I checked a few knitting books for instructions, but the intarsia patterns they show are all very clearly defined blocks of color - just squares, really - not an actual picture like you would encounter in a real pattern. There was no mention of patterns with parts where it may be best to carry the yarn instead of starting yet another bobbin, but I'm assuming it's ok. Because that's what I did. This design has several rows wherein there are two colors, alternating every couple of stitches, so I just carried for those parts and then everything became nice and blobby and intarsia-like again and I went back to using a bobbin for each section of color.

Also, my unhelpful books didn't mention how to keep the bobbins straight so you are sure to use the correct one. I have a vague memory of reading something about putting all the bobbins in a bag or a box with little holes all in a row for the yarn to come through, to keep them all in order. This seemed like too much work for just a sock heel. Ha. Not nearly as much work, I suspect, as untangling about 12 bobbins every five minutes. But despite my problems, it has come out quite well.

If nothing else, it is great practice for colorwork. And I'm beginning to suspect that is all it will be is practice. Because as cute as these socks will be...Intarsia? Not such a good idea for sock heels. Every one of those bobbins pictured above represents TWO ends to be woven in, creating a messy, bumpy heel. (I just typed that in as "hell," an apt description of the two hours I spent trying to weave in all 482 yarn ends without distorting the stitches.)

Oh, and also? I will have to do this all again on the second sock.
P.S. Apparently Grumperina shares my love of a fine heel gusset.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What the fuck?

I was reading Library Journal at work yesterday and came across a review of Jennifer Weiner's forthcoming novel, Certain Girls. Near the end of the review, it says:

"(Note: F--k is sprinkled judiciously throughout)"

Wow, do adults now need to be warned about adult language in books written for adults?

I've seen this sort of warning in reviews for YA books, but never in a review for an adult novel. I find it hard to believe there is more swearing in this book than other novels, and even if there is - who cares? I certainly hope this isn't the beginning of a trend in LJ reviews.

I shared this with a couple of co-workers who were both equally baffled. It of course led to a library catalog search on the keyword "fuck" which brought up a number of results. One was the graphic novel The Squirrel Mother, also reviewed in LJ but without dirty-word commentary. Another was the book Expletive Deleted, which I think is delightfully ironic.

By the way, the LJ review was a glowing one, and noted the consistently high quality of Weiner's writing. She is one of my very favorite authors, and writes a hilarious blog. You can be sure I'll post my own review of Certain Girls when I read it. I've been on hold since September so I should be one of the first to get it.